Intent Matters!

Jesus taught that our reason for doing a particular act matters a great deal. For instance, He said there wouldn’t necessarily be a reward, other than perhaps a feeling of personal satisfaction, for being kind to someone just because they’re kind to you (Matthew 5:46). The flip side – showing kindness to those who mistreat you – will yield heavenly reward. On a related note, Jesus also taught as read in Matthew 6:1-18 that doing religious things (e.g. fasting, praying, or giving) for the purpose of being spiritually elevated in the eyes of others’ is equally pointless. So, intent will determine whether an action will be fruitless or rewarded.

Intent – the reason for doing a particular deed – can be as important as the act itself and is a key ingredient to sin! In fact, Jesus reported that the intent to do something can be as bad as the intended action – even if it isn’t carried out. In the following passage, He informs us that if we intend to commit adultery, we’ve done it even if the act wasn’t completed. I know that some people have exclaimed that the passage implies we’ve committed adultery if we privately acknowledge that a woman is ‘hot’ in a fleeting thought, but that wasn’t Jesus’ point.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her [desires to have her] has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” —Matthew 5:27-28.  (The comment in brackets was inserted by me and is based on the Strong’s definition of ‘lust’)

Again, Jesus’ point was to teach that once we intend do take sinful action, it’s as good as done.  Understand that a thought in itself isn’t wicked as long as it doesn’t give way to an intention to take action.

How do we ensure a thought doesn’t mature into lustful intent? Internalize God’s ways through study, prayer, meditation, and fellowship so that they become a force greater than physical desire.

Jesus also taught that the heart (mind) gives birth to all kinds of sinful things; this serves as a reminder that rebellion/sin is intentional and begins the mind.

“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” —Matthew 15:18-19.

We must always be aware of our intentions and how what we’re going to say or do will affect others. Having a good understanding of God’s ways will help us to know whether something we intend to do or say can result in sinful behavior. That understanding is gained through physical exposure to God’s instructions and spiritual communication through His Spirit.

How do you maintain righteousness and a pure intent?

What’s in Your Wallet?

A wise man once prayed something like: “God – please provide enough for my family and me so that I’m not tempted to steal, and not so much that I’m tempted to forget what it’s like to be in need.”

Our spirit was created by God for fellowship with Him and for good works (Ephesians 2:10). One day, we’ll be judged on how well we used that spirit to guide our flesh toward doing good deeds for the “Father of Spirits” and our spiritual brothers and sisters.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments with two statements: treat our God appropriately and our fellow man charitably (Matthew 22:35-40). We get to choose how we’ll use our resources (e.g. time and money) to please God and satisfy His desires. But, that freedom comes at a cost: give now to live later, or live it up now and suffer later.

We find two extremes in benevolence: those who give generously for their fellow human and those who love wealth. In the former group, we find the likes of Jesus and other servants who have given their lives for people they often don’t know. You’ll also find people who give generously to help feed, clothe, or house others. These people reflect the face of our God who created the spirit within us; they’re focus isn’t on self and material things.

What about the latter group? There, you’ll find people who horde resources despite the suffering around them. They love money and stuff and that’s where their focus is. Perhaps they’ll give a dollar to charity and spend a thousand on a new shiny bobble or the latest electronic thing. These people reflect not the face of our creator but the passion and self-serving nature of flesh and emotion.

If we want to look more like the former than the latter we need to be content with what we have. We also need to avoid the love of money, which is the “root of all sorts of evil” according to the Apostle Paul (1Timothy 6:6-11 and Hebrews 13:5). It also helps if we stay out of debt to avoid becoming a slave (Proverbs 22:7) and not store up treasures for ourselves on earth, but be benevolent (Matthew 6:19-21). In this passage, Jesus also reminds us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What’s in my wallet? There, you’ll find a balance of things – some for me, some for others. I give to the hungry and helpless on a regular basis. Much of my resources go to children, rescue, and ministry. But, I don’t neglect my family. We’re comfortable and satisfied.

So . . . where’s your heart? What’s in your wallet? Money earmarked to help the needy? Or would we discover bountiful plastic or lots of cash destined for food, drink, and the latest shiny thing?

Mystery of Inequity

I inspired those who destroyed the temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  I was here 1,000 years before that, and will come again as the “man of lawlessness”. I’ve had many names throughout history.

Known as Nimrod just after the great flood, I was hell-bent on overthrowing the Ancient of Days. I wore the garments made by him for Adam and wielded immense power as the anointed cherub of God. Being torn limb from limb didn’t dissuade me. I knew I’d return to challenge my creator again. I always come back.

One of you foresaw me first as the “little horn” of Greece who became Antiochus Epiphanies to the Jews. I flattered, confused, and deceived until they gave up their ways – the Law of their Yahweh. The temple altar ran red with the blood of swine and I ended the life of thousands of the people of my enemy. Fatal disease set me back just a little. Finding a new host in this world is incredibly easy and I can be very persuasive!

I influenced the Arabs and Syrians and Romans, driving them to destroy the temple of the Jews and scatter them like sheep. Total annihilation is my goal. The people followed me then and they will again as the days of the gentiles draws to a close. A covenant of death is coming, Jew and Muslim to be willing participants. I’m sure I’ll be raised high above Yahweh this time and will become god of all!

I won’t be some fair-haired, blue-eyed European. Nor will I be your Pope or the World Bank. Silly people! Want to know who I am? Ask Ezekiel and Daniel. Ask your Christ. Ask your Paul. Or, stay asleep. What do I care! I am coming and the world will acknowledge me – not your Christ. I am nothing like him. I am . . . the Antichrist.

My hope is that this paints a clear picture of what the coming Antichrist will look like. Who do you believe the Antichrist will be?  Why?

What do Christmas and the End of the World Have in Common?

It’s hard to imagine a connection between Christmas and the end of our world as we know it, but a relationship exists. Strip away all the festivities, lights, and mountains of credit card slips and the association may become clearer.

 Birth. Death. Resurrection. Forgiveness. Judgment. These are the clues important to understanding how Christmas is linked to the last of our days on earth. Let’s examine each of these keywords as we paint a picture of the “Yuletide Apocalypse”.

The original intent of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ. Jesus, the enabler of salvation, had to come to earth, take human form, and then physically die as a sacrifice for humanity. (His birth and life were foretold hundreds of years beforehand by prophets such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, and Daniel.)  If Jesus hadn’t been born, we’d have no hope of salvation or anticipation of His return to rescue followers of Jesus the Christ (Messiah or Savior) from God’s judgment. We shouldn’t be surprised that early Christians wanted to celebrate the event.

After a brief life of about 30 years, Jesus had to die in order to be resurrected, which in turn provided hope for His return and our salvation. (This too was prophesied between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.) Suffering and death led to a promised resurrection that freed Jesus’ spirit from His earthly body and allowed his return to heaven. There’d be no salvation without His birth, life, death, or resurrection.

Now, because of the Christ’s birth and subsequent sacrifice, we can be forgiven when we behave contrary to God’s ways if we truly turn from rebellion and follow Jesus. We’re also compelled to forgive others who treat us inappropriately (again, based on God’s standards). However, those of us who don’t forgive others won’t receive forgiveness from God. No forgiveness, no salvation.

So, without Jesus’ birth, life, subsequent death, resurrection, and God’s forgiveness, we’d have no choice but to experience end-days judgment and potential punishment. The birth we celebrate at Christmas paved the way for forgiveness for everyone and the freedom to choose spiritual life and a stay from end-times judgment. So, celebrate the birth that gives life this season, and forgive to be forgiven!

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Crisp air, crowded malls, and credit cards a-flying can mean only one thing: the holiday season is upon us! In fact, Christmas is a mere 4 weeks away. My, how time has flown since the last bout of bustling buyers scrambled for trinkets and travel arrangements! Yep – it’s definitely time again to ponder the ‘reason for the season’ and, indeed, the season itself.

Read the Q&A titled, “Holy Days: Christmas” from my book Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss (available in 2014) and you’ll learn some little-discussed facts about Christmas. For instance, Jesus’ birth took place in a warmer time of year when the animals were grazing. As a result, they weren’t near a manger kept in the lower part of a typical Jewish home where the animals would’ve been housed during the colder months. And the actual number of wise men is anybody’s guess. Read the Gospel accounts closely and you’ll also notice that Jesus would’ve been about 2 years old and not a newborn baby when the wise men finally arrived with their gifts. Simultaneous with that ah-ha moment may be the sudden realization that the gifts were necessary to see Joseph, Mary, and Jesus through a 2-year exile in Egypt.

If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself, “How, then, did Christmas come into being and assume current traditions?” Most likely, a well-meaning fourth-century Church established the holiday to acknowledge Jesus’ birthday but coincide with pagan recognition of the winter solstice on December 25th. Why? Perhaps it was to attract those pagans to the Christian faith. Look around and you’ll see we do the same even today through churchgoer actions, speech, and approaches to entertainment and worship. But, we can go down that rabbit hole another time.

You may be getting the idea that I’m not a proponent of Christmas. The truth is that I think the holiday is fine when recognized for what it is: a time of feasting, family, and indebtedness with little actual regard for our Christ. Let’s change that – even if for only a fleeting moment – by imagining together what a Christ-centered Christmas could look like.

I see clothes and food for the less-fortunate, without indebtedness, delivered by children and their parents. After all, this is how our Christ said we’ll be judged in the last days. And we’d sing songs about redemption, forgiveness, and expectation of amazing things to come – not about Frosty, Santa, chestnuts, or elves.  We’d share stories about Jesus from the Gospels and imagine what His life was like. There’d be feasting and drinking (in moderation, of course).  Our Christ gave the greatest gift of all to us: the choice of eternal life. We’d celebrate it as the gift that ‘keeps on giving’, adoring the gift-giver all the while.

But, Christmas reality along with its gaiety and materialism are upon us. Are those your real reasons for the season? If so, dare to be different and give the Christ this Christmas.