Tag Archives: Jesus

God. Is. Always. There.

The following is the testimony of a childhood friend of mine, I pray that no matter what perspective you are reading it from, your heart will be touched.  God loves us, enough to send His son for us.  When we come to Him in recognition of that fact, He will always beckon us back to Him.  This is an anonymous story, mainly because some of the details are very personal and are better left nameless.

God has been so good to me in my life and has brought me out of so much and delivered me from more than I could ever tell you. I began my walk with God when I was 15.  I was headed down the wrong road, and the youth pastor of a local church stepped in and showed me Gods love. I got very involved and threw all my energy into my youth group, and all that I could do for God.

Throughout high school, I dated a guy off and on for three years but things began to get out of hand and I called the relationship off. My senior year a met a guy that loved God and liked me for me, not for what most teenage boys wanted.  We had only been dating for a few months when we had a horrible wreck.  God saved our lives but my faith was shaken. I finished my senior year at an alternative school, and was home bound for some time and that amounted to too much idle time. My parents had been having problems for some time and the stress began to get to me, and I broke up with my boyfriend.  I did this even though we both had known that God had called us to be together. I began to hang out with the wrong people, and stopped going to church.  One day my first boyfriend came back into town, so I decided to spend the weekend with him and his family. That was the decision that caused me years of pain. Just a crack in the door of sin, and the whole world began to drown me.  In a matter of two weeks, I started drinking and smoking, and began sleeping with my boyfriend. Things started out on the wrong foot.  Soon after he proposed, I found out he had cheated on me, and the young woman was pregnant. But I was so desperate for a way to hide my pain and lonesomeness, I “forgave” him and we were married just five short months of dating, I was only 19.

Our first baby came with in the first year of our marriage as did a move that took me 1,500 miles away from everything I had ever known. We had the typical arguments that all newlyweds experience, but soon they turned to him pushing then slapping me.  The first time it happened, I was so shocked but he told me it was my fault for pushing his buttons. The abuse got worse over the next year, as did his addiction to pornography and video games. I learned that he was having an affair over the internet and over the phone with the same girl he had cheated on me with before we were married. Despite all of this, we had our second child just a year after our first child was born. My life revolved around my children, and at times, I felt so helpless.  He would get angry and hurt me over stupid things, and demand I performed as his pornography girls did.  I was trapped. Over the next two years, there were good times. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good by far. It got to the point I didn’t care anymore about making him happy, only my girls. I truly hated that they lived in a house where their parents fought. But there was one light in my dark world…a friend…the guy I had dated when I had my wreck.

He had moved on and gotten married, but we had remained friends. No one but him knew of the abuse, and one day I had had all I could take.  So I wrote a note to my sister telling her what had been going on, and I had a bottle of pills.  I sat down and prayed for the first time in a long time asking, “God where are you?” At that moment my computer went off telling me I had a message. When I looked up it was a message from my friend telling me how much God loved me and how special I was to him. My heart cracked just a little that night, and as I knelt beside my children’ s bed and began to pray, my oldest who was about 3 years old at the time, asked me what I was doing.  When I told her I was praying to Jesus, she asked, “Who is Jesus?” All I could do was hold her, and ask God to forgive me. From that night on, I decided I was going to try to “find” God again. I began to pray for my husband, and ask God to change me or change him or give me a way out.  Those 6 months seemed to be the hardest, but one day my husband received orders to be gone for 6 months, and I thought that might gives us the time apart to heal. I was wrong.  The night before he left, he got angry with me and punched me. He then went to punch again, and I ducked as he put his arm through a door up to his shoulder.  Had he hit me, I can only imagine what would have happened.  That hit cut the last thread of love my heart had for him. I had been used, threatened, and made to do things even when I said no.

When he left, I left for my home town with my girls. My heart longed for someone to love me.  I felt ugly and stupid for what I had allowed my kids to go through, and I thought no one would ever want me because I thought I was used goods. I had two children and no clue what I was going to do. I had talked to my friend through all of this, and he had been through a very rough time as well.  His wife had left him while he was deployed to war, and we had been praying for each other. Though my heart still loved him, I felt ashamed because of the situation being as it was. I got a lawyer and told no one what was going on till the last minute, and I was legally separated from my husband in January. My friend had also moved back to our hometown and in April we had begun to spend time together.  He was divorced, and I was in the middle of mine. Everyone, including my family, was under the impression I was leaving my husband for another man.  I spoke with my soon to be ex-husband, and told him I could not live the life I lived anymore. I was tired of being scared, and wanted a better life for the kids.

When he got back from his deployment, he went to my parents and begged them to help him, and he ended up telling them an abbreviated version about what had happened, about the abuse, but only that he had hit me. My family turned on me and told me I was wrong and needed to work things out.  But I had been so hurt, and there was no going back.  My friendship turned into a relationship, and I was afraid to love again.  But he loved me, and loved my children and he gave us a place to call home. We knew that the way were where living was wrong, but we could not get married until my divorce was final, and my ex was making that as hard as possible. We had gone to a few churches trying to find our way back to God, as we had both walked away from God in our own way. We both desperately wanted God in our lives, and in our soon to be marriage. He had grown up in a church that was different from what I was brought up in.

So we visited another church in our town but some of the people made it very clear they didn’t want us there (not many churches welcomed a couple like us), so we visited another church. This one we liked, but one day the pastor asked to talk with us.  When we came to his office, he sat on the edge of his desk and looked at my boyfriend and said “How dare you raise your hands to God and call yourself a man of God, and walk in to the church with an adulterous woman?” He looked at me and told me I was going to condemn my children (then 2 and 3) to hell if I got a divorce. He then began to explain how divorce had damaged his life, and his children’s. This pastor never picked up his bible, nor asked for an explanation. The little faith I did have began to shake, and I didn’t know what to do.  After that “meeting” my boyfriend told me we could not see each other for two weeks, until we both had time to pray. Again, I was alone and scared. I went home and prayed, and ask God to show me what to do. The next day, the same pastor asked if he could meet with my ex-husband and me. We went to his house and he took my ex to talk to him, and I spoke with his wife. We came back together and I began to tell my side of the story, during which he stopped me and told me to stop lying!  I was shocked!  The pastor told me he knew my (ex) husband and he would never do that, and that I was just looking for a way out to be with the “other” man.  Again, he told me I was going to condemn my children to hell. My heart was shattered I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back into the prison of my marriage, but I didn’t want to condemn my children.

I began to pray. I felt led to call the pastor of the church I had visited with my friend. I was afraid of what their view might be, but still I felt that is who God was leading me to talk with.  I went and told the pastor what had been happening, and I told him my story. He had already known how we were living, and that I was in the middle of a divorce. He looked at me and told me the other pastor was mistaken, but that he too did not agree with how we were living.  He let us know that it was not his place to condemn. He reminded me that although God did not like divorce, my husband’s infidelity and abuse had released me from being bound to him any longer. He told me God loved me, and that He hated the sin but LOVED me.  I was precious to God and that I would not condemn my children to hell, that nowhere in the bible did it say that.  My last hope, my last grasp at God had been answered through this pastor.

The road to divorce was hard, but in November of that year, I was finally divorced, and in December I married my best friend. No, we didn’t start things right, but since that day we have done our best to live for God and raise the children to know and serve the loving God that turned a horrible decision of my youth into a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with more children and a church that loved us even when it was hard to.

All during those hard years I would ask God “Where did you go?” But I have realized since it was me that left God, and when I was ready, He was waiting with open arms to take me back, love me, and heal my heart that had been shattered. I went from a young woman who felt hopeless, used, ugly and unlovable to a woman of God who knows she is the child of The King, and is loved beyond words by a loving God and Godly husband.  God has done so much for me in my life, He has delivered me, brought me back from the dead (literally), and shows me every day through simple things -HE loves me!

If you take anything from this please let it be this, don’t judge someone walking through your church doors by what is on the outside, instead, take the time to get to know them and see how you can show Gods love to them. I can only imagine were I would be had my pastor not shown me God’s True love…. God bless, and remember:

 

“You may be the only bible someone reads”

 

It is amazing to me that our churches sometimes can push those who need to hear the love of Christ most away and out the doors.  Not all churches are like this, and those that show love and embrace people no matter who they are, are doing as the church in Acts did, loving and caring for everyone that came in the doors.  Be careful if you are part of the church, love everyone the same, and share the love of Christ endlessly.  Be encouraged that you can come running back to the Father if you’ve strayed away from Him.  You have to intentionally make that choice to come back, He won’t force you.  Praise God, for He alone is worthy!

 

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No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

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Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

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Christ Forgave

It seems as though my blog posts have become about as commonplace as the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy lately, apparently, I don’t manage my time very well (or as David Crowder’s Twitter account put it, manage myself around time effectively).  God has been working on my heart in so many different ways lately, it’s never a comfortable feeling when He does that, especially when He’s working on breaking down the areas of my life that I know I struggle with daily and don’t want to put a lot of effort into dealing with.  Our pastor asked me a while ago to preach on a Sunday night, and that was right in the middle of when God was wrecking shop on my heart on the subject of forgiveness.  So here we go!

When I read this one verse in the book of Luke, I see so much that I need to learn, so far I need to go, how much I need to grow in my relationship with Christ.  That one verse is Luke 23:34.  “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Now, we all know that Christ was a very humble and compassionate man.  We also know that he taught forgiveness during his years of ministry, so what makes this verse so profound to me?  Let us consider what all was going on during this time.  At this point in time, Christ was on the cross between the two criminals who were being crucified for crimes committed at an earlier date.  Prior to this, Christ had been through 4 separate trials and was flogged and beaten with a flagellum, had a crown of thorns smashed into his brow, was mocked and forced to carry his cross through the streets. Following that, his hands and feet were staked to the aforementioned cross.  With all of that in mind, also remember that Christ was sentenced to this predicament by Pilate at the requests of the Pharisees and the chosen nation of Israel.  For Christ to ask his Father to forgive them, to us, is crazy talk.  Not only did he forgive them at that moment, but his death upon that cross was for their sins, as well as for everyone’s sins.

How many of us could say that we could forgive in that situation?  How about in

  • Forgiving a disobedient child?
  • A spiteful neighbor?
  • A schoolyard bully?
  • A betraying friend?
  • An entire nation, of people you love, trying to kill you?
  • A friend denying they knew you, even after they swore up and down they wouldn’t and couldn’t?

Christ could, and did.

The closest we come to seeing Christ not go through with his crucifixion and death is in Luke 22:42.  He is praying in the garden and asks God to take the cup if it is His will.  What we see is Christ asking God to let him have a pass on this one if it was in His Divine Will, but if not, then let His will be done.  Christ wasn’t questioning God here, he was simply asking if the possibility existed for another way to grant us forgiveness for our sins, and if there wasn’t, then he was willing to proceed with what the Father was asking.  He put his personal comfort and preferences aside, and was obedient all the way to his death on the cross.  If he can do this, and not question the reason, who are we not to forgive without questioning?

As Christians, we sometimes like to have a bit of a double standard when it comes to forgiveness.  I’ve seen the saying “I’m not perfect, I’m forgiven” on bumper stickers, T-Shirts and banners everywhere, as well as heard and said it myself many times.  How is this saying in any way glorifying or honoring God?  It makes us feel okay about ourselves when we get caught in our own sin, but shows the world that we feel like it’s okay for us to sin because we’ve got our “fire insurance.”  I cringe every time I hear or see that phrase now, because of how much leverage it gives those who despise Christ and are looking for a reason to not believe in him.  We are called to accept that accountability when we sin, and repent and apologize to those we have led astray, or cast doubt into their hearts.  We have to flee from that pride that doesn’t allow us to grow.

Another area I struggle with, and I see other fellow believers struggling in, is feeling like a person is “too far gone” to be redeemed.  The recent shootings in Colorado brought about two ugly sides of humanity.  The shooting, and murder of so many people is one side of the ugliness.  The other is the fact that so many people, even believers, were so quick to condemn this man to Hell (something we have no business doing).  I was convicted by the enormous amount of people that were so publicly calling for his demise, once again, many of these people were believers.  In our carnal minds, we can’t get past the fact that this man killed people, so he deserves to die right now.  My heart was, uncharacteristically for me, sympathetic for this man to know Christ.  Upon vocalizing my feeling on this subject, I received mixed replies from believers and atheists both.  I do enjoy the occasional debate, and this turned into just that.  I feel as though, even for a murderer such as Holmes, until a person has died, we should desire to share the love of Christ with that person, so that they may have the chance to have salvation through Christ’s sacrifice.  Some responded with the same feeling, some were undecided, and some were adamantly against this thought.  If we look at the teachings of Christ, his example shows us that no one is exempt from the forgiveness through his death.  How are we honoring and glorifying God through our condemnation of a person who has sinned?

Are we showing the characteristics of forgiveness and love by defending a right to free speech?  I’m reminded of the situation that arose with Chick-fil-a after founder and CEO of the company was asked about his views on marriage.  His response was not derogatory or inflammatory in any manner or fashion, but he was attacked, however unfairly, by the media along with other special interest groups.  As a result of his response to the question, his company lost toy endorsements for kid’s meals, and endured countless character attacks because of his stance that marriage should remain defined as between a man and a woman.  Upon this reaction, Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is known for his conservative and Christian beliefs, organized “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” for August 1st. He encouraged all of those who supported traditional marriage to eat at Chick-fil-a as a response to the attacks on freedom for Dan T. Cathy to express his beliefs and convictions about this subject.  This idea, in theory, was a good one.  However, it quickly became a Christians vs. Sinners fast food theme day.  Not all people who were eating at the fast food restaurant were going with the mindset to be pointing a finger at those who were homosexual or supported same-sex marriage, but those who were going with that intention turned the event into another reason for people to call Christians, as a whole, bigots and hatemongers among other things.  My question through all of this situation is, are we showing the love and compassion of Christ through taking this type of stand?

Are we loving them for their public sin as Christ loves us for our private sins?  Homosexuality is such a hot topic lately, not only because of the media attention from Chick-fil-a, but also because it has been such a battle for Christians to express their beliefs on the matter.  As a Christian, I believe marriage is to be between a man and a woman, no other way, this was the example defined in Genesis.  The bible also refers to homosexuality as an abomination, and defines it as a sin several times throughout the Old and New Testaments.  One of the most prominent references is Romans 1:18-32, and this has been a verse that has caused many debates between myself and others who don’t see things the way scripture teaches.  Simply because homosexuality is a sin, should we hold that sin to a higher level of punishment or seriousness?  Some would argue yes, that it is a lifestyle and that is why it is worse than having a bad temper or using profanity.  I argue that sin such as a bad temper or pride is a lifestyle as well.  We, in our carnal minds, can’t look at sin the same way God does.  We want to categorize it as our justice system does, and put it on a scale.  Romans 3:23 tells us that we all sin, and Romans 6:23 tells us that the consequence for that sin is eternal death.  How can we honor and glorify God if we categorize sin?  How can we honor and glorify Him if we can’t forgive people for their sins and understand their need for salvation, as we needed it too?  The short answer is, we can’t.  We have to be able to put ourselves, as close as we can, into Christ’s mindset and love beyond human fallibility.

Too many people have been “won” by saying a prayer that was prayed out of guilt, overt pressure, peer pressure or a sense of security.  If that prayer was prayed out of insincerity, or there wasn’t a heart change, can we really expect that person’s life to have been changed?  No one knows if a person has truly made that change with the exception of them and the Lord.  One thing is for sure though, if we led that person in a prayer that they didn’t understand, or gave them a false sense of understanding of salvation, we are as accountable for that as we are for the person we pushed away because of their sin?  Their sin is their own, we are called to share the Gospel with them regardless of whether or not we think they deserve the grace we didn’t and still don’t deserve.

We are called to hold other believers accountable for sins, not overlooking our own sins first, in a loving and Christ-like way.  We also like to point out that Christ went into the temple and kicked out the merchants and livestock in righteous indignation, which he did.  Those people that got kicked out of the temple knew better than to be doing what they were doing.  They were knowingly doing things dishonestly inside the temple, and that is why Christ went in and wrecked shop. They had made the temple a place of disgrace and business, instead of a place of worship.  Can we expect a non-believer to automatically know the standards of the bible?  Can we expect them to jump right along and be perfect the first time they are informed of sin?

How soon after your salvation experience did you get everything lined up perfect and quit sinning?  Still working on it?  Yeah, me too.  I’ve been a believer for 20 years now, and I’m still one of the biggest busts when it comes to evaluating salvation expectations met.  If ESPN had one of their Top 10 lists of salvation busts, I’d have to be pretty high up, if not the top guy, and I’ve been at this for more than half my life.  How can we expect a non-believer to just know what sin is?  Our culture isn’t telling him or her what sin is, in fact, they are being informed just the opposite of what biblical standards are for right and wrong.  I liken this concept to parenting.  You parents will appreciate this, I just know it!  How many times did you have to, or have you told your child not to run in the house?  Did they listen the first time?  How about the 2nd?  Did the third, fourth, or fifth time do the trick?  My 5-year-old is still figuring out this one, and I’m pretty sure we’re on number 4,543 for the “DON’T RUN” warning system.  Sometimes it takes kids a long time to figure out they need to obey.  To do this, they have to first go against their selfish human nature they are born with, then, they have to have a clear understanding of why the issue is wrong.  The same applies to us and sin, especially when the surrounding culture condones and approves of sin and tells us it is perfectly normal and acceptable.  That being said, what sin(s) do you struggle with daily?  How easy is it for you to avoid that sin?  The only reason I ask, is because I deal with stuff EVERY SINGLE DAY!  We all do, Paul says that there is no sin that is uncommon to man, and it’s true- we all deal with sin every day, even if we won’t admit it.  What’s the most effective way for you to learn how to move past that sin and grow in the right direction?  Is it with someone continually reminding you of that sin and hammering into your psyche that you are a mess up?  Or is it with someone who encourages you and loves you, and corrects in a loving way?  If we’re talking about my kids, it’s going to be the latter.  If I stand in the doorway of their rooms, threatening to spank them for not cleaning their rooms, you can guarantee a meltdown is on the way.  Part of the meltdown is that we’ll be fighting all night to get 6 blocks picked up off the floor.  The nights that the spoon collects dust, and I get on the floor and help pick up some of those blocks and clothes, and encourage my kids, the room takes no time to get clean.  If we have the spirit of love and forgiveness with new believers, non-believers, and fellow believers, how much more can we help grow and strengthen each other in our walks?

None of what I’m teaching about, or talking about has to do with tolerance or acceptance of sin, by any means, because Christ did not teach that.  He taught tolerance and acceptance of the sinner, which is US! Think about that. He accepted us. You. Me. Everyone.  Can we have friendships with those that our convictions don’t match up to?  Certainly, but we have to let our convictions be known from the start, so we aren’t deceptive in our friendship with them about those things.  Is it our responsibility to share the Gospel with them?  Most definitely.  Is it our place to change their minds about Christ and salvation?  Nope.  Well, if not us, then whose place is it to change their minds?  It is the Holy Spirit’s place, yet we are called to plant the seed into the hearts of people.  When that seed germinates, we are called to nurture that seed to maturity.  The seed we plant has to emerge, or germinate from that hard shell, and the Holy Spirit causes that emergence.  The non-believer becomes a believer, the spiritually dead heart emerges and begins new life.  After that emergence, we begin the process of nurturing, which is discipleship.  We don’t just pray and leave it there with them on their own. As a gardener constantly waters and feeds his plants, we must also constantly water and feed the new believer.  We will fail this process if we cannot have a forgiving heart and accept that they will not be perfect from the word “Go!”.  Christ understands and knows that we all will continually mess up daily, but he also knows that his death on the cross covered that mess up.

So when we look at Luke 23:34, we know that Christ was showing yet another example for us to follow.  No matter what a person does, no matter what they think, no matter what they say, we are to forgive, because Christ did.  He forgave without discretion, and in order for us to glorify and honor our Father, we must forgive without discretion.  Nothing else matters, because when it’s all said and done, Christ Forgave.

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Worship Part II

Wow, ok, it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve really updated anything on here, actually, just a hair over 2 months.  As with most of you, the past two months have been a time of growth, emotionally, spiritually, and yes…physically : (  Something about the holidays just makes me hungry, and this year the hunger never left me…

So, in light of the areas of growth, I will be continuing on with the Worship Series on the topic of social worship.

How many of you have participated in watching an awards show this year?  Go ahead, admit it, I won’t tell anyone.  How many times during those awards shows did you find yourself critiquing the people our society tells us are glamorous, sexy and should be viewed as role models?  Where in scripture are we commanded or even suggested to spend so much time idolizing another human?  As scripture tells us “there is none righteous, not one.”  Where do we get that it’s okay to put these people, who are as flawed and sinful as we are, up on a pedestal?  Our worship of people in our society is not even remotely a new concept.  People have been idolizing other people since Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and it’s gotten nothing but worse since then.  In my own life, I have idolized athletes, pastors, friends even fellow classmates throughout school.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked back with embarrassment at some of the things I’ve done and some of the ways I’d idolized people.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with looking up to someone or having a role model that you refer to when going through something you’re not quite sure how to handle.  What I’m saying is that when we put so much attention, so much thought into considering what that person would do, that we mimic them completely as if to try and become that person, we lose sight of what we are called to do.  The only one we are supposed to idolize is Jesus Christ.  End of story.

Along with the dangers of mimicking these people  in everything we do, we run the risk of leading others astray from what God has called them to do. Luke 17:1-2 talks about leading others astray:

1 He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (HCSB)

If I as a parent spend hours upon hours watching football film and don’t spend time with my kids, what does that show my kids?  Not that I care about them as much as I care about watching football, my attention and focus is on that film instead of with them, therefore showing that my attention is on something other than them.  When we spend more time worshiping movie stars, music icons and other social royalty instead of spending time with our Savior and King, we will never grow to the potential that we have in Christ.  My encouragement to myself and to you guys is to monitor what you spend the majority of your time on, and see if we can work our way to spending more time with our Savior through reading scripture and prayer instead of with trivial reality shows that encourage and condone hatred and spitefulness.

I will hopefully be a little more consistent with this thing from now on, just working on getting a routine figured out that will allow for more type time, as it is a source of stress relief for me, and hopefully a time of some form of entertainment for you.  Thanks, and as always, I look forward to and enjoy any feedback I get on this blog!

Phillip   <><

 

Missed Worship Part I? Read it here

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The Worship Series Prequel Part ii

Ok, so it was brought to my attention that maybe I should post an open ended question without a poll so that anyone who would like to can leave their opinion and feedback and not be limited to my answer choices.  So, here goes…again…

 

What is worship to you?  Leave an answer on the blog for further discussion, and all that good stuff!  Thanks!

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