Why Christians Say “Christianity Is a Relationship and Not a Religion”

Saul of Tarsus, by his own admission, was a pretty “holy” guy.  He came from good stock.  He states his pedigree in Philippians 3:5-6: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law–blameless.  

The Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, proclaimed himself to be “the chief of sinners” (1Timothy 1:15).

Saul of Tarsus and Paul are the same man.  Saul later became known as Paul (Acts 13:9).

So how can a man move from boasting about being blameless according to the law of God to referring to himself as “the chief of sinners“?  He met Jesus–the resurrected, reigning King Jesus that, as a righteous Jew, he formerly hated.

Here is Paul’s own testimony of his life before meeting Jesus:  “I punished [Christians] often… and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them…” (Acts 26:11)

This same man later testified in 1Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.

How does such a drastic change occur?  It occurs by moving away from religion and into a close relationship with Jesus, the resurrected Son of God.  Saul of Tarsus (the “successful” Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin–the Jews’ Supreme Court) knew what God’s law said on paper.  He even claimed to live by it “blamelessly.”  However, his “blameless” living could not stop him from being enraged against Jesus and Christianity.

You see, it is possible to live out the dictates of what the law says but not be changed by the law in your heart.  You can not kill someone in actuality because the law says to not kill, but in your heart you can wish someone was dead because your heart is filled with hatred.

The Old Testament commanded the Jews: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Yet, it also commanded them, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)  In order to “keep”the law of God, Saul “stood” by the coats of the people who stoned Jesus’ disciple Stephen to death (see Acts 7).  He didn’t actually kill a man, but he murdered him in his heart.  Yet, he claimed to be blameless.

The Apostle Paul would later proclaim as a follower of Jesus, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Corinthians 3:6).

The Spirit gives life… Here is how self-righteous Saul became humble-servant Paul.  Jesus stated before His death and resurrection “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” John 14:16.  There it is!  There is the key!!

Christianity was never meant to be about “pulling yourself up by your boot straps” to gut out some laws so that God will forgive you in the end.  No, Christianity is about having God Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, living in you to help you live the Christian life–to change you from the inside out, to give you a new nature, to convict you of sin, but to help you walk in repentant obedience from the heart.  That is how Paul went from being an anger-filled person into a person who wanted to love others with the love of Jesus (and how at the end of his life he knew he had not fully obtained it because he still referred himself as the chief of sinners).

You see, when a person comes into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he/she comes into a relationship with the living God who is holy and who promises to help us in our times of need.  No, no one is practically holy in and of themselves but we have a Helper to whom we can call upon to say, “O God, please help me!  I feel very angry toward this person right now, but please help me to put my anger to death!”  When a Christian is honest enough with God about his/her sin but also His promised help, that person will be amazed at how God can mold his/her character over time to be a person of love.

The question is, do you know God in this way or are you just trying to keep his laws in your own strength?

Jesus has made it very simple for us when He said:  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Ask Him!!

 

 

 

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

A sparrow is a small, seemingly insignificant bird. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?” (Matthew 10:29) Consequently, especially in America, sparrows don’t command our respect.  A couple of weeks ago, my wife & I went to a Titans football game, and before the game a bald eagle was released from the top of the stadium and it came swooping down to land on its trainer’s arm on the field.  Our response was immediate–“THAT is a majestic bird!” we thought.

Imagine the same scene with a tiny sparrow.  Had we experienced that sight, I’m sure we would have been thinking, “Lame!”  Yet, Daniel Henderson, founder of the 6:4 Fellowship, makes the following assessment about the local church:

“We must remember that the eternal evaluation of any ministry will not be a question of the size a church achieved but the sort of ministry it embraced.”

God’s perspective is not our perspective.  God’s definition of success often does not match ours.  We often believe “bigger is better.”  We tend to believe that the signpost for God’s blessing is found in increasing “budgets, bodies, and buildings.”  While larger churches may be indicative of God’s blessing, size is not a guarantee of strength.  See Paul’s counsel to Timothy, his young disciple:

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  2Timothy 2:20-21

 The eternal evaluation (God’s perspective) of the greatness of any church is determined by the personal holiness of the members, not by their size.  God is looking for people who are passionate about pursuing Him.  The overflow of that pursuit will naturally produce righteousness, faith, love, and peace—the fruit of His Spirit.

The churches in Thessalonica and Smyrna were both most likely small churches numerically, but both churches were praised for being full of faith, love, obedience, and peace.  Laodicea was most likely a large, wealthy church, but Jesus told them in Revelation that if they did not repent He would spit them out of His mouth.

The true sign of God’s blessing is found not in the AMOUNT of ministry that happens through a church but primarily in the QUALITY of ministry through the church. Regardless of the size (big or small), the main questions that need to be asked about a church’s health and effectiveness are:

  1. Is the Word of God being faithfully proclaimed?
  2. Is the Holy Spirit’s presence experienced on a regular basis in worship?
  3. Is the congregation praying, seeking to know and do God’s will for the church?
  4. Are believers warring against their own sin in such a way that they are useful to God?
  5. Are believers humbling themselves before one another, or insisting upon having their own way? (Are church members on “a power trip”?)
  6. Is the church seeking to influence and win people, not to their church, but to JESUS?

There are certainly more questions to be asked, but these six questions help establish guidelines for determining the QUALITY of ministry–irrespective of the “size.”

 

Christopher Hitchens: Unlikely Evangelist

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Rest easy, atheist friends.  I am not seeking to make Mr. Hitchens a Christian. I am, however, promoting the kind of Christianity that Hitch (as he is often referred) encountered in the years leading up to his death.

Larry Taunton is the founder of the Fixed Point Foundation.  According to the website:

Fixed Point Foundation is dedicated to meaningful exploration of the ideas and issues that shape our culture. To that end, Fixed Point has sponsored debates and symposia on topics ranging from atheism and Islam to gay marriage and the relationship between science and religion.

Larry Taunton, a southern evangelical Christian, was also a personal friend of Hitchens.  The two debated Christianity vs. Atheism, and occasionally traveled together, studying the gospel of St. John as they went.  As their relationship grew, Taunton came to the belief that Hitchens carried two sets of books in his life: one set vehemently defended the atheism embraced since his teens; the other set, however, seemed to wrestle with the claims of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The main reason Hitchens wrestled with the Christian faith was because toward the closing years of his life, he developed close, personal relationships with men like Taunton, Oxford mathematician & physicist John Lennox, pastor Douglas Wilson, and geneticist Francis Collins.  In each of these men, Hitchens encountered something he had either never seen or allowed himself to see–Christians who sincerely lived out their faith both intellectually and obediently to the teachings of Christ.

In a public debate with Larry Taunton, an interview asked Hitchens what he thought of Taunton. He stated:  “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” (p.150)

At a book signing, a fellow atheist asked Hitchens why he would even consider taking a road trip with an evangelical Christian (gasp!) like Taunton, and Hitchens replied: “Because he is my friend, and you, sir, are an idiot.” (p.116) [that one made me laugh]

Clearly, Christopher Hitchens was an unlikely evangelist.  Like Pontius Pilate who sought numerous times to have Jesus acquitted because he saw a sincerity and an innocence in Him, Hitchens, knowingly or not, proclaimed the truth of genuine Christianity because he saw in the lives of his Christian friends sincerity, innocence, as well as intellectual rigor.

The gospels tell us that Pilate was “amazed” by Jesus (Matthew 27:14, Mark 15:5).  The Greek word for “amazed” literally means to be “astonished out of one’s sensesawestruck.”  Pilate couldn’t figure out this Jesus, but he was dumbstruck by His genuine truthfulness.  In the same way, Christopher Hitchens was dumbstruck by his Christian friends.

Taunton tells of one such occasion when he says:

“Christopher found this kind of Christianity, the sort that took the Bible’s mandate to care for others, deeply seductive. He had no problem dismissing out-of-hand pretenders, “hucksters” whose sole objective was the acquisition of political power or the maintenance of that power. And it is here that Sasha (his adopted daughter from the Ukraine) enters the story. Just before meeting her for the first time, Christopher, recalling our conversation at the Ritz two years before, asked about the state of her health. “She had to have dental surgery for a root canal and the pulling of seven rotten teeth. But she has recovered nicely, and her HIV is under control.” He froze mid-step, his eyes staring blankly into the middle distance. “She is HIV-positive?” “Yes. I thought I told you that.” “No, you certainly did not. I should have remembered it if you did.” He still did not move. “Oh. Well, yes, she is.” It was not my purpose to shock him, but shock him I did. The effect this additional bit of information had on him was profound. So profound that I knew that something in his thinking had changed in that instant. There was not a hint of criticism in his remarks. It was something closer to astonishment that I had not said this before and that we had adopted an HIV-positive child.” (p.109)

Simply, Christopher Hitchens was stunned in the face of genuine, lived-out Christianity.

To this I say, professing Christian, does your life stun anyone?  We can talk about all of the political and moral mess that our country is in until we are blue in the face, but where the rubber meets the road is this–does your Christian life “astonish” unbelievers?  Are you in close relationship w/ any unbelievers so that they might see the reality of Jesus being lived out in your life?  Does your life STUN anyone as it is marked by faith & love? Jesus, to the end, was stunning people by His life—Pilate, the thief on the cross, the Roman soldier after his death…  This same Jesus commands you:

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

No, I am not seeking to make Mr. Hitchens out to be a Christian.  There is no evidence to his conversion before his death.  However, it is clear to see that genuine Christianity had a major impact upon his life–even to the point of his death.

Professing believer, if you were taken to court and were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

 

 

 

 

The Wars We Will Never Win

God’s ways of deliverance are often unconventional.  God often does not use the world’s methods to accomplish His purposes.  Consider the words from Hosea 1:7:

“…I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword

or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

Clearly, the world employs the arm of strength to win its battles.  The words, “bow, sword, war, horses, and horsemen” all apply to how mankind solves their problems.  Yet, God in this passage states, “I will save them by the Lord their God.”

We typically do not want that kind of deliverance because we don’t understand it.  Uses of our power are completely common to us, and that is why we continue to believe that they will work. The truth is, we can accomplish some things by working hard, but God often reserves some things in our lives that only HE can solve.  As He states in Isaiah 55:8—“…My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.”

God’s Word is true.  He proves Himself over and over, and He does this to prove to us that He is trustworthy.  There are certain problems in life that God will not allow us to solve in our own strength because HE wants to prove to us just how strong He is.

What problem(s) have you been fighting in your life that you are not winning?  What issue is God trying to teach you is beyond your ability to solve?  You will never solve them in your strength.  Some of life’s knots can only be untangled by placing them FULLY into God’s capable hands.

What do you need to surrender to Him?

What Is the Bible All About????

“Jesus is the HERO of the Bible.  You and I are not!  We’re the problem!  There’s only ONE hero, and we (should) go to the Bible to find out about our Hero who SAVES us!” (Ray Ortlund, Jr.)

That is not how most of us read the Bible.  We read it looking for ourselves or we read it looking for a “word” about what we are supposed to do that day. In reality, however, the Bible has a main point, and a main point Person.  Just like other books are written about a single topic or theme, the Bible is written about JESUS the Messiah, and it should be read through the lens of the work of God throughout history to save us–sinful humanity.

Dr. Timothy Keller does a masterful job of taking the “characters” of the Bible and explains how their lives and stories point ultimately to the One who would be the fulfillment of all they, in part, accomplished.  The Bible refers to them as the “shadows”; Christ is the “Substance” that they were pointing toward.  Keller puts it this way:

 

  • Jesus is the truer & better Adam who passed the test in the Garden (His garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Abel who though innocently slain has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our acquittal.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the world, into the void, not knowing where He went.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Isaac who is not just offered up by His Father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. While God said to Abraham, “Now I know that you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from me;” Now we at the foot of the Cross can say to God, “now we know that you love me because You did not withhold Your Son, Your only Son, whom You love, for me.”
  • Jesus is the truer & better Jacob who wrestled & took the blow of justice we deserve so that we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up & discipline us.
  • Jesus is the truer and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the King and forgives those who betrayed & sold Him, and He uses His power to save them.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Moses who stands in the gap between the people & the Lord and mediates the New Covenant.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Job, the TRULY innocent Sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
  • Jesus is the truer & better David whose victory becomes His peoples’ victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk His life but GAVE His life-who didn’t just say “if I perish, I perish” but “WHEN I perish I’ll perish for them to save My people.
  • Jesus is the truer & better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that the storm of God’s wrath could be calmed for us.
  • He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the true Temple; the true Prophet, the true Priest; the True King; the true Sacrifice; the true Light; the true Bread.

Keller’s quote came from a sermon I listened to yesterday.  If interested, you can watch it here.

 

The Whitener That Would Make Billy Mays Jealous

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The Bible is a BLOODY Book. From cover to cover blood is a common theme. When Adam & Eve sinned in the garden, God KILLED an animal to cover them with clothing—the FIRST picture in the Bible of a sacrifice for sin. Cain & Abel each made an offering to God. God rejected Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables, but He accepted Abel’s sacrifice of a sheep that had been sacrificed. Cain then became angry & killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and God said to Cain, “the blood of your brother Abel is crying to me from the ground.” The penalty of Cain’s sinful sacrifice brought a curse upon him…

Many years later, after the Israelites had escaped Egypt and were wandering in the desert, God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle (a worship place) which could be broken down & carried with them wherever they went until reaching the promised land.

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The Tabernacle contained several different pieces of furniture. The first piece that anyone would see when they walked through the gate into the court of the Tabernacle was the Brazen Altar (or literally “Slaughter Place”). It showed the people of God that in order to enter into God’s presence you had to pass by the blood stained altar or not at all. Here animals were slaughtered & then burned on the altar to cover the sins of the people and to serve as a reminder that a holy, perfect God requires blood sacrifice to enter into His presence.

Even at the altar of fragrant incense in the tent of meeting blood is found.  God’s instruction for Moses in Leviticus 4:7 is as follows:

And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

This picture that the Israelites would see FIRST when they came into the tabernacle was a bloody altar. But why?

“Blood is the life-giving and life-maintaining fluid that circulates through the body’s heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. Because blood leaves an indelible stain, Native Americans used it for paint. One pint of blood can save three lives. Here is an undeniable and important fact: Blood gives and maintains lives.” (Bloodwork, Anthony Carter) When blood is spilled, literally the LIFE is poured out. God’s perfection DEMANDS blood sacrifice for sins to be covered. Still, all of these blood sacrifices could not CLEANSE people from their sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 tells us:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

God, who is pristine in His holiness, requires blood sacrifice for sinful humanity to come into His presence.  It is a sacrifice to come before Him.  Yet, these animal sacrifices could not make people clean. They could not TAKE AWAY sins. These sacrifices had to be made over & over for sin but there was also the constant reminder that internally you are unclean.

What Difference Does It Make?

If sins are covered, what difference does it make if we are CLEAN on the inside or not? The difference is that God never intended to just make us aware of sin, or to cover sins. In the Old Testament, God promises  that He is going to cleanse us from our sins. (see Jeremiah 33:8 & Isaiah 1:18, for example).

There are various “types of Christ” throughout the Old Testament that give partial pictures of what the Messiah would be like and what He would accomplish.  The sacrificial system is one of these “types” that prefigures what Jesus would actually accomplish.  Yet, Hebrews says that these things (including the OT sacrificial system) are shadows of what was to come; Jesus is the substance. In fact, when Joseph first hears that Mary will give birth to the Messiah, the angel tells him, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

When John the Baptist sees Jesus walking alongside the Jordan River, John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sins of the World” (John 1:29). (He doesn’t just cover sins…).

The reason we are focusing so much on blood is because the “blood of Jesus” is mentioned in the writings of the New Testament nearly three times as often as ‘the cross’ of Christ and five times as frequently as the ‘death’ of Christ.  The following verses explaining what the blood of Jesus accomplished for believers:

Acts 20:28 Jesus purchased the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Revelation 1:5 from Jesus Christ the faithful witness… loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…

Romans 5:9 Since, we have now been justified (acquitted) by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath…

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption (deliverance) through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…

Ephesians 2:13 in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Colossians 1:20 Jesus has made peace with us making peace by the blood of his cross.

Hebrews 9:14 the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, will purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 13:12 Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

1 Peter 1:18-19 you were ransomed (released/liberated/set free) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Hebrews 10:19 we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.

Hebrews 12:22-24 you have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, & to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground “revenge, revenge, revenge!”  However, Jesus’ blood cried out from the ground “redemption, redemption, redemption!”

Anthony Carter in his book Bloodwork: “There are times in our lives when we do not feel the ongoing, progressive nature of our sanctification. We may even get the sense that rather than progressing, we are regressing due to our perpetual struggle with indwelling sin. It is during such times that the gospel reminds us that our sanctification does not happen because we are willing to shed our blood but because Christ was willing to shed His. It is not our blood and sacrifice that has pleased the Father; it is the blood of His beloved Son.”

Lastly, Revelation 7:14 gives us a wonderful example of the identity of saints in the future when it states:

They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

If Native Americans use blood as paint because it leaves an indelible stain, how much sense does it make to wash garments in blood in hopes that they will become white? It makes absolutely no sense–unless it is the blood of Jesus because it washes everything it touches to immaculate spotlessness.

And that would make Billy Mays green with envy.

There is POWER in the BLOOD!

When the Darkness Remains

I just read on Facebook that one of my friends was requesting prayer.  He just received news that his friend (a man I do not know) has just committed suicide.  Left behind are a wife and two little girls.  Please pray for them.

I hate to hear news like this.  I hate it because of the bomb of suffering that has detonated in his home, leaving every surviving member to suffer with years of their own kind of hell.  I hate it that they will miss his presence in their lives and that these children will probably never understand why their daddy had to die.

Still more, I hate it for the man who died.  I hate it because I’m confident that in the blackness of his night, he could not see a brighter day.  There was probably ONLY the fire of his mind and/or his body that consumed his days.  In suffering there really is no time.  Suffering FEELS like eternity because rarely (if ever) does the darkness lift.  It is just there, heavy and oppressive, strangling you slowly.  It does not allow you to see better times ahead.  It blinds you from seeing a brighter tomorrow.  Death seems like sweet release.

At this point you may be wondering, “how does he know what that feels like?”  The truth is that I LIVED in this dark night of the soul for about 12 years.  I hate it for this man because I very easily could have BEEN him.

No, I have never been suicidal.  But I have felt so hopeless that I did not want to live anymore.  I was afraid to die because I did not know where I stood with God, and I was terrified of finding out.  Yet, life seemed so bleak at times, so grievous, that I just wanted the pain to go away.

That is part of my testimony.

The other part of my testimony is that smack-dab in the middle of my hell was my relationship with God.  For much of those 12 years I felt like God was my Enemy and that He was a cruel taskmaster.  I saw my own sin as much too difficult for me (or God) to overcome, and I saw the grace of God through Jesus Christ as not applying to my sinful condition.  And through much of this time I was in seminary PREPARING TO BE A PASTOR!

What I could not fully realize at the time was that He was actually walking through my hell will me, and He was holding my hand the whole way.  God, by His grace, was carrying me through the fire.  Much like David in Psalm 139:7-8, this was God to me:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in (the grave), you are there!

In spite of myself, at the bleakest of moments when I could not see a way out, God would speak to me POWERFULLY through His Word things like Isaiah 54:11-12:

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of agate,
    your gates of carbuncles,
    and all your wall of precious stones.”

Through verses like these God spoke peace into my heart as if to say, “I see where you are right now, but you will not remain here.  I am going to make something beautiful out of your life.”

That would give me some breathing room for moments or days, but soon the darkness would return and would send me reeling in depression again.  Literally, for the better part of 12 years this was my life.  Utter despair was followed by glimpses of hope, followed by utter despair, etc., etc., ad nauseam

Throughout this entire dark night, my only hope was found in the Word of God.  Throughout the insane cycle of this time period, God would whisper HOPE to me that virtually no person could do.  I always just thought that people were just trying to be nice, but they ( I thought) could not truly see the depths of my depravity–only God could.  Yet, when I would stumble upon some Bible verse it would truly nourish my soul.

There is a verse in Matthew 10:27 that Jesus speaks to His disciples when He says:

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light;

and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”

The reason I am writing this blog today is to encourage YOU if you are in this dark night of the soul.  For those 12 years Jesus was speaking to ME in the darkness.  He was whispering into MY ear promises and comforts from His Word when I thought that I was beyond hope.  Yet, He also gives me a command from these verses, too…

He tells me to “speak in the light” and “proclaim upon the housetops.”  The truth of the matter is that God DID come and DID set me free from the utter hopelessness that my life would ever be better.  When I thought I had sinned too much and gone too far, I was wrong.

My situation and circumstances are my own.  They would take way too long to describe here and are private.  However, I am here to proclaim to YOU in the light, YOUR SITUATION IS NOT TOO DESPERATE FOR JESUS TO CHANGE.  Everyone feels that their case is different and too far gone for God to encounter.

YOU. ARE. WRONG.

I am here to “proclaim from the rooftops” to tell you to RUN TO JESUS for assistance.  He will help you.  It may take time, but whoever puts their hope in Him will never be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).  I can tell you that this is TRUE, as someone who has been bogged down in the miry clay of life.

I hate that this depressed man saw no way out for himself.  Still, I wanted to take this opportunity today to share with you if you are struggling with despair, there IS hope.

“There is no pit so deep that Christ is not deeper still.” (Corrie ten Boom)

 

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

Matt White is a former minor league baseball pitcher who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system. During his time in the minor leagues, he was a struggling pitcher, trying to better himself and make it up to the big leagues.

Matt had an elderly aunt who needed money to pay for her nursing home, and Matt bought her property (about 50 acres) for $50,000. Soon, he decided to build a home on the property, and while clearing a couple of acres to build a home, he discovered stone ledges in the ground, prompting him to have the property surveyed. A geologist discovered that there was about $2 billion worth of stone on Matt’s land that could be used for sidewalks, patios, etc.

Now let me ask you this: AFTER Matt discovered that he was a billionaire, how much pressure do you think he was under to “perform” as a pitcher? (The answer would be “zero”) :). Matt didn’t have to perform at all because he possesses untold riches. He is financially FREE to do whatever he wants! Financially, he is secure for the rest of his life!

This is no less true of the Christian. You have been given untold riches because of Jesus. The apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11states the following: Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The word “justified” is an interesting word. A lot of Christians use this word to say that it means, “Just if I’d” never sinned. This is TRUE, but there is more to it than that. Biblical justification does not only mean that your sin record has been wiped clean, it also means, “Just if I’d” ALWAYS OBEYED. Marcus Sloan once said, “to speak of forgiveness means to say, ‘you may go; you have been let off of your penalty’; but to speak of justification is to say, ‘you may come.’”

Justification, Dr. Tim Keller states, “is a status with all of the rights, privileges, and benefits” given to you. In other words, because of Jesus’ PERFECT life, death, and resurrection, you have had $2 Billion of righteousness (or perfect performance by Jesus) deposited into your spiritual bank account! You have been FREELY welcomed by God because of Jesus! You will NEVER exhaust or out-spend the grace and mercy of God given to you in Jesus Christ.

This understanding is not meant to drive you into bigger and deeper holes of sin. It is meant to drive you FREELY to God (who completely accepts you in Christ)—to not hide from Him (or perform before Him & others), but to run to Him for cleansing and change.

Now let me ask you this: if this is true (and the Bible states that it is), how much pressure are YOU under to perform for God’s acceptance of you? (The answer would be “zero”) ;).

The Way Out of the Wilderness

Do you feel trapped? Do you feel like you are bound up by things of which you are ashamed? Do you feel like particular sins have taken you by the throat and will not let you go?

The reason we wind up feeling this way (especially Christians) is because, as Paul Tripp states, we have literally “worshiped our way into bondage.” Something has grabbed our attention more than God. Something has promised us life and fulfillment, and we have given our hearts to it. What results is that this thing (or things) that we thought would give us fulfillment is now producing death, despair, and regret in our lives. Even good things when they become ultimate things can become enslaving things—things of which we are embarrassed to let others know.

Guess what? “Gutting it out” will not liberate you from the grasp of sin. It was said that Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, truly overcame his alcoholism after he created his 12-step program. That is wonderful. The only problem is that he became a notorious womanizer. He wasn’t free from the grasp of sin; he just traded sins.

No, gutting it out will not help you. If you have worshiped your way into sin, there is only one way for lasting change. You must worship your way out of sin.

Here is a truth from Scripture—if you have been born again by the Spirit of God, no matter what sin you find yourself trapped by this very moment, your sins are gone. You have been united with Christ, and all of His righteousness has been deposited into your spiritual bank account. Therefore, every time you sin now, it is as if your sins are like flash paper. Flash paper burns instantaneously when it is ignited and vanishes. In Christ, your sins are gone. He has paid your penalty. While it is true that you feel guilty when you sin, the truth of Scripture states that Jesus never sinned but He became a sin offering for us on the Cross so that when we believe, all of his perfect sinlessness and perfect obedience to God is deposited into our spiritual bank accounts (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is why the gospel is good news!

But here’s the problem—you may be a Christian, but you don’t believe this. You believe your experience RIGHT NOW is your identity. You have “worshiped” your way into this belief. Therefore, you languish in your Christian life. You avoid worship, other Christians, and transparency about your struggles with sin because you believe your identity is your sin problem. As a result, you despair more and more and cling to your sins more and more because at least they bring some temporary relief.

Nevertheless, if you want to be free from sin’s grip on your life, you have to worship your way out of sin. That may mean that you need to come to church to WORSHIP even when you don’t FEEL like it. The Bible tells us that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Pastor J.D. Greear states, “God’s acceptance of you in Christ is the POWER that liberates you from sin. God’s acceptance is not the REWARD for having liberated ourselves.” If you wait to get free from specific sins before you seek the Lord in worship, will never get free. You need to worship your way out of sin, knowing that RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT you are justified by the blood of Jesus. He is your righteousness before a holy God. Your sins are like flashpaper; they are instantaneously burned up in the holy righteousness of Jesus. Yet, if you constantly BELIEVE that your sins define you, you will rarely go to God for help. You will virtually stop coming to church because your life is a mess. You don’t worship because you don’t feel worthy.

Newsflash—you are NOT worthy. Billy Graham is not worthy in and of himself, but he would be quick to tell you that CHRIST is his righteousness. Christ is big in his life because he has worshiped his way to see that Christ is greater than the fleeting pleasures of sin. If you want to be liberated from the sins that plague you, you must worship your way out, too.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Meditations from the LIBERATE 2014

Last week I was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL at the Liberate Conference. You can find out about this annual conference online at liberate.org. It was a refreshing time for me personally, and I am grateful to God that my church affords me the opportunity to get away for conferences like this to recharge my spiritual batteries!

A couple of things struck me at the conference that I wanted to pass along. The first was a verse of Scripture that pastor Matt Chandler shared, and it comes from Galatians 1:15-16. It states:

“God, who set me apart even at my mother’s womb & called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me…”

Question: Do you know when God was pleased to reveal Jesus to Paul (formerly Saul)? He did this while Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians! God revealed Jesus to Paul while Paul was up to his neck in sin and hatred toward Jesus. THAT is grace! God did not wait for Paul to get his act together before He bestowed His grace upon him. God did it IN THE MIDDLE OF PAUL’S REBELLION! And He was PLEASED to do it!

That makes us shake our heads because we don’t operate that way. We operate (with ourselves and others) by saying, “once you meet my expectations THEN I will forgive you.” Yet God FREELY forgave Paul smack dab in the middle of his rebellion. That is amazing grace!

The second statement that struck me powerfully was Matt Chandler’s statement which was:

We buy into the thought that “a better version of me” will satisfy us & God. AND IT WON’T. It is not some future version of you that God rejoices in. It is you NOW, as your life is hidden with Christ in God.

We typically believe (myself included) that God is merely tolerating who we are right now but that He is going to be much happier with us down the road when we FINALLY get our act together. We believe that we will be much happier and content with ourselves when we get our lives FULLY together…

That day will NEVER come on this side of eternity! There will always be broken pieces in your life on this side of heaven. God ALLOWS those broken pieces to remain so that we will come to HIM for healing and change. He has no intention of ever allowing us to FULLY ARRIVE in this life. He has every intention of allowing us to remain DEPENDENT upon Him because He is your heavenly Father. This is why God has called us into a RELATIONSHIP with Him. It is so that He can show us just how powerful He is to overcome the brokenness in our lives–things we tend to think we could never be delivered from. He is concerned about your remaining indwelling sin, but He is JUST as concerned with the fact that you are His through Jesus.

The point remains, if God has saved you, He is happy with you TODAY, not tomorrow! Allowing this awareness to seep into your spiritual bloodstream—that you are FOUND IN CHRIST—will liberate you from feeling like you have to always be performing for God’s acceptance… and it will change the way you view and treat other people.

Think on these things!!