Archive for February, 2015

“I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn’t need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?”

– Henry Ford

The year was 1833. A pair of Presbyterian ministers, John Jay Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart signed a covenant to form a Christian perfectionist community in northern Ohio. The settlement was envisioned to bring together the spiritual and physical worlds of its residents through a simple and holy lifestyle. They named the town Oberlin after Jean Frédéric Oberlin, a French minister whom they both admired. At the same time, they founded Oberlin College. Among the early faculty was the renowned Charles G. Finney, an American Presbyterian minister and leader of the Second Great Awakening in the United States. Finney began teaching at Oberlin College in 1835. He served as its second president from 1851 to 1866. The School of Theology at Oberlin was non-denominational and remained in existence until 1966. The board of trustees, believing that the Theology Department had outlived its usefulness on the campus, voted to discontinue graduate instruction in theology at Oberlin in 1965. Part of the Great Apostasy? Perhaps. But we’ll save that discussion for another time. Fast Forward. Now let me tell you about Thomas S. Kepler (1897-1963). He was a respected biblical scholar, prodigious author and Professor of New Testament studies at Oberlin College. Kepler also wrote a weekly syndicated newspaper column on religious issues. He published a story about a woman who came to the realization that fears were ruining her life. According to Kepler, she began to keep track of what was worrying her.   This is what she found:

  • 40% of the things she worried about never happened.
  • 30% of the things she worried about already happened (i.e. – it’s the past, get over it).
  • 12% of the things she worried about were the opinions and criticisms of others.
  • 10% of the things she worried about were unnecessary health concerns, which actually made her health worse through anxiety.
  • 8% of the things she worried about were “reasonable concerns,” since life does have some real challenges to overcome.

“If we spend our time with regrets over yesterday, and worries over what might happen tomorrow, we have no today in which to live.”

– Author Unknown

So, if just 8% of her fears were actually reasonable concerns, how legitimate are your “worries”?  I’d say there is a high degree of probability that you’re wasting a significant amount of time and energy fretting about things that are best left alone. No wonder you’re so worn-out. Anxiety is zapping your energy. And for what benefit? Habitual and needless worry does not solve problems. And, even “reasonable concerns” are not an excuse for high anxiety. Most likely, your circumstances are not as ominous as you perceive them to be.

Worrying Accomplishes Absolutely Nothing

I will assume that you are familiar with the Bible. The New Testament is a grouping of 27 books.  For the Christian, this collection of writings is all about a new arrangement between God and humanity through the mediator Jesus. Most of the books are actually letters (also known as “epistles”). The most prolific contributor to the New Testament was the Apostle Paul. His letters total at least 13 of the 27 books, almost half of the New Testament. In addition to the Christian teachings found in his epistles, Paul often included specific instructions for the congregation to which he wrote. One such letter was addressed to the Christian community living in ancient Philippi. According to The Book of Acts, Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12). Listen to these words of instruction, 6  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break that down.

  • Don’t worry about anything.
  • Talk to God about everything.
  • Let God know your concerns (what you need).
  • Thank God for His solutions.

Sounds simple, right? So why do I suspect a possible skeptic or two (hundred)? Because as easy as it may sound, walking it out day by day is not so easy. Every word we just read is the absolute Truth. But it takes faith and patience to live it. Don’t forget the Payoff. If we incorporate this truth into our lifestyle, Paul said, “…you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”   The peace of God will calm you down. You will find rest when you put your absolute trust in Jesus, the liberator. Now, check out these words of wisdom from the Bible, 4-5  ”If you want favor with both God and man, and a reputation for good judgment and common sense, then trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself alone. In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 TLB) Get it? When you put your complete trust in God, there is no reason to worry. Remember, Jesus came to this planet to introduce us to a personal and relevant God – not a Religion. You can talk to God directly about your concerns and ask Him to help you. Put God first and He will make you a success at this thing called life. Worrying accounts for hours and hours of invaluable time that you will never get back. Can all the energy you’ve wasted on anxiety change your grades in school, improve your job performance, solve the budget shortfall or protect you from identity theft and contagious diseases? Has it ever?   If you are at least willing to be honest with yourself, the answer is NO. One more thought from the New Testament.  Jesus was talking with some of his followers and he said to them, 30 “…You have so little faith! 31 Do not worry. Do not keep saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘What will we wear?’ 32 The people who do not know God are looking for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows you need them. 33 First of all… Be right with Him. All these other things will be given to you also.” (Matthew 6:30b-33 NLV)

Why not surrender all of your worries and fears to God? He cares about you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He is a great listener. In fact, He is listening right now. Go ahead, Talk to Him… And stop worrying…

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.
The more decadent a culture gets, the more they have a need for what they don’t have at all, which is innocence, so you end up with kiddie porn and a perverse obsession with youth. – Joni Mitchell

Decadence is a process; a slow and sometimes barely perceived decline in the moral fiber of a society. Like hidden decay, the deterioration can often go unnoticed for a very long time; eventually reaching a point where the damage produced is well beyond mending. Words like honesty, decency, honor and ethics have already lost much of their significance in these post-modern times. It appears that our culture operates in such a state of delusion that people believe society is moving forward in progress when in truth it is crumbling at its very foundations. Have you heard this Proverb?

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 (NLT)
Groan…

Whatever happened to individual responsibility; the notion that we are each accountable for our own actions and outcomes?   There was a time when achievement came from hard work and authenticity. People once took delight in genuine education; they acquired skills and self-sufficiency. Today these qualities are being replaced by self-indulgence often funded by unsustainable public assistance as the general population becomes ever more dependent on various forms of handouts.

Promises of freedom through economic equality, and a quasi-fascist approach to government (so often championed by liberal reformists) are regularly advanced through refined subterfuge. As a result, religious beliefs are attacked, and the once cherished traditions of faith, family and community are quietly eradicated. Modern progressives call this “fundamentally transforming the United States of America”.

Some would argue that we are simply discovering new ways to look at life. In this Cultural Revolution, our society is progressing for the furtherance of the collective through diversity. But others see a new way of life emerging where the people are being methodically stripped of real self-determination. Weighed down by confused logic and inconsistent morality, we are losing sight of the higher purpose in human existence.

Next to God we are nothing.  To God we are everything. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

The United States of America is rooted in Judeo-Christian belief. Our traditional way of life (born of faith) is central to our well-being as individuals and as a nation. It was a shared moral code which allowed our founding fathers to find mutual cooperation. The “great experiment” cannot survive the dying of the very system of belief that brought it into being. When we lose the divine order, the culture will decay precipitously.

Nearly 2000 years ago, a man named Saul of Tarsus (who become known as Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ) waxed eloquent as he prophetically wrote these words,

18-21 Now the holy anger of God is disclosed from Heaven against the godlessness and evil of those men who render truth dumb and inoperative by their wickedness. It is not that they do not know the truth about God; indeed he has made it quite plain to them. For since the beginning of the world the invisible attributes of God, e.g. his eternal power and divinity have been plainly discernible through things which he has made and which are commonly seen and known, thus leaving these men without a rag of excuse. They knew all the time that there is a God, yet they refused to acknowledge him as such, or to thank him for what he is or does. Thus they became irrational in their arguments, and plunge their silly minds still further into the dark.

22-23 Behind a facade of “wisdom” they became just fools, fools who would exchange the glory of the eternal God for an imitation image of a mortal man, or of creatures that run or fly or crawl.

24 They gave up God: and therefore God gave them up—to be the playthings of their own foul desires in dishonoring their own bodies.

28-32 Moreover, since they considered themselves too high and mighty to acknowledge God, he allowed them to become the slaves of their degenerate minds, and to perform unmentionable deeds. They became filled with wickedness, rottenness, greed and malice; their minds became steeped in envy, murder, quarrelsomeness, deceitfulness and spite. They became whisperers-behind-doors, stabbers-in-the-back, God-haters; they overflowed with insolent pride and boastfulness, and their minds teemed with diabolical invention. They scoffed at duty to parents; they mocked at learning, recognized no obligations of honor, lost all natural affection, and had no use for mercy. More than this—being well aware of God’s pronouncement that all who do these things deserve to die, they not only continued their own practices, but did not hesitate to give their thorough approval to others who did the same.  Romans 1:18-24, 28-32 – J.B. Phillips New Testament

The morality and justice of God set against the sinfulness of man is nothing new. God will eventually put a stop to this stupidity. He alone can and will Judge. In the meantime we’ll cling to our cherished traditions of faith, family and community as best as we can.

Paul wrote a word of instruction to his friend and fellow believer, Pastor Timothy,

2“Everything that you have heard me preach in public you should in turn entrust to reliable men (and women), who will be able to pass it on to others.”2 Timothy 2:2 (PHILLIPS)

That is an assignment we can all embrace!

Faith, Hope and Love – Pass it on!

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, popular Bible teacher,
and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.

“So take care how you listen—more will be given to the man who has something already, but the man who has nothing will lose even what he thinks he has.” – Jesus –

They call them Buzzwords. Trendy phrases that have come into vogue in popular culture. We hear them every day. Among the many I frequently encounter are: Believe! Have Faith! Keep the Faith! And of course the nebulous, Believe God!

In a world where people will believe (and repeat) just about anything, few seem to know exactly why they accept something as the truth and even fewer can pinpoint who decided it was truth to begin with. For many, if it sounds good than it must be true. Modern belief, it seems, has become just another cheap commodity.

Where does that leave the teachings of Jesus Christ? After all, He said, “Only believe” (Mark 5:36), and “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)  If we claim to believe in God then we should have a proper understanding of what it is to have faith (trust) in Him. Otherwise, we just might be speaking buzzwords too.

Here is a portion from the New Testament letter called Hebrews,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Heb.11:1 & 3 – KKJV).

FAITH is SUBSTANCE

By definition, the word translated FAITH In Hebrews 11:1 could also have been rendered trust, firm persuasion, belief, confidence or conviction. This helps us to grasp the significance of the proclamation – I believe.

However, there is something infinitely more important than grasping a simple explanation of the word faith itself. With reference to our absolute trust (faith) in God, the writer of Hebrews declares two very significant facts. First he says that faith is the substance of things that we hope for. Secondly he says that faith is the evidence of things we do not yet see.

The word Substance literally means “to under-gird and support”. Faith stands under and supports our hopes and validates our dreams. Faith assures us that we are never hopeless. If we are strong in Faith we will be confident in hope. But weak Faith results in uncertainty. Our hope is only as secure as our faith is strong.

FAITH is EVIDENCE

Faith is also the evidence of the things that are not yet visible; the proof that our hopes and dreams will one day appear. When we put our absolute trust in God, our faith persuades us that every promise He has made will be fulfilled. As a Christian, our Faith is neither an emotional response nor a vision-less acceptance of the unknown (aka: The Blind Leap). Our trust in God is based on the integrity of His word and every assurance He has made. Of course, if you don’t read His book then you are ignorant as to the exceeding great and precious promises that it contains.

Some months ago, I reserved a room at a vacation resort. They sent me a confirmation letter promising that I would be thrilled with all that awaits me there. Until I actually arrive at my destination, I have to trust their word. The New Testament is God’s confirmation letter. It guarantees that you will be thrilled with all He has promises to you. It’s never too late to start reading it.

FAITH is NEVER BLIND

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God. The man who approaches Him must have faith in two things, first that He exists and secondly that it is worth a man’s while to try to find God.” (Hebrews 11:6 – Phillips)

God always responds to our faith. But unbelief (a lack of trust) does not please Him. The author of Hebrews stresses that if we desire to approach God we must believe these two facts:

  • God is real – Therefore, we “believe that He exists.”
  • God will reward our effort – Therefore, it is worth a man’s while to try to find God “

When you are convinced that God is, you will accept His word without question. When you put your trust in the God who is, you will obey Him without reservations. This is a far cry from Blind Faith.

Our faith may not be blind but it does operates in the realm of the unseen. As the New Testament writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it,

“It is only by faith that our minds accept as fact that the whole scheme of time and space was created by God’s command—that the world which we can see has come into being through principles which are invisible. (Heb. 11:3).

The New Testament writer Paul said it this way,

5-8“Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth. This makes us confident, whatever happens. We realize that being “at home” in the body means that to some extent we are “away” from the Lord, for we have to live by trusting him without seeing him. We are so sure of this that we would really rather be “away” from the body (in death) and be “at home” with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:7-8 – Phillips)

Trusting without seeing? Is faith irrational? No more irrational than believing men visited the Moon.

Think about it. We accept as true that astronauts have walked upon the surface of the moon. But, we can neither duplicate that experience for ourselves nor empirically prove that the event actually took place. We simply believe that the lunar landings happened based upon the evidence presented to us by the eyewitness of others. There are many things in life that we cannot know through direct experience (like our past human history), but they are nonetheless accepted as true.

The evidence that supports the Christian faith is found in the Bible. It too is based upon the proof presented to us by the eyewitness of others. But, the God inspired origin of scripture makes it infinitely more trustworthy than the words of secular historians.

FAITH: The Journey of a Lifetime.

Biblical faith always begins with the saving grace of God; the redemption of the Human spirit through the atonement of Jesus Christ our liberator and mediator. This is how we initiate our great journey of faith. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians living in Rome,

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I see it as the very power of God working for the salvation of everyone who believes it, both Jew and Gentile. I see in it God’s plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith. For, as the scripture says: ‘the just shall live by faith’. (Romans 1:16-17 – Phillips)

FAITH gives essential support and provides a comprehensive foundation for every hope and every dream in our lives. It is what persuades us to put our absolute trust in an unseen God. Faith is our title deed to every promise made to us by God. Above all, Faith is meant to be the guiding force in our lives.

From the moment we take that first step of faith and put our trust in God thru a lifetime of faith adventures that culminate on the day when we depart this world to enter a new life — every step taken in obedience to God is a step we take by faith. Likewise. But, every step taken in doubt of or disobedience to God is no less than the rebellion of unbelief.

It isn’t easy, this life of faith. There will be dark nights of the soul; minutes that turn into desperate hours. Never forget these words from the New Testament letter to the Hebrew Christians,

23“In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation—for God is utterly dependable— 24and let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds. 25And let us not hold aloof from (skip) our church meetings, as some do. Let us do all we can to help one another’s faith and this the more earnestly as we see the final day drawing ever nearer.” (Hebrews 10:23-25 – Phillips)

Hey, you really can believe that too!

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD, is an author, broadcaster, popular Bible teacher,
and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  ― William Ernest Henley

I have always been prone to self-reliance. To me, such autonomy was the fourth virtue (right behind the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – from the letters of Saint Paul).   I cherish my personal sovereignty (or independence, if you prefer). And, in some respects, I still struggle with the foolish idea that I am the lone master of my own fate.

I suppose my journey of discovery began when the 127th Psalm became entrenched in my mind. I pondered these words,

1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Here are two verses that declare the pointlessness of self-reliance. As I studied more on the subject, I came to understand the vanity of believing that I could ever accomplish anything of eternal value without God’s help, empowerment and approval. Even imagining that I could was… well, arrogance.

Mankind in the hands of God

I truly believe in the absolute sovereignty of God over all our human endeavors. So, If God has the last word, why would we expect that anything attempted without Him would achieve lasting success?

Now, my detractors will say that there are many examples of those who attain much success and prosperity without ever once acknowledging God. They are of course correct. Many do achieve a measure of earthly success in spite of their godlessness. But from a Christian perspective, any success lacking God’s blessing is pointless. I like what Jesus said,

36”And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” – Mark 8:36 (NLT)

Remember the biblical story about the self-absorbed man with great wealth?

16“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17To himself he said, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 (NLT)

You can amass a tremendous fortune in this life and be a very good and generous person. But die without God and you will be weighed in the balances and found wanting. That principal is taught in the Bible. Life is just empty existence and our hard work pointlessness without Him. Genuine success has its roots in God.

18”Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:18 (NLT)

Even if you have never recognized the authority of God in your life, He still may allow you to succeed and drink from the cup of human achievement. There is a reason for this: Divine kindness is intended to be the pathway that leads to Him.

4”Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” – Romans 2:4 (NLT)

God thru the hands of Mankind

The absolute authority of God does not, however, eliminate human responsibility altogether. Christianity is lived out in a partnership with the Almighty. “We are laborers together with God.” – I Corinthians 3:9

God uses people as His tools. He accomplishes His purpose on planet earth through the labor of the redeemed. Recall what Jesus had to say about the source of both His power and our abilities as His messengers,

10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in Me? What I say to you, I do not say by My own power. The Father Who lives in Me does His work through Me. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and that the Father is in Me. Or else believe Me because of the things I do. 12 For sure, I tell you, whoever puts his trust in Me can do the things I am doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”  – John 14:10-12 (NLT)

It is our absolute trust in Jesus that empowers us to continue in His work and accomplish even greater things. This “ability” is put within us by His Spirit. We must not evade that duty.

Freedom and Rest in God

Understanding God’s sovereignty is also therapeutic. When we maintain a proper balance between the divine authority of God and our human accountability to God, worry will begin to evaporate. If God is in control, I am not! No more chains of oppressive anxiety.

Once again, Psalm 127:2,

2 “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

How’s your diet? Eating the bread of fear and anxiety? Washing it down with the wine of cheerless drudgery? If God has the power to influence behavior and direct the course of human events, why would you find reasons to hold on to worry anyway?

The New Testament writer, Paul said,

6-7”Don’t worry over anything whatsoever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 4:6-7 (Phillips)

I admit, in the heat of life’s battles and trials, it’s easy to forget that God is in control. When that happens, we need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves a fundamental question, “What am I doing?” You just might be surprised to discover that you have taken on encumbrances that God never asked you to carry.

God has promised that we would find rest in Him.

28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:28-30 (Phillips)

Jesus offers us liberty. We trade the burden of guilt, anxiety, fear, failures and regrets for the yoke of rest. That is the best part of being His Child. And remember, children don’t worry! The very essence of salvation is learning to rest in His everlasting arms. Stop over analyzing every moment of your life.

“Oh, but you don’t understand, what if I haven’t done enough to please God. What if I’m not good enough?”

You haven’t done enough and you’re NOT good enough. That’s the point. His redemptive love doesn’t depend on what you do. It depends on what Jesus Christ has already done for you. The only relevant question you need to ask is this: “Have I truly put my absolute trust in Him alone for my reclamation?” If your answer is YES, He promises that you will now find rest for your soul.

Your move. He’s calling. Why not answer?

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD, is an author, broadcaster, popular Bible teacher,
and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.