Archive for December, 2015

Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall one day die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.” ― Thomas Wolfe

Hmmm. Through the door of death we will find greater knowledge, greater life, and greater love. A land that is more kind then our home and bigger than all the earth. Really? Is this true? We’ll get back to that thought shortly.

It’s late morning and 83°f here at the Sponge Docks on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs, Florida. I’ve been watching a shrimp boat that just returned from a three week run in the Gulf being tied up to the pilings. The winter “season” in the land of palm trees and sunshine is in full swing, so the multitudes are lively and loud, milling about the streets and filling the restaurants, gift shops and bars. Me? I’m daydreaming in my seat by the water. It’s New Year’s Eve and I find myself mentally revisiting days long gone but not forgotten.

I once knew a young boy who was just about as carefree as youthful innocence permits. The world was his oyster and by sheer resolve he was determined to pry it open – a thousand times if necessary – to find his “pearl” of fortune, fame and significance. But everyday life, with all of its inequitableness and malice, fought back. And so it was that the toll of living eventually broke his heart, leaving him cynical, sometimes angry, or if nothing else, growing older and wearier with each passing season. Who was this poor mortal?  It could be anyone of us, I suppose. But once upon a time long ago, it was me.

One never knows when it will happen; that instant when you see the world with such a crystal clarity that you are left much sadder and yet wiser for the awareness you have gained. And the worst part of it all, you can never go back to the innocence of not knowing what you have now learned. Sad, so sad. But in the circle of life, as painful as it may be, we call these moments growing up.

When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The very first day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

I remember when the Spirit of the Almighty first got my attention. Initially I resisted, being a young man who looked to science and education for answers. Religious fanatics parroting words that they could neither adequately explain nor exemplify in their own lives had always repulsed me. Please God, talk to someone else. But, He would not leave me alone. He made sure I heard things like,

36-38 “The man who tries to save his own life will lose it… What good can it do a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What can a man offer to buy back his soul once he has lost it?” (Excerpted from Mark 8:36-38 – J.B. Phillips New Testament)

“God”, I thought to myself, “just let me be.” But he would broker no denial. There was a testimony that I needed to hear; a message that spoke of a mysterious rescue mission motivated by a Divine love for a stranded people living on a doomed planet. The communique’ from another world revealed a liberator named Jesus who desired to save all who would answer His call. It warned of the pervasive God haters who would continue to contest His very existence as they attempted to bring a Babylonian (Humanistic) global order to their dying Utopian dreams. But, this life-giving message also contained a comforting reassurance that the arrogance of mankind’s wickedness would never topple the providence of an Almighty God.

And that my dear friends brings me back to the words of Thomas Wolfe who spoke of death as a doorway to a much better place than life here on spaceship earth. Whether or not Mr. Wolfe new it, he had stumbled upon an absolute truth. Death is indeed an entrance. Find the right door, cross its wondrous threshold and you will pass into an even greater life; one that is full of timeless knowledge and absolute love.

Whenever I hear the droning cacophony of mere human opinion regarding “pathways” to God, I think about these words spoken by the Creator Himself,

13 “There are two paths before you; you may take only one path. One doorway is narrow. And one door is wide. Go through the narrow door. For the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it; but the wide, broad, easy, crowded path leads to death. 14 Now then that narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to life. It is hard to find that road. Not many people manage it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14 – The Voice)

Is that so hard to understand? There are just two paths before us. But, we only get to travel on one. Every human being will determine their ultimate (eternal) destiny by the singular and specific spiritual path they choose to follow. And remember, a failure to make a choice is a choice.

In describing the wide door, Jesus said,

“…the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it.”

Hey, that sounds cool to me. A big attractive door that opens up to reveal a substantial road that is accommodating, easy to travel and filled with all kinds of interesting people – I’m down for that!

But… that is not the door He tells us to choose. Jesus said we’re to go through the narrow door. And, it was not a suggestion.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” ― Robert Frost

Of course there are reasons why He said to choose the narrow door. First, the big attractive door that opens up to reveal a road that is very large, accommodating, filled with the “in crowd” and easy to travel – leads to destruction. The big door and the big road are a BIG mistake!

Jesus said of the narrow door,

“…the narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to a real life. It is hard to find that road.

We are to seek the narrow doorway. Why? Because that’s the right choice.  No further explanation is necessary.   If you really want to find the Divine Spirit, the Supreme Being, the Almighty or whatever name you may have heard Him called, the Liberator Jesus said that He is the only door through which you gain access to the road that leads to a timeless afterlife with God. No, it’s neither tolerant nor politically correct. Do you want to argue with our Creator about it? Here is what He said,

…“For sure, I tell you, I am the Door of the sheep. All others who came ahead of Me are men who steal and rob. The sheep did not obey them. I am the Door. Anyone who goes in through Me will be saved from the punishment of sin. He will go in and out and find food. 10 The robber comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I came so they might have life, a great full life. (John 10:7-10)

Not to put too fine a point on this but, again, according to Jesus,

6-7 “I myself am the road…and the truth and the life. No one approaches the Father except through me. If you had known who I am, you would have known my Father. From now on, you do know him and you have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 – J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Think of it like this, God’s way on God’s terms = God’s Life. You don’t get to pick your own version of the Truth.

Right now, you might be standing at a fork in the road. Do nothing, and you’ll just keep drifting along the wide, broad, easy, crowded path that leads to destruction, or choose to make a change by passing through that narrow gate (which we now know as the “Jesus” door) and begin to follow the road less traveled. The decision here is simple. No confusion. No overload. Choose his way and gain a timeless life, filled with inner joy and peace. Or just keep rolling the dice and doing things your way. It’s your life, your decision, but I do hope you choose wisely.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get back to my daydreams. You know, it’s nice to be free of the demons carried by that disillusioned and cynical young man from the past.  And while I sometimes wish I could go back to the innocence of youth, I am glad to be at peace within myself and with my Creator. Sure, life is still hard sometimes, but God is always there to help me cope.

Happy New Year! – Happy New YOU!

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  For more information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656
We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the 25th of December. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give thanks to God for the gift of His dear Son.” – Charles Spurgeon –

So how goes the war? You know; the war over Christmas. It sure seems like some people want to pick a fight, at least with the Christian commemoration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. The hostilities appear to reside most notably with the nonreligious crowd who seek to expunge every “sacred” overtone from the Christmas season. Of course, this has outraged many in the Christian community. Tempers flare and so the battles rage.

For the sake of honesty (if not accuracy), there have been periods in the history of Christendom when “Believers” waged a war on Christmas as well. Some “factions” within the faith denounce participation in this annual celebration to this day.

The Puritans, for instance, couldn’t stand the Christmas celebration. First of all, there was entirely too much joy and revelry associated with it (a big no-no for that crowd). And besides, December 25th wasn’t really Jesus’ birthday anyway. (Some bible scholars place his actual date of birth sometime in our modern month of September while others claim he was born in March).

Christmas celebrations were outlawed in New England from 1659 until sometime in the mid-1680s. Even after the founding of the United States, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that Christmas began to work its way into the national psyche. In 1836, Alabama was actually the first State to officially declare December 25th a public holiday. But alas, those Puritans of New England remained staunchly…well…Puritanical. In defiance of a Christmas holiday, schools and businesses remained open on December 25th well into the mid-1800s. In fact, it wasn’t until 1907, that Oklahoma became the last US state to declare Christmas a legal holiday. In time, nations all over the world came to identify Christmas as a day set aside for celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Historically, associating the advent of Jesus with December 25th began in the 4th century AD.  Christianity essentially co-opted the Roman festivals honoring Saturnus (the harvest god) and Mithras (the ancient god of light). Church leaders of that time succeeded in converting large numbers of heathens into followers of Jesus by promising them that they could continue to celebrate their Pagan holidays as Christians.  The concluding day of the festivities, December 25th, was given a new name – the birthday of Jesus.

Much later, in the year 1223, Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the emblematic nativity scene. He was inspired by a trip to the Holy Land and hoped the crèche would cultivate the worship of Jesus.  For many Christians, the nativity scene is still an enduring symbol of the entrance of the architect of all things into the very world which he created. Okay, I confess, mine is displayed every year too.

It seems quite absurd that our modern secular society wants to revel in the sights and sounds of the Christmas holiday season, but despises (in some cases to the point of persecution) the joy of Christians who openly celebrate the birth of their Redeemer at Christmas time. It’s acceptable for shopping malls, public squares, town centers, businesses and homes to be awash in decorations of every possible description, but God forbid if we dare try to include a manger scene in a public display. That’s just way too offensive.

The religion of secular humanism has a choke-hold on Western culture at the moment.  Humanists have their own philosophies and doctrines as well as their PC Police to enforce them.  Christmas is gradually returning to its pagan roots as our post-modern society rejects the traditional incorporation of Jesus into their now mostly secular “Holiday” observances.

Christmas means a spirit of love, a time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness, a time when our thoughts and deeds and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.” – Author Unknown

As a follower of the Liberator Jesus, I understand the anger and frustration that many feel toward the anti-Christian bigots or Christmaphobics. But, it makes no sense for people of faith to turn this beautiful season into a time of hatred & bitterness. Go ahead; boldly declare the reason for the season! Say MERRY CHRISTMAS with impunity and without apology. That is your RIGHT!  But, if you’re really going to celebrate the true spirit of the Liberator Jesus at Christmas time, do so with joy and love – especially in the face of blind ignorance.

Our Redeemer was born to bring enlightenment into the darkness of a spiritually deaf, dumb and blinded world. According to Jesus, mankind will find its way out of darkness by following the illumination that He came here to spread.  Without that guiding light, humanity is hopelessly lost and groping in the shadows; futilely stumbling through life in search of that elusive road to an everlasting fulfillment.  Humanism and this “new age” of enlightenment may offer a plethora of distractive substitutions, but they are counterfeits for the truth.  Jesus alone can resurrect a human spirit and revitalize the human soul. He said so,

“…I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father [God] except by (through) Me.” – John 14:6 (AMP)

Nothing can stand as His equal.  Deny him, hate him, pretend he never existed; you cannot extinguish the penetrating light of his message. The Newer Testament writer John expressed it this way,

4-5“In him (Jesus) appeared life and this life was the light of mankind. The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”  – John 1:4-5 (Phillips)

Remember those shepherds we talked about in the New Testament book of Luke, Chapter 2? After the angelic messenger from another world came to them and announced the birth of Emanuel (which means, God with us), they were terrified!  So, what did those sheep herders do?  Deny the reality of what they heard and saw? Run away and hide? Let their family and friends convince them that they had too much Manischewitz that night?  Absolutely NOT!

Here’s what the New Testament writer Luke says they did,

15“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about”. – Luke 2:15 (NIV)

Incredibly enough, the shepherds, in spite of being terrified and perhaps even a bit bewildered, searched for the truth!  They went to find this “Savior” whose birth was revealed to them in their amazing visitation.  Doubtful they understood that this innocent baby, born in obscurity, would one day grow up and traverse their cities and towns exposing them to the truth that would set them free!

Christmas in Bethlehem… The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” – Lucinda Franks

Many years ago I read a Christmas reflection by Ron Hutchcraft entitled You Can Have My Room.  The story was about a boy named Harold and a Christmas play in the little town of Cornwall. Here’s what Ron shared,

“It was the biggest night of the year in a little town called Cornwall. It was the night of the annual Christmas pageant. It’s an especially big deal for the children in town — they get to try out for the roles in the Christmas story. Everybody wants a part; which leads us to the problem of Harold.

Harold really wanted to be in the play, too, but he was – well, he was kind of a slow and simple kid. The directors were ambivalent – I mean, they knew Harold would be crushed if he didn’t have a part, but they were afraid he might mess up the town’s magic moment. Finally, they decided to cast Harold as the innkeeper – the one who turns Mary and Joseph away the night Jesus is to be born. He had only one line – “I’m sorry, we have no room.” Well, no one could imagine what that one line was going to do to everyone’s Christmas.

The night of the pageant the church was packed, as usual. The Christmas story unfolded according to plan – angels singing, Joseph’s dream, and the trip to Bethlehem. Finally, Joseph and Mary arrived at the door of the Bethlehem inn, looking appropriately tired. Joseph knocked on the inn door, and Harold was there to open the door. Joseph asked his question on cue – “Do you have a room for the night?” Harold froze. After a long pause, Harold mumbled his line, “I’m sorry – we have no room.” And, with a little coaching, he shut the door. The directors heaved a sigh of relief – prematurely.

As Mary and Joseph disappeared into the night, the set suddenly started shaking again – and the door opened. Harold was back! And then, in an unrehearsed moment that folks would not soon forget, Harold went running after the young couple, shouting as loud as he could — “Wait! Don’t go Joseph. Bring Mary back! You can have MY room!” (1)

Well, little Harold turned out to be a very wise young man.  He simply would not turn his back (or shut his door) on the soon to be born liberator and King.

What about you? Jesus is no longer with us in human form. He has departed spaceship earth. But before our liberator ascended back into timelessness, he promised to be with us always in Spirit form and to one day physically return again.

The Newer Testament writer John recorded these words spoken to him by Jesus in a vision. They are found in the last section of the bible known as The Book of Revelation,

20“See, I stand knocking at the door. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will go into his house…”  Revelation 3:20 (Phillips)

Jesus paid a visit to this tiny spec of a world in the vastness of the universe that he created to seek and to rescue a lost and stranded people. He’d like to salvage you.  Will you be like Herald and offer him your room?  His Spirit wants to move into your house… your spiritual house.

(Knock, knock.)  Do you hear what I hear?  (Knock, knock.)  He’s waiting.  Answer the door.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  For more information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656

(1) © Ron Hutchcraft

Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees; tinsel and reindeer, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One must wonder how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” ― Ronald Reagan ―
A long time ago in a stable far, far away…

1-7 “At that time a proclamation was made by Caesar Augustus that all the inhabited world should be registered. This was the first census, undertaken while Cyrenius was governor of Syria and everybody went to the town of his birth to be registered. Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s town, Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was a direct descendant of David, to be registered with his future wife, Mary, now in the later stages of her pregnancy. So it happened that it was while they were there in Bethlehem that she came to the end of her time. She gave birth to her first child, a son. And as there was no place for them inside the inn, she wrapped him up and laid him in a manger.” – Luke 2:1-7

Billions of people around the world observe Christmas as a religious and cultural celebration. Many popular customs associated with this annual holiday have evolved over hundreds of years. Today, the Christmas season is a mixture of pagan, Christian, and secular themes which vary throughout the world.

In Christian theology, the Birth of Jesus is the reason for the “Christ’s Mass” celebration. Christmas commemorates the extraordinary conception and divine nature of an exceptional child who was born in fulfillment of the divine will of God. The Christian Christmas story can be summed up as follows:

The Creator of all things (God) chose to enter into a corporal existence upon the earth. To accomplish this, the Almighty elected to take the form of a human (one of His own creation). God moved from a timeless dimension (eternity) into the realm of the temporal (time). He picked a young virgin called Mary to supernaturally impregnate. She was used as a vessel to deliver the incarnate God-man into this world. All of this was explained to her in a visitation which she received from an otherworldly being (Angel) prior to the pregnancy. The creator entered this world as the man-child called Jesus. Christmas celebrates this birth. Jesus lived on the earth for about 30 years before embarking on His mission – to seek out and salvage His stranded creation which had gone astray. This is why He is called the Liberator (aka Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Rescuer, etc.).

To expunge these facts from the Christian celebration of Christmas is diabolical. And yet, our modern festival is systematically reverting back to the pagan holidays (winter solstice, Saturnalia, etc.) from which many historians believe it was first derived. Consequently, Christmas has lost its legitimate meaning for most of humanity.  Today, when a random sampling of the general public is asked to define Christmas, you will hear words like Santa Claus, Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, Black Friday and the like. Descriptions of brightly decorated homes, holiday parties and of course the iconic Christmas tree also top the list of images that are used to paint the modern Christmas picture. But none of this imagery has a place in the original Christian Christmas narrative.

The supernatural birth of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection and ascension, remain eternal truths, whatever doubts may be cast on their reality as historical facts.” – David Friedrich Strauss

Angels, on the other hand, do have a prominent role in the Christian Christmas chronicle. These messengers from another world were sent to proclaim the arrival of the Liberator on earth. Picture if you will a group of sheep herders passing the night in an open field. Suddenly all heaven breaks loose. Here is the scene as described in the Gospel of Luke:

8-14 “There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger. And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!” – Luke 2:8-14 (Phillips)

In my mind, I see the shepherds relaxing by a softly burning fire. The night was calm, and the sky was bright. But then, suddenly, an Angel burst on the scene and shook up everything. In fact, the sky filled with these beings from another world. When that happened, the shepherds freaked. They weren’t just unnerved; the Bible says they were, terror-stricken! Who wouldn’t be?

Almighty God sure knows how to make an entrance. The spectacle in the skies that night certainly frightened those that witnessed the event. It was a good kind of fear. In the Older Testament of the Bible, King Solomon said, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” So, the Christian Christmas story would not be complete without reverent “fear”.

Nothing has changed really. The story of Christmas still frightens people today – but not for the same reason. These days, it is Jesus who frightens people. Just the mention of His name creates incredible apprehension in some individuals.

Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done, nor is it found in the purchasing of gifts. We find real joy when we make the Savior the focus of the season.” ― Thomas S. Monson

Think about how the Newer Testament writer Matthew describes Jesus:

23“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

Immanuel is perhaps the highest title that Scripture ascribes to Jesus. After all, He didn’t come as a mere religious leader or a great prophet that was a cut above the others. He didn’t come as a social revolutionary either. Jesus came as Immanuel – God in human flesh. Isn’t that brilliant?  Almighty God arrives from another dimension (the place we simply refer to as Heaven) to live on the earth as a man!

And what about this foretelling statement from the prophet Isaiah as recorded in the Older Testament:

6”For to us a Child will be born. To us a Son will be given. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Teacher, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Listen, the nations of this world might put up with a story about a cute little baby in a straw-filled feeding-box, but they will hardly accept the titles, “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

When, as Christians, we attach these crowning designations to Jesus we’re acknowledging that He is infinitely greater than anyone on the earth. It means we accept Him as the highest authority in life. This is why we are willing to place our absolute trust in Him. It is also why we are willing to obey His word.

And that is what alarms (and terrifies) this present world order about Jesus and His followers.

This is not a new phenomenon. When the Magi from the East eventually found their way to Jerusalem looking for Jesus they asked King Herod,

2“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2 (NIV)

Do you remember the reaction of Herod and the religious leaders when they heard that news?

3“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” – Matthew 2:3 (NIV).

The empires of this earth know how to handle one of their own. They do not know how to handle somebody from another world who claims to be the giver of life, the embodiment of truth and the only way to find the one true God.

If Jesus had been a mere human the establishment could have easily contained Him. The authorities would have mounted an elaborate smear campaign in an attempt to eliminate all of his credibility with the multitudes. If that did not work, they would have threatened Him and perhaps He would have withdrawn. If threats proved ineffective, the powers that be would have arrested Him. And, if all else failed, the “system” would simply kill Him off, and that would have ended the work of a mere mortal. Oh, that’s right, they did all that.

But Jesus wasn’t an ordinary human. That’s why insults, accusations, and even death couldn’t contain Him. He was Immanuel – God in the flesh – and it wasn’t possible to control Him! In fact, it was not until Jesus was ready to die that He allowed Himself to be taken and put to death. Listen to what he said,

18“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 (NLB)

Immanuel appeared on earth to follow a Divine blueprint for the reclamation of humanity. His death was part of that plan. Here is how Jesus described it,

23-24“… I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth. Unless I die I will be alone—a single seed. But my death will produce many new wheat kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24

Today, Jesus (in transcendent form) enters a human spirit and grows His kingdom from within, one disciple at a time – all over the world. The Scriptures predict that there will come a day when, “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

The God made man – Jesus – is the Liberator of mankind (the created beings who have been marooned on this planet for a long time awaiting rescue). The empire He came to inaugurate is not of this space-time continuum; nevertheless it is here and it is irrepressible! And that is why the spirit of this world fears Him!

At Christmas, in spite of what the kingdoms of this world may say or do – Jesus is still the reason Christians celebrate the season!

(To Be Continued next week)

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  For more information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656

 

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts…” ~ William Shakespeare ~

If the world is nothing more than a magnificent theatrical performance, then we the inhabitants of spaceship earth are merely the actors on its stage. How intriguing. That means we’re all hypocrites – at least in the classic sense of that word.

Did you know that the English term hypocrisy comes from the ancient Greek word ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means play-acting? And the word hypocrite, from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokritēs), was a technical term for a stage actor.

Yes ladies and gentlemen – I am a hypocrite. And before you get all sanctimonious on me – so are you. We are all hypocrites who regularly engage in some form of hypocrisy. (Que the crickets)

The definition and usage of the words hypocrite and hypocrisy has evolved over time. Today’s hypocrite can be defined as a person who simply does not practice what they preach. Have you ever criticized someone or attempted to give them some of your sage “advise” only to have them respond People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, or the equally popular, Listen to the pot calling the kettle black? Their response was a polite way of calling you a hypocrite! It’s happened to me a time or two. So, I now respond with the favored apology of hypocrites, Do as I say, not as I do!

Still not convinced of your hypocrisy? Let’s visit child-rearing for a moment. When I was boy, my friend Billy and I would sneak a smoke under the stairwell at the old So & So church in the North End of my home town. One day we got caught. Billy’s mom gave us a good scolding. She said that we were NEVER to smoke again. Evan as an adolescent, I remember thinking, “Yea right”. Was I just being a punk? No comment. But, you see, Billy’s mom smoked like a chimney. A parent who smokes, drinks excessively or curses like the proverbial drill sergeant and then expects their children to act differently is… well… a wee bit hypocritical. How can we expect our children and grandchildren to take us seriously when our actions cancel out our words? I know, Do as I say, not as I do!

I consider myself a fairly ethical individual while I do have a lot of dichotomies within me. We’re all victims of our own hypocrisy at times.” ~ T. J. Miller

Okay, enough about you and me. Let’s turn our attention to politics. I believe in values – moral and spiritual. So when a candidate runs for office on a platform of “family values” while secretly carrying on an extramarital affair, is it any wonder that people question their integrity? Perhaps more and more of the electorate are growing tired of the scandals and deceits perpetrated by politicians full of deliberate hypocrisy and double standards: one for themselves, and one for the little folk.

Today our national faith in the political system continues to hover at all-time lows. Sure, it’s impossible for any human being to be up-front at all times. But when your actions consistently contradict what you say, that is hypocritical, and it undermines credibility. Is it any wonder why so few trust what the “politicians” say? I think Ronald Reagan was right, the most terrifying words in the English language today are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

What about religious hypocrisy? We’ve all seen the stereotypical flamboyant TV preachers with bad hairstyles hawking baby wipes dipped in the Jordan River for just a small donation to “their ministry”. The money scandals, the moral failures; some would argue that many of them have done little to further the true cause of Jesus Christ. Listen, religion – like the rest of life – is full of hypocrisy. It is unfortunate that so many hypocrites can be found in both pew and pulpit. But does that justify anyone turning away from the Creator of all things and the Liberator he sent to the earth? If we have a bad meal in a restaurant, do we blame the food and stop eating? A nasty experience in a church should never be used as an excuse to turn your back on God.

Many have quarreled about religion but they have never actually practiced it.” ~ Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

In Christendom, hypocrisy is usually manifest in one of two ways: asserting a belief in the precepts of the Almighty and then acting in a way that is contrary to that declaration, or condescending toward others in spite of our own weaknesses.

In the Older Testament, the prophet Isaiah blasted hypocrisy with this declaration:

13 And so the Lord says, “Since these people say they are mine but they do not obey me, and since their worship amounts to mere words learned by rote, 14 therefore I will take awesome vengeance on these hypocrites and make their wisest counselors as fools.” (Isaiah 29:13-14 TLB)

The Liberator Jesus actually quoted from the writings of Isaiah when heaping his disdain upon the “religious leadership” of his day. He said,

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, ‘These people say they honor me, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is worthless, for they teach their man-made laws instead of those from God’.” (Matthew 15:7-9 TLB)

Jesus also took exception to the holier-than-thou attitude which the religious elite displayed:

27-28 “You hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretense and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 PHILLIPS)

It is obvious that Jesus had a low tolerance for religious hypocrisy among those who claimed to be the “leaders” of religion in that day. But, he also addressed judgmental hypocrites in the Sermon on the Mount:

 And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? You hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.” (Matthew 7:3-5 TLB)

Do not misunderstand the intent of Jesus. He is not discounting perceptiveness in the identification of right and wrong; instead, He is warning us not to think so highly of our own goodness that we condescend toward others in self-righteousness. In other words, correct your own shortcomings before you go after the flaws in someone else.

Nothing so needs reforming like other people’s habits.” ~Mark Twain

Now, take a deep breath and read this from the Newer Testament book of Romans,

1-4 “If you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself, since you, the judge, commit the same sins. God’s judgment, we know, is utterly impartial in its action against such evil-doers. What makes you think that you who so readily judge the sins of others, can consider yourself beyond the judgment of God? Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy towards you as weakness on his part? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4)

Ouch. To put it succinctly, who among us is truly qualified to pass judgment on anyone?  It should be noted that hypocrisy is not the same thing as taking a stand against wickedness. For example, it is not hypocrisy to proclaim that adultery, murder or drunkenness is wrong, unless you are a murderess drunk that sleeps around —that would be hypocrisy.

Don’t judge others simply because they sin differently than you.” ~Author Unknown

It is no secret that I am an ordained Christian minister. But like everyone else here on spaceship earth, I still mess up. Some days my life is like a rodeo – a wild ride which ends with me landing flat on my…, you know. Thankfully, I am not asking anyone to follow me. I don’t need your vote and I’m not selling anything. My only motive here is to share with you what I have learned about absolute TRUTH from the pages of the ancient scriptures. And even when I am struggling to be a living example of these realities in my own life, it doesn’t change the truth of what the scriptures teach. The Spirit of the Creator is still speaking. Listen for His voice and pay no attention to the hypocrisy or the hypocrites.

These are my closing thoughts which come from the pen of the Newer Testament writer John,

16b-18 God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more, filling us with complete confidence for the day when he shall judge all men—for we realize that our life in this world is actually his life lived in us. Love contains no fear—indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected.

19-21 “Yes, we love him because he first loved us. If a man says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar (hypocrite). For if he does not love the brother who is before his eyes how can he love the one beyond his sight (God)? And in any case it is his explicit command that the one who loves God must love his brother too.” (1 John 4:16-21 Phillips)

And now, this is my prayer,

1”Bend down and hear my cry, O Lord, and answer me, for I am deep in trouble. Protect me from death, for I try to follow all your laws. Save me, for I am serving you and trusting you. Be merciful, O Lord, for I am looking up to you in constant hope. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I worship only you. O Lord, you are so good and kind, so ready to forgive, so full of mercy for all who ask your aid. Listen closely to my prayer, O God. Hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever trouble strikes and you will help me.(Psalm 86:1-6)

Remember, your religion is what you do when the sermon is over.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  For more information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but it is in his integrity and in his ability to affect those around him positively.” — Bob Marley —

Wealth.

I like that word. It’s mysterious.

Really, who defines wealth? Or should the question be, what defines wealth? I’m not sure. Sitting in the various public haunts that I frequent, opinions on the wealthy and their riches vary from the sublime to the stupid and everything in between.

What comes to your mind when you think of rich people? Extravagant homes? Expensive toys? Fine motorcars? A private yacht or airplane? How about living the lifestyle of the jet-set? I am almost positive that you don’t think of yourself when contemplating “the wealthy”.

If we were to go by American or even European standards, those who consider themselves to be of meager to modest means have far more than most of their fellow passengers here on spaceship earth. In fact, the average 21st century American is remarkably affluent indeed.

Consider this:

  • If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes to wear, and a place to call home, you are better-off than 75% of the world’s population.
  • Do you have some money in the bank? A few bucks in your wallet, and a steady income? Believe it or not, you are among the top 8% of this planets wealthy.
  • If you woke up this morning in relative good health, consider yourself blessed. More than a million people will not survive the day.
  • And just to bend your noodle a little more, if you can read this sobering discourse, you are more privileged than 3 billion people in the world today who are illiterate.

So what’s the point? Well, for starters, you my friend, are a wealthy person – no matter how poor or deprived you may believe yourself to be.

Our lives are the only meaningful expression of what we believe and in whom we believe. And the only real wealth, for any of us, lies in our faith.”Gordon B. Hinckley

In a letter written a very long time ago (and preserved in the Bible’s Newer Testament) a man named Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy lending this advice:

17 “Tell those who are rich not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone, but their pride and trust should be in the living God who always richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give happily to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them. 19 By doing this they will be storing up real treasure for themselves in heaven—it is the only safe investment for eternity! And they will be living a fruitful Christian life down here as well.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Do not dismiss this passage in haste. Some of my “humble” and “poor” Christian friends may not like what I am about to say, nonetheless, Paul is talking to you too. Compared to most of the world, WE are the rich people addressed in these ancient texts.

IN GOD WE TRUST.  Notice where that’s printed. On your money. So, is it really God in whom you trust when you can stroke a check for most of what you need? And, before you progressive socialists go euphoric on me, wealth is not intrinsically the problem. Contrary to the popular colloquialism, money is not the root of all evil. Troubles lie in a love affair with riches. Here is another gem from the pen of Paul,

9-10 “For men who set their hearts on being wealthy expose themselves to temptation. They fall into one of the world’s traps, and lay themselves open to all sorts of silly and wicked desires, which are quite capable of utterly ruining and destroying their souls. For loving money leads to all kinds of evil, and some men in the struggle to be rich have lost their faith and caused themselves untold agonies of mind.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 – PHILLIPS)

Our Father… lead us not into temptation…  Nice thought.  But, if the pursuit of wealth charms your soul, the ground beneath you is shifting sand; you will face many needless perils and possibly live to regret it bitterly ever after. The Lord’s Prayer notwithstanding.

If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” — Edmund Burke

Personally, I do not have a problem with the accumulation of wealth per se. Good people with deep pockets often do great things for the benefit of mankind. Many of my friends are well-to-do. Some are also famous. But most are not in love with their success nor held prisoner to the things that money can buy. And, they are very generous. In case you haven’t heard, the Almighty does not condemn wealth accumulation here on planet earth either – as long as what you possess does not possess you! The scriptures once again confirm this,

18 “Always remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you power to become rich, and he does it to fulfill his promise to your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 8:18 TLB)

When the ancient Nazarene called Jesus was confronted by a man of wealth and power, he cut right to the heart of a hindrance in the man’s life – being materially possessed.  Here is the story from the bible’s Newer Testament:

17 ”As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”  18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”  20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”  21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”  22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.  (Mark 10:17-22)

I must admit, as I read these scriptures, I’m sometimes conflicted. I too have been blessed with many nice things – houses, cars, and other possessions. What if Jesus were to look me in the eye and say,

“Joseph, please do this: divest all of your assets – give everything away – and come follow after me.”

Would I be able to let go of everything? Could I forfeit the comfort of my material wealth to follow someone whom I trust by sheer faith to be my Liberator and do this on the basis of his promise that I will eventually gain more than I lost? (Mark 17:23-31)  That’s a million dollar question. What would you do?

Thankfully, God does not request this total divestiture of everyone.   But he does ask that we never hang our hopes and dreams on the uncertainty of this world – and its wealth.

From time to time we will be called upon to sacrifice some of what we have. Do you financially support your place of worship? Help missionaries or relief organizations throughout the world? When was the last time you wrote a check to help a listener supported inspirational radio station, or the local homeless shelter? There are countless ways to “invest” in eternal things. This much I am sure of; God has promised to bless those who freely give — both in the temporal here and now and in the everlasting dimension, just beyond the grave.

13 “For neither you nor anyone else can serve two masters. You will hate one and show loyalty to the other, or else the other way around—you will be enthusiastic about one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and your money.” (Luke 16:13 TLB)

This is my prayer:

Almighty God, you have said that nothing is impossible when we put our absolute trust in you. We cannot see you with human eyes and there are many who deny your reality. Some mock and scorn those of us who say we have faith. No matter. I have seen your work and tasted of the other worldly gifts you bestow upon those who follow you. Please help me to walk cautiously in this present darkness and not be blinded by the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for things. May I never forget the “Great Reversal” spoken of by the Liberator Jesus, “So those who are last in this world shall one day be first in the world to come, and those who are first shall be last.” (Matthew 20:16) Help me to know you better each day.  Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  For more information write to:
InsightToday, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, FL 34656