Tag Archives: Christianity

Agape and Optimism

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Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32

There are many people in this world who only look at the negatives of religion. They consider religion to be exclusive, not inclusive. They dwell on what not to do, instead of what should be done. Some of these same people are religious, others are not. However, this view of Christianity is as far from my belief as possible. This is a pessimistic view of religion, and as someone who decided years ago that a positive attitude is far greater than a negative attitude, I look to a far more optimistic view of Christianity.

The two verses above are just two of many examples in the Bible that shows the optimistic view of Christianity. More than anything, I believe in the inclusiveness of Christianity. God loves us all, and we are told that we should love all. This type of love is called agape. Agape often translated “unconditional love”, is one of the Koine Greek words translated into English as love, one which became particularly appropriated in Christian theology as the love of God or Christ for humankind. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man.

Although the word agape does not have specific religious connotation, the word has been used by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including biblical authors and Christian authors. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia (an affection that could denote friendship, brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection) and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another (also see kenosis). When 1 John 4:8 says “God is love,” the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God’s love.

Anyone who proclaims that Christianity is a negative religion and focuses only on what not to do, need look only at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-7:27) to be proven wrong. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) are enough in themselves to show the positive nature of what Christianity should be:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If more people would follow the teachings of Jesus Christ instead of focusing on the negatives, then I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place.


God’s Infinite Love

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“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:15-20

The president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality made some shocking claims this week about practicing Christians who have decided to embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals: you’re doing the work of the devil.

Appearing on “Crosstalk” for a show titled “Same-Sex Marriage Tsunami,” Peter LaBarbera informed host Vic Eliason that Christians embracing LGBT-identifying individuals are engaged in an “insidious lie… straight from Satan’s talking points.”

These kind of statements are precisely what is wrong with Christianity in America. Peter LaBarbera and others like him bear bad fruit. They are drawing Christians away from the love of Christ and only teaching about hate. It is sad and frustrating that they have so little regard for God. The truth is that God is love, and the devil is hate. Therefore, if you preach hate then you preach for the devil.

Mr. LaBarbera has it wrong, it is not the accepting Christians who are “doing the work of the devil,” it is the men who preach hate who are “doing the work of the devil.” They are the false prophets and are the devils tools who use their pulpits to spread hate. How can someone who is a Christian claim that God hates? God is all that is good and positive. God may be disappointed in us when we go against his will and do not ask for forgiveness, but he never hates us. God loves each and every one of us for who we are.


The Great Commission

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Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 16-20

Since I have been writing about my religion, beliefs, and faith on this blog, I have often encountered those who either do not understand how a relatively intelligent person could still have faith or how I could remain faithful when so many “so-called” Christians spew hateful messages against the LGBT community. The evil spewed by people who call themselves Christians, yet do not follow the teachings of Christ, leaves a bad taste int he mouth of many in the LGBT community. Bad experiences can turn people from their faith, but I have kept mine and encourage my readers to keep theirs. For me, any person who calls themselves a Christian, yet spews hate and judgment, are not true Christians and their behavior is unforgivable. Instead of following the “Great Commission” to bring others to Christ, they are driving people away. Therefore, in my humble opinion, they are doing Satan’s work, not the work of God.

I am not a Christian because I believe that Christians have a monopoly on moral values and righteous living. I believe that all religions have their place, and all religions and ethical philosophies that I have studied have at their heart the ethics of reciprocity, more commonly known as the golden rule (One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself). I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. He was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. My faith has been made even stronger by the wonderful church community in which I was raised.

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It is not up to us to prove that Christians have the exclusive rights moral behavior. However, what we should do is to encourage those around us to keep the faith and allow Jesus into our lives. W e need him and he can bring us great comfort. Just because someone claims to be a Christian, does not mean that they follow the teachings of Christ. Christianity is not about “being holier than thou,” but instead, it’s about Christ. It is about God’s infinite love.

By not focusing on the behavior of other Christians, we can focus on the most important thing: Jesus Christ. When we talk to others about our faith, we should have to defend Christianity, we should talk about our personal faith, because we are the Christian we know best.


What Defiles a Person

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And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark 7:14-23

Last week, I wrote that I would continue my previous post with a follow-up to answer the last question posed to me. My commenter asked: “Regarding Jesus, what do you think Jesus means concerning sexual immorality defiling the heart in Mark 7:20-23? What sexual immorality would He have in mind and how would we know what He meant?”

First of all, you will notice that the verses that I quote above are Mark 7:14-23, not just Mark 7:20-23, because I wanted to present the wider context of what Jesus was saying. What is the key to living a life of truth and purity in Christ? Is it following the traditions of the church? No. Jesus in this section showed that purity in Christianity was not an outward thing but a matter of the heart.

Jesus had just scolded the Pharisees for following their traditions rather than following the word of God. In fact they gave such importance to their traditions that they completely negated the word of God, which was leading people astray. Jesus showed the error of their ways and then went on to correct them.

The argument came up over the washing of hands before eating. This was a tradition the Pharisees were teaching and were annoyed because the disciples of Jesus were not following their tradition. In showing the error of their argument, Jesus said to all the people that, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” (Verses 14-15)

A person is not defiled by eating without washing their hands, at least not in the sight of God. A person is defiled when they behave poorly towards their fellow man. Real defilement is a matter of behavior not food. When someone behaves badly towards another they are showing a lack of respect and of love for that person. The basis of both the old and new covenants is love. So when a person acts in opposition to love, they are defiled for they are not acting in accordance with the nature and the will of God.

To eat with unwashed hands could make you sick physically, but it will neither commend nor cause your rejection before God. He does not care whether we wash our hands to eat or not. The old saying that “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is completely wrong. What will cause you to be defiled is anger, wrath, malice, evil behavior, fornication, licentiousness, adultery, murder, deceit and so on. These are the true blots and blemishes on the character of man.

The application of what Jesus is saying goes far beyond the issue of what foods we eat. The same principle applies to the music we listen to, the beverages we drink, the movies or tv shows we watch, the books we read etc. There is nothing external to you that will defile you because sinful corruption and defilement comes from the human heart. Your goal should not be just to rigidly and ritualistically avoid all the things external to you that you consider unclean and unrighteous. Your goal should primarily be to surrender your heart to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your heart, transform your motives, and transform your desires so that your heart no longer desires to sin but desires to obey God and live a life of purity. Do not think that by avoiding all the “unclean” foods, drinks, places, or activities that you will automatically be clean and righteous. It would be a tragedy if you spent your life, like the Pharisees, completely preoccupied with all the external issues but never dealing with your internal heart issues.

So nothing outside of a person corrupts him/her, does that mean we’re free to eat, drink, watch, read anything we want anytime we want? Be careful. In 1 Corinthians 10:23 Paul addressed this issue by saying, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” So in a sense, barring any explicit Biblical commands to the contrary, yes we are free to “do anything.” However, it is not always constructive or beneficial to “do anything.” For example, a Christian who is a recovering alcoholic has the freedom to drink alcohol, but it probably would not be beneficial for him/her to do so. Jesus’ proclamation that nothing outside of a person makes him/her unclean and unrighteous is not meant to be used by you as an excuse to simply do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, and however you want.

Remember, the root issue is your heart. If a person is pursuing sinful behavior, it is not because something external to that person caused them to become sinful, but is because their human flesh wants to sin in that way. Your sin isn’t a result of something outside of you; it is a result of your human heart and flesh wanting to be in rebellion against God. Read through that list of sinful vices Jesus listed, keeping in mind his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that even looking at a woman lustfully is adultery, or that even being angry can be as bad as murder. After reading that list ask yourself, “Which of these/how many of these have I committed in the past day? Week? Month? Year?” How have you attempted to overcome those sinful behaviors? Simply avoiding external things and abiding to external rules is not enough to defeat your sin. You need Jesus. You need your heart to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Instead of simply trying to correct your behavior, continually be surrendering you heart over to Jesus, and continually be seeking to have your heart, desires, and motivations conformed to the will of God. Only with a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit will you be able to experience true victory over sin.

Though the question from my commenter explicitly asked to address what Jesus meant by “sexual immorality,” I find the complete context to be more beneficial to study than two words near the end of the passage. However, I do want to address this because I think it is important for LGBT Christians to understand. Sex outside of marriage, i.e. rape, fornication, and adultery, is clearly defined as sin, as are the lustful thoughts that go with them, even without the act, as Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount. However, that being said, when different places forbid LGBT marriages, they take that away from us. We are denied the right to be married and have a fulfilling and loving relationship within the confines of marriage. Furthermore, homosexuality as a sin is a tradition of man and is not upheld by a true reading of the scripture of the New Testament. Those who condemn homosexuality are no better than the Pharisees that Jesus corrects. As was pointed out in our study of the Book of James, we must be hearers and doers of the Word.

In Jesus we have the opportunity to overcome the nature of man. We can have the victory over the flesh by learning and applying the words of the truth. The path we are to follow is not the traditions of man, but the truth of the gospel of Christ. Seek His ways and you will find a path where there is no defilement.


Questions and Answers

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A church of Christ minister emailed me a few weeks ago with some question regarding my posts about gay Christians and my views about the Church of Christ. In his comment, he stated:

I found your site interesting to come across. There certainly should be a place of discourse about homosexuality. I am a minister in the Church of Christ, and I do find that all sexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful and contrary to Christ’s words. I do know that many Christians can struggle with difficulties that make them feel on the edges of their church and faith to which I can relate. I think we can help each other. I do have some questions that I hope you can consider and respond.

In his comment and his subsequent email, he asked a number of questions which I will endeavor to answer. In my first email to him, I wrote:

I have struggled for many years to try and understand why God created me in a way that I do not have an attraction to the opposite sex, but an attraction to my own sex. I once asked myself if God made a mistake, but God does not make mistakes, therefore he had a purpose in the way he created me and those like me. I prayed and meditated. I read the Bible, searching for meanings of passages that were difficult to understand, even though some stated that their meaning was very clear and simple. God guided me in that study, as he guides me throughout life. I came to understand and believe that God created me the way I am, that the verses about homosexuality do not pertain to true love between human beings of the same sex, but as perverse sexual acts that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and the worship of Christ.

In what I have read of your views on homosexuality, which I plan to take a closer look to, you equate homosexuality with sexual practices only. Homosexuality is not all about sex. I can be a homosexual and still not engage in sexual practices. There are many who do. However, we are judged by our perceived sexual lifestyle. I am not denying that I have never fornicated, but I have also sought forgiveness for my prior indiscretions.

In his response, he asked how I knew I was born homosexual. While it is true that most people do not develop sexual attraction until puberty, there is more to being homosexual than sex. Though I won’t claim that I was always aware of my homosexuality, it is more because I did not understand. I had no concept of homosexuality, but I certainly knew that I was different. Most homosexuals felt the same way growing up. Most of us did not have the same interests as other boys. I preferred to play with the girls when growing up. I never enjoyed playing sports, though my parents forced me to. So you might ask, how I came to understand my sexuality. It was not easy. When sexual interests began in puberty, it was an attraction to boys not girls. My dreams and fantasies were about boys. Though I tried to think of girls in the same way, it did not arouse me. It took a lot of internal wrestling to come to terms with my sexuality.

Some of the other questions my commenter had that I would like to address:

What do you think it would be like to be a Christian without the desires of homosexuality? How would life be any better?

If I were not homosexual, then I would not have struggled with coming to terms with being gay and Christian. My parents would not worry about me because their concept of Christianity believes that I am damned to hell. In ways, life would be better, but I am the way God created me. I firmly believe that God created me as a homosexual and guided my strong Christian faith because he had a purpose for me. We all have trials and temptations. God tests our faith, as he did Job and Abraham, and so many others. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” However, being homosexual strengthens my faith, not lessens it, and I take joy in that, just as God commands.

With many Christians struggling with temptations of sexual immorality, did you ever see yourself as enslaved your homosexual desires as sin?

Before I studied the scriptures and understood the true meanings of its words, yes, I did feel that I was enslaved by my homosexuality and sin. However, when I studied the true meanings of the words, with faith that God was guiding my study, I came to believe differently. I will not repeat this journey, but instead I urge you to go back and read my post “Abusus Non Tollit Usum.”

Do you still think that sexual desires can be deceptive and entice someone to sin (Jas. 1:14-15, 1 John 2:15-17)?

Yes, I do believe that sexual desire, as well as all other desires of this world, can entice someone to sin. However, this is universal, and does not pertain to homosexuals alone, but to all Christians regardless of their sexuality. When we take verses and place a sexual meaning to them, especially when it has such a wider meaning, then we are perverting the Word of God.

Regarding Jesus, what do you think Jesus means concerning sexual immorality defiling the heart in Mark 7:20-23? What sexual immorality would He have in mind and how would we know what He meant?

This was the last of the questions asked, and I think I deserves a post of its own, so I will continue this next Sunday.

Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and may God bless us to live in His love.


Warning to the Rich

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Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

James 5:1-6
The greatest commands are to Love God and love your neighbor.  These cannot be separated; they go together and impact each other.  Whatever God blesses us with, He intends for us to share it with others.  If we are blessed with wealth, it is for the purpose of blessing others with our resources.  If we are blessed with talent, we should use that talent to benefit others, If we chose to hoard our wealth or other blessings from God, then God becomes very displeased.
James has already chastised the “rich” of looking down on the poor, and he had rebuked them for the arrogance of making plans without considering what God wants them to do.  James attacks this issue from two different angles at once.  first, the issue of hoarding, which means that we are not sharing God’s blessing with others who need it much more than we do, and second, on the Day of Judgment, all things with be made right, justice will be done regarding all inequities.  By not sharing God’s blessings, this is interpreted as pure defiance towards God.
To me this is saying that those that do not help others, that always worry about themselves, making sure they are taken care of and treating the ones that are ‘below them’ with hatred, harshness, callousness, and like they are trash.  They try there best to cheat people so they won’t have to pay the full price for what they truly deserve.  Like they are nothing and not worth the time.  They hired them so they should pay them fully.  They are defying God’s wishes.
James is not just speaking of monetary wealth but also the wealth of God’s blessing.  There are also those Christians who look down on LGBT Christians, not making sure that LGBT Christians are met with loving embrace within the church and instead treating   LGBT Christians like they are ‘below them’ with hatred, harshness, callousness, and like we are trash, undeserving of God’s love because we love someone of the same sex.  Christians who reject other Christians for whatever reason believe themselves to be rich in God’s love, but they are hoarding God’s love all for themselves.
Christians should stop hoarding God’s blessings and start giving it to some that need it, such as charities, children’s hospitals, etc.  When we die, none of this will go with us, and we will be judged on the things we did, or did not do, while on this earth.  Only God’s record of our good works and faith in his love will follow us to the afterlife.

Warning Against Worldliness

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What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
 
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
 
James 4:1-12
 
When was the last time you heard a sermon warning against worldliness? I suspect for most believers it would have been a very long time indeed. There are several reasons for this. Likely it is because we are in fact very worldly, and we don’t like to speak to our particular sins, so we just drift along. Also, you are particularly unlikely to hear a sermon, or in this case read a Bible study, about worldliness and gay Christians.  First of all, most of us would start squirming in our chairs.  My first thought would be, “This can’t be good.”  The reason for this is that as gay Christians most of our naysayers consider homosexuality to be a sin of worldliness.  That as gay Christians, we want to sin, be a part of this hedonistic culture, and call ourselves Christians.  But I hope that if you are one of those who regularly follow my Sunday posts, then you will know that is not the message I will deliver here.  I write these posts as both Bible studies and as a way to deliver the truth.  Therefore, I want to study this passage in a way that brings to light the kind of worldliness that applies to LGBT Christians.
 
There is also another reason Christians don’t tend to dwell on worldliness. We have tended to misunderstand what the warnings against worldliness actually mean, and/or have quite distorted the actual biblical teaching on this. That is, we have often thought that worldliness means having nothing to do with this material world altogether.  Or, as LGBT Christians we have been branded as worldly people because too many people believe that homosexuality is a choice.  The truth is, as I believe it (and I do believe that God helped me understand this after much prayer and meditation), God created us to be gay.  He had a purpose for us.  Whatever, that purpose is, we cannot deny God for creating us or leading us down this path.  We are all God’s children and have his undying and eternal love.
 
James is not the only one to warn about worldliness.
John: 1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
 
Paul: Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
In the text from James above, these verses make me think of the person who tries to live in both the world and in the kingdom. It can’t be done. Living in the kingdom means the Spirit dwells within us, and God reigns over us. It must be all or nothing. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Therefor, ask yourself to describe you in one word.  What would you say?  If you are worldly, then your answer might be your profession or an adjective describing how you feel or act, but truthfully, the answer should be very simple: Christian.  Whatever else you are, however else you might describe yourself, it is being a Christian that should come first.
 
James finishes this section of scripture we are examining with a warning about verbally attacking or slandering our brother. When we do this, we are not only attacking, but judging his character. In doing so, we are speaking out against and judging the law. Think about it. We are to love our Lord God with all of our heart, soul, strength and might; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we speak against our brother, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and might as well throw the whole commandment out the window.

…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God…. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Romans 12:2, 9

As believers, we are not of the world. Worldliness is not a kingdom attribute.
 
If you’re wondering if a behavior or activity is worldly, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does this activity, thing, pursuit take my heart away from God?
  • Does it sabotage my communion with God and my walk in the Spirit?
  • Does it undermine or seek to displace my relationship to Christ as the power of my life?
  • Does it attempt (is it designed) to do so?
  • Does it feed the self-centered, appetite-driven, God-hating part of me called the flesh?
  • Does it inflame my desire to disobey God’s commands?
  • Does it produce pride, contention, immorality, or any other behavior contrary to the love of God and the love of others?
  • Does it lure me into obsession with what is earthbound and temporal versus what is heavenly and eternal?
In John 18, Jesus answers Pilate by repeating this phrase twice:  My kingdom is not of this world.
 
If you follow Jesus, then your kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is not of this world.
 

 


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