The Real Deal, Part Two

Sorry for the long hiatus…

In my last post, I talked about authenticity as a Christian. This is difficult for both the Christian and the non-believer. As I alluded to before, Christians have an advantage because our identity is in Christ. What this means is immense; it means that God’s power to rule over all is our power. We have been raised up to Him with Christ and are seated with Him.

Yet most of us don’t usually feel that way. We don’t view ourselves as the agents of Heaven that we are. As a result of this, it becomes easy for us to sin and hard to not sin because we give ourselves to sin, it gives us what we think we like, what the world tells us we like. This is really where all of our deep longings reside most of the time. We long to be viewed as financially successful, competent, smart, attractive, loved, etc. If we examine our motivations most of the time, they are actually selfish.

This is not how God created us. Sin is an introduction to the human race by destructive and deceitful forces and God is in the process of removing sin from us. So the only way for us to proceed is to love God and to love our neighbor with God-like, self-sacrificial love. The only way for us to avoid sin is to be so captivated by God that all else seems absurd.  

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Note: As a reminder, the content of this and the last post are derived from a presentation by Dr. Brad Matthews at a recent men’s conference that I attended.   

The Real Deal

This week, I would like to share some teaching that I received at a great men’s conference at our church this past weekend. The theme was authenticity and was focused on men, but I think it applies to all of us.

Authenticity, or as it’s called more often, “being real” is difficult for most of us because we are not certain of our identity. We often, either consciously or not, try to project an image that we desire in ourselves – others then make up their own minds about who they think we are. Christians have a remedy for this; it’s about finding your identity in Christ. Realizing that we were created because God wanted us here. He not only loves us, but he admires us – we were created to be admired by others – to be dignified. That said, at the same time, we are sinners, we have flaws. Being one hundred percent honest about ourselves to ourselves and other, trusted peers is how we grow as Christians and as people. This is easier said than done. It’s hard to think of yourself as lacking in some way. We are afraid to be vulnerable lest we get burned. To some of us, it’s hard to think of yourself as excellent at certain things. We are conditioned not to be boastful. In both cases, we must train ourselves to be honest with ourselves first, then to find a few people who you can be vulnerable with, safe people.

There is much more to be said on this topic, so we will revisit it in future posts.

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

A Brief Word on MLK

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day and in honor of Dr. King and his great legacy, I would like to share some thoughts.

Dr. King was a lot of things; a great orator, leader, organizer, reverend and theologian, but most of all, he was a great Christian. He led a movement for the civil rights of people of color at a time when racism and segregation were the order of the day, in this country and elsewhere, and he did it by means of the spoken word and non-violent protest. King’s speeches were based firmly in Scripture, which was perhaps overlooked by the heavily churched Southern United States. It would have been easy for King and his followers to blame the flawed faith of those who persecuted African Americans, but instead his appeal to them was for unity. Though a large number of the oppressors were Christians, like King and most of his followers, they focused hate-filled impulses embedded in them by generations of conditioning. The focus, King repeatedly and rightly insisted, must be on the gospel.

The essential message of the gospel is the same for all Christians; that is that God gave everything to save His undeserving flock – it is the quintessential message of self-sacrificial love, which were are to emulate to all of our neighbors, regardless of their skin color. As Tim Keller writes, “The greatest champion of justice in our era (King) knew the antidote to racism is was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity1.

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  1. Keller, Dr. Timothy, The Reason For God, pp 66-67

My Two Sons

In the very well-known parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), a wealthy man has two sons, the younger of whom asks his father for his share of his inheritance early so that he can enjoy it right away. The father grants his request. The son quickly squanders it and winds up poor and starving. He repents and returns to his father to ask him for work. The father responds by running to his son and kissing him, very atypical behavior for an Ancient Near Eastern patriarch. He showed unbridled emotion (love) for his son and dressed him in the best robe and ring and ordered the fatted calf be killed and the son’s return be celebrated.

The older brother is upset that he stayed on the farm and worked as he is supposed to do and has never been rewarded like his less responsible younger brother just had. He refuses to attend the feast. The father, as he did with the younger brother, responds with love, saying, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” In other words, I have always loved you and my blessings are with you now and always. But your brother was lost and now he is found, so let’s celebrate!

The younger brother obviously sinned by dishonoring his father and squandering his inheritance on sinful behavior. The older brother also sinned by assuming his labors would earn his father’s favor. In both cases, the father responds with unwavering grace and love – just like Our Heavenly Father.

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New Year, New Opportunity

Last week I wrote about New Year’s resolutions and one thing I want to clarify is that I find it helpful to attach new goals to a mile post, like the new year – it helps me focus. With that in mind, I have a suggestion.

Why not use the occasion of this New Year to dedicate your life to God. I don’t mean just reading the Bible more, praying more (both of which are on my list of resolutions). I mean truly and fully surrendering your life to God. Forget what you think you know about Christianity and the Bible and tell God that you surrender all to Him; your intellect, your will, your emotional needs (and material needs for that matter). No matter what your opinion is of who God is, who Jesus is, what He did and does for us and whether or not you think you need Him, if you believe in God, you must allow Him to speak to you….not by listening to yourself, but by listening to Him. If you believe He created you and everything else, then it’s pretty likely that He knows more than you and that He is greater than you in every way.

God reveals Himself to us in many ways, but the most direct way is in His Word. So don’t just read the Bible. Listen for God’s voice speaking to you in the Bible. When you hear it, tell Him that you are His and your life will never be the same.

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Resolutions

Today is New Year’s Eve and though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions every year, this year I am making several. Some are your typical ones that many people make like eating better, losing weight, working harder, learning guitar, learning Spanish, etc. I do want to make progress in all those areas, but as I thought about all the things I wanted to do, it struck me that as a Christian maybe I should check my resolutions against God’s Word.

In Matthew 2:34-40, a Pharisee asks Jesus which is the greatest of the Ten Commandments. Jesus replied that the first one, to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind is the greatest and the second one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God starts with honoring Him through earnest prayer and engagement in His Word, the Bible, every day. In loving our neighbor, we first must identify who our neighbors are; they are anyone besides us (starting with our closest neighbor, our spouse). Loving them means serving them and putting their needs ahead of our own.

So my first and most important resolution for 2020 is to be in constant conversation with God every day through prayer and His Word and the second, almost as important as the first resolution, is to love/serve my neighbors every day, starting with my closest one, my wife. It’s not that I don’t already do these things – I resolve to more deliberate in my execution, this year and beyond. Try it for yourself!

Thanks for reading, please comment below. Happy New Year!   

Stress of the Season

Though this time of year is a joyous time where Christians celebrate the coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, at the same time it’s stressful for most people. Indeed, as I am writing, I am thinking about everything I still have to do and trying to do it all well and not forget anything – it can be overwhelming.

Though I more often succumb to the pressure of the busy-ness of the season, when I have a moment to think, it helps me to focus on a few thoughts. First of all, a universal strategy that helps me is to stay in the moment and tackle one task at a time, then move on to the next one. When I focus on everything at the same time, I am prone to freak out. Next, I remember that God is the great provider. He will make sure I have what I need, even if it doesn’t fit my expectations of what I need, I know He will work things out for my good and for the good of those I am serving. Finally, I try to focus on why we celebrate Christmas. It marks the initiation of God’s New Covenant with us. God took pity on His fallen creation and the only way to reconcile His people to Him was to settle the debt that we had incurred through our sin, the penalty for which is death. This required a perfect sacrifice; Jesus came as a human, but lived a sinless life and therefore was the only worthy sacrifice. God’s sacrifice erased our sins and granted us eternal life – for this, gratitude trumps all stress.

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More On Sin

Last week, I wrote about Paul’s paradoxical passage in Romans where he suggests that with the Law, sin increases (see last week’s post for details). As is usually the case, there was much left unsaid – so I would like to expand on the topic of sin.

Again, we human beings are broken. This is of our own doing and we are helpless to resolve this predicament on our own. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. This is true of every person who has walked the Earth since the beginning of time, whether it be Charles Manson or Saint Teresa of Calcutta – we are all sinners in need of reconciliation with God.

This has helped me understand this concept a little better; Theologian J. Gresham Machen points out that some of the early Jewish followers of Christ still held on to the idea that we should believe, then obey, then we are saved. Machen cites the letter to the Galatians where Paul corrects the order to; we believe, we are automatically saved and therefore, we obey. When we try first to obey (try to not sin) to earn God’s favor, we can never know how we’re doing versus what we think God expects. In addition, we are likely motivated by our need for self-satisfaction. When we fully believe that we are first accepted, forgiven and loved by God, we then obey out of joy and gratitude. We are doing it for Him, not for us. Our works (obedience) are not of our own, premeditated doing – they are the work of the Holy Spirit – which takes our self-interest out of the equation.

There’s a lot here, we’ll have more on this in upcoming posts.  

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Sources:

Notes on Galatians, Machen, J. Gresham

The Centrality of the Gospel (Sermon by Tim Keller on YouTube)

Sin, Increased

One of the Bible verses that I struggled with (until my pastor straightened me out) is Romans 5:20 (NASB) where the Apostle Paul writes: “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”.

This doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would God give us the Law only to have us sin more? Is it that He wanted to give us an abundance of grace, perhaps as a display of His great love for us? Though it is true that the scale of God’s grace is displayed in this passage, He had more in mind. God’s Law was handed down not so that we would sin more, but so that we would (will) become more aware of our sin and of our sinful nature. Even Paul, in 1 Timothy 15-16 called himself the “worst of sinners”, twice! A good way to understand this is examining Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:27-28, on the commandment prohibiting adultery, Jesus says, the law extends to include lustful thoughts.

In this example, compliance does not come overnight, it takes the work of the Holy Spirit in a committed Christian to improve in this area. So the new Christian might think, “O.K., I just can’t sleep with anyone other than my spouse and I’m good.” But as the Spirit transforms the believer, he/she becomes aware of more nuanced sins like the one Jesus warns us about in the example above.

God will continue to give you grace, but expect as you proceed in your walk with Christ that He will reveal ways that you are sinning that you didn’t even think of. Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Thanks!

It being Thanksgiving week, it seems obviously appropriate to write on gratitude. Though this opening probably sounds a little dismissive, gratitude is the essential fuel that runs the Christian life.

Many, if not most of our problems in this world, particularly in wealthy nations like ours, can be traced back to unmet expectations based on the inherent human trait of self-centeredness. As I have noted in several prior posts, we are fallen beings living in a fallen world and thus have an upside down view of success, happiness and purpose. When we look to the Cross, that is, what God has done for us – giving up His very life in the most humiliating, torturous way possible to a profoundly undeserving populace simply out of His deep love for us, we see the ultimate act of selflessness. When we humbly come to God, surrendering all to Him, knowing that there is nothing we have or do that He values, the Holy Spirit occupies our hearts and informs our thoughts and actions for eternity. We begin to transform and suddenly, the needs of others become more important than our own. We are freed from the prison of our prior expectations, priorities and perceptions of our purpose. We begin to feel deep gratitude for the breadth of the gift that we have been given and the peace that comes with it and feel empathy to those that have not yet accepted this gift.

This Thanksgiving, look to the Cross and know that it’s where our gratitude begins.

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading, please comment below.