Saturday, September 20, 2014

Life Formula for the Growing Christian


2 Peter 1:2-11 (MSG) I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master.

3-4 Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
10-11 So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wherever you are in the world, wherever you happen to be, I have a message for you:  You are the church.  If you don't build it, if you don't gather them, no one will.  Africa, Asia, Europe, countries like Rhwanda, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Japan, and so many others.. if you're out there.. and I know you are:  You are the church.  You may be the only gospel someone ever hears, sees, or reads.  Tell it, build it, humbly, generously.  That is your mission, today.  Others will not, you must.  

But why?  Because of what Peter tells us!  The Good news of Jesus Christ.  And the incredible transformation equally offered under God.  Remember, in the end, at the end of the day, what is cohesive about the gospel, about Jesus, about the Bible, about the world Christian movement is this: Knowing God through relating to him. 

Of myself, I am nothing.  In searching for myself, I lost myself.  In receiving Christ, I found myself.  By giving of myself to others, I find all joy.  No man is an island, and no person can exist as a "happy hermit."  So be in close fellowship, the often messy fellowship, and painful fellowship, of believers in the body. 

Within the gospel, the body of Christ, the church on Earth, described in the pages of the Bible is the picture of a sane life.  There is a lot of insane living going on around us, but we turned our backs on that when we came to Christ.  

Remember we are living for something that is real, not imaginary, traditional, or even a better formula for living, no.  This is much more than that.  This is the living gospel, presented and described by eyewitnesses of Immanuel, Jesus Christ, Yeshua, God on Earth in human form.  This is not a game, this is not play time, this is real, real, entirely real.  This is it, when you look out your window, into the star filled sky, into your wife or husband's eyes... you're looking at the handy work of God himself.  Nothing more, nothing less.

1 John 1 (MSG) 1-2 From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.
3-4 We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

Be filled with the unspeakable, indescribable joy of Christ as you help others, teach others, and lift up others.  Humbly, your neighbors, love them audaciously with incredible love that leaves you defenseless to harm and pain.  And they will hurt you, but love them anyway.  Again and again, forgive them, and love them again anyway.  Of course that one takes some teaching, some growing and a malleable spirit willing to be shaped by the loving hands of God.  Be as patient and gentle with yourself as you would be a bruised five year old weeping at your feet.  No man or woman ought to endure abuse from his own lips.  

Living is difficult, but we have reason for great joy!  Jesus Christ, our wonderful savior, the Holy Spirit and the given transformation. 

1 Peter 1:6-16 (MSG) says:

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
10-12 The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!

13-16 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

 We are the heirs of an unspeakable wonder: Fellowship with the architect of Life.  God the Father gives Jesus Christ to us, and we receive his righteousness as a warm blanket in this storm of life.  And through Jesus Christ we receive the Holy Spirit, who begins the process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-9 (MSG) outlined a fascinating formula to help us in living the cohesive, coherent, healthy lifestyle of faith in transformation.  Recall Peter wrote: "complement your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus."

The English Standard Version puts it this way: "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,[e] and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities[f] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Beginning with our base faith in Jesus Christ, flowing from there, develop good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love.

Of course God helps us build these things in ourselves.  But it doesn't come about from inaction.  We need to participate and search out these things.  Let's see how these things can be applied.

Character comes from living as God teaches us to live.  It develops over time, as we sin less and less.  Through love, good deeds, and patience.  Notice a sin?  Pray.  Read a book.  Find support.  Partner with God in conquering that sin, then experience the joy of Christ.  And repeat.  Very simple formula for building of character.  Don't worry, perfection is not required!

Spiritual understanding comes by studying the word, reading it, listening to it, pondering it in the middle of the night, or discussing it at studies with groups.  Amazing how spending time in the word is transformational.  I find it fascinating how some larger churches hardly even spend a moment in the word.  They have all these high tech, pricy presentation videos they get from their church network affiliates, pushing books by powerful evangelicals, and I've sat in on entire series, video lectures, discussions, where the word of God from the Bible is not discussed.  Very strange indeed.

Alert discipline, to me seems like watching our hungers.  What am I letting through?  What is affecting me in my daily life?  What am I missing?  Remain disciplined.  There are so many temptations out there looking to enslave you.  Instead, remain free, sturdy in the knowledge and present love of Jesus Christ. Alert discipline is the maintenance of character.  Believe it, there are many temptations out there looking to hook you in.  Sex sells, so we see a lot of it in our society.  So does pride.  Guard and be alert.

Passionate patience is a simple reminder:  Walking with Jesus is a daily journey.  It doesn't all happen in a day, or a week or a month.  It doesn't even all happen in a year, or five years or even ten.  This is life, there are many years ahead.  Allow yourself careful patience, yet remain passionate for the fellowship in Jesus Christ, the knowledge and relationship to God the Father.  

Reverent wonder is powerful.  The word "sacred" comes to mind when considering reverent wonder.  Reverent wonder is something I feel when I'm staring up into a star filled sky and realize deep down that God made stars thousands of times larger than the entire planet Earth, and he made them by the millions effortlessly.  Then I realize how small I am, 6 feet tall standing on the surface of a rock floating through a giant sea of darkness.  Then I realize how treasured I am by God.  And I revere God, and wonder at his attributes and his power and his glory. 

Warm friendliness is simple, but not easy.  A lot of the time I walk around in a funk, avoiding people, and I'm just trying to get through the day.  Warm friendliness happens when I slow down, and start to think about how I can be kind to others.  Once again, I don't have to be perfect at it.  I don't have to run up to every stranger and gush all over them.  I don't have to save Africa, or start an organization.  But I can smile at someone who seems to be having a tough day.  I can offer a kind listening ear to a friend.  I can say hello to an acquaintance and smile warmly as we walk by each other at the store.  I'm an introvert (and there's nothing wrong with that).  I like being an introvert.  But sometimes it's tough.  Sometimes all I want to do is hide in the canned goods aisle until they walk by.  Sometimes I do hide.  But if I've got a little social energy I can make an effort to be friendly. 

Generous love seems to me to be a very practical and daily part of life that Christians miss.  I've been rebuked by leaders, friends, once, twice, or more who have never once encouraged me in any way.  That's not ok.  But when I'm rebuked, corrected, and so on by a friend or leader who has constantly encouraged me in the past, I know the rebuke is done in love.  This is something the church has to work on.  This is something I have to work on.  But it can be done.  Generously loving people is not easy.  Sometimes it feels awkward, especially for me, an introvert.  But I can do it.  And I try to remind myself to generously give encouragement to those around me.  People spend so much time just trudging, trudging, trudging through life.  They do well for months, even years, but then when they make a mistake should I come out of the woodwork and rebuke?  No.  But if I've been a constant encouragement over those years, letting them know, on any given day, hey, keep it up.  I'm proud of you.  You're doing great.  Then when they need a correction I've done the loving, so now I can do the correcting as well.  Generous love is spending time, showing interest, caring when no one else does.  Generous love is giving of self, even when it's awkward.  Generous love is giving approval, encouraging, caring, and pointing out value.  

All of these various practices when plugged into each other make up a formula for a high quality existence as a growing Christian!  

2 Peter 1:8 (ESV) For if these qualities[f] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I give a homeless woman a ride to the emergency room, or when I sit down and talk to a drunk homeless man without a hint of judgement, that is bearing fruit for Jesus Christ.  That is what is meant by bearing fruit.  Our deeds are shown as evidence for our faith in Christ, and as a result the world becomes a better place.  By practicing the principles of 2 Peter 1 we progressively become more like we're suppose to be: selfless servants of Christ.  

It's OK if you don't feel it right away.  Our actions come first, and eventually our feelings follow.  When I'm sitting with a drunk homeless person that almost took a swing at me 4 months earlier, I may not particularly want to sit there and listen without judgement.  I may feel my mind urging me to call him an idiot and walk away.  But I don't do that.  Then I see on his face that he is experiencing a bit of healing since I'm talking to him and treating him as the valuable child of God that he is.  I see that he is now just beginning to feel that he's worth it to try and work on his situation.  Despite all the big talk of atheists and worldly people about helping others, very little action is there.  Most people just ignore this guy or give him a dirty look.  Somebody has to love him.  That somebody is us, Christians.   

And then I give him some money.  I get up to head to where I was going.  Then I realize, even though I didn't necessarily want to do what I did, and even though my feelings were quite different than my actions, I know deep down I've done the right thing.  I experience the peace and joy of Christ.  And the next time I show mercy to a homeless person, or a friend, or a family member, it becomes easier.  My feelings and thoughts become more and more in sync with the new behavior I'm trying to practice.  Eventually my feelings and thoughts are fitting more and more with the actions I'm practicing to become a better Christian.  And it's just that simple: Do the actions, even if your heart, thoughts, emotions aren't in it, and eventually it will become the new normal.  It's not always easy, but it does work.

 2 Peter 1:10-11 (MSG) So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Related Posts:
Objective Truth on a Spiritual Battlefield
1 Peter 5:6-7 Enduring Spiritual Warfare

Grace and Peace to the Family of Christ
Brothers and Sisters of the Covenant
Peter, a man of Contradictions

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What is Salvation?

Eternal life.  Salvation.  Heaven.  Life-after.  The thin door.  Millennial Kingdom.  Life forever. 

Acts 22:16 ESV And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

This topic has been on my mind as of late.  It is the great assurance of Christians, of our souls, in resurrected bodies, living forever on a renewed Earth.  The world mocks us for such a belief, such a reason, and insists on a material existence.  But we know the miraculous does in fact occur.  The reason is not so obscure or far fetched when examined. 

We evangelical intelligentsia's tend to call upon the reasonably minded to consider the evidence.  But just as much we call upon the sleepy American/western churches to realize that Christianity, Jesus Christ, the Bible, it's not just a nice community, or a wonderful message, it's the actual real truth of life, reality, existence, and everything.  It's real

Since it's real, and right, and true, the perfect ethic, the perfect way of life, and the perfect salvation for all who would hazard investigation, how then shall we live?  Yes, I did steal that line from Francis Schaeffer, but it fits!  That's the call today.

But what about the future?  Our existence doesn't evaporate in 80-90 years.  It goes on beyond that.  It goes far beyond that.  I imagine after 10,000 years in the next life, I will be just as glad then as I am now to have chosen to step into reasonable faith in Jesus Christ.  80 years to choose.  That's what I've got, you've got, everyone's got.  That's a long time.  But what's longer, is the time someone will have to consider their choice to reject God, as they live in total disconnection from him, forever.  Imagine that.  The pain, the regret, the shame, consciously living in that terrible state of disconnection from God.  I wonder how I could endure it for a few minutes, or a full hour.  But someone who chooses that place, the place Jesus called "hell" or "gehenna" they will be there always.  After 200 years of that, no hope.  Another 500 years goes by.  Still no way to leave, choice is made, willful rejection.  10,000 years later?  then another 100,000 years?  Still nowhere to go.  Just sit there.  500 billion years later.. still there.  No escape, no exit.  And no hope of ever being redeemed by Christ.  Such a terrible thing.  Yet perfectly just.  God has not rejected that person.  God offered that person a simple formula for eternal closeness and peace with him.  That person said no again and again and again.  Eventually God stops offering, and gives them what they wanted: disconnection from him.  Nothing to do with him. 

People ask me how a good God could send people to hell.  I say, as CS Lewis wrote, God doesn't send anyone to hell.  A person chooses hell by rejecting God, rejecting the obvious evidence, rejecting the powerful words, and the constant invitations from believers. 

That is not my choice.  My choice is Jesus Christ.  And how he is revealed in the pages of the Bible.  The Bible, a book of impeccable authority and scholarly authenticity.  The Bible's purposeful message is to reveal the road to eternal life.  That way is Jesus Christ. 

The purpose of this post is to see if we can take a look at the Bible as a full revelation when taking considering the idea of salvation.  What does it mean to be saved?  Are there conditions?  What is the full sort of "theology" or studious way of understanding salvation as it's revealed in the Bible?  Let's have a look.

John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is a good place to start.  God offers a gift, Jesus Christ out of love as a simple solution for the problem of sin.

John 3:5 (ESV) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

Rebirth, baptism are part of salvation.

Luke 13:1-9 (NIV) Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Repentance is required as part of salvation.  Most good teachers will acknowledge this.  Is the doctrine of eternal security compatible with scripture?  Nope.  If you aren't active in repentance, and bearing fruit for the kingdom, you'll perish.  I choose to agree with Jesus Christ, not the world or even the confused church of today.  

Romans 10:9 (ESV) Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Belief is an incredibly prominent theme within the scriptures in regard to salvation.  Truly it is the primary requirement for salvation, believing in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his literal resurrection.  Belief in the heart, as said in Romans 10.  Repentance by itself is useless, might as not repent at all if you don't know, trust in, and commune with Jesus Christ.  

Acts 4:12 (ESV) confirms sole reliance on Jesus Christ: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Universalism is becoming an all too common theme in the churches today.  "Jesus Christ is just one way of many to God."  That statement is false in the highest regard.  The scriptures attest to this.  Jesus Christ said "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me."  I was talking to a coworker who was telling me about her Buddhist friend.  I asked her if she believed in Buddhism.  She said yeah, it's just like Christianity, another way to heaven, to God.  False, false, false.  That is not the case.  It wouldn't even make sense.  In Buddhism there is no god, and life is about reincarnating over and over across the ages to pay off karmic debt.  In Hinduism there are over 300 million different gods.  It doesn't make sense.  But try telling that to many Christians so in love with the idea of all inclusive religions and really, anything the world is saying.  Whatever is popular and whatever people like to hear.  That is not the way of Jesus Christ.  That is contradictory foolishness.  Ask a Christian in Iraq, Pakistan, or Iran how tolerant and "basically the same" other religions are.  They'd tell you that Islam is a constant threat to their very lives, where the call is "convert or die."  Ask a member of the Dalit caste of Indian society how great Hinduism has been, and they'd most certainly tell you that India is corrupt and the lower castes have nothing.  Contemporary scholars have argued that British occupiers brought the caste system to India, but that is false, it was simply utilized by the British to control the population more readily

Luke 13:22-25 (NIV) 22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

Fascinating teaching by Jesus regarding salvation.  Won't hear about this one in the hyper-grace gospel.  

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Once again, how is Jesus so amazingly awesome?  I mean wow.  He just lays it out.  It's a very stark reminder that I can't base my doctrine of salvation on only one book, say Romans, which is entirely grace through faith alone.  What about what Jesus Christ himself said?  What about what's recorded in the Gospels?  What about the book of James?  What about Revelation Chapters 1 to 4?  

The Bible is a full and complete revelation regarding salvation and pulling too much from any one book is unwise.  The church of the United States I believe in reacting heavily to a works gospel and a legalism of the past that was dead, entirely without love and something very ugly to behold.  But in the reaction of grace through faith, are we losing the necessity of repentance and radical forgiveness?
Luke 17:1-4 (NIV) Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister[a] sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Jesus taught radical forgiveness.  Incredible repentance.  

Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT)14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver[a] to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together![b]
22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Once again, allow me to obliterate the false doctrine of "eternal security."  I once heard Mark Driscoll say "we don't get our doctrine from parables."  There are many places to look when developing doctrines, and yes the parables of God himself, Jesus Christ, straight from the mouth are most certainly included in doctrine.  Sorry, no way to get around the parable of the three servants or the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15).  

Before we move on let's look at Matthew 25:14-30.  Three servants, representing followers of Jesus Christ.  The master is Jesus, and when he leaves on his trip, that represents when Jesus Christ ascends to heaven, his present location.  The three servants are given silver, probably representing spiritual gifts, ways in which they may serve the church or share the gospel.  The first two servants invested their gifts, the silver and made some profits.  Imagine two people living their lives on Earth as Christians, and they die and meet the Lord Jesus Christ.  The first servant was a dedicated church member, served on several ministries, occasionally talked to friends about Jesus, and cared for his family well.  In so doing he made a profit, and when he meets Jesus Christ he is welcomed as a true servant of God, and he celebrates with Jesus.  The second servant say was an occasional church goer, he prayed regularly, loved Jesus, here and there talked about his faith, went to some conferences, and later on his life he helped his daughter to know Christ.  Wonderful, excellent, again his crop isn't as big, but Jesus doesn't require every person to be a super-dedicated world missionary.  This second servant did his part, lived well, and now he is welcomed as a true follower into the eternal kingdom.  Then there is the 3rd servant.  He was baptized a Christian, believed in his heart, but later on in life he fell away from the practice of his faith.  He didn't attend church for years, didn't pray, and never mentioned Jesus even in the most casual or serious conversation.  He hid his gifts away, did not use any of them at all.  And in so doing, he is disconnected from God.  And rightly so.   Verse 27 here is interesting too.  It would suggest, at least in my view, that a Christian follower of Jesus Christ who even just barely generates a little bit of goodness for the kingdom, just a little bit of interest would find himself welcomed as well into the kingdom.  

In conclusion, let's look at Romans 8:1-11 (NLT)
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.[c] So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life[d] because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

In the end, it's all about faith in Jesus Christ.  Just as Abraham trusted God, and believed what God said, so we Christians trust that after death, Jesus Christ will raise us.  And we trust that in Christ our sins are gone.  Faith is trust.  Trust is faith.  After faith in Christ we receive the Holy Spirit's indwelling, and the Spirit guides us, empowers us, and directs our thoughts and actions.  It's a beautiful thing, justification by faith.  That is the central message of salvation.  Jesus Christ is our salvation.  Yet it is a journey, like the Pilgrim's Progress.  We are gifted grace through faith, and we journey through the world, in the world but not of the world, and at journeys end we have acted as a blessing to others and to ourselves.  We have agreed with God and done our best to repent (have a change of mind) and be active in sanctification (becoming a better person), growing in grace.   

In the final analysis, let me say this:  The purpose here was to look at the full revelation of salvation.  The last thing I want is for Christians to question their salvation on my account.  My desire is that Christians would continue in the faith until the last day. Matthew 24:13 (ESV) says: "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."  My purpose here is the continuation of faith until the last day.  We in the United States like 3 step approaches, 5 steps to success, ordering and receiving and being done there.  The Christian faith is a lifelong journey.  The Christian faith is a lifestyle change for peace.  So fear not, and live to the very last day as a devout follower of the great savior Yeshua, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the risen Lord.

Luke 12:32 (NIV) "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Related Posts:
What is God Like?
God's work in the Human Heart 
2 Timothy 3:1-5 Marks of the Last Days 
Justification by Faith Alone, but What is Faith?  
Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Be a Man

I'd like to address the topic of what it means to "be a man" in society today.  It's hard to know today, just what being a man means!  I see a consumer culture out there, lots of places to spend money, plenty of jobs to be worked, but was there ever something more than all that?  Are there objective mannerisms for the creature of the male gender they call "man"?  

Well, let's see.  A man is a hard worker.  That's a good one.  A man is a father if he has children.  But he may choose not to.  And if he wants to be a mother, well "tolerance."  And if his wife wants to be the father, well, more "tolerance."  You see how it starts to get confusing when we ask the world around us what it means to be a man?  It gets very confusing very quickly.  What's really at the core of the drives within the male creature according to the world around us?

Sex.  Sex right?  Lots of sex.  Sex is god for the post-modern man!  And money.  Lots of money, the god of money of course as well.  Toys too.  Car, truck, boat, van, guns, power and the powerful strength of the man.  The third god, self satisfaction rooted in self deification.  And the three make up a disturbing little trinity for the man of today.

That's some of it.  What about men my age?  21-35?  Well, college of course.  Debt, and more debt.  Girls, girls, girls.  Maybe guys too?  Tolerance. 

And we like to pretend we're immortal.  Death?  I've never heard of that.  I think it's something little people do. I was once immortal in my own mind.  

Rap music, parties, bars and drinking, an open mind toward experimenting and a closed mind toward values of any kind.  Today I see so many men that have no idea how to be men.  Really, they're boys.  Just beneath an exterior of arrogant sarcasm and judgement is a lot of confusion, sadness, and fear.  

We're interested in.. what?  Trucks, cars, motor parts?  Live music?  Beer bashes?  Bieber worship?  The passion of Kanye West?  Pills and playing tough?  Gang banging?  Social media obsession?  Party life?  Raves?  Techno trance scene?  World of Warcraft day and night?  Shows?  Heavy metal?  Mudding?  Twerking?  NFL, NHL, NBA, NCAA?   

Chronic masturbation as well.  Lots of that.  Internet.  Lots of screens, computer screen, cell phone screen, tablet screen, car DVD player screen, mp3 player screen, plugs in the ears, nose and mouth and now we're not far from a chip in the right arm, or maybe forehead.  

 All of these things.. just so much stuff!  Is there a definition of what it means to be a man somewhere in there?  No, I don't think so.  Just a lot of taking dressed up as rewards and fun.  A lot of things being sold to me and you as satisfaction in life, but really what's being done here is a bait and switch.  

Ten thousand different companies, groups, sellers, advertisers all asking for your money in exchange for what they say is wealth, fun, satisfaction, appeal, power, and stature.  But once the money is out of your hand, and the product is in, it's like a Trojan horse.  Out of the product comes addiction, obsession, and hidden underneath, vast disappointment.  Unquenchable disappointment I remember so often.  Being so excited for Christmas morning, for birthday gifts, for the next drug, the next party, the girl I really liked, the Xbox, the Playstation, the new car, and always, every time, disappointment once having it. 

Who talks about values, morals, and truth in all this?  Nobody!  There are just no outlets that can speak through all the noise!  Between television, the internet, college campus, bars, parties, and work hours, there is no time left.  There is so much to do there is nothing of value done!  

But there are some people talking about morals, values, and truth.  Thank God for those heroes of mine.  Heroes like you.  And that my friend, is what it is to be a man today.  It's to be a hero.  Because we're fresh out of heroes.  No one is stepping up.  Too many are asleep.  You're the man.  And if you won't be a man, there are not ten others to stand up and be the man for you.  Just you.  Today.  Make a choice.  You've always got the choice.  

Let all the noise fade away.  Let all the addictions, desires, stresses, fears, worries, and obsessions drift off.  What does it really mean to be a man?  

Let me tell a bit about what I believe and know it means to be a man.  

The Bible provides the objective truth I need to learn how to be a man.  Atheists and agnostics can talk about morals and values all they want, but often on inspection those lives are found to be hedonistic and depraved.    Of course the great terror is apathy.  It's not that any man or woman is necessarily a staunch atheist or agnostic, it's that they just don't care.  Apathy is the illness of this age.

So here is the plan, the formula, some pieces of the puzzle that weave into the fabric of what "being a man" means.  

You could really pull truth from so many chapters, sections, and verses of the Bible to discover these truth statements, but these are some that seem to speak really well on the truth.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.  

Men are watchers, guards, defenders of the faith.  They defend their families, they defend their countries, and they defend the truth.  Men care for their families, their parents, their children, their wives financially, and emotionally.  Many might do verse 13 but fail to do verse 14: do it all in love.  That's the tough one for a lot of guys.  Then there are other guys who are great lovers, but have a hard time acting like men and being strong.  They get the bad rap in our society, but the idiots who do everything without any love are just as bad, if not worse.  

Men are watchers, they observe the times and politics and issues of the day, and take a stand for their country politically, socially, and spiritually whenever need be.  

Men are faithful.  They're faithful to their God, their wife, and their families.  They provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8).

Psalm 119:9-16 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. 

Men, especially young men are being pulled in a thousand different directions.  In general young men seem guided by their own appetites and nothing more.  That is not the way of the man of God.  Guard yourself.  Once again the language of a soldier, a watchman, a defender.  There have never been so many delicious enticements screaming from every corner of the culture.  Begin to weed out those negative influences and fill them with positive ones.  Me personally, I no longer have a television.  The furniture in my living room is no longer all pointed directly at the giant screen.  Instead it's arranged in a fellowship circle, with two bookshelves along the sides.  Television is an endless assault of pushing want, buy this, buy that, you're hungry for this, if you drink this you'll get this woman, sex, sex, sex, if you think that's not affecting your hungers, you're a fool.  Magazines, music, advertisements, venues, people, what weeds need to be pulled in your life?

1 Timothy 6:11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 

Continuing on, for a man of God, his pursuits are vital to his health and power and ability to lead and stand against tyranny.  Prescription medications for anxiety, depression, sleep, pain?  Alcohol, beer, cigarettes?  What am I in pursuit of?  What are my goals?  There is always another day ahead to begin changing all my pursuits from foolishness, to the most vital things in life, faith, love, godliness, righteousness.  Keep in mind, what am I going after?  

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. 

Real men love Jesus, and they have friends who love Jesus.  And those friends who love Jesus function as iron sharpening the man to become a better weapon for truth.  

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 

At some point it is time to stop being a boy, and start being a man.  I was able to tell myself I was just being young from about age 17 to 22.  But once I turned 23,24,25, I realized I was just being a man-boy idiot.  I was a joke.  Thank God for Jesus Christ and the Bible, helping me to become a real man.

1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 

There will be friends of yours, as they see you changing, becoming a real man, serving God and caring for those you love who will brutally mock you, ridicule you, and just straight up laugh in your face.  That's because they are man-boys, and your attempts to grow and change are making them feel guilty about being so pathetic.  Don't let them dissuade you.  Tell them to grow up, invite them on the path with you, maybe they'll join you, maybe you'll have to tell them to get lost.  

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 

Do justice.  Be kind.  Walk humbly.  Incredibly amazing advice from the book of Micah.  We all love justice.  I know I love it.  My name "Justin" means "justice."  It's a word I love.  It means people are treated fairly, they aren't unjustly abused or let off entirely.  Justice is done.  Be kind, very simple.  Be nice to people.  Is that tough or something?  But definitely be real at the same time.  Walk humbly is a keystone, it's vital.  If I start to get all proud and prideful I'm in trouble.  I've gotta stay humble or I may lose all I've gained.  

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way

Don't worry when you don't know what to do next:  God has your back.  He'll help you out, and he knows your future.  

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” 

And one last life verse, be strong and courageous!  Real men are strong and courageous people of faith.  Do not be afraid, don't dread anyone or anything.  God is with you.  Now go, mighty men, and be heroes in this age.  Because we're in desperate need of real men today.  Amen.

“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”  -Judges 6:12


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Called from the Dead End course of the World

God is good.  Never forget that.  Even when great pain and trouble falls upon us, his people, God remains good.  

Job said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21 KJV). 

As I approach the two year mark on this journey of faith and recovery, I find myself embattled with many issues and great depression.  

Priests talk of midnights of the soul.  The past two years have been a long midnight.  Before that I was in the dark also.  For about five years, twilight, another five years, pitch black.  

Jesus said, "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45 ESV).

It's always at those moments when things go from bad to worse that I start to question.  I don't question the sovereignty of God, but I do question the goodness of God.  How can you let this happen Lord?  Won't you step in just a little, and spare me the worst of these emotions?  

Sometimes when you're feeling really bad, some jerks are gonna show up and make you feel even worse.  Just like with Job.  He's lost everything, he's bleeding and his children are dead.. and then his three buddies show up to insult him and argue with him.  Always a pleasure. 

From Psalm 34:17,18: When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 

I'm the crushed in spirit, that description fits me perfectly.  I'm the depressed, the deeply troubled, the saved, yet sad.  I'm sure that's true for many of us.  We're Christians but we're suffering from the woes of this world.  It's a natural state.  

Psalm 35 Of David.

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin[a]
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”
May those who seek my life
    be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
    be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind,
    with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
may their path be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
Since they hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
    and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim,
    “Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
    the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
11 Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
12 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.
13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
    and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
14     I went about mourning
    as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
    as though weeping for my mother.
15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
    assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
    They slandered me without ceasing.
16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;[b]
    they gnashed their teeth at me.
17 How long, Lord, will you look on?
    Rescue me from their ravages,
    my precious life from these lions.
18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
    among the throngs I will praise you.
19 Do not let those gloat over me
    who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
    maliciously wink the eye.
20 They do not speak peaceably,
    but devise false accusations
    against those who live quietly in the land.
21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
    With our own eyes we have seen it.”
22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
    Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defense!
    Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
    do not let them gloat over me.
25 Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!”
    or say, “We have swallowed him up.”
26 May all who gloat over my distress
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
    be clothed with shame and disgrace.
27 May those who delight in my vindication
    shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,
    who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
    your praises all day long.
Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against us.  But it's not.  There may be a few.  There may be many unseen forces.  There may be many outlets and forces at work behind the evil in this world, but God is sovereign over all life.

And the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the beautiful song, the quiet truth behind all the rustle and bustle of humanity struggling to make it's way on it's own.  God picks out the few and draws them in a different direction from the dead end course of the world.  

I'm honored to be one of those few, and I hope you are too.  

Romans 9:22-26 (NIV) 22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25 As he says in Hosea:
“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
    and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
26 and,
“In the very place where it was said to them,
    ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”