Off The Hook

We often talk about being spiritually engaged, but when it comes to sin, what we need is detachment.

 

hook  fish

Have you ever battled a 230-pound tuna? I do every day, and I bet you do, too.

Let me explain. On July 19, 2013, Anthony Wichman, a 54-year-old fisherman from Kauai, Hawaii, snagged a 230-pound Ahi tuna, hauled it into his boat, and then hooked it through an eyeball. The enraged beast took one more dive, causing the line to tangle around Wichman’s leg, capsize his boat and pull him into the Pacific Ocean. Somehow Wichman managed to use his waterproof cell phone to call for help, and the Coast Guard arrived with a rescue helicopter crew. Later that day, the grateful and untangled fisherman was reportedly recovering from rope burns and bruises. I assume the fish was turned into a delicious meal or two.

How to Get Hooked

It’s a strange story about the fisherman who got hooked by one whale of a tuna. But in my mind, this story captures how the Bible describes sin: I think I’m the master of my little boat, pleasurably trolling for fish, when—BAM—I get hooked by something beyond my control.

Some people struggle with obvious ways of getting hooked, like addictions to drugs or alcohol. Personally, I’m hooked by more socially respectable but spiritually lethal sins—pride, lust, anger, greed, unbelief, or contempt for the poor, to name a few. Someone belittles or ignores me, and I’m hooked by resentment. I get hit with some bad financial news, and I’m hooked by greed and selfishness as I wrap my arms more tightly around my little treasures. Some people can’t think straight about political or spiritual issues the way I do, and that hooks me with self-righteousness and anger. Suffering and pain cross my path, and unbelief tangles around my soul, dragging my faith overboard.

Of course, I’m not just the victim of these scenarios; I choose to get hooked. In a sense, I want to get hooked. It happens so regularly that at times I wonder: Is it possible to live a hook-free life? I don’t expect temptations to disappear, but is it possible to face life’s big tunas and slowly become a less “hookable” human being?

According to the good news in Jesus, the answer is a resounding yes. The New Testament claims that growth in Christlikeness gradually frees us from getting ensnared by sin’s power. This good news was so embedded in the early church’s understanding of following Jesus that they adopted a special word for it—apatheia.

That sounds like apathy, the state of “I couldn’t care less,” but that’s not what those early Christians meant by apatheia. The term originally came from a group of ancient non-Christian Greek thinkers called the Stoics. These men had a few good ideas, including the claim that the “good life” must involve facing unruly passions like envy or anger while remaining unfazed. Stare them down, and train yourself to remain calm, cool, and collected, refusing to let them hook you.

Apatheia isn’t just the ability to detach from unruly passions; it’s the invitation to attach our lives to the God who loves us.

The apostle Paul had direct contact with Stoic philosophers at least once. (See Acts 17:18-32.) He spoke to them about God’s power by quoting the Stoic poet Aratus’s line “For we also are His children,” although Paul was referring to the one true God of the Bible, not the pantheistic concept of Stoicism.

Later, some key Christian leaders basically said, “Nice work, Stoics, but we’d like to take your version of apatheia, filter it through the Bible, and offer our own rendition.” As an example, a fourth-century Christian leader named Evagrius said that apatheia “creates a state of deep calm based on obedience to the commandments of God and the practice of virtue.” That squares with the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:12-14: “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts … For sin shall not be master over you.” Becoming a Christian means that God has unhooked us from the sinful patterns that entangle and knock us overboard.

But because they knew Jesus, those early Christians added a crucial element to apatheia—love. Unlike their Greek counterparts, they couldn’t stop talking about apatheia and love in the same sentence. Apatheia isn’t just the ability to detach from unruly passions; it’s the invitation to attach our lives to the God who loves us. Paul makes clear that the Christian life isn’t just about avoiding sin; it’s also about union with Christ, being “dead to sin” and “alive to God in Christ Jesus,” and living your whole life “not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:11, Rom. 6:14).

Back to our fisherman. Once the Coast Guard helicopter arrived, he could have brushed away the hand of his rescuers and said, “Hey, no worries, rescue crew. It looks bad, all tangled up in my own line that’s attached to a massive, enraged fish with a big hook (mine) gouged into its eyeball, but have no fear. I’ll just stay calm and serene as I untangle myself, right my boat, push it to shore, and carve up some tuna steaks for dinner. Really, I got this.”

Of course, that’s not what happened. I imagine Wichman gladly acknowledged his need for help, joyfully taking the hand of the rescuer who cut the line and drew him out of the ocean. I also imagine that in that moment of deliverance, Wichman felt nothing but joy, relief, and gratitude. He wasn’t hooked by the tuna—or by anger or greed or selfishness or lust. He had one thought: Thank you for setting me free. That is Christian apatheia.

No one lives an untethered life. So take your pick: Hook into your favorite sins, or allow God the Father to gently draw you to Himself.

Apatheia occurs when we’re so surrounded by and immersed in Christ’s mercy and our need for His mercy that it gently unhooks us from temptation and draws us to God the Father. This is a work that starts with God’s grace. Evagrius stressed that we “have been brought into apatheia by the mercy of Christ.” In the third century, Gregory of Nyssa said, “We are led to God by desire, drawn to him as if pulled by a rope.” In other words, no one lives an untethered life. So take your pick: Hook into your favorite sins, or allow God the Father to gently draw you to Himself.

The Power of the Nail

For the follower of Christ, apatheia involves a lifelong process of engaging in spiritual practices that help us break from sinful habits and bond with Jesus. One early Christian, John Cassian, said this process was like driving a nail out with a nail. Take the ugly, bent, rusty nail of sin and drive a shiny, straight, new nail of virtue right through it. Squarely face your sinful habits, receive Christ’s grace and forgiveness, and then drive them out by replacing them with the new way of Jesus, the One who offers us a new heart with new and holy habits.

Consider the old rusty nail called greed. I have a special relationship with it. I’m extremely frugal (okay, some people call me cheap), but here’s how greed snares me: I worry about money a lot. Rather than trust God’s care for my finances, I constantly imagine silly worst-case scenarios where I’m flat broke. So I cling tenaciously to my little pot of cash and churn with anxiety. This greed restricts my ability to receive love from God and pour out love for others.

Those early Christian leaders had a straightforward remedy for this situation: Give. Take the nail of financial generosity and drive it through that rusty old nail of greed until you break its hold on your heart. Then you will acquire the fruit of apatheia—a peaceful, Christ-tethered heart that gets drawn closer to Him.

John Cassian, a fourth-century theologian, used a phrase from the Beatitudes to define apatheia— “Blessed are the pure in heart.” He said this referred to those who are single or simple in their heart’s focus.

Or take the particularly nasty nail of anger, a sin that Evagrius called “the most fierce passion.” Throughout the gospels, Jesus says things like “love your enemies,” “forgive others their trespasses,” and “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” In other words, get unhooked from your anger and bitterness. Take the bright, straight nail of forgiveness and drive it through that bent but tenacious one of bitterness. Then do it again, and again, and again.

That’s the only way Jesus finally freed me from my long battle with resentment after a deep hurt. I must have hit the nail of forgiveness at least 500 times, praying alone, praying with others, starting and then halting the process of letting go. I can’t recall the exact date, but at some point, I hit that nail one more time, and the anger was gone.

Help from the Unhookable One

Of course, there’s something more powerful than swinging my little hammer—the presence of Jesus. The author of Hebrews describes Him as the “One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In other words, Jesus is the world’s first and only unhookable human being.

I love the portrayal of Jesus in a 17th-century painting titled “Christ Before the High Priest,” by the Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst. In a dark room illuminated by a single candle, Jesus stands before the high priest, who sits and points an accusing finger in the Lord’s face. His critics should be in total control. But Jesus, His robe askew and hands tied, is utterly calm. His accusers are building their case to crucify Him, but Jesus is in control. And, amazingly, the Lord’s eyes radiate not anger, resentment, hate, or fear, but the tenderness of love, even for His enemy. This is perfect freedom. This is apatheia.

Every time I gaze at van Honthorst’s painting, I think, I could never do that. I am much too hookable. So I don’t just need Jesus’ example on how not to get hooked by sin. I need Him. I need His mercy and power. I need to cry out, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner, a deeply flawed and hooked man. I need You to rescue me.” Thank God, as the author of Hebrews urges, we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

 

By Matt Woodley 

Illustrations by Jonathan Bartlett

 

VIDEO God’s Total Surrender to Us

For God so loved the world that He gave… —John 3:16

Salvation does not mean merely deliverance from sin or the experience of personal holiness. The salvation which comes from God means being completely delivered from myself, and being placed into perfect union with Him. When I think of my salvation experience, I think of being delivered from sin and gaining personal holiness. But salvation is so much more! It means that the Spirit of God has brought me into intimate contact with the true Person of God Himself. And as I am caught up into total surrender to God, I become thrilled with something infinitely greater than myself.

To say that we are called to preach holiness or sanctification is to miss the main point. We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:2). The fact that He saves from sin and makes us holy is actually part of the effect of His wonderful and total surrender to us.

If we are truly surrendered, we will never be aware of our own efforts to remain surrendered. Our entire life will be consumed with the One to whom we surrender. Beware of talking about surrender if you know nothing about it. In fact, you will never know anything about it until you understand that John 3:16 means that God completely and absolutely gave Himself to us. In our surrender, we must give ourselves to God in the same way He gave Himself for us— totally, unconditionally, and without reservation. The consequences and circumstances resulting from our surrender will never even enter our mind, because our life will be totally consumed with Him.

WISDOM FROM OSWALD CHAMBERS

If a man cannot prove his religion in the valley, it is not worth anything.  Shade of His Hand, 1200 L


The Chosen scene: John 3:16

VIDEO Thanks Living

Jan 16, 2017

Living with an attitude of gratitude just makes life better. We can bring God our pain and trials, and we can ask Him to help us through them. His love can hammer out our insecurities and shape our hearts to be filled with thankfulness.

Ostrich Christians

The Lord’s lamp sheds light on a person’s life, searching the innermost parts.—Proverbs 20:27

Most of us (myself included) are not good at observing ourselves and reflecting honestly on what goes on beneath the surface of our lives. Why is this so? I think one of the reasons is fear—fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of spoiling a comfortable existence, or fear of having to face some unpleasant discoveries about ourselves. I have met many Christians in my time who adopt this attitude: however things are, good or bad, they could be worse, so it is better to leave well enough alone.

When we read the Bible, however, we discover texts like the one before us today, showing us that God has designed us with the ability to explore our deepest parts. We also hear men like the psalmist crying out to God: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps 139:23-24).

I want to stress that too much introspection is unhealthy, but occasionally and in proper doses it is “good medicine.” Those who resist this and pretend everything is well when it isn’t are what a friend of mine calls “ostrich Christians.” They have peace, but it is a peace built on unreality. When they lift their heads out of the sand, the peace they possess somehow falls to pieces. God’s peace can keep our hearts and minds intact while we face whatever is true—outside and inside.

Prayer

Father, save me from becoming an “ostrich Christian”—someone who pretends everything is well when it isn’t. Nothing must be allowed to hinder the work that You want to do in my heart. Corner my soul and make me what You want me to be. Amen.

Further Study

Mk 2:1-8; Mt 12:25; Lk 6:8; Jn 2:25

How deeply did Jesus see into people’s lives?

How deeply do you let Him penetrate into your life?

Image and Reality

Hebrews 1:3

Despite the counsel of the New Testament it is hard not to be conformed to this world—especially in what has come to be known in advertising circles as image building. Motivational research is now an industry of its own, employing techniques derived from psychiatry and offering in turn advice on how to present wares most attractively.

The image is all-important. According to this gospel, what sells an article—

whether it be a cake of soap or a pair of stockings—is the image which speaks to the prospective buyer. Given the right image all things are possible.

The premise admitted, it is not a far cry to the deduction that a man’s image can sell (or ruin) the man. But should image be our first concern?

We should remind ourselves that our fathers in the faith were not overmuch concerned about their image. If they had been, they would never have broken with the conventional religious practices of their day. They would never have set Great Britain by the ears had they kept one eye continually on the current public opinion polls. As for image, some of them in the most literal fashion made themselves of no reputation.

“Bramwell,” said the Founder, “50 years hence it will matter very little indeed how these people have treated us. It will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.” So memorable a word puts this concern for image building in its place once and for all. Take care of the reality and the image will take care of itself.

A study of the model relationship between image and reality is found in Hebrews 1:3 where Jesus is described as “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” Here image and reality agree. Image is not a cunningly devised fable to hide the poverty of reality. Nor does reality need to be blown up to correspond with a larger than life image. What is found in the one is present in the other.

Hear the conclusion of the whole matter in a sentence written by William Booth: “Don’t allow the world’s praise to attract, or its blame to affright you from the discharge of the duty you owe to God, to yourself, or to the souls of those about you. God will take care of your reputation if you make His glory and your duty your sovereign aim.”

Frederick Coutts, In Good Company

Our Father’s Care

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. Matthew 10:29

Thwack! I looked up and craned my ear toward the sound. Spotting a smudge on the windowpane, I peered out onto the deck and discovered the still-beating body of a bird. My heart hurt. I longed to help the fragile feathered being.

In Matthew 10, Jesus described His Father’s care for sparrows in order to comfort the disciples as He warned of upcoming dangers. He offered instructions to the twelve as He “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (v. 1). While the power to do such deeds might have seemed grand to the disciples, many would oppose them, including governing authorities, their own families, and the ensnaring grip of the evil one (vv. 16–28).

Then in 10:29–31, Jesus told them not to fear whatever they faced because they would never be out of their Father’s care. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” He asked. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

I checked on the bird throughout the day, each time finding it alive but unmoved. Then, late into the evening, it was gone. I prayed it had survived. Surely, if I cared this much about the bird, God cared even more. Imagine how much He cares for you and me!

By:  Elisa Morgan

Reflect & Pray

How have you seen God care for you in the past? How can you gain courage for all you face by understanding that you’re never outside your Father’s care?

Dear Father, thank You for always watching over and caring for me.

VIDEO Priority of Truth

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth. Ephesians 6:14

In recent years, concussions have dominated discussions of safety in American football. As a result, football helmets have become the most important part of a player’s “armor.” While all parts of the football uniform are critically important, the helmet’s protection of the brain may be the most critical.

What about spiritual armor? Is there a most-important piece? Theologically, no, since to put on God’s spiritual armor is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). And it’s impossible to divide Christ into “parts.” But it is interesting that in Paul’s description of the believer’s spiritual armor the girdle (belt) of truth gets first mention. In reality, a Roman belt was not really considered armor at all; most Roman men wore a belt of some kind to cinch up their robes. It was part of basic Roman dress; no one—civilian or soldier—would dress without a belt. Perhaps that’s why Paul compared the belt to truth. We can’t go anywhere without God’s truth. It is truth that informs us about all the rest of the spiritual armor.

Jesus is the living truth (John 14:6). God’s Word is the written truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). Truth is foundational to victory in the spiritual life.

The truth of Scripture demolishes speculation.  R. C. Sproul


Wide Open: Opening Up About My Trauma

I hear my therapist ask me “what was it that brought these memories back up?”

I think about it for a minute. These repressed memories of sexual abuse were bound to pop up at some point now that I’m being open about my trauma. I knew the answer within a minute or so. “I was making a timeline of the emotional and verbal abuse he put me through, and then all of these repressed memories I’d tucked deep down kind of popped up as I was writing.

In my lifetime, I have been sexually assaulted, as well as emotionally,verbally, and sexually abused in a relationship. I hadn’t found the courage to talk about it until about August of 2017. It started with me in the car with one of my best friends. We were talking about my ex boyfriend and the words came flying out of my mouth, the words I hadn’t been brave enough to utter before then. “He was emotionally abusive towards me.” Back then, although I didn’t admit the other abuses, I still felt so free. I felt like I could start talking. My friend hugged me and said, “I’m glad you told me. It takes courage.”

My openness took a break in November of 2017, though, when I got a new therapist. She was extremely rude and had a serious lack of knowledge in trauma and abusive relationships. She asked the question therapists should know the answer to; “why didn’t you just leave?” I already had doubts about her, but this is why I stopped seeing her. If she couldn’t understand that concept, she wouldn’t understand anything about me.

I was hospitalized in January of 2018, and had to address a lot of the trauma I had endured. I had to work through challenges, including flashbacks and panic attacks, and I made it. I got out and am starting to thrive. I have two jobs, and am learning the most important two words I need to know and practice the most: self care.

Self care is the most important thing I do for myself. I write about my struggle. I talk to friends and others in my support network when I feel low. And, I’m learning that I have to stop blaming myself for what has been done to me. I am not the deeds that have been done to me. No, I am much kinder. I am a giving person, and I need to work more on realizing I am not at fault.

If you are, or have been, a victim of abuse, please realize you are not defined by your trauma. You are not to blame for what happened to you. There are people out there who understand. There are people who can and will support you through this. You are so strong, and I am so proud of you for how far you’ve come.

If anyone you love is, or has been, a victim of abuse, please realize there are some things you shouldn’t say. Pay attention to triggers. Ask them what is not acceptable to say, and what their specific triggers are. And most importantly, please respect their boundaries. If they tell you they are uncomfortable doing something or are uncomfortable with what you are doing or saying, respect it. It is extremely important.

Our young adult blogger chooses to remain anonymous. They like to sing and advocate for change.

by Lisa Lambert

http://ppal.net/2018/05/blog-posts/6671

VIDEO Pagans And Christians – Witness To False Christians

pagan Christian

I read a very wise thing in John MacArthur’s Parables. Consider it well:

“The underlying error… the belief that people can gain God’s favor by being good enough–is the central lie that dominates all false religion.”

In pagan religions, worshipers are always trying to buy the gods’ favor, or, as it were, hire the gods as their employees, by promising to do this or that good work, or sacrificing this or that prize animal. And where does it get them?

In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus, the king of the gods, is upset by the sight of Hector fleeing from Achilles. Zeus exclaims, “Confound it, I love that man whom I see hunted round those walls! I am grieved for Hector, who has sacrificed many an ox on the heights of Ida or the citadel of Troy. And now there is Prince Achilles, chasing him round the city of Priam. What do you think, gods? Just consider, shall we save him from death or shall we let Achilles beat him?” (W.H.D. Rouse translation)

And of course, in spite of Hector’s piety, in spite of all the sacrifices he gave the gods throughout his life, it turned out Zeus couldn’t save him, after all.

In contrast to every  religion ever invented by man, Christianity teaches that we cannot hire God, we cannot buy His favor, there is no magic word or special kind of prayer that will compel Him to do our bidding.

Instead, His favor, His grace, our salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins–these are all free gifts, given by a sovereign God and paid for, paid for on the cross, by Jesus Christ the Son of God. God saves us; but when we reach for our wallets, we discover the bill has already been paid. By Jesus Christ.

At the root of it, Christianity is very simple. How simple? In Acts 16:30, during a crisis in which he was within an inch of taking his own life, the jailer in Philippi asks of Paul and Silas, temporarily his prisoners, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (v.31)

And that’s the whole theology.

You couldn’t possibly do enough good works, sacrifice enough bulls or rams, donate enough money to the church, to earn, to deserve, eternal life. But God can give it to you. It’s as simple as that.

 

by  LEE DUIGON 


How to Witness to False Christians

REAL Christianity

Abram Had No Bible No Church
It was still dark when Mary Magdalene made her silent, mournful way through the streets of Jerusalem. Passing through the gate in the city wall, she walked the short distance to the grotto where Joseph of Arimathea had provided a tomb for the burial of Jesus.

Approaching the tomb, she stopped short. Was this the right place? In the dark, everything looked different from when the tomb was sealed two days earlier. This couldn’t be right. She was standing in front of a tomb that was open, a tomb whose sealing stone was rolled to the side. Clearly, this was a tomb waiting on its eternal resident, not the tomb where Jesus had been laid. How could it be? How could Jesus’ tomb—a tomb she saw sealed with her own eyes—now be open?

Inching closer, Mary looked in and gasped. The light of dawn was enough for her to see that Jesus’ body no longer lay on the stone shelf inside the tomb. The tomb was empty—Jesus’ body was gone!

Fleeing the grotto, Mary ran to the home where the disciples of Jesus were staying and told them of her discovery. Peter and John leapt to their feet, dashed out of the house, and ran for the grotto, Mary trying to keep up. By the time Mary arrived, Peter and John had entered the empty tomb and verified her report. The burial cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped were there, but His body was gone.

The disciples walked away silently, heads down. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. (Based on John 20:1-11.)

What an image the apostle John gives us of the confusion and despair the followers of Jesus must have felt: Mary standing outside the empty tomb of Jesus, weeping (John 20:11).

Seeing Jesus crucified two days earlier was bad enough. But now someone had stolen the body? Or, had He been raised from the dead—a possibility as they recalled things He had said (John 2:19)? To their despair was added confusion; to their grief was added the loss of all hope.

Would we not have felt the same way? The Christian life—following Jesus as Lord and Savior—is a real-life event. It comes with joy and sorrow, grief and grace. This snapshot catches the followers of Jesus at a critical moment, a crossroads of faith. Would they trust that answers would come? Would they trust that the One who had not failed them for three years would not fail them now?

Will we? Will we trust when Jesus seems invisible to us, nowhere to be found? What does it take to live the REAL Christian life? What does it take to be a REAL Christian when the valleys seem darker and deeper and the dawn looks like it will never break through the night?

It is possible, of course. If we continue reading the four Gospel accounts, and the beginning of Acts, we find a changing story. Over forty days, Jesus met with the disciples (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). He ate with them, walked and talked with them, and commissioned them to take the Gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20). And then He left them and returned to heaven (Acts 1:9).

Jesus was with them for three years, taken away for three days in the grave, then was with them for forty days, then was taken from them again. They were up, they were down, up again, now down again. In that final down state, they huddled together for ten more days, praying about what to do (Acts 1:14). They had been given a mission, but Jesus had told them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). They waited out of obedience, not out of understanding.

When the Holy Spirit came at the end of the ten days, at the feast of Pentecost, the disciples’ lives were changed. They launched into REAL Christianity: Ready, Expectant, Authentic, and Loving. They set out to fulfill the commission Jesus had given them—and they never looked back, not because their faith became suddenly easy, but because their faith, by the power of the Spirit in their lives, became REAL.

By David Jeremiah