Friday, April 26, 2013

Escaping through perfection

I've been reading this book called "Stop Asking Jesus into your Heart" by J.D. Greear, and it has been one of the most impactful books I've ever read.  As you might guess from the title of the book, it's all about how to know whether you're saved.  You might be wondering, "why would a missionary be reading a book on the assurance of salvation?"  Well, if you've been paying attention to the blog for a while, you know that I've often shared my struggle of believing if I'm really saved or not.  So no, I'm not reading this as a book to learn how to minister to others (primarily).  The reason I'm reading this book is that in spite of writing a blog, doing ministry, seeking to repent and believe the gospel, doing other good works, etc, I don't always feel the Holy Spirit at work in me.

Look, I'm a bad person.  And if any of you argue otherwise, you don't know my thoughts.  You don't know the things I struggle with when I'm alone, or my constant anxiety.  I'm constantly questioning and disobeying the Lover of my Soul.

My guess is that I'm also not the only one.  And my guess is, like me, you do what I try to do: lace up your shoes, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and make yourself better.  Maybe you promise God to never ever sin again.  Maybe you promise you'll lead more bible studies, join more Christian Fellowships, and even only watch sermons on Youtube!   You are going to become the best Christian you can be.

This is pride, and it's escaping the true reality that, because of the Fall of man in Genesis 3, we are severely messed up.  We rebelled cosmically against the Creator of the universe, and it went bad for us.  The entire creation, including our wicked hearts, fractured.  Without Jesus, how on Earth could we ever fathom to be made whole again?

Yet we try.  We often take one sin and make it a bigger deal than the others.  A big one is sexual sin.  "If I only beat this thing, I will be holy."  The problem with that is two-fold: 1. we assume that we have the power to defeat the power of sin on our own and 2. we think the thing standing in our way of holiness is one sin.  We miss the point that we are cosmic rebellers!  We are far worse than just that one sin, that sin is just fruit that we're messed up!

Get this, though.  With Jesus, in spite of our sin, we actually have true escape to perfection!

Greear says this in his book, "Repentance, however, means recognizing Jesus' authority and submitting to it, even though you know your heart is weak, divided, and pulled in conflicting directions.  Repentance includes a plea for God to change your inconsistent, divided heart."

He goes on further to say this, "Belief in the gospel is not demonstrated by "never falling" but by what you do when you fall.  Paul fell often but each time he got back up looking toward God, thanking God for forgiveness and that the process Jesus had started in Him that He was sure to complete." (Phil. 1:6)

Lastly, Greear goes on to talk about why Jesus chose to get baptized.  In Matthew 3:15, Jesus says he is being baptized to fulfill all righteousness.  In response, Greear writes this, "Whose righteousness would that baptism fulfill?  His righteousness was already fulfilled, and could not be any fuller!  It was MY righteousness he was fulfilling.  He was undergoing a baptism of repentance in my place, repenting in a way that could truly be called 'righteous,' so that His death could be a perfect substitute for mine."

In other words, if we truly believe the Gospel, Jesus is our PERFECTION, our RIGHTEOUSNESS, our EVERYTHING.  Because of Him, we are perfect in God's sight!   There is nothing you have to do to have Jesus, other than realize you need Him.  When we ask, "what else must I do," Jesus says "It is Finished."

Now, before everyone freaks out and says, "well, don't I have to do something for God?"  Let me explain.  Yes, we are called to submit to God in everything.  But the first thing we must submit to is the fact that we cannot submit to God on our own strength, and that we need Jesus and His Gospel.  That then allows us to respond to Jesus and His saving, transforming work on the cross, by submitting to God in all other areas of life.  Our lives should increasingly reflect Jesus because we have been so stirred by what He has done for us, not because we feel the need to be perfect for our salvation.  Jesus is no longer the killjoy of all our fun, but instead He is the ultimate joy who shows us what really isn't fun (the enslaving power of sin). 

How do we apply this?  Well, here's what I've been thinking:

Submit to the Gospel - You are not required to get all your ducks in a row, Jesus has all ready done it.  As a friend of mine has said, 'all you need is to need Him.'  That's it.  You're never going to be perfect on your own, so stop trying and submit to the one who has been perfect for you.

See things from Jesus' perspective - It's easy to look at the doctrine of grace and think, "wow, this means I can do whatever I want, when I want."  Sure, that might be true, but if Jesus came to die to slay the giant of sin and death, why would you want to willingly continue doing the things that were killing you before?  As Paul writes in Romans, "Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound?  By no means!"  Instead, being freed by the Gospel means that we are free to see things from Jesus point of view (which is the right one) and let Him sanctify us so that we can reflect more of the perfection and righteousness that Jesus has all ready achieved for us. 

Cast your anxiety on Jesus - If your standing with God is assured, you don't need to be anxious about your approval.  You don't need to be anxious about your struggle with that certain sin.  You don't need to be anxious if God will provide for you.  He has promised that if you repent and believe the Gospel that you are ultimately approved by Him, without reservation, and that He will provide for you not only in Heaven, but in this life as well.  Repent of your anxiety/distrust, and trust that God is going to take care of you, even if it's not the way you would prefer. 

I'll leave you with a song lyric that has truly touched my heart over the past several weeks:
"Behold Him there, the Risen Lamb
my perfect spotless, righteousness!
The Great Unchangable I Am,
The King of Glory and of Grace!"

The King of Glory and of Grace is our risen lamb, and He is our perfection, our spotless record, and our righteousness.  Let's not try to be perfect on our own, but accept the perfect record of our savior.

In His Grace,

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The danger of complacency

War is a common theme throughout the scriptures.  It starts all the way back in Genesis, and then you see wars pop up all throughout the Old Testament.  The imagery and warning of wars continues throughout the New Testament. 

Ephesians 6 might be the greatest example, where Paul urges the Ephesian church to put on the entire armor of God as they fight against the Spiritual forces of darkness.

As God often does, He used the physical, material war to illustrate an even greater war waging in the spiritual realm, where Satan, our flesh, and the world fight against the powers of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul and others pick up on this, and they urge their churches to fight by equipping themselves.

Do you realize you're at war?  Or are you living like it's peace time?  Are you complacent?

Here are some signs that you might be complacent to the spiritual battle:

- Response to your own sin is minimal
- Easily drawn to entertainment instead of time with Jesus
- The gospel becomes less important
- Excuse the "respectable sins" because "everybody does it, even Christians"  (i.e. stealing soda from the McDonald's by asking for a water cup and then getting soda, or illegal downloading of music)
- Getting mad at friends/other Christians for sharing the Gospel because it's awkward and don't want to upset others or be embarrassed

Ever been there?  The enemy's best tactic to keep us from fighting the war is to convince us that there is no actual war to be fought.  Fighting for lost souls instead becomes less important as a person's feelings (Ephesians 2 mentions that we were dead in our trespasses and sins!  What's worse, feelings getting hurt, or someone staying eternally dead!)  Fighting against sin, which enslaves our souls and lead us to death (Romans 6:23, Genesis 4:7), is treated as just a simple bad habit.  Rather than the Gospel being the most important news in our very lives, the gospel becomes less central to our lives and we fail to see life through the lens of it and the scriptures. 

How do we see that we are at war?  Here are a couple of practical things I'm learning:

Be in relationship with Jesus!  --> Find true refuge in your savior, and ask Him to show you His heart through prayer and His word!

Know that the War is won!  -->  On the cross, Jesus said it is finished.  God's victory is secured through the Gospel!

Find Joy in fighting the battles -->  As we fight to live for Christ, God continues to transform us like Him.  So though we may go through hard trials, find joy in the fact that you and I are becoming more like Jesus as we press into Him.  He will perfect us and make us more holy (Philippians 1:6)

Cling to the Gospel -->  It's easy to want to give up.  You don't want to see sin as bad.  You don't want to believe people are going to hell without Jesus.  You don't want to have to struggle that we are more messed up than we ever knew.  But God sent Jesus when we were at our worst!  (Romans 5:8).  It allows us to cling to the truth that while we are worse than we could ever imagine, God gave Jesus up so that He could transform us, and bring hope to eternally dead people by making them eternally alive.  There is hope, and we know that more will come to see Jesus as Lord and Savior, and there will be a final victory against sin, satan, and death.  It's guaranteed by Christ.

In His Grace,

PS: Check out Andy Cimbala's Blog The Relentless Fight, which is devoted to fighting the lifelong fight of faith.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

End it...

James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

A dear friend and sister in Christ (Katie Mumper) messaged me last week and asked me to write something to promote an anti-slavery movement.  At the time, my mindset was merely to help a friend with something she's passionate about.  I mean, slavery and sex trafficking, while awful, doesn't affect me or most of my immediate circles, so it's often out of sight, out of mind.   Besides, my job is to make Jesus known... not to stop the sex trade or child labor.

I'm convicted and humbled at how I don't often respond with deep sadness, nor action to stop it.  My prayer is that God will soften my heart more and more, and that as I respond in faith to the call that we should seek to love those in need, my heart will also soften.

But a question that I have is, how do I actually make a difference?  Here are a couple of thoughts:

Learn more about the slavery going on:  Go to this website to learn more:

Search the scriptures to see Jesus' care for the physical needs of His people:  In Luke, when John the Baptist asks if Jesus is truly the messiah, Jesus replies with a passage in Isaiah.  His point in it, is that physical needs are being met (the blind now see, the deaf now hear) as well as the spiritual.  In fact Jesus often uses the physical to teach about the spiritual.  So while we should ALWAYS be concerned for the souls of men and women and their eternal salvation through Christ, we also need to deeply consider how to care for the physical needs as Jesus did as well.  (James 1:27, Hebrews 13:3)

See yourself as a constant influencer:   Do you realize that if you choose to fight against lust, you actually are working against sex trafficking?  That if you encourage other men and women to stop looking at pornography and to stop lusting, that we can change the culture as one who abuses women and men, and instead one who seeks to care for them and treat them as equals?  Or that as you let other people know about how we can end slavery, you are enlisting more people in the fight through prayer, giving, and even devoted workers to stop the industry? 

Pray for the church, and for God to work globally: God can end slavery, and He ultimately will when we are in heaven!  And as we fight and pray, the culture of slavery will shift as we as His people pray and ask Him humbly.  We as believers can also look to the hope of heaven, and that we are seeking to make this world as much like heaven, so that people can see the grace of God and turn to Jesus!

In His Grace,

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The days after Easter

There's an overwhelming build-up to Easter, whether we realize it or not.  Fat Tuesday.  Ash Wednesday.  The lenten season, where traditionally you give something up for 40 days to draw closer to Christ.  Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday.  It's deserving of it's significance, and not just for Easter Egg Hunts and candy-filled Easter Baskets.

It helps us remember the greatest moment in the course of human history, the day God's Messiah defeated the giant of sin and death.  Think about that fact for a minute.  Let it sink in: someone DEFEATED death.  Like, he died and then came back to life in a new body.  And with His death and resurrection, Jesus enables us to repent from our sin, our deadness, and turn to true, genuine life in Him. 

That's insanely good news!  So here's my question:  How are you going to be impacted by it?

If it's really true that Jesus came back from the dead, that He transformed you from dead to alive (Ephesians 2) and made you into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), how will you respond?

If you're like me, you're tempted to go into Monday as if nothing happened. 

My one bit of counsel for you (and really, for myself): Don't think about what happened on Easter Sunday only during Easter Sunday.

Romans 1:16 says "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."  The Gospel IS the power of God!  If it truly is of great power, we need to be thinking of it ALL the time!

What does this mean for us?

Believe the Gospel, ALWAYS:  Easter is great time to celebrate the truth of the resurrection.  But don't let it be the only time you remember Jesus.  The Gospel is the whole point of our faith... don't put it on the back burner.  Instead, remember it always as the main thing we hold onto.

Let the Gospel transform you: We all have things we'd like to change about ourselves, and sin patterns we'd like to stop doing.  Killing sin necessary in our pursuit of Christ.  But as soon as we place destroying a specific sin OVER our pursuit for Christ, the Christian walk becomes less about the glorious Gospel, and more about YOU conquering your issues.  The problem with this is it gives the illusion that you and I can actually beat sin without the help of Christ's transforming power through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It's our faith in Jesus that ultimately transforms us and helps us defeat the sin that so easily entangles us.

I hope you're encouraged to keep pursuing Christ, and to remember that Easter is not meant to just be a once-a-year holiday, but rather one method to remember and celebrate that God defeated the powers of sin and death through His Perfect Son, Jesus.

In His Grace,