Archive for September, 2014

This may surprise you.

God is not interested in how much we can do for Him. I don’t remember when, but somewhere along the pathway of my years I became enlightened with this important truth.

Let me say it again: God is not interested in how much we can accomplish for Him. (Or about how much “stuff” we can cram into our day – but we’ll save that for another lesson)

Think about it, God created the world in 7 days with just a few words of his power. I hardly think “getting things done” is an issue for Him.

Watching some of my fellow Pilgrims, you’d never know this truth existed. If you ask me, their lives are way too full of activity. Listen, I fully comprehend how a schedule that is bursting at the seams with day-to-day undertakings can cause anxiety. However, it is amazing to me how some Christians can’t see the folly in being all “stressed out” and then claiming their stress is a result of doing the Lord’s work. What happened to:

3“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is kept on You, because he trusts in You”  Isaiah 26:3 New Life Version

Busier is NOT necessarily better. Doing lots of Good things is not the same as doing your GOD thing.

So what have I learned?

God wants two things from me:

  1. Do only what He asks.
  2. And do it only when He wants it done.

The rest of the time I am free to Love Him, to love others and to learn to love myself (remember, we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves). As a result, I am able to live more fully in His Joy and I am at liberty to exist as the unique vessel that the master potter is sculpting.

Do you know what God wants the most from you?

YOU!

Get it? Just as you are, God wants you.

Life with Him is a partnership and a journey. “In Him”, we fulfill His purposes through our lives.

I would like to issue a challenge.

I challenge you to embrace who you are in Christ. (Forget anyone else.)

I challenge you to do all the “peculiar” stuff that defines you. (By the way, peculiar is synonymous with weird! Ha-ha.)

I challenge you to be true to yourself and to stop listening to the voices coming from the world around you claiming to know what is “right” for you!

And, I challenge you to trust that little voice inside of you (the voice of your spirit) that ever whispers to your soul. You are filled with the Holy Spirit of God Himself. He will show you everything (including what is right for you). If you need to make changes – He will let you know. And remember, His teaching voice is calm, life giving and encouraging.

Are you up for the challenge?  I hope so.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a personal tragedy that changed the course of his life. He began to question everything he had been taught about God. Rabbi Kushners son, Aaron, died at age 14 of progeria. If you are unfamiliar with this disease, it is best described as the accelerated aging disease. At his death, Aaron was a short, bald and wrinkled old man in appearance even though he was only 14. In his book, Rabbi Kushner asked: “If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?”

Why do the innocent suffer?

Why should anyone suffer for that matter?  It’s a question that has haunted mankind since the beginning of our time. It may be one of the most important issues of our lives. Rabbi Kushner asked the question this way, “why do bad things happen to good people?”

Can we make sense of our world, and our sufferings in this world?

Maybe. Maybe not. But we can turn to the word of God for help in dealing with the challenges of our lives here on this planet we call earth.

Why ME God?

Questions about suffering affect all of us in some way. Even if we are fortunate enough to escape tragic accident or severe illness, we all have our problems. For some it may be fear or loneliness. Others battle depression due to rejection, divorce, relationship issues, etc., etc. Hunger, war and brutality plague humanity. And none of us will escapes the final tragedy known as death.

 Is there a purpose for all this Distress?

  1. Suffering keeps us focused on the true state of this broken world.
    • 18 I am sure that our suffering now cannot be compared to the shining-greatness that He is going to give us. 19 Everything that has been made in the world is waiting for the day when God will make His sons known. 20 Everything that has been made in the world is weak. It is not that the world wanted it to be that way. God allowed it to be that way. Yet there is hope. 21 Everything that has been made in the world will be set free from the power that can destroy. These will become free just as the children of God become free. 22 We know that everything on the earth cries out with pain the same as a woman giving birth to a child. 23 We also cry inside ourselves, even we who have received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the first of God’s gifts to us. We are waiting to become His complete sons when our bodies are made free. [Rom. 8:18-23 – New Life Version]
  1. Suffering teaches us to depend more on God and less on this world system.
    • 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. [Heb. 12:1-4 – New Living Translation]
  1. Suffering reminds us that future eternal bliss trumps temporary happiness.
    • 18 I am sure that our suffering now cannot be compared to the shining-greatness that He is going to give us. [Rom. 8:18 – New Life Version]
    • 13 Be happy that you are able to share some of the suffering of Christ. When His shining-greatness is shown, you will be filled with much joy. [1 Pet. 4:13 – New Life Version]
    • Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. [Ps. 126:4-6 – New Living Translation]
    • To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit of no hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored. [Isa. 61:3 – New Life Version]
  1. Suffering can focus our attention on the sovereign work of God in our lives.
    • 1 As Jesus went on His way, He saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His followers asked Him, “Teacher, whose sin made this man to be born blind? Was it the sin of this man or the sin of his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “The sin of this man or the sin of his parents did not make him to be born blind. He was born blind so the work of God would be seen in him. 4 We must keep on doing the work of Him Who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” 6 After Jesus had said this, He spit on the ground. He mixed it with dust and put that mud on the eyes of the blind man. 7 Then Jesus said to him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.” (Siloam means Sent.) The man went away and washed. When he came back, he could see. [John 9:1-6 – New Life Version]
  1. Our trials help others see that God is the source of all things in our lives.
    • For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.[a] This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” [2 Cor. 4:8-9].

 Conclusion

There isn’t always a cut and dry answer to the question of why we suffer.

And maybe, it’s really the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we should ask these questions instead:

  • What purpose is there to life?
  • What future does God have beyond this life of suffering for me?

As unfair as it may appear at times, our lives have a definite purpose.

Jesus lived, suffered and died by the same rules of life that we live and suffer and die by. Jesus, as God incarnate, suffered and died for human beings, to take away their sins and open up salvation for those who would believe on Him.

The crucifixion is proof of how much God cares about us. And, in the future resurrection of the righteous dead, God will transform our mortal human flesh into immortal bodies and make our new lives suffering-free. The tormented souls, the cancer stricken, the accident victims, the unloved, lost and lonely — everyone who has suffered — will suffer no more.

God will swallow up suffering and death in the victory of eternal life. In that day, God will be acknowledged by all humanity. He will act as eternal healer and life-giver. He will be recognized by all as the one who is fair and just. In that day, He will take no pleasure in human suffering.

As described in the book of Revelation – In that new world order – God will dwell with his people. Revelation chapter 21:4 tells us: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

Let us pray for that day to come swiftly.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

16-18 We know and, to some extent realize, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!  19-20 If we live like this, we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own hearts make us feel guilty; For God is infinitely greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  21-23 And if, dear friends of mine, when we realize this, our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence. We receive whatever we ask for, because we are obeying his orders and following his plans. His orders are that we should put our trust in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another—as we used to hear him say in person.  24 The man who does obey God’s commands lives in God and God lives in him, and the guarantee of his presence within us is the Spirit he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

One of the great threats to our faith is our tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves. Every time our heart finds us guilty of some new transgression, we struggle with loving ourselves. I mean really, how do I love myself when I do bad things (or even when I think about doing bad things)?

The problem is, we can’t love others if we do not love ourselves. You have heard people (including me) say we should shun self-admiration. That doesn’t mean we are not to love ourselves. There is a big difference between being “IN” love with yourself and LOVING yourself. Jesus said that we were to love others the same way that we love ourselves. In fact, he does not suggest that we do this, He commands it. Listen to what he said,

28 “Then one of the scribes approached him. He had been listening to the discussion, and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?”   29-31 “The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second (command) is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Mark 12:31 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

The more insecure and uptight we are, the more difficult it is to keep from spiraling into self-debasement. When you have a low opinion of who you are in Christ, it doesn’t take much pressure for your heart to denounce you.

Even when we feel pretty good about who we are, daily shortfalls present us with opportunities to marinate in guilt, shame and self-condemnation.  We can then become our own worst critic and consequently we fall into a trap of our own making. I recognize (based on the lessons of the scriptures) that God forgives me. And, I am always learning to forgive “those who trespass against me”. So why is it so hard to forgive my own under-performance and daily nastiness?

Good question. I think it is because all of us walk around with a picture of an ideal self in our minds. We can see with reasonable clarity the person we would like to be and sometimes we even pay attention to the person God wants us to be. Try as we do to live up to that idyllic imagining, we fail.   And let’s not forget all of the helpful voices reminding us we are not so good.

Voices you say? Yes, many voices.   Like an overly critical parent, an angry spouse, an insensitive boss, an infuriating colleague, a selfish neighbor, and even the innocent observations of impertinent children can hurt.  Teenage children are experts in making parents feel totally inadequate and completely inept.

And what about our society? How many ways do we fail to measure up? Let me count the ways.

  • We don’t look the way we should,
  • We don’t dress the way we should,
  • We don’t make the money we should,
  • We don’t have all the material possessions we should,
  • We don’t have the popularity or the prestige we should,
  • We don’t have the independence, power, or control we should.

Need I continue? The sad thing is, that while we should know better, our hearts often buy into this garbage, and when they do, they condemn us. Self-condemnation leads to a life of discouragement. When we are discouraged, it is hard to do much of anything. All we feel is the pain of defeat and disappointment.

The good news is that God does not condemn us like we condemn ourselves.  John reminds us, God knows everything. That means God sees the positive in us. God recognizes our intentions, even if our actions don’t always bring about the result of what we envisioned. Our hearts may condemn us, but as John explains, God is greater than our hearts.  Remember, we have only a limited picture of ourselves. It is easy to measure our lives by one mistake, one failure, and one defeat at a time. God sees the big picture – all that we are and even more importantly, all that we can become.

This is the truth of which our hearts need to be reassured:

  • We are loved so much by God that through Jesus Christ, He was willing to lay down his life – to give everything – to get us back.

A Divine rescue was required and God refused to let anything, even our depravity, stand in the way of our redemption. He prepared a great sacrifice – his Son – in order to provide the means by which we can be liberated from the burden of our sin nature (the seat of condemnation).   If God loved us that much, John reasons, we too, out of genuine love for others, ought to be willing to share whatever we can with a brother or sister in need. Real love always leads to action.

But here’s the irony; we cannot be free to love sacrificially, as Christ has loved us, if we continue to spend our time wallowing in self-condemnation. Instead we must realize that since God has not condemned us, we are fools to condemn ourselves.  Once we have given up self-condemnation, we discover a new sense of boldness before God. As our confidence grows, we begin to ask God for anything and everything we need in order to serve him better. According to John, when our heart is right, we receive from him whatever we ask. And then as we obey God, we discover that he is pleased to abide in us and we abide in Him.

1-2 No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are “in” Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1-2 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

No matter what happens, never give up on yourself. If God chooses not to condemn us; we have no business condemning ourselves.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

Charles H. Spurgeon   (1834 – 1892)

“There are some professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration; but, from my inmost heart, I loathe such speeches more and more every day that I live. Those who talk in such a boastful fashion must be constituted very differently from me. While they are congratulating themselves, I have to lie humbly at the foot of Christ’s Cross, and marvel that I am saved at all, for I know that I am saved. I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all—to wonder that I do not love Him more, and equally to wonder that I love Him at all—to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all considering what a polluted debased, depraved nature I find still within my soul, notwithstanding all that divine grace has done in me. If God were ever to allow the fountains of the great deeps of depravity to break up in the best man that lives, he would make as bad a devil as the devil himself is. I care nothing for what these boasters say concerning their own perfections; I feel sure that they do not know themselves, or they could not talk as they often do. There is tinder enough in the saint who is nearest to heaven to kindle another hell if God should but permit a spark to fall upon it. In the very best of men there is an infernal and well-nigh infinite depth of depravity. Some Christians never seem to find this out. I almost wish that they might not do so, for it is a painful discovery for anyone to make; but it has the beneficial effect of making us cease from trusting in ourselves, and causing us to glory only in the Lord.”  – Charles H. Spurgeon   (1834 – 1892)

Charles H. Spurgeon was an anointed orator and prolific author. His sermons were said to hold his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where he was the Pastor for 38 years. He was also known for his outspoken opposition to the open-minded and matter-of-fact theological tendencies in the Church of his day. (Hmmmm)

Spurgeon did not mince words when it came to his disdain for self-centered Christians or as he put it, “professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration”.

Charles marveled at the wonder of his own salvation. I like his dichotomies:

  • I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all
  • I have to wonder that I do not love Him more, and equally to wonder that I love Him at all
  • I have to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all

Me too, Charles. Me too.

Spurgeon laments that, “In the very best of men there is an infernal and well-nigh infinite depth of depravity. Some Christians never seem to find this out”.

How true.

We are all depraved. At home with our self-absorption and imagining our every desire should be met. I, Me & Mine. I think we’ve forgotten that we are the “creature” not the “creator”. I am a created being. What can I really know about myself that God does not already know?

It just so happens that I have been blessed with a life filled with affirmation (and, sometimes admiration as well). I regularly experience showers of kind and flattering words. To be honest, I like it. Who wouldn’t?

But the longer I live, the more necessary I find it to expose the ugliness of my own depravity. I recognize the treachery of my heart (human nature) and my propensity for wickedness. The duplicity inside of me exposes not only my appetite for sin but my ability to excuse it. Openly acknowledging that I will always struggle with the “sin-nature” is liberating. It reminds me that I am at the mercy of my Heavenly Father every day and makes me grateful for the grace He has shown me.

The Apostle Paul understood this very well. He said,

12-16 I am deeply grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ (to whom I owe all that I have accomplished) for trusting me enough to appoint me his minister, despite the fact that I had previously blasphemed his name, persecuted his Church and damaged his cause. I believe he was merciful to me because what I did was done in the ignorance of a man without faith, and then he poured out his grace upon me, giving me tremendous faith in, and love for, himself. This statement is completely reliable and should be universally accepted:—“Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners”. I realize that I was the worst of them all, and that because of this very fact God was particularly merciful to me. It was a kind of demonstration of the extent of Christ’s patience towards the worst of men; to serve as an example to all whom in the future should trust him for eternal life”. 1 Timothy 1:15 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

Paul looked at himself as being among the worst of men. He attributes his rescue to the Mercy, Grace, Faith and Love of God. Jesus Christ, he says, entered this world to rescue bad people. Like Paul, we are all bad people in need of reclamation.

Paul also observed that it is human nature to know what is right and yet to still often practice evil.

21-25 “When I come up against the Law I want to do good, but in practice I do evil. My conscious mind whole-heartedly endorses the Law, yet I observe an entirely different principle at work in my nature. This is in continual conflict with my conscious attitude, and makes me an unwilling prisoner to the law of sin and death. In my mind I am God’s willing servant, but in my own nature I am bound fast, as I say, to the law of sin and death. It is an agonizing situation, and who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my sinful nature? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord”.   – Romans 7:24 -J.B. Phillips New Testament –

Who on earth can set me free from the control of my sinful nature?

Who indeed. Clergy, Governments and Gurus are all useless when it comes to freeing the human spirit. There is one solution. Freedom comes only “through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

 1-2 “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are “in” Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.” – Romans 8:2 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

God has secured my drifting heart to Himself through Jesus Christ. He has shown me the way out from under the weight (vicious circle) of religion and its laws. In Jesus, I have found a new “spiritual principle of life”. I am now in right standing with God simply because he loves me. I am no longer a prisoner of my fallen nature. That malevolent side of me is still lurking inside but the Holy Spirit in now in control. The power of the Holy Spirit has made me free from the power of sin and death. As long as I continue to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit my wicked nature is kept in check. I can do all things because Christ strengthens me. I am nothing without Him.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.