Monday, September 30, 2013

An Honest Wage

For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

How much do you make?  

Kind of an intrusive question, don't you think?  But it is a question that drives the American dream.  We find our worth in our compensation - if we are entrepreneurial, we work hard at whatever we do (whether blue or white collar) to increase our value and bottom dollar.  Our worth is tied to our success which is tied to our wages.  If we are valuable to a company, they pay us well - they give us salary increases and bonuses.  If we are paid on commission, then our wage is determined by our hard work and success in driving sales.  If we want to improve our income, we get more education which takes us to a higher level of competency which earns a greater wage.  

We want the wage that we earn to be consistent with the value we offer.  If we aren't paid enough it affects not only our ability to live to the level we believe we deserve but we also won't last long at a job.  Is it possible that our value is intrinsically connected to our wage?

Now, there are exceptions to this rule and I am presenting a very worldly mindset, but then again - I did say this was the foundation of the American dream.  Here's my point - our wage is important to us.  So let's flip this on it's head and take a quick look at our spiritual wage.

Two weeks ago we discussed the fact that there is no one who is righteous and last week we saw that all of us are sinners and fall short of God's glory.  Our verse today tells us that our sin has earned a wage and that wage is death.  But here's the problem - there is no pay scale when it comes to sin.  

If there were a pay scale, then "death" could be somewhat negotiable.  For example, when you look at your life and the choices you have made, undoubtedly you can see sinful and selfish times that have earned the label "sinner."  But when you look at others', your level of sin is no where near theirs - you're not a drunk, you don't do drugs, you have only slept with a few people outside of marriage, you rarely overspend and your language is pretty clean in general.   You think of eternal punishment and assume that you would probably end up in the first or second circle of hell (see Dante for more understanding), rather than one of the lower levels that's hotter and more severe.  

And then there's the person who lived the wild life, slept around, had bad language and was at one time a habitual liar but now has cleaned up their act.  Maybe this is you.  So you start to play the scale game.  All your sin gets put on one side of the scale and now your good works are put on the other side - going to church, praying, clean language, hard work, upstanding living - given enough time, you can tilt the scales in your direction which makes the wage for your sin seem to diminish.

(Insert annoying buzzer sound here)

All of this is stinking thinking.   We start with the wrong comparison.  When we stand in judgment before God, He doesn't compare us to other sinners and He doesn't compare where you came from and where you ended up.  

He compares you to His Son - perfect, holy, righteous, pure and good.

So how do you compare?  

Yeah, me, too.

This is why the wages of sin is death - not levels of death, not easier death than other deaths but just plain death.  In the light of a holy God, our sin earns complete and utter separation from His presence.  This is the bad news - so stop comparing yourself to others or your previous life and look at Jesus.  Then and only then will your perspective be in the right place.

This is the bad news.

But there is good news - the FREE GIFT of God is eternal LIFE in CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD!  The choice of words in this phrase is downright hope and life-giving!  First of all - it's a FREE gift.  We don't earn this one - we've already earned a wage that has determined our destiny.  This is a costly gift that is free to you - eternal life, life forever - through the blood of Jesus Christ.  He was paid the wage you earned - He took on your death so that you could have life.  

Jesus in my place.

Friends, let's be realistic today on what we deserve and what we've been given.  God's mercy and grace are on display in the life of the believer who lays down their pride and looks at themselves properly.  When we understand that we bring nothing to the table, only then can we truly appreciate what has been given to us.  

Decide today to life a life of gratitude for the free gift of eternal life provided to you by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Great Understatement

For all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23

God, in His infinite wisdom, understated this truth.

There is a broad chasm between God and man - falling short is true but doesn't bring to mind the Grand Canyon that separates God from man.  But I think that God did this on purpose because of our pride.  If God had said this: "For all have sinned and are completely spiritually bankrupt, destitute, disgustingly vile in any attempt to do anything worth the notice of a Holy God, and just basically worthless," - yeah, how many flies would that attract?

But in His goodness, He tells us that we fall short.  Even the most self-righteous among us have to admit they are not equal to God.  And seeing that we miss the mark is the first step in repentance.

Don't get me wrong - there is plenty of scripture that when put together gives us a much clearer picture of our condition:
  • There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one...(Romans 3:9-12)
  • You were dead in your trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1)
  • All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment...(Isaiah 64:6)
  • The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked...(Jeremiah 17:9)
As we grow in Christ, as we spend time with Him and see Him for Who He truly is, the Spirit brings us along in our understanding of just how great the chasm actually is...or I should say, was.  Though I know I deal with sin so much better than I did before, my understanding of the effects of sin in life and the high price paid for my sin has grown exponentially. 

But the starting block for a relationship with God begins with a simple understanding that sin separates us from a holy God.  As He kindly puts it, we fall short.

Religion in general is meant to bridge that gap.  Religion sets up a system by which you can appease the wrath of an angry god.  Some religions tap into the spiritual or mystical qualities of a higher power while others simply promote righteous living and penance (personal payment) as the way to reach God.  But if the truth is that we fall short, then the efforts we make by definition cannot be enough.

That's what sets Christianity apart from religion.  Religion says, Here's a system by which you can find God.  Christianity says, Here's a God who's already done it all for you.  And unfortunately, because of our pride, we like religion better than God's way because it makes us feel less helpless.  But religion - all religion - falls short.

Way short.

Religion focuses on what man does and Christianity focus on what God does.  Religion makes man the star of the show, while Christianity makes Jesus the star of the show.  Which one appeals to you?  We all like the thought of saving ourselves, but what does God say?  All our attempts fall short.

Fall short - there it is again.

So why try to live righteously then, Kristen?  Well, hang with me and the good news is right around the corner.  We are going to continue to unpack the truths of some core verses over the next few weeks and months which will bring you to the answer of that very question...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Start with the Right Assumptions

As it is written, There is none righteous, not even one;
there is none who understands,
there is none who seeks for God.
Romans 3:10-11

We are image bearers of God.  

As image bearers we were inherently righteous in our creation.  Our minds were crisp and clear.  Our ability to comprehend and grow was not inhibited by physical or mental impairments.  We not only understood our calling in life but we had an uninterrupted connection with God.  Seeking Him was not because He wasn't present - to seek Him meant to learn from Him.  He was everywhere, He was ever-present, He was personally relatable and He was completely understandable even though He was God. 

But sin changed everything.  

Our righteousness disintegrated and what was once a desire to learn so that we could imitate was replaced with ignorance, selfishness and rejection.  Sin brought not only physical and spiritual death, but also mental death as well.  As Paul quotes from the Psalmist in his letter to the Romans, because of sin there is none righteous - not even one!  No one understands or seeks after God.  His point in the letter is that the Jews are not exempt from this description - Jew and Gentile alike are dead in their sinful state.

Now, some of you are already squirming in your seats because you can clearly remember your search for God.  If you searched for God, does this fact negate scripture?  Or do we need to investigate a bit further?  

One of the reasons murder mysteries are so popular is the human mind is predisposed to learning.  Because we were created to know God and to be taught by Him, that desire to learn and grow hasn't disappeared because of sin, but the directions in which we search have become horizontal rather than vertical.  I love CSI shows - I love watching the cases develop through the gathering of clues and I am especially happy when I figure out the criminal before the show reveals it.  Whether through visual media or written text, we are constantly seeking, growing and learning...just not naturally towards God.

Romans 1 tells us:
  • Creation reveals the existence of God but in our sin we deny Him
  • We choose not to honor Him or thank Him, but rather declare our foolishness as wisdom
  • We choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator
  • Our understanding is darkened by sin and rejection which leads to futility, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, arrogance, etc.
  • When confronted with truth we reject it and bring judgment upon ourselves
Now we see the cancer that sin is - it has replaced the perfect relationship we had with God - it has not only replaced the relationship but has affected our mind and our ability to seek and understand.  

So back to your question about seeking after God - how was it you beat the odds and "found" God in your search for truth?  Well, let's compare scripture with scripture and see how God answers that question:
  • "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws (drags) him..."  John 6:44
  • "For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father..." John 6:65
  • "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven..." John 3:17
  • "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those that believe on His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God..."  John 1:12,13
  • "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give it to you..."  John 15:16
Summary:  God granted you the ability to come to Him.  He dragged you to Himself, choosing you because He willed it.  We have to understand that our search for God began with God and His work in our lives.  Being dead in our sin, He made us alive together in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  It's His work, it's His will and as much as we want to take credit for having master investigating abilities, it's not about us and all about Him.

The truth of the verse above is something that as we grow in Christ becomes clearer and clearer.  We cannot understand without God's intervention, we do not seek without His dragging and we cannot be righteous without His Son.

To God be the glory.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Straight Paths

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5,6

Has the Lord ever asked you to do something outrageous? 

Like get out of the boat and walk on water? Or feed thousands of people with a loaf of bread?  Or take a threatening message of destruction to a powerful world leader?  Or leave your family, friends and everything you know to go to a distant land?  Or give the gospel to a man who has hunted you down because of your love for Jesus?

Okay, so let's make this a bit more personal.  Has He ever asked you to deny yourself?  Or to submit to your husband?  Or to return a blessing for evil?  Or to pray for your enemies?  Or to forgive when the wound is still fresh? Or to spend time with Him daily when life is so busy you hardly have time to spend with yourself?

I have some sweet words for you today, ones that will soothe your soul.  So stop, take a deep breath, release and read the verse above.  It's okay if you've already read it, read it again.

We live in a world that bombards us with messages contrary to Proverbs 3:5, 6.  It tells you that your own understanding is all you need to survive:  Trust your instincts.  Follow your gut.  What's your heart telling you? But God in His Word explains to us that our understanding has been darkened by sin and our natural instincts are for death, not life.

Dave and I just came back from a vacation in Italy.  If I am anything, I am consistent and here's something you might not know about me - I am directionally challenged.  I consistently head the wrong direction when left to my own senses.  If you tell me to go north, I'll head south - no doubt, unless I have some kind of directions in front of me.  We would be walking in Rome and Dave would say, "Let's go back to the Spanish Steps." I'd turn left as he turned right.  His sense of direction is almost a spiritual gift - seriously, it's supernatural how he can find things.  He gets a sense for direction and just goes.  Me...not so much.

As we were sitting in Detroit waiting for our last flight home, we were at our gate and it was probably 90 minutes before one of the attendants would come and man the counter, and because we had just arrived from Rome, we still needed to get seat assignments.  Instead of waiting until right before the flight, I announced to Dave I would go find a Delta information counter and get our boarding passes.  So I got up, turned left and walked all the way to the end of the terminal - no counter.  I came back and told Dave we were out of luck and would have to wait.  He shook his head, got up, turned right and was back with the passes in about 5 minutes.  At one point he started to ask me, "Why did you go that wa..." and stopped. He knows by now there's no explanation for my sense of direction.

So guess what?  I have GPS in my car.  I have this little button I can push to show me North, South, East or West.  And I have a husband who navigates a majority of the time.

Now, you might laugh at me but here's the connection - our sin nature makes our ability to understand life and make decisions about as successful as me finding the Delta counter. There were times that Dave would say, "Turn here" and it made no sense to me at all, but then all of a sudden we were at the Spanish Steps!  It's a lame picture, but that's the best I have this morning.  

We are called to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and follow Him.  Acknowledge Him - recognize that He has instructions for us and then act on them.  We are told not to trust ourselves and our own understanding - even just believing that statement can be hard!  But He loves us and knows what is best for us - He knows the best path to walk on and if you set your eyes on your Lord and Savior, your life will be much different than one where you follow your gut.  

And by the way, you cannot trust the Lord or acknowledge Him without being in His Word.  Don't sit in your chair, waiting to hear the still, small voice - let the Word of God permeate through your life by immersing yourself in and marinating in His book to you.  Too often I have had women say the Lord told them something that is completely contrary to the Word - what is going on? We do not need to be lazy here - get in the Word and get going! (Okay, done with the Momma Wisen rant...)

So when God says to deny yourself, don't lean on your own understanding or what the world has ingrained in you - acknowledge that His way is the straight way and choose to obey.  When He tells you to submit or pray or bless or forgive, choose to obey.  Give your ways to the Lord and see where it takes you.