The Only Question That Really Matters

sin, salvation, the gospel, faithI try not to pay much attention to politics or current events.  I have a friend at work who, I am fairly certain, thinks of me as either willfully ignorant or somewhat uncaring about the world at large.  Whenever he tells me about the latest plane crash, energy crisis or political scandal that is making the headlines my usual response is something like “hmm” or “oh, really?”

It’s not that I don’t care or that I am unconcerned about the world in which I live.  It’s simply a matter of perspective and the difference between mine and his.  He’s a professed atheist and I am not.  I love the Lord Jesus, read my Bible daily and I try to view him and the world around me through the lens of God’s grace and redemptive plan.

He knows that I am a believer in Christ and that I attend church weekly but as a non-believer without a strong biblical background he doesn’t really understand my point of view.  No one can, not unless they are first adopted into the family of God by faith and belief on the Lord Jesus Christ and the washing and remission of sins.

What I would really like to say to him is “God is in control, love and serve Him with all of your heart and leave the rest to Him” but as my desire is not to antagonize Him it comes out as “hmm” or “oh, really”.

I say all of that to say we need to be careful about not getting so caught up in lesser matters.  What exactly is a lesser matter, you might ask?  I leave the precise answer of that question up to your conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit but for me a lesser matter is one that distracts from the message of the gospel and the good news that Jesus saves.

In terms of politics do I want a strong believer in the White House?  Absolutely, I do.  I pray for my country and its leadership often.  But I am not open to entering into political debate on my position because ultimately it is going to lead back to my belief in Jesus Christ and in God’s plan for this world and for His people.

In terms of social matters, do I support gay marriage?  Well, I believe the act of homosexuality is a sin and I also believe that marriage is defined by the Bible as the union between one man and one woman.  However, our lawmakers, the ones in charge, have decided to extend the same rights and privileges to same sex couples as heterosexual couples and now I, as a believer, have a choice in how I will respond.  Will it be a response that is filled with care and concern for the soul of each individual or will it be a bitter complaint against the sorry state of our world?

I will insert here C.S. Lewis’s response to a question about homosexuality just because it is such a good one:  “I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of homosexuality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause: that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”  Notice how C.S. Lewis takes on the question of homosexuality?  By answering it in the context of scripture and bringing the discussion around to God’s plan.  And that is exactly how we should be striving to answer any and all questions about our society and our world.

In short, you can’t expect the unrighteous to live righteous lives and instead of focusing on the fruits of sin and the behaviors of the lost we should instead be focusing on God’s grace and doing everything in our power to point the lost to Him.  I’m not condemning those who get involved in good causes and spend their time and energy to make the world a better place but I am saying that if we lose the message of the gospel or if it gets somehow overshadowed by our cause then we have lost everything that this world really needs.  And at that point our cause amounts to very little.

The world we live in has issues but the reality is there is only one issue: Sin.  And that means that there is only one question that really matters.  Everything we do should lead up to and expand upon this one question.  “Do you love the Lord and live each day to serve Him?”

Where True Beauty Resides

salvation, redemption, creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Philippians 1:6I don’t often write about current events or popular culture.   They are here today and gone tomorrow and often not worth much in the grand scheme of God’s plan.  That being said, I’m going to use an example today that is drawn from a recently aired television show simply because it helps to make a useful point and because of how God used it to show me something that I want to share with you.

Over the past few years, my wife and I have enjoyed watching the BBC television show, Downton Abbey.  If you are familiar with it then you know it is a British period drama that takes place in the early part of the 1900’s and deals with the family of nobles that inhabit Downton Abbey, their staff and the way that the world began to change rapidly during that period of time.  We follow the lives of these aristocrats through war, modernization, the advent of the automobile and the telephone and many other changes all set against the backdrop of the marvelous house (actually, that word doesn’t do it justice, castle or estate are better descriptors) and grounds that make up Downton Abbey.

And even though we are watching the show to see what ultimately happens to these people, I can’t help but be impressed and sometimes even awestruck at how beautiful and grand the backdrop is for the show.  The architecture of the house, the rich woods, the marble, the paintings, the decor and even the clothes and finery are all fairly breathtaking.  I enjoy seeing these beautiful things and appreciate the craftsmanship and ingenuity that went in to their creation.

After watching a recent episode, I had the thought that seeing beauty on that scale was inspiring and that I appreciated being able to see it, even if it was just a television show.  And on the heels of that thought I thanked the Lord for beauty and my first instinct was to call to mind a sunset, a bird in flight, a night sky filled with stars and other images of God’s creation.  But immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to me and took me deeper.  He said “the most beautiful thing in all creation is that which I am creating in you”.  And as I pondered that thought, it took my breath away.

It’s difficult to put into words, but I know what the Holy Spirit spoke to me is the absolute truth even if I have very little knowledge of the specifics.  I know, from what the Bible says, that I am now a new creation.  I know that God’s Holy Spirit has come to reside in my heart (the center of my will) and that as I yield to Him and His teaching, He is changing me from what I was into what God intends for me to be.  And if you are a child of God, the same holds true for you.

Brothers and sisters, we have something to truly be excited about!  The work has begun but it is not yet finished.  I believe we’ve barely scratched the surface of what God intends to do with us and reveal to those whom He loves and calls His own.  True beauty, the purest and most lovely in existence, resides in the hearts of the redeemed.  And it’s only going to get better and better as we keep on following Him and keeping Him in the center of our lives.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

 

Until The Relationship Is Right, Nothing Else Will Be

salvation, seek Him first, relationshipAs I was pondering and praying about several different things recently, God gave me a thought.  It was the sentence that is the title of this post.  “Until the relationship is right, nothing else will be”.

This thought, I believe, is a very powerful truth that is worth investigating.  Relationships are essential to our well-being and we were created to be in a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.  This is the first and most important relationship that we should pursue but we must also, as much as it is in our power to do so, seek to have right relationships with those around us.

There is a temptation, when we think of the suffering and the various trials that the people we care about go through, to pray for their problems to be solved and their suffering to end.  And it is the same with the trials that we face, to pray that God would solve them for us and to get us to a place where we aren’t suffering anymore.

But is that the right prayer?  Is that really the best prayer we could be praying?  Is that what God would have us ask?  I believe, based on our key thought, that what we should be praying for is that our loved ones always be found in a right relationship with God first and other folks second.  This is the order that we have to get right before God can make anything else in our lives truly right.

And then we can pray, either on their behalf or our own, that we all be drawn closer to God and more fully in to His provision and wisdom for our lives.  Seek Him first, make Him the center and place Him as Lord over all.  Then and only then can He set right what we so often get wrong.  Our God wants to fight our battles for us and stands ready to do so.  But only after we have acknowledged His Lordship and His Godhood and His desire to be our closest friend and savior can we overcome that which holds us back.

Once we have that right relationship with our Heavenly Father He can grant us His perspective and He will use those trials and circumstances to bear fruit for His kingdom.  Through us, His Word can be made real in our world and in the lives of those we know and love.

 

Do I Have To Be Perfect In Order To Serve The Lord?

sanctification, perfection, the great commissionAs Christians, we have a very real and very active enemy.  This enemy is opposed to God and all He stands for and spends all of his time seeking ways to disrupt and destroy that which is good (1 Peter 5:8).  Because we are the blood-bought, born again children of God, more often than not, we are the target of this enemy’s attack.

The enemy’s preferred way to operate is to try to make sure that we never hear the good news, the gospel message that Jesus saves, or if we do hear it, to try and get us to ignore or forget it without ever giving our hearts to God.  Hopefully, if you are reading this, you are already past that point.  You did not fall for the enemy’s lies and you asked Jesus to come in to your heart and to forgive you of your sins and to save your soul. If you’ve done that, then I praise God for your decision.  If you haven’t, then there’s still time, and I encourage you to make the choice now, while you still can.

But what comes next?  Once we are saved, why doesn’t God go ahead and take us home to be with Him?  Why does He allow us to continue on in this dark world of sin and heartache?  And why does Satan continue to come after us and try to tempt us with old sins and old habits and do everything that he possibly can to get us away from God and all that is good?

The answer to all of those questions that we just asked can be found in the Bible, in many places.  But for our purposes, we will choose what is perhaps the clearest and best answer.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

We call this the great commission.  Jesus Himself gave it to His disciples and to all of those who would follow Him down through the ages.  His words are clear.  We have a job to do.  We must teach and preach His Word, the Bible, and we must make disciples of all nations until the end of the age when He comes back again.  This is the task that we have been given by the One who saved us and the primary way that our neighbors, family members, co-workers and countrymen can hear the gospel message so that they too can be saved.

I would have you notice that Jesus does not give any qualifications for those who are to undertake this task.  Nowhere in the great commission does it say “once you reach a certain level of spiritual maturity, then you can go teach and preach” or “get everything in your life in order and then go do my work”.

All that is required is our faith and belief in the saving power of the gospel and our continued reliance on the Holy Spirit for our strength and daily provision.  There is the expectation that we will want to grow in our faith and knowledge of God and that we will not want to sin or make mistakes.  And we should continually strive to learn more of God’s Word and to be transformed by the daily renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

And of course our enemy does not want that to happen.  Our enemy would have us to be fearful and silent and more focused on our shortcomings and flaws than on God’s saving grace.  Our enemy can and will put every obstacle and every hurdle at his disposal in front of us to keep us from carrying out the great commission and one of the primary ways that he does this is by trying to convince us that we aren’t worthy to work for Jesus.

The reality is we aren’t worthy.  No one is.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and if our worthiness was our qualification to serve and to be a child of God then we would never make it.  We would be lost and without hope if any aspect of our salvation was based on our being worthy.

Only God is worthy and we only become worthy when we identify with and accept the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary.  He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that we might be worthy to worship, worthy to receive eternal life and worthy to serve.  And it is based on what Jesus did for us that we can start each day with joy in our hearts and a song on our lips and be the witnesses to God’s redeeming work that He has called us to be.

The truth of the matter is that we who are saved and redeemed are still flawed, imperfect humans.  But God chooses to work through and work with flawed, imperfect human beings who are willing to be used and willing to serve the Lord.  And it is only through our close walk with God and our willingness to serve and to work that God can bring about miracles in us and through us.

God’s perfect plan will be accomplished regardless of whether or not we decide to be involved or to let Him use us.  But when we make the decision to allow the Lord to use us then we will be blessed by His presence and His peace and He can use us to bless and reach those around us.  Perfection is not required, willingness and surrender most certainly are.

Are you willing to be used and are you surrendered to God’s work being carried out in your life?  I pray that you are.

Who Is Invited?

Psalm 98, praise, salvationOne of my favorite books in the Bible for morning devotional time is the book of Psalms.  In Psalms we find songs of praise to God, heartfelt cries for God’s mercy and presence and encouraging words about God’s character and goodness.  Although Psalms is considered one complete book, each chapter or “psalm” is more often than not self-contained and forms a complete idea and that makes it ideal for a chapter by chapter study as a daily devotional.

Here is my Psalm for this morning and how it spoke to me:

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98: 1-3)

Why does the psalmist say to sing a new song to the Lord?  What is this marvelous thing that he has done?  He has made his salvation and righteousness known to the nations!  And not only to Israel, his chosen people, but to all the ends of the earth, us included.

We now have the privilege of knowing what the psalmist did not, God’s salvation and righteousness were shown through Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.  Though our eyes have not seen Him yet, by faith we have believed in Him and His redeeming work on the cross.  We truly have a reason to sing to the Lord a new song of praise!

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord(Psalm 98: 4-8)

When I read verse 4 and head into verse 5 I can sense a crescendo.  The psalmist has made his case as to why we have the best reason of all to praise God and to sing to Him and now he is inviting the whole earth to join him with instruments and skilled playing and singing.  But that’s not all.  Not only is humanity invited to shout and praise and sing, all of creation has the privilege to worship together because of what God has done!  The sea and everything in it will let loose a roar, the rivers that flow to the sea will clap as with hands and the hills that first gathered the rainwater that flows to the rivers and sea will be joyful.

The picture I get here is God’s lifegiving sustenance and salvation (symbolized here as water) starting in the high places and hills (the ascension of our Lord and the commissioning of the disciples) and then flowing down in channels (rivers – the Church and those who minister) to the sea (everywhere and everyone else).  And before long, the whole earth has reason to join the largest choir that has ever been assembled in mighty praise and worship to the Father.

But as wonderful as that is, we aren’t finished yet.

For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:9)

One day, He is coming back, both to judge the world and to receive those who are His unto eternal salvation.  Let us make sure that we are ready and that we are using our time on earth wisely.  There are many who still need to hear the good news that Jesus saves and the only way that they can join with us in total praise to God is for us to be the lights that point the way to Him.

What Should We Do With All Of These Gifts?

gifts of the spirit, God's love, salvationOne of the most amazing things about our God is the way that He continually shows His love to us.  It’s written in the sky at morning time, it can be seen in the smiling faces of His children and it speaks to us out of His Word, the Bible.  It was displayed on a cross over 2,000 years ago as Jesus who was the Christ suffered, bled and died so that we might be saved from our sins and it is still freely given to every man, woman and child who calls on the name of the Lord.

Our God is a generous giver because He loves us so very much.  The gift of His son Jesus, the gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit and the innumerable other gifts that He has bestowed on us are all displays of His love and affection towards His creation.  Whether you know and realize it or not, if you are reading this then you are very, very blessed.

As one of the blessed, we have a responsibility to respond to God’s love in the right way.  The first and most important way we can respond is simply to acknowledge that we are loved by God and that we accept His free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  If you’ve not done that, and you have questions about it, please read this.

For those of us who have already decided to follow Jesus, we still have decisions to make about how we respond to God’s love.  We still have a responsibility to share that love and to be good representatives of the God who is so very good to us.  In fact, if we are saved, God has equipped each of us in specific ways that are unique yet all fit together for the building up and encouraging of His family and His church. (God’s church is the people who are saved by grace, not any building built by human hands!  We worship in many places and many buildings but God’s church is His people and it is they are who important to Him, not the places they worship in.)

The unique ways that God equips us for the building of His church manifest in the form of talents and abilities.  Some of us are artistic and can paint or create beautiful sculpture.  Others have the ability to lead and administer effectively.  Still others can teach or preach.  The depth and breadth of the gifts that God gives us is truly amazing and no simple list could ever hope to name them all.  The point is that no matter what our talents or abilities might be, the best choice we can make after salvation is to use what we have been given for God’s glory and to show how much we love Him.

Close your eyes, you little dreamers
Numbered as the grains of sand
Do you believe there is a treasure you can’t hold in your hand?
Stewards of My great Creation
I will give this gift to you
A language that can speak your heart when words could never do

The melodies will give you wings to fly above Creation
Whenever you can’t find the words to say
So My child, I give this gift to you and all the nations
So you can give it back to Me one day

Shown above is the first verse of a song entitled “The Gift of Music” by Theocracy.  It’s a powerful song but my favorite part is the last line of the chorus.  Personalized, it says “So my child, I give this gift to you and yours so you can give it back to Me one day.”  Quite simply, one of the most beautiful and wonderful ways that we can show our love to God is by using what He has freely given us back to Him in humility and service.

Are we committed to doing that?  Are we serious about showing our love for God through our talents and abilities?  If not, then this Easter season would be an ideal starting place.  And if we are already using what God has given us for the benefit of His church, then let’s not slow down or get distracted.  Let’s renew our commitment on our knees, at the foot of the cross, in praise and thanksgiving to the One who’s love for us is deeper than the oceans and more vast than the sky.

 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10) NKJV

The Transformation Of The Old Man And The Car

God, salvation, santificationI read a story recently that put a smile on my face.  The story centered around an old car but it was really a story about memories, shared experiences, love and most importantly, rebirth.

The paraphrased version goes something like this:  In the early 70’s a young urban couple who did not own a car and did not need one for transportation purposes began looking for a vehicle for weekend getaways and longer road trip vacations.  They were getting to the place financially where they could afford something that would be fun but not too extravagant.  After reading a few reviews in various automotive publications they settled on a 1973 Porsche 911 from a local dealership.

For 7 years they enjoyed their little Porsche.  It was their ticket to freedom after long work-weeks and it went up and down the highways and interstates of the US while bringing countless smiles and untold joy into its’ owners lives.  Then, in 1980, a job offer came from a much bigger company in a much bigger city and it was time to move.  The only downside to the new arrangement, no easy or safe place to park their beloved 911 in the big city.  After much thought and several late night discussions the couple decided that they did not want to sell the car so a local storage facility was located.  There the little Porsche would remain, tarp covered and silent for the next 33 years.

Once every few years someone would mention the car and the good times and a discussion would be had as to the car’s future and what should eventually be done with it.  This went on until 2013 when the couple was having dinner with some friends and the discussion turned to reminiscing about the past and the little car was mentioned.  The dinner guests’ eyes lit up, they were Porsche enthusiasts and knew a master mechanic who specialized in restoring early 911’s and encouraged the couple to have the car appraised and to meet with the master mechanic.

Not too long after, the couple stood in the storage facility together with someone new.  The master mechanic had come and lifted the tarp off of the 911 for the first time in many years.  His eyes lit up as he looked over the car.  Even with flat tires and covered in dust he could see the excellent condition of the interior and the fact that the odometer read a little over 35,000 miles.  The spare tire and tool-kit were intact and there was no rust anywhere.

So the question came.  “How much to bring her back to life, the way she was in 1973?”  The master thought for a few moments and then said “$20,000”.  Slightly shocked, the husband replied, “why would I spend $20,000 to restore a car that’s only worth maybe $20,000”?  The master smiled and said “put a 1 in front of your number.  The car’s restored worth is over $100,000.”

For the restoration the couple gave the master full authority to do whatever he needed to do to bring the old 911 back to life.  Every inch of the car was inspected and under the master’s watchful eye and practiced hand, that which needed to replaced was replaced with only the finest and best.  The master even went so far as to call in others who shared his enthusiasm for the project and used their expertise and their hands to make the little car even better than it was when it was brand new.

Finally the day came when the master gave his stamp of approval and said “the car is ready and the work is done!”  So the couple once again hopped into their little 1973 Porsche 911 that looked and operated even better than it did when it sat on the showroom floor all those years ago.  Their first drive was to the local Porsche dealership to have the car inspected and tested and it is not a stretch to say that every mechanic and technician in the place was stunned and delighted to see the absolute perfection of that early 911 sitting in their service area.

Everywhere the couple went people stopped and smiled at the little car.  Even folks not familiar with cars knew it was something special and beautiful and could see the joy that it brought to its owners.  It was clear that the little car had been well loved and was now fulfilling its intended purpose in a special and beautiful way.

As I finished reading the story I realized that I was smiling.  Something about it had warmed my heart and resonated very deeply with me.  I contemplated for a few moments and then I thought about what the Father did for me.  I thought about Him seeing me in the state that I was in and deciding that I was loved and that I had value.  I thought about the process of sanctification and how it sometimes feels like I am being disassembled and certain parts of me are being replaced with better thoughts and better ideas and Godly motivations.  And it didn’t take very long until I understood exactly why it was that I like this story very, very much.

And as I continued with my contemplation I realized that I was smiling and that my heart was warm because I was thankful.  I am thankful that God is still working on me and is still fixing me up for my intended purpose.  I am thankful that rebirth is not only possible but is in process simply because God loves me that much.  My “old man”, my old self, will not be my last self.  The Master is seeing to it and great joy will be the result.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 

(2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

 

Worth Celebrating

holiness, salvation, Exodus 19It always amazes me how God uses His Word to speak to us.  By reading about the events of the past and how God worked through His people to bring about great miracles it can encourage and teach us something in the present day.  The happenings recorded in God’s Word may all be historical in nature but God’s Word is always present tense in the sense that it is alive today.  It is powerful today.  And it is sufficient today, right now.

As I read Exodus Chapter 19 recently I was given a fresh picture of our Holy God and how awesome was the work that Jesus did on the cross through his death and resurrection.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

 If you aren’t familiar with this passage of scripture then a little explanation is in order.  God is setting the stage for the giving of the ten commandments.  He’s preparing Moses, Aaron, the priests of Israel and all the people for the giving of His law.  The people have left Egypt and are on the way to the promised land and God is in the middle of establishing a special covenant relationship with them.

The first thing I noticed when I read this passage is that mighty Mount Sinai physically can’t handle God’s presence.  It rumbles and quakes violently and smoke pours out of it “like a furnace”.  In other verses it says that thunder and lightning accompanied the smoke and the shaking and in verse 19 when Moses spoke God answered Him with thunder.  How cool is that?

How awesome is our God that even the mountains quake and tremble in His presence?  His power can’t be contained by even the largest things on this earth and yet he chooses to love and to cherish the weakest things (us) as His very own.

The second thing I notice is His holiness.  God repeatedly tells Moses not to let the people gaze upon or come near the mountain lest they die.  The priests even have to go through a special consecration even to be able to serve in their normal capacity because God is so near.  God’s holiness and the people’s sinfulness are so incompatible that they can’t even approach God without fear of death.

Now contrast that picture with the state of the redeemed today.  We are just as sinful as the people in Exodus chapter 19.  Sin is sin and one sin or one thousand sins is more than enough to separate us from a Holy God and condemn us to death.  Yet Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came and lived a perfect life and died in our place satisfying our sin debt forever and making us clean before God.  We no longer have to fear for our lives in God’s presence because of the blood of Jesus Christ that washes away our sins.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

Unlike the Israelites in Exodus we need not fear coming before our God any longer.  God has not changed.  The mountains in our day still can’t handle his presence and nothing on heaven and earth can stand against Him.  His Holiness is still just as awesome today as it was on that day so many years ago.  So what changed?  Our status.  Praise God that we are raised to son and daughterhood by our belief and profession of faith in Jesus and that we may come boldly before God at any time.

A Friend To Whom?

friendship, salvation, ministryI’m concerned about the notion that Christians shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians.  I don’t believe that all Christians feel this way but I think there are certainly some who do, and with good reason.  Just look at James 4:4, for example:  You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

At first glance it seems like James is offering us a stern warning about associating with the world.  After all, friendship with the world is hostility towards God, right?  Clearly there has to be a line drawn somewhere in our life that defines that which is Godly from that which is worldly.  But if you look at James chapter 4 closely you will see that James is talking about the Christian who is living like the unsaved; that is a Christian who is ruled by his or her desires and lusts of the flesh instead of in submission to the Spirit of God.  In other words friendship with the world in James’s mind is a heart problem that stems from putting “me” on the throne in my life instead of God Almighty.

But what about 2 Corinthians 6:14-18?  Doesn’t that state the case a little bit stronger that we shouldn’t be associating with non-believers?  Do not be bound together (unequally yoked) with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among themAnd I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.“  And do not touch what is uncleanAnd I will welcome you.  “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

The key idea here is the phrase “bound together”.  It speaks to something closer and stronger than just an acquaintance or even friendship.  The Theology of Work website explains it like this: “When two animals are yoked together, they must move in lockstep. If one turns left, the other turns left also, whether or not it consents. This is different from, say, animals grazing in a herd, which cooperate but still have the freedom to move separately, and even to depart from the herd if they choose. If two animals—or, metaphorically, two people—are yoked, each is bound by whatever the other chooses to do. Two people are yoked if one person’s choices compel the other person to follow the same choices, even without their consent. A yoking is when either person is bound by the unilateral decisions and actions of the other… To be unequally yoked with unbelievers, then, is to be in a situation or relationship that binds you to the decisions and actions of people who have values and purposes incompatible with Jesus’ values and purposes.”

So now we know not to act like the world (James 4:4) and not to enter into unequally yoked relationships with non-believers (2 Corinthians 6) but where does that leave us in our relationships to those who are lost?

And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. (Luke 14:23)  First of all, we need to be going where they are.  And practicing avoidance of non-believers is not going to get us there.  The master has commanded us to go out and compel them (compel actually means to “drive forcibly”, believe it or not) to come in to His house.  The master’s house is where his family resides.  It is an invitation to become a son or daughter of the living God and it’s a message He is sending with us to anyone who will receive it.

The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)  I really like this verse.  How are we supposed to be a guide to our neighbor if we are in hiding and they can’t see what we are doing?  The Bible calls us to be visible and visibly righteous!  That means living an upright life and walking with God on a daily basis in a way that everyone around us can see.  Then, when we encounter those non-believers and get to know them where they are they will see God in us and want to know why it is that we are different.  Can we be a righteous guide to those we exclude and dismiss?  Absolutely not and that is why we must include and invite at every possible occasion. 

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.   For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)  One of the best ways to be a witness to someone is to be there for them when they need a helping hand.  Jesus went about meeting the needs of the people and sharing God’s love and that should be our model as well.  If we see someone around us who is “falling” then we need to be there to lift them up and meet their need.  It is our privilege and responsibility as those who have been redeemed.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)  Perhaps the greatest evidence that we have that says we should be friends with the lost is Jesus’s death on the cross.  He literally laid down his own life for the lost, they (we!) are that important to Him.  Jesus spent his time with the doubting and the unbelieving, the sick and the needy.  And he did it all with the knowledge that He would one day be given up for arrest and crucifixion by the very people that He was trying to save.  Now is that friendship, or what?

What’s needed from us is a Christlike concern for all people.  If our primary goal is to love everyone like Jesus did then we won’t have to fall back on legalistic interpretations of the Bible that try to enforce excluding others or turning our noses up at their behavior.  No, we shouldn’t be acting like the unsaved and yes we should be careful about the types of relationships we enter in.  Those are a given.  But beyond that we should be willing to go wherever it takes, living visibly righteous lives, ready to meet the needs of those around us and showing the world what it really means to be a friend.

The Words That Make Me Most Thankful

1 Peter, thankfulness, salvationBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

I have a living hope, a hope that does not die and does not fade.  My hope is in Jesus and the work that He has already done for me.  My hope relies on the power of God and and I am so thankful because I know the He never fails and never falters.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1: 6 – 9)

I am thankful for the faith that God has given me because it is a gift from Him.  To my Heavenly Father, my faith is more precious than gold or jewels and it is His desire to refine it to perfection.  In order to do this He allows various trials to come in to my life that test me and strengthen me as I rely on Him.  Trials and tribulation are not comfortable but the end result is a life that gives praise, honor and glory to God.  In this I rejoice because I know that the ultimate expression of my faith is found in the salvation of my soul through Jesus Christ my Lord.

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1: 17-21)

I will continue to call on my Father who loves me and sent His only Son to die for me.  I know that I have been redeemed at the highest possible price and that I must conduct myself in a way that pleases Him as I walk through this life.  God’s ultimate expression of love was shown through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who God chose before the foundation of the world.  Before I knew Him he loved me and provided a way for me to be with Him forever, both in this life and beyond.  I have been reconciled to God and made right with Him through that one precious, glorious act and I can do nothing but be eternally thankful to Him who saved me soul and redeemed my life.

Thank you, Father, for your words that always bring life!