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!

Is Baptism Part of God’s Salvation Plan?

baptism, salvationDespite salvation and baptism being core beliefs for most Christians there are still many who do not understand them and why they are so important.  God’s plan for salvation should not be confusing or difficult to understand and with a careful study of His book (The Bible) we can know and understand the truth.  And once we know and understand the truth, we can walk in it.

Salvation is many things.  Primarily it is the way in which God redeems or “saves” sinful man from death and hell and unto life eternal.  But salvation is also the way in which we who were once spiritually dead are made alive in Christ.  When we are saved we receive the Holy Spirit who in turn regenerates our spirits so that we can commune with God Almighty.  (1 Peter 4:6)  We have instant and forever access to the very throne room of God in prayer because of the sacrifice on the cross by Jesus Christ.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)  And we are changed day by day in a process called sanctification to be more like Christ. (Romans 6:22).  This is just a small overview of what salvation does in the life of a human being.  Words alone are not sufficient; salvation must be experienced and lived.  Only when you have been changed from the inside out through God’s continued presence in your life can you really begin to understand salvation.

Baptism is the act of immersion in water which is often found in scripture at or near the time of salvation.  The first recorded baptism in scripture is when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.  At Jesus’ ascension after his resurrection he commanded his disciples to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Baptism is a picture of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  The act of going under the water for a few moments and then being raised out of the water is a way we show that our old life has been put to death and our new life in Christ is beginning.

It is important to note that in the New Testament whenever someone was baptized it was always after they had expressed belief and thus had experienced salvation.  In other words, salvation is God’s gift to us when we believe and baptism is how we show others that we have started a new life in faith.  Baptism does not save and being immersed in water by a ritual will do no more than get you wet if you have not believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.  Here are some example scriptures showing the order of salvation and baptism: Acts 2:41,  Acts 8:35-38,  Acts 10:47-48 and Acts 16:31-33.  Notice that in all cases, belief and confession occurred before baptism was was carried out.

Finally, it is also important to point out that baptism is not required for salvation to occur.  Romans 10:9-10 gives the complete process for salvation:

 if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Baptism is important to God.  He instituted the practice through his Son Jesus Christ.  We are baptized to show our faith in Him and to identify ourselves with His death, burial and resurrection.  I would never downplay or minimize the importance of baptism in the life of a believer.  But according to God’s own Word baptism is not salvation and is not required for a person to be saved.  Furthermore, baptism always follows belief and confession in the New Testament and that is the order that God would have us to follow as well.


Defense Against Bad Ideas

salvation, prayer, bible study, church attendanceNow that we have established where bad ideas come from we need to carefully consider how we can defend against them.  Despite the best efforts of the powers of darkness and despite our own fallen nature we can have victory over evil in this life.  We live in a corrupted world and we inhabit corrupted bodies of flesh with an inborn sinful nature but God has not left us without the power to overcome.

What is this power to overcome and what are the tools that God has given us to do good and not evil?  Here is how I see it:

Our first line of defense is and will always be our salvation and regeneration made possible by Christ’s sacrifice.  Because he died in my place my spirit has been born anew and in my body of death I now hold the spirit of life (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).  This is a powerful truth and it is the foundation for our eternal hope and our assured victory.

Even so, just because we are born again does not mean that God will not allow us to make bad choices or fall to temptation if we are bound and determined to do so.  Even as a saved child of God our ability to choose is sacrosanct.  And without proper training and maturity in God’s word we will continue to make bad choices even while we are on the path to life eternal.

After salvation, we must commit ourselves to growth and maturity.  Just like a baby animal is no match for a predator, we are no match for the schemes of the evil one while we are still babes in Christ.  We need knowledge of God’s word (The Bible), we need to develop an active and vital prayer life and we need to surround ourselves with mature believers who can hold us up and keep us accountable while we grow.

Study of God’s word accompanied by prayer will allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly to our hearts and grow us in grace and truth.  God’s word is alive and is able to speak to us right where we are as it teaches us and improves our weak areas. (Hebrews 4:12)  In this way we develop a strong foundation that is able to withstand times of trouble and temptation.

We must also surround ourselves with those who can teach us and guide us in this life of faith.  Believers who have been through what we are going through and can provide Godly wisdom will keep us in good stead as we grow.  We are commanded by God’s word to help each other and support each other (Galatians 6:2) in love and an active, vibrant life of faith is made possible by the support of other believers.

These are the foundation on which we build our defense against bad ideas and temptation to sin.  Still, as we grow in faith and maturity we must also learn where we are weak and what we need to avoid.  There are more distractions than ever for Christians in the world today and nothing will choke our desire for God faster than the cares of this life.  We must guard our hearts and keep our desire for God and His law above all else.  If our main goal is always to love the Lord with all we have then we will not find ourselves often going wrong. (Mark 12:30)

We can have victory because Christ has already won the war.  Our part is simply to continue in faith and make good choices based on God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s instruction to us.  Our defense is sure when we stand on the rock of truth.

The Power of the Message

the gospel,Jesus Christ, salvationI have had the great privilege of hearing some wonderful preaching and singing recently.  Both the preaching and the singing were inspired messages from God about His great love, redeeming power and coming judgment.

Even though one was spoken and one was sung, they were both forms of the gospel message presented in such a way that all who heard it were blessed and challenged.  The message was consistent even though the delivery and the messengers were very different.  And that brings us to an important point about the gospel:  no matter who we are, where we come from or what our talents might be, we are all called to share the gospel.

The gospel message is the good news, the very best news that there has ever been.  It simply says that God loved us so much that he sent His only Son to die for us, taking the penalty for sin in our place and providing a way in which we might have eternal life.

This world is a fallen one and we are fallen creatures.  We inherited a sinful nature from the very first humans and have been making wrong choices ever since.  But God was not content to allow His most beloved creation to die in their sins and has provided a way for us to be redeemed.  By admitting that we are sinners and confessing our faith in Jesus Christ and asking Him to be our Lord forevermore we can be freed from the power of sin and the certainty of eternal damnation.

And make no mistake, without Jesus, we are eternally lost.  The penalty for our sin and rebellion against God is eternal separation in a place that God designed for the devil and his followers.  Hell was not created for man, but man may choose hell by the way in which he lives his life.  This is the truth that we must never forget.  Although we are now living in a period of grace in which all who call on the name of the Lord may be saved, judgment day is coming.  And on that day we will all be called to give an account of how we lived our lives and what we did with God’s son; whether we accepted Him or rejected Him.

The power of the message has not diminished although it is thousands of years old.  The power of the message is as fresh and real today as it was on that morning that God rolled the stone away from the tomb and Jesus walked out, alive and reborn.  The power of the message continues because it is God’s message to His creation and because He still desires all people to come to repentance.

Commit to being a messenger for the One who still has the power to save men’s souls.  Share the gospel with those you know, both in what you say and in what you do.

Do We Deny His Redeeming Power?

Redemption, Salvation, GodOne of the most central components of Christianity is the belief that by identifying ourselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be born again.  “Saved” we call it.  And although we are saved in a moment, we do not instantly become Christ-like.  (In fact, without a great deal of prayer, Bible study and help from other Christians, we never will in this life become Christ like – but that’s a post for a different day).

If we claim to be a Christian, then we claim to have been redeemed.  Where once we were spiritually dead and belonged to this world, we are now alive with Christ, born again in spirit, claimed by God forevermore.  This act of redemption is powerful, and in terms of our salvation, once is all that is needed.

But God’s redeeming work does not stop there.

God not only wants to redeem our souls so that we can one day join Him in Heaven, He also desires to redeem our lives while we are here on this earth.  Based on my observations, I wonder how many of us really understand that God is actively involved in the process of redeeming his creation in the here and now.

Whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever weaknesses and failures that you are currently experiencing, God can take those and redeem them for His glory.  A mistake need not be the end.  A failure need not be forever.  And a tragedy need not have the final word.  Only God has the final word, and there is nothing that He cannot do.

Satan, our adversary, likes nothing more than to see us stumble and fall.  He does everything in his power to cause it, in fact.  But God, who is infinitely stronger and greater, likes nothing more than to take Satan’s most cunning schemes and turn them on their head so that they ultimately benefit His kingdom and His children.

I am certainly not saying that we should aim to fail, nor am I saying that a tragedy is really not tragic.  Heartache and pain come to us all and as long as we live in this fallen world, we will all experience the consequences of sin.  What I am saying is that our God is so great and so amazing that He can take our darkest moment and our worst nightmare and bring blessings and goodness from it.

God is still in the business of redemption and he specializes in bringing dead things back to life.  Darkness cannot stand before Him and death and Hell have no power over Him.  There is no moment or circumstance that surprises Him and there is no time that He is not in control and not actively working for the ultimate good of those He loves and calls His own.

Remember well, brothers and sisters: when we choose to allow our circumstances to defeat us and we become dismayed and bleak because of the trials of this life, what we are really saying is that we do not believe that our God is big enough to redeem even this.  May we never deny His redeeming power!

Do You Speak the Language of God?

god's love,regeneration.salvationI’ll never forget what the man said that day.  It was an introduction to a church service quite unlike anything that I had ever heard before.  This man told a story about a funeral he had recently attended that held very special meaning for him.  This is what he said:

The deceased had been deaf and mute his entire life.  Despite this particular challenge he had lived a full life that was full of love with a wife and two daughters. During the funeral one of this man’s daughters got up to speak.  She said that she was several years old before she began to learn sign language and could begin to effectively communicate with her father.  She knew she was loved from the time that she was a baby because of the way he treated her but she never heard him say a single word in his entire life.  His type of speaking was completely different.

Imagine this man, this father, going three, four or even five years into the lives of his daughters before he could tell them how much he loved them.  Imagine all of the things that he wanted to teach them and to show them but was unable to because they could not understand his language.  But oh, what joy when the language barrier was finally broken and the children began to understand what their father had been trying to tell them all along.  “I love you, you belong in my family.  You belong to me”

We have a Heavenly Father who desperately wants to communicate to us how much he loves us.  He created us.  He knows us intimately and we are His children.  But so many of us don’t speak his language.

The natural man cannot understand the holy, perfect language of God.  (1 Corinthians 2:14)  Without the regenerating power of the blood of Jesus Christ we are lost and without hope and are unable to see or understand all that God has prepared for us.  When we accept the sacrifice of Jesus and admit and repent of our sinful state then the Spirit of God can begin the process of teaching us to understand that which is holy and perfect.

The more we seek that which is of the Spirit the more we will begin to understand His character and His great love and great grace as He draws near to us. (James 4:8)  Learning to understand the language of God happens when we get to know Him as our creator, deliverer, savior and friend.  I hope that you are learning the language of God even now so that you can hear him say, “I love you, you are my child and you are my treasure”.

I would love to hear how God has been speaking to you lately and telling you that He loves you!


Whose light is this?

whoselightNot mine, that’s for sure.  My light is insufficient for much of anything.  My light doesn’t even provide enough light for me to see by, much less anyone else.  My light flickers and fades and is prone to go out when I need it the most.  Cue the violins; it’s getting dark in here!

That’s why I’ve decided to upgrade.  God has offered to provide me the light of his son, Jesus Christ for the small price of my absolute faith in Him.  With God’s light I never need worry about sudden power outages, energy shortages or any other crises which may come along.  God’s light   in me is a renewable energy source and provides vast supplies of love, joy and peace.  Included in the package is an eternal home in Heaven and a “share the light” plan in which all lives touched by God’s light are enriched and strengthened.

Some call this “salvation” and it is indeed salvation from many things of which I will discuss in the future.  But it’s so much more than that.  It is life abundant.  It is perfect peace which does indeed pass all human understanding.  It is joy most certainly in the good times but also in the darkest of times.

For possessing God’s light does not mean that we are exempt from dark times but it does mean that we always have the strength and the grace to get through them to the other side.  And in doing so we share God’s light with those around us who so desperately need it.

So remember, if you already have God’s light in you then please, share it with someone around you who needs it.  Or, if you are someone who’s tired of stumbling around in darkness, tired of internal power failures at the worst times and ready for an upgrade then talk to me.  God’s light is a family plan with plenty of room for you!