Who is God for?

LetYourLightShine

Have you ever pondered the question of whether or not God was for you? What does that exactly mean? Are we asking if God is in support of what we want or how we would like our lives to turn out? How about during strife with someone else? Do we wonder if God would take our side in the ordeal? Maybe He’s for our career pursuits? In times of war, is He for our nation’s cause or the other?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31 NIV

I think its very important to understand the context of this passage in Romans. I hear or read people quote it often and quite a lot it seems to be thrown around pretty loosely to apply to almost anything. Yes, God is for us. But what does that mean? If you read the entirety of chapter 8 (in light of all of the Book of Romans) we are being told that God is for our spiritual transformation and our eternal destination. Those are the two things God wants more than anything for every person in His creation. No matter how much we run away, God wants us back. No matter how much we bring shame to His name or ridicule His holiness with our lives, He wants us back. God is for us in the best possible way. God is always faithful and God is always true. Instead of wondering if God is for us, we should focus on whether or not we are for Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Neither Ignorant nor Fearful

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I have noticed two very contrasting views of the current pandemic. Some speak out in an apathetic tone almost in a way to scoff at the coronavirus. I’ve heard claims from people about COVID19 not being a big deal or that its a media-driven hysteria that’s not really worth worrying about. These are those who refuse to take precautions and who may even make fun of or ridicule those who do. On the other end, there are those who are in a sheer panic. They’ve stocked up and barricaded themselves. They are the ones emptying the shelves of the grocery stores and feeding the worldwide anxiety. Both extremes shield themselves from reality. and for followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t find ourselves in either one of these camps.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  James 3:17 NIV

Ignorance is never a beneficial approach to…well…anything. People who downplay the significance of this pandemic are simply promoting a lack of respect and compassion for those whose lives have been shattered and the wreckage it has left behind in their families. More than likely, their own convenience is driving much of their attitude. No doubt, many have been forced to make huge sacrifices. This is difficult on so many levels. For Christians, our hearts should be turned towards prayer for the hurting and action to do what we can to help those in need. The last thing Christians should ever be doing is complaining and downplaying while so many have been devastated. The coronavirus IS a BIG deal. Let’s promote mercy and be considerate of others. That’s wisdom from above.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

Fear cripples people. It’s so hard to watch somewhat riddled with worry. It consumes their thoughts. They believe that the worst is not only probable but imperative. For a Christian to be paralyzed by fear is contrary to the very Spirit within us. Whether it’s through heavenly wisdom or heavenly power, the believer is driven by compassion and love and the pursuit of peace. Fear prevents people from those things. And so does ignorance. In this time of hardship that’s ravishing the world, let’s not be part of the problem by being ignorant of fearful. Let’s be lovers of peace and truth. Let’s hold fast to the anchor of our faith…Jesus…and share Him with the world. In the darkest of times, the light of Jesus’ followers should shine brightest.

Peace in Christ loved ones

The salvation equation

 

Have you ever tried to “add” to our salvation? What I mean by that is you think you need to accomplish something in order to seal your salvation. There’s a stark contrast between adding to our faith and adding to our salvation. Passages like 2 Peter chapter one and James chapter two can make people think that somehow there’s an equation associated with salvation. Something like Jesus plus…(you fill in the blank) equals me being saved.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

For me, I struggle with a perfectionist mentality. I can’t stand doing something less than extremely well. When I don’t, which is often, I feel a sense of failure. When it comes to my relationship with Jesus, I’ve based my sense of well-being on how well I’m doing as a follower. Some of the factors that affect my perception are things like how often I’m serving those in need, how much prayer time I’m devoting, if I’m keeping up on my Bible plans, if I’ve devoted a lot of time to worship or not, and how well I’ve treated others. No one would argue that those aren’t all great things, right? But nowhere in the Bible does it say that my salvation is based on my relationship with Jesus PLUS how many times I pray or sing worship songs or serve the homeless.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

All of us have been guilty of pursuing holiness as a means of being in the presence of Jesus. All that amounts to is self-righteousness which is no righteousness at all. The only true righteousness is that which is imparted by faith in Christ. Everything else is but filthy rags according to scripture. It’s being touched by God that makes us holy and it’s because we’ve been made holy that we start acting accordingly. Isaiah, a devout man of God, (probably far more than any of us here tonight) knew that nothing he had done could possibly warrant Him being in the presence of God’s holiness in the temple. That privilege had to be granted by God alone. The same goes for Moses before the burning bush as he stood on holy ground.

“Holiness is not the way to Christ, Christ is the way to holiness.”

Charles Spurgeon

We need a humble heart that knows our need, not a puffed-up spirit built on the backs of all we’ve accomplished. We have to stop thinking that we add to or earn our salvation in any way. And we also can’t be people who seek to push a similar agenda on innocent believers and non-believers alike. The Apostle Paul was appalled by such people. There were those in the first century, and every century since, who were pushing a message of “now that you have Jesus you still need all of these other things in order to be saved.” Paul rebuked these people. Just check out Colossians 2, Galatians 1, and 2 Corinthians 11 if you want to see exactly what I’m referring to.

Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6 NASB

It all boils down to this: if we say, in any way, that Jesus plus ___ equals salvation, we are devaluing Jesus. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. His blood cleanses us from sin. His life gives us life. He makes us children, and heirs. It was Him who ransomed you and me from the grave and In the end, it will be Jesus who ransoms this world. That is the message we carry and we need to share with the world, and with ourselves.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

Jesus plus NOTHING equals salvation. Walk in that freedom brothers and sisters.

Jesus and the Unknown

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I don’t think that Jesus meant for life as His disciples to be safe. His invitations included picking up our cross and following Him, going to the ends of the earth, reaching out to the outcasts of society, loving our enemies, hating sin, crucifying our selfish desires, leaving what we know, and waging a spiritual war that sees people freed from bondage. None of that is safe.

Every single day we are met with choices that either lead us into His presence or distract us from it. Just like Peter, a disciple of Jesus had the choice to walk out on the water to meet Jesus or let security keep him in the confines of the wooden vessel. We either step out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus or we stay in the boat and ignore His call. We can’t do both. But to step out of the boat enters us into the unknown. Will we sink? Even worse, will we drown? Or will He give us the ability to walk on the waters?

The boat is safe. The known is safe. But the call of Jesus brings us to the precipice where we can leap and allow Him to give us wings or turn and walk the safe and spiritually dull life. Our faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves. His love is not something to be selfish with. That faith and love should move us into action. We should be speaking up, standing up, rising up for truth and love. Forget political correctness. The world needs spiritual correctness. The world needs to see people brought to life by the power His love. The world needs us to get out of the boat. The world needs us to forsake our comfort and reach out.

We can walk the day to day grind with our blinders on. Or we can choose to keep our gaze out for others in need, for opportunities to disrupt our routines, and moments to sacrifice on behalf of others.  Perhaps the reason so many of us get weighed down with boredom or worldly concerns is that we’ve lost sight of our Lord’s call…to love Him and to make His love known.

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4 ESV

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Unknown

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Life is but a series of choices.

Two or three paths that may be wandered at any given moment.

One would have been walked many times before.

Another is new yet the destination is not unknown.

As one gazes into the third the distance is blinded from view.

It is easy to be torn.

Thoughts of venturing the first two paths may dull the senses.

The drudgery of certainty weighs down enthusiasm.

But that same certainty screams of safety.

The more one ponders the more one may be drawn to the unknown.

Your feet could be standing at the precipice.

But you could also be given wings to fly.

 

 

Self-defeated

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*Image from Generationchurch

There exists a conflict that runs the length of the Bible. I’m not talking about the wars to take back the promised land or even to defend it from the Assyrians or Babylonians. Neither am I referring to the struggles to throw off the oppressors in the book of Judges. Nor am I speaking about the war to end all wars in the book of Revelation.  I am talking about the one that began within the very first humans and continued in every human after. The conflict is with ourselves.

I will be right up in the front of the line with those arguing in support of spiritual warfare. It’s all over the pages of the Bible and all through the years of everyone’s story. However, where I tend to veer off is when I hear people passing along what I consider too much blame.  Let’s be clear, the devil doesn’t make us do anything. The buck stops with us. We make the choices that steer our lives, for good or for ill. We choose whether or not to sin. We choose to believe lies or seek the truth. We choose whether or not to get educated on why we believe the things we do. We choose to hate or to love. We choose to forgive or to hold on to offenses. We choose how to let the things that happen to us mold us. There are rare occasions where people can be possessed. Jesus set several people free from demons during His time among us. But that does not translate to the vast majority of our stories.

The good news is, all of us can have victory over ourselves. What I  mean by that is, our natures can change. How we view our existence can all be commonly viewed through the same lens. Our experiences do not dictate our place in this world nor our value. Our origins (being made in God’s image), our purpose (to be with and love God forever), and one extreme act of love (Jesus giving His life for us) can change everything for you and me.

When Jesus was addressing the churches in the book of Revelation he made a statement to each one about how to have victory. Not all of the churches were following Him as they should. Just like not all of us are following Him as we should. But He left that beacon of hope for every single one of us.

Jesus said, “To him who conquers…

  1. I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Rev 2:7 (ESV)
  2. will not be hurt by the second death. Rev 2:11 (ESV)
  3. I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Rev 2:17 (ESV)
  4. I will give authority over the nations. Rev 2:26 (ESV)
  5. will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Rev 3:5 (ESV)
  6. I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Rev 3:12 (ESV)
  7. I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Rev 3:21 (ESV)

What are we conquering exactly? We’re conquering the enemy (the satan) by not listening to his lies or modeling his character. We’re conquering life’s circumstances by not letting them dictate our own view of ourselves. We’re conquering the world by choosing a higher path and not conforming to the patterns of godlessness celebrated in the world. We’re conquering persecution and trials by enduring till the end. And we’re conquering sin by not choosing it and repenting in the times we fail. This sounds like a heavy load and tremendous responsibility. But it comes with an incredible series of promises to all those who give their lives over to Christ. The even greater news is, we’re not alone in this endeavor. As Paul tells us in Romans, our life circumstances cannot separate us from the Love of Christ. The times we fail to glorify Him don’t even separate us. When we choose Him, we are His. We can rejoice in that security and the strength that Christ gives us to be conquerors in His name.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   Romans 8:35-37 (ESV)

On our own, we will be self-defeated. But through Him, we are more than conquerors! rejoice, believer, and go and live in that freedom.

His no matter what

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,”. Ephesians‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There have only been a few moments in my life when I’ve had to make the choice to stand for Jesus rather than stand with the crowd, and it actually cost me something big. And I use the word “big” loosely. I’ve lost friends and family members because of my faith. I’ve lost financial opportunities as well. I’ve faced my fair share of criticism. But I’ve never had to make a choice that would put my life at risk.

I read a story recently about a man named Sebastian. He was a follower of Jesus in the early days of the church. But his station in life made his faith something of a problem. Sebastian worked directly for the Emperor of Rome in a time Emperor wanted to be worshipped as a god and had no patience for a rival. Here’s a bit of the story.

Sebastian walked through the halls of the palace daily. He had worked hard to get to this position in the royal guard, but once he had gotten to Rome, he restrained himself from the idolatrous lifestyle of imperial Rome. He only wanted to serve Christ wholeheartedly. 

When Emperor Diocletian heard of his restraint, he had little interest in his service record. He confronted him and found out about his faith. At this, he ordered Sebastian taken outside the city and shot to death with arrows. The soldiers did their job and left his body to rot. Soon a group of Christians came to give his body a proper burial. As they lifted him, one of them exclaimed, “He moves!” “Shhh!” cautioned another. “Let us take him somewhere safe.” Sebastian was taken to one of their homes where he was treated and recovered from his injuries. As soon as he was well enough, he placed himself before the emperor again. Once he had tasted the hope of heaven, the pleasures of this world had even less appeal for him. The emperor was of course shocked to see Sebastian seemingly back from the dead. He ordered Sebastian seized and beaten to death and his body thrown into the sewer. His body was recovered again by Christians and buried in the catacombs. 

A time may come when we are all asked to choose between our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to our physical life. Even if that day does not come, we are all asked to stand with Him no matter what. No matter the words spoken about us. No matter the judgement cast our way. If you are His, be His, no matter what. Pray for me that I will have the strength to answer that call.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Acts‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Faith of Women Series: the Sinful Woman

Just as this series began with a story of redemption, I thought it appropriate to end with one, since that is what the entire story of the Christian faith is about. Our series started with Rahab, a woman with a less than good reputation. But she proved to be instrumental in the story God was unfolding through the people of Israel. The woman of faith we are focusing on today was an outcast of Jewish society. Much like Rahab, she would not be the top choice in many churches. But she is nonetheless, an example for followers of Jesus to aspire to. Here’s the story out of Luke.

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Luke‬ ‭7:36-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Luke 7 a broken, sobbing, unnamed woman enters the home where Jesus is dining. She anoints his feet with oil and tears, wiping them with her hair. The men present talk about her like she isn’t even there. They are offended by the “sinner” in their presence.

Much debate exists over who the woman in this story is. I would caution anyone to rush into claiming to know her identity. The safest thing to do is to remain silent when the Bible is silent. The question of who she was must be left unanswered. Two answers have, however, been suggested by various sources. They are only theories though. One suggests she was Mary of Magdalene. The belief adopted by some interpreters, and more or less generally received in the Church of Rome, is that the woman was none other than Mary the sister of Lazarus. Both of these assumptions are quite a stretch with no basis of supporting information from the gospel texts. If the name had been important, the Lord would have impressed it on Doctor Luke to include it. The point of this story is not her name, it’s her heart.

“Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”” Luke‬ ‭7:39‬ ‭ESV

We know only one thing about who this woman was: she was a sinner, That label, in this context, denotes that she was a woman well known for her lewd behavior. More than likely she was a prostitute due to the way the phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible. But no matter how much others wanted to label her that way, she wouldn’t allow it to define her destiny. In this concise passage from Luke’s gospel, we see the entirety of God’s mission in play.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans‬ ‭5:6-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This woman saw something special in Jesus. She saw a necessity that couldn’t be filled in any other way. Jesus was her freedom. Her past would not deter her. Quite possibly she had been involved in her sinful lifestyle the day of this life-altering encounter. But sin requires a savior. The holiness of Jesus did not deter her, it attracted her. Faith overcame her failures.

“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”” Luke‬ ‭7:44-50‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Who among us would go to such great lengths to show Jesus our love for Him? First, she had to recognize her sin and then she had to seek out the cure. Some sources suggest she was a gentile woman. Whether she was or wasn’t she still followed Jesus into the home of a Pharisee. That’s a huge no-no for a “sinful” woman. She could have very well been sealing her own death sentence. Instead of finding death, she found new life. And that’s exactly what faith does. It recognizes our need for Jesus and follows Him into any unknown danger. Her love for Him steered her course, not because she was worthy of Him, but because she knew she wasn’t and He chose her anyways. The same is true for all of us. No one in history ever deserved to kiss His feet or shower them in their tears. Which is precisely why her faith and His love are so amazing.

*I have enjoyed so much going through this series. We’ve looked at some pretty amazing women from the past, who’s faith exceeded our own. I just want to give a huge thank you to all the women in my life who have loved Jesus and followed Him into the unknown and spend their lives trying to make Him known. I’m a blessed man. Take the time to thank the women of faith in your own life. They are so important and are far too often overlooked. Thank you also to all the women of faith who have been reading this series. You’re changing the world around you!

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

A leap from the edge

Parenthood gives us so many glimpses at the realities of how God views and wants to interact with us as His children. It’s just another grace of His and for me, it really makes the Bible come alive in unique and powerful ways. One such moment happened recently. My family and I were over at a friends house swimming. After a long time of playing we got out to have some lunch. When we were all finished and it was time to get back to the water we all waded it, that is, all but my oldest daughter. She walked around the pool’s edge rounding up toys to put in the pool before joining the rest of us. It was then that I had a fun idea.

My mind drifted back to times when I was little and I would leap from the pool’s edge into my dad’s arms. That’s how I learned to not be afraid. It wasn’t long before I would jump on my own. So I got my five year old daughter’s attention and said, “why don’t you jump from the edge and I’ll catch you?” Up to this point in the day she had mainly splashed around in the shallows with a floating vest on. Now I’m asking her to take a leap into the deep end. She paused and said, “no way daddy!” As most any father would, I encouraged her to face her fear and to give it a shot. Her hesitation turned to trepidation. It an attempt to calm her little heart I looked at her and said, “sweetheart, do you trust me?” Her eyes shifted from the water to me and she replied in a soft voice, “yes.” I smiled and told her, “that’s all you need. I know it’s a big jump and we’re in the deep end, but I’m in the deep end with you.” After a few more seconds of hesitation, my daughter inched to the side of the pool. Draping her toes over the edge, slowly bending her knees, legs shaking a bit, arms stretched out towards me, she jumped.

During a simple fun day at the pool, this moment probably did more for me than it did for her. I hope she gained confidence in overcoming something that was big and scary for her. But in that moment I felt the Holy Spirit teaching me like I was trying to teach my daughter. You see, what my daughter was asked to do is, in a way, a lot like scenarios that we find ourselves in with a fair amount of regularity. As followers of Jesus, we’re asked to take many leaps from the waters edge. Sure, it looks different in each of our lives but the idea behind it all is the same. A life of faith is a life lived by jumping in to the deep end when we can’t swim. But our faith tells us that our Heavenly Father is in the deep end with us, ready to catch us so we don’t seek to depths. We are all faced with the same choice that my daughter had, do I let me fear of the unknown and possible danger keep me from jumping, or do I listen to my Father’s voice and trust Him to catch me?

Faith of Women Series: Lydia

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” Acts‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ESV

Scripture does not supply us with any information regarding Lydia’s background apart from the fact that she lived in Thyatira which was one of the Macedonian colonies. Thyatira was conspicuous for its many guilds which were united by common pursuits and religious rites. One of these guilds was that of dyers. The water of the area was so well-adapted for dyeing, and the unique purple dye of Thyatira brought the city universal renown. This is the atmosphere that Lydia found her self in. According to Acts 16:14, Lydia was a well-known seller of this product making her an example of a successful business woman in a prosperous city.

I believe there are several observations about Lydia that make her a great example of faith. First, she is labeled as a worshipper of God. No one knows for sure if she was of Jewish descent. Most speculate she wasn’t due to her name and where she lived. Most in Thyatira wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. It was a center of Greek paganism and the worship of many other gods, mainly Apollo. The fact that she worshipped the God of Israel made her set apart from the crowd and willing to be different for her convictions.

A second observation about Lydia is that she was actively seeking out the things of God. In verse 13 Paul said that they went to a place of prayer by the riverside on the sabbath day. Lydia was there. She was a woman of prayer, not afraid to be seen among other believers, outside the gates of the city wall. She risked a lot for her faith…to be active in her faith. This is where she met Jesus. As a worshipper of God, Lydia only knew him in part. In Jesus, we get a much fuller picture of who God is, since Jesus is the full embodiment of God’s holiness and character and love.

Thirdly, Lydia responded to the gospel without hesitation. As Paul preached, she soaked it all in. The Holy Spirit moved in her and when it did, she took the call to be baptized, making her public confession of her faith in Jesus.

Lastly, Lydia showed her love for others. She most likely contributed to her family’s salvation and baptism and immediately requested that those carrying the gospel come to her home to be taken care of. Her faith becomes action in the form of her generous hospitality. She maintained that hospitality by continuing to take care of Christians after this original encounter. After Paul and Silas got out of prison (for preaching the gospel) they went to see her where many brothers and sisters in Christ were. It is very likely that Lydia had started a home church there.

“Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he asked for the prayers and support for the women who had labored beside him in the furthering of the gospel. Lydia was undoubtedly one of them. Her presence and example would continue to carry on. Her life was spent for the gospel of Jesus. Today, she is regarded as one of the greatest women of faith among the Orthodox Christian church, which has its roots in region Lydia called home.