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?”

The Oil and Water Problem

flesh vs Spirit, Sin, Philippians 3:3Like oil and water is the flesh of man and the Spirit of God.  The flesh is corrupted by sin, both by Adam’s original choice and by the choice of every single human being since Adam to rebel against God and do things our own way.   This corruption is all encompassing and permeates the entire physical plane (all of God’s created works) as well as man’s spirit, which died the day that Sin came in to the world.

Spiritually dead and physically corrupted, living in a fallen world where creation itself bares the curse and scars of Sin.  This is the condition of every human being on planet earth and would be the whole story and the complete picture if it weren’t for God’s plan to save us from Sin and to redeem us unto Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.

Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ allows God to put His Spirit in to each one of us.  We exchange our former spiritual death with new spiritual life by the Holy Spirit coming to abide in us.  Which brings us back to our original statement about oil and water and the flesh versus the Spirit.

God made our bodies.  The Psalmist, King David said “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)  We are each crafted by God’s divine hand and God loves us each as a whole person, flesh, spirit and soul.  But the flesh now resides in a state of corruption.  It is beset by sickness, pain, aging, weakness, failing strength and ultimately, death.  None of these things were originally in God’s plan but have all been brought about by Sin.

God’s ultimate solution to this is to one day give us new bodies that are perfect and free from Sin’s influence.  Those bodies will never know pain or sorrow or sickness or death.  They will be wonderful and marvelous.  But before that can happen we must choose Jesus on this side of eternity.  We must put our faith in the only One who can save our souls and remake our bodies.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Until that day when the Lord calls us home to receive our reward or comes back again, how do we allow God’s Spirit in us to flourish while still living with this corrupted, imperfect flesh?  Because we know what the flesh wants.  It wants to glorify self (selfishness) and to devise evil that will ultimately reap destruction on ourselves and everyone we influence.

The good news is, we have a choice and God has given us the power to choose good over evil.  One of the many benefits of salvation and the Holy Spirit residing in us is that we no longer have to walk in darkness and practice evil.  Those old ways and habits can be put to death, if we choose God’s way instead of our own way.  Spending time in God’s Word in prayer and meditation, making it a point to gather together with other believers for fellowship and corporate worship and seeking His way instead of our old, selfish ways will slowly transform us in to mature and complete children of God that bear little to no resemblance to our former selves.

God’s gift to us is the clean, pure water of His Spirit poured into and onto our old lives and old selves.  In comparison, our natural selves are like the foulest and blackest oil and without drastic measures, the two can’t and won’t ever mix.  But praise be to God for His indescribable gift of salvation that changed our fates!

We can live the life of the redeemed here on this Earth.  God has given us the power to do so through His Holy Spirit within us.  We must practice faith and feed the Spirit while giving no occasion to the flesh and God will handle the rest.

 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

The Choice Between Vision And Blindness

vision, goals, sinHopefully by the time that you read this today you will have eaten and drunk something.  Can I ask you a silly question?  Why did you do it?  Why did you eat or drink what you did?  My guess is, it was because you were hungry and thirsty and your body was telling you that you needed nourishment.  In other words, you had physical motivation to eat and drink.  Motivation is important, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm.  With that in mind, let’s consider the following quote by a fellow blogger:

It’s the vision that motivates the practice. – Tom Smith

Do you know what else can serve as an excellent motivator?  A vision, or a goal (I will use these two terms interchangeably from here on out).  As Mr Tom Smith so aptly stated, the practical work of whatever it happens to be can be motivated by the goal that we have in mind or the vision that we have been given.  This is an important truth that is applicable in many areas so I will ask you, do you have a vision?  Do you have a goal or goals that you are working towards that helps to shape your thoughts and actions?

Using a very relevant example, I write these posts and run this blog because God gave me a vision of sharpening and encouraging His people by writing and speaking His truth.  I have been charged to teach and to edify both with the written and the spoken word until the Lord tells me to stop or calls me home to be with Him.  For me, this is an excellent motivator to do as He has asked.

I believe that God wants the very best for us.  I believe He wants us to be who He created us to be before Sin entered the world and caused us to be evil and less.  I believe that He has a vision for each of us based on the talents and abilities that He has given us.  He wants to use our experiences, our personalities and even our worst failures in combination with His power and His grace to produce something marvelous and something unique to each of us.

Do you have a God-given vision and purpose?  Have you asked for one and sought it out?  I am certain that He has one for you but until you come to the place where you are ready to receive it, you will remain blind and directionless.  The great news is that you have a choice.  You can choose to receive all that God offers by crying out to Him and seeking His will for your life.  When you want it more than anything else, you will have it.

Seasonal Allergies and the Garden of Eden

sin, fall of man, isaiah 11I have just come through a week that was both uncomfortable and difficult.  For no reason that I could discern I was achy all over and my nose and throat itched and burned.  On top of that I seemed to be walking around in a daze, unable to concentrate and with only enough energy to put one foot in front of the other and remain upright.  More than once I thought “there is really something wrong with me, maybe I should go see a doctor!”

But then a discovery was made.  Evidently, elm, alder and cedar pollen was extremely high during the first and middle part of the week and my body seems to have no tolerance for it.  Then after a few days the pollen count dropped and I felt so much better.  It was almost as if someone had flipped a switch.  There was no gradual recovery as there often is with a real sickness.  It was simply “I feel rotten!” for a couple of days and then “I feel great!”

During all of this I was doing a lot of praying.  Prayer for strength to overcome.  Prayer for the Lord to be my sustenance because I was faltering.  And prayer that I might be able to accomplish what was required of me even when I would have rather been in my bed sleeping.

I also had to remind myself to thank the Lord for being so good to me in so many ways.  I am incredibly thankful that the Lord’s mercy and grace is not dependent on how I feel or perform on a daily basis.  It’s very easy to forget just how blessed I am when I don’t feel well but the Lord deserves my praise all of the time.

At some point during this running dialogue that I was having with the Lord I had the thought (or perhaps it was given to me) that God did not set out to design his creation so that when one organism flourishes (the trees), another suffers (me).  Sickness, weakness, fever, sore throats, headaches and most especially seasonal allergies did not exist before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Sin’s effects are so far reaching that they even taint the changing of the seasons by making some humans allergic to a natural byproduct of life in progress in the form of pollen.  This was not part of God’s design and personally I can’t wait to experience a time when all of creation is redeemed and we finally get to see God’s glorious creation in all of its splendor.  I want to walk among the abundance of all of God’s creation and see and touch the world as He meant it to be.

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.  (Isaiah 11:6-9 NKJV)

God’s word tells us that a day is coming when all will be at peace.  Organisms will no longer hurt and kill each other and there will be no more suffering.  When one being flourishes it will not cause pain and suffering to another.

Sin is serious and I do not mean to make light of it by holding up seasonal allergies as a form of ultimate evil.  Our world has far more serious problems than hay fever.  But sometimes God uses silly situations and uncomfortable circumstances to teach us great truths.  Now as always all I can do is continue to say “I am here Lord, and I am listening”.

 

 

Whose Footprints Are These?

Live for God not the WorldWe live in a world that enjoys unprecedented ease of access to information.  At a moment’s notice, we can summon forth the entirety of The Gettysburg Address on a smartphone or Tablet PC also while catching up on the latest news and weather.  The internet savvy person can accomplish in a day’s time what would have taken his or her ancestor months or years to accomplish, and we are so accustomed to this that we often times don’t even realize the speed at which we are living.

With this kind of access to information and ideas, we often find ourselves more confused and less clear about what’s really important instead of the other way around.  Everyone has an opinion and with the explosion of social media, all of our opinions and ideas can be readily seen and heard (the irony of this statement is not lost on me, I assure you) be they good, bad or indifferent.

The problem is, no matter how politically incorrect it is to say it, there is a lot of garbage and noise out there from a lot of well meaning people.  I’m reasonably certain that most of the people that promote self-help, coaching and therapy would not tell us that their advice is going to send people to hell but in many cases, that’s exactly what it’s doing.

We all have a sin problem.  I don’t care who you are or where come from.  If you were born into the race of Adam (the human race) then you have inherited a fallible, self-driven, sin prone nature.  This sin problem is a death sentence.  Not just physically but spiritually as well.  Without a solution to the problem of sin, no amount of therapy, self-help or coaching is going to ultimately reclaim your life.

Only one person can do that.  There’s only been one human being who had the capability to defeat sin and death and reclaim humanity for God the Father.  That person was Jesus Christ, and until we submit our lost, sinful selves to His precious redeeming blood we are without hope.

I want you to look down, right now.  Look at your feet and where they are taking you in the life that you are leading.  Whose footprints are you following?  Who made the path that you now find yourself on?  Is it a Godly path, trod by our Savior and leading to Glory?  Or is it the road to hell, paved with good intentions and good advice?

By all means, improve yourself.  Learn all you can and gain as much knowledge and wisdom as you possibly can.  Be wise and not foolish.  But in doing so, make sure that you have the assurance that you have come under the blood of Jesus Christ.  Make sure that you know Him in a personal way and are daily walking in His footsteps and only His footsteps.

He is the Master Carpenter, the only true builder of people*.  We provide the material (ourselves) and He does the construction.  Let Him build you as you walk His path.  Remember friend, all other roads lead to destruction.

 

*I have to credit Pastor Alan Daniels for the idea of Jesus Christ as a Carpenter of human beings.  What a fantastic viewpoint.

Are We Wasting Time By Asking the Wrong Question?

questionsignIn certain circles, both on the internet and in person, much is being made of issues that affect the modern church.

First there was the Southern Baptist Convention Annual meeting and the ensuing condemnation of the Boy Scouts and their decision to allow gay scout leaders.

Because my role model and guide is Jesus Christ I have to stop and wonder if Jesus and His disciples would have met together and decided to issue an edict condemning one of the many sins of His day. Would they have contracted runners and messengers to spread the proclamation to all corners of Israel? “Hear ye, Hear ye, Jesus does not like what you are doing, please stop at once!”

Does that sound like the way Jesus operated while He was on this earth? Can you really see Him doing such a thing? Somehow I think He would have been far more compassionate and far more direct. He seemed to favor compassionate honesty that got right to the heart of the matter (man’s relationship with his Heavenly Father) over anything else and so should we.

More recently, Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece for CNN about why Millennials are leaving the church. It is a thought provoking piece and it does raise some questions that need to be answered. In response, people from all kinds of belief systems are chiming in from all over the internet with all kinds of answers.

I have to wonder, however, if in both cases if we aren’t asking the wrong question.

What good is it to condemn the behavior of the lost and the searching or to ask why people have become disillusioned with the church before we ask where their heart stands in relation to Jesus Christ? I strongly suspect that once you have answered the latter you will have the answer to the former.  (Please note that I am not denying that problems exist within our churches that drive people away or that churches should minister to people right where they are without prejudice, because both are true!)

The problems facing mankind today may be different than the problems faced in Jesus’ day but the underlying cause remains the same. Whenever “self” is glorified over God and whenever man’s will is chosen before God’s will, sin occurs. And sin always has consequences.

Two profound C.S. Lewis quotes apply here; “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin” and “Every uncorrected error and unrepented sin is, in its own right, a fountain of fresh error and fresh sin flowing on to the end of time”. C.S. Lewis knew that sin has grave consequences and that a life lived apart from the redeeming power of Jesus Christ is one of continual error and sin.

Viewed in that light it is not so hard to understand why we are dealing with some of the problems that we now face, both in our churches and in the world around us.

With that in mind we need to start asking the right questions. “Have you heard the gospel?” “Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ?” “Are you living every day unto your Maker and Creator?” And my favorite one, “Does your life bring glory to God?”

These are the right questions. Once we as believers recommit ourselves to asking these questions and to continually pointing the way to Jesus Christ both with our lives and our words then, and only then, will we see our world changed for the better through the power of God.

Please feel free to comment if you feel lead. I would love to hear from you!