Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heart Check


For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, 
the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, 
the testimony given at the proper time.
I Timothy 2:5,6

In these two verses, one sentence actually, Paul gives the gospel - he lays out what separates Christianity from the world.  Boom.  Said.  Done.

Here's the problem with religious tolerance - being accepting of a lie does no good for the believer of that lie.  Let me explain it this way:  Your child comes home from school and is working on her math homework.  It's pretty straight forward - addition. When she finishes, she asks you to check it. Here's what it looks like:

1+2 = 4
2+2 = 5
3+2 = 6
4+2 = 7
5+2 = 8
6+2 = 9
7+2 = 10
8+2 = 11
9+2 = 12
10+2 = 13

Now, she's not that far off really - each answer is just a little bit wrong, but they're still wrong.  So what do you do?  In the name of tolerance and acceptance, do you just pat her on the head and say, "Good for you!  You did a great job! Keep up the good work!", fully knowing she is going to fail that assignment?  Of course you wouldn't do that.  You would sit down with her and correct the errors and have her rework the problems.  You might grab a few apples and use them as a visual aid, as well.  But you wouldn't just tolerate her misunderstanding about addition.  You would gently correct it or else she will fail.

Here's the problem - we know that 2+2 = 4 is a universal truth, right?  It doesn't matter what society you come from or if you're right or left handed - it's truth.  But some would argue that I am not comparing apples with apples - that "religion" (sorry, I hate that word) and mathematics are not comparable.  Religion is personal - it's subjective, so it can vary from person to person. Math is objective and that makes it truth.

But remember, Jesus said to Pilate that He was born to testify to the truth (John 18:37,38), to which Pilate asked, What is truth?  The world cannot quantify truth - today truth is subjective, therefore each of us is allowed to believe whatever he wants to believe, and as long as he lives by his convictions, he's a man of integrity.  Recently the Pope agreed with this assertion, declaring that eternal life is for people who live according to their convictions, even if they do not believe in God.  

If this is the new truth, then 2+2 can equal 5 and we'd better not correct it because we'll be offending our child's version of truth.

Pretty skewed, right?  Murky reasoning leads to bad conclusions.

So now let's turn to the gospel.  You believe it's truth, right?  It stands in complete opposition to all other religions - it is based on DIVINE ACHIEVEMENT rather than HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (you see the difference, right?).  We know the scriptures teach against empty tradition, vain effort and false religion.  In our verses above, we are clearly taught that there are not multiple avenues to God - that all religions can't take it's own pathway to God and in the end, we all end up okay.  Do we just believe this and hope we're right?  Or do we confidently stand on truth, seeing its evidence within creation and thousands of year of transformed lives?

Here's another problem with tolerance - Christianity clearly claims to be the ONLY way to God. If you are a Christ-follower what place does religious tolerance have in our belief system?

If we truly believe the gospel, then what do we do about it?  Do you stand by quietly while your neighbor turns in a faulty math paper?  Or do you love them enough, knowing their eternity hangs in the balance, to sit with them, gently correct them and share truth with them?  Or have you bought into the lie that truth is relative and you're hoping everything ends up fine in the end for everyone…here's a suggestion - spend some time with I Timothy 2:5,6 and do a heart check.  

You have the truth - what are you going to do with it?  Don't fear rejection - Jesus had plenty of that and it didn't hold Him down. You have a precious gift that gives life.  Share it and see what God does...


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Once for all



For Christ also died for sin once for all,
the just for the unjust,
so that He might brings to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, 
but made alive in the spirit;
I Peter 3:18

The great religious conflict - cross vs. crucifix.  The Catholics depict Jesus suffering on the cross and the Protestants emphasize the resurrection by hailing the empty cross.  It's a rather heated debate - if you don't believe me, just google it.  Chat rooms on both sides are heated - Catholics claim the Protestants focus on the resurrection to lessen their guilt but they choose to remember the suffering that saves them.  Protestants claim the body on the cross equates to idolatry and the 10 commandments warn of making graven images.  

These are the nice arguments - it gets pretty nasty after that…

So which is right?  Is it sin to have a crucifix?  Are we looking at nothing if the cross is empty?  Why does it even matter?

I want to encourage you, my friends, not to live in ignorance but to inform yourself.  This is not an argument over a Psalter (Reformed vs. Christian Reformed).  This is not a spat amongst family.  This is a debate between two belief systems:
  • One system requires penance and personal suffering, prayers to a holy mother as well as deified saints, rosaries, sprinklings, candle lightings and extra biblical writings
  • The other system puts its faith and trust in Christ alone - in what He did and that He died once for all - Jesus in my place.  It's not what I do, it's what He has done
  • One system embraces works for salvation 
  • The other embraces works because of salvation
  • One emphasize suffering
  • The other emphasizes grace
  • One has a Savior hanging on a cross, continuing to suffer as we sin
  • The other has a risen Savior, seated at the right hand of the Father, finished in His redemptive work, now interceding on our behalf
Many of us in the church believe that the Catholic faith is consistent with the Christian faith - that there are many Catholics who are Christians.  I am not the judge of the heart by any means, but I want to warn you today not to fall for the lie that Catholicism and Christianity are close cousins.  They're not.  They could not be farther apart.  Just as Mormonism claims to be a cousin - it's not.  Both Catholicism and Mormonism claim the name of Jesus, but their claims are not consistent with the Word of God because they add to the gospel. 

Let's take a quick look at the five Sola's, birthed out of the Reformation which was the result calling out the Catholic belief system in comparison to the Word of God:
  • Sola Scriptura - scripture alone - the Catholic Church said the foundation of faith came through scripture, tradition and the teachings of the Pope - the Reformers said scripture alone
  • Sola Gratia - grace alone - the CC said salvation came through a combination of God's grace plus merits earned from good works and penance, plus the good works of those who preceded you - the Reformers said grace alone saves
  • Sola Fide - faith alone - the CC said man is justified by faith and works - the Reformers said by faith alone - faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ
  • Sola Christus - Christ alone - the CC said we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and Mary and all who intercede for us - the Reformers said we are saved in Christ alone
  • Sola Deo Gloria - the CC said the glory of salvation comes through and it thereby accredited to  Christ's works, Mary's works, the saints' works and the sinners works - the Reformers said the true gospel is that which gives glory to God alone
There is a big and ever widening gap between Christianity and the Catholic church and our verse above is a foundational one for the Christian faith - once for all - Jesus' suffering is complete and His work of salvation is finished - that's why He sits at the Father's right hand.  The suffering on the cross was so much more than the physical torture - it was bearing the wrath of God.  If Jesus continues to suffer when we sin (a Catholic teaching), then He could not be in the presence of His Father right now, as our sin would not be allowed in the presence of a Holy God.  No, His salvation work is complete - His death and sacrifice was sufficient - it is enough.

Back to the cross - I am not going to be legalistic and say it is sin to have a crucifix. There are much greater battles to fight.  But we need to be informed about where our imagery in the church comes from and understand the theology that is behind it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Captivated


"Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason…
my conscience is captive to the Word of God…
here I stand…I cannot do otherwise. God help me."
Martin Luther
April 18, 1521

Martin Luther, when brought before the emperor at the Imperial Diet of Worms, was expected to recant of his teachings which threw fuel on the Reformation.  Instead, he firmly stood on the Word of God.  He was unable to withdraw his teaching because they were firmly grounded in the scriptures.

He claimed his conscience was captive to the Word of God.

Interesting choice of words, don't you think?  It gives us a word picture of bondage and though in America, bondage is a word of the past and freedom is preferred, truth be told we are all in bondage to either sin or God.  The picture of redemption - being bought off the auction block - was a favorite of Paul, as he opened many of his letters reminding his readers that he was a "bondservant of God."

Romans 6:20-23 clearly teach that we are either in bondage to sin and free to righteousness (meaning that righteousness is not expected of us) or we are free from sin (sin is not expected of us) and in bondage to God.  

So what are you in bondage to today?  Do your desires and your feelings rule your decisions?  Ephesians 4 describes those in bondage to their sin-encrusted feelings like this:

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,  being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;  and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  

But it goes on to say:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,  and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

The key to this passage is the renewal of the mind - how does one renew his mind?  If when in bondage to sin, we act on our fleshly desires, how does one act when in bondage to God?  He acts in faith - believing the Word of God, acting on it, laying aside his feelings because he knows God's way is best!

So let me ask you again - what are you in bondage to?  Do you know the Word enough to be in bondage to it?  Or do you simply believe in the concept of God and Jesus but continue to live daily, making decisions based on what feels right to you - that's your conscience leading you, rather than living with your conscience being captive to the Word of God…

Are you captivated with the Word or with yourself?  

Good thing to ponder on today...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ownership not Identity


Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Tough list, wouldn't you say? Going by that list, no one would ever get into heaven, right?

Exactly.

I think we tend to pull out this list when we're going after certain sinners, ignoring the central phrase - "Such were some of you" - powerful five words because they force us to take ownership. Quickly your eyes scan the list again and maybe you're not sure you're really on it - you're not into sexual sin, you're not a thief or a drunk. This list is just for the really bad people.

Well, let's stop a minute and take a closer look:
  • Idolator - have you ever worshipped anything other than God?
  • Covetous - have you ever longed for something you don't have?
  • Reviler - have you ever talked harshly with or about someone?
  • Swindler - have you ever cheated or deceived someone - pretended you were something or someone or somewhere that you are not?
  • Thief - have you ever taken something that was not yours?
  • Fornicator - ever lusted after someone? 
Sin stinks and it ravages and it distorts and it kills. So guess what?  We're all on this list.  

And now we go back to that central phrase because it's taking us somewhere - "Such were some of you…BUT." The sentence continues and does not leave us withered, dying and hopeless. We were unrighteous but we have been washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus Christ! There's the good news! We have been saved from our sin, from the consequences of that horrible list - we are no longer identified by our sin but by the actions of our Savior.
  • He washed us - we are not stained with sin but thoroughly cleansed from the guilt and shame, as well as the punishment
  • He sanctified us - He has set us apart - we are now holy
  • He justified us - God has declared us innocent because our guilt was laid on Jesus and the penalty was paid through His sacrifice
Friends, own your sin - recognize it, don't defend it.  Don't ignore it and don't act like it never happened. Own it, confess it, repent of it and then find your identity in who Jesus Christ says you are. If you have been washed, sanctified and justified, then you are no longer an alcoholic, a thief, an adulterer or a idolator - you are an adopted child of the Creator, who is delighted in and unconditionally loved!

Let that be your testimony and your motivation to walk in His steps every day...