Archive for August, 2015

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute of your life with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley –

I recently traveled to New England for a long overdue visit with family and friends. Driving through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire afforded me a trip down memory lane. I let my mind wander to what were the nurturing and more genteel times of my youth. While in Connecticut, I spent a few days with my Mother, whom for me is a living testimony of life before social tinkering and political correctness.

You see, mom raised us in a time when they still displayed Old Glory and The Ten Commandments proudly at the courthouse. Department stores were not afraid to have separate sections for “boys” and “girls”. We had a mailman, paperboy, milkman and various repairmen. It was okay to say a prayer in school, carry a bible in the building and pledge our allegiance to the good old US of A.   Heck, we even sang God Bless America at public assemblies and sporting events.

In those good old days a man was a man and a woman was a woman. There was no widespread sexual confusion. The gender neutralization of society had yet to begin in earnest. Dumb people were… well… dumb, but most decent people loved them just the way they were. Really smart people were celebrated not shunned and they only gave out one trophy for first place at school because the education establishment actually recognized that in the real world everybody doesn’t win a prize for participation. People didn’t sue one another if they fell down in their neighbor’s back yard at a barbecue. We actually said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” – not “Seasons Greetings” or Happy Holidays”. And, let’s not forget the nativity scenes that adorned so many front yards and public places back then. Today, in some people’s minds, placing Jesus, Mary and Joseph on your front lawn poses more of a treat to the nation than radical Islamic terrorists.

Some say that everyone was narrow-minded and ignorant in those days.  I say bovine poop.  For sure there were social injustices that needed correcting. Some people couldn’t grasp the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal”. Many still can’t. We will always have fools and bigots to deal with in society. But the greater ignorance seems to rest with those who today think that 95 percent of the population should be inconvenienced because of 5% that might be offended. I have no desire to engage in a prolonged discussion on the mistakes and shortcomings of previous generations of Americans. We all make mistakes. Love covers a multitude of sins. My nostalgic drive simply reminded me that in spite of our own unique set of problems all those years ago, we were much less confused than this generation.  Mom says that in many ways, we were a whole lot better off.  I have learned not to argue with my mother.

At 88 years young, mom is still a reminder to me of God’s amazing grace. She has always tried to love the unlovely. She believed that all lives matter long before it was a T-shirt slogan. Mom just seemed to know how to love people even when they didn’t deserve it. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t perfect, but she is full of grace.

The concept of God’s grace ranks among the most important truths taught in the scriptures. Biblical grace is the love, peace and unmerited favor of God given to the unholy and undeserving. Mankind can never be worthy of God’s grace. But, He is merciful and therefore he pours out his grace freely upon us. The bible describes humanity as a lost race, desperately wicked, spiritually dead and banished on the earth. As such, we do not deserve to be blessed at all – we deserve damnation. Thankfully, as we live out our days on this orbiting penal colony called earth, God has chosen to continually offer his redeeming grace to us in abundance – along with blessings too!

To even begin to grasp the concept of the grace of God, we all must learn the truth about the mission and message of the man called Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God becomes our inner guide, teaching us everything we need to know. He will show you how the good news that Christians commonly refer to as The Gospel is really all about God’s grace extended to exiled mankind through the Liberator Jesus. God is the source of all grace – Jesus IS that grace!  Listen to this quote from the New Testament book of Acts: 11“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:11 – New Living Translation)

My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.” – Brennan Manning

If you are a sincere and devout Christian, one of the great threats to living a life filled with God’s grace is the tendency to be extremely hard on yourself. I mean really, how do I love myself when I do so many bad things (or even when I think about doing bad things)?  It is one thing to acknowledge God’s grace and forgiveness, quite another to forgive ourselves.

The problem is that we can’t extend God’s grace and love toward others if we do not first love ourselves. While it is prudent to shun too much self-admiration; there is a big difference between an ego trip and loving who you are. Jesus taught that we were to love one another the same way that we love ourselves. Here is 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 your entire mind, and with all your strength’. The second 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 guilt and condemnation. Even when we feel pretty good about our progress in living the Christian life, daily shortfalls will always present us with opportunities to marinate in blame and shame.  We can then become our own worst critic and consequently we fall into a trap of our own making. Just remember what the scriptures teach – God always forgives our mistakes even as we are always to forgive those who trespass against us. (Mark 11:25)

So why is it so hard for me to forgive my own failures? Good question. I think it’s because we all have an inner consciousness of an ideal self in our minds. But try as we might to live up to that picture-perfect image, we still miss the mark.

And let’s not forget all of the helpful voices reminding us that 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.

The meaning of life, the wasted years of life and the poor choices of life – God answers the mess of life with one word: Grace.” – Max Lucado

What about our society?

How many ways do we fail to measure up in this man-centered age of humanism? Let me count but a few:

  • 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, we should know better.  But, we often buy into this garbage, and when we do, we stumble over our guilt.  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.  God knows everything. That means He sees the positive in us. God recognizes our objectives, even if our actions don’t always bring about the results we intended. Again, 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. (1 John 3:20)

Here is a truth of which our hearts need to be absolutely reassured: We are loved so much by God that through Jesus, 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. Jesus was sent to the earth by the Creator of all things (God). He endured humiliation rejection and death in order to provide the means by which we can be liberated from the burden of our wickedness. If God loves us that much than 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. (1 John 3:16-19)

But here’s the irony; we cannot be free to love selflessly, as Jesus has loved us, if we continue to spend our time wallowing in a loser mentality. Do you believe the scriptures? They teach us that God has not condemned us. We are therefore 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. When our spirit is in a right relationship (righteousness) with the Creator of all things (God), we receive from him whatever we ask of him. And then as we obey God, we discover that he is pleased to abide in us and we abide in Him. (1 John 3:21-24) Never forget these two incredible verses from the New Testament book of Romans:

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 from now until the day that your body dies, never give up on yourself. If God chose not to condemn those who turn to him for life; we have no business condemning ourselves.

God, there are many who are struggling to find meaning and purpose in this slowly decaying world. Please help those who have heard these words to find their way in the grace you offer them today. I ask this in the name of our Liberator Jesus. Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.
The great test of life is to see whether we will hearken to and obey God’s commands in the midst of the storms of life. It is not just to endure storms, but to choose the right ways while they rage.” – Henry B. Eyring

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 Kushner’s 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?”

Rabbi Kushner is not alone in his queries. Millions of people ask similar questions every day. Like stormy seas with billowing waves driven by fierce winds, life can toss us to and fro. This world is full of pain, suffering, sadness, madness and sorrow. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Let’s talk about it.

Why do the innocent suffer? Why should anyone suffer for that matter?  If God exists, if He is really made of love and full of mercy, how could He allow all of the atrocities and suffering to go on in this world? That’s a question that has haunted mankind since the beginning of our exile on this planet. 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? Sometimes we can. But often we cannot.

Decades of pondering biblical texts has opened my eyes to this truth: humanity is by nature desperately wicked and was left stranded on this planet, long ago, banished to a life of exile. The Creator has kept an eye on his creation down through the ages. There are many lessons to be learned by we foolish mortals. He has watched over us, raised up a few prophets now and then and occasionally intervened. Then one day, he did something extraordinary. God took on human form and visited this planet to reveal a plan for both our redemption and for our survival. He came to us as the Liberator Jesus, declaring, I am the way, the truth and the (genuine) life (John 14:6). His story is recorded in the Scriptures.

Believers refer to the Bible as the Word of God – and with good reason. The combined older and newer testaments are a compilation of divinely inspired truth written down in 66 volumes by more than 40 different supernaturally influenced authors over a period of 1500 years. These writers came from all walks of life and yet the Bible came together as an extremely cohesive manuscript. In its pages we find answers to life’s greatest challenges – including how to handle the stormy seas of everyday existence.

We all have life storms, and when we get the rough times and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there’s always something beautiful that you can find.” – Mattie Stepanek

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, wars and different brutalities plague humanity. For sure, none of us will escape the final tragedy known as death.

Some may ask, “If Jesus came to set the captives free, then why is there so much pain and suffering here on earth?  Is there a purpose for all this distress?” Let me offer you five statements followed by quotations from the Bible that may help you to understand how a Christian resolves that irony.

Suffering helps keep in perspective our true condition in a lost and declining world.

18-21 “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! ” (Rom. 8:18-21 – J.B. Phillips)

Suffering teaches us that life is an endurance race and the course is laid out for us by God.

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)

Suffering teaches us that temporary unhappiness will one day end in timeless joy.

 12-15 “And now dear friends of mine, I beg you not to be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. You should be glad, because it means that you are called to share Christ’s sufferings. One day, when he shows himself in full splendor to men, you will be filled with the most tremendous joy. If you are reproached for being Christ’s followers, that is a great privilege, for you can be sure that God’s Spirit of glory is resting upon you.” (1 Pet. 4:12-15 – Phillips)

Suffering can sometimes be a part of a sovereign work of God in our lives.

1As he (Jesus) was walking along, he observed a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that caused him to be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that God’s work might be revealed in him. I must do the work of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is approaching, when no one can work. As long as I’m in the world, I’m the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he spread the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “Sent One”). So he went off, washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:1-7 – Phillips)

Suffering (hardship & trials) can enable others to observe God at work within us.

 7-11 “This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours. Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives.” (2 Cor. 4:7-11 Phillips).

There isn’t always a cut and dry solution to the problem of why we suffer. And maybe, that is really the wrong question to put forward. Perhaps we should make these enquirers instead:

  • What is the purpose for my life here on this earth?
  • What future does God have for me beyond this temporary ride on spaceship earth?

Our lives do have a definite purpose – even when living doesn’t make sense, negative circumstances abound and everything seems so unfair. All of the answers you seek are stored within you. The creator has written them upon the tablets of your human spirit. Think of them as being encoded in your DNA. The more you get to know the God who put them there, the more he can show you his plan for your life.

There is only one secure foundation: a genuine, deep relationship with Jesus Christ, which will carry you through any and all turmoil. No matter what storms are raging all around, you’ll stand firm if you stand on His love.” – Charles Stanley

As God in human form, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of his own creation. But that was his purpose in life – the reason he came to the earth. It was written in his spotless DNA. The death of Jesus bridged the gap between the Creator and the created. It also opened the door to a different dimension (we call it the spirit world) where he put things back in order. He didn’t stay dead very long. Three days after he was buried, he walked out of the grave in the full glory of a resurrected body to become the liberator of all those who would believe in Him.

Like Jesus, our mortal bodies will all eventually die. But we won’t cease to exist. We too (the righteous dead who have followed the Jesus plan) will live again in bodies of endless existence. Our death will also open for us the door to a different dimension (the spirit world). In that place of everlasting life after death, the tormented souls, the cancer stricken, the accident and murder victims, the unloved, the lost and lonely, along with all of the aborted children — everyone who has or ever will suffer — will hurt no more.

I know, all of this can sound a bit farfetched – even crazy. But not when you dig in and really learn about the mission and the message of the Liberator Jesus. That however, will take you some time and an open heart. If you have never done so, I would encourage you to get busy. After all, only a fool rejects that of which he has no real knowledge and understanding. And I know that you are not a fool, right?

Those of us who have found our way within the Son, we’ll keep praying for you as we watch and wait for his return.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.