The Passion Of The Christian

David Kupelian explores what it really means to ‘take up your cross’
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

– Mark 8:34-37

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

– Luke 9:23

“And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

– Matthew 10:38

 


Every Easter, many dazzlingly eloquent words are written and spoken about Christ’s “Passion” – a singular historical event, graphically portrayed in films like “The Passion of the Christ,” “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” That these screen depictions serve to powerfully rekindle many believers’ gratitude for what Jesus endured for their sake is undeniable. But I wonder, how often does that appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice ignite a fire in the belly of believers to “take up the cross” themselves?

But first things first. What in the world does “taking up your cross” really mean?

‘I die daily’

In ages past, Christians dwelt a lot more on the concept of taking up the “cross” than they do these days. Today, the phrase “it’s my cross to bear” is usually a self-congratulatory reference to the fact that we have to put up with a vexing medical condition, or a child in trouble with the law, or perhaps an overbearing, live-in mother-in-law.

Admonitions from the pulpit may not shed much more light. Oh sure, a well-intentioned minister will reverently read one of the scriptures cited above on “taking up the cross,” and he might even briefly plug the ideal of self-denial. But too often this amounts to a polite nod to a notion that seems both archaic and almost irrelevant, or at least unattainable, and the pastor just moves on to more pleasant topics – like how grateful we are for Christ’s death and resurrection.

It wasn’t always so. Throughout past centuries, Christian philosophers and mystics dwelt at length on the crucial, life-and-death need for repentance, resignation, “mortification,” the “crucifixion” of sin in man, and the “death of the carnal man” or of “the creaturely self” and so on.

The Apostle Paul said it most powerfully and succinctly when he wrote: “I die daily.”

Unfortunately, much of what has been written in more contemplative eras about this inner transformation of man is highly poetic and allegorical – an attempt to use mere words to chart the narrow path that connects man’s lowly estate with God’s heavenly one. Although such archaic language may be profound, it’s probably insufficient for Christians today, buffeted as we are on the outside by a voracious and atheistic secular culture, and on the inside by what is increasingly a simplistic and far less rigorous Christianity than that embraced by our forefathers.

Please allow me to take a stab at this, from a somewhat different angle – this command from Jesus Christ that each of His followers “take up his cross daily.”

Killing the creature

What exactly is this “creaturely self” that Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have so colorfully warned we must “slay” or “crucify” if we’re to inherit the Kingdom of God?

It’s self-evident that we’re all born with a troublesome nature called “pride.” Basically, pride is the part of us that wants to be like God. It loves being praised, quickly puffs up with angry judgment over the real or perceived wrongs of others – and as a rule is oblivious to its own faults. Moreover, you can think of pride as a “life form” – a living, breathing “something” which, like any other life form or “creature,” can be fed or starved. When it’s fed, it grows and enlarges; when it is starved, it diminishes and dies – daily.

As our pride – our “sin self” – diminishes and dies through obedience to God, the direct result is that our good side, our true God-centered character and identity, enlarges.

We’re not talking about matters of dogma here. Nor is this just a matter of outward behaviors and “works.” So please don’t e-mail me with arguments about “faith vs. works.” This is about real change – about transformation – the mystical heart of the true Christian life, about “dying to the world.” Not an archaic, poetic and hopelessly idealistic notion, but the very heartbeat of our everyday life, as we deal with stresses and problems (“trials and tribulations”) in our lives.

Of course – and this is something of a divine paradox – as Christians, we know we can’t save ourselves, and yet we are most definitely called to obedience. So, let’s not slough off our responsibility to “die daily” by comfortably presuming on the unending mercy of God. His mercy is unending, indeed, but also balanced with justice, and these two seemingly contradictory qualities work together mysteriously and wonderfully toward our redemption, but only in the truly sincere human soul that doesn’t tempt God.

A different kind of love

To understand what “taking up the cross” means, we have to understand why Jesus Himself had to suffer.

More pointedly, if our loving God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent – which He is – why then did His own Son have to be tortured and executed? Countless people throughout the ages have asked, “If God is love, why would he require his own son to endure such torture and death?” Indeed, many have judged God, concluding: “I could never worship a god like that.”

Although we say “God is love,” we don’t really know what either one is, do we? “God” is beyond our comprehension – like understanding infinity. And “love” – well, we use that word to describe our “strong feelings” for anything and everything we’re attracted to.

Let’s talk about real love.

There’s one element present in almost every authentic manifestation of real love among us human beings. And that is – are you ready for this? – suffering. From the ultimate expression of love – “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” – to the simple act of being patient with others, love implies forbearance, longsuffering and kindness in the midst of problems.

Here’s how Webster defines “patience”: “the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, or anger.”

Certainly, Jesus’ words as he was dying on the cross – “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” – are the kindest, most patient words ever spoken.

Thus, patience is nothing less than the basic “cell” or building block of love for each other. The very idea of being patient implies suffering with grace. The recipient of your patience – say, your spouse or child – experiences that patience as love, just as they experience your impatience as a lack of love.

Still, why is love inextricably tied to suffering?

Just think: God is the architect of an awesome expanding universe involving heavenly bodies and distances and speeds and temperatures beyond human comprehension, as well as of a never-ending microscopic cosmos of orbiting particles and universes within universes, all too small for human eyes or minds to conceive. And yet, there’s one thing the Creator of all couldn’t just … create out of thin air. And that’s love.

Oh sure, He loves us. But I’m talking about our love for Him and for each other – fulfilling Jesus’ two greatest commandments. The only way God could “create” loving children was for us to have a choice: a choice to love Him, or to be our own god – literally, a choice to make something more important than our own lives, well-being and comfort – a choice to love, in other words – and to be able to demonstrate that love, which involves suffering.

After all, if I compel you to “love me,” is it real love? Of course not. Love always involves a choice.

Jesus’ teaching that there’s no greater love than laying down your life for a friend doesn’t only mean that you have to be willing to die for someone else by jumping into a lake to save them, or taking a bullet meant for them. Remember, Paul said, “I die daily.” It’s a different kind of “death” that’s being called for. You have to be willing to let your pride-self die – for the sake of your “neighbor” – and particularly, for your family’s well being.

Small example: If someone puts you down or treats you in a cruel or unjust way and you become angry and upset, you’ve simply failed to find God’s love in that moment and to extend it to the offending person. All of us have fallen for this temptation over and over – I know I have many times. But if we are genuinely patient – that is, if we suffer the cruelty with grace, and resist the temptation to puff up with anger because our pride was offended – we can then respond to the other person with the energy and spirit of God’s love.

So do I need to be a martyr?

Do an Internet search on the phrase “Take up your cross” and you’ll discover sermon after sermon on the necessity of being willing to be tortured and executed for Christ.

“Are you living with a martyr’s attitude, that is, willing to suffer and/or die for the cause of Christ?” asks one sermon on the topic. “We are to be Jesus’ present-day martyrs, as millions in the past literally were proven to be by giving their lives for the cause of Christ.”

Others regard the “take up your cross” reference as a call to the celibate, monastic life.

And of course there are lots of references to the conflict between man’s “natural will” and God’s will, and how they are at war with each other.

Indeed, “taking up the cross” has always been a common sermon topic. Most typically, listeners are admonished to visit the sick, feed the poor, put their spouse’s desires ahead of their own, tithe and volunteer time for church work, and the like. And while these are all fine actions to take, the problem is, one can do all of them and still remain the same faithless, resentful, doubtful, guilt-ridden, but heavily compensated “nice” person. Worse, the approval and adulation we receive from others for our “good works” often serves to further blind us from seeing and repenting of our well-concealed sinful nature.

The point is, we’re not so much in need of a behavior change as we are of a nature change. The “cross” Christ prescribes for us is an instrument of death. But just as He died to bring life, we are supposed to “die” to sin that we may share His life.

All of which boils down to this: The real “cross” we have to bear is that we have a fallen nature, which we need to understand and relate to properly — which allows God to change us.

Let’s start with an obvious example – sex. Men in particular are born with a sexual nature that needs to be restrained. If not, men would want to express this drive virtually all of the time. Obviously, men need to control this “animal nature” or “creaturely self.”

Likewise, what if somebody wrongs you so egregiously that you have an impulse to do him bodily harm? You better restrain that impulse too, right?

So much for the obvious. How about something more subtle?

Let’s say we suffer from envious thoughts. To covet is to break one of the 10 Commandments. So how do we deal with these troublesome feelings? How do we “restrain” them? Certainly not by wallowing in them and indulging them. But also not by repressing them, or attempting to manufacture “good” thoughts and feelings in their place. The Christian answer might be to pray, but what form of prayer? Try this out: If you notice envious thoughts, just observe them – honestly, sincerely, without escaping or trying to change them or making excuses for them or justifying them or getting upset over them. Just see what you see, with poise and dignity – and quietly, wordlessly, cry inwardly to God for help. He will.

This is true transparency, which is resignation of your will to His. It calls forth the very process of regeneration, imperceptible though it may be to us.

Put another way, “dying” to the world is like fasting – but not from food. The real “fast” God desires is that we fast from evil thoughts, from anger, from envy, from lust, from greed and so on. He wants us to abstain from being irritated by provocations, from becoming impatient and angry toward others, from temptation of all sorts.

The truth is, we’re never closer to God than when we’re just plain quiet and still, aware of all of our defects in each precious moment, looking at ourselves first and foremost, without judgment or worry, and having quiet faith that God is there with us and that He will help us.

Shortly before His Passion and death, Jesus gave his disciples what He called “a new commandment” – namely, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Of course, since He had previously brought forth the Old Testament commandments to love God “with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), how was this Last Supper commandment then “new”?

It was new because He was raising the bar to a higher standard. He was now asking us to love one another as He loved us.

We are supposed to live the way Jesus lived, and to suffer the way He suffered. (I said, the way he suffered – with love for each other through obedience to the Father – though obviously not to the extent He suffered.) And, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that does not mean only sharing the Gospel of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection with as many people as possible. We are called to a still higher standard – to live as He lived – or maybe to put it more aptly, to love as He loved.

Love and logic

In the classic story of “Ben-Hur,” Judah, long-consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge against Masala for falsely condemning him as a galley slave and imprisoning his mother and sister, now lepers, witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the final unforgettable scene, Judah tells his betrothed Esther: “Almost the minute He died, I heard Him say, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

Esther, amazed, responds in a whisper: “Even then …”

“Even then,” echoes Judah. “And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.”

The real Passion of Christ must connect directly with our own internal programming and strengthen our own spirit, as it did in the story of “Ben-Hur.” We too must die the death God has prescribed for us – the death of pride, the ancient compulsion to be our own god – that we may share the true life He prepared for us, and which His Son purchased so dearly for us.

One of the main reasons I’m a Christian is simply because it makes so much sense to me. If God wanted to demonstrate His love for mankind, how else could He do it? Go ahead, tell me! What could He do to demonstrate the depth of His love? Make mountains of pomegranates for everyone? Give everyone a great job and a big house and three luxury cars? Give us everything our proud little hearts desire?

No, if God wanted to demonstrate His love for us, and at the same time provide us with the perfect, ultimate example of real love for our fellow man, what could be a more perfect expression of love than the willing suffering and death of His Son – Who while dying asked God to forgive His tormentors? The sheer beauty, logic and power of it is transcendent. If you’re looking for love in this loveless world, that’s it.

I know some will be offended by this message, as though by even mentioning and holding up the standard Jesus clearly demanded of His followers, I am somehow denying the sufficiency of His substitutionary death for all mankind.

But you see, there’s something really wrong with today’s Christianity. Over 70 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians, but our country’s government, laws, culture and institutions, from its education system to its entertainment industry – are increasingly and overtly hostile to Christianity. Even Christian families all too often are falling apart. Clearly, we’re missing something big.

So, can you handle a little tough love? Here it is: Just continually telling each other about Jesus’ death and resurrection is not enough. It’s not what He taught. Jesus didn’t say, “Just talk about me and you’ll be saved.” Rather, He said: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) And “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10) And “… he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13 KJV)

So, while as Christians during the Easter season we reflect on the Messiah’s suffering and sacrifice, the question is: What are we willing to suffer and sacrifice? Can we face our own sinfulness? It’s the one enemy most of us don’t really want to confront.

To take up our cross – to “lose our life” for His sake so that we “shall save it” – we need to repent. And we cannot repent without looking in the mirror and honestly facing the sin in our minds and hearts. To stand transparent before God so He can heal us through understanding and repentance may be as hard as watching Jesus being scourged and crucified, but watch it we must.

God honors the sincere soul who, with quiet dignity, simply faces the darkness within and repents. This is the heartbeat of our life, without which there is no real life. Each of us has this moment-to-moment choice to make, whether to defend, excuse and enlarge our sinful, hell-bent nature, or whether to pick up our cross, deny our (wrong) self, and follow Jesus – first to death, and then to life.

https://www.wnd.com/2004/02/23485/

VIDEO Unseen undercover abortion videos to go public

2-week hearing set for reporters who revealed baby-body-parts-for-sale scheme
April 21, 2019 by Bob Unruh

 

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

An undercover-video investigation that exposed the abortion industry’s sale of body parts of unborn babies will be the focus of a two-week preliminary hearing in a California court.

The case centers on the conflict between the First Amendment-based right of reporters to video people in public places and California’s privacy laws.

California brought the complaint against David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, who released more than a dozen videos in 2015 capturing Planned Parenthood executives and others negotiating for higher prices for body parts.

The videos, which are still available online, prompted some states to pull funding for abortionists and adopt new rules. The U.S. House and Senate investigated and sent referrals for criminal investigation to the Department of Justice.

But the abortionists responded with civil lawsuits against Daleiden and his organization. And they convinced pro-abortion Attorney General Xavier Becerra in California to pursue state privacy violation charges.

The Thomas More Society on Friday it will have lawyers in court Monday for the two-week preliminary hearing on “non-consensual eavesdropping and conspiracy” charges.

California Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite will decide whether Becerra, whose political campaigns have been subsidized by abortionists, can present enough evidence to require Daleiden and associate Sandra Merritt to defend themselves against 15 felony counts at a full-dress jury trial later this year.

“This hearing will mark the first time that the anonymous abortion industry witnesses who complained that they were illegally videotaped will present sworn testimony in court. It will also be the first time that excerpts of the videos – capturing alleged involvement in illegal fetal tissue sales as well as the commission of violent felony crimes against human beings – will be shown in open court,” Thomas More said.

The reference is to videos obtained at a National Abortion Federal meeting that have been suppressed by a federal judge with his own links to Planned Parenthood.

WND reported in January on plans to depose abortion industry executives as part of the case.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, another legal organization defending the undercover reporters’ work, said Planned Parenthood executive Mary Gatter, who famously said wanted a Lamborghini, will be among the people deposed.

“Backed up by legions of attorneys from two national law firms, Planned Parenthood is spending millions of dollars to destroy a young man who exposed fetal tissue trafficking in the abortion industry,” Charles LiMandri, FCDF’s chief counsel, said earlier. “We have no doubt that officials’ testimonies will shed a light on Planned Parenthood’s illegal operations.”

Here are two of the videos released by CMP:

One of the videos that has been suppressed by Judge William Orrick includes more details about the industry.

It was available only briefly online.

However, transcripts of comments by abortion executives have been preserved.

Lisa Harris, medical director for Planned Parenthood of Michigan: “Our stories don’t really have a place in a lot of pro-choice discourse and rhetoric, right? The heads that get stuck that we can’t get out. The hemorrhages that we manage.”

Susan Robinson of Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte in San Jose, California: “The fetus is a tough little object and taking it apart, I mean taking it apart, on day one is very difficult.’

Talcott Camp, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Health Freedom Project: “I’m like oh my god! I get it! When the skull is broken, that’s really sharp. I get it, I understand why people are talking about getting that skull out, that calvarium.”

Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America: “You know, sometimes she’ll tell me she wants brain, and we’ll, you know, leave the calvarium in ’til last, and then try to basically take it, or actually, you know, catch everything, and even keep it separate from the rest of the tissue so it doesn’t get lost.”

Uta Landy, founder of the Consortium of Abortion providers for Planned Parenthood: “An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that is gross.”

Her comment was followed by raucous laughter from the abortionists at the meeting of the National Abortion Federation.

In December 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives referred the Planned Parenthood Federation of American and six regional affiliates to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation.

Operation Rescue noted little attention was given to the issue under President Obama, but after Donald Trump moved into office, the investigations “appeared to show signs of life.”

See a CMP video about Planned Parenthood skirting federal law:

The “Lamborghini” executive:

Paying attention to who’s in the room when infants are born alive:

Altering abortion procedures:

Selling body parts a “valid exchange”:

https://www.wnd.com/2019/04/unseen-undercover-abortion-videos-to-go-public/


 

Hey, Revolutionaries! No Drifting Down the Secular Leftist’s River of Deception

George Orwell likely never said it, but he should have: “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Whatever its source, is there a popular dictum more apt for the state of things in 2019?

On a daily basis, twenty-first century society tees up circumstances fairly pounding the table for the facts; or some outbreak of commons sense or ground-level decency. All you would-be “revolutionaries”? Provide any of the above and you’re practically there!

Twenty-three-year-old actress Madeline Carroll was churning along nicely in the mid-2000s, landing “family-friendly roles” in film and television. Then she hit her teens and — no surprise — lascivious Hollywood decided the young starlet’s career trajectory needed to change. Performing opportunities became increasingly objectionable to Carroll who, as a Christian, had adopted the radical — revolutionary? — perspective that her work choices ought to please the One she claims to follow.

“I was going to be the … teenage girl that wanted to sleep with everybody in the school” she recently admitted to the National Religious Broadcasters. “[I]t was really devastating for me, because I had [gone] from so much happening to literally nothing happening.”

Her agents were miffed at her for declining these shots at money and fame, but her mother reaffirmed:

“It’s better, Madeline, to err on the ways of righteousness than err on the ways of the world.”

At age nineteen, a big screen part arrived — but nudity was required. She rejected the offer.

“You know, you’re crazy,” chided her agent. “if you don’t want to do nudity, I don’t know what to tell you. Because that’s literally all there is in this industry.”

An exaggeration from an exasperated handler, perhaps. Still, I’m reminded of reading somewhere that first-century Christians simply forswore any involvement in the theater of their day: sexual depravity flatly saturated every aspect of it.

“I laid it down before God and I let my dream die,” confessed the Los Angeles native. “And I truly didn’t think that I was ever gonna pick it back up again,”

Then, 2018 … another head-snapping reversal: Carroll won a major part in the religious-oriented film I Can Only Imagine. The movie opened in that week’s Top 5, wrapping it’s run with an imposing $83 million haul. She’s now collaborating on launch of a “new faith-based studio, Kingdom Studios”. “It’s time for Hollywood to wake up,” presses Carroll, “that there are people out there like me … that want to do something for His glory.”

Nice denouement to her personal drama — practically deserving silver
screen treatment. But before the inspiring third-reel of her story rolled, an ambitious young girl first had to refuse to go along with Tinsel Town’s status quo: No, I won’t disrobe in living color before audiences full of men so they can rush home and masturbate to my mental image. Not gonna be a part of that.

To libido-obsessed modern minds, them’s earthquaking words! And from a woman who pledged she wasn’t going to supinely go-along-to-get-along; at potentially disastrous professional cost. If the entertainment machine is hurtling toward the hot place, looks like it’s going to do so without Madeleine Carroll’s complicity.

Prospective revolutionaries, call your office.

Speaking of imperiling one’s career track: over the past three years upwards of eighteenintrepid souls have quit their positions with Britain’s National Health Service over concerns children are being misdiagnosed as transgender and administered harmful hormone treatments in the process. Each of these former NHS-employees were operating with teams tasked with determining whether kids as young as three should be prescribed puberty-blocking drugs, the effects of which are irreversible.

One staffer worried, “This experimental treatment is being done on not only children, but very vulnerable children.”

Carl Heneghan of Oxford University’s Centre of Evidence-based Medicine concurred, slamming the therapies as an “unregulated live experiment on children.”

These erstwhile NHS clinicians apparently arrived at the same conclusion — enough so that they determined to take attention-grabbing action.

In the span of a few dizzying years, transgender orthodoxy has become an inexorable steamroller before which nearly any cultural resistance, even mere reluctance, obsequiously yields. Count the “NHS Eighteen” as those comparatively few professionals modeling the courageous exception: they’ll no longer have a hand in medically trendy-but-ghoulish hazarding little one’s lives.

It’s the same noteworthy spirit driving a piece over at nationalreview.com where Graham Hillard lately admonished “Conservatives Shouldn’t Use Transgender Pronouns”.

“He”, “she” swapped out for “ze”, “zir”? Someone’s birth certificate specifying “male”, but collectively we’re obliged to fake he‘s “female”? And now humanity has to say grace not only over men’s and women’s willingly disfiguring their bodies, but over the disfigurement of language on behalf of their mental/emotional confusion, as well?

Hillard takes outspoken exception. “Renouncing” such balderdash “may come at a price,” he contends, “[but c]onservatives should pay it.”

While conceding transgender zaniness has become pandemic, he maintains sensible people “are to blame … if our conciliatory language impairs our ability to declare that this is wrong. It is not real. We have to stop it. … [I]f the central transgender assertion is a lie … then God forgive us if we utter a word in its favor.”

Hillard is candid about the risks involved:

To be sure, conservatives will pay a price for their stubbornness. … Jobs may be lost or friendships ruined. Our own children may one day condemn us. What is at stake, however, is the irreplaceable right to say of one thing, “true,” and of another, “false” — to define the basic realities from which our politics proceed. A man is a man. A woman is a woman. Let us not pretend otherwise.

If those embracing Judeo-Christian principles and valuing America’s founding ideals truly believe what we so snappily profess, how can we co-operate, even on the margins, with the demented, reality-disdaining forces assailing this age? Civilization-engulfing fecklessness impacts persons in the most jarringly practical ways: how they conduct themselves, the decisions they take. Civilization-preserving wisdom ought to inform our responses against the same.

Shrugging at the omnivorous fithifying of our culture, at LGBTQ depredations of troubled children or the common understanding of words isn’t an option, either. Hey, it’s just the way things are! is nothing less than a dodging-responsibility card for the culturally passive; the bleat of those complacently drifting along the Leftist-secularist lazy river swamping every front.

Meanwhile, nowadays, those enunciating unfashionable but society-preserving truths should, properly, be labelled revolutionaries. And those moving beyond what their mouths sell, actually walking out its implications? For them, Mr. Orwell, or whoever coined the original adage, should have formulated an even loftier encomium.

Original here

 

Accountability

 

April 19, 2019 by Discerning Dad

Exodus 32:21-24: He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

The idea of accountability is not something most people love to volunteer for. It has been a part of many leadership examples and activities during my career. Some people are naturally accountable to feedback, listen earnestly, and decipher how they can improve based on if the feedback was constructive or not. Other people, however, get very defensive when they receive feedback; they make excuses, and find other people to blame. I can tell you that my favorite people to lead are those who are accountable. They have a positive attitude and own up to their mistakes. It takes overall less work to lead these types of people.

Self-reflection and seeking out input from those your trust is important. John Wesley was so concerned with building a righteous fellowship that he devised a series of questions for his followers to ask each other every week. Some found this rigorous system of inquiry too demanding and left. Today, the very idea of such a procedure would horrify many churchgoers. Yet some wisely follow just such a practice. Chuck Swindoll for example, has seven questions that he and a group of fellow pastors challenge each other with periodically (C. Colson, The Body).

Aaron was a big help to Moses. God allowed Aaron to join Moses after Moses complained about not being a good speaker (Exodus 4:14). Aaron was side by side with Moses through all the miracles and exodus of the Israelites. Aaron was also the first High Priest of Israel. For all of the positives of Aaron, he had two major flaws; he gave in to peer pressure and he was not accountable to his actions as we saw in Exodus 32. Aaron knew the power and miracles of the Most High God. He knew the commandment to have “no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). So why did he give in to the Israelites demand for a golden calf while Moses was away? Aaron was weak; he feared what man thought of him more than God. He gave in and probably prepared his excuse ahead of time for when Moses came back. He had to have known things would not have ended well based on the nature of God, but he still did not have the backbone to make a stand.

It’s really in Aaron’s excuse that stood out to me as how unaccountable he was to the whole situation. He blamed how evil the people are, not how evil HIS actions were. He tried to diminish his hand in the matter when he stated that “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” I mean, I’ve heard some poor excuses from my kids before but this is just laughable right? The better response would have been confession of his sin, asking for forgiveness and pleading with God on behalf of the people. Instead what happened as a result was that about 3,000 people died that day.

Athlete Wes Fessler is quoted as saying, “good men are bound by conscience and liberated by accountability.” Holding yourself responsible for your actions may be difficult but it is freeing, the weight of the guilt and blame can only be pushed aside or pushed to someone else for so long until it comes crashing back at you.

So what does accountability look like when it comes to following God? Here are some examples
– Hearing a message from a Pastor and applying it to your life vs. thinking about someone specific that it BEST applies to… like your spouse sitting next to you.
– When your sin is confronted, exposed, or you confess, be completely open about why it happened to begin with. Do not blame someone else or your circumstances.
– You’ve probably heard the term “accountability partner”; I feel there is a definite benefit to this. Someone who you can be open and honest about, someone who can walk along side you without judgment but will push you past where you want to go versus where you need to go in Christ.
– Seek out feedback; ask someone close to you how they see your walk with God? What are ways they think you can be a better disciple of Jesus?

If we are penitent and contrite in our responses to the feedback we receive or the sin that is revealed in us, we have a real chance at growth in our spiritual walk with the Lord. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Despite what your fleshly inclination might be, choose repentance, choose humbleness, and you will find the freedom and forgiveness of God.

Discerning Reflection: What is an area of my life that I am not accountable to God about? Why am I hesitant about seeking out feedback from other Christians? Do I have an accountability partner and if so, am I making enough time with them?

Prayer: Lord, help me be accountable to my sin, help expose areas that need to have your light of truth reveal to me. Thank you for your grace and patience with me. May I be a good example to those around me and help them as well on their walk with you, Jesus, Amen.

Tim Ferrara

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VIDEO The Art of Reverence and Impact of the Resurrection

THE ART OF REVERENCE

Answering the daily call to honor God and the life He gives us

From the time my children were little, I prayed, Lord, capture their hearts. Help them to know You and love You. Fill their lives with joy and fun, but also give them a seriousness of spirit—a reverence for You, for the gift of this life, for the calling You place on each of them. Teach them to fear You.

When my first child was born, a boy, I remember the hospital room. I remember how his birth had some complications—how the delivery filled with tension as the room filled with medical professionals. But even in the rush of those first touch-and-go moments, that room felt like a sacred space where the Lord was giving me a gift of incalculable worth—a son to raise. I felt the same reverence later when each of my three daughters was born.

As we present our requests to God, we seldom know what we’re asking. We might think we do, but we have no way of knowing how He will answer our prayers. In my case, I asked the Lord to give my son a seriousness of spirit—a reverence for God and the life He provides—but I did not suspect that He would answer that prayer by afflicting me.

A few years ago, when my children were between the ages of 7 and 13, I developed a bacterial infection that required urgent open-heart surgery. The whole ordeal took me out of commission for several months. It was scary and unexpected. My wife and I dealt with it by doing whatever the doctors said came next, taking one step after another. My little girls were too young to grasp the severity of my condition, but my son, who was a teenager at the time, felt the weight of what I was going through. When my life changed, so did his. Now he was the one getting things down from high shelves in the kitchen. He would carry in the heavy groceries, mow the yard, and haul the trash to the curb. In this strange reversal of roles, now he would watch over me when my wife left the house.

I asked the Lord to give my son a reverence for God—but I did not suspect that He would answer that prayer by afflicting me.

My son, who should have been spending his time playing video games or flag football, became a caregiver to his suddenly frail father. This caused him to think heavier thoughts and pray deeper prayers than many kids his age. It took away some of his innocence and introduced him to human frailty. It required him to grow up in ways that, to this day, break my heart a little.

But I know this was part of how God was answering my prayer. The Lord was using my affliction to give my son a serious heart. My weakness played a role in engendering a reverence for life, faith, and God Himself—both in my child and in me.

What is reverence, exactly? The word the Bible often uses means “to fear.” This is not fear in the sense of being terrified of evil. It is a posture of deep respect and awe. God is completely “other.” He is not like us. He is perfect in holiness, majesty, authority, and power. His beauty exceeds the grandest vista. His worth is greater than the largest, purest diamond. His power is like that of a storm—magnificent to look at from a distance, but dangerous if we presume to draw near unprepared. To revere God is to regard Him as worthy of all honor and praise.

Reverence doesn’t come easy in this world. Sometimes it comes by way of affliction, when God interrupts our otherwise busy, noisy lives. But even reverence learned in seasons of hardship can dissipate over time. It’s something we have to practice in much the same way a musician practices an instrument—repeatedly and regularly. The things we need to do aren’t difficult; it’s just that they can get so easily squeezed out when our day’s margins are already thin. How, then, can we practice the art of reverence in our lives?

First, we can ask God for it. The One who formed and named the stars commands us to honor His name and keep it holy (Ex. 20:7). Asking God to cultivate reverence in us is a form of reverence itself; we are offering up our hearts and asking Him to mold them according to His design. It is important to remember that when we ask God to deepen our sense of reverence for Him, He may do so by bringing us to our knees, as He did with me. As He did with my son. Sometimes God makes His glory known by illuminating our weakness. This can hurt our hearts for a time, but Proverbs says, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof” (Prov. 3:11 ESV). When the Lord bends us low, He does so with a loving hand.

Second, we can make stillness and silence a regular part of our days. These are noisy times we’re living in. One of the biggest forces working against a spirit of reverence and awe is the constant flood of information, images, videos, social media feeds, podcasts, TV shows, movies, playlists, and news stories we consume on a daily basis. It is hard enough to have a complete thought with all the information coming at us, let alone a worshipful one.

We need to set aside time to be still. I know if I don’t, such thoughts won’t happen. It’s amazing what you can do with 20 minutes of quiet. You can pray, read a psalm, slow a racing mind, or quiet a noisy one. Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” What are the words “be still” linked to in this verse? Knowing God as one who is exalted over all the earth. In other words, stillness is linked to reverence. We do well when we make quiet moments a part of the week’s rhythm.

Third, we can put ourselves in the path of beauty and truth. “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20 ESV). Are we paying attention to God’s glory? Get outside. Go for a walk in the woods. Watch a sunset (or even part of one). Step outside when it’s dark and look at the moon and stars. Read poetry. Go to museums. Stop and read historical markers on the side of the road. We live in a pretty amazing world. There is so much beauty around us, and beauty is one of the surest ways to awe.

The ways we practice reverence can get so easily squeezed out when our day’s margins are already thin.

Fourth, serve others. One of the biggest obstacles standing between us and reverence is self-centeredness—thinking only of ourselves, or of others only in terms of how they relate to us. We can keep this kind of self-absorption going perpetually. It’s the reason Annie Dillard said in her book The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Spend your life. Give it away. Serve people with special needs. Volunteer to help the poor. Most everyone I know will tell you the experience of serving others showed them more of their own need, not less, awakening a deeper sense of gratitude to God. And what is gratitude if not honor aimed at a particular person?

Fifth, we can worship. The best place to start is church. But don’t just go to church; prepare to go to church. Before you arrive, ask the Lord to give you a sense of His power and greatness. Ask Him to give you ears to hear and eyes to see. Ask Him to give you a desire to feast upon His Word, to repent, to receive the assurance of His pardon, and to come to the Lord’s Table spiritually hungry. Remember, God is the audience of our worship.

Sixth, we can kneel. Hear me out. Recently I started kneeling in prayer. I don’t do it every time, I don’t do it for long, and I don’t do it in public. But I find that kneeling helps foster a spirit of reverence in my heart. It is good for me to be on my knees in the presence of the Lord. The physical act of putting myself in that position to talk to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe helps me remember who I am and who He is. When I kneel, it doesn’t feel at all like cowering. Instead, I feel as if I’m in the proper position to delight in the majesty and greatness of my God.

Reverence is a virtue, like patience, purity, and decency. Virtues are behaviors that reflect character, and they do not exist in events, but in people. There are no reverent moments, only reverent individuals. There are many situations that call for reverence—corporate worship, visiting the sick, celebrating birthdays, going to reunions, encountering beauty, saying goodbye to loved ones, observing anniversaries of all sorts. But just because a moment calls for reverence, that doesn’t mean people will answer the call. Virtues are learned skills as much as they are personality traits. As any parent of small children can attest, we’re not born with patience. We have to learn it. The same is true for reverence.

God talks about reverence as a learned skill and calls us to practice it well. No, He commands us. Psalm 33:8 says, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” Deuteronomy 6:13 says, “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.” Ours is a jealous God—not jealous with the pettiness and misplaced pride that drive our crooked hearts, but jealous to be given the glory and honor due His name alone. God calls us to practice the art of revering, serving, and depending on Him.

For us as believers in Christ, the greatest reason to revere God is because of what He has done to redeem us. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God extends salvation, which only He can give, to His enemies. He seeks and saves the lost, the hurting, the broken, and the needy. Is there any better response than reverence to a grace so great?

Illustrations by Sr. Garcia

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The Impact Of The Resurrection – Dr. Charles Stanley

 

VIDEO Keeping the Faith – He Is Risen

Let your prayer be accompanied by faith, and don’t give an ear to doubt.
April 14, 2007

KEEPING THE FAITH

When the missionaries left, the new believers were on their own. But this group kept encouraging each other in Christ while they waited for a Bible in their language.

In the inky darkness, chirping crickets can be heard. Nearby, a river flows between muddy banks, many days’ journey from the sea. The Peruvian Amazon basin makes up 60 percent of the country and contains only 5 percent of its inhabitants. There are few roads. Here, in some of the most remote places on earth, members of indigenous tribes may travel hours by canoe to reach the next village.

Christian missionaries have visited some, but not all, of the tribes in the region. Sometimes they stay to disciple new converts. But often, they can only introduce Jesus and then move on, leaving the rest to God.

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
—Matthew 18:20

village

Most Amazonian tribes have inherited some form of traditional religion from their ancestors. Evangelical missionaries have brought the gospel to some of them, but in the more remote communities, there are still no churches and no pastors.

These communities, often a few dozen houses on stilts in a clearing, have no church building and no local fellowship to join. Those who believe the gospel are the first to depart from the old ways and embrace the light of truth, and there’s nowhere for them to go when they set out on the Christian life. They’re surrounded by the ancient tribal religious ways, with nothing to nurture their newfound faith.

That’s what happened to Arnaldo and Raul, members of the Capanahua tribe. A team of missionaries brought the gospel to their village about a year ago. Arnaldo and Raul believed and received new life in Christ.

“I was overjoyed,” Raul says. “God touched my heart.”

“There’s nowhere for them to go when they set out on the Christian life. They’re surrounded by the ancient tribal religious ways, with nothing to nurture their newfound faith.”

Arnaldo and Raul

Arnaldo and Raul accepted Christ as their Savior several years ago when missionaries passed through their village. “I was overjoyed,” Raul says.

Arnaldo wanted to remember the wonderful event that changed their lives forever. The missionaries were gone. But there’s a sweet sense of family in everyone who carries the indwelling Christ, drawing us to each other through love. In a model reminiscent of the earliest Christian gatherings, he began inviting the other new believers to his home. They spoke of what they had learned, fellowshipped, and rejoiced in the Lord. We would call this a house church. The body of Christ blossomed, bonded together in love, “the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14).

This bond of love is what holds any church together, from a few people to a megachurch 20,000 strong. But in a house church, togetherness takes on a special meaning. To enter someone’s home is to be received in a circle of family and shared trust.

Arnaldo’s meetings expressed the biblical notion of hospitality, with everything that requires: brotherly love, service, generosity. But they had no Bible and no study materials. “Nada, nada,” says Arnaldo. The Word of God exhorts us all to grow in Christ, but this church was bereft of Scripture. Deep in the thick jungle, they kept their faith strong by memory and the Spirit within.

Marcos Costa knows many Christians in this plight. As director of the Aurora Training Center, a ministry facility in the heart of the Peruvian rainforest, he has made it his mission to equip local believers with tools they need to mature in their faith. “How are people going to change if they don’t have the Word of God?” he says. “We need these tools.” And tragically, believers without a Bible are deprived of the deep love and joy that reading Scripture engenders as it brings us closer to the Lord.

FINDING A WAY

In Touch Ministries is working with Marcos and others like him to distribute devices from the Messenger Lab. Together in “the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5), even the most isolated recipients can listen to the entire Bible and dozens of sermons. It’s like a pastor, says Marcos. “The Torch functions as preacher, discipler, and comforter … It feeds and edifies. The Lord uses it for everything. It’s the missionary I don’t have.” The Torch currently offers Scripture in six tribal languages of this Amazonian region, and Dr. Stanley’s messages in Spanish. And with its solar-powered lantern, it will even light up those dark jungle nights so the group can pass the evenings together.

Arnaldo pastored his church for a year, always longing for the Word of God. Finally, he and Raul made the journey to Aurora, eight days by motorized canoe, for a church planting seminar. In Touch Ministries would be giving out Torches and micro SD cards in Capanahuan, the heart language of their tribe.

“This is the first time we’ve been given any Christian materials,” Raul said. “Now we finally have a Bible. I feel really good. Very happy.”

A Peruvian man holds an In Touch Torch

At the Aurora Training Center, Christians from regional tribes receive In Touch Torches with the Bible in their own native language and sermons from Dr. Charles Stanley in Spanish.

Around the Amazon basin, small fellowships like Arnaldo’s are appearing, and the Torch helps them flourish. Aurora attendees, many of whom already pastor a church in their own home, were taught how to plant another—just the way Jesus instructed His disciples. “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it” (Matthew 10:11-13 NIV).

The visiting pastor leaves the Torch with the “man of peace” he has identified. This man takes up the mantle of hospitality and invites the believers for weekly meetings. They listen, learn, and pray as a body, breaking bread and remembering the instruction: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25 NIV).

“The Torch functions as preacher, discipler, and comforter … It feeds and edifies. The Lord uses it for everything. It’s the missionary I don’t have.”

—Marcos Costa, Director of the Aurora Training Center

As Marcos tells people like Arnaldo and Raul, wherever two or three are gathered, there is a church. With the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, they can grow strong in their faith and continue to bear fruit for the kingdom. But they need Scripture, “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17 NIV).

For this, Arnaldo and Raul traveled far on the winding rivers to find the Word of God and bring it home. Now, their little church can rejoice in its life-giving power as they listen together in the Torch’s glow.

 

Original here


Ravi Zacharias: He is Risen Indeed

Easter Joy Belongs to the Melancholy

The celebration of Christ’s resurrection stands in contrast to Christmas joy.

Easter Joy Belongs to the Melancholy

Image: Maxim Dužij / Unsplash

Easter joy has been harder to come by this year. Between the growing ugliness of American politics and the acrimony within the church body, I’ve found it harder to anticipate looking up from the broken body of my Lord to rejoice this Sunday in the resurrected and ascended Christ.

When I shared my struggle with a good friend, he suggested I revisit a collection of sermons that the 19th-century priest John Henry Newman preached in Oxford in response to the challenges of his own day. After turning to Newman, I found a surprising insight: In his view, my tempered joy is not merely acceptable or tolerable but rather called for as a deeply Christian response to Easter.

In a sermon titled “Keeping Fast and Festival,” Newman begins with a comparison of Christmas and Easter. At Christmas, he says, we rejoice with the “natural, unmixed joy of children.” Easter joy, however, is not the same. This joy is experienced as “a last feeling and not a first.” It grows out of tribulation, as Paul writes in Romans 5, emerges from the harvest (Isa. 9:3), and comes after (and out of) Lent and Good Friday.

In other words, if living through Lent teaches us even a little about how Christ bears the world’s suffering, then our Easter enthusiasm should look different from our response to God’s arrival as a baby at Christmas. It should feel more seasoned, more aged, and more worn. Easter joy isn’t the joy of children, says Newman, but rather of convalescents who have received the promise of healing, who are starting to get well but still regaining our strength after a Lenten season of confronting our weakness and sorrowing over our sin.

Newman’s image of Christians as convalescents brings to mind the story of healing at the end of The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. At the culmination of the book, Diggory, the young hero, watches Aslan plant a magic apple in the newly created Narnian soil. A tree immediately grows from it. In Narnia, the apples have immense power of healing and strengthening. Aslan then gives Diggory a fruit from the tree and sends him back to our world to help heal his sick mother.

When Diggory gives his mother the magic apple, he doesn’t see immediate recovery. In our world, filled with the vigor of redemption, not creation, her healing is slow and gradual. Diggory first notices that her face looks a little different. Then a week later, she’s able to sit up. Finally a month later, she’s well enough to sit in the garden with her son. In the midst of this process, Diggory struggles to believe that her healing is really happening. But “when he remembered the face of Aslan, he [does] hope.”

We, too, should often (although not always) expect our healing to look more like Diggory’s mother’s—one marked by a tempered joy that doesn’t preclude struggle. As George Herbert writes, even as we grow in faith and rest in God, we still often feel “thin and lean without a fence or friend … blown through with ev’ry storm and wind.”

Like many exposed to various stripes of evangelicalism, it’s easy for me to place a high premium on subjective experience, emotiveness, and outward expression. As such, it’s easy for me to fear that my perceived lack of joy at Easter—or any other time of year, for that matter—is due to weakness and sinfulness. While that may be true at times, Newman challenges the belief that it is always true, rejecting the lie that “since it is the Christian’s duty to rejoice evermore, they would rejoice better if they never sorrowed and never travailed with righteousness.”

However, worrying about my own lack of “appropriate” emotion is not the solution and, in fact, may be part of the problem. When I refuse to let go of disappointment with my own brokenness and that of the world, I fail to recognize not only “the languor and oppression of our old selves” that persists this side of heaven but also the reality of the new life given to me. The solution is not to emote more or blot out the sorrows of this world but rather to turn in prayer, not inward, but upward.

“We must beg Him who is the Prince of Life, the Life itself,” says Newman, “to carry us forth into His new world, for we cannot walk thither, and seat us down whence, like Moses, we may see the land, and meditate upon its beauty!”

Easter joy does not require us, then, to leave this present hour behind or to be unbruised by the events of this world. Instead, it comes when, like Diggory, we return to the brokenness around us (including our own brokenness) with the comfort of Christ’s presence and the instruments of grace that he provides for us throughout the paschal season.

In this act of return, joy comes wearing a different, darker guise, but it also appears deeper, better, and more miraculous than anything we could ever expect.

Elisabeth Rain Kincaid is an assistant professor of moral theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. Her research focuses on questions of moral formation, the development of virtue, and the intersection of law, business, and theology.

different version of this piece originally appeared at Covenant, the weblog of The Living Church magazine.

 

Original here