Friday, October 31, 2014

Are You Sure?

How sure are you of your salvation? I worry that in this age of shallow spirituality, people are failing to understand the assurance of their salvation and believe that they can become "unsaved" in an instant. But our salvation has never been dependent on us except for the decision to believe. I know I have been harping on this all week but if we do not understand the nature of our salvation the enemy will always be able to rob us of our peace.

Abraham is the definition of salvation by grace. This is how his righteousness (for the sake of a simple definition, a right relationship with Yahweh) is described:

He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:21-22)

"Fully convinced" is the phrase we should use in examining our own faith. Are we fully convinced when Jesus said:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3:16)

No other requirements than to believe. It is when we believe that a transformation takes place and we become a new creation. These are two different issues but salvation is a simple matter of belief. It is not dependent on our behaviour or actions or thought process. Believe. Such belief should produce faith which is to act on your belief, as Abraham did.

Paul the apostle told us that there is a direct relationship here between Abraham and us:

But the scripture that says it was credited to him wasn’t written only for Abraham’s sake. It was written also for our sake, because it is going to be credited to us too. It will be credited to those of us who have faith in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:23-24)

And that is the assurance of our salvation. It is not dependent on behaviour, we can't earn it, we didn't buy it, it was a gift purchased for us by Jesus. So you aren't saved today and tomorrow you are not. This assurance is important as we grow and mature spiritually. We no longer focus on our salvation but growing strong in Jesus, of allowing the transformation to take place, to obey the conviction of the Spirit, to see Jesus become more and us become less.

Jesus said our sins are forgiven by his sacrifice. He said we only need to believe him in order to be saved. This is the assurance of our salvation. There is no other path, no other source, no other condition. We were the enemy of Yahweh and he sacrificed himself, laying down his life, so that we may be reconciled to him. You are not perfect but he is. You cannot measure up to him but by his grace he has declared that you do. C'est tout! It is finished.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The God Of The Impossible

So you say you have faith. Good. But does that faith give Yahweh permission to do the impossible in your life? Not the impossible focused on you but the impossible focused on Father's will and the mission you have been given. Do you have faith that Father will work his will through you even if it requires the impossible? Faith is living what you say you believe. Do you believe Yahweh is the God of the impossible?

The evidence presented in the Scriptures and through many people's testimonies declares that Yahweh is indeed the God of the impossible. Abraham is a clear example of this fact, and this man is considered the father of our faith; a faith that puts our beliefs into action:

So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence. (Romans 4:17)

The impossible. And because Abraham lived such faith, he had hope when it looked impossible:

When it was beyond hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him. (v. 18)

The impossible. Are you so convinced of Yahweh that you cast aside all doubt and live by his promises?

Without losing faith, Abraham, who was nearly 100 years old, took into account his own body, which was as good as dead, and Sarah’s womb, which was dead. He didn’t hesitate with a lack of faith in God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God. He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. (v. 19-21)

In the flesh it looked impossible for Yahweh to fulfill his promise but Abraham had come to know him as "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don't exist into existence." So Abraham was "fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised". It wasn't just that he believed Yahweh but he believed in the face of physical evidence that declared it impossible. Not only did he believe in the face of his reality but he acted on this belief so that it became faith. And this pleased Yahweh:

Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness. (v. 22)

It is with this same faith that we receive the promise of salvation and act on that promise. It is by faith that we are saved, not by works. It is believing Jesus and what he has done for us and living that promise as our reality today. As Isaac was the deposit guaranteeing what was to come, so is the Holy Spirit to us. This is also the faith that is applied to every promise given to us by Jesus, even in the face of a reality that declares it impossible. Does this describe your faith? For you, is he the God who calls things that don't exist into existence? Do you live this reality of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Don't Pay For A Gift Given To You

Your grandparents come by for a visit. During their visit they present you with a beautiful gift. You are moved by their love for you and put great value on this wonderful thing they have done for you. Imagine now that you turn around and offer them money for their gift. How do you think that would make them feel? Would it not cheapen their gift of love? Could you even imagine doing this? It is what we do with Father almost every day.

Salvation is a gift. It is a gift of grace offered to us, the enemy of Yahweh. Even though we were in rebellion against his authority, he reached out in a great act of love and offered us an escape from the power of sin and forgiveness for all of our offenses including any future ones. As his enemy, we have deserved none of it, yet in grace he offered it.

This is fantastic but then we cheapen it in our attitude in accepting it. We don't seem to believe it as we continue to cry out for forgiveness, as we try to atone for our sins, as we try to bribe Father with our goodness. We confuse the fruit of righteousness with the price of salvation. There is no price for salvation because Jesus paid it for us.

Paul the apostle, the great teacher of this grace, used Abraham as an example. In fact, Paul refers to Abraham as the father of our faith because he is the first to have lived such faith:

So what are we going to say? Are we going to find that Abraham is our ancestor on the basis of genealogy? Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God. What does the scripture say?Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:1-3)

It was credited to him. The simple fact is that Jesus saved you because there is nothing you could do to save yourself. Nothing. All of your sin has been covered, even the future stuff. That is hard for us to grasp but it is the reality of our salvation. It does not mean that we cannot lose our salvation. If we were ever stupid enough to deny Jesus, to turn our back and to enter into rebellion again, we would be lost. But sin alone does not affect our salvation when we are of such a heart to confess it because we don't want it to abide in us. We don't need to seek forgiveness because it has been forgiven but we do need to confess it to be free from it.

As to the clarity of understanding that this is a free gift that cannot be earned or purchased by good living and sacrifice, Paul uses this illustration:

Workers’ salaries aren’t credited to them on the basis of an employer’s grace but rather on the basis of what they deserve. But faith is credited as righteousness to those who don’t work, because they have faith in God who makes the ungodly righteous. (v. 4-5)

If we could finally grasp this we might actually discover the quality and depth of the peace that Jesus has given to us. Only don't rest at the foot of the cross but instead press on to grow in maturity and power. We are called as warriors, to lay down our lives for the enemy of Yahweh because he wants to see everyone saved. Knowing our salvation is sure, go out today to do good for the sake of others.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's Time To Start Enjoying The Ride

One of the hardest things for a Christian to accept and live is that salvation is free. Sure, we know it because we can read it for ourselves. We know that sin had mastery over us, enslaved us, and without being aware of it, we were powerless against it. In that state we thought we were in control of our lives and our behaviour. We understand that we had to be rescued, made free from the authority of sin in order to grasp the love of our Father. We understand that this was done by Jesus on the cross. We understand but do we live it?

Can you accept that by his actions on the cross Jesus saved you; that there is nothing you have to do to contribute to this rescue aside from believing and accepting it? True, we don't deserve it and find it mind-boggling that Father would even desire to do this for us but it doesn't change the truth.

What happens to our bragging? It’s thrown out. With which law? With what we have accomplished under the Law? No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. (Romans 3:27-28)

Living a good life does not add anything to the free gift of salvation. Reading your Bible, praying and attending church has to do with growing in your relationship with Jesus which is a separate issue from your salvation. All of your sins, past, present and future have been covered by the blood spilled on the cross all those years ago. You did nothing to contribute to it; it was all Jesus.

There is a difference between spiritual growth and salvation. We do not grow into our salvation but we do work out our salvation daily. We do grow into a more intimate relationship with Jesus. You have been forgiven because of Jesus' actions. All your sins (past, present and future) have been washed away, removed, forgotten. If you sin today, for the sake of a right heart with Father, you need to confess it, repent of it, but understand it has already been forgiven. Remember the Prodigal Son.

Stop beating yourself up over your sin; you are growing out of it. Simply allow your desire to change from your flesh pleasures to our heavenly delights. Stop looking at the things of this world and fix your mind and heart on things above. Pursue greater intimacy with Jesus and stop trying to earn your way. The ticket has been bought and delivered. Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

United By The Blood

The beauty of the Church is that it is not homogeneous. It can't be. You and I are now family, no matter where we live, what we have done, what we look like. In the same worship center we will find police officers and ex-criminals, politicians and voters, the wealthy and the poor, the elderly and students. In many churches you will find people who speak all kinds of different languages, different skin colours, different origins. But regardless of our differences we have one thing in common: The grace offered through Jesus.

When we live in the Spirit the Church is a thing of great beauty; when we live by the flesh our differences make it an ugly place. It is vital that we understand that the Church cannot exist according to the flesh. It is not a club, a thing of business, something of this world. The Church is not a thing to be managed by a board of elders. It is a living thing that has life through the Spirit. Without the Spirit there is no life and it is an institution like any other institution of man.

As members of this living Body we are united by the Spirit under the headship of Jesus and this one thing must be remembered:

All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

That is something else we have in common: We have all been found wanting by Yahweh. We have all fallen short of his standards. None of us can get there because we have all been in rebellion to him; we have all sinned. It doesn't matter about any of our differences, no one is better than anyone else because all sin is in rebellion to Yahweh. However, Jesus changed all that.

Jesus gave us something better to have in common with each other. Jesus paid the price so grace could be applied to all of us and in this grace all of us are treated as righteous, regardless of our past, regardless of our sin. In the Church there is no one better than another, no one great, no one small, no one more privileged than another. There is no male or female. There is no rich and poor. There is no colour. There is only us and our relationship with Jesus. This is the Church, the Body of Christ.

To anyone without Jesus, the Church is a bizarre place, filled with a collage of people. It is not homogeneous in the flesh but it is in what cannot been seen by the eye. In Jesus we are all the same, we are all children of Father and we are all covered by the blood of the Lamb. What was impossible for man was possible for Yahweh. We are family.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Do You Have To Do To Be Saved?

How is a person saved from the eternal damnation we are all heading toward? Is it by paying money to the church? Is it by living a good life, treating everyone kindly, doing good deeds? Is it by praying, reading your Bible, going to church? Is it by doing anything?

Salvation involves doing but not as we may first think. To start with, all the doing was done by Jesus. Everything that needed to be done was done by Jesus. There was nothing we could do so Jesus came and did it. There is a little bit of doing on our part but that doing is simply to believe. To believe Jesus is who he says he is and to believe that he did what he said he did.

He was not a good man. He was not a prophet. He was not an early version of Gandhi. He was not a wise man teaching about love. He was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the one who could pay the price we could not pay, to do what we could not do. But it is a useless sacrifice if we do not believe.

Jesus' words:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Not that "everyone won't perish" but "everyone who believes in him won't perish". He has done it all but we have to believe. Is this promise applied only to the Jews or a select group? The word "everyone" deals with that. Paul the apostle also made this matter clear:

God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. (Romans 3:22)

The word "faith" is used here as a step beyond belief. Faith is belief in action. When we live by faith we live our lives in the belief that Jesus is the sacrifice that paid for all our sins and now we are saved from the eternal consequences of our sins. Salvation is not earned, cannot be bought, is found nowhere else other than through the sacrificial Lamb, who is Jesus. It is the reason this Lamb told us:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Now everyone is left with the choice to believe or not. And that is all you need to do to be saved; believe. What happens to you after you choose to believe is another story.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Killing Our Wounded

Where did we go wrong in the Church? When did we actually start expecting and demanding perfection from people? When did we start believing that perfection was possible? Why are we ever surprised or shocked when a brother or sister stumbles? And why this act of self-righteousness; as if any of us could ever cast the first stone?

We are on a journey and that journey is a progression. It is not a slow steady curve on some kind of graph. It is a series of ups and downs and ups as we slowly grow and mature. A child does not learn to walk without falling. Even mature runners will occasionally fall. Considering that we are all just one decision away from sinning, none of us can afford to think that we are perfect. Being aware of our imperfections means we are willing to seek help when we need it.

Here is the fact: We all sin:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. (Romans 3:9)

These are Paul the apostle's words as he describes Yahweh's judgement and the place for the Law. We do not need to sin as we have been freed from that authority over us and have been placed under Christ's authority. We have been given the power to overcome all temptation, but often our flesh is weak. There are all kinds of weak points, when we are tired, discouraged, confused, afraid. If we are strong in Christ then these moments are easy to overcome, which is why we should always be strong in Christ. But when we neglect the relationship these moments seem like mountains. At these times our flesh wants to take us in one direction and our spirit in another. We pray that maturity gives us the ability to choose the spirit over the flesh but sometimes we fail.

We need to recognize this in order to understand the importance of receiving and giving grace. Just as all of our sins have been covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, we need to cover the sins of our brothers and sisters. Before restoration can happen we must respond with grace and forgiveness. In order to create an atmosphere of repentance, where people are not afraid to confess their sins, we need to have a place of love, acceptance, forgiveness and a desire to see everyone healed and restored.

How can we reach out to a dying world in love when we don't know how to love our own? We tell the world to come to Jesus, to trust him for healing but instead of seeking healing for our fallen, we seek their destruction. Crazy.

Admitting sin is the first step to healing. Admitting that we, the Church, are not perfect is the first step to creating an atmosphere of grace. We must hear Jesus when he said that he did not come to condemn but to save. We need to re-vision why he left us here and what he told us to do. Perhaps we could start with his instruction to love each other as he has loved us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jesus Is All I Need

Things are changing quickly in our society. The social norms I grew up with are fading under the pressure for individual rights to choose what each person considers to be right and wrong. In this age of social media, it seems one week of pressure can bring about a wave of changed opinion. Obviously people do not have deep convictions and will change with the changing wind. So I wonder, if everyone changed their mind about Yahweh and stopped believing, would he cease to exist?

Perhaps a dumb question but it is the attitude of those who are trying to do away with faith in Yahweh from our society They want us to be our own gods, to make up our own morality, to redefine everything, throwing away the commands of our Creator. What is happening isn't new but it may be new to the age in which we live. So if they were to succeed, would Yahweh cease to be?

For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. (Romans 3:3-4)

Those who would destroy all faith on earth fail to understand our response to Yahweh's faithfulness. Even if they are successful in convincing those who are sitting on the fence right now, there are those of us who will never turn our back on the One who is always faithful to who he is. If he did not exist, was not faithful, was not every day present, was not involved with us every day, was not compassionate, merciful, overflowing with love, perhaps then they would have a chance to do what they want to do. But to us who deeply believe, Yahweh is all this and more.

It sure seems that the world is falling apart and the Church is being destroyed but the world is going as Jesus said it would choose to go, and the weak believers are doing exactly what Jesus said they would do. There are no surprises for Yahweh. He's seen it all and he has laid down his plans and we are in those plans. We are a people of great hope and joy because of Jesus Christ. This hope and joy are real because Yahweh is faithful.

Faith will exist at Jesus' return because Yahweh is faithful. There will be dark days and we may question a lot but none of it will change Yahweh's faithfulness. None of it will keep him from being him. We do not cling to the Church, we cling to Christ. We do not find hope in the world, we find hope in Jesus. We serve Christ through the Church and we serve Christ in the world, but it will always be Christ's faithfulness that will keep us going through it all. Stand firm.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do You Have The Circumcision Of The Heart?

Are you a Christian because you go to church? Are you a Christian because you read your Bible? Are you a Christian because you do good to others? Most of us would quickly say no because we know that these activities do not provide salvation. We say it, we know it, but still many of us fall back on the false security of such activities. And then there are the many who call themselves Christian because they were born to that tradition but have no real knowledge of Jesus and do not possess salvation.

We are a people who find security in the physical more than the spiritual. We find security in doing something, touching something, seeing something which is the reason we are attracted to the simplicity of religious ceremonies and activities. But that is not the first step with Yahweh. It is like putting the cart before the horse. What matters to Father is the condition of your heart, the relationship, the acceptance of his free gift through Jesus.

The trouble Paul the apostle had with the Jews is the same problem we have with religious Christians. The Jews trusted the Law above their obedience to it. Paying lip service to the Law was more important to them than obedience to Yahweh. Sound familiar?

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

Christianity is not a tradition. Our heavenly Father does not have grandchildren. In order to be a follower of Jesus Christ we must have a real and growing relationship with him. To be a child of Yahweh each individual person must understand and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, turning our back on our rebellion and embracing the forgiveness of our Father. We cannot be physically born into the family but must be spiritually reborn through Jesus Christ.

Going to church will not save you. Reading your Bible will not save you. Doing good will not save you. Being born into a Christian family will not save you. Only encountering Jesus, repenting of your rebellion and accepting his forgiveness, confessing him as Lord and Saviour, will allow Jesus to save you. If you don't understand the difference, please find a mature Christian to speak with. This is life and death.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Do They Say There Is No God Because Of You?

Being religious in our thinking is no help to anyone. For a Christian, to be religious in our mind is when the head becomes more important than the heart; when our intellect is more important than our compassion; when rules become more important than mercy. It is easy to become religious but not so easy to be like Jesus. We can fault the Muslims and the Jews for being trapped in a law that they cannot fulfill but the Church is falling into that same trap.

Paul the apostle pointed out that there was no one like a good Jew and pointed out their attitude:

Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. (Romans 2:17-20)

When we fail to remember what Jesus has saved us from we can fall into this place of self-imposed instructor. We think it is our role to demonstrate righteousness to a world struggling under its own filth. But Paul asks another question of these "teachers":

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? (v. 21-23)

You who preach against the sins of this world, do you also sin? Can any of us afford to cast that first stone? Do you not remember your past? Do you not remember what you were? And who made the difference? Did you save yourself, or was it Jesus who saved you even though you were his enemy? Now here is the punch:

For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. (v. 24)

Is our judgmental attitude and our failure to walk what we talk causing people to blaspheme, to say there is no God, to consider that the Church is a joke? Would attitudes be different if we truly had the desire to be like Jesus, to be compassionate, merciful, forgiving, where relationship becomes more important than rules. We need to ask ourselves if we are here to be law enforcement or representatives of the greatest Advocate we could ever know. Are we trying to hold the failing world to a greater standard than what we are able to live?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Practical Guide To Living The Word

My wife has finally decided to get her driver's license. Just because we don't have a car doesn't mean a license is not important. In our province in Canada the government requires all drivers to take a year long course which includes theory and practical. My wife must attend classes where they discuss driving techniques along with highway laws, then she gets two hours with a driving instructor where she must put what she learned into practice. It is not unlike the Church.

Imagine how useless it would be if my wife attended class but never had the opportunity to put the theory into practice. Her theory classes would be a waste of time and money. Yet this is exactly what we find in the Church. We have tons of sermons, great teaching and incredible training opportunities in small groups and other avenues but it is all useless unless we put what we are taught into practice.

This is a tricky subject for Christians because we know it is not our actions that save us but the single act of Jesus on the cross that has made salvation available to us. It is not what we do but what he did. Yet there is more to it than just salvation. Consider our Father's heart:

For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified. (Romans 2:13)

We also know that the Spirit spoke the Father's heart through James when he wrote that we are not to be mere listeners of the Word but doers. It is great to hear that we are suppose to love each other but when we fail to do it the knowledge is useless to us. When we know we are suppose to be compassionate and merciful to sinners and yet condemn them instead, the knowledge is lost on us.

Jesus has saved us but we must work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit for the transformation process. We are a new creation but we are growing out of what we were into our new heart. We do not have the ability to love as Jesus loved, even though he commanded us to do so. However, when we desire to love in this way we open the door to the Holy Spirit to change us so we can love in this way. The only manner in which the transformation will take hold is as we desire it, letting go of what no longer belongs to our nature and taking hold of the character of Jesus. It is a wonderful work of the Holy Spirit.

As we sit through the sermons, Bible studies, and discipline classes, we need to hear what inspires but we have to say to the Spirit, "That's my desire". He will bring the conviction about the things we need to let go of and he will provoke us to the greater things; the things of love, mercy and grace. The Word is intended for us to live, not simply study, so go live it and see the world change around you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Stop Watching The Video and Start Living The Life

I'm no different than you. I can get just as distracted by life. The long To Do list, the bills, the children, work, tasks; so many tasks. Just living creates a huge To Do list and it is an easy thing to allow that To Do list to move us from one thing to the next in our day, from one day to the next. We can get to the end of our week and ask ourselves "Is this really what my life is about?" Is it?

As a Christian I am compelled to respond with an emphatic "NO!" Jesus warned us against chasing after the priorities of this world and to set the Kingdom priorities before us all the time. These priorities help shape our world view and the purpose for living. Perhaps it is time that we remember a few facts and I would like to use a few verses from Romans 2 to do that.

Now before I am misquoted here, let me say, it is well understood that good works will not save us; only Jesus saves. However, good works is the fruit of that salvation and ongoing relationship with Jesus. The Word of God is clear that the "tree" is known by its "fruit". So understanding this we listen to Paul's warning about the facts of life:

(Yahweh) “will render to each one according to his deeds”. (Romans 2:6)

This is a fact about life that the vast majority of this world population does not understand. The "deed" is only a fruit or manifestation of the heart condition. What we do, what we say, matters. It is important that Christians maintain a tender heart to Jesus so the Spirit can produce in us the things that prompt us to good works:

Eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality (v. 7)

Doing good is the fruit that is produced in the life of someone possessed by Jesus Christ, who live for his glory. Doing good is not the catalyst of salvation but the fruit that shows the rightness of the heart. The opposite is also true:

But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek. (v. 8-9)

These actions are only a window to a heart that is chained by its sin nature. It cannot help but do these things because it is without the transformation of Jesus Christ. This knowledge should shape our day. We should understand the purpose is not the task but the people included in that task. Our life is not what we accomplish but the people we impact.

The Christian life is not how much time we spend in the Bible, prayer, meditation, worship but instead how these activities change us to live our purpose. If these activities are producing nothing in us then we need to examine the condition of our heart and relationship with Jesus. What matters at the end of the day is how our faith is impacting the lives of the people Jesus gave us to love. We need to take our example from him and not just speak the words but put them into action.

Is the purpose of your life to serve yourself or to humbly love others through service to them? We need to spend some more time meditating on and then responding to the teaching and direction of Jesus. Stop watching the video and start living the life.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Condemnation Or Forgiveness?

Recently I sat across the table from a young man who was in a tough spot because of his decisions. His sin was about to become obvious to others and most likely would bring with it a long list of people who would judge and condemn him. But I would not be included in that list. Yes, he blew it, messed up, sinned and now  would have to face the natural consequences for that, but at this moment my only concern was his relationship with Jesus.

As I sat across from this young man in trouble, all I could think was "Been there; done that". His sin was no greater and no less than mine. My past was his present. The difference was I was now covered by grace because of Jesus. I deserved no credit for this fact; it was the work of Jesus that provided such grace. So, having been in the same place as this young man, how could I condemn that which I was forgiven? What this young man needed to hear was how he could receive this same forgiveness.

Listen to what Jesus said about a woman he had forgiven:

"Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." (Luke 7:47)

Jesus was not saying that there are people who have little to forgive, because we are all sinners, all rebellious against Yahweh. What he is saying is that those who think they have little to be forgiven will never love passionately because they do not understand what has been done for them. When we realize and accept what we are and what Jesus has done for us, we cannot help but treat everyone around us in the same manner. Having been forgiven we find it a simple matter to forgive.

Paul the apostle presented it from a different angle:

"Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." (Romans 2:1)

This young man who sat across from me was no different from my past, so having sinned how could I condemn him for sinning? Of course I couldn't. That would be hypocritical, making me an actor, pretending to be something I wasn't. And having been forgiven, it was easy for me to forgive. This is the response of those who walk in Christ and minister to a dying world. May they know his love through us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Without Jesus We Stink

We need to talk. I think we all do. There is an actual reason we need Jesus. Sometimes I sense that many of us are just caught up in the Church culture and don't understand the reality of our situation or our need for Jesus. Many of us enjoy the music and the friendships we have developed. We even feel the depth of the sound bites from the sermons we use as status updates. It feels great to belong to something bigger than ourselves. And if that is all there is to it I hope and pray that the entire Church culture scene would be flipped over and the promoters of it thrown out on their ear.

We need Jesus, not culture. We need Jesus because without him we smell like decaying flesh. Have you ever smelled decaying flesh? If you have you know it is a smell you never forget, it's that powerful. This is what we are like without the life giving blood of Jesus:

Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful. (Romans 1:29-31)

That's us in the natural, when the facade is torn down and our heart revealed. That is what we are like without the resurrection power of Jesus coursing through our veins. This is why we need Jesus and why Church culture can't do a thing for us. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can change our natural make-up. The change Jesus brings to us is like turning straw into gold, or more like a decaying carcass into a living, breathing person.

Without Jesus we stink and all the self help, image improving books and seminars will not help us. It is like dressing up a dead body. It may have clothes but it is still without life. It is like spraying perfume on a corpse. It may help the stink for a minute but the smell of death is far too powerful. Culture tries to conform, to cover up what we are but Jesus offers total transformation, so what was dead is made alive. We need Jesus not culture.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Love Must Always Be A Choice

How much freedom is too much? We like to imagine ourselves to be free but our freedom has limitations. We can't do whatever we want whenever we want because we live in a society where certain freedoms must be limited in order to protect other members of the same society. If we ever get to the place of complete freedom we will have arrived at anarchy, and I don't think any of us really want to experience such complete freedom. Yet, this is the freedom that our Creator gave to us.

Yahweh desires true love and love is not true if it is coerced, manipulated or forced. If you want to go out and murder someone he is not going to stop you, even though he has expressed how he is against it. His desire is for intimacy with you, to walk and talk with you, to be your support, helper, encourager, enabler, Father; but you have the freedom to completely reject him and run in the opposite direction. That is the risk of love.

Like everything else, there are always consequences to freedoms acted upon. Very few of us truly understand what we become without our Creator. We were created to be complete in fellowship with him. Without him we do not have what we need and there is a lack for proper understanding and perspective. When we reject him he leaves us to ourselves and that is never good:

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

We need our Creator. We need our Father. We need him and are dependent on him. True freedom is found in him through Jesus Christ; freedom to be everything he intended us to be. We have this mistaken notion that we give up our freedom when we follow Jesus Christ but the fact is we are slaves to our nature without Jesus. We can't do the things our spirit desires to do because our nature keeps us down, oppressed and limits our ability to grow as we were intended.

The world thinks it is free. People think they are doing what they want to do. They don't always understand their distorted desires but they know they can pursue them if they want. If only they knew that those desires are like a cancer eating away at their healthy tissue. They are being deformed, destroyed, and pushed toward death all the while thinking this is their choice, their freedom.

Our challenge is to not fall back into this deception while trying to reveal it to the people we meet. People don't want to hear it; they don't want to believe they have been deceived, that everything is a deformed image of the real beauty that Yahweh created. It is hard to tell a deaf man that he is deaf or to tell a blind man the colour of the sky. But nothing is impossible with Jesus; nothing!

Jesus came to free us up to make a choice because before him we had no choice; we were enslaved to our nature. He cast out demons so people were free to hear his message. He destroyed the power of sin over us so that we were free to hear and to choose. Love dictates that we must have the freedom to choose him or to reject him, and that is the choice that rests in front of all of us. The Church has sinned in the past by trying to force people to love Yahweh but thankfully that is no longer the problem. However, because the Church no longer tries to control people, we see in society the results of the choices that are being made. But this should also mean that the light is as light as the dark is dark. I hope you can understand.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ignorance Will Never Be An Excuse

A person would have to choose to be ignorant to say there is no God, and there are reasons why some choose to be ignorant. Evidence of his existence and character are all around us, in creation and in people themselves. The Word says that in order to see him we have to be willing to see him. It says that we need to seek him but that doesn't mean there is no evidence until we do:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead. (Romans 1:20)

Anyone who cares to reflect on nature itself, even just observable nature, will conclude that there is something far great than us at play. We may have the intelligence to be able to manipulate and use, even tame, some of the elements of creation but much of it is beyond our power. Yahweh loves beauty and diversity. Even in a fallen state we can see grace and compassion in the animal Kingdom. There are elements so powerful that man will never be able to tame them. We can see the nature and character of our Creator all around us if we would take an honest look. But we aren't honest.

We aren't honest because if we were we would be accountable for what we admitted and we certainly do not want to be accountable to something that will not let us do what we want to do. I really think that is part of the problem for those who choose to deny Jesus; they don't want to give up control. Unfortunately for them there is no excuse. Ignorance is no excuse. If we keep reading this same passage but switching in from NKJV to the CEV:

That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools. (v. 20-22)

No excuses because there is plenty of evidence to get people curious enough to go looking, and he promised that if we seek him we will find him. Those who choose to ignore the evidence often do so because they don't want to lose control so instead they "worship" nature itself. They substitute Yahweh, who keeps us accountable, for creation which cannot keep us accountable. They even give creation a name: Mother Nature. They will not acknowledge Yahweh but they will personify nature:

So God let these people go their own way. They did what they wanted to do, and their filthy thoughts made them do shameful things with their bodies. They gave up the truth about God for a lie, and they worshiped God’s creation instead of God, who will be praised forever. Amen. (v. 24-25)

I share this because we need to understand where we are, who we live with and how difficult our task can be trying to convince people to open their eyes and take a look. In order to see, people must be willing to become vulnerable and to give up control. That is why it is often in moments of crisis, at the point when a person realizes they have no control, that they finally see the beauty and love of Jesus. Helplessness has a wonderful ability to strip away pride and leave us open to the truth.

But as for us, my fellow believer, I pray our eyes are always wide open as we worship him with thankful hearts today. We know him to be good, loving, compassionate, slow to anger, filled with grace, self-sacrificing, wise, powerful, always with us. Remember:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Friday, October 3, 2014

By What Code Do You Live?

It is amazing some of the ideas and philosophies people live by. When I ask these people what they base these ideas on and where it comes from I discover the foundation is pretty flimsy. Most are things loosely based on eastern teaching or simple philosophies of life they have held on to from their experience. They are interesting philosophies but also changeable; so changeable that people try on new philosophies many times in their lifetime. The Christian cannot be like this.

Christians will grow and mature in their understanding and application but there is no shifting of foundational understanding in our lives. The benefit we have over everyone else is the Word of God, the Bible. People scoff and we get laughed at, looked down on, ridiculed but let them. At least we understand what we believe and our only challenge is to develop our faith to live what we believe. But this is part of the growth and maturity of our faith.

Refresh yourself in the inspiring words that the Spirit directed through Paul the apostle:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

Plain and simple, with no excuses. The Bible reveals Yahweh, his plan, and who we are in him. There is nothing to add to it or take away from it. We need no other books or explanations. We do not base our life on anything else and we are not ashamed of this fact. We may feel ashamed when we start living outside of the Word and people call us out on it, but of the Word itself there is no shame.

Now the question is: Is this true of us? Are we living a life based on the Word of God, expressed in our life in Jesus? Or are we finding excuses to twist things in a certain way to allow us to do what we want? The Word comes against our sinful nature and the Spirit empowers us to overcome that nature because Jesus Christ destroyed its power over us. But that doesn't mean it has given up trying to claim us back. When we use the Word to measure ourselves and are honest about it, we will find good correction there; correction that keeps us on the right path.

The Word is under attack. It always has been. Each Christian must make the decision to testify with Paul that "it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes". Each of us must make that decision that it reveals to us the righteousness of God and he has called us to seek that righteousness. It is good to ask yourself if you have made such decisions or if you have chosen the philosophies of a fallen world. Just be honest with yourself so that Jesus can do something with it.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thinking Outside The Box

Who decided what church has to look like? Who came up with the formula or business model? There are a few adventurous and unique individuals who come up with different approaches to church but then these began to be franchised as well. There is no doubt that there are certain elements of the Church that we have in common; worship, teaching, discipleship, service, evangelism. But the expression of these elements should not be shaped by a "box store" mentality and franchised around the world. The Church is a living organism that adapts to its environment.

There was no man with a greater revelation of the Church than Paul the apostle. It was through him that we understand as much as we do today and so we should see as much as possible what is revealed through him. Paul adapted his approach to the culture in which he found himself but in each culture he set up elders to give oversight to the Church in that city. There were no such things as cathedrals and church buildings, these were the invention of man in the years that followed. It was enough that people met where they could, often in each others homes, with attachment to each other and Jesus, not to a building. But meeting in homes wasn't a rule either, just a thing of convenience. In one city there would be many house meetings but still they identified themselves as the same Church.

Leadership was also seen much differently. It was understood that some people were set aside for specific callings, such as those who would spend all their days teaching and training. Scripture talks about how the Christians were to support  these individuals who set aside their secular work to be available to the Christian family to teach and train. This support came in various ways, from providing shelter to giving food and money. These servants of the Church set aside their own personal goals and ambitions to lay down their lives for their fellow Christians with no thought that they would have any more material means than what was needed. They did not have personal financial gain or compensation in mind:

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31)

Not everyone could afford to do this and Scripture gives specific instruction about supporting the teachers and trainers in the Church but I think we need to re-examine our mentality toward finances, the work of the Church and those called to full time service. We are caught up in the "rights" of employees with pension plans, health benefits, car and housing allowances. Gone is the servant heart and in comes the employee mentality with pastors being the CEO of the church and the members being stockholders.

Do you know there are churches out there where pastors get a small amount of money from the church and the rest is raised in "tent making"? Do you know there are churches that meet in coffee shops and people's basements? Do you know there are pastors who take public transportation and ride bicycles? Is this because they haven't become "successful" in growing a "big box" church but their day is coming? No. It is because they are willing to do whatever it takes to spread the Good News about Jesus and to support Christians in their spiritual journey with no though to compensation or personal financial gain. Weird, eh?

There is something wrong with our "cookie cutter" mentality but I think there is a new season coming and all that is about to change. I think it is about to change because we are about to have a Jerusalem experience and the Spirit is about to scatter us in ways we could not at this moment imagine. May we remain strong in our faith and true to the Lord no matter the cost. May we experience a greater revelation of this beautiful living organism we call the Church. May we be willing to do whatever it takes to spread the news about Jesus. May we think outside the "box".

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stop Being A Victim

Something wants to prevent me from writing this blog. Every time I sit to write there is an interruption. But I am determined to share what the Spirit has brought to my attention this morning because it has to do with power and authority. Too many of us Christians are walking around with a victim mentality. We think we are a victim of circumstances, or of the enemy of our soul, or of a corrupt world system. So please take note when I tell you that this is contrary to what Jesus said.

We all know that we are weak and pathetic compared to the powers that swirl around us but this isn't about our power. This isn't about our ability. It isn't about intelligence, talents, money or connections. This has nothing to do with power as the world knows it. This is all about Jesus. This is about Jesus and his authority in us, the authority he has given us, the authority we speak and act in, the authority of his name.

We must remember who Jesus is. We can never forget who he is. The artist interpretation of Jesus arm wrestling Satan is an insult to who Jesus is. Perhaps Satan is far more powerful than any of us but he is nothing compared to Jesus. Satan is a created being but Jesus is Yahweh. Think about that for a minute and then read Jesus' words:

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." (Luke 10:18-19)

Jesus sat in a position of authority as he watched Satan fall, having been ejected from heaven. And it is from this position of authority that Jesus bestows authority on his disciples. Serpents and scorpions represent that natural destructive order of a fallen creation and the power of the enemy is the spiritual forces that would try to overwhelm us. Nothing shall harm you that is not within Father's will. And what is in his will is nothing to be afraid of. The important thing is to develop a relationship with him that is so intimate that you are able to discern his good and perfect will.

Jesus abides in us and we in him. There is no greater intimacy. You have the power of the resurrection coursing through your body. You are powerful because you live and operate in the name that is above all names, the name that will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that he is Lord. Not because they are forced to but because when they are presented to his authority they will be compelled by that authority. The same authority that causes demons to run. The same authority that is in you through Jesus.

Now stop acting like a victim and start walking like the powerful warrior that you are. Jesus is above all things and you are his representative so start acting like it. It is not arrogance in which we walk but the boldness that comes from representing the King. Today is going to be an awesome day in his service because you know the greater truth to be sure:

"Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (v.20)