Facebook Theology

When I woke up this morning and checked my Messenger app, I read this message entitled: “30 Second Prayer.” 

It said: “Lord, thank you for this Great Day! I love you and I need you to come into my heart to bless Me, my Family, my Home, my Work, my Friends and my special Loved Ones, Amen.” The message went on to say: “Please send this prayer to a minimum of 20 People. Something good will happen to you tomorrow at 10:30 am. Someone will call you be phone or will talk to you about something you were waiting to have. This is not a joke. Do not break this Prayer. Miracles do happen.”

Well, when I read this, I was immediately struck by the selfishness of the prayer! But then, we do live in a selfish and self-centered culture! We are so selfish and self-centered that we think Christianity and faith is all about what God can do for us! Now, I am going to say this now, so you can decide whether or not you want to continue reading the rest of this post: Much of what we read and see on Facebook and other social media platforms is not representative of real Christianity or real biblical faith! Much of what we see and read falls into the category of what can be called; Facebook theology or media theology.

Like the folk theology of yester-years, Facebook or media theology is theology that is constructed, not from a correct study and exegesis of the biblical text, but rather from a cursory reading of the Bible, that produces swallow and often non-sensical theological thoughts and concepts. Because we are living in the “Google Age,” most people don’t take the time to do in-depth Bible study for themselves, they just look up what someone else has said on the Internet. They think that just because it’s on the Internet; it must be true!

But let’s dissect and analyze this prayer to illustrate my point. “Lord, thank you for this Great Day!” So far, so good! We should all be thankful for any and every day we’re on top of the dirt and the dirt is not on top of us! And, every day is indeed a great day! But the prayer goes on: “I love you and I need you to come into my heart to bless Me . . . . .” Here’s where the real issues are: The prayer acknowledges a love for the Lord, but immediately moves to what ‘I need’ the Lord to do for me! No acknowledgement of the Lord’s majesty or sovereignty, it immediately goes to what ‘I need’ the Lord to do for me! But then, it is ‘a 30-second prayer!’ But the prayer asks the Lord to come into my heart to bless me, my family, my home, etc. Well, many people might be shocked to know that the primary purpose of the Lord coming into our lives is NOT TO BLESS US! Salvation or the Lord coming into our life IS THE BLESSING! Our primary quest should not be for what God can do for us; our primary quest should be for God Himself! In the Bible, we are not instructed to seek His blessings; we are instructed to seek Him! The reason for that is because when you have Him; you already have all the blessings you will ever need! The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (ESV) Note the tense; he didn’t say ‘will bless,’ he said ‘has blessed.’ If you are in Christ, you don’t need to be blessed, because you’ve already been blessed! Now, I hear you! You’re saying, “That’s sounds good, but Paul was talking about ‘spiritual blessings in the heavenly places’ but I need material blessings in the earthly realm!” Well, you have to understand that everything material is produced from or has it’s genesis in the spiritual! It is the spiritual that produces the physical. If it is not produced by the spiritual in the spiritual realm, it will not be manifested in the material or physical realm! The Apostle Peter wrote to his readers in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (ESV) Again, note the tense: “His divine power ‘has granted’ to us ‘all things’ that pertain to life and godliness. . . .” My point is this, if we are in Christ: Every blessing we need; we already have! We don’t need to pray for God to bless us because God already has blessed us with every blessing God has to give! God cannot give us what God has already given to us! No! We don’t need to be praying for God to give us more blessings; we need to be praying for the wisdom and understanding to manifest the blessings we already have!

Now what really got me was the message said: “Please send this prayer to a minimum of 20 people. Something good will happen to you tomorrow at 10:30 am.. . .” I understand the Old Testament Prophet told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times, but I think much of what is happening today is not Divine instructions but rather superstitious bent toward on luck or chance! In this case, the prayer is not enough, I must send it to 20 people in order for something good to happen at 10:30 am! Well, when you think about it; if you wake up in the morning, something good has already happened, long before 10:30 am, unless you are a late sleeper!

But do we actually think we can be blessed and be right with God by simply saying a prayer and sending it to 20 people on Facebook Messenger? Seriously? I’ve even received chain messages that imply if I break the chain and don’t pass it on; I won’t be blessed and I don’t love the Lord! Seriously? I tell the members of the church I serve: “Your best witness for Jesus at your work-place is not sending out Facebook chain prayers or messages when you should be working! Your best witness for Jesus on your job is to do your job with a spirit of excellence!

Facebook and other social media platforms can be excellent tools for spreading the Gospel, but we should make sure we are indeed spreading Gospel and not religious folk-superstition! The Apostle John said in his context: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1 ESV) If he were writing today in our contemporary culture and context, he would write: “My friends, do no believe, pass on, or repost every Facebook or Messenger posts you receive. Read and study your Bible to make sure the message is biblically sound and theologically correct first! For there are many who are posting today who have not read or studied the Bible and are not of God!”

Real Christianity?

There is an old song that says: “Everybody talking about Heaven ain’t Going!” The meaning behind the words of the song is that just because a person talks about Heaven or talks about going to Heaven, that doesn’t mean they will actually go! Well, the same is true for everyone who claims to be a Christian: Everyone who claims to be a Christian is not actually a Christian! And just because a person says that he or she is a Christian, that declaration does not make them one! I wanted to bring this out because there are many today who are calling themselves Christians, but their actions are so anti-Christian that their actions are causing those who are not Christians to despise the name of Christ! Now of course, this is nothing new: The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, cites Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24: “ For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (ESV) The word ‘blasphemed’ means, ‘to be spoken evil of.’ There are many people in the world today who want nothing to do with Christianity or the God of Christianity because of the acts and attitudes of people who ‘say’ they are Christians! So, for the record, let’s find a simple answer to who and what is a Christian.

Simply put; a Christian is a person who follows (is committed to imitate) Christ. A Christian is a person who faithfully represents the beliefs, actions, and attitudes of Jesus Christ. A Christian is a person who does what Jesus would do! A Christian is a person who follows (obeys) the principles and teachings of Jesus by faithfully following and enacting those principles and teachings in his or her own life within their present cultural context. The term ‘Christian’ is not a political term in the sense of party affiliation or platform. Therefore, those who attempt to use the name; Christian to promote a political or social agenda other than righteousness and justice are illegitimate imitators of the faith!

Let me put it in the kitchen so you can cook it: The vast majority of people, making to the most noise in the name of Christianity on the political scene in America today ARE NOT true biblical Christians! They are merely using the name to promote their political agendas! The Jesus of the Bible would not be in agreement with the mean-spirited racist rhetoric that is coming out of the mouths of many who claim to be Christians in America today! The Jesus of the Bible would NOT endorse the KKK, DID NOT endorse American slavery, and is NOT please with many of the policies of the present administration in Washington! Now, this is not to say that Jesus was pleased with all of the actions of the past administration, but to highlight the fact that just because you hear people say they are acting in the name of Christ; that doesn’t mean they really are! The Jesus of the Bible IS NOT pleased with America’s systemic racist injustice system that is bias against the poor and people of color! The Jesus of the Bible IS NOT in favor of white privilege and the oppressive practices of the rich and well-to-do! The Jesus of the Bible would NOT rubber-stamp the actions of our current president the way many so-called evangelical Christians  are doing! And speaking of the so-called evangelical Christians, I just read a report from Pew that asked Americans if the U. S. had a responsibility to accept refugees. No group – racial, by age, religious or political – was less supportive of the idea than white evangelical Protestants! The group least likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees is the group that claims to follow the ONE who would most likely think the U. S. has a responsibility!

The problem with so-called American Christianity is the fact that many of its followers tend to compartmentalize their faith. They have separated their faith from their politics and see no connection between one and the other. They espouse the possibility of being politically evil and morally good at the same time! But real biblical faith is not divorced from politics; real biblical faith shapes politics! Real biblical faith demands a political agenda that demands, letting justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)

The problem with so-called American Christianity is the fact that, for many of its proponents, faith is submissive to economic, politics and ethnicity. The ‘Jesus’ they serve is a reflection of them as opposed to them being a reflection of him. Hence, when one creates a ‘Jesus’ that reflects one’s own personal, political, and social beliefs, that ‘Jesus’ is an idol and NOT the Jesus of the Bible!

If you want to know what real Christianity looks like, don’t look at what you often see in America today; take a look in the BOOK! Now, we all sometimes fall short of the glory (the perfect idea) of God, but real Christians are honest about their short-comings, repent and strive to get better. Real Christians are submissive to the demands of Christ and seek to be molded into His image instead of seeking to making demands of a Christ they have made in their image!

How I Use Biblical Software To Prepare Sermons

I have been preaching for nearly forty (40) years and my research and study has been tremendously accelerated by the use of biblical software for almost half of those years. There is much debate today among preachers and scholars as to which is better; electronic books or paper books? With me, it all depends. Some of my resources are in both forms. Sometimes I like to sit and read with a physical book in my hands and then, at other times, I like to sit in front of my computer to do my studies, sermon preparation, and research. But I want to share in this post, how I use biblical software in the study, research and preparation of sermons and/or biblical lessons. I have tried several across the years, but the three that are my bread and butter tools are: Logos 7, BibleWorks 10, and WordSearch 11.

After much prayer and meditation, that usually begins on Monday evening, by noon Tuesday, I usually have made a general choice (unless I am in the middle of preaching a series) of what I am going to preach the coming Sunday. After selecting a biblical text, I read the text several times in several different (I read the text at least 3 to 4 times in at least five, sometimes as many as eight different versions) English versions of the Bible. I do this using the BibleWorks software. BibleWorks is excellent for doing this because the program allows you to arrange the various versions side-by-side or vertically to quickly note differences in the versions. There is also a tool within BibleWorks that will color-highlight the differences for you. I do this to get a general feel of the flow and meaning of the text. After completing this step, I then do the same thing; comparing the various Hebrew (if it is an Old Testament text) and Greek (if it is a New Testament text) Bibles that are available in BibleWorks. By the way, in BibleWorks, there are over 200 Bible translations in 40 different languages, over 50 original languages and morphology databases, with dozens of lexical-grammatical references, plus a wealth of practical reference works, all available in the standard package at no additional costs! It is during the comparison-analysis of the original languages that I also conduct my word-studies. My first goal is to establish the integrity of the text. I especially want to do this if it is a familiar text because I want to find out, as best I can, what the original author actually said and/or meant, as opposed to the popular or common ideas of what the author said and meant. The only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the text in the original languages. Now, if you have not studied the original languages, BibleWorks will greatly aid in overcoming that deficiency because, even as you look at the various English versions, you can hover your mouse over the English words and BibleWorks will display the corresponding Greek and Hebrew words and meanings in pop-ups and in the analysis window of the software. This information is available in an instant! It would take at least five to ten minutes per word to do this manually with paper books! Now, I use BibleWorks, primarily to establish the integrity of the text and for my initial word-study analysis, usually this process takes about a day of study or about 3-5 hours. As a pastor, husband, and part-time student, there are also many other demands upon my time. But usually the first day of study is devoted to establishing the integrity of the text; using BibleWorks as my primary tool.

The next phrase of study is where the Logos Bible Software comes into play! Although BibleWorks has an extensive selection of Bibles in English and in the original languages, there are still some that are available in Logos that are not currently available in BibleWorks, such as the Amplified Bible, for example. So when I first open Logos, I continue some of the work that I started with BibleWorks. This also includes consulting various lexicons and biblical dictionaries I have that are in Logos, but not in BibleWorks. In some cases, it is not a matter of these resources being available in one software and not in the other. In some cases, I purchased resources in the Logos format, rather than in BibleWorks because of how Logos cross-indexes and integrates the various resources. Plus, I’ve owned Logos longer than BibleWorks, so there are some things I know how to do in Logos that I have not learned how to do in BibleWorks. At any rate, I type the passage in and click go and within a matter of seconds, Logos pulls up every Bible, lexicon, dictionary, commentary and any other resources from my Logos library of resources that I have purchased across the years! As of the writing of this post, there are over 3,000 resources in my Logos library, representing an investment of over $13,000 in 15 years! The first tool I use with Logos is the Exegetical Guide. Type in the text and within a matter of seconds, every Bible (English, Hebrew, and Greek), lexical resource and Bible dictionary in my library is displayed; already cued or located at the text and the words of the text! Logos brings up in seconds what would take hours to do in paper books!

By the time, I’ve finished establishing the integrity of the text, using BibleWorks and Logos, it is usually late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The plan is to spend study time Thursday consulting what various commentaries say about the text. Now, by this time, I already have a pretty good feel of the author’s original intent and where I want to go with the text, but I consult commentaries to compare my findings with what other biblical scholars say about the text and also to gain additional insights. I was taught, and I strongly agree, that preachers should never consult the commentaries before the completion of their own personal work of research and study. Going to the commentaries first will short-circuit the development of your own investigative and research skills and severely compromise what the Holy Spirit wants to say to and through you to your listeners. But even in dealing with the commentaries, don’t just read the ones you agree with or the only the ones of your own personal theological slant. Read commentaries that challenge and as well as confirm your findings, thoughts and views.

Most of the commentaries I own are found in my Logos software (nearly 1,500 volumes). To access my commentaries in Logos, I click on the Passage Guide tool, type in the text, click go, and every Bible, commentary and any other resource in my library that deals with the text instantly opens to my text and/or pulls up pertinent information about the text; all in a matter of seconds! However, some of my favorite commentaries are only in my WordSearch software, such as The Preacher’s Sermon and Outline Bible, Barnes Notes of the Old and New Testaments and a few others. There are also times when I consult commentaries that I only have in book-form. As a side note, there are some books that I own in book-form that I have also purchased in various software platforms. Some of these, I purchased years before I became computer savvy and once they became available in software form, I purchased them again because of the ease of use and the speed of research the software provides.

Well, Friday is the day I usually write the sermon! Yes, I am (as my Daddy used to describe preachers who use manuscripts) a paper boy! I have detailed that process in a prior post (From the Mind to the Manuscript: 5/2/13) But I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what biblical software platforms I use and how I use  them. If you are serious about biblical studies; whether you are a preacher, teacher, or just someone who loves the Bible, I strongly suggest you look into investing into a biblical software program. Of the three I use, each one has strengths and weaknesses. There are some tasks I do in one that can’t be done (I have not learn how to do) in the others and there are some task that could be done by any one of them with equal ease. But as I use them, they don’t compete with one another; they complement one another. You can check them out at their various websites for pricing and more exact details. You can find out more about Logos Bible Software at: www.logos.com BibleWorks at www.bibleworks.com and WordSearch at www.wordsearchbible.com.

Good for Goose and Gander; One and All?

There is an old proverb that says: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander! The meaning is: ‘What is good for a woman is equally good for a man.’ The principle is: What is good for one type is equally good for another type, despite any irrelevant differences between the types. Well, we live in a culture and society wherein it seems the rights of the individual are being promoted and respected over the good of the group, even if those rights are detrimental to the group of which the individual is a member.

I’ve been thinking about something that I am trying to ‘flesh-out’ to see if it is a universally applicable principle in view of the insistence of individuals to demand the right to express themselves, even if their expressions are contrary and harmful to the group. Here’s the principle I’ve been investigating: ‘If it is good or right for one or some; it should be good or right for all!’ Now, let’s see how that works with some of the issues that are being debated in our society today.

Let’s start with racism. If it is good or right for one or some people to be racist; it should be good or right for all people to be racist! But, what kind of world would it be if everybody was a racist? Would it be a world that anyone would want to live in? I don’t think so! I think it would be Hell! If everybody thought and acted like they were better or more privileged than everybody else, we would have the recipe for a chaotic and dangerous society!

And speaking of danger: What would society look like if it was good and right for everyone to own and carry guns? Well, we really don’t have to imagine what it would look like; we’ve already been there and done that: It was the era of the wild, wild west! You can see milder versions of what that was like by looking at old episodes of Gun-smoke, Rifleman, and Bonanza! As I am typing this post, I am recalling news reports of shoot-outs between gang members and law enforcement that rival and surpass the famous gun fight at the OK Corral!

At the risk of being labelled hateful and insensitive, I dare bring up the issue of homosexuality! If it is good and right for one or some people to be homosexual; it should be good and right for everybody to be homosexual. But what would our world look like if everyone was a practicing homosexual? In fact, perhaps an even greater question is: Would there be a world at all? It takes a man and a woman to have a baby. Would we really be at ease and satisfied with a generation of test-tube babies; all produced by artificial insemination? I don’t think we would!

What about criminal activity? If it is right and good for one or some people to be crooks, then it is good and right for all people to be crooks! But what kind of world would it be if everybody was a crook? If everyone was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a devious person, a pervert, or whatever? Do you see my point?

The point is this: Whether we like it or not, there are moral principles and guidelines that have been instituted by a Higher Power! Man, in his arrogance, likes to think of himself as being his own god! But, if everybody was their own god; society would break down into chaos! (By the way; since we have thrown off the yoke of the true God, this is exactly where we are headed!) Just because you may not like or agree with these moral principles, that doesn’t exempt you from their jurisdiction! People think it is OK to break God’s laws, but in the final analysis; they really don’t just break the law; the law breaks them! Our world is filled with people who are broken, disconnected and lost because of their attempt to be their own god! In the final analysis: What’s good for the goose may or may not be good for the gander, but it is not the right of the goose or the gander to decide what that ‘good’ is! That right is reserved only for the Creator of the goose and the gander! The Creator of the goose and the gander knows that there are some things that are good for the goose and the gander, but there are also some things that are good for the goose but not for the gander!

A Conversation With My Self (A sermon on self-talk)

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation”  Psalm 42:5 ESV

“Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  Psalm 42:5 AMP

Because of their share vocabulary, themes, and refrain, most biblical scholars think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were originally one unit. They open a collection of psalms (42-49), attributed to the Korahites, which opens the Second Book of the Psalms. The exact setting of this unit (42-43) is unknown, but it appears to be the prayer of an individual estranged from his home and the Temple. Some have suggested that Psalm 42-43 was written by David when he was driven from Jerusalem during Absalom’s (David’s son) rebellion. But whoever he is, the psalmist is being taunted by his enemies, he has been exiled or otherwise denied access to the Temple, and he is in despair. The unit can be divided into three sections: (1) 42:1-5, (2) 42:6-11, and (3) 43:1-5. The unit is held together by a recurring refrain in 42:5, 11, and 43:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 17th century, known as; “The Prince of Preachers,” commented on this text: “As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hopes argues with his sorrows.” Yes! In this psalm, we have a record of a man who had a conversation with himself.

Now, before you think that strange, having a conversation with yourself is actually normal and natural behavior! In fact, research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day! The real strangeness is not in actually talking to yourself; it is when you constantly do it out loud! So, having a conversation with yourself is an occurrence that happens all of the time! The truth of the matter is that no one does anything without talking to themselves first! Before every decision; we have a conversation with our selves. After every compliment or complaint; we have a conversation with ourselves! But what kind of conversation is it? Researchers say that 80% of the conversations we have with ourselves are negative and disempowering, things like: “They don’t like me. . . I’m never going to be able to pull this off. . . I’ll never lose this weight.” And when we constantly have these types of conversations with ourselves, it is no wonder that we must constantly have battles of anxiety and depression because 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves!

In the text, the psalmist seems to be battling with depression. But the thing I like about it is that, although, he is somewhat depressed, as a child of God, he knows better, and so, he has a conversation with himself! He asked his soul; his inner self: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In other words: “Self, why are you so depressed?” Now, if and whenever we find ourselves feeling sad or depressed, the best place to start of the road to recovery is to ask the question: ‘Why?’ When we ask; why?, we just might discover our feelings really are not justified! The song writer asked her soul: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart by lonely and lone for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Yes! The psalmist asked himself: “Why are you depressed and why are you filled with anxiety?” He tells himself, first of all, to hope in God. The Hebrew word for ‘hope’ in the text, means ‘to hope, to wait with hope, to have hope with a positive expectation.’ Oh! My brothers and sisters, there it is! When you’re feeling down and out, it might be because you have been saying the wrong things to yourself and not asking yourself the right questions!

No! No matter what going on, on the outside of you; it is never as important as what going on, on the inside of you! Even the conversations we have with others are not as important as the conversations we have with ourselves! You see, most of us never quite get a handle on our lives because we keep looking without, when the problem is actually within! The negative things other folks say to us and about us are not as powerful as the negative things we say about and to ourselves! In 1 John 4:4, we read: “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV) Now, we know that the ‘he who is in you’ in that text is God, and the ‘he that is in the world’ is Satan or his designated agent, but the truth of that verse is also applicable to our subject: The ‘inner-me’ is greater than my enemy! Unless by negative self-talk, I make my ‘inner-me’ my enemy! And that is the problem with most folks! The reason they are constantly depressed and not successful in life is because they have an internal conflict; they are fighting against their own self! Therefore, we must always remember; what we say about and to ourselves is always greater than what any other person might say to or about us!

The psalmist had a conversation himself to encourage himself! Be careful of how you talk to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Never put yourself down, it’s really not needed because there are enough people in the world, standing in line, waiting to do that for you! Don’t make yourself your enemy! Yes! I like the fact that the psalmist said to himself, and I am ‘Millerizing it;’ “Self, why are you depressed and filled with anxiety? It doesn’t matter what the enemy is doing because greater is he that is within you than he that is in the world! Look to the Lord! I don’t believe He brought us this far to leave us now! If the Lord brought us to it; He’s going to bring us through it! Just sit tight, wait on the Lord and remember the good times! This is not the first time we’ve ever been in trouble! Do you remember when? The Lord did it then and He’s going to do it again! Besides, trouble don’t last always! It can’t rain forever, and even while it’s raining, up above the clouds; the sun is still shining!” That was what the psalmist said to himself! No! Things are rarely as bad as we tell ourselves they are! But, if we keep on telling ourselves how bad they are; they will get worst! Most people don’t realize it, but our words influence the way we feel and the way we feel influences the actions we take, and the consistent actions we take, have a cumulative effect of shaping our character and determining our destiny! Wherever we are right now is because of the consistent conversations we have had with ourselves in the past! If you don’t like where you are! If you want to change your destination; the change will begin when you change what you consistently say to yourself!

Now, the Bible says in KJV style: “faith cometh by hearing.” In plain language, faith is developed from what we hear. But the hearing is not just from what other folks say, it also comes from hearing what we say to ourselves! In fact, as we said earlier, what we say to ourselves is much more powerful, for good or bad, than what others say to us and here’s why: We can choose to disagree with and reject what others say to us and about us, but we always accept as truth what we say to and about ourselves, whether it is actually true or not! Now, most of the time, what we say to and about ourselves did not originate with us, but rather with some authority we believed (had faith in), from childhood, such as; our parents, teachers, and other adults. That’s why, we should be ever so careful how we talk to our children! Most messed-up adults were messed up children who accepted the bad and negative judgement and labels from parents and other adult who were messed up themselves because as children, they accepted the bad judgement of parents who were messed up because, as children. . . . you get the picture? The root of some of present-day inter-personal issues can be traced back through generations!

But, the key to changing your situation is not to be angry with your parents or any of your ancestors! When you were born, there was no manual or an instruction book sent home with you from the hospital. So, your parents did the best they could with what they knew! But since you are listening to this word today; you now have access to knowledge that could change, not only your life, but the lives of generations to come! All that is possible because now you know, you need to go home, sit down, and have a heart-to-heart honest, positive and open conversation with yourself!

Now, someone at this point might be asking; ‘Well, what should I say to myself?’ Well first of all, you need to quit telling yourself what you think about yourself and start telling yourself what God says about yourself! Quit telling yourself you are a chump because the word of God says you are a champ! Tell yourself: “Romans 8:37 says, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Quit telling yourself that you are a victim because the word of God says that you are a victor! Tell yourself: “1 John 5:4-5 says: ‘For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ Tell yourself: “Self, since I have been born of God and I believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that means I am an overcomer; I am a victor and not a victim!” Yes! You’ve got to discipline yourself to believe and accept; not what other people say and think, not even what you say and think, but rather what the Word of God (the Bible) says about you!

Now, you need to remember, I said you’ve got to discipline yourself in this area! That means, it’s not going to happen without consistent, intentional, attention and effort on your part! We’ve been talking to ourselves wrong for so long that when we start talking to ourselves right, it will not feel right, at first! We’ve been having bad conversations with ourselves for so long that having a good conversation with ourselves will seem unnatural and fake, at first! But as you stick with the program, surely, gradually, and eventually, your world and your life will be transformed by the renewal of your mind and your positive faith-affirming self-conversations. Because, when you change your conversation; you will change your thinking, and when you change your thinking; you will change your life! The Bible says: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus! That means we should think and speak like Jesus, even when we are having a conversation with ourselves!

Well, I need to quit here, but even when we change our conversation with ourselves; life won’t always be easy! Sometimes, it will seem like more than we can bear! But when the tough days come, remember the words of an old familiar song I heard them singing the other day: “Like a ship that’s tossed and driven; battered by an angry sea! When the storms of life are raging and their fury falls on me! I wonder what I have done, to make this race so hard to run, then I say to my soul; (I have a conversation with myself!) Yes, then I say to my soul: ‘Take courage! The Lord will make a way somehow!”

 

Jesus: The Only Way?

Jesus made a statement, recorded in John 14:6, that puts all who would seek to sincerely believe in and follow him in a precarious position with the world! He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) Now sometimes, when we read the Bible, the various other translations have variations of the text that leave room for different interpretations, but that is not the case with this text! Sometimes, a difference, such as a definite article used in one language as opposed to an indefinite article used in another language might leave room for a slightly different interpretation, but that is not the case with this text! With this verse; all of the English translations and versions agree with the various Greek texts, as to what Jesus said! He didn’t stutter! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ way, but ‘the’ way! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ truth, but ‘the’ truth! Jesus said, he was not ‘a’ life, but ‘the’ life! Jesus said, the only way to come to the Father (God) was through him! Oh! What a bold and audacious statement! Now, there are only three legitimate responses to what Jesus said! There are only three ways we can process what he said and only three conclusions we can reach:

We could conclude that Jesus was mentally unstable and that he was a mad-man! Now before you label me as a heretic for even raising such a possibility; it has been raised before! In the Gospel account recorded by Mark, we read: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:20-22 ESV) At one point, his own family thought he was crazy and his religious opponents accused him of being possessed by the devil! So this idea of Jesus being insane is not a new concept! Now, if Jesus was indeed mad, then we have nothing but the rambling statements of a deranged lunatic and we can dismiss all of his statements as ludicrous! But, there was too much that he said and did that made sense for us to dismiss him as crazy because of the things he said and did that did not make sense to us!

The second possibility is that Jesus was a deceiver or an imposter! This was the position of the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the established religious order of his day. In the Gospel recorded by Matthew, we read: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.’ Pilate said unto them, ‘Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.’ So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:62-66 KJV) Now, the ironic thing about that whole situation is that the very ones who accused Jesus of being a deceiver were, in fact, deceivers themselves! The very guards they posted at the grave, witnessed the resurrection, but they paid those guards to lie about what they had seen! The fact that they paid the guard to lie is a proof of the resurrection because if the resurrection didn’t happen, why lie about a lie about an event that didn’t happen? (See Matthew 28:11-15) From all accounts, Jesus was certainly not a deceiver! In fact, he was so upfront and honest that he discouraged people from following him. (See Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62) He told potential followers upfront the hardships they would have to endure and the price they would have to be prepared to pay to follow him! He wasn’t like so many of us, who tell all of the benefits first and reluctantly share the drawbacks, only if asked!

Now, before I share the third possibility, let’s look at some of the implications if Jesus was indeed a lunatic or a fraud and if Jesus is not ‘the,’ but merely ‘a way,’ ‘a truth,’ and ‘a life.’ Let’s look at the implications if there are indeed ‘other ways’ to the Father, other than Jesus. If that was indeed the case, then, Jesus came and died for nothing! And if that were true and Jesus came and died for nothing, then he was indeed a lunatic! It makes no earthly or heavenly sense to go through all that Jesus went through if there was another way! And surely, if there was another way, he would have taken it! He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Jesus was asking the Father, if it were possible, to provide another way so that it would not be necessary for him to go to the cross! Do you see that? Those who reject the claims of Jesus say there are other ways; well in the garden, Jesus wished there were other ways also! So don’t you think if there were other ways, he would have taken them? He would have been a fool and a lunatic if he didn’t! But, there were no other ways; that’s why he went to the cross, to secure the only way! So, when people say or suggest there are other ways, they are in a sense, saying that Jesus was a lunatic, because it would have been the epitome of stupidity and insanity to go to the cross if there were other options! So, if there were and are other ways; Jesus was crazy and those who follow him are crazy also!

But, what if he was right? What if, he indeed paid the price and God indeed validated his claim by raising him from the dead? If that is the case (and I believe with everything within me that it is; in fact, I am staking my eternal destiny on it!), then that means we owe him our gratitude, loyalty and ultimate allegiance! People today do not want to accept the fact of Hell and punishment because they say that God is a God of love. Well, God is a God of love! That’s why he sent Jesus! John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV) God is also a Holy God and a God of justice, that is also why God sent Jesus! The Apostle Paul declared: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV) John, the Elder, declared: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 KJV)

Now, there may be some who might read this and dismiss my claims because I use the Bible as my source. They do not think an ancient book of doctrines is valid in a modern world. What an absurd proposition! The Bible is even more valid than today’s newspaper! Besides that, aren’t we, in America, governed by a set of laws taken from an old document called the Constitution? And by the way, most of the precepts and ideas within the Constitution came directly from the Bible, as did most of the legal codes for all nations!

Jesus claimed exclusivity! “No one comes to the Father except by me!” He said! So, the ones who follow him are not being arrogant, intolerant, or trying to be more than others when they make that claim; they are just merely repeating what Jesus said and claimed! And just as Jesus was rejected and ridiculed then, his sincere followers will be rejected and ridiculed now! So, thanks Jesus! Thank you for the pickle you’ve put us in! But, those of us who sincerely believe in you and love you are more than willing to go to you outside the camp (of political correctness and social esteem) and bear the abuse that you endured! (Hebrews 13:13)

Fifty Years Later

I remember the day and I remember it well! I came home from school that Thursday afternoon to discover gospel music playing on the radio and my mother crying. I knew something was amiss because the local radio station that my mother listened to, would normally only play gospel music until noon. After the noon hour, the station would change to a rhythm and blues musical format. As for my mother crying, I had only seen her cry once before that time. It was one year earlier; February 14, 1967, the day the only grandfather I knew (her father) died. I asked my mother what was wrong, to which she replied: “King is dead!” At the time, I was a naïve seven-year-old with no clue as to what she was talking about and so I asked: “King who?” At that point, my mother sat me down and explained to me who Dr. King was and what was going on in America.

Fast-forward to fifty years later. My mother has been gone for 19 years and that naïve little seven-year-old is now a fifty-seven-year-old preacher and pastor. America, although much progress has been made, is still a nation wherein people are judged by the color of their skin more-so than the content of their character! It seems as if, for the most part, the only time some people talk about Dr. King, his dream and what happened is during Black History celebrations in February and on April 4; the anniversary of his assassination.

Tremendous progress has been made! We’ve even had a two-term Black President, but America is still a nation, wounded, handicapped, and scarred by racial prejudice and racial hatred. It’s 2018, and there are still people in this country today who still think “white is right” and “black and brown shouldn’t be around!” The nation has opted to elect a president who shows no apparent respect for the truth, the poor or the disenfranchised. Because of the climate this administration has allowed (encouraged?) closet racists have come out of their closets, boldly speaking with their lips dripping with the saliva of hatred and contempt for people who are not like them! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? In 1968, there was confrontation with the police and law enforcement in protest of the war in Vietnam. Today, there still seems to be a systemic problem and disparity between the treatment of Black and White suspects! Black suspects are more likely to be labelled as thugs, shot and killed ,while White suspects are more likely to be labelled as mentally ill, treated with respect and even given burger and fries before going to jail! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? Even in Black communities, it seems as if Black lives only really matter when they are taken by the police; otherwise, it seems to be acceptable for Blacks to kill one another over drug, family, or personal disputes! Is this the Black America of Dr. King’s dream? Even many in the church, who are supposed to be setting the moral climate of justice, righteousness and equality for the community have forsaken the path and succumbed to the lures of fame, prosperity, and money! Is this the church of Dr. King’s dream or even the church that Jesus established?

It is fifty years later! We’ve come a long way; but we have such a long way to go! Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man in and for his own time. We must quit looking and waiting for ‘another King’ and be kings and queens in our own right in our own generation. We don’t have to go to Washington, we can be agents of change, sources of inspiration and hope, right where we are! It is past time for our actions to be limited to reminiscing about what others have done in the past. We can’t get full off of yesterday’s lunch; we must cook and eat for today! Deep down inside all of us is everything needed to make an impactful difference in the world today. It’s fifty years later; the question is not whether or not the dream is still alive because it has been alive for ages! It didn’t start with Dr. King because it was alive in the hearts of the ancient prophets who spoke of a God who desired justice to roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream!

It is fifty years later! Dr. King lived and was killed for what he believed in! What about you and I today? Are we willing to take the necessary risks to stand up for justice and righteousness or will we be content to settle for the comfort of our own private prosperity as long as we are not directly impacted by the injustices and ills that still plague our society? Will we be content to just ‘talk about it’ or will we rise up and ‘be about it?’ I’ve heard all my life an old axiom that says: ‘Prayer changes things!’ But, the older I get and the more I study ‘the Book,’ I am convinced that is not entirely accurate. Prayer is not designed to change things; prayer is designed to change people so that people might change things!

It is fifty years later: Thank you Dr. King for allowing prayer to change you so that you were inspired to be an agent of change in your generation! Hopefully, we will eventually understand that you didn’t live and die for us to just remember and talk about you, but rather so that things would be easier for us to make changes in our own generation.