Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two Ways to God...

I thought I'd get your attention with that title! "Two ways to God," you ask? "Uh, Mike, have you lost your senses or forgotten your Bible?" Not at all. Let me explain...and then I'll get to the point.

The Bible actually presents two ways to God. The first way is by keeping the law. Those who attempt to justify themselves by keeping God's law, will in the end be judged by the law. Another way of saying this is those who attempt to reach heaven by "being good" or "doing good things," will be judged by that same standard. Now before you set your eternal destiny on this path, consider a few things...

- If you plan to get to heaven by doing good things, then you are living by the law, and you will be judged by  the law.
- Breaking any part of God's law is the same as breaking all of it. In other words, it's not a "curve" or a "sliding scale." It's not a matter of making sure your "good" out-weighs your "bad;" (If I do 51% good things and 49% bad, I'm ok...NOT). Again, if you break ANY part of the law, you break it all. Someone arrested for speeding and another arrested for murder do have something in common; they are both guilty of breaking the law.
- God also makes it clear that those who break the law are on the path that leads to death.
- The biggest problem of all? Jesus. He comes and preaches the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and there He makes it very clear that breaking the law is not just about our sinful actions, it's about our sinful hearts. It is our heart and our actions that makes us law-breakers.

In order to get to God and heaven by doing good things, you would have to live a perfect, sinless life (actions) with perfect, sinless motives (your heart). Only 1 person has done this...the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

But there is another way. Faith in Jesus Christ. This other way is easier, and harder. It relies totally on the grace of God, through His Son Jesus Christ. This other way admits sin, confesses it, and repents. This path comes before a Holy God NOT relying on the good you did, but relying on the blood of His Son to cover your sinfulness...your sinful actions, and your sinful heart. In fact, He takes away your heart of stone and gives you a new heart.

The point: Why did I take the space to write this post, which for many of us, is "Christianity 101"? Because when I look out at our American Evangelical World, and when I look in the mirror, I so often see a people who believe in the second option, but live our lives like the first option. We know and believe that salvation is only through Christ, and yet we're trapped in trying to be good enough and do enough good things to somehow earn God's love. We know we're forgiven, but somehow stuck. To you (and myself) we must remember this;

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:1-6)

One of the mistakes the Galatian church was about to make was submitting themselves to the rule of circumcision. The great danger was in doing that, they were falling into the trap of trying to attain a righteousness by works, and not by faith. In other words, according to Paul, circumcision was not necessary for salvation.

What about us? What traps do we fall into? What about you? Are you living in freedom, or bondage? Are you trying to earn your salvation? There is good news...

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1-4)

Praise be to God, through His Son Jesus Christ, who has saved us, called us, and given us hope and life!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (7):

"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom." (Spurgeon)

We're back today in the series of blogs I have called "Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs." And today we look at a tough one. Wisdom, and Knowledge. According to Wikipedia, "wisdom consists of making the best use of knowledge."

If we can agree that this is true, that wisdom is the proper use of knowledge, than a question begs to be asked; "What do you have? Knowledge, wisdom, or both, (or, gulp, neither)?"

To help make this point, let me draw in a couple of other things. First, from Scripture;

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (James 1:5)

This is GREAT news. It means that if we ask God, He will give us wisdom - the ability to properly apply knowledge. And since all truth is God's truth, ultimately, He gives us the ability to apply His truth in our lives and deeds, in order to bring glory to Him.

Second, let's throw in a couple more words...

Orthodoxy: right belief
Orthopraxy: right action

These two must work hand in glove, together. And this leads us to the main point of this post;

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?" (James 2:4)

In googling the web in writing this post, I came across a blog written by a mormon, who said the following;

"in Christianity, the focus is much more on what one believes than what one does."

And therein lies the rub. Is that statement true? Is it true of us? More importantly, is it true of what Jesus modelled for us and taught us? I wonder...

3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

"If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15)

I've heard it said that Christians are most known for "being against things." I wonder if that's what Christ would want His Church to be known for? Make no mistake...we cannot save ourselves. Our deeds will do absolutely NOTHING to remove God's wrath from us...only the blood of Christ can cover our sin, and that is a free gift from God...grace. However, Jesus is quite clear that His true followers will not just be known for their orthodoxy, their beliefs, but will also be known for their orthopraxy, their deeds.

Bringing it home, Jesus says that the world will know we are true disciples by how we we love Him, and how we love each other. And love is a verb...action. To help make his point, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. This was a man who showed his love through his deeds. And let it not be lost on us that the man he helped was his enemy!

Now we have the knowledge...we know God's heart, we know His will, and we have His instructions. But do we have wisdom?

God - today, help to live out my faith in a way that brings glory to you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What is your gospel worth?

27 "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ..." (Philippians 1:27)

If you have been reading this blog lately, you might sense in me an unrest, or a wrestling and working out of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. To be honest, you're right. The older I get, and, I hope, wiser, the more it seems that there are aspects of my life that don't match up with what a disciple looks like.

It all boils down to this;
- Do I love God through Christ more than anything?
- And do I show that love by obeying Him, and investing in the things that matter most to God?

Of course, the great enemy is 'self.' The things that so often consume me, and us, quite frankly, just don't matter in light of the gospel. A house, a car, health, nice clothes, a good computer, retirement, vacation, a good night of sleep, hobbies, etc. The list is endless. But is it God's list for my life? None of those things are bad, and God does give us good gifts to enjoy...and then there's that verse up there, that hangs like a sword in mid-air. When it lands, what side will I be on? What is the gospel, and what does it mean to live a life "worthy" of it?

1 "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you... (3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.. "

Put simply, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this;
God created us in his image; We turned from God in sin; A Holy and Just God cannot leave sin un-punished...our sin leads to death and separation from God forever; Jesus Christ took our punishment, God's wrath, for us; Through Jesus we are now reconciled back to God...but ONLY through Jesus.

There are two possible destinations for every living soul; heaven, which is attained through faith in Jesus, and hell, for everyone else. sound harsh? Not at all - harsh would have been if God didn't send Jesus, and left us in our sin forever...but even that wouldn't have been harsh as much as justified. What's amazing is the love of God which made a way for ANY who would believe in His Son, a way back to Him.

As of 2005, approximately 155,000 people die every day worldwide. That works out to 107 people every second. In the time it takes me to write this blog, over 6000 people will step into an eternity...either  an eternity with Christ forever, or an eternity of suffering apart from Him. Do I really believe this? If I live to be 80 years old, or even 90, what is 90 years in light of eternity? Is my life counting for the gospel of Christ?

I want you to wrestle with this question, as I am. What does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ? Jesus, who was completely innocent, took on himself the wrath of God...the punishment that our sin deserved. He did this in obedience to His Father, and because of His love for us. Apart from Christ, every single human life would have ended up in hell...eternally separated from God. But because of Christ, we now have an opportunity for LIFE. That is the "good news." What does it mean to live a life worthy of that gospel?

It means saying "yes" to God without delay
It means caring about the things God cares about
It means fully surrendering to Him in everything
It means yielding to His Spirit at all times, no matter what
It means a willingness to do anything, go anywhere and spend everything, for Him
It means taking risks for God, attempting things that will only succeed if God intervenes
It means living a life of faith and trust, not "risk management"
It means talking about His love in your life with everyone you meet
It means offering your body, daily, hourly, as a "living sacrifice" to Him
It means wrestling with God in prayer

Most of the world doesn't "get" our American Christianity; where we switch churches if we don't like the music, or the services run too long, or the kid's teacher/youth group leader doesn't fit our "style." Christians around the world are dying for this gospel. I recently heard of a believer who, only hours after converting to Christianity, was killed, martyred for his faith. This is not something to mess around with. It's life or death.

I believe I would, with God's strength, die for Him. But as one pastor put it recently, what is easier to do? To die for God, or to live for Him? And I had to ask myself, while I'm ready to die for Christ, will I live for Him? Will you? God is doing something in me...a stirring, an awakening. I want my life to count...

27 "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ..." (Philippians 1:27)

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's All About Love (5: Final)

This is, I think, my last post on this topic called "It's All About Love." While this may be the last post, it certainly is not the end of the journey. In the past few weeks, I feel like God has "called me out" with the simple question, "Mike, do you love me?" It's a familiar that Peter had to face three times (see John 21).

Consider this question; "If you died today, what would you be remembered for?" Or if that question seems too morbid for you, how about this simple question; "what are you known for?" Are you known for passionately loving God through Jesus? Are you known for having great faith?

I shared with a friend today that I want to be known by God, and I want to be known by the enemy. I want God to know me as one follows Him whole-heartedly; as one of His "special forces" whom He can ask to do anything, knowing the order will be carried out because of my love for Him. I want the enemy to know me as one who is dangerous to his efforts; one he has to keep an eye on. My greatest fear would be not to be known by either.

Don't get me wrong; I believe that my name is written in the Book of Life forever, and yes, God absolutely does know my name. But beyond that, does He beam with pride when He looks down on me? Or does He grow frustrated, as a loving Father can be frustrated by a son who keeps on making silly mistakes that take him off the greater path.

If you, like me have wrestled at all with living a passionate love relationship in response to our creator, then know that you are in good company. To be in a position where we are constantly seeking intimacy with God...this is a good place to be. Remember, the righteous live by FAITH. Not by sight, not by our own understanding, but by Faith. His promise that we will find Him is a promise fulfilled when we seek Him with our whole being.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

Has the flame of your love grown weak? If so, go back...back to the joy of His salvation. Go back to what your life was like or would be like apart from Christ. Live in that place awhile...I mean really imagine a life with no savior. And let what God has done for you wash over you all anew. And then, follow Him...all in.

Want more on this? Depending on where you're at in your journey, there are three books I'd recommend.
1. Struggle with understanding God's love for you? Read What's So Amazing About Grace - Phillip Yancey
2. Struggle with "working" or trying to "earn" God's love? Read The Prodigal God - Timothy Keller
3. Struggle with feeling luke-warm? Read Crazy Love - Francis Chan

I leave you with a song written by Josh Wilson. They lyrics to the chorus capture much of what I feel...

I try to be so tough
But I'm just not strong enough
I can't do this alone, God I need You to hold on to me
I try to be good enough
But I'm nothing without Your love
Savior, please keep saving me

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's All About Love (4): Where love begins...Wrath

Need to catch up? Read my last three posts here, and then here, and lastly, here.

This is where I may lose some of you. Tired of these "All about love" posts? Ready to move on? Hmmm...sorry to disappoint, but I'm camping here just a little big longer...and really, what better place to camp? I mean after all, we're talking about the most critical question that every single person will have to one day answer to God; "Do you love me?" Ultimately, it's not our mouths that will answer this question, but our lives. God will either say "welcome, enter your rest" or "I don't know you." To those He welcomes, eternal love forever; to those He rejects, it's God's wrath...forever. Those last two sentences I just typed should stop you...they stop me. They scare me. But do we live with this truth?

That's all an opening. The question I'm focusing on answering today is this; "where does love begin?" Or, put it a slightly different way, "how do I 'love' God more passionately?" I think this is especially a struggle for those two types of people; 1) for those who came to faith very early in their lives as children, and 2) for those who were "loved" into the kingdom without ever knowing what they were being saved from.

"So how about it, Mike" you ask? "Where does love begin? I want more of Him, I want this reckless love, I want Christ, but I fight myself so do I get it?" you're starting to feel my angst.

I believe that the pathway to recklessly loving God, holding nothing back, begins by allowing God to take you to the depths of your sin, and His wrath.

 "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness..." (Romans 1:18)

I heard one pastor say "ultimately, God saved us from Himself." God is Holy...He is set apart, and there is NO-ONE like Him. He is eternal; He has no beginning, no end. He is all pure, light, and love. Our sin is something that He cannot live with. Sin cannot remain in the presence of God. Sinners cannot inherit His kingdom. Without Christ, we are condemned to an eternity with that wrath of God sitting squarely on us. The law? No chance. We cannot possibly justify ourselves through the law...we cannot get to God by ANYTHING we do. No amount of good works, no amount of religion, spiritualness, nothing can get you to God...or to put it more aptly, nothing you do can remove your sin from God's sight.

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)

Want to love God more? Want to have a passionate relationship with him, sold out and completely abandoned? It must start here! You are toast. Fried. Done. End of story. You and I, left to ourselves, would spend eternity separated from the one thing that can bring us what we most desire. God's wrath, the punishment of our own sin, squarely laid on our shoulders. Stop for a moment, and let that sink in. Eternity is a very long time to live in a lake of fire.

We are not alone in this struggle. Read...(Romans 7)

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

In short, we are toast. We, a sinful people have absolutely no right, no ability, no chance to ever see God. We are in desperate need of a Savior. And this is exactly where Jesus steps out of heaven and into history. He comes...a baby. Fully God, fully man. And really, it had to be Him. Nobody else could fulfill the law...Christ is the only one who "justified Himself" through the law, and then, after living the perfect, sinless life, dies.

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness...(Romans 3:25)

25Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)

My dear friends, do we ever stop to ponder what we are saved from? Have we been sold a "cheap gospel?" The more I read the New Testament, the more I see how shallow my own faith is. If we want the life that Christ has promised, we must choose that path that confronts us with our own sin and the dangerous path it put us on. Only then can we see Jesus, and respond to Him by laying down our lives as a living sacrifice.

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, my Savior.