In Matters of Faith, Motivations Matter.

Students of either Church or Medieval history might recall the captivating story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162-1170. Having served as Chancellor for King Henry II (a role he excels at by helping the king consolidate power from the church), the crown appoints Becket to the role of Archbishop. No doubt the monarch expected Becket the Archbishop to operate in a manner similar to Becket the Chancellor, and subject both himself and the church to the king’s authority.

As Archbishop, however, Thomas proved loyal to the Church. He resisted all efforts by the king to curb ecclesiastical power and submit to the sovereign, insisting instead on a substantive separation of church and state. Not surprisingly, this infuriated Henry II and led to a serious fracture in their relationship, eventually resulting in the Archbishop fleeing to France in late 1164.

A fragile compromise eventually allowed Becket to return from exile six years later and resume his residence in Canterbury. But the tension between the crown and the cloth exploded on his return when Becket refused to reinstate three bishops excommunicated for their support of the king. On learning of this, the king erupted in anger and unleashed a vindictive diatribe that inspired four of his knights to find and assassinate Becket.

In his celebrated work, Murder in the Cathedral, Nobel Prize Laureate T.S. Elliot recounts this assassination. In his drama the writer describes four temptations that challenge Becket, each offering something of value in exchange for his willful disobedience of the Lord. The confrontation mirrors Satan’s temptation of Christ following forty days in the desert.

The last temptation encourages the Archbishop to pursue martyrdom, for which he will receive glory and admiration. While recognizing that outcome likely awaits him, Becket also understands an intentional pursuit of that ending to his life would be improper. So he rejects that final temptation, declaring: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” With that statement, Elliot’s ecclesiastical character captures one of the great truths of Scripture: motivations matter.

God emphasizes this point through His prophet, Zechariah. Following their return to Jerusalem, the post-exilic Jews tired of fasting and mourning, and sought God’s release from those duties. They sent a delegation of men to the house of God “to seek the Lord’s favor” and “ask this question of the prophets and the priests … ‘Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?’” (Zechariah 7:2-3, NLT). They had hoped these emissaries might secure permission from the Lord to discontinue these religious practices.

Rather than respond directly to their petition, God poses a question: “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me – for Me?’” (Zechariah 7:5, NKJV). The Lord cuts to the heart of the issue: for whom did they complete those activities? His concern went beyond their ritualistic performance of religious rites. He wanted their focus on Him. He desired a properly motivated people who displayed the right heart.

Instead, the Israelites fulfilled God’s requirements begrudgingly – their hearts were not in it. They exhibited no joy of the Lord and no passion for Him. It was strictly (religious) business for them. God reveals their improper motivation when He rhetorically asks: “When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?” (Zechariah 7:6, NKJV). As soon as they finished their religious duties they resumed living for themselves. They had no interest in pursuing God and His ways in all areas of their lives.

I wonder how many of us fall into a similar routine? Like the Israelites, we compartmentalize our lives in such a way to avoid giving God complete control. We perform whatever religious acts we believe He requires of us and then go about the business of living for ourselves.

But this approach to faith rarely leads to lives of joy, peace, and fulfillment. Instead, like the Israelites, we find ourselves complaining about God’s standards and expectations, insisting they are overly onerous and too restrictive. We decline to follow Jesus down difficult paths and only embrace His words when they are convenient.

Take a moment to consider your motivations for each activity you perform for the Lord. Do you really perform them for God’s glory or do you instead harbor a selfish motivation? Motivations are especially important for those serving in a leadership role or position of authority within the church.

Listen as the Lord poses to you a similar question to the one He raised with the people of Judah:

> Do you really sing in the choir for Me – for Me?

> Do you really serve at the homeless shelter for Me – for Me?

> Do you really participate in a weekly Bible study for Me – for Me?

> Do you really attend church services for Me – for Me?

> Do you really help with the children’s ministry for Me – for Me?

> Do you really minister to prison inmates for Me – for Me?

> Do you really tithe for Me – for Me?

> Are you really taking that mission trip for Me – for Me?

> Are your prayers really for Me – for Me?

Our motivation matters in everything we do. Our most sacrificial acts are of little consequence if performed to draw glory to ourselves. Our acts of service have no eternal value if done to burnish our reputations within the church and the community. Our worship, prayers, and praise are impotent if offered out of obligation or to appear religious.

So how do we know whether the manifestations of our faith spring from pure or impure motivations? First, consider your attitude. Do you perform acts of service, worship, and ministry with a spirit of joy or out of begrudging obligation? Proper motivations genuinely produce appropriate attitudes in serving God and others.

Second, do you seek recognition and the approval of others when living out your faith? Do you gravitate to acts of service, worship, and ministry that are largely in public view? Those with improper or impure motives often pursue roles and activities in the church that provide them a platform of prominence and that call attention to themselves. While corporate worship and service is important, it should never overshadow the time we spend alone with God, praising, worshipping, and giving Him glory. Does your private time with God pale in comparison to your public demonstrations of faith?

As you go through the week, reflect on your motivations. Ask the Lord to reveal any actions done with an impure heart. Ensure your faith produces spiritual fruit, celebrates Jesus, and testifies of His greatness, rather than draws credit to yourself and pursues recognition from others. Remember: The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

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Are You Planning for the Right Retirement?

Every quarter I receive a newsletter that encourages me to review my retirement strategy to ensure I have the funds needed when I retire. While the articles vary, the message remains the same: retirement is not cheap; healthcare costs are skyrocketing; lifestyles rarely change in retirement. Invariably, a litany of charts follow, reinforcing the narrative and explaining how much I need in my accounts based on several factors: how long I plan to live (not sure how much input I get in that variable), my current income, and inflation, to name a few.

Like hundreds of similar investment documents published each month, the newsletter emphasizes the need to plan now so I am not caught unprepared for the future. One common theme highlights those adults who assume they’ll have enough for retirement but never bother to do the math to validate their hypothesis. Almost always, we are told, those assumptions prove false. As a result, they fail to plan properly and must delay retirement, reduce their standard of living, or forgo retirement altogether.

Sadly, many Americans adopt a similar approach with respect to eternity. They assume they are going to heaven or that no afterlife exists. Either way, they neglect to invest any time or effort investigating the question of everlasting life and the existence of God. Instead, they prefer to trust their instincts – convinced that whatever reality they embrace will be revealed as truth once they pass from this world.

Of course, as Christians we recognize the danger with that worldview and ought to explore opportunities to share our faith and Jesus’ teachings with those who hold that opinion. He had much to say on the topic of eternal life and His message of mercy, grace, and salvation is one society desperately needs to hear and observe these days. Like the newsletters, we ought to inform and warn, prod and challenge those around us to prepare for eternity and not ignore such a critical decision.

Similarly, Jesus’ teachings also provide a powerful reminder to those of us in the church – that we, too, ought to prepare for heaven while still in this world. Too often we conclude that once we check the salvation box, all is good. But that view contradicts the truth shared by Jesus and the apostles. Let’s examine a few important verses that should shape how we prepare for eternity.

First, we need to remember we are not citizens of this world; rather, our citizenship is in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). Consequently, we are (in the words of Peter in his first epistle) pilgrims and sojourners in this world – here to serve as Christ’s ambassadors (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). As with any ambassador, our assignment is temporary – until the Lord calls us home – and requires us to reflect in speech and in conduct the one we serve.

That conviction is critical if we are to redeem our time on earth (see Ephesians 5:16) and live according to God’s will. Otherwise, we fall into a common trap: the belief that God wants us here to eat, drink, and be merry. In other words, our pleasure is His desire.

While God definitely wants us filled with joy, hope, and contentment, it is His pleasure that ought to be our desire, and not vice versa. When we lose track of that distinction, we risk becoming ensconced in the world, falling prey to its distractions, and adopting its priorities. In the process we cease to represent Christ and begin to reflect the world.

So how do we remain in the world without being of the world? By abiding in Christ. Any ambassador, to properly fulfill his or her role, must maintain frequent and substantive contact with the president. The same is true with us. As our relationship with Christ matures and our passion for Him deepens, we become a more accurate reflection of Him and ours ways align more closely to His.

As that happens, we focus more on things with genuine value (the eternal) and less on things with no lasting value (the temporal). That transformative shift in perspective equips us to handle the trials and tribulations that result from our faith in Jesus. Paul explains this in his second epistle to the church at Corinth. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NKJV).

So as we consider retirement, what would Jesus have us do as His ambassadors? Should we adopt the world’s perspective and save lots of money in a retirement account so we can maintain our current lifestyles until we die? Should we work extra hours now so we can retire early and get a head start on the pleasures and comfort of retirement? Should we wind down our Christian service as we wind down our careers? Of course not.

Why do so many of us assume God makes no claim on our retirement – that we can pursue the same retirement strategy as our non-believing friends and colleagues? Do we cease to be the Lord’s when we retire? Does retiring from our career correspond to our retirement as Christ’s ambassador? Not at all. On the contrary, retiring from our career ought to serve as a catalyst for us to redouble our efforts to redeem the time as God’s representatives – and usher in a new season of serving Him with renewed vigor and focus.

For those on the verge of retiring or already in that stage of life, I encourage you to consider the possibility that retirement is an opportunity to finalize God’s call on your life. Resist the temptation to embrace the worldview that you’ve earned a restful retirement and deserve to enjoy the good life as you sail into the sunset. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal His retirement plan for you, what community you might serve on His behalf, and how you might fulfill the Great Commission. It might be quite different then your original plans – and much more satisfying.

For those still many years away from retirement, consider these words from Jesus as you craft your career and ascertain how best to invest your resources. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV).

Unfortunately, too many Christians focus entirely, or primarily, on acquiring treasures on earth, building a legacy with the world, and pursuing temporal success. But Jesus informs us in unambiguous terms that such endeavors are a fool’s errand. They produce nothing of eternal value. Worse, they risk corroding, or even severing, our relationship with God.

Don’t be that seed that fell among thorns: those who hear the word of God and briefly trust Jesus but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19, NKJV). Those who chase worldly accomplishments, recognition, and treasure enter into a Faustian bargain. And when eternity begins they will have nothing to show for all the time and effort they invested in this world. And they will have had very little time to enjoy the fruits of those worldly labors – even if they live to be a hundred.

Instead, invest in true treasure: the souls and lives of those around you. In doing so you will deposit into an eternal retirement account a value that exceeds exponentially everything the world has to offer. Nothing is as sound an investment for your time and resources. And that truth is something you can take to the bank.

Just Released My Latest Thriller, An Absence of Justice.

I just released my latest novel, An Absence of Justice, in September 2015.

With first-rate writing, credible dialogue, and a riveting plot, it makes an exceptional read for any fan of suspense. Throw in a couple unforgettable characters, several bombshells, and plenty of heart-pounding action and you have one of the year’s best thrillers.

Critics say:

“A complex, international thriller … that will hold the reader’s attention from the first page to the last … [It is] too good to put down and will leave you on the edge of your seat … With any luck, Cyr has already started working on a sequel.” (San Francisco Book Review).

“Highly Recommended … A highly satisfying novel you soon won’t forget … When you turn the last page you’ll be begging Cyr to focus an entire series around the truly memorable protagonist.” (BestThrillers.com).

“Thriller-aficionados will unite in praise for An Absence of Justice … A compelling, satisfying thrill ride [that] has it all; suspense, intrigue, surprises, and depth of plot.” (Portland Book Review).

Front JPG

Synopsis: As one of the world’s leading authorities on technology, Malcolm Fitzpatrick uses his expertise to identify a unique brand of criminal: the privileged killer. These über-successful men sacrifice innocent lives in their pursuit of wealth, power, and greatness. Alarmed by their growing presence in Europe and the courts’ unwillingness to hold them accountable, Malcolm decides to intervene personally.

In Paris, meanwhile, investigative journalist Camille Chevalier has written an incendiary story detailing despicable acts committed by three prominent Parisians. Before it goes to press, however, her editor leaks the story to one of the perpetrators, placing her life in imminent danger. To survive, Camille goes underground where she encounters an unlikely benefactor, Malcolm.

Together they devise a plan to ensure the men identified in her story never harm anyone again. The ensuing cat-and-mouse chase crisscrosses Europe through Monte Carlo, Cannes, Geneva, and, finally, Paris, where an explosive, nail-biting finale occurs.

It is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. It is also available in a variety of e-reader formats (see links below). I encourage you to pick up a copy today. And don’t forget to recommend it to a friend and post a review on your favorite book review website.

For a paperback, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1516853458

For the Nook version, click here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-absence-of-justice-roderick-cyr/1122628847?ean=2940152339154

For the Kindle version, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015EHPTS6

The Church’s Most Dangerous Doctrine.

If one of the Church’s primary purposes is to fulfill God’s plan by leading a fallen world into right relationship with Him, then any doctrine that undermines that objective poses a danger to not only the Church’s mission but also to the world that so desperately needs God’s love. And while any Church teaching that contravenes Scripture is both deceitful and heresy, the most dangerous are those that send adherents down a path that leads to eternal suffering and separation from God.

Applying that standard, the most dangerous doctrine taught by many churches is that of ‘Easy Believism’. It offers all the benefits of salvation without requiring any of the costs of discipleship, asserting that eternal salvation is available to anyone who recites a handful of words proclaiming Jesus as Lord and imploring God’s forgiveness. Especially popular in evangelical churches and referred to as ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ in other circles, this teaching insists that when individuals make a verbal profession of faith they immediately guarantee their place in heaven and nothing can ever compromise that eternal destination.

While that teaching enjoys broad appeal and a significant following among those who claim Christianity as their religion, it has no foundation in Scripture. On the contrary, it disregards the explicit truths Jesus frequently proclaimed about eternal life. Whereas Jesus taught that the path leading to eternal life is difficult (see Matthew 7:14), that only those who persevere enjoy salvation (Matthew 24:13), and that following Him has a considerable cost (Luke 9:57-62), ‘Easy Believism’ teaches the exact opposite. It insists that embracing Jesus as Lord need not disrupt our lives, does not demand we endure, and imposes no cost.

Before going any further, we ought to examine closely what Jesus taught about eternal life and His expectations for those who proclaim Him Lord. After all, as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, His word is final on the matter. What we learn from careful study is that Jesus often described faith in terms of discipleship (following Him) and was unequivocal as to what that involved.

To His disciples and a crowd of potential followers, Jesus said: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34b, NKJV). To follow Christ is to deny ourselves. We set aside our hopes, plans, interests, and goals, and replace them with Jesus’. That may sound extreme, as if Christ were calling us to give up our very lives for Him. And in fact He is. In the very next verse Jesus says as much. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, NKJV).

While losing our life for Jesus does not necessarily mean physically dying for Him (though sometimes it might), it does mean putting to death ‘self’ and all it represents: our greed, arrogance, selfishness, debauchery, materialism, and idolatry. That expectation causes many would-be followers to bristle. They want to proclaim Jesus their Lord but retain the rights to their lives, careers, pursuits, passions, and resources. In other words, they want to limit Jesus’ lordship to a verbal profession rather than make it a substantive, exhaustive, and ongoing commitment.

Jesus anticipated many of us trying to have it both ways – wanting to declare Him Lord without actually evidencing it in our decisions, our priorities, our time, our relationships, and our lives. That is why He advises potential followers to count the cost first (see Luke 14:25-32), because the cost of discipleship is high and ought not be entered into lightly or without knowledge of His expectations. He summarizes those expectations in very succinct and unambiguous terms: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Forsaking all sounds comprehensive because it is. Like all of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship it requires sacrifice, which Jesus modeled for us in His life and in His death. Sacrifice was why the widow’s tiny tithe was heralded as the most generous – because she gave all. Similarly, the merchant in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven gave all to secure the pearl of great price (see Matthew 13:45).

Genuine faith compels us to put God first and adopt His agenda as our own, not carve out and dedicate parts of our lives for His use and glory while retaining other parts for ourselves. Jesus addressed that duplicitous approach to faith and warned that those who embrace it have no faith at all. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). Nor can you serve ‘self’ and Christ. All who try reveal that their true loyalty lies with the flesh and with the world.

‘Easy Believism’ also damages the souls of men and women by suggesting that no ongoing faithfulness to Jesus is required for salvation – that He does not demand we endure to the end. That could not be further from the truth.

When Jesus sent the twelve out He warned them of the trials and challenges they would face, explaining that they would be hated and persecuted for His sake. As an encouragement He reminded them: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22b, NKJV). Years later, as he described the end times, he repeated these words to His disciples (see Matthew 24:13). In addition, He gave that message to each of the seven churches He counseled in Revelation – those who endure and overcome will eat from the tree of life and not be hurt by the second death.

The parable of the sower communicated a similar message (see Mark 4:13-20). Of those who hear the good news about Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice, few receive it and then bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Most wither in their faith and do not endure. They are unfruitful. That may seem an insignificant detail except that Jesus later tells us that everyone who abides in Him bears much fruit and those who do not bear fruit are not His and are cast out and burned in the fire (see John 15:1-6).

Despite the clarity of Jesus’ teachings about faith and His expectations for those who would call Him Lord (and there are many more Bible passages that reinforce the verses above), many refuse to accept His truths. They insist that the call of Christ imposes no demands on them, does not require they remain faithful, and that they can decide what areas to consecrate to Him and which ones they can keep for themselves.

Sadly, many pastors, deacons, and church leaders reject Jesus’ message for fear it will chase people from their congregations and result in people forsaking their faith. What they fail to understand, though, is that those who practice ‘Easy Believism’ have no genuine faith to forsake – they follow a faux-faith created out of whole cloth by spiritual wolves. Churches teaching that salvation and discipleship are unrelated are leading parishioners astray because Jesus never made such a distinction. For Him, discipleship and salvation were intrinsically linked.

Why, then, do millions of people fall for such deceit? Why do so many discard the clear word of God and embrace a false gospel instead? Because ‘Easy Believism’ tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. It appeals to our flesh, which refuses to be inconvenienced or removed from its throne in our hearts. We want it to be true and refuse to study Scripture to learn if it actually is.

Do you desire to make Jesus your Lord and receive His forgiveness? If so, search the Scriptures to understand what He expects of you as His disciple. Start with the verses above and then read through each of the four gospel accounts found in the New Testament. You may find that what Jesus taught about faith, discipleship, and eternal life is different than what your pastor, priest, or shepherd teaches. And eternity is too long, heaven too exciting, and Jesus’ presence too awe-inspiring for you to leave your faith in the hands of someone who may be more motivated by church attendance and donations than your eternal soul.

Make it a priority this week to get right with God, commit your life fully to Him, and begin building that intimate relationship with Jesus that costs everything but yields an eternity of joy, peace, and love with the Maker of heaven and earth.

Brady, Clinton, and the Art of Deception.

New chapters were written this week in two ongoing sagas in the worlds of politics and sports. First, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in Deflate-Gate. Later, news broke that a two-month gap exists in released e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s private server, which she used to conduct official business during her time as Secretary of State; the gap corresponds with a time of intensifying violence in Libya.

Both narratives involve alleged wrongdoers destroying potential evidence and then demanding we believe their assertions that nothing incriminating existed on the devices they eradicated. Brady allegedly destroyed his cell phone and SIM card just before he was scheduled to meet with NFL investigators about his role in Deflate-Gate and insists he took the action because he had recently purchased a new phone. The timing was mere coincidence, he argues.

Similarly, Clinton’s campaign, while admitting that thousands of e-mails from her e-mail account were destroyed, insist that only those her team deemed personal were discarded and withheld from investigators. She also allegedly wiped clean the server she employed for her e-mail, making it impossible for anyone to recover documents previously stored on it.

Brady and Clinton appear to be following the same script, one increasingly popular for dealing with legal troubles, public scandals, and public relations nightmares: destroy anything that might corroborate alleged wrongdoing and then insist nothing of evidentiary value was on the device or document. That tact allows the accused to pursue a path of plausible deniability in which they inform investigators and the public alike that no evidence exists of their wrongdoing. If that all seems rather convenient for the defendant, well, it is – and by design.

While such a strategy may prevent an actionable legal remedy in court, it ought not preclude judgment in the court of public opinion. We need not suspend common sense or avoid exercising sound judgment in arriving at an informed decision as to what happened. We can decide whether a series of improbable coincidences is just that or points to something more devious. And we ought to keep in mind that those destroying potential evidence realize the optics will look bad for them and proceed anyway. That certainly suggests something to hide.

Defenders, of course, perform all manner of linguistic gyrations to preserve the integrity and innocence of their candidate, their teammate, or their hero. They refuse to employ objectivity in arriving at what happened. Like thousand-dollar-an-hour attorneys, they decry the absence of evidence and like rabid dogs bark the mantra of presumed innocence. And certainly we never want to lose sight of that precious presumption.

But we ought also keep in mind the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for ‘the facts speak for themselves.’ Though primarily used in tort law, the doctrine infers culpability despite the lack of direct evidence. In the Brady and Clinton escapades, it means we ought not ignore the fact that destroying cell phones and servers say a great deal about potential evidence on the devices.

Sadly, this trend is not limited to Clinton or Brady, or to politicians and athletes. It is an epidemic plaguing the nation. It is born of a worldview that declares as long as no one can prove you misbehaved it never really happened. It dovetails nicely with the outlook that the ends always justify the means. Paired together, these philosophies teach us to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals and reach the pinnacle of success. And if in the process ethical lines are crossed, legal standards are breached, and the distinction between right and wrong is blurred, well so be it.

As a result, we have more and more athletes who do whatever necessary to win world championships, politicians who rewrite history to keep alive presidential aspirations, and businessmen who do anything to make a buck. If as a society we do not do a better job censuring deceit and the destruction of evidence, then eventually it will become a societal norm. And if we continue to look the other way and ignore transgressions because the accused plays for our team, represents our political persuasion, or earns us an enviable profit, then we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when honesty disappears from the country, like incriminating evidence on a politician’s or athlete’s electronic device.

One Thing Will Change Your Life.

Humanity constantly seeks that One Thing that will change life forever. One investment strategy that produces an unprecedented rate of return and makes us rich. One scientific discovery that yields a medical breakthrough and eradicates a disease that ails us. One activity that generates a rush of adrenaline and the ultimate thrill, eliminating the boredom that plagues us. One person who meets our needs for acceptance and unconditional love. One pursuit that satisfies the soul and gives our lives meaning.

Sadly, many of us never find the one thing we believe will transform our lives and make everything better. And those of us who do often learn a painful lesson: the one thing we’ve spent so much of life chasing disappoints and fails to satisfy our cravings, our hopes, and our yearnings.

Interestingly, the Bible uses the phrase one thing on a variety of occasions and it is instructive to discover what it says about the term. The one thing that gives us purpose and satiates our souls. The one thing that changes our encounters with others. The one thing that draws us into a meaningful relationship with God. The one thing that might block our path to eternal life. Let’s examine a few and see what insights the Bible yields.

1] In Psalm 27, David declares, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4, NKJV). More than anything, David wanted to be in the presence of God and dialogue with Him. And as he pursued that desire David experienced such incredible joy he felt compelled to “sing praises to the Lord” (vs. 6b). In God, he found the source of true happiness – one that exists in all situations and which is not predicated on favorable conditions.

Moreover, he found strength to confront circumstances that had the potential to overwhelm him: “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 27:6b, 13, NKJV). As David reflected on God and His glory, he acquired perspective and perseverance. Armed with those attributes, David defeated the enemy’s effort to discourage and distress him.

2] In Luke’s account of the gospel he describes two sisters who encounter Jesus as He enters a village. One of them, Martha, welcomes Jesus into her home, busies herself with acts of hospitality, and serves Him. The other, Mary, does nothing but sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. Frustrated, Martha brings this disparity in behavior to Jesus’ attention and asks Him to tell Mary to pull her weight and help. But Jesus does not respond as Martha hopes. He informs her she is troubled and distracted about many things. He then proclaims, “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42, NKJV).

What an accurate metaphor for most of our lives. We busy ourselves doing good things, pursuing noble endeavors, performing honorable deeds. All this activity, we convince ourselves, reflects those things God wants more than anything. Like Martha, however, we misunderstand. God’s passion is for us, not our busyness. He yearns for us to sit at His feet and listen; develop a relationship with Him; experience intimacy with Him; and worship Him. Mary understood this truth. Do you understand it? Do you, like Mary, carve out time from your frenetic schedule of good activities to pursue the one thing that truly matters: listening to and spending time with Jesus? If not, consider making a commitment to prioritize that above all else.

3] In his gospel account, Mark tells the story of a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. It is a question that has interested mankind since the beginning of time and is as salient as ever in today’s modern world. Jesus points the man to the Old Testament commandments and highlights a few in particular. In response, the man insists he has obeyed them all since his youth. In other words, he is righteous before the law.

Jesus recognizes the statement for what it is: a falsehood masking the true condition of the man’s faith. It is dead; yet he has no idea. The man is on the fast track to judgment but believes his place in heaven is secure. Because Jesus loves him, He makes one more attempt to reveal the truth. He says to the man, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (Mark 10:21, NKJV).

The man had an idolatrous relationship with the world. His love for the things of the world precluded him from having a genuine relationship with God. More than that, it prevented him from understanding how far removed from God he really was.

Like the rich young ruler, many of us allow something in life to distract us from God and compromise our relationship with Him. The world is filled with attractions, pleasures, and seductions that seek to draw us away from the Lord. Once it does, it can be difficult to recognize that a wedge exists between God and us, and that our faith is floundering as a result. What one thing in your life pulls you away from the Lord? If you’re unsure, ask God to reveal it. Then request He remove its influence and presence.

4] One of my favorite encounters in the New Testament occurs after Jesus heals a blind man. The Pharisees are enraged because the healing took place on the Sabbath and they are more interested in imposing Mosaic law on the people than seeing the captives set free. More than that, they want to destroy Jesus’ ministry because they perceive Him as a threat.

The scuttlebutt among the people is that Jesus might be the Christ. After all, who else has the power to heal a man blind from birth except the Son of God? The Pharisees want to eradicate this belief so they put out the word that anyone who confesses Jesus as the Christ (the Savior) will be excommunicated and kicked out of the synagogue.

They then contact the former blind man and insist he give an account of what happened. To influence his testimony they tell him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner” (John 9:24, NKJV). In other words, make sure you emphasize the fact that He sinned by healing you on the Sabbath. The man ignores their entreaty and replies, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know; that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25, NKJV). He refuses to debate the issue they want to discuss. Instead, he focuses on His encounter with Jesus and how that changed his life forever.

Similar scenarios play out around us today. Those hostile to Jesus demand we embrace their inaccurate view of Him: He was a good man but is not the Savior; He is not the only way to eternal life; He doesn’t care about people because the world is a bad place; He is judgmental and an egotist. And like the Pharisees from two thousand years ago they issue threats to anyone who disagrees with them: We will reject you from mainstream society; we will kick you out of the scientific and intellectual communities; we will sully your reputation; we will mock you as a hater, a fool, and a Neanderthal.

In such circumstances we would do well to mirror the example of the healed blind man. Avoid debating the merits of an irrelevant issue. Instead, focus on what Jesus has done in your life, what He means to you, and the miracles you experienced when you surrendered your life and called Him Lord. No one can argue with you on those points and often those are the most persuasive in drawing people to Jesus.

4 Common (& Dangerous) Justifications to Sin

Many of us believe the biggest threat to genuine faith comes from charlatans who deceive with lies and half-truths, tickling our ears with what we want to hear. And certainly we must remain vigilant against those who preach a false gospel and seek to devour the gullible and vulnerable. But an equally dangerous source of deceit lies in our own hearts. In fact, the Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV).

According to this verse the heart has two defining attributes: it is deceitful and it is desperately wicked. Both traits represent sin that pushes us away from God and His love. And the two work quite well together. Deceit leads us to embrace doctrines and creeds that rationalize sin and justify whatever pursuit our heart desires. It subtly twists the truth of Scripture to convince us we are obeying God when in fact we are not. So powerful is the heart’s deceit that even in the midst of sinful behavior we insist we are in God’s presence.

Sadly, that treachery always takes us down a dangerous path that ends in ruin. It leads us to a place we hope is an ocean of happiness and satisfaction but actually is a cesspool of pain and sorrow. The heart’s duplicity always separates us from God and prevents us from experiencing His remarkable, exciting plans for us.

Why does the heart deceive us? Why does it make such herculean efforts to lead us astray? Because of its nature. Contrary to popular public opinion, mankind is not intrinsically good with just a few moral wrinkles to iron out. Remember, our hearts are desperately wicked. The heart insists on ruling our lives and refuses to yield to God. However, it happily allows us to act religiously and play church as long as we do not surrender our entire lives to God. As long as we allow the heart to remain in control of key decisions and to pursue cherished sins, it has no problem with us pretending Jesus is Lord and calling ourselves Christian.

So what are the most common arguments the heart uses to deceive us into justifying sin and allowing it to flourish? Here are four to consider.

1] God is leading me to sin. I call this the Christianization of sinful choices and sinful conduct. Basically, we live in whatever manner we want and convince ourselves it is the path God wants for us. We don’t seek His guidance, the counsel of godly friends, or the Bible for direction. What motivates us is simply our own desires. We determine what is best for us and make our decisions accordingly. We practice behaviors that produce pleasure and satisfy lusts. All the while we insist God is leading us to sin.

Perhaps an example will crystalize the point. Many years ago a friend informed me he had decided to divorce his wife. He explained that he had met another woman and they had fallen in love. He believed with certainty that God wanted him to marry the other woman. Therefore, to remain faithful to God and obey Him my friend had to divorce his wife. He had deceived himself so badly he actually believed God was leading him to sin.

Deep down my friend knew divorce was wrong. He also knew it was wrong to get involved with another woman. However, as an active and respected member of the church he faced a conundrum. How could he pursue his lust without losing his reputation in the church? He arrived at a solution many of us use in our lives. He declared it was God’s will. God was leading him to divorce one woman and marry another. Don’t blame him, my friend insisted, he was only doing God’s will.

Of course, God never calls people to sin. He abhors sin. Whenever we use ‘God’s will’ as a means to justify sin, we play a dangerous game. Not only does the sin separate us from God, but the justification blasphemes the Holy Spirit by suggesting He told us to sin.

2] Nobody is perfect. It is true. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In fact, the Bible tells us that even our most righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God. But that reality doesn’t mean we ought to accept sin in our lives. We should not justify disobedience to God by declaring we are wired to sin. ‘That’s just the way God made me’ is not an appropriate response for explaining our inclination to sin. God calls us to lives of holiness that honor Him.

A recent encounter highlights the danger of adopting a ‘nobody is perfect’ philosophy to dismiss the pursuit of godliness in our lives. While sharing the gospel in a rough part of town recently I met an intoxicated pimp. I explained to him I was out praying for people and sharing the good news of God’s love. On hearing this he replied he was a Christian as well.

Surprised by the remark I asked him what that meant. He informed me that he loved God and regularly evangelized the call girls working for him. As for his immoral business and propensity for alcohol, well he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) change those things. Holiness was a bridge too far. Since perfection was unattainable he was free to pursue sin whenever he wanted.

Most would agree such a blatant abuse of God’s grace is categorically wrong. Yet I wonder how many of us practice a similar approach to faith but in a less dramatic manner? Do we make allowances for sin in our lives because “nobody is perfect?” Do we overlook selfishness, greed, and anger in our hearts with the same indifference as the inebriated pimp?

3] That’s legalism. A favorite retort for rationalizing sins of omission, the legalism argument is compelling because it prevails in so many churches. And it is dangerous. Legalism produces religious zombies who go through the motions of faith without having a real, dynamic relationship with Christ.

That said, we frequently ascribe to legalism behaviors we admire and embrace in a secular context such as discipline, diligence, and determination. Too often we defend spiritual laziness, inconsistency, and indifference with a nod to legalism. Instead of exercising ourselves in the faith and pursuing spiritual maturity with persistence we accept spiritual sloth as an acceptable alternative to avoid the pitfalls accompanying legalism.

Countless Christians rarely read the Bible, invest little time in prayer, and have never discipled anyone. Many resist allocating time to worship God daily, ignore opportunities to be generous, and seldom memorize Scripture. Few dismiss the value of these actions. In fact, most agree these undertakings draw us closer to God and strengthen our faith. But we fail to do them because misplaced priorities, worldly distractions, and unsound doctrine have left our faith in a state of ennui.

To reconcile this disparity between God’s expectations and our reality, we trumpet the danger of legalism. Pursuing spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and Scripture memory is wrong, we declare, unless we do so with unbridled enthusiasm. And since we lack the requisite enthusiasm we must avoid the actions altogether. In doing so we parade ourselves as paragons of spiritual virtue when in fact we are spiritually stagnant. We ought to pursue these manifestations of faith with the same rigor and resolve we do our careers and our passions, even if at times it is a forced effort.

4] God wants me happy. This is a frequently employed rationale when we want to act selfishly. Do I choose the career with lots of worldly perks or a vocation that honors God? Do I spend a princely sum upgrading my perfectly functional kitchen or donate the funds to a ministry that cares for Christian refuges? Do I use my vacation time to relax on a beach or spend a portion of it serving victims of a recent natural disaster? Do I invest my annual bonus on a new toy for my enjoyment or helping destitute believers in third-world villages struggling to survive?

Instead of adopting the sacrificial model Jesus taught and lived, we often choose the option that gratifies. To avoid any guilt or angst over the decision we contend that God wants His people happy, satisfied, and comfortable. We ignore any biblical evidence to the contrary and in doing so reveal the truth of Jeremiah’s observation that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”

I encourage you to examine your life and see if any of these deceitful justifications of sin influence your decisions, your behavior, or your worldview. If so, ask God to remove them from your heart and prevent them from deceiving you any longer. Instead ask Him to allow His Word to rule your choices and conduct. If you do, your life will never be the same.

Commentary: Faith, Politics, Culture, and Bible Prophecy.