Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Choice... (part 2)

In part 1, The Danger, we explored a probable reason for why so many "second generation" Christians struggle with living like a christian. That reason being our complacency with scripture due to our familiarity with it. We also discussed the danger of this threat to our walk with Christ because no one really recognizes it as a danger. However, not all second generation Christians react with complacency, and thus the need for part 2. As I briefly mentioned in part 1, some Christians (and this is directed at all Christians, not just second generation Christians) also rebel against their parents and their religion. We could discuss why it is that many rebel or walk away, but I assume we can all speculate on our own, and come up with approximately the same answers (e.g. feelings of resentment, suffocation, desire, temptations for freedom, temporary happiness, etc). Despite the reasoning or what action is taken, the end result from either complacency or rebellion is the same; a departure from walking the path God directs us toward.

I could easily delve into a whole essay on how to deal with these feelings or temptations, but the title this time is "The Choice...", not "The Solution...". I purposefully am passing over "solving" these problems because I believe so many people get sidetracked trying to "deal" and miss the heart of the matter. Which is, how we choose to live our life.

Certainly conquering our sinful natures is important, but when get so focused on single sins, we lose sight of the fact that all of our single sins stem from the same place, our choices, and most importantly, our choice on how closely we will follow the law of Christ.

I am going to step off to the side here and preface for a moment about why "the choice" is so important by discussing a little bit about sin.

See, its very easy to wander away from God, and not even know it (As you read on, I wish you to know that I am not just "preaching", if you will, but rather speaking from painful and personal experience). Recently I have begun to read a book by Jerry Bridges titled, "Respectable Sins". I think this book makes a very good point. We forget how big our "little" sins are because we do not commit the big taboo sins, such as murder. These "little" sins are known as the "respectable" sins that everyone struggles with on different levels. They are respectable either because everyone does them, because they don't "hurt" anyone thus they can't be that bad, or because they were just carried out in your mind.

Many of us look at our own lives and say, "I go to church, I fellowship, I volunteer, I witness, I work on mission trips, I sponsor children, I have never committed adultery, or murder. As far as people go, I'm doing pretty good, and I'm doing much better than a lot of Christians I know!" If this is you, pay attention because that mindset is just as dangerous as a complacent one. When we see ourselves as "pretty good" people, we stop thinking that we are very vulnerable to attack from Satan, and we fall into his trap before we even realize it.

See, even if we are a "pretty good" people. We still sin. It's human nature at its raw core. One of the points that was made in Jerry Bridge's book, and also discussed within the group I am a part of, is how much of a slippery slope our small sins are. In the book, sin was likened to cancer, a malignant cancer. In other words, it has the potential to spread with unlimited growth. A lot of times, small sins are left unchecked simply because we are distracted by bigger sins, or all of our little sins, if tackled at once, become overwhelming. However as Mr. Bridges states in Chapter three,

"One of the common truths about cancer is that it can often grow undetected until it reaches a crisis stage or even a stage that is terminal... To tolerate [small] sins in our spiritual lives is as dangerous as to tolerate cancer in our bodies. Seemingly small sins can lead to more serious ones. Lustful looks often lead to pornography addiction and perhaps adultery. Murder often has its genesis in anger, which grows into bitterness, then to hatred, and finally murder."

After reading that quote the first time, I thought, "even so, I would never murder anyone!" So if your like me, stop for a moment and consider the point behind the words. Small things lead to bigger ones. This is the ultimate reason behind the point I am trying to make and why "the choice" is so important. (I do in fact realize I have not yet expounded on "the choice" and what it is.)

Many common factors that lead to small sins and then to bigger ones are complacency, rebellion, experimentation, peer pressure, skewed perspective, despair, and others.

For a moment, I would like to expound on a few of these using my own experience. Two weeks before I was eighteen, one of my cousins was shot and killed. He was fifteen. As I struggled to deal with his death, at his young age, I came to a conclusion. I did not want to die without having experienced things, life, my own choices, not just my parents'. Therefore, when I turned eighteen. I went out, bought a pack of cigarettes, and smoked them. Not necessarily a sin in the action, but, the mindset that led me to that first pack, led me to extremely colorful and not altogether pleasant language, as well as illegal drugs, and drinking. I partied, lied to my parents, came dangerously close many other things that I would have regretted for the rest of my life. All of these were sins. Yet, before any of the actions were sins, the mindset was a sin. A small sin, perhaps, it didn't hurt anyone, it was only performed in my mind... I didn't trust God's plan would have the experiences I needed, and that he would take me when he was ready and when everything I needed to have happen in my life happened. This small, little sin led to a slew of, what we perceive to be, grievous sins.

This is not just my own personal experience. I have seen this pattern repeated time, after time, after time, in the lives of young Christians (especially those in high school and college) everywhere. When those little sins become a norm, unchecked and acceptable in our lives, then what used to be big sins are now our little sins, and so forth and so on.

The funny thing is, we don't even realize this re-evaluation of sin is going on in our heads. I certainly didn't. I still considered myself a good christian, with good morals, who didn't need a lot of forgiveness. I am a fairly arrogant sinner if you cannot tell.

Thank God, He stepped into my and put His foot down when He did. He finally, after trying in many kinder and gentler ways first, showed me how far I had fallen. It was then that He showed me one of the most important things I have ever learned. He showed me that just because you may grow up in a Christian home and choosing to say some prayer when your five, means nothing.

Being a Christian means making a choice every single day. It means having to put forth your entire being and energy into living a Christian lifestyle every single day. It means begging God for help, because you know you cannot accomplish this on your own, every single day. It means choosing to make Christ the first and foremost desire in your heart, above everything else, every single day.

It means making "The Choice" to live for God, every single day. It means owning your faith, not just dragging it along behind you. That is what "The Choice" is. It is in no way easy. Many times, it is one of the hardest things to do. It means giving up your anger, your dreams, your desires, your frustrations, your worries.

I cannot even begin to explain how important this choice is. Its easy to look at our lives and see if we've made that choice or not. When I look back at how I was living, I have no misconceptions about the choice I was NOT making. I was living, wallowing, in sin, and not bothered by it in the least. YET, this choice is important for more than just that reason.

It is important because a person is not a Christian simply because they were raised in a christian home. You are a Christian when you make the choice to own your faith. This is not an “oh yeah, well sure" acknowledgment. Its not a "I'm going to believe in Christ so that when I die I'll go to heaven, but I'm going to live the way I want" (a safety net). It’s a well thought about, life altering decision that you will work at. Its just what you’ve done wrong, but how you think about each and every day. When you wake up in the morning, what will your attitude be? When you do something, WHY are you doing it. Is it about you, or is it about God? Everything should be about God, even going to work each day. When you make "The Choice", when you own your faith, it will change your life. Your actions and your life will show you where you stand.

As consider all of this, or after you do, read these excerpts from Hebrews which make my point far clearer than I could ever say.

Hebrews 3:7-11 says, 4:1,2,12,13 , 10:26-31

"So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'...

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith...

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account...

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[d] and again, "The Lord will judge his people."[e] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

We cannot simply use the gift of salvation as a safety net, and live however we want. In order to really and truly be a christian and receive God's gift, we must CHOOSE to live the life God asks us to. That does not mean we must be perfect at it... no, simply that the desire to honestly try and fail, and try again is there in our hearts. For when that desire is there, it CAN be seen within your life.

James 2:14-18

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. "

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Danger... (part 1)

Imagine for a moment a Christian home. Both mom and dad are, and have been for some time, followers of Christ. One or the other, or perhaps even both have testimonies of a time when they were not Christian. A reminder that keeps them devote in their belief to train up their children right. Thus, every child in the house has approximately three bibles. There are framed pictures of favorite Bible verses on prominent walls in the house. The Ten Commandments hangs in the hallway that leads to the children’s rooms, and sound of Christian music playing softly in the kitchen. Many varying bible studies litter bookshelves throughout the house, and The Passion can be seen in the small collection of DVD’s.

Sound familiar? Ok, so perhaps the image above is a little too perfect, but I’m sure that some of us can relate to part, if not all, of it. I know I can, and hey, that’s not a terrible thing to relate to. In many ways a person would say you or I am blessed, and we are. However, if you can relate to the life describe above, you are also in some serious danger.

See, many of us (and by us I mean anyone who has lived their entire lives surrounded by the Christian faith) do not have testimonies to call our own. Many of us have no comprehension of a life lived without knowing that sin was “wrong”. We do not have a memory of a time when God wasn’t “watching you”, or when we weren’t reminded to think WWJD? before we acted. We could sing “Jesus Loves Me” before we even knew our ABC’s. We have no concept of total depravity, no concept of a savior pulling us from a sinkhole of sin because we have never lived in a way that we would ever fall into such a sinkhole. We are what I like to call, Second (or even Third) Generation Christians.

As Second Generation Christians we are familiar on an intimate level with our “Faith”. We know hundreds of bible verses by heart. We know all the stories, we’ve been taught ever lesson since kindergarten, ten times over and more. We know the book of James so well we could say it backwards and not stumble (ok that could be a little over the top, but you get the point, right?) The point is, we know these things so well, that when a reference is spoken, we can respond in almost a whiplash effect. We don’t even think about the words, or what it is that we are actually saying. This is how automatic our response is. This is the danger. We are so familiar with our faith that we are in danger of becoming too familiar with it, and losing sight of how vast and immeasurable it is.

When we no longer think about what we are saying, or hearing, we zone it out. We no longer listen. It no longer becomes important to us. It is just something we do, because we are told to.

In many ways, in most ways, being born into a Christian home and family is a wonderful thing. We have the benefit of God’s laws and teachings being a habitual part of our lives from the day we were born. Think about that for a moment, what a fantastic opportunity this is! We who have grown up in this environment should be better equipped to face a world ruled by sin than any other human. We should be better armed to confront a world of disbelief, of lies, than any born again Christian.

Yet, so many of us who do grow in Christian homes don’t see what a great opportunity is before us. Instead of taking everything we have been trained and equipped with, and going out into this world, we struggle with following even some of the most basic teachings.

It might be a fault of rebelling from an overbearing parent, following an extremist teacher, or even a failure to properly educate these teachings within the home. All these cases are sound arguments and could quite possibly be proven. Yet, I think that some struggle for a reason much more basic than that. I will expound upon this in a moment, and then again more in part two. Before I do, I would like to provide some grounds for what I am about to say.

Once, not so long ago, a pastor told me something that has stuck firmly with me. He said, “Becoming a Christian is easy, living as a Christian Is hard.”

I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. It is very easy to receive complete salvation and eternal salvation when you don’t deserve it, and can’t do anything to deserve it. While, in comparison, striving to live in obedience under God’s law, and denying your own selfish desires can be extremely hard.

I pause a moment here to say that nothing is impossible with God, and that we have the power to do all things through Christ. My purpose in stating the above is merely to bring to light that at times living the Christian life and making the Christian choices can seem overwhelming. Back to the previous point.

Thus, if simply living as a Christian is hard for those who have been rescued from total depravity, and live in joy every day because of this rescue, how much harder is it for us? For the Second Generation Christian.

The hardest thing about growing up Christian is growing up Christian.

Why? Because of the reason I stated at the very beginning. We who have grown up Christian, who have never been allowed to live in sin, who have never fallen into total depravity do not understand, cannot comprehend the helplessness of what the feels like (even though if we were to stop and really think about it, we would see that we are just as helpless as anyone to save ourselves and if left to our own devices, we would be exactly where they are.) Because we cannot comprehend our helplessness, we very quickly lose sight of how much we truly and honestly need a savior, and that despite what we think, we are in as deep a sinkhole as everyone else.

We forget that being a Christian isn’t just about saying the prayer once and were saved. We forget that being a Christian is a continuous thing, a choice we must make daily. This forgetfulness is something that I have found is most common in, although not restricted to, Second Generation Christians. This is because of our familiarity. Remember how I said our familiarity was a danger to us? Because we were raised in a Christian home, and prevented from living a life of sin, we understand the concept of needing a savior. Yet, having never felt the complete and utter despair or realizing our own helplessness, being saved does not seem like the life-changing, unimaginable, miracle-gift that it is.

We become complacent in our faith. That, my friends, is the danger of living as a Second Generation Christian. It is something we must fight not to become. God’s gift of eternal salvation should never seem like a small thing. Even having grown in a Christian home, this gift should overwhelm us to the point that we never ever become complacent. If we do, then that is a huge warning sign that something is seriously wrong.

To be continued in The Choice…(part 2)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How Great is Your Love?

Last Sunday my pastor, in good pastorly fashion gave a sermon about Jesus' death on the cross. It was actually the third of a four part sermon that has been following the last seven words of Jesus on the cross. This last one spoke about Jesus' word "It is Finished" (John 19:30.) Part of what he had to say was to how Jesus spoke it. With what emotion he said it. It wasn't a cry of relief, "Thank god this is over!" It wasn't a cry of exhaustion, "I can't believe I made it, I'm going to keel over and die now." It wasn't a cry of quitting, "I can't go, I can't take this anymore, on so now I'm finished."
The cry that he gave was a cry that said, Mission Accomplished. I have finished what I came to do. And as my pastor explained, Jesus didn't actually say three words. "It is Finished" he spoke one word in the Hebrew language, which was not the common word for saying you have finished something. The word he used is a word that was found written across the scrolls carrying billing information. The word Jesus said literally means, "Paid in full".

Jesus didn't say on the cross, Ahah, this is the end, I'm done. He said, I have paid the debt in full. Now, Father, now that I have paid the debt, now I commit my spirit into your hands. (Luke 23:46)

This is such a big deal. People like to say that Jesus was crucified like a common criminal, but he wasn't. Crucifixion was saved for the worst of the worst. the utterly lowest of criminals. That is how terrible, how awful crucifixion was. It was the worst sentence a criminal could receive. That alone would be enough for any of us to cry out for our God to save us... but Jesus didn't do that, he said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) As he hung in excruciating pain, being mocked and screamed at, he pleaded and begged for THIER lives, not his own even though with one word, one breath he could have saved himself and condemned us all. Knowing that, he begged for our lives, and did not save himself because he knew that only he could pay this debt. That is how great his love
is, and even beyond that. Because when you think about all the troubles we face in our lives, no matter what we always have a God and Savior, a comforter to turn to for strength. We have someone to lean on. But when Jesus was on that Cross and God turned his face away ("My God my God, why have you forsaken me?") Jesus no longer had anyone to receive strength and encouragement from. He was all alone. At that moment, he didn't say say "God come back, I can't do this on my own." He didn't say that because in order to save us, he couldn't say that, he loved us so much that he faced what he faced all alone.

But Jesus' love for us was far greater than just (as if crucifixion wasn't enough) being crucified for all of our sins over every generation. Jesus' love for us started years before that. Jesus' love for us can be seen simply by agreeing to come to this world.

Before Jesus could Pay Our Debt In Full he first had to lead a sinless life. Contemplate that for a moment. It is so hard for us to lead just a sinless day, let alone a sinless life! Jesus didn't just live a single day as a perfect and sinless man. He lived his whole life as a sinless and perfect man. Well we live in a fallen world, well we're not the son of god, well... Does not the bible say that Jesus became a man? As a man, Jesus was subject to all of the temptations to sin as we ourselves are. Jesus was not exempt, Jesus had to CHOOSE to lead a perfect life.

That a lone is such a difficult task that NO ONE else has been or ever will accomplish it. As it has been said before, becoming a Christian is easy, living as a Christian is hard. But Jesus lived the perfect, sinless life. He "fought the good fight" he accomplished what no one else could. That is how great his love is for us. When you think about it. Love has to have been the key. How could anyone possibly accomplish that task unless his love was so great, that his top priority was not for himself, ever, not for a single day, it was how to save a nation of people. He loved us so much that he lived the perfect life because he knew we could not, and unless someone did, we would all be doomed. As a man He loved God so much that his every desire was to fulfill God's will for him, and to share the joy he received from obeying God with us.

Jesus' prayer in the Garden before his death really shows his love for God and for us. Found in John 17

"Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Jesus Prays for His Disciples

6 "I have revealed you [a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of [b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by [c] that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by [d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Jesus Prays for All Believers

20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

Love is the key. I do not think that we can fully appreciate what God has done until we fully appreciate the scope and depth of his love. This is a concept that is so huge, that I think our gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice will continually grow forever.

I think to that when we begin to appreciate how great Jesus' love for us was, and is, then our own love for others will grow. As our love grows, so too will we in God's love and in our christian life. The more we let Love take hold in our heart, the more that we can begin to see its fruit in our lives, forgiveness comes easier, denying ourselves and helping others becomes the desire of your heart, not just something that you should do. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 spectacularly sums up what love does for us and in our lives.

"If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Love really is the key.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quid Pro Quo?

The other day, I and a group of women were in a discussion pertaining to following God's laws, and subsequently how following (or not following) them and affects how we view our current circumstances.

One area we discussed caught my attention and amazingly enough as I read my Bible over the course of the week, some things popped out at me.

As Christians we try to follow the Bible, do good, live right, etc... basically, stay out of trouble. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact it is what we should strive to do, sometimes we get caught up in a fallacy. A fallacy that because we do as God says, or because we follow the Bible, nothing bad should happen to us. After all, the Bible says in Joshua 1:8
"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

It also says in Psalm 1:1-3
"1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers"

This type of verse is found in many other places in the Bible, speaking about how God will prosper those who follow him.

It is easy to see how we might "get lost" somewhere along the way. As *Dan Denton from Kingdom Principles For Successful Living put it...
"By studying the Scriptures, you will come to understand that the prosperity of God is multi-dimensional. It is God's will for us to prosper financially, to be in health, and for our souls to prosper (3 John 2). This is the three-part blessing of being obedient to His will and commands...We were not designed to live with strife, fear, danger, poverty, sickness, hate and all the other results which go with the law of sin and death."

Now before you write yourself off the list of those that might fall under this mind set, I want you to think about it for a moment. Have you ever had something bad happen to you, and you asked God why? Why did this happen? How could this happen to me? I'm a good person, so why me?

What did I do wrong?

Who has not said this before?

That question, "What did I do wrong?" , is a result of the belief that because you follow God's teachings nothing bad should happen to you. However, as soon as you put it into these words it begins to seem a little silly. After all, does not the Bible also say in Matthew 5:45
"...He causes his sun to rise on the eviland the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

So how could we ever think that would would be exempt from bad circumstances or situations. Amazingly enough, this silly little belief is one that is well rooted, and I say this perhaps wrongly, in all of us. As I said just a moment ago, who has not said, "what did I do wrong?" This is almost a knee-jerk reaction to circumstances that have gone awry.

One reason for this reaction is because of where our minds are. We have all grown up being punished for things we have done wrong. This punishment was meant to teach us that what we did was bad, and we shouldn't do it again. We now have a set standard to go by. We do something wrong we get punished. Its that simple.

I find that many Christians, knowingly or not, tend to carry this standard into how God interacts with us. Which seems utterly ridiculous when you think about trying to squeeze God's vastness into a tiny little man-made box. This of course, is beside the point (at least at the moment). The point is simply that it is very, very, easy for even an extremely intelligent Christian to fall into this category of thinking simply because from before we can remember this standard of wrong=punishment is how we learned and progressed.

Now God can't literally come down and slap us on the back of the hand... well he could, but he doesn't. This doesn't mean that God is a static God, sitting up in Heaven watching what goes on below. No way! God interacts with his people, God teaches his people, even to this day.

He teaches us. Ahah... here comes the part where we try to stuff God into a little box. Remember how we learned right from wrong growing up? Well this is how we try to relate that to God.

We read in the Bible that if we follow God's rules and his "way" then we will prosper. So if bad things are happening, and we're not prospering, the logical conclusion would then be that we are doing something wrong! Hence the question, "what did I do wrong?!"

See? Not so ridiculous anymore, is it?

Here's the thing we've got to remember, the ultimate comforting thought. God does not act like us. He doesn't fit into our little man-made box. He doesn't "punish" us to teach us a lesson. Why? Well think of it this way. When we do something wrong, what is that? Sin. Another lesson that goes back to our pacifier days. Sin=doing something wrong=Bad=punishment.

God doesn't punish us for our sin. Not that he can't, but he doesn't.


Because Jesus already paid the price for our sin. God has already punished Jesus for our sin. He can't punish us as well, or Jesus' death would have been pointless. Because the price for sin is death.

So we know that when bad things happen God is not punishing us for something we did wrong because:

1) When Jesus climbed up on that cross and took all of our sin upon himself, he got punished for it. He has already taken our punishment for our sin, all of it, everything we did in the past, will do in the future, and maybe even are doing now. Jesus was already punished for that.


2) The punishment for sin is death. (Romans 6:23) You are not dead, therefore, you are not being punished for something that you have done wrong, i.e. your sin.

Now to wrap up. The whole point is that when bad things are going on in your life, circumstances aren't what you would hope them to be, and your searching for a reason to why this is happening to you, STOP as soon as you think "what did I do wrong?" Because that is not the answer. God does not run on a Quid Pro Quo basis when it comes to sin.

We need to remember that God sends rain on both Christians and Non-Christians a like, we are not exempt from suffering simply because we follow God's laws, or at least try to. As **Timothy J. Keller put it,
"If God himself was willing to become involved in terrible suffering of life... then we should not think ourselves exempt... Jesus suffered, not that we might not suffer, but that when we suffer we could become like him."

Just take a moment and re-read that quote because there are some extremely powerful messages there and I really want you to be able to take it in.

The first is this:

1) We should not think ourselves exempt

This speaks to the whole purpose of this note. Our natural reaction to finding out that the bad things that happen are not a result of something we did wrong would then be to ask, "Well then, why me?!" Why you? Its not just you, its everyone. As The bible says in Matthew 5:45 everyone sees sunshine, and everyone sees rain. There is no distinction between good people and bad people, and good things and bad things. Jesus, God's own SON, perfect and holy, was not exempt from harsh times and circumstances, so then why should we be?

Some people might say, "well then why did he even come? wasn't that the whole point of his coming, and his suffering?"

The second message I'd like to bring to your attention is this:

2) Jesus' suffering is an example to us.

In reading the Bible we can learn how Jesus handled bad circumstances and situations and see his humbleness, his grace, and his faith during these times. Because Jesus suffered, we have something that we can look toward to show us how to act and react when bad things befall us. When we suffer we don't have to get bogged down in the disparity of it.

We can learn from Jesus while we suffer, because he suffered first and showed us how to live in a way pleasing to God during those times.
Isn't that neat? We no longer have to thing, "what did I do wrong?" or "why me?" Instead, we have something we can turn our eyes to. We have a freedom we didn't have before. The suffering your going through, its not about you! Its not about something you did wrong, its not because God has some grudge against you. It is simply a fact of life. Yet, Habitual as it may be, it gives us an opportunity to learn how we can become more like Jesus. This opportunity is only open to us if we are in a situation of "suffering". Now I'm not going to go so far as to say suffering is a blessing, but I will say that a weight can be lifted off of you if you think of it as an opportunity to become closer to Jesus. Wouldn't you like that? Being closer to Jesus? Isn't that what we strive for?

Think about it.

*Copyright 1987, by Daniel R. Denton, Beaufort, SC.
** Copyright 2003, by Timothy J. Keller, and Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reap What you Sow...

"If you save a life, you must take responsibility for it."

This quote is from the theatrical trailer for the movie "Defiance", directed by Edward Zwick and due to release here tomorrow. While the trailer has piqued my interest in the movie itself, it is the above quote that captured my attention the most. (trailer seen here: link)

It occurred to me as I heard this, how powerful that statement really is. If you save someone, you are now responsible not only for yourself, but also for that person and everything that comes with it. If someone wanted to interpret it to mean you are responsible for their lively hood, their actions, their well-being, and their protection, they absolutely could interpret it that way.

So the question is, are you willing to take up that mantel?

What about all of the Christians out there? In Christ saving us from the depths of hell, is he now not responsible for our lives? Does he not say in his word that he will take care of us, that he has a plan for us, that we are not to worry about ourselves, because he is in control and we are in his hands? Pretty amazing isn't it? Pretty cool to know that someone else has responsibility for us, and we are not on our own.

Yet, how many of us follow Christ's example in our own lives? When we become "fishers of men," and we baptize people in the name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost as commanded of us in the Great Commission (found in Matthew 28), when speak to others about God, do we follow through? In the parable of the sower Jesus tells us the story of a farmer who scatters his seed. This parable has been told countless times and most of us have heard it more than we are happy about. We know that all the seeds are eaten, choked out, or withered away except for the seeds that land in good soil. The good soil signifies people on Earth who let their hearts be opened by God and become born again Christians.

I think, however, that as many times as we have heard the message, we are forgetting an extremely important part.

Jesus says that "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy" Matthew 13:20 How many of you have shared the gospel with someone who has received it with great joy? Who has not shared in the joy of a lost soul come to Christ? But wait, this is a seed that has fallen on rocky ground... that seed does not become a plant!
"But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" Mathew 13:21,22
So you see, not everyone who receives the message with joy, keeps the message with joy.
When we scatter the seed, do we know where those seeds have fallen? Of course not, we are not the omniscient ones. God is! Do we not then have a responsibility to keep checking up on those we "lead" to Christ? Do we not have a responsibility to make sure that those share the message with, who receive it with joy in their new infant faith, are not left to face the sinful deceit and persecution of the world by themselves? Who of us have not had rough places in our life that, without the encouragement of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, would not have fall away and despaired.

Too much of our focus is on "Saving" people, and not enough on following through with that. What good will it do if you preach on the streets and "save" ten unbelievers if the seed that you scattered landed in a rocky or weedy place?

Matthew 28:19,20

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So go as God commands, and spread his word, plant his seed, sow the peoples of the Earth, but follow through. Continue to teach those you "lead" to Christ even after they have accepted the message so that they will not be choked out, or wither away. Take responsibility for those whom God uses you to save.