The Shadow of Reality

Several years ago, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world was Muhammad Ali. Ali was noted in the boxing ring for “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee!” His jabs were so fast that by the time his opponents saw the punch it was too late! In many ways, life is like a Muhammad Ali punch; by the time you can see it, it is already too late to duck!

Most people are confused about what is really real; they believe that what they see is reality. But the fact of the matter is; the things that we can see, touch, smell, hear, etc., with our physical senses are really just the shadows of reality! Let me show you what I’m talking about: A building does not first exist when the foundation or the first brick is laid or even when the ribbon is cut at the grand opening; a building exists first in the mind of the architect! It is just as real, in his mind when he first conceives it, as it is when the last brick is laid! If you want to affect life as oppose to always suffering from the effects of life, you must realize that by the time you can see it, it is already too late to duck!

In order to make a real difference and gain some measure of control of your life, you must learn to deal with life in the “real” domain of reality, which is the spiritual and not the physical. Most likely you have heard the phrase: “Seeing is believing!” But actually, by the time you “see it” you are really just beholding the shadow of the real reality! The Bible says, “Look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen are temporal (temporary, subject to change), but the things that are not seen are eternal. (permanent and fixed)” (II Corinthians 4:18, Author’s paraphrase) How can one make “real” changes in the spiritual arena? By understanding and properly using one’s mind and spirit! The Bible says, “As a man thinks: so is he!” Your thoughts are “the first cause!” I know this might sound a bit strange and mystical to many, but this is the way life works and this is the way God works! (This is the essence of faith: “Now faith is the substance <the reality> of things hoped for and the evidence of things ‘not’ seen: faith perceives as a real present fact, that which has yet to be experienced by the senses!) God created this world first in His imagination. Creation first existed in the mind of God; it became a physical reality as he “spoke” what was in His mind!

Much in the same way, we “create” our world (our circumstances and situations) by speaking what is in (or on) our minds! Whatever the conditions are that exist in your life at this very moment, they are the direct results of your thoughts and speech in the past! If you want to change your tomorrow, you must change the substance of your thoughts and speech today! If your “thinking and speaking” is based on what you see, you will always get what you have instead of having what you could get because what you see is what you get! If you want a better life, you’ve got to “see” it in your mind’s eye! Use your imagination; it is a gift from God! Once you have created your world firmly in your mind, begin to speak as if the things you “see” in your mind were a present reality! Have you ever noticed, in the Bible, how Jesus spoke of many things that had not occurred in the past tense as if they had already happened? He understood and lived the principle that I am attempting to share with you now! He understood how to “think” and “talk” like God: “For God calleth those things which be not as though they were!” So remember, what we see in the physical realm is really just the shadow of reality! The really “real” is in our imagination, and life has a way of making our imaginations (the mental images we hold in our minds: the blueprints of life) of today our realities of tomorrow!

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination! Everything that we can see and lay our hands on today existed first in someone’s imagination yesterday! In essence, the real reality occurs first in the mind and then we live the “shadow of reality” in the physical realm! Everything we experience on the physical plane is not the cause, but merely the reaction, the reflection, the response to, the shadow of, the experiences that have already taken place in our minds and spirits! What you experience in day-to-day living is really just the shadow of the “real” reality! Remember, life is like a Muhammad Ali punch; by the time you can see it, it is already too late to duck!

The Problem Is Not The Problem!

Do you have a problem? For most of us, the answer is a resounding YES! In fact, most of us don’t just have one problem; we have many problems! From the day we are born until the day we die, life is a succession of one problem after another. The Old Testament Patriarch Job said it best when he said, “Man that is born of a woman is of a few days, and those days are full of trouble.” Newborn babies have a problem with wet diapers! Even in death, there is the problem of a casket, a funeral, and a grave space! From the rocking of the cradle to the closing of the casket; life is filled with problems!

But I would like to suggest that, for the most part, the problem is NOT REALLY the problem! The real problem is how we deal with the problem! It’s all a matter of perspective! We have to determine if we will see the glass as being half empty or half full! We must come to the realization that the problem is not really a problem, but rather it is actually an opportunity in disguise! Every accomplishment and advancement in life has been and will be the result of overcoming some problem! At one time, darkness was a problem for many people, but it was also an opportunity for the inventor of the light bulb!

So, if you have a problem, take heart, you also have the main ingredient for a great accomplishment! Remember: When life hands you a lemon, don’t fret or complain, just use the lemon to make lemonade! It’s all a matter of your perspective! The problems in your life can serve to make you bitter or you can use them to make yourself better! Your stumbling blocks can be transformed into stepping-stones with the right attitude!

Many years ago, I developed a saying that I have adopted as a mantra in my life. I can’t remember whether I read it somewhere in a book or if I came up with it on my own, but whatever the case, it has helped me through many dark days. It goes something like this: “It’s not the problem, that’s the problem! It’s how you deal with the problem, that’s the problem!” Remember that, the next time you are faced with a “problem.” Remember, the problem is not (really) the problem!

The Decline of Excellence

Maybe you haven’t noticed or maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be an alarming trend developing in our society these days! It seems as though, for the most part, mediocrity has become the standard of the day! Excellence no longer seems to be the common standard or goal of achievement. The common populace has grown to expect and accept the average and the ordinary as being the highest possible level of performance! This has happened to such a degree that when one performs competently in his or her field of endeavor, one is actually looked upon as doing something extraordinary! Incompetence and sub-par performance have become the norm of the day! The standards of performance have declined to the point that mediocrity and sub-par performance is expected and considered normal, while doing what is actually the normal requirement is hailed as extraordinary!

This first came to my attention some time ago when I was visiting a local McDonald’s restaurant. It wasn’t overly crowded and I was a bit pressed for time. I don’t know, maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the employees who worked there looked upon my visit as an intrusion or an interruption! I can remember the commercials some years ago when McDonald’s took pride in the fact that they were the “fastest” in the fast-food industry! But, have you visited a McDonald’s or any other fast-food restaurant lately? The next time this matter of pervasive incompetence was brought to the forefront of my thinking was when I was in the market for my first house. The real estate agents and the financial people I came in contact with were a bit sub-par, to say the least! I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say, it was a frustrating experience and a grand display idiotic incompetence!

In many public school systems, it seems as though children are being “dummied down” to accept “C’s” and average grades as worthy goals! Today, among many school children, it’s not “cool” to be smart or even to speak Standard English! Years ago the heroes were inventors and pioneers, today they are ball players and music stars. Now this is not to demean these people or their professions as not being worthy roles models (although many of them are not!), but our children need to know that statistically speaking, their chances for making it to the NBA, the NFL, or cutting a multimillion dollar record deal are quite slim! And besides that, even if they do make it, would be to their advantage to know how to competently handle their own business affairs. The sports and music industries are littered with the wreckage of many who had the “talent” to perform but did not have the “smarts” to handle their business!

In whatever field of endeavor you are in, if you will determine to be competent in what you are doing. If you will make up your mind to refuse to drown in a sea of mediocrity. If you will determine to be the best in your chosen field. If you will always do more than what is required and do it well; not settling for doing just enough to get by. If you will elevate the standards and expectations for yourself and those with whom you associate: The world will beat a path to your doorstep and elevate you to the top of your field! If you will adopt excellence as your standard, you will rise to the top!

The “Crazy” Things We Say In Church!

You can ask any of the members of the church I serve and they will tell you that one of my pet peeves is the ridiculous things people say in church! I am really disturbed by many the sayings and clichés that people put forth as “gospel truth” but in reality, are not the “gospel” and neither are they the “truth!” Let me show you what I am talking about: How many times have you heard someone say at a funeral in reference to the person who died, that God just picked a flower for His garden? Or how about the case in which a young person is murdered and somebody says, in a vain attempt to comfort the family: “God don’t make mistakes, the Lord just took him!” I mean, seriously! Think about it! I know it is an attempt to make the family feel better, but such sayings are really on the verge (if they are not already) of blasphemy! For one thing: God doesn’t cause people to die, just to beautify his “garden” in Heaven! (The Bible talks about Heaven as a city with pearly gates and streets paved with gold, but I have yet to find scriptural references for the heavenly gardens! Perhaps it may be a veiled reference to the ultimate Garden of Eden, but even then, I can’t see God “killing” people to beautify it!). And how can someone’s murder be an act of God? It is the enemy that wants us to die early! The Lord wants us to stay here as long as possible so that we might be witnesses for Him and cause others to be saved! We really are more useful to God, doing His will on earth than being “up there” sitting around the throne or singing in the Heavenly Choir!

But I am really annoyed by some of the songs that are being sung by choirs and quartet singers with their lyrics constantly repeated by preachers, deacons, and other church people as the “God-ordained” truth who should know better! Try to count how many times you have been in a worship experience and heard the words: “When (the) praises go up; (the) blessings come down!” I’ve even heard preachers and deacons say: “Everybody Praise the Lord! You ought to praise Him because when praises go up, the blessings come down!” I mean, seriously? Where is that idea found in the Bible? Not only is that idea not found; it is not even remotely implied! If you were to do a search on all of the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that are translated as “praise” and are associated with the concept of praising the Lord and/or God, you would not find one single occurrence where anybody in the Bible praised the Lord in an attempt to get a blessing! In fact, you would discover that in the Bible, people didn’t praise God to get Him to do something; they praised God for what He had already done! People didn’t praise God to get something from him; they praised him for what he had already given them! In the Bible, praise was always the response to the goodness of the Lord! People in the Bible didn’t praise God to get a blessing; they praised Him because of the blessings he had already given! We can’t “bribe” God with our praise! He is not some “cosmic slot-machine” in which we pull the “praise-lever” and He sends down the “blessing-coins!” NO!!! If the Lord doesn’t do anything else for us, He’s already done more than enough for us to praise Him throughout all eternity! PRAISE THE LORD EVERYBODY! PRAISE THE LORD EVERYBODY!  CAUSE. . . .HE’S BEEN, AND HE IS. . .  MIGHTY GOOD!!!!

What Is Your Name?

In the Bible there is a story about a man who was living in the cemetery! This man was wild and out of control; no one could handle him! He was a menace to his society. There had been attempts to contain or control him by binding him with chains, but every time someone would bind him, he would break the chains! The man was possessed with unclean spirits and was suicidal, for the Bible says that, daily he would be in the mountains and in the tombs, cutting himself with stones!

When this man met Jesus, the Lord asked him; “What is your name?” In those days, it was believed that if one could discover the name of an evil spirit, then one would be able to exercise control over it. One of the spirits within the man responded by saying; “My name is Legion, for we are many!” You see, that was a big part of the man’s problem: He had lost his identity because he had tried to answer to too many names!

Could that possibly be what is wrong with many people in our society today? Could it be that many are suicidal, out of control, disoriented or dysfunctional because they are trying to answer to too many names? In ancient Jewish and African societies, a person’s name was more than just an appellation by which they were called; the name revealed the essence of a person’s character. The name was not just a label; the name was who a person was! What is your name? I’m not talking about the name on your birth certificate or on your marriage license. When destiny calls you, by what name do you answer? Have you accepted the labels; the names that people have given you and spent your life trying to answer to those names? Or do you answer to the name calling you from deep down within your spirit?

I believe that there is an ultimate calling or name (if you please) for each and every individual! The goal of life is the discovery of, and the living up to, that name! However, that name will never be discovered and it’s purpose will never be served if we allow ourselves to accept names given to us by other people! Too many people just accept that they are who other people tell them they are instead of discovering their true identity for themselves! What is your name? You will never be all that you can be until you discover what and who you were meant to be! This is something that you must do for yourself! Don’t allow others to name you, for then you give them control over you! Don’t try to answer to too many names, for then you will eventually lose yourself in the process! You will never be able to achieve your full potential and purpose until you can answer that basic fundamental question: “What is your name?”

The Thief of John 10:10

Who is the thief in John 10:10?

 In most of the preaching and teaching that I hear, as of late, the thief in John 10:10 is portrayed as being the devil, seeking to rob the believer of his earthly possessions. But is this interpretation supported by the text? Is this the meaning that Jesus was seeking to convey when he uttered these words? I believe that a careful, honest, exegetical study of the text would lead us to a much different conclusion.

Context: This text is part of a discourse by Jesus in which he is likening himself to being the Door of the sheep (v.7) and the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (v. 11). He is somewhat veiled as the door in verse 1, but he reveals himself plainly in verse 7.  So, the contrast is between one who would enter the sheepfold by the door and one who would seek to come in another way (the thief). It is between the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep and the hireling who runs at the first sign of trouble. So, it seems obvious from the text that Jesus is not speaking of demonic forces, but rather it seems to be a polemic argument directed against the religious rulers of his day.

Note that the “thief” is first introduced in this discourse in John 10:1, where he is described as one who does not enter by the door into the sheepfold, but seeks to enter in by some other way. The sheepfold was an enclosed area where the sheep were kept during the night. In ancient times, sheep from various folds would all be mixed together in a sheepfold during the night. In the morning, the various shepherds would call their sheep and the sheep in turn, upon hearing their individual shepherd’s voice, would go out, separating themselves into various flocks, according to the dictates of each individual shepherd’s voice and call. So the thief is one who would attempt to gain illegal access to the sheep in the sheepfold during the night.

Word Study: Performing a word-study on significant words in verse 10 provides valuable insights to the identity of the thief. So, let’s start with the word for “kill.”

A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in our text, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in the NT. It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice.

Now, the fact that this particular word for “kill” is used our text, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can surmise that the “thief” is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief being the religious leader, who was sacrificing the people for his own personal benefit and profit.

In contrast to some modern teachings on this text, the thief is not the devil, but rather the thief is that religious leader, that pastor, that bishop or whoever would destroy people by taking advantage of them.

Another word study that would give even more credence to our original hypothesis is a study of the Greek word for “life” in this text. In the Greek NT, “zoe” is used to denote a higher form of life, the quality of life. “Bios” is used to denote the “stuff” of life, that which is needed to sustain life physically, wealth, possessions, and the quantity of life. Contrary to the modern teachings, Jesus did not come to give us more “stuff” in life. If this was the case, the author would have used the word, “bios” but he used the word “zoe.” When the widow cast in her offering, as is recorded in Mark and Luke, Jesus said that she cast in more than any one else because the other offerings were from the surplus or the extra that people had. But the woman gave all that she had, even her living (bios).

Jesus specifically said that a man’s life (zoe) does not consist in the abundance of the things he might possess. So, to make his coming to be for the purpose that we might have more stuff and that more abundantly, is totally a blatant disregard for what the text actually says and a direct contradiction of what Jesus said! It is a demeaning mockery of the Cross!

Conclusion and Application:

So from this exegetical study, we can confidently say that the thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather a religious leader who sacrifices the flock for personal gain. To be even more specific, the thief was the Pharisee or scribe who was using his position to take advantage of the people. Instead of helping the man in chapter 9, they kicked him out of the synagogue!  Instead of helping him, they sought to destroy him because of his association with Jesus. And then finally, Jesus did not come so that we might have more “stuff,” he came that we might have eternal (zoe) life!

Preaching with an iPad

I have been preaching with an iPad for two (2) years now and I love it, let me tell you why!

My Preaching Delivery Evolution: Outline-Paper manuscript-iPad

First of all, I am a manuscript preacher (my Daddy used to call them: “Paper Boys!) I didn’t start out that way, it just evolved as time went on. When I first started preaching in 1978, I would write out an introduction, do a 3-point outline with 3 sub-points and then write out my conclusion. I would take this single piece of paper to the pulpit with me, inserted in my Bible. Occasionally, I would get bold, commit the outline to memory and go to the pulpit with only my Bible.

I committed to using manuscripts exclusively in 1993. I was working on a sermon and I wanted to make sure I got to all the points, so for the first time, I wrote the sermon out completely: word for word. I did OK with memory and notes, but occasionally I would forget something or go “too long!” At any rate, when I first started using manuscripts, it was awkward, but the more I did it, the more I liked it! It kept me from going all over the Bible and was a more efficient use of preaching time for me. I started out hand writing my sermons (double-spaced) on yellow legal pad and taking the pages to the pulpit with me in a leather portfolio. Later on, after I brushed up on my keyboarding skills, I typed them double-spaced, landscape booklet form and stapled them together down the center. When I preached and turned the pages, it gave the appearance that I was turning the pages of my Bible (cool huh?)

The problem with the a fore mentioned process was across the years, I had accumulated boxes and boxes of notes and used a tremendous amount of ink, not to mention money spent on paper, ink and printers! And then, I bought an iPad 2 in April 2011!

Here is how I do it now:

During my research, I type my notes on my iPad, using the standard note application. That way I can access my notes on my iPad or my iPhone. When I type the actual manuscript, I use MicroSoft Word on my desktop or laptop (whichever one my wife is not using when I am ready to write). For reading comfort on the iPad, I use 22 point Chancery font, double-spaced. Once I have finished typing, I save the file in two places: In my sermon file folder on my computer as a “word” file and in my Dropbox as a PDF file. After I open it in Dropbox on my iPad, I send it to “Good Reader,” which is the application I use to read and deliver from. I like Good Reader because I like to turn the pages swiping from side to side as oppose to scrolling up and down in Dropbox. I also number my pages in Good Reader, so as to not lose my place should I accidentally tap my iPad screen.

In the pulpit with the iPad:

When I go to preach with my iPad, I carry it to the pulpit in a Portenzo brand case that actually looks like a book! (I don’t want to call too much attention to the fact that I am preaching from an iPad) It is a good practice to make sure the iPad is adequately charged with all sounds and notifications cut off. Just to be on the safe side, I also switch the wifi off or put it on airplane mode. I also lock the screen orientation to portrait so the screen will not rotate to landscape should I happen to pick the iPad up in the excitement of preaching!

Well, that’s the way I do it with my iPad! I thought about the iPad Mini, but I couldn’t justify spending that much money for what is essentially a smaller version of what I already have and besides that, my wife wouldn’t let me!

If you are using an iPad for preaching and/or teaching, leave a comment and let me know how you do it!