Archive for March, 2018

“I am pressed to admit that I don’t have the capacity to understand the bloodied horrors of a cross and the wild exhilaration of an empty tomb. But at the point that I think I completely understand God… I have lost Him. Therefore, I much prefer to simply marvel.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough

In the year 1674, Isaac Watts Jr. was born in jolly old England.  His father (Isaac Watts Sr.) was a committed religious Nonconformist.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this terminology, allow me to briefly enlighten you.  After the amended Acts of Uniformity were passed in England in 1662, the term Nonconformist was used in reference to a Protestant Christian who did not bow to the rules and regulations of the official Church of England.   Some of the dissidents were outright Separatists, desiring to break away from the sanctioned Church to form independent local Christian assemblies.  You may be surprised to learn that these early reformers and radicals who stood in defiance of the state approved and thus “politically correct” church went on to become, among others, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists of today.

Isaac Watts Jr. grew up to be a renowned Nonconformist, an English Christian minister, hymn writer, theologian and logician.  But he is perhaps best known as the “Father of English Hymnody”.  At the time of his death on November 25th, 1748, he had written in excess of 750 hymns – many of which are still in use today.

Among those great anthems is a little gem entitled, “This is the day the Lord hath made.”  I now draw your attention to a single line from verse two: “Today He rose and left the dead, and Satan’s empire fell.”

As the rolling calendar once again proclaims that it is Easter time, Christians everywhere will pause to reflect upon the theological lynchpin of our faith: The resurrection from among the dead of a man called Jesus.  But why is the belief in His resurrection considered critical to true Christianity?

“God undertook the most dramatic rescue operation in cosmic history. He determined to save the human race from self-destruction, and He sent His Son incarnate as Jesus to salvage and redeem them. The work of man’s redemption was accomplished at the cross.”” – Billy Graham

Let’s start with the life of Jesus.  He walked the earth nearly two millennia ago.  He said he was a visitor from another world who was born the son of man.  He claimed that his Father was God and that he was sent to earth in human form to redeem mankind.  He was no stranger to this planet as he also claimed to be its designer.  And so the Creator lived for a season incognito among his own creation.  He spoke often of His mission on earth.  He stirred controversy wherever he went.  I have come to “seek and save that which has been lost”, is what he proclaimed.  (Luke 19:10).  The worldly wise just scoffed and jeered, while the threatened religious establishment mostly hated him.  But many believed His message.  Eventually they put Him to death for defying the status quo and delivering a scandalous message of hope, redemption and freedom to a lost and dying people on a doomed rebellious planet.  But, according to Him, His death was also part of the plan.

On that sad and malevolent day long ago, the religious leaders persuaded the authorities to kill Him.  Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judaea, reluctantly ordered the execution and then promptly washed his hands of all responsibility.  So the Roman soldiers first tortured Jesus, and then they took Him to a location outside of the city called Skull Hill (in Hebrew, Golgotha), a cursed place of public shame, pain and death, where they nailed and tied His bruised and beaten body to a wooden executioner’s crossbeam, hoisted it up high for all to see, and left Him there to die.

For hours this other worldly visitor, this Liberator, this Creator, this God in clandestine human form, hung between the Heavens and the Earth – suffering, bleeding, and slowly dying.  The earth trembled and quaked.  The sky grew dark and stormy.  And Jesus of Nazareth, who was guilty of nothing, quietly carried the weight of this world’s guilt and wickedness upon His shoulders.

Suddenly, looking up from his agony and shame, in a few focused moments of profundity that we may never fully understand, the Nazarene cried, “it is finished.”  The Greek word translated it is finished in the Bible is τετέλεσται (tetelestai), which means “paid in full.” When the Liberator Jesus uttered those final words, He was declaring that the debt owed was now wiped away completely and forever. But this was not His debt; The Redeemer had eliminated the debt owed by mankind—the debt created by our wickedness and rebellion. His mission on earth now being accomplished, He bowed His head, and released His Spirit into death.

With Jesus’ last breath on the cross, He declared the debt of sin cancelled, completely satisfied. Nothing else required. Not good deeds. Not generous donations. Not penance or confession or baptism or…or…or…nothing. The penalty for sin is death, and we were all born hopelessly in debt. He paid our debt in full by giving His life so that we might live forever.” – Charles R. Swindoll

This was indeed mankind’s darkest of hours.  And darkness itself was squealing with delight.  Those who knew Him, believed in Him, and loved Him were left to face devastating sadness, confusion and despair.  “What had gone wrong?  Why did He let them kill him?  What will we do?”

Remember that song I mentioned earlier?  It captures the reason why Jesus had to die:  Today He rose and left the dead and Satan’s empire fell!”  A new day was about to dawn.  A new dispensation would begin.  His death was not the end – it was only the beginning – and something wonderful was about to happen that would change the course of human history – The Resurrection!

1-7 “But at the first signs of dawn on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb, taking with them the aromatic spices they had prepared. They discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on going inside, the body of the Lord Jesus was not to be found. While they were still puzzling over this, two men suddenly stood at their elbow, dressed in dazzling light. The women were terribly frightened, and turned their eyes away and looked at the ground. But the two men spoke to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here: he has risen! Remember what he said to you, while he was still in Galilee—that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, and must be crucified, and must rise again on the third day. 8-9 Then they did remember what he had said, and they turned their backs on the tomb and went and told all this to the eleven and the others who were with them.” (Luke 24:1-9)

So it began; He who had been tortured and brutally put to death had actually returned to the land of mere mortals, just as He promised.  His followers were overwhelmed and filled with joy.  One expressed some doubt.  But the news quickly spread far and wide.  Jesus was alive! He had conquered the grave.  Death could not hold him. He had power over the finality of mortality.

Many saw him alive as he would suddenly appear out of nowhere.  Elated, they listened as He spoke to them once again.  And the doubter even got to touch Him.  Soon their sorrow was replaced with jubilation as the memories of that horrific moment of unrelieved darkness on Skull Hill faded into the light of this now brighter era which had dawned upon mankind.

The Resurrection is at the core of our beliefs as Christians. Without it, our faith is meaningless.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin 

Centuries have passed since those eventful days recorded in the ancient texts of scripture.  And yet, the life, death and resurrection of a man called Jesus still remain the very life force of Christian humanity.  Though these facts presented here today may be deemed laughable by some, we who are spiritually enlightened must simply wait and work, trustfully, patiently, always remembering what the Liberator Jesus said,

1“Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. 2-3There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly. (John 14:1-3 – Living Bible)

One day this supernatural man we know as Jesus will return to spaceship earth to finish what he started long ago.  For those who have faithfully awaited His return – dead or alive – there will be a party at the end of the world.  You too may have been invited.  Perhaps you’ve just forgotten to RSVP.  Here’s your chance to do so.  The Liberator Jesus composed the invitation this way,

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  (Matthew 11:28-30 – MSG)

Live free?  Take a real rest? Hey, I’m down for that… What about you?  Jesus came to open a door.  He is the door.  Jesus came to help mankind find the right road to true freedom.  He is the road as well.  Jesus came to exchange your inner emptiness for a fresh start – a new life.  He is the life.  All you have to do is accept His invitation.  Got it?  Great! See ya at the party!

Liberator Jesus, build up and invigorate the faith of those who have taken the time to read these words today.  Open the eyes of our spirit so that we might see the mighty world wherein you alone are master and King.  Help us die to the illusion of time so that with you and because of you we may indeed know the true power of your glorious resurrection.  Thank you Jesus, Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher.
The intellectual property published above is © 2018 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.
For additional information write to: Coastal JunkieTM, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.
Check us out at http://www.coastaljunkie.com
Between the radiant white of a clear conscience and the coal black of a conscience sullied by iniquity lie many shades of gray – where most of us live… Not perfect but not beyond redemption.” Sherry L. Hoppe

Pangs of conscience.  Yikes, there’s a quagmire waiting to be stepped in.  The popular meaning of this everyday expression is: “A feeling of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, resulting from behavior which one regrets.”  I’ll buy that.  I’ve been “panged” a time or 2000 in my lifetime.  How about you?  Have you ever suffered the pangs of conscience?  Experienced the pounding of a tell-tale heart?  Hmmm?

Fundamentally, the conscience is a small subtle voice within the human spirit that helps us to distinguish between good and evil, or right and wrong.  This inner witness is not under our control, but operates autonomously and without restrictions.  Try as we might, we cannot persuade ourselves that life is hunky-dory when our conscience tells us otherwise.  Make no mistake, we can fight our conscience tooth and toenail, but why should we?  When we learn to recognize and yield to the pangs of conscience, we seldom regret our behavior.

Let’s talk.

The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.”  Madame de Stael

Here’s a true story.  It happened one day as I was having lunch.  Cloé (not her real name) approached my table and tried to smile, but I wasn’t convinced.  “You look upset,” I said.  She blew a puff of air from the corner of her mouth clearing a few unruly hairs from her eye and then she said with a sigh, “Is it that obvious?” To me it was. I’ve been coming to this Gulf Coast eatery for years.  I’ve spent many an hour writing outside on the “tiki” deck overlooking the water. Cloé has been my server on countless occasions.  We’ve had more than a few casual conversations, and you might say that I have gotten to know a bit about her. Today, she just was not her usual self.

It turned out that Cloé had argued with her spouse the night before. I thought to myself, “nothing unusual there,” anyone who has been married more than a week has most likely gone down that road. “It was over nothing,” she said, “but…my words, my tone…I just burst out with some hurtful things and my conscience is really bothering me.”

My response? I asked her what her conscience was saying. She laughed and said, “Tell him I’m sorry.” Grinning, I inquired as to what she planned to do with that advice. She lowered her voice and said, “I’m gonna listen to my heart.” Cloé had a troubled conscience. Her tell-tale heart kept pounding out a reminder that she was wrong.

Ever heard the term moral compass?  Opinions vary on precisely what the expression really means, but here’s my favorite definition: an inner guidance system which distinguishes what is right from what is wrong.  Just like the needle of a tangible compass, it functions as a director for morally appropriate behavior.  Our conscience (the voice of a human spirit) will normally speak to us based upon the “direction” our moral compass is pointing.

From a purely secular perspective, the human conscience is believed to be an innate self-reflective process leading to social and moral evaluations which help us to sense right and wrong.  That’s a mouthful.   As with just about everything that has to do with “defining” human existence, the origin, nature, and purpose of the conscience has occasioned great philosophical debate through much of our history here on spaceship earth. That being said, every human – from the pious to the heathen – possesses the inner voice of conscience.

For science, the end of the evolutionary struggle is simply represented by ‘survival.’ As for the means to that end, apparently anything goes. Darwinism leaves humanity without a moral compass.”  ― Bruce Lipton

I have often reflected upon the glaring absence of elementary core values that should be guiding us as a society.  There was a time when people were routinely schooled in moral philosophy as part of the basic educational process.  It was understood that in order to create a healthy functional social order, some common morality was necessary.  When we do not have a clear sense of where to anchor our identities or how to govern our actions, we can easily become morally adrift in a morass of ever increasing amorality and relativism (a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them).  Thanks in part to a liberal education establishment, a predominantly godless scientific community, and an agenda driven propaganda machine…err…, I mean…news media, the “sheepeople” learn all about how things are, but seldom hear how they truly ought to be.

In this the supposed era of evolutionary “enlightenment”, new age wisdom denigrates most feelings of personal guilt as nearly always undesirable or wounding – especially if they are rooted in the oppressive doctrines of one’s religious faith. Contemporary culture often maintains that an active conscience is more of a defect then an asset. If we let our conscience “beat us up” our self-esteem will suffer. Sometimes this is true, but unfortunately, it is also used as an excuse for numerous therapies, and even alcohol, drugs or extreme entertainment in an effort to thwart the directions of the moral compass and to mute the inner voice of our conscience.

Humanity is lost because people have abandoned using their conscience as their compass.” ― Suzy Kassem

No secular text book witnesses to the existence of a human conscience as does the Bible.  The Newer Testament writer Paul in a letter to Roman Christians actually criticizes those who have knowledge of the universal Law of God but willfully violate it.  In an attempt to explain how the Divine moral code works in mankind, this special messenger points to agnostics saying,

14-15 “When the Gentiles (heathen), who have no knowledge of the Law (of God), act in accordance with it (God’s Laws) by the light of nature, they show that they have a law (written) in themselves, for they demonstrate the effect of a law operating in their own hearts. Their own consciences (the voice of the human spirit) endorses the existence of such a law, for there is something which condemns or commends their actions.” (Romans 2:14-15 – PHILLIPS)

Paul believed that every human being is furnished with a copy of the Creator’s “Law” encoded in the very fabric of their being.  In essence, we are all born with a basic facility to comprehend right and wrong which then continues to develop over our lifetime as we are exposed to spiritual and moral training. Thus the inner voice of conscience can help us to judge our own thoughts and deeds, but it is limited to the highest standard of right and wrong that we recognize. Like a computer, our conscience is only as good as the programs loaded into its memory. Trained correctly, our moral compass will harmonize with the “Law of God” that is written in our heart (encoded in our spiritual DNA) and that inner voice will function as a reliable, albeit not infallible, guide. Otherwise, without proper moral and spiritual training, as they say in computer jargon, “put garbage in – get garbage out.”

I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I think that’s a good way to calibrate your moral compass.” ― Margo MacDonald

Sometimes people will suppress or ignore the voice of conscience by playing the blame game to sidestep accountability or to excuse reprehensible behaviors. And of course, the largely godless psychological community has conveniently re-branded “sin” with clinical terms like condition, disorder or disease. This attempt to placate the conscience by treating the symptoms instead of the root cause (sin) is sheer folly.  The Newer Testament writer Paul once shared this insightful wisdom in a letter to his good friend Titus,

15 “Everything is wholesome to those who are themselves wholesome. But nothing is wholesome to those who themselves are unwholesome and who have no faith in God—their very minds and consciences are diseased. 16They profess to know God, but their actual behavior denies their profession, for they are obviously vile and rebellious and when it comes to doing any real good they are palpable frauds.” (Titus 1:15-16 – PHILLIPS)

As you can see, it is possible for people to become so corrupted that their conscience finally falls silent. Without a functioning inner moral compass they are left to navigate blindly the treacherous waters of life. Paul called these people out for what they had become – diseased in mind and conscience.  You claim to know God he said, but your actual behavior exposes your assertion as nothing but a lie. Vile and rebellious is how he dismisses them. In another letter addressed to his friend and colleague Timothy, Paul said,

1-2 “God’s Spirit specifically tells us that in later days there will be men who abandon the true faith and allow themselves to be spiritually seduced by teachings of the evil one, teachings given by men who are lying hypocrites, whose consciences are as dead as seared flesh.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 – PHILLIPS)

The warning is clear – erroneous “spiritual instruction, and the depraved influences of relaxed social mores can overtake your mind and degrade your moral compass.  That is why, as a Christian, my standard of absolute truth is always the ancient scriptural texts found in the Bible. I have learned that a regular diet of these time worn “Truths” will strengthen a weak conscience and help contain an overactive one.  Again, turning to the pen of the Newer Testament writer Paul,

18-20 “Timothy my son, I give you the following charge. (And may I say, before I give it to you, that it is in full accord with those prophecies made at your ordination which sent you out to battle for the right armed only with your faith and a clear conscience. Some, alas, have laid these simple weapons (faith and a clear conscience) contemptuously aside and, as far as their faith is concerned have run their ships on the rocks…” (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

How do we end up shipwrecked? It happens when we lay aside our faith in the Almighty and disregard the voice of our human spirit (conscience). It takes faith and a clear conscience to walk confidently in this world. Every day, I look for ways to strengthen my sense of right and wrong so that I can enjoy the freedom and blessings of a clear conscience before God and man.

I really love the redemptive message of the Liberator Jesus. He visited earth to seek out, forgive and salvage a lost, blinded and desperate human race. He did not come to start a religion, but rather to launch a spiritual revolution. If the same Divine Spirit that was alive in Jesus is truly living in those who have been called and chosen (Romans 8:9-11), that Divine Spirit will also speak to our human spirit (conscience) and guide us into all that is true. And when this life is over, He will be there to guide us home.  Ponder that.  Oh, and in the meantime, listen to your conscience, okay?

Love ya’!

Almighty Creator, speak to our inner most being today. Call those who now have ears to hear and reveal your plan to them. Help them to find freedom in the message and the person of our Liberator Jesus. Amen.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher.
The intellectual property published above is © 2018 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.
For additional information write to: Coastal JunkieTM, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.
Check us out at http://www.coastaljunkie.com