Sunday, January 27, 2013

When I'm most tempted to escape...

"In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem."  2 Samuel 11:1

The story of David is captivating and thrilling.  He is the ruddy young shepherd who is picked to ascend to the throne of Israel, he evades King Saul time and time again as he tries to take his life, and he leads Israel to one of the most prosperous times in its history.  He was considered to be a man after God's own heart.  Yet, the verse at the top signals one of the most recounted pitfalls in all of scripture.  It's so devastating, that the genealogy of Jesus references it in Matthew 1 (for the record, five women are mentioned to show that Jesus came from a broken background, "Uriah's Wife" being one of them.)  It begs the question "how could this happen?"  How could King David, a man after God's own heart, commit adultery with Bathesheba, and even further, how could he cover it up by any means necessary, ultimately ending up with the murder of her husband.

Notice what it says in the verse above.  It was the time that kings go out to battle.  BUT, David stayed home.  David was a king, he was supposed to be at war.  He was supposed to fight.  Yet, he stayed home.  Later, he dabbled on the roof until the form of a woman bathing caught his attention.  He lingered.  And then, the pull of temptation conquered him, and then he had to hide it, because she became pregnant.  He did everything he could to hide it, manipulating her husband by getting him drunk and urging him to go home and enjoy his wife.  Uriah, however, was too honorable to enjoy the fruits of their marriage while he was meant to battle for Israel.  So, to cover up his sin, David killed him.  

To summarize: David's fall began when he chose not to fight.

There's a lie in this that I think we often struggle with here, and that's the lie that it's peace-time.  We aren't at war.  We're complacent about the spiritual warfare surrounding us, and we're complacent about the death-producing sin that saturates our hearts.  It's a disaster that's waiting to happen.

I see this in my own life so often.  My first failure is rarely the "big" failure, but rather something that happens much earlier.  I forget to pray before a bible study.  I choose to skip my time in the word and instead play a game or sleep in.  Instead of doing the work I should, I choose to spend time doing something less productive.  I choose to have pride in what I do, rather than praise Jesus for what He's done through me.  

The next step is what often cripples me.  In my pride, and in my forgetfulness of how wicked my heart is and how bad the world is around me, I choose to submit to sinful desires.  I choose to daydream, rather than commune with Jesus.  I overindulge in food, saying it isn't that big of a deal, Jesus wouldn't care if I had an extra piece of pie or another wing.  I explode in rage, choosing to believe I have the right to be angry with a person who has wronged me.  

Can you relate?  You fight so hard against lust for weeks, and just when you think you have it beat you decide to be complacent to the fight around you.  You choose to skip your quiet time.  Maybe you choose to go to a website that's not necessarily bad, but it's not helpful in terms of your thought life.  And all of a sudden, you're back to giving into lust.  Or maybe it's bitterness?  You know you struggle around a specific person, but instead of praying about your interactions with them and how you can love them, instead you skip out on praying to sleep in.  Then, you meet up with that person, only for it to turn into a shouting match, or worse, you say nothing at all and all you can think of when you're around the person is how much you can't stand them, holding onto all the anger towards them.  

What do we need to do to keep from being complacent?  

Break the cycle through repentance - "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  (I John 1:9)  Ask God for forgiveness, and choose to obey Jesus.  

Wake-Up! - Sin is sin is sin.  In other words, there's no such thing as a little sin, because it's all cosmic treason against the Lord.  We need to fight against the temptation that sin is minor and that sins doesn't hurt anybody.  

Fight - After we realize that all sin is deadly, we must do everything we can to pursue Jesus and His unending Grace.  

My hope is that we recognize our daily need for the One who never lost sight of the war that was waged by our sin and rebellion, and cling to Him who constantly intercedes for us.

In His Grace,

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Am I Really In?" Part 2

The last post I wrote, I gave a quick, big picture, rundown about being saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  If you're faith isn't in Jesus Christ and His once-and-for all defeat of sin and death through His death and resurrection, I would suggest you go back to the post before this and read that, particularly the first two-thirds or so.  If you are, I want to take you back to the last time I questioned my salvation... this morning.

I had a rough night, struggling to believe that God would actually save me.  My emotions, and probably Satan himself, were all telling me that I wasn't good enough because I wasted my Saturday by reading most of "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins.  I got up this morning, and tried to get in the Word, tried to read and remember the Gospel, when my wife, Heather, asked me to help her open a jar with our new jar opener.  I opened it with relative ease, but then Heather asked me how to use it.  I tried to show her, only to see it snap into two pieces.  In my 'strength,' I broke a brand new Christmas Gift... and in my mind, I am a failure, and I get angry and frustrated and go into a tailspin of despair over something that was only about ten dollars.  Which then heaped on even more guilt, because 'of course Christians shouldn't get angry about breaking kitchen appliances.'  My mind was made up... I clearly can't be a Christian.  God wouldn't waste His time on me.  I have nothing to offer.  I AM A FAILURE.

Can you see yourself in a similar situation?  

As I look at myself now outside of the obstruction of my emotions, I am certain that there are things I can grow in here.  But I'm not going to directly address why I got angry about breaking a fairly insignificant kitchen gadget in this post (maybe in the future though).  The issue I want to address is the immediate jump to, "Am I really a Christian," question.   Why is that what comes up?   Why does that plague my mind?  Do you see it in the statements I posted above?  Because the Gospel becomes about my performance, rather than what God all ready performed on the cross through Jesus!  Jesus didn't die for me because I was worth something, He died to make me priceless.  Jesus didn't die because I had anything to offer, He died so He could use me in spite of my ineffectiveness!  And in doing so, my identity is no longer "FAILURE," but instead it is "Beloved Child of God."

Now, I do want to be clear.  The scriptures are clear that there are some who will claim the name of Christ who, on the day of judgment, Jesus will say I never knew you.  (Matthew 7:21-23)  Jesus says that this is a legit concern.  So, maybe a clarifying question is this:  Why would you consider yourself a Christian? Is it because you believe Jesus died for sins and is your personal Lord and Savior?  Or, is it because you go to church, you do 'good' deeds, go to bible study, etc.  If your response is the latter, might I suggest that you actually aren't a Christian, because you're depending on your own works rather than the grace of Jesus Christ.  While those things are good, they are meant to be a result of what Jesus has done, not to prove our 'status' as a Christian.  We aren't Christians because it's the religion we practice, we're Christians because we have a relationship with God through Jesus, and that transforms our lives.

Ok, so you have a relationship with Jesus.  How do we pursue Him when we feel like we aren't really saved?   Here are some practicals for fighting this method of despair:

1.  Repent and Believe - Hebrews 6 states that God's Word and Purpose are unchangeable.  If God said that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, than nothing, not even our own pesky emotions, can change that.  Repent of believing your emotions over God's Word, and Repent of elevating your standard over God's.

2. Remember - It's one of the most oft-used commands in the scriptures.  Remember how God has worked in your life.  If you can't, ask a trusted friend who loves Jesus.  Where we are often blind to ourselves, others are able to see more clearly.  

3. Refresh - The scriptures are riddled with numerous encouragements to the people who trust in them.  Romans 8:1 states "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Zephaniah 3:17 states "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you by His love, He will exult over you with loud singing!" God is with you, has promised to save you, and is so PROUD of you that He sings with delight over you! 2 Corinthians 5:17 states "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away, behold, the new has come!"  You are not the same person you once were!  Romans 8:16-17 reminds us that we are not only children of the Most High King, but also co-heirs of His Kingdom!   Are you refreshed with the Word of Life, which reminds us of our identity in Christ?

4. Fight for Joy, and Cling to Jesus - Do whatever it takes to bank everything on Jesus. Get time in God's Word, even when you don't feel like it.  Ask God to show you one thing that puts you in awe of Him and Jesus.  If it's listening to Christian Music, do it.  (Might I suggest "Remind Me Who I Am", "Completely Done", or "One Thing Remains.")  Read a good Christian Book (I'm considering starting reading "When I Don't Desire God" by John Piper) or follow a blog (I recommend "The Relentless Fight").  Prayer walks, fasting, going to Starbucks for your quiet time.  Whatever it is, do something to cling to Jesus.

My hope is that in the fight to believe in who we are in Christ, that God uses these things to point you to Him, even when the strongest of doubts creeps in.  My prayer for all of us is "Lord I (we) believe, help my (our) unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

In His Grace,

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Am I really in?"

This is my first of a series of posts that I want to write.  First off I want to be honest that what I'm going to write about is something I've struggled with all my life, before I was a Christian as well as post-conversion.  I'll also be honest that I've struggled with this very recently, and it has been a MAJOR struggle in my life.

My guess is many of you have asked the same question that I've found myself asking: Am I really a Christian?  Am I really going to heaven after I die?

First, let me answer that through the lens of scripture.  Romans 3:23 says that "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  We all have fallen short of the glory of God, and heaven is ultimately a place with eternal communion with God.  If we have fallen short due to our sin (which all of us have), then we don't deserve to enter the presence of a holy, all powerful God.  BUT, Paul continues in the letter to the Romans, saying this in vs. 24-25: "and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith..."  In other words, we can have salvation, redemption, and enter into God's presence if we put our faith in Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection.  Jesus took the penalty for our sin, we receive Jesus' righteousness.  (A fancy term for this is substitutionary atonement).

Let's stop there.  Do you have a relationship with Jesus?  If not, my plea is that you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin, and to place your faith in Him as your Lord and Savior.

If you do have a relationship with Jesus, maybe you're like me and you're tempted to feel like you're not "in."  Maybe you see what I wrote above about Jesus, and you're asking yourself "I remember when I placed my faith in Jesus, but I don't feel the same way about Him as I used to."

"I don't have the same passion I once did," maybe you say.

"I was doing so well in this one area of my life... now it feels like all I do is fail or struggle!"

"Man, I'm not even in the same league as 'Joe Superchristian,' I've never converted anyone to Christ."
Ever felt that way?  Do you play the comparison game?  Or do you interpret life through your emotions?  Or do you judge your salvation based on how you do regarding your porn problem, alcohol rehab, pride issues, time in God's Word, missing evangelism opportunities, etc?

Romans 5:8 says this: "but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

In other words, whatever sin issue that plagues you, whatever standard that you don't measure up to, whatever passion you don't have for Him, Jesus still chose to come to this world and die for you.  If you're in Christ, you can't keep yourself out of the Kingdom.  Even if you continue to struggle, even if it means that God brings you into heaven kicking and screaming.  You don't determine whether you're in heaven, God does.  And His only requirement is to bank everything on Jesus, because you know that you're unqualified in every other way. 

In His Grace,

PS:  Look out for part 2, as I share more about the practicals of how I've been fighting this lie. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A New Year, A renewed commitment

"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" -- Revelation 21:5

Why is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day such a big deal?  Have you thought about it?  A number changes, but aside from that, what's so important about the change between 2012 and 2013? 

Now, I'm not against celebrations, especially if it gives me an opportunity to hang with friends, eat good food, watch football, and think about what the Lord has done over the past year.  But why is New Year's so important that we have a massive celebration?  I mean, more money is put into this "New Year's" sequence than any other holiday I know, whether it's the ball dropping in times square, or the bowl games played the next morning.

I think the reason is very simple, and it's biblical.  "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." -- Colossians 2:17 

In other words, The New Year is a shadow of the tangible person of Christ.  And we celebrate, I think, because we long for a new, transformed life, the new, eternal, life we are promised if we are in Christ.

Think about it, why else would we choose New Year's to be the time to make resolutions to change our lives?  We long to live in a better place, where the world and our own very lives is restored and redeemed.  So we make resolutions to try and better ourselves, with the hope that our lives and our world will be better.  But apart from Christ, we will never change for the better.  We can't change on our own.  That's why, while New Year's Resolutions are nice, they don't work.  I can't tell you how often my New Year's Resolution was to lose weight, and more often than not I gained it.  Christ, on the other hand, can AND WILL transform us to make us more holy and Godly if we are in Him.

So, In His power, I want to make my New Year's Resolution.  I want to commit myself to writing this blog once a week.  But I don't want to do it primarily because it's trendy.  I don't want to do it primarily because it might impact a lot of people.  I don't even want to write primarily because of my need for it.  I want to write this blog because God is making all things new, and I want to write about, and proclaim with fervor, the awesomeness of our Lord and Savior, and how He is better than the escapes that we desperately cling to, thinking they will satisfy us. 

One day, we won't run to the deceitful idols that promise us life only to deliver death.  And unlike New Year's resolutions, this is one promise that will come to fruition with 100 % certainty, because of the Cross of Christ.