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True Freedom vs. Evil “Freedom”

Americans are all about freedom.  The Revolutionary War was fought for the rights and liberties outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its amendments.  Unfortunately, most people seem to think that freedom means the absence of restrictions.  The ability to do whatever one wants without restraint is nothing more than license.

Parents do not give their child license to do whatever he/she wants.  Why not?  …Because they know a child lacks good judgement.  They are not prudent.  They cannot make wise decisions.  When someone turns eighteen years of age they legally are considered an adult and therefore have the requisite character and judgement to make good decisions, right?  If not at eighteen, surely by the time someone turns twenty one he/she is ready to take on the full responsibility of all of the “freedoms” available in our society and conduct him/herself like a mature adult, correct?  Obviously not.  Regardless of age, until an individual understands the true meaning of freedom, he or she remains incapable of wisely exercising that freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, freedom does not mean, “I can do whatever I want.”  In fact, doing whatever one wants (i.e., acting as though satisfying one’s appetites is the meaning of life) is slavery.  To a Christian, this common misconception of freedom is evil.

True freedom is the ability to pursue virtue and truth (i.e., God), unhindered.  This being the case, it should be no surprise that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom as many settlers left England to escape the limitations placed on religious freedom and even outright persecution.

The First Amendment states:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  It is simple and to the point.  There shall be no state religion (e.g., nothing similar to the king establishing the Church of England) and no state-imposed restrictions on the practice of religion.  For a thinking Christian, true freedom and religion go hand-in-hand; one does not exist without the other.  Thinking Christians understand that our “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is inextricably tied to the will of God.

For in him we live, and move, and are; (Acts 17:28).  
Note:  This verse also is translated:  For in him we live, and move, and have our being.

In Him we have our being!  Think about this.  Our very existence depends on Him and therefore we are truly free only when we are in union with Him.  Consequently, in pursuing our own will, if it is not united to the will of God, we become slaves.

Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man: how sayest thou: you shall be free?  Jesus answered them: Amen, amen I say unto you: that whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin (John 8:31-34).

Knowing the hearts of men, God reveals our weaknesses to us in Scripture.  If we are honest we must acknowledge the tendency to lose sight of genuine freedom in favor of pursuing our own will and calling it freedom.  Rather than serving God and one another, we serve ourselves and then justify ourselves by claiming our “freedom” to act according to our own will instead of the will of God.

For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another (Galatians 5:13).

For so is the will of God, that by doing well you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:  As free, and not as making liberty a cloak for malice, but as the servants of God (1 Peter 2:15-16).

For the average American or unthinking Christian who considers freedom to be the absence of restrictions, it is important to be aware of the difference between “lawful” and “right”.  In common terms, “Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it.”

All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any (1 Corinthians 6:12).

All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify. Let no man seek his own, but that which is another’s (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

If we embrace “freedom” to do what we want, we in fact place ourselves in bondage to sin because any act contrary to the will of God is contrary to freedom and thus slavery.  Therefore, Christians must make a conscious decision to act according to faith.  This is why the Book of James calls us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word.  James also points out that Christians who consider themselves religious but do not act as such are self-deceiving and their religion is in vain.  Therefore we are to do the will of God lest, in pursuing “freedom” we find ourselves in bondage.

For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.  And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (James 1:23-26).

Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).

As all have sinned and need God (Romans 3:23) we cannot deny what we are called to do.  Combating our inclination to serve ourselves, however, is not always easy.  As with all things worthwhile, true freedom (i.e., submitting to the will of God) takes effort and practice.  Sanctity does not come in an instant and if we pray, “Lord, make me holy,” He is not going to make us holy without our cooperation.  Rather, He will give us eyes to see the opportunities to be holy, everyday…opportunities to practice what we profess.  As we proceed in our Christian walk, He will give us what we need—mainly the grace to live in accordance with His will—and in this true freedom we will find joy.

Being imperfect, we will fall but when we do, if we repent, get up and continue in our walk with Him, He will continue to forgive and bless us.  We should not be afraid or discouraged even when we fail because His grace is sufficient for us.

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). 

He perfects us through our faults and weaknesses and with His grace we must exercise self-control and choose His will.  Though tempted, we must commit to Him and not waiver, going back and forth, between sin and righteousness.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of sobriety (2 Timothy 1:7).  Note:  “Sobriety” also is translated as “self-control”.

But now, after that you have known God, or rather are known by God: how turn you again to the weak and needy elements, which you desire to serve again? (Galatians 4:9).

And Elias coming to all the people, said: How long do you halt between two sides? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21).

But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve, whether the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorrhites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

In the simplest terms, the freedom that the world offers is corporeal.  It is self-centered, self-indulgent, self-exalting and thus self-enslaving.  This is evil called “freedom”.

That which is of this world has been corrupted by the father of lies and obscures the Truth.  Therefore, the first step in embracing true freedom is to recognize and dispel the lie that is evil called “freedom”.

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:4).

As we are made in the image and likeness of God, true freedom can be found only when our heart is united with the heart of Christ.  He is the very definition of freedom and therefore freedom only exists in relationship to Him.

Now the Lord is a Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).

As stated in the verse from Acts, in Him we live and move and have our being.  All that is good resides in Him and thus in Christ and Christ alone will we find true freedom.

For of him, and by him, and in him, are all things: to him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).


The Last Days

Could we be living in the last days or the end times?  When someone makes this assertion, many scoff and say something like, “Every generation thinks that their generation is worse than previous ones but in fact, nothing really changes from one generation to the next.”  It is true that fallen human nature does not change from one generation to the next but contempt for God and the teachings of Scripture is increasingly evident.  Regarding the end times it is written:

Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, Without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, Traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: Having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid.  For of these sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, who are led away with divers desires: Ever learning, and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth.  Now as Jannes and Mambres [magicians of Pharao] resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Timothy 3:1-8).

That there always have been bad men in the world is a matter of course.  Presently, though, contempt for God is not individual but culturally systemic.  Where once there were wicked men here and there but society as a whole was God-fearing, everything has been reversed; there are good, God-fearing people here and there but society as a whole embraces sin.

Consider again the list of negative attributes:  lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient, ungrateful, wicked, without affection or peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, traitors, stubborn, puffed up and lovers of pleasures more than of God.  Sadly, this is our culture and as Christians we must do everything we can to avoid these poisonous attributes and continue to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

It is absolutely essential for Christians to discern good from evil and proper discernment requires faith, prayer and knowledge of Scripture.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and to the Greek. For the justice of God is revealed therein, from faith unto faith, as it is written: The just man liveth by faith (Romans 1:16-17).

There was a time when Christians could depend on their church leaders to be good pastors and faithful teachers of the Gospel but today this is not necessarily the case.  Either out of ignorance or a desire for worldly esteem, many church leaders have twisted the words of Scripture and sound doctrine to appeal to modern sentiment.

For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears:  And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.  But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

Only God knows the degree to which such men and women willfully have given over themselves to false teachings but nonetheless, whether willful or ignorant, they are capable of doing great damage by leading people astray through their rejection of  sound doctrine in favor of false teachings.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them (Matthew 7:15-20).

Whether it’s a cultural or spiritual influence, we must discern those things which would lead us away from Christ and avoid them.  The more we pray, our senses are sharpened and soon we are able to discern those people and influences which, in fact, are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They are the ones who call evil good and good evil and we do not want to be counted among their number by embracing evil, even passively, in the name of kindness or tolerance.

Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.  Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits.  Woe to you that are mighty to drink wine, and stout men at drunkenness. That justify the wicked for gifts, and take away the justice of the just from him (Isaiah 5:20-23).

As stated previously, contempt for God and His law, now, is culturally systemic and therefore people have blinded themselves to the Truth.  No longer able to discern Truth from falsehood, completely unable or unwilling to reason, tolerance of evil is promoted as a virtue and many who claim to know nothing of God as well as many who think themselves Christian consider themselves to have evolved beyond Biblical teaching.  Yet, considering themselves wise, they are fools.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice:  Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.  Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened.  For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:18-22).

Tolerance, by definition, is the acceptance of that which is disagreeable or wrong and our society, so spiritually sick that it is unable or unwilling to discern the Truth, considers the acceptance and even outright embrace of that which is disagreeable, wrong and sinful to be a virtue.  Not only the average citizen but also many Christian leaders have adopted this false notion of kindness called tolerance which is nothing less than evil masquerading as good and in so doing, utterly failed in their Christian duty to lead others to Christ.

Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world (Matthew 28:19).

I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming, and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

How are we to lead others to Christ?

But the servant of the Lord must not wrangle: but be mild towards all men, apt to teach, patient, With modesty admonishing them that resist the truth: if peradventure God may give them repentance to know the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

So, are we living in the last days?  Who knows?  The when of events doesn’t matter as much as the what.  Whether Christ returns tomorrow or one thousand years from now…whether we die in our sleep tonight or live to be one hundred years old, one thing is certain:  One day we will see Him face to face and that day is coming quickly.  Therefore, with the time we are granted, we should be mindful of our Christian call to genuine love which requires proper discernment and often going against the ways of the world in order to be a light unto the Truth.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.  So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.  He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven
(Matthew 5:14-19).

Perpetual Conversion

Many people can recall a specific time or event in their lives when they felt like their eyes were opened…a turning point where they made a conscious decision to follow Christ.  Some people even call this event their “conversion story”.  Many also liken it to Paul on the road to Damascus:

And Saul, as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, And asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues: that if he found any men and women of this way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.  And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?  Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.

And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?  And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man.  And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8).

While there may be a single event considered a turning point in life, conversion is not a one-time thing.  We may know, like Paul, exactly when our eyes were opened but such an event is just the beginning.  Conversion is an ongoing process that continues until the day we die; that is, we are or should be in a constant state of conversion…a constant state of both turning from and turning toward.  We must turn away from sin and turn to the Lord.  Making every effort to conform our will to His is our goal.

I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

Perpetual conversion is a choice.  Once our eyes are opened and we know what we should do, it remains for us to choose to seek the will of God in our lives.  We must give up old habits and live in a manner befitting reality which is that we are creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child
(1 Corinthians 13:11).

To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error.  And be renewed in the spirit of your mind:  And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Choosing to live in accordance with the will of God and giving up old ways should not make us sad.  On the contrary, with our eyes open we can repent and “put on the new man” which is a cause for great joy.  Conversion is not about what we “give up”; it is about what we gain.

Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Admittedly this is difficult to understand at first because our culture trains us to be egocentric from day one.  If we look around us we must acknowledge that an “It’s-all-about-me” attitude is dominant in our culture.  Therefore, dying to self or “giving up” our own will in order to receive the greatest gift of all which is Christ is a foreign concept to someone whose eyes have just been opened.  Nonetheless, this is exactly what we must do.

Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, Itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal (John 12:24-25).

If we recognize a single event as the beginning of our conversion we should give thanks for this special grace but know that conversion is a constant choice, a constant prayer, “…Thy will be done.”

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).

What Does It Mean to Be Christian?

Many of us were raised in a Christian home and may take our faith for granted, perhaps not even giving it much thought. Growing up, we went to church on Sunday because, “that’s what we do.” Such is the way of cultural Christians: Those who have a basic understanding of the Gospel due to exposure but are not practicing the faith out of true devotion.

This often is the result of the individual having received a watered-down version of Christianity that amounts to little more than, “Jesus loves you.”  As people often mistake doing something (e.g., going to church every Sunday) with actually knowing something and possibly not having received proper instruction, many mistakenly conclude that Christianity has little more to offer than trite sentiment and weak platitudes about kindness and love.

Sadly, it is obvious that there are a lot of people who were raised in a church and yet know hardly anything about the depth of Christian spirituality and doctrine.  These are the ones who likely think they understand Christianity and yet look elsewhere for truth.  This is evidenced by the growing number of people who would say that they were raised Christian but now espouse Buddhism, Islam, a form of “New Age” philosophy or worse…they proudly proclaim some vague and vapid nonsense which they cannot even explain like, “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious.”

A common misunderstanding that, if adopted, leads people further from the Truth which is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ, is this:  “All religions are basically the same.”  If you hear someone say this or imply it in their writings, pray for the individual because he/she is either ignorant or deluded and will lead others into error.

Those who believe all religions are basically the same fail to understand the difference between ethical principles and doctrine.  The fact that many religions teach murder is wrong, theft is wrong, lying is wrong (i.e., ethical principles) does not mean that the same religions agree on doctrinal matters (i.e., truth claims) like the nature of God, the nature of reality, attributes of God, God’s relationship to humanity etc.

A simple example:  Both Buddhism and Christianity teach that murder is wrong.  This is an ethical teaching.  As a matter of doctrine, Buddhism teaches that enlightenment is something that is achieved by the individual (usually after being reincarnated many, many times) whereas Christianity teaches that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  With this in mind, someone who asserts that all religions are basically the same is woefully ignorant, intellectually lazy or simply dishonest.

Jesus therefore said to them again: Amen, amen I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All others, as many as have come, are thieves and robbers: and the sheep heard them not (John 10:7-8).

Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me (John 14:6).  

There are people who I assume are agnostic or atheistic who say things like, “I believe Jesus was a good teacher but I cannot say that he is God.”  This makes no sense whatsoever in light of Christ’s claims.  He claimed to be God.  So either He was telling the truth or He was not.  Either His claim is true or He is a liar.  If He is a liar, one certainly could not call Him a good teacher.  C.S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher; he’d either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg — or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The point is, all religions are not the same.  Christianity is not one among many equally good choices.  Those who would call themselves Christians must be absolutely certain of the identity of Jesus Christ.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the great, “I AM.”

I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13).

God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM (Exodus 3:14).

Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am (John 8:58).

This is our profession of faith.

In Simplicity We Find Contentment and Peace

For most people it appears that “being happy” is the goal of their entire existence.  While there is nothing wrong with wanting or trying to be happy—although, I submit, if you have to try to be happy, you have failed already—it is not the goal toward which we should strive…at least not “happiness” as it commonly is conceived.

Consider the culture in which we live:  We are a culture of consumers.  We are constantly bombarded with advertisements that, at least implicitly, promise happiness if only we buy the product or service being offered.  Some expressions of this sentiment are as blatant as, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”  Of course this expression often is used in jest but if people didn’t relate to it, no one would say it.  Ultimately, the meaning is, “If we amass wealth and consume as much as we can, we will be winners.”

Likewise, “You can’t take it with you.”  This contradicts dying with the most toys because you can’t take the toys with you but the sentiment is the same.  What can be inferred is, “You can’t take it with you so spend it now.  Consume and you will be happy.”

The pursuit of happiness is even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  In their defense, I believe the founding fathers had a much better understanding of the true meaning of happiness than the average American today.

It may seem pedantic but rather than “happiness” we should strive to be content.  This is because many people have a mistaken notion of what happiness is.  Many believe that happiness is the result of obtaining something that they don’t already have.  Contentment is accepting what is and being satisfied with it.

In the U.S. we have one of the highest standards of living so, if happiness were based on possessions, why are so many people so unhappy?  It is because, too often, we focus on the physical rather than the spiritual.  We feed our physical appetites to the point of avarice and gluttony and ignore our spiritual needs to the point of starvation.

First and foremost we are spiritual beings.  Why is this?  It is because our being resides in our soul which is the part of us that will live for eternity while our physical body, as we know it, will die.  This being the case, why do we put so much emphasis on things of the material world and so little emphasis on matters of the spirit?

  Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal.  But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

We should think of our self primarily in spiritual terms.

And the dust return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit return to God, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:18-20).

I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would (Galatians 5:16-17).

Regarding the passage from Galatians, “lusts of the flesh” should not be interpreted simply as inappropriate sexual desires.  In a broader sense it should be considered any desire that contradicts the spirit.  Thus the first line indicates, if we focus on matters of the spirit we naturally will not be focused on matters of the flesh (i.e., body, appetites, materialism etc.) because worldly things and spiritual things are in opposition to one another.

No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [mammon is synonymous with worldly riches or interests] (Matthew 6:24).

With this in mind, we should ask ourselves, “Where is my focus?  Where is my heart?”  Is it worldly or is it spiritual?  How much time in one day do we spend watching TV, looking at Facebook, pursuing entertainment or just doing nothing?  Conversely, how much time do we spend in prayer or meditation?  How much time do we spend helping others and putting their needs before our own?  Remember:

For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also (Matthew 6:21).

This is not to say that it is wrong to enjoy things or to have fun.  Not at all.  It is wrong, however, to make the pursuit of pleasure our god for to do so is beneath our dignity.  Animals don’t even operate based on such selfish motives but on instinct.  Theirs is to fulfill their needs, not fulfill their desires.  An animal’s instincts are pure; an appetitive man’s motives are not.

Sadly, like an addiction, pursuing happiness by way of gathering material possessions or indulging our appetites only leads to further disappointment.  This is because focusing on material things is contrary to our nature which, as stated previously, is primarily spiritual.  Therefore, corporeal and materialistic appetites must be subordinate to the will, mind and the spirit.

One way to do this is to become well-practiced in discerning the difference between want and need.  People often say, “I need this,” or “I need that,” when the truth is, they don’t need it…they want it.  Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting something and even obtaining it.  The problem is, when we mistake what we want for something we need, we attach undue significance to it.

Leaving out emotional and spiritual needs, speaking in strictly physical terms, outside of shelter, clothing and food, what do we really need?  Not much.  There is a big difference between needing something to eat and wanting to dine at the most expensive restaurant in town.  If we fail (or refuse) to discern the difference between want and need we can make an immature and disgusting habit not only of believing that our wants and needs are synonymous but that it is our “right” to have what we mistakenly consider a need.  Then, if we cannot earn these things ourselves, we may come to believe that it is incumbent on someone else to provide these things for us.

Generally speaking, however, if we rightly discern the difference between our wants and our needs, we will discover that everything we need already has been provided.

Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?  (Matthew 6:26).

In simpler terms, “If I don’t have it, the good Lord must figure I don’t need it.”

For those who would say, “What about the children who are starving all over the world…why hasn’t God provided for them?” It is exactly because people have failed to discern the difference between want and need and act accordingly; too many people refuse to give to those who are in genuine need because they have too many wants of their own.

Contrary to the elitist notion of overpopulation and the earth’s inability to sustain us, there is enough food for everyone.  In worldly terms, however, there is no profit in feeding the poor…so a great number of people die of starvation.

Just as I stated that people immaturely think their wants are synonymous with their needs and that it is their right to have their “needs” (wants) provided, likewise it is wrong for Christians to blatantly ignore the genuine needs of others—like the need for food—because they see their own wants as needs and in so doing refuse to give out of their abundance to those who truly are desperate.

If we accept, first, that more emphasis should be placed on the spiritual aspect of life rather than the material, we will perceive the world in a new way.  With proper vision restored, the desire to discern the difference between want and need is natural.  When we learn the difference we will discover simplicity.  With simplicity comes contentment and peace as we enter into communion with the will of God which is to love and serve Him by loving and serving one another.

Why Does Forgiveness Matter?

To understand why forgiveness matters, it is necessary to understand the meaning of love.  The predominant definition of love, the definition that you will find in the dictionary, is something along the lines of, “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties:  attraction based on sexual desire: affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.”

Except for those who think only in superficial terms and certainly from a Christian perspective, such a definition of love is gravely insufficient.  A more substantial definition that goes beyond appetite, passion and kinship—a love that is more reflective of proper filial and spousal love—is, to will the good of the other for the sake of the other regardless of the cost or reward to one’s self.

This love is the kind of love to which Jesus refers when He teaches that there is no greater commandment:

And there came one of the scribes that had heard them reasoning together, and seeing that he had answered them well, asked him which was the first commandment of all.  And Jesus answered him: The first commandment of all is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God.  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.  And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:28-31).

So, what does this have to do with forgiveness and what are the implications?  The answer is simple:  If you do not forgive others then you fail to keep the two greatest commandments that Christ gave us.  To love is to forgive and forgiveness is a sign of love not only for the person being forgiven but love of God as well.

Forgiveness is a choice and a sign of love from which it originates.  Therefore, if we choose not to forgive, we choose not to love.  In so doing, in the best-case scenario, we choose our own will instead of the will of God.  In the worst-case scenario, we choose hate.  Choosing our own will or choosing hate is to reject God.  This is why Christ said that to be angry with your brother or to say, “Raca,” (i.e., to hold your brother in contempt) is to place yourself in danger of condemnation.

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.  But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21-22).

Choosing God’s will—choosing love and forgiveness—is evident in the prayer that Christ taught us.  The common translation of the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer comes from Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

We should be mindful every time we offer this prayer that we request, “[…] thy will be done.”  God’s will is that we love one another which is synonymous with forgiveness and in offering this prayer we acknowledge that this is what we must do.

Furthermore, we petition God, “[…] forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  If we offer this prayer in blind repetition it is easy to overlook the full meaning of this passage and consider only the request for forgiveness.  This, however, is only half of the equation.  We also must keep in mind what is required of us.

Everyone is familiar with The Golden Rule (i.e., Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)  A different translation of The Golden Rule is,

And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner” (Luke 6:31). 

Similar to this translation of The Golden Rule, we should consider that in praying, “[…] as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are petitioning the Lord to treat us in like manner as we have treated others.  We are saying, “Forgive me to the same degree that I have forgiven others.”  We are asking not only for His mercy but also for His justice.

The importance of our willingness to forgive—a reflection of our desire to be in communion with the will of God—is emphasized further by the two verses that follow The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel:

For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences.  But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences (Matthew 6:14-15).

Christ’s mandate is clear:  We are to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as our self.  Refusal to forgive is a willful rejection of God’s will and thus an act of self-condemnation.  Christ has set the example for us and we must follow:  Love God, love one another and forgive!

What Should We Be Doing?

Put away the distractions and open your eyes; it doesn’t take a visionary to see the direction in which the world is headed.  If we haven’t already, as Christians, we need to ask ourselves, “What should we be doing?”

The answer is simple:  Do penance.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight His paths.

And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea.   And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Matthew 3:1-3).

Many of us call ourselves Christians but we are Christians in name only.  We were raised in a country, community or home with Christian roots but it’s been a long time since we’ve walked the walk, if ever.

For those of us who have been baptized but are not living as such, now is the time to heed the call, embody our baptismal promises and practice what we profess.

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him.  God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

If we profess Christianity then we must live Christianity.  Period.  The basis for living a Christian life means understanding that doing the will of God is that which sustains us.  Once we have been baptized, once we profess the Christian faith, we are called to labor for Christ.  We must join our efforts and act with devotion.

In the mean time the disciples prayed him, saying: Rabbi, eat.  But he said to them: I have meat to eat, which you know not. The disciples therefore said one to another: Hath any man brought him to eat?  Jesus saith to them: My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work.  Do you not say, There are yet four months, and then the harvest cometh? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries; for they are white already to harvest.

And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting: that both he that soweth, and he that reapeth, may rejoice together.  For in this is the saying true: That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.  I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour: others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours (John 4:31-38).

The time is now.  He is coming soon.  Do penance.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight His paths.

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord:
Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it.
For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word:
my soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 129[130]).

This Psalm is one which we need to pray fervently.  It reminds us of where we are and who we are called to be.  Out of the depths we cry to the Lord.  How profound a description of where we are and our current condition; certainly this is a fitting translation from the Latin, De profundis.

We live in a world that is, more often than not, cruel, unforgiving and ungodly.  In this world we often lose sight of our identity as followers of Christ and forget who we are called to be.  We call ourselves Christians but often we are Christians in name only and not in deed.

If we pause long enough to allow the mental commotion to settle, stop consuming that which the world offers, stop pursuing frivolities and focus on our calling, we may realize that we are in the depths of an existence that is far from Christ.  In recognizing this, rather than being downcast, we should be thankful for the grace that clarifies; for having arrived at this humbling realization we finally are free to cry out to the Lord who saves us…and this is exactly what we must do:  Seek His mercy and give Him praise.  Being free from sin is true freedom indeed.

Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord:  Lord, hear my voice!

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