life

The Life God Grants In His Name (John 20:30-31)

The Apostle John concludes his gospel in this fashion:

Jesus performed many other wondrous signs that are not written in this book.[1] These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Anointed, the Liberating King, the Son of God, because believing grants you life in His name.” John 20: 30-31

John had one goal: to convince his readers that Jesus was God in the flesh so that they would believe, because believing grants life in Jesus’ name. A couple questions come to mind: What life did he come to share? How do we know we are living in it? 

That life’s ultimate and eternal expression will be life in the New Heaven and New Earth.[2] Throughout the New Testament, the writers cling to the promise of a heavenly reality where we see Jesus fully and we experience life fully. But that life also starts now. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, he gave earthy examples about how life looks when God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Life granted “in his name” [3] happens now. I don’t want to re-preach last week’s sermon (https://clgonline.org/prayer-john-14-16/), but that means we can participate now in a life in line with the character, nature and will of God. That’s a huge claim, so let's look at what Jesus said and did to get an idea of what that looks like.

  • preached peace, hope, love, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness.
  • taught respect for authority even as he taught how to respond properly to corrupt or oppressive power.
  • taught generosity over greed.
  • argued that justice was important, but so was mercy.
  • preached repentance and modeled forgiveness.
  • claimed we could know God and know the truth about how He wants us to live in holiness.
  • said that knowing this could set us free from bondage to sin and from eternal punishment for our sins.
  • demonstrated that God loves the world, not just one race, class, or sex.
  • treated even the most marginalized people with value, worth and dignity.
  • said the world was broken by sin, but He could fix it – at great cost.
  • explained that we were dead in our sins, but he could bring us back to life.
  • proclaimed we could be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven now and for eternity.[4]

The word got out relatively quickly. In AD 100, there were about 25,000 Christians. In AD 300, there were about 20 million. As best I can piece together what historians have to say, the number of Christians went from about ½% of the populations they were in in AD 100 to 15% of the populations they were in by AD 300. Jesus was compelling; something about who He was and the life that He promised was motivating people to commit in spite of intense persecution.

In about 130 AD, Justin Martyr formalized what the early church was already noticing.  He noted that the Kingdom of God was exploding because followers of Christ were dong three very specific things: they were believing, belonging, and behaving.[5]  I want to revisit this today not as a formula that promises specific results, but as a model (just as the Lord’s Prayer is a model) for how God intends to mold us into the image of Christ so that our life is truly ‘life in His name.

BELIEVE

As Scott Smith noted when this series began, when we see ‘belief’ in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust, reliance, or dependence. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. However, belief only matters if we believe correct things. In the years following Christ’s departure the early church revisited the teachings of Jesus and the writing of the apostles and agreed upon a number of things were crucial for Jesus’ followers to know.

  • God is the personal Creator of the World
  • The Bible is God’s Word to the world
  • The Trinity reveals the relational nature of God
  • God became human in Jesus Christ (the ‘incarnation’)
  • Christ’s death saves us from the penalty of our sin
  • We experience salvation by His grace, not our works
  • Jesus rose from the dead physically
  • Because of His resurrection, we can be raised to new spiritual life now and an eternal, embodied life in the New Heaven and Earth
  • The Kingdom of God begins now, and it is spiritual and crucial
  • The Church is God’s vehicle of presenting His Kingdom
  • One day, Christ will establish an eternal Kingdom

Here’s why believing these things to be true is so important: It is hard for our hearts to embrace what our minds reject. We may love someone or something we don’t fully understand, but it’s hard to emotionally commit to a person or idea that we mentally reject.

  • If I don’t think the company I work for is a good company, it will be hard to really give my job my all. 
  • If my mind harbors angry or resentful thoughts toward my wife, it will be hard for my heart to be for her.
  • If I don’t think a presidential candidate is good option, it’s going to be really hard to invest emotionally in them.
  • And if I don’t think that what the Bible says about Jesus is true, why would my heart experience this situation differently than the others I just mentioned?

Perhaps that is why Paul was so adamant when he wrote:

“I know (perceived; been made aware) whom I have believed (placed my faith in; trusted) and am persuaded (convinced; confident) that he is able to keep that which I have committed (entrusted; deposited) unto him...” (2 Timothy 1:12)

If Truth is only some distant, abstract idea, it can become very cold and lifeless. Same with God. But God contextualized himself through Jesus Christ. He made himself accessible and knowable by taking on a form we could understand. We obviously don’t experience him like Jesus’ contemporaries did, but John recorded all that he did so that his readers throughout the rest of history would be able to learn about Jesus so that they would but their trust and reliance on Him.

Belong

Step one to experience the life Jesus offers is true belief. Step Two is a relational step.  I talked last week about how the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God is “our” Father, not “my” Father. We are raised from spiritual death to life into a family. It’s easy to think of salvation as an act that pulls us into a vague spiritual family, but that was not God’s intent. We are drawn into a very physical, messy, and beautiful family of other people. A church building is where we meet, but the church – the real church – is composed of a community of Christ followers who commit to doing life together through thick and thin.

I believe God instilled this need for community deep within us. Dartmouth Medical School and the YMCA did a study called “Hardwired to Connect.”  Their conclusion was that “from the moment a baby is born, their brain is physically, biologically, and chemically hardwired to connect with others in relationship.”[6]

Communities matter. Belonging somewhere matters. This is why Cheers, Friends and Big Bang Theory resonate with so many people. In the Walking Dead, one of the greatest horrors is being alone. I was watching the Angry Birds movie last night, and you are meant to feel bad for the really angry bird because everybody rejects him. We are wired for community.

During adolescence, the brain seems most primed to address fundamental questions about life.  There seems to be a strong correlation between young people connecting with God and connecting with others.  One of their fascinating conclusions is that the healthier the human relationships, the healthier the God relationship.One Christian college teacher noted:

‘Some of my students were incredibly intelligent and even showed an interest in Christ, but they never seemed to make a breakthrough. I was trying to convince them of the evidence of Christ, and they just couldn’t get it. Looking back, I realize many of these students were emotionally wounded (or even abandoned) individuals who simply could not connect with what I was saying.”[7]

We are rational and relational beings – we think and we feel. Truth was meant to be given in the context of relationship so it sinks in not just intellectually but also emotionally. Paul noted in one of his letters: “We cared so deeply for you that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

This does not mean we are forced into a decision about God by how others interact with us; we have free will, and we will answer to God for our choices, not the choices of those around us.  Nevertheless, people in our communities can have a profound impact on our spiritual formation.

It’s often noted that people associate God with their Dad. Sheila and I have both found this to be true. For me, my dad was calm, strong, and smart. His love for me was not very expressive physically or verbally, but I never questioned it. Perhaps that’s why I don’t question God’s love for me even when I don’t feel emotionally engaged. Perhaps that’s also why I don’t put more emphasis on the experiential side of the Christian faith.

But that doesn’t mean I should settle for that (“Were settlers, son!”) Just because my view of God the Father is influenced by Leon my father doesn’t mean that my view is correct or complete. One of the important things about Christian community is that we are surrounded by others who help, through their relationship with us, to give us a broader, deeper, more complete understanding of God.

This relational aspect isn’t just for our formation. It’s for the sake of the spread of the Kingdom of God. Our call to relationship is broader than just the church family. We grow in church so the church will grow. We have a mandate to spread the good news of “life in His name” so that others are drawn to belonging to Christ and His Kingdom. One historian noted how this has looked practically throughout church history:

“Christianity revitalized life in Greek and Roman cities by providing relationships able to cope with urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.” ( Rodney Stark, “The Rise of Christianity”)

Justin Martyr, whom I mentioned at the beginning, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described how the new Christian believers offered a spiritually and relationally compelling home:

"We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause."

So we begin with belief – trusting and relying on God -  and we add to it belonging – becoming embedded in a community of Christ followers who are not perfect, but who are being transformed into the image of Christ so that we increasingly “make real” to those within and without outside the church the abundant life that Jesus offers us by His grace.

Behave

“As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him and reflect (“mirror”) His glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is not “Behave!” like I would say to my kids (over and over). This is my shorthand for saying that just as Jesus embodied and lived the Truth, we should embody and live the truth. Our behavior will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced. It is in the work of our hands that we see what we believe in our head and love in our heart.Our lives will mirror what our mind and our hearts have embraced.

This is not to suggest we will reach perfection, or that the better we behave the more God is obligated to us. This also does not suggest that God’s love for us hinges upon our ability to be good. However, the Bible is pretty clear that our true beliefs and our true sense of where we belong are revealed in our commitment to embracing His plan for how we ought to live as a representative of Christ. This is not an easy task. We can too easily sabotage our experience of “life in his name.”

  • We believe - but we don’t belong, so we come across as proud, aloof or distant, and we will remain baffled about why other people find their church family so meaningful. We never fully dive into a church because there’s always something wrong with it. We never let “iron sharpen iron” because we bail when someone challenges anything in our lives, so our maturity and character-building stalls. We never allow ourselves to be fully known and loved by others; our relationship muscle is never developed, and it impacts our understanding of and relationship with God. We decide that we don’t need a community of Christians to help grow our faith since we have the internet and our own thoughts. As a result, we get lost in our own interpretations of Scripture because we aren’t participating in the ebb and flow of community church life.
  • We say we believe, and we belong -  but our behavior does not consistently reflect God’s will for our lives. Let’s be clear - good behavior won’t earn us salvation or merit badges with God (because all that we accomplish is by His power and grace and not ours).  We will, however, harvest a practical reality in our life from what we have spiritually planted. If we plant holy living, we will harvest “life in his name.” But if we plant sin, we will harvest life in our name, and that’s a terrible thing. We will continue to be damaged by our sin even as we harm those around us – because that’s the way sin always works. It’s never just you and your sin. It’s us and your sin.
  • We belong (we embed ourselves in a church community), and our behavior aligns with God’s path so that we are reaping the practical benefits of wise living and we are enabling those around us to flourish - but we have no beliefs that ground our faith. We don’t actually believe Jesus is who he claims, or we dismiss the Bible’s teaching on our sin and our need for salvation. Then church just becomes a self-help club. You might feel good – you might embrace life principles that work (the Bible is full of them) – but there is no saving faith; there is no transformation by the Holy Spirit  into the image of Christ. There is just ordering your life to live well so you are happy, and that will crumble – not because God failed, but because God was never embraced.

But… when these three things work together, the glory of God and the goodness of a life lived “in his name” becomes clear to a world in desperate need of a Savior.

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved perfection (“I have not reached the final phase”). But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all the Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be." (Philippians 3:12)

It’s work, but Paul doesn’t seem put off by it. He seems excited about the fact that God has a particular goal in mind for who he wants Paul to be: in this context, God wants Paul to be transformed into the image of Christ, so that his mind thinks God’s thoughts, his heart loves what God loves, and his hands do the things God would have him to do.  And to Paul, that “final phase” is well worth the spiritual fight. If you read about who Paul was before his life was transformed by Christ, you know why he is excited about this.

If you have experienced spiritual transformation in your life, you know the hard work is worth it.  True spiritual progress and healing builds its own momentum.

  • If you were hooked on pornography and God freed you, you know there was a period of recovery time that was really, really difficult. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. And you tasted freedom, and it was beautiful, and you hallowed the name of a God whose Kingdom was on earth as it was in Heaven.  
  • Maybe you were always angry, or resentful, or greedy. But you believed that Jesus had the answer; you trusted him; you confessed and repented in a church community where you belonged, and you committed to behavior that aligned with God’s will for your life. As God worked in you, you began to see what life was like on the other side of the chains of sins, and the sweeter that life looked, and the true glory and trustworthiness of Christ emerged from behind the cloud of doubt and sin.
  • Maybe your life was a series of heartbreaks because you kept repeating patterns of sinful behavior that looked so appealing in the moment but always brought you crashing down in the end. But then with God’s help you committed to truly dedicating your life to His will and His path, and as hard as it was to break those old patterns, a peace and freedom opened up in your life that you had not experienced before.

Experiencing this changes us. We taste the freedom that comes with surrender, and our behavior increasingly mirrors what our mind and our hearts have embraced. That once again is not just for us; it’s a profound opportunity to spread the gospel.

"According to the early Christians, the church doesn't exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination... The purpose is clearly stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator: that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it." ~ N.T. Wright

In a world in desperate need of a Savior, where community and relationships are shallow and fleeting or destructive, and hypocrisy splashes across the headlines, our best witness for Christ will be full of true belief, genuine community, and a passionate commitment to livng with holy integrity. And when this happens, we experience and we proclaim “life in his name.”

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[1] Look at the synopsis of the miracles which exhibit the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus Christ in the Harmony of the Gospels… He gave proofs of His omnipotence when He converted the water into wine, John 2:6, etc.: Purified the temple, ch. John 2:13, etc.; Mark 11:15, etc.: Removed fever, ch. John 4:47, with which comp John 4:52; Matthew 8:14-15 : Cleansed the leper (Matthew 8:2-3), nay, even ten lepers at the same time, Luke 17:12, etc.: Healed those sick of the palsy, Matthew 8:5, etc., Matthew 9:2, etc.: Restrained and cast out demons, Mark 1:23-24; Matthew 8:28-29; Matthew 9:32-33; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 15:22, etc.; Mark 9:17, etc.; Luke 11:14 : Applied His healing power to diseases of years’ continuance, John 12:18; John 12:38; Matthew 9:20, etc.; Luke 13:11, etc.; John 5:5, etc.: Bestowed sight on the blind (Matthew 9:27-28; Mark 8:22-23; Matthew 20:30-31), nay, even on one born blind (John 9:1, etc.): Restored the withered hand, Matthew 12:10-11 : Commanded the wind and sea (Matthew 8:26; Mark 6:51), also the fishes, Luke 5:4-5; Matthew 17:27; John 21:6 : Fed abundantly at one time five, at another time four, thousand with a few loaves, Matthew 14:18-21; Matthew 15:34-38 : Raised the dead, Matthew 9:18, etc.; Luke 7:11, etc.: John 11:1, etc.: Gave to the disciples also power to perform miracles, Matthew 10:1; Matthew 14:28-29; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:17; Luke 10:19; Mark 16:20. To these are to be added, the cursing of the fig-tree, Matthew 21:18 : The efficacy of His word, I am He—let these go their way (His enemies fell to the ground, John 20:6), John 18:4, etc.: The healing of Malchus, Luke 22:51 : The miraculous feast, John 21:9. Very often crowds of sick persons were healed, Matthew 4:23; Luke 5:17; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 12:15; Mark 6:5  Bengel’s Gnomen, biblehub.com

[2] Check out the Eternal Destiny” portion of our Pillars of Faith series. https://clgonline.org/eternal-destiny-pillars-faith-series/

[3] I don’t want to re-preach what the phrase “in his name” means, but we noted last week it’s more than syllables. It’s literally the reputation of God – his character and nature. When we experience life “in his name,” we are being formed by God into increasingly accurate representatives through our submission, obedience and worship.

[4] “And that believing ye might have life through his name: believers have their spiritual and eternal life through Christ; their life of grace, of justification on him, of sanctification from him, and communion with him; the support and maintenance of their spiritual life, and all the comforts of it: and also their life of glory, or eternal life, they have through, or in his name; it lies in his person, it comes to them through him as the procuring cause of it; it is for his sake bestowed upon them, yea, it is in his hands to give it, and who does give it to all that believe: not that believing is the cause of their enjoyment of this life, or is their title to it, which is the name, person, blood, and righteousness of Christ; but faith is the way and means in which they enjoy it; and therefore these signs are written by the evangelist for the encouragement of this faith in Christ, which is of such use in the enjoyment of life, in, through, and from him.” – Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible, biblehub.com

[5] I believe I first read about this in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

[6] You can read a brief overview here: http://dartmed.dartmouth.edu/winter03/html/vs_connect.shtml

[7] This is recounted in Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.”

 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]

 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

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The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

First, death cannot stop God from raising us into eternal life. One chapter earlier, John quotes Jesus as saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) Martha affirms this. She believes it will happen on the last day. Jesus basically says, “Yes, because of me.”

Second, God can raise us from spiritual death to life in this life. Paul wrote in Romans 8:

“If Christ lives within you, even though the body is as good as dead because of the effects of sin, the Spirit is infusing you with life now that you are right with God. If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

Jesus infuses us with new spiritual life through His Holy Spirit even before he raises us up to the ultimate glory of eternal life in bodies that are incorruptible and free of the ravages of sin and death.

Matthew records that Jesus healed a lame man so people would know he had the power to forgive sins (Matthew 9). In other words, he did something miraculous they could see in order to prove he could to miraculous things they couldn’t see. Here again, Martha believed in an unseen world of resurrection; Jesus raises Lazarus in the seen world so that people would believe the entirety of his claims. 

But there’s another portion of this story that lingers with me, an odd and even gross detail that was important enough to include. In this midst of this celebration is a sobering reality: even though Lazarus had been raised into new life, he had spent some time in the corrupting power of death, and he stank. And now those who loved him were going to need to hold their noses and get their hands dirty as they unwrapped him.[3]

I realize that this is not the main point of the story. That fact that Jesus has the power to bring the dead to life is the main point of the story. Next week, I am going to focus on the implications that has for our lives. But today I want to focus on a small detail I believe offers something for our spiritual instruction. Remember: Jesus used a physical miracle to prove a spiritual reality. In this case, I think we see a physical analogy that acknowledges an important part of the spiritual reality of what it will look like when we are raised into a new spiritual life in Christ.

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When we move from death to life, it’s glorious but it’s not always pretty.  Let’s start with the glorious part. Our resurrection with Christ saves us from spiritual death. It frees us from the legacy of our sin eating away at us and corrupting us. This is fantastic news.

“You laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

So it’s glorious. If you have a testimony that includes freedom from bondage to sin, you know this. When Jeff shared his story a couple weeks ago, the glorious power of God at work in his life was made clear. Our new life is glorious. It’s just not always pretty. Zombie stories give us a decent analogy for what sin does to us. It kills us and we don’t know it. We stumble around, falling apart, consuming others, wasting away in ways that are both heart breaking and terrifying.

And Jesus heals us from that.

I was watching a special on the History Channel about Halloween, and in their segment on the history of the zombie in world literature they noted that Jesus was the only ‘zombie’ (person who was dead and came back to life) that came back to give life to others rather than take it away.  The History Channel was not promoting the divinity of Christ, but even they recognized that there is something different and important about Jesus.

But even though we have been brought to life, we spent time dead in sin experiencing spiritual corruption, and there is a legacy that lingers. It’s going to be a process. There’s some cleaning up to do. Can we just be honest about that? Here’s Lazarus celebrating – “Woo hoo! No way! I’m alive!” and his friends are like, “You need to take a bath.”

In heaven, the corruptible will put on the incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). We are not there yet. New life on this side of heaven is glorious but it does not yet equal perfection. We are freed from the controlling power and the eternal penalty of our sin because of Christ, but God made a world in which we reap a temporal penalty for what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

This is why, if you were dead in greed, or gossip, or sexual sin, you likely won’t walk away from a new commitment to Jesus suddenly freed of the habits and patterns you have formed over the years. We are “being renewed” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) Those are progressive verbs. We still have to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24).

This is not one momentous moment where you announce “Old self out!” drop the mic and walk away with no connection whatsoever to anything you have done before. We walk away from who we were, but when we first start out we are still pretty close to where we started. Distance takes time. Addicts will long for their addiction even as they conquer their old habits. Criminals might spend time in jail even if those they wronged forgive them. Gossips have wounded friendships that need time to heal. 

I often hear people say, “I’ve changed. Why can’t we just move on and forget about who I was?” Well, because you have grave clothes on. They will come off, but it will take some time, and you still stink. You’ve trained yourself to think about people and situations in a land of corruption. You have spent years building a whole system on how you gauge your value and worth in a land of corruption.  

God promises to transform you if you surrender your life to Him, but it’s a process (what we call sanctification).[4] Be patient. You need some unwrapping, and right now you don’t smell new yet.

We must be honest. The church is full of forgiven people who have been given new life in Christ and who stink. I know I do. I might clean up good on a Sunday morning and look fine (theoretically), and I have been raised from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ, but if you know we me at all, you know that there are still some clothes from my time spent in the grave that still need some unwinding.

Back to Romans 8. After Paul talks about new life in Christ, he writes that all of creation groans in anticipation of God’s New Creation in the world to come but has not yet arrived – and that includes those who are children of God:

“Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete—  for we have been saved in this hope and for this future. But hope does not involve what we already have or see. For who goes around hoping for what he already has? But if we wait expectantly for things we have never seen, then we hope with true perseverance and eager anticipation.” (23-25)

We celebrate new life, we take great hope in the total future redemption we can experience because of Jesus – and we recognize that the reason we are full of expectation and hope is that Heaven has not yet arrived. We live in a church community full of people who have walked out of their spiritual graves (yay!) and are trailing grave clothes behind them (yikes). I hope this gives us a realistic expectation of church community.

  • It’s why we celebrate together - and then struggle with each other.
  • It’s why we praise God for redemption – and then beg him to help us be better at forgiving the redeemed around us who wound us.  
  • It’s why we can feel torn between loving Jesus and loving the people who claim to love Jesus.
  • It’s why we can’t hide from others in our walk with Christ. We need others to help us move into the life God has given us.

It’s beautiful and messy on this side of heaven. And it’s in these times that the community of the Church has an opportunity to shine.

God expects the church to move stones and unwrap grave clothes.

Jesus could have enlisted angels or moved the stone himself; Jesus could have knocked those grave clothes off with a word. He didn’t; he let Lazarus’ friends and family do it. This physical reality points toward an important spiritual one:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. In the end, you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

For whatever reasons, Jesus enlists us in His service.

“In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing. That's how the Lord always operates. He does what He does, but we do what we can do. There's no greater joy in the world than … taking off grave clothes for the Lord! We play a part in what He does.”  – John McArthur

I don’t think “joy” is a word that comes to mind, frankly, when I think of helping others get rid of the lingering reminders of their spiritual corruption. I’d like everyone around me cleaned up, thank you very much. I don’t want the hassle of high-maintenance friends or needy family members or other people in church who offend me or make me angry because their words, attitudes or actions still stink. But that’s a crucial reason we do life together. There are 59 “One Another Verses” in the Bible.[5] Why are there so many? Because it’s hard to do life together, but it’s crucial.

I have two tips to offer today on this aspect of ‘life together’: be humble and be wise.

1. Be humble. Get over yourself. For every person you help become free from their grave clothes, someone else is helping you. You might think the lingering effects of someone else’s sin is overwhelming…but I’m telling you, somebody close to you has is rubbing Vicks under their nose when they help you out. There is never room for arrogance or meanness in the church.

2. Be wise.

  • Seek God’s wisdom and truth. Sin is subtle. You can enable someone rather than help them if you aren’t careful. You can shame those you are trying to help if you aren’t careful. You can get pulled into the very sin you are trying to help others be free from. We are to be people of grace and truth, and that balance can be tricky. You will need to pray and read Scripture. You may need to read books on a particular subject or listen to sermons/podcasts. If you can do this without betraying someone’s confidence, you may need to ask an expert you know. Seek wisdom beyond your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Know your boundaries. Do you have a relationship with this person? Will you be meddling or helping? Do you have good reason to believe they will value what you have to say? Are there others around them already doing the unwrapping? Maybe you can help, but maybe you will be in the way. This is part of the things for which you should be praying, and, if appropriate, seeking counsel.
  • If you are helping someone and it feels messy, use your words. Here are four examples for different situations.
  1. “I feel like I need to be honest about you, but I don’t know if what comes out of my mouth will reflect what’s in my heart.”
  2. “I am not your enemy; I am your friend, and because I am your friend we’ve got to talk about this thing in your life.”
  3. “I’m glad you have confided in me, but I don’t know what to do or say right now. Can we just hang out?”
  4. “I think I offended you. I’m sorry.”

So be humble, and be wise.

Jesus does what only he can do: bring the dead to life.

We do what he asks us to do: welcome those who were dead back into the community of the living. And in the process of God raising and we, the church, unwrapping, the glory of God will be revealed so that the world might believe.

___________________________________________

[1] Why did Jesus weep when he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead? The Bible is not clear, but I suspect it had to do with a) Jesus’ grief over the calamitous reality of the devastating consequence of what sin does in the world. See “Why Jesus Wept,” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

[2]  This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water. 
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death .

[3] Whenever the Bible takes the time to point out that something stinks, this is never a good thing. In Genesis 19, the angels said of Sodom and Gomorrah that “the stench of the place has reached the Lord…”  “And I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD” (Amos 4:10). Isaiah 65 talks about God gagging on the stench of rebelliousness and pride and hypocrisy.

[4] See Theopedia’s definition: http://www.theopedia.com/sanctification

[5]http://storage.cloversites.com/wakarusamissionarychurch/documents/59one_another_scriptures.pdf

The Sanctity of Life (Pillars of Faith Series)

Our Statement of Faith: “We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27). Human life is of inestimable worth in all its dimensions, including pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death. We are therefore called to defend, protect, and value all human life (Psalm139).”

This statement could potentially cover a lot of issues, but I am going to focus today on the one that is most ‘front and center’ in our culture: abortion. Historically, Christians have agreed that the unborn child is a human being, and that stopping the pregnancy causes the death of that child. I am going to give four different arguments for this position.

1. THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE

Old Testament

  • "Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same one fashion us in the womb? (Job 31:15)
  • “For You shaped me, inside and out.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
 Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You
As I took shape in secret,
carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before I was born from its womb. You see all things;
You saw me growing, changing in my mother’s womb…”(Psalm 139:13-16
  • “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not…” (Isaiah 44:2)
  • “…the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you before birth…’” (Isaiah 44:24)
  • The Eternal One singled me out, even before I was born.
He called me and named me when I was still in my mother’s belly. Even then, God was preparing my mouth to speak like a sharp sword... And now the Eternal who watched, shaped, and made me His own servant
from the womb has determined to restore Jacob’s family…” (Isaiah 49:1,5)
  • "Before I even formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew all about you.
Before you drew your first breath, I had already chosen you
to be My prophet to speak My word to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)

There is no discussion in the Old Testament about what we would call elective abortion (“a legal abortion without medical justification”) because a Jewish mother would not have even contemplated choosing to do this.[1] However, there is at least one specific reference in the Mosaic Law about what to do if someone causes harm to a pregnant woman:

 "And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that the child comes forth, yet there is no injury [premature birth], he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any injury [to the woman or the miscarried baby], then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise...." (Exodus 21:22-25)[2]

In other words, the penalty for the harm experienced by both mother and child is the same.

New Testament

Once again, we don’t see a clear injunction in the New Testament against elective abortion, most likely because the books in the New Testament were written by Jewish people coming out of a culture where abortion simply was not done.[3] However, the humanity of the unborn is once again supported. 

  • Of John the Baptist: "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb." (Luke 1:15)
  • “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41) The Greek word “babe,” brephos, is used equally of an unborn child and an infant (see Luke 2:12, 16; Acts 7:19).
  • Paul talked about God, “He who had set me apart, even before I was born, and called me through His grace…” (Galatians 1:15)

John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and responded to Mary’s voice while in his mother’s womb; Paul was called by God’s grace while still in the womb. 

THE ARGUMENT FROM CHURCH HISTORY

In Judaism, there was a consensus on a number of important things:

  • people were made in God’s image
  • children were a blessing (so elective abortion was unthinkable)
  • the unborn were humans deserving of protection

However, they did not have access to the scientific knowledge we have now about how the unborn develop, so there was not always a consensus  about when that humanity with all its moral status ‘kicked in.’ Some argued that full humanity began at conception, others when the baby was fully formed, others at the moment of quickening, others at viability. [4] 

In spite of this uncertainty, there were clear teachings about how seriously they viewed the issue. Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian) stated, “The law orders all the offspring be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” A woman who did so was considered to have committed infanticide because she destroyed a “soul” and hence diminished the race.

When specifically addressing the issue of abortion, the early Church built on the foundation already in place and unhesitatingly condemned abortion as the killing of an innocent person. The church was now drawing Greek and Roman converts, people for whom abortion and infanticide were considered regular aspects of life, and we see the stated position of the church clarifying as history unfolds. 

  • The epistle of Barnabas (approx. 125): "Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born."
  • The Didache (approx. 140): " Do not murder a child by abortion, nor commit infanticide.”
  • Athenagoras wrote A Plea for the Christians (approx. 177) to debunk the charge that Christians kill infants during their worship services in order to eat their flesh and drink their blood.  “And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.”
  • Clement of Alexandria, in The Tutor (approx. 200): “Those who use abortifacient medicines to hide their fornication are causing the outright destruction, together with the fetus, of the whole human race.”
  • Hippolytus of Rome, in Refutation of All Heresies (approx. 210): “Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family or excessive wealth. Behold into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!”
  • Tertullian, in Apologetics (approx. 213): " It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”
  • The Council of Ancyra in A.D. 315 decreed: “Concerning women who commit fornication and destroy that which they have conceived or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them [from Communion] until the hour of death and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.”  
  • Basil the Great, in Letter to Amphilochius (approx. 360): “The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. . .”
  • Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and Resurrection (approx. 370): “But there is no disagreement or doubt that those which are being nourished in the womb have growth and spatial movement. So the remaining alternative is to suppose that soul and body have one and the same beginning.”
  • Chrysostom, in a homily on Romans (approx. 390): “Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth?”
  • Jerome, in Letter to Eustochium (approx. 400): “Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion,” which he called “child murder.”
  • Sixth Ecumenical Council (in Trullo) in 680: “Those who give drugs procuring abortion and those who receive poisons to kill the fetus are subjected to the penalty of murder.”[5]

Throughout early church history, there is a consistent message: abortion is the taking of human life. In addition, you begin to see clear statements that the body and soul are connected at birth, and that life begins from the moment of conception.

THE ARGUMENT FROM BIOLOGY

I’ve talked before about how the revelation of the Bible coincides with God’s revelation through His creation.  In other words, if all truth is God’s truth, we would expect the Bible and the world, when properly understood, to give the same message. In the case of the unborn, we see science and biology bringing clarity to the question of life. There is a clear consensus that life begins at conception.

  • "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material that each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual." (Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 3rd ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1968, page 43.)
  • "Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition." (E. L. Potter and J. M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd ed., Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975, page vii.)
  • The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter - the beginning is conception."  (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981.)
  • "Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings." (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Ibid.) 
  • “The science of embryology is clear. From the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Therefore, every ‘successful’ abortion ends the life of a living human being.” (Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 35.)
  • “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p.8.)
  • “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p.2.)
  • “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.85-86.)[6]
  • Dr. Warren Hern, author of Abortion Practice, told Planned Parenthood: “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
  • In 1970, an editorial in California Medicine noted: “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.” 
  • Former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone would question these basic scientific facts. "This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't part of the common knowledge," he wrote in his book Life in the Making. (A. Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)
  • A Planned Parenthood brochure in 1963 noted, “Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.  It is dangerous to your life and health.”[i]
  • Faye Wattleton, the longest reigning president Planned Parenthood, told Ms. Magazine: “I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don't know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus.”[7]
  • Bernard Nathanson co-founder of NARAL, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1974: "There is no longer serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy..."[8]

ARGUMENT FROM PHILOSOPHY

Philosophy supports the Biblical narrative, historical Christian position, and biology Scott Klusendorff (Life Training Institute) and Greg Koukl (Stand To Reason) have highlighted the four ways in which an unborn child differs from one who is born (Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency), none of which justifies the elective killing the unborn.

Size

 The unborn is clearly smaller than a born human. This does not mean they are not a person. Three-year-olds are smaller than a teenagers. Can we kill them? Our value is not based on our size. In the same way, though the unborn is smaller than a born child, this is not a justifiable reason for killing the unborn.

Level of development

 The unborn is also less developed than a born human being, but this is irrelevant to personhood. A four year-old girl can’t bear children because her reproductive system is less developed than a fourteen year-old girl. She is still as equally valuable as a child-bearing teen – or a seventy-year old grandmother. We can’t disqualify the unborn from personhood simply because they are less developed than older human beings, and this includes going back to the most fundamental starting point of our development.

Another way of thinking of this is asking the question: Were you ever not you? Of course not. If you were to walk backward through your life history, you would walk back to the moment of your conception. 

Environment

You location has no bearing on the value of who you are. Being inside or outside a house changes nothing; being inside our atmosphere or out of it does not change an astronaut’s humanity. In the same way, a journey from inside the womb to outside the womb changes nothing about one’s humanity or personhood. If you are a person when you are born, you were a person the moment before that too. Even Peter Singer agrees with this. Singer, an ethicist at Princeton, argues that infanticide should be legal for at least a month after birth. That’s a horrible but consistent idea for him. He wrote in his book Practical Ethics:“The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right.” [9]

I agree. To Singer, that means if we can kill the unborn we can kill the born. He badly misses the point. If we can’t kill the born, we shouldn’t kill the unborn either.

 Degree of dependency

Sometimes people cite ‘viability’ as a marker for when the unborn should be considered human. But newborns and toddlers are hardly viable in the truest sense of the world. They must be fed and cared for by someone else. Is Peter Singer right? Should parents be allowed to kill children until they are independent in terms of their need for basic sustenance? No. Your humanity is not connected to your dependency. If it were, people in hospitals would be less human. People at the end of life would be less human. People who are handicapped physically or mentally would be less human. Yes, the unborn depends on her mother, but this says nothing about their humanity and value.[ii]

This SLED acronym actually speaks to a broader pro-life position: no human being – regardless of size, level of development, place of residence or degree of dependence – should be excluded from the community of human persons and the rights and protections that follow.

You may have noticed I did not reference any “hard cases” such as rape and incest,[10] serious medical difficulties in the baby,[11] or times the mother’s life is in danger.[12] These are situations that need to be answered carefully, compassionately and truthfully, but they are broader than the purposes of this article. 

THE RESPONSE OF CHRISTIANS 

Three ways in which Christians can be faithfully present in our culture on this issue:

  • Use your voice and your vote in the public square. We have the privilege (if not the duty) of being involved in a political process that gives us a vote and a voice. The early church could not do that. We can. [13] We need to educate ourselves, then be truthful, bold and tactful in defense of the unborn. We have plenty of platforms and opportunities to speak about these issues. Write, speak, re-post articles on Facebook, learn how to hashtag so pro-life articles and stories trend to the top of a news feed. It makes a difference. Candidates are usually pretty clear where they stand on this issue. The Supreme Court is a wild card here, and I’m increasingly disheartened by how the political process actually works. But as long as we have a voice and a vote, we should use them wisely.[14]
  • The abortion numbers are trending down and have been for a while now in the United States.[15] As I have been surfing pro-life sites, they credit two main things: ultrasound images and relationships. Ultrasounds show what goes on in the womb in a way that is intuitively strong. Watching someone’s baby develop on Facebook as the mom posts ultrasound pictures is powerful. Relationships are an increasingly necessary context for conversations that are loving, truthful, and bold. If you want to see abortion numbers continue to drop, put yourself in situations where you will become part of a personal discussion about the unborn in a way that displays truth and grace.
  • Be involved in caring for physical and emotional needs. Get involved with places like Pregnancy Care Center, El Nido (in Costa Rica) or other organizations that provide tangible acceptance and care for physical and emotional needs (or simply look around you for opportunities). It’s what the early church did. “The early Church provided places of refuge for pregnant women in desperate situations (usually convents), places where women would find acceptance and medical care. Not only did the Church try to provide for the physical needs of mothers, it also provided for their psychological and spiritual needs—needs that abortion completely overlooks. The early Church also ran orphanages for the children born of unwanted pregnancies, and it is perhaps no co-incidence that many of the Church’s greatest saints started life as such orphans. As pagan antiquity became a thing of the past with the triumph of Christianity, so in large part did abortifacient poisons and infanticide.” – T.L. Frazier 
  • Help to create a church community that embodies the grace, forgiveness and hope that only Christ can offer.[16] There is a danger that we will just be known for being against abortion, when in reality the church is called to be for Christ – and the salvation, forgiveness, healing and hope that is found only through Christ (and hopefully embodied by his people, the church).There is also a danger we will stand on a spiritual pedestal on this issue. In Luke 18, Jesus contrasts two people offering prayers. The Pharisee says, “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector!” Meanwhile, the tax collector, a Jewish traitor and one of the most reviled men in the community, is praying a prayer that honors God: “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Remember: the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is no place for superiority, pride, or shaming judgment. We all must   confess our sins, receive Christ’s forgiveness, and constantly be renewed in newness of life.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

ENDNOTES

[1] “That an Israelite parent might consider intentionally aborting a foetus seems almost beyond the moral horizon of the Torah's original audience. For in the moral environment where the law was first received, the memory of genocide and infanticide was still fresh [and] every birth was precious.” Lenn E. Goodman, Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values, OUP 1998

[2] “What Exodus 21:22 Says about Abortion.” Stand To Reason.   Some think this just refers to a punishment if the mother dies or is injured. This article makes a clear and compelling argument that the punishment applied equally if either the mother or the child was the victim.

[3] “Dead Silence: Must The Bible Say Abortion Is Wrong Before We Can Know It’s Wrong?” 

[4] The State of Israel is now worlds away from the Old Testament perspective. See “Israel’s abortion law now among world’s most liberal.”

[5] The Early Church on Abortion. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/EarlyChurchAbortion.php

[6] The list so far was taken from “Even “Pro-Choice” Philosophers Admit: Human Life Begins at Fertilization.” 

[7] “A new human being comes into existence during the process of fertilization.” 

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Peter Singer’s Bold Defense of Infanticide.” 

[10] “The Hard Cases Objection: Does Rape Justify Abortion?” 

[11] “Is Abortion permissible for Fetal Deformity?” 

[12] “Is Abortion Justifiable In The Hard Cases?” 

[13] “But so long as Christianity remained a disfavored--and sometimes persecuted--religion, their appeals to the pagan government to act against infanticide were ineffectual in changing government policy. Even so, Christians worked against infanticide by prohibiting its members from practicing it, voicing their moral view on infanticide to the pagan world, and by providing for the relief of the poor and actually taking in and supporting babies which had been left to die by exposure by their pagan parents." http://www.christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html

[14] Right To Life’s Voting Guide. 

[15] “Abortions Declining Greatly Across Most of US.” 

[16] “Can God Forgive Abortions?” 

[i] “Suppose we are back in the pre-digital photo days, and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable — let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example comparable to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I say blithely, ‘You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.’ Wouldn’t you think that I were the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.” (Richard Stith, “Does Making Babies Make Sense? Why So Many People Find it Difficult to See Humanity in a Developing Foetus.”)

 

The Story of Your Life (The Path of Life)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR7KfFfse3k]

When we tell the story of their lives, we mention three different things: What’s been done for us, what’s been done to us, and what we decided to do. “What’s been done for us” is another way of talking about the things others have done that prepared us or helped us through life.

  • I was born and raised as a Weber, surrounded by godly family. I have one sibling by birth and one by adoption. My parents loved me.
  • I was born Mennonite. I learned the Bible and good theology; my pastors and Sunday School teachers and youth leaders taught me about God and for the most part showed me Christ.
  • I was born and raised in Alabama, moved to Oregon, then to Ohio where I naturally became a Buckeye. These were important experiences in molding my life.
  • My parents sent me to Christian schools all my life. I made godly friends; my teachers taught me taught me truth and modeled both justice and grace as they put up with a lot from me.
  • Doctors sowed up my cut-off toes (and both bad knees and a foot and soon a shoulder)
  • TC Christian and this church have put up with me while giving me time to mature as a teacher, a preacher, a pastor, a coach, and person.
  • My wife said “yes” and then has said “I forgive you” a lot of times.
  • My friends put up with my idiosyncracies and faults.
  • Jesus Christ gave his life so that I could live.

 So “What’s been done for us” is a list of things that have helped us to thrive. “What’s been done to us” is another way of saying things that happened that made life hard.

  • I was mocked as a kid because I was overweight.
  • So many of my peers rejected when we lived in Oregon, or would be nice when I was at their house then join in with the mockers at school.
  • I felt so alone in high school. I spent plenty of nights crying myself to sleep.
  • As an adult in Ohio I went through such a profound time of depression I missed a month or two of work because of exhaustion and other physical symptoms. My wife called her mom and said, “Pray for Anthony. He’s falling apart.”
  • I have adult-onset ADD.
  • Our church in Ohio became so volatile that it pushed me out of the Mennonite circle and even out of Ohio.
  • My dad was at one point over 300 lbs. I have genetics that tend in that direction.
  • I have had neighbors who scream and curse at each other while I’m outside playing with my boys
  • My Dad died from pancreatic cancer.

If “What’s been done for us” chronicles the things that helped us thrive, then “What’s been done to us” chronicles the things we have to survive.  These are the things sometimes simply challenge us and other times threaten to break us. This is what some have called the “dark threads” in the tapestry of our lives. I love the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Frodo is talking to Gandalf in the mines of Moriah. Frodo says that he wishes the ring had never come to him, and that the unfolding events weren't happening. Gandalf responds, " So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

We all have rings that we wish had never come to us. We all wish we did not have to see such times. But…it’s not ours to decide. Our choice involves what we do with the time (or the situations) that are given to us. And that’s the third part of the story: “What We Do.”

  • I didn't ask for my temper, but  kicked a mower and cut off a couple toes.
  • I played basketball above all other sports.
  • I didn't plan to meet Sheila, but I chose to marry Sheila.
  • I committed my life to Christ.
  • I went to college and got degrees.
  • I moved to TC, and have worked at TC Christian and this church.
  • I was blessed with some great jobs, but I chose to work myself into the ground and fall apart.

Sometimes, this list of “What’s Been Done For Us and To Us” and “What We Do”all jumble together. My Mennonite heritage was both a gift and a burden. My ADD is on some days a gift for me and on other days a burden to me. My wife and I will both tell you that on some days we each feel like the other was a gift, and on other days we each feel like the other was a burden.  In all these areas, I still made decisions about what kind of person to be.

As our lives unfold these things will continue.  The things done for us and to us are going to happen. Some of those things will amaze us and some of those things will dismay us. That’s life. We can’t get around it. Part of what we mean when we talk about “trust” and “faith” in our life with Christ is that we believe that God is sovereign and faithful in the midst of any circumstance.

 I think that’s what we mean when we say things like, “Let go and let God.” Huge chunks of our life story are written for us. We won’t always like certain chapters, and we will love others. But we know that the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Hebrews 12:2)  has it under control. We can always find his words, his voice, his presence in the text, and we know that no matter what we think of the story, He is going to write the final, eternal chapter, and all that happened before then will fade away.

Meanwhile, how can we write our part in our story in a way that honors God?  Andy Stanley wrote in Principles of the Path (and I paraphrase slightly) that we can never accomplish the will of God by violating the principles of God, breaking the specific commands of God, or ignoring the wisdom of God. So let’s look at how we can live in the will of God by using these three tools He has given us.

  • General Principles: Will I violate or affirm a general principle found in God’s Word?
  • Specific Commands: Will I break or keep a specific command found in God’s Word?
  • Practical Wisdom: What will I harvest if I plant this?

Should I go to college or get a job?

General Principle: Lots of verses tell us to steward our time and money. Specific Command: You probably aren’t going to find one. Practical Wisdom: Is found in the counsel of others and an inventory of our skills and goals.

 I’m earning money. What can I do with it that writes Godly wisdom into my story?

 General Principle: Don’t love money (Hebrews 13:5; Proverbs 19:17). Specific Command: Be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 John 3:17). Practical Wisdom: I don’t want to be controlled by money (Ecclesiastes 5:10;Matthew 6:24).

 Someone has sinned against me. I have been wronged! What should I do?

 General Principle: Love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Specific Command: Forgive repentant sinners (Matthew 6:14-15). Practical Wisdom: Do for others what you want done for you (Matthew 7:12)

 My kids are just bad / My parents are failures. How should I respond with wisdom?

General Principle: Honor all people (1 Peter 2:17). Specific Command: Honor your parents/love your wife/respect your husband/don’t provoke kids (Ephesians 6; Colossians 3). Practical Wisdom: Homes with mutual honor flourish (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Our stories will continue to be written. What’s done to us and for us is out of our control. What God enables us to do is not. God’s principles, God’s commands, and God’s wisdom can help us to tell a story that builds us up, blesses those around us, and ultimately points toward a Savior who has lived the greatest story of all.

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  • Make a list of the Things Done For You, Things Done To You, and Things You Have Done that have worked together to bring you where you are today. Be honest! Which ones should you celebrate (things done for you and things you have done well) and which ones should you surrender (trusting God with what’s been done to you to God; repenting for the areas in which you have failed).
  • How is God writing your story both then and now?
  • What story do you want to tell 10 years from now (in your family, your finances, friendships, education, personal integrity, health, understanding of the Bible, walk with Christ, prayer life).What must you do to get there?

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I am deeply indebted to Andy Stanley's "The Principles of the Path" for the main ideas in this series (and some of specific language, such as "Direction, not intention, determines as our destination"). I highly encourage you to buy and consume this excellent book!

The Great Disconnect (The Path of Life)*

We have to be honest about how we got to where we are. We have to own the ways in which we chose to take certain steps, and those steps turned into a journey, and the journey brought us to our destination. Our direction determines our destination.* We often have a pretty good idea about how we want our destination to look, but we undermine the very goals we are trying to reach: 

  • She wants to marry a great Christian guy - but hangs out at night clubs and goes through man after man.
  • He want a great sex life once he’s married - but beds every girl he can.
  • She wants a great relationship with her husband - but prioritizes the kids.
  • She want a great relationship with his kids – but never enters into their world.
  • He want his kids to respect him - but openly flirts with other people or never treats the kids respectfully.
  • He want to develop closeness to God - but spends all her time on the internet or watching football
  • He want to grow old with his wife, kids and grandkids - but neglects his health and his relationship with everyone on that list
  • She wants her children to make God a priority - but skips church all the time and never actually take up a cross and experience the resurrection life in Christ
  • He wants to get a high-paying job - but never works hard or studies.

Then they end up at destinations they don’t want and get bewildered – “How did I get here?” In many ways, they pushed the dominoes. One by one. We have to be honest about how where we are got disconnected from where we want to be. We forget that God has put a principle in place in the world: we will harvest a destination that will match what we planted with our decisions. Our attention determines your decisions, and our decisions determine our destination.

Proverbs 7:6-27 gives us insight into this progression. This passage shows how our current reality is connected to our past decisions. It “connects the dots” by gives us some signs that will warn us when we are moving toward a place we don’t want to be. The writer presents Wisdom and Folly as two different women, one calling us in the direction life in the Kingdom of God, the other calling us to sin and destruction.

"One day I was at the window of my house,
looking out through my lattice shutters, And there among the usual crowd of the gullible people
I spotted a naive young man. He was going down the street near the corner where she lived—that mysterious and evil woman —
taking the road that led directly to her house."

Warning Sign #1: Hanging out with a bad crowd. Warning Sign #2: Being gullible and naïve. Warning Sign #3: Heading down a bad road. This is a bad combination. He is easily deceived - he’s not that good as sensing whether things are heading the wrong way or not. He’s on a road that has an obvious conclusion but is unaware. And the crowd is not providing any good advice for him. If he was even aware and steady he could be with a bad crowd in a bad situation as a holy presence. If he were with a crowd of good friends they would be on a mission trip as they ministered to others in this compromised situation. But none of that is happening. He lacks moral and social common sense. It’s a bad start.

Bad friends will put you into compromising situations so that you will compromise. They will encourage and applaud your downfall. Good friends will walk you through and away from bad situations, and encourage and applaud your honor and integrity.

"At the end of the day, as night approached
and darkness crept in, I saw her! A woman came out to meet him. She was dressed like a prostitute and devious with her affections. Here’s what I know about her: she is loud and obnoxious, a rebel against what is proper and decent."


 Warning Sign #4: Noisy rebellion against all that is proper and decent. I know it’s cool to talk about being rebellious and beating the system and not listening to the man. But you have to rebel against the right things. If I rebel against my doctor’s orders, I’m foolish. If I rebel against the ad campaign that tells me I can go to Vegas and do what I want, I’m wise. I am grieved by all the award shows on TV that reward vulgar language, blatant sexuality and anti-religious sentiment as if somehow saying and doing those things makes the artists exceptional geniuses. “They’re are so cool!” No, they lack social and moral common sense. Time Magazine recently listed 100 movers and shakers. Miley Cyrus was lauded for boldly and smartly recreating herself after her Hannah Montana phase. If you think that shift is heroic, smart or cool, you’ve bought the lie. It’s a tragedy worthy or our tears and prayers.

When rebellion looks sexy and edgy, you’re probably rebelling against the wrong thing. Godly rebellion is a gritty and costly fight the true, good, and noble.

“She’s always on the move—anxious to get out of the house and down the street; at times in the open,
at others lurking around every corner.”

Warning Sign #5: Restlessness instead of peace. She is never satisfied, never at peace, never at rest. Something’s not right. It’s not as if she is restless because she is responding to God’s call, or because she realizes she is wasting her life. No, it’s a restlessness to bring others into her sin. It’s the nature of sin to never be satisfied. C.S. Lewis described it in The Screwtape Letters as “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.

”As I am watching them, she grabs him and kisses him,
then shamelessly tells him: ‘It was my turn to offer a peace offering,
 and today I paid my vows and prepared a feast with my portion, so now I come to see you.
I really want to be with you, and what luck! I have found you! You’ll be impressed. I have decorated my couch,
laid colorful Egyptian linens over where we will be together, and perfumed the bed with exotic oils and herbs: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon."

Warning Sign #6: When you justify something because other religious people do it. She is apparently Jewish, since she took her peace offering to the temple (she sacrificed something) and returned home with her portion. In other words, she’s an observant Jew. Sin often hides behind religious pretension. “My friends said it was okay, and they go to church.” The mind justifies what the heart desires. Guard your heart and mind.

Warning Sign #7: When someone has to sell you something that shouldn’t need selling. I’ll be honest: if my wife says, “You know, I was thinking…” she doesn’t have to tack on all kinds of extras. I don’t need to be tricked or enticed for sex. I’m not thinking, “I wonder if we have the Egyptian linens and cinnamon.” Satan can never give us something in the fullness of God’s design. Sin always deprives us of the something good in what we pursue. And so it has to make up for it by bringing in all kinds of other good things to prop up the experience when it fails to deliver as promised.

When something that ought to be good and fulfilling on its own merits has to be surrounded by really cool things for it to seem good and fulfilling, that’s a warning sign.

"Come in, and we will be intoxicated with love until sunrise;
we will delight ourselves in our affections. You don’t need to worry; my husband is long gone by now,
away from home on a distant journey. He took a bag of money with him,
 so I don’t expect him home until next month."

Warning Sign #8: The allure of penalty-free sin. It’s so easy to think, “Well, what I’m about to do won’t hurt anybody. We are both adults and we agreed. I can do this with no consequences.” But sin always has wages; it will pay you for the work you do in its service. Sin promises short-term pleasure at the expense of long term joy, but you will eventually harvest what you plant.

"It worked! She enticed him with seductive words, seduced him with her smooth talk. Right away he followed her home.
He followed her like a bull being led to the slaughter,
like a deer heading toward a trap, like a bird flying straight into a net.
 He had no clue his life was at stake; everything was about to change. This is why it is so important that you listen to me, my sons,
and pay attention to all I am telling you. Do not let your mind wonder about her ways;
do not lose yourself and drift down her path, for she’s claimed one life after another,
victim after victim, too many to count. Her house is the gateway to the grave;
every step toward her is a step toward death’s dark chamber."

Our decisions determine our destination. We have to be honest about how the choices we’ve made have influenced where we are. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – God is for you. He has revealed principles in the Bible that are for our benefit. God does not want you to end up in the dark chamber of spiritual death.

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* I have pulled the main principle in this series from Andy Stanley's book Principles of the Path. I highly recommend that you read it!

Follow The Signs (The Path of Life)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are?” It’s a catchy way of saying that you get where you are going – which seems really obvious, right? It’s not, actually. How many times do we look at our life and find ourselves baffled about how we got to the place in which we find ourselves?

  • How did my health get so terrible?
  • Why don’t I have friends?
  • Why can’t I stop shopping, drinking, worrying, moving from one romance to the next?
  • Why can’t I seem to hold a job?
  • Why do I move from one bad relationship to the next?
  • Why don’t I feel close to God?
  • Why do I keep finding myself in the same kind of bad situation over and over again?

None of set out to reach a point where we ask this kind of question – none of us said, “I'd like to go there!”  So what happened? We are going to talk about Biblical principles for living*  that will help us take the things that are within our ability to change and in a practical sense begin to experience the kind of life God intends for us to live.** 

Paul talked a lot in Colossians about how a Supreme God does a work in our life to make us something newIt is only because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that we are saved and made right in the eyes of God.  Our souls are changed because of the work of Christ. Followers of Christ are part of what Paul calls a “new humanity” that is no longer enslaved by sin, but is free to live as God made us to live. God is a God of grace who gives the gift of true, eternal life to those who place their trust in Him, but he also offers wants us to flourish in this life before we enter eternity (John 10:10).

Christ has freed us to become the kind of person we need to be, but we have to choose the path that gets us there. This is a crucial truth about life. God has given us the ability to impact the quality and direction of our life by the choices that we are able to freely make. 

“Guide me to walk in the way You commanded because I take joy in it. Turn my head and my heart to Your decrees
and not to sinful gain. Keep my eyes from gazing upon worthless things,
and give me true life according to Your plans.” (Psalm 119:35-37) 

“Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road.” (Proverbs 4:25-26) 

“So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)

We never drift in good directions. One of the first things they teach us in Driver’s Ed is that we have a tendency to drift in the direction of things that have our attention. Our attention determines our direction.

“I have pointed you in the way of wisdom;
I have steered you down the path to integrity… Pay attention to all the words I am telling you. Lean in closer so you may hear all I say. Keep them before you… set them safely in your heart. For those who discover them, they are life. They bring wholeness and healing to their bodies. Above all else, watch over your heart; diligently guard it
because from a sincere and pure heart come the good and noble things of life… Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead,
and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth,
and you will safely reach the end of your road. Do not veer off course to the right or the left; step away from evil, and leave it behind. (Proverbs 14:11, 21-27)

So often we say, “I want to be healthy. I want to be a husband that my wife admires (or vice versa). I want to be a dependable employee. I want to know my Bible. I’m really capable of a lot. I could make a difference. If people could just see the real me, they would see what I have to offer the world.”  That may well be true. If you feel that way, keep feeling that way. And if you are a follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the truth in the BIble will work in your life to help you flourish. 

Just remember: Our attention trumps our intention every time. No matter how strongly we feel about what we are capable of being and no matter how much we know the power of God can transform us, until we can recognize the ways in which our choices have brought us to where we are, we will probably not have much success in making the kind of choices that will take us where we need to be. We have to turn our eyes to things of worth and focus on Christ so we can stay on the path and not drift. That’s why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). 

Our attention determines our direction, and  OUR DIRECTION DETERMINES OUR DESTINATION. Paul wrote in Galatians:

Make no mistake: God can’t be mocked. What you give is what you get. What you plant, you harvest. Those who plant seeds into their flesh will only harvest destruction from their sinful nature. But those who plant seeds into the Spirit shall harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. May we never tire of doing what is good and right before our Lord because in His season we shall bring in a great harvest if we can just persist.” Galatians 6:7-9

 We are all currently experiencing a particular destination: health, friendship, a steady job, meaningful relationships, a genuine connection with God. If our lives had a rearview mirror, we could see that, by every step we took to get here, we chose a direction.  We are going to end up at new destinations, and the same principle will still apply. That’s the way God designed life to work.

A number of years ago I arrived at a destination called Burnout. I finally had to take seriously that fact that I had to change my exercise and eating habits, as well as how I managed my time. I had known that for years. In my rearview mirror the direction I had chosen was clear. I didn’t need advice about what happened. I didn’t even need a solution – I knew I had to eat better, exercise more, and rest. I experienced an important truth about life: Our freedom to choose does not free us from the practical consequences of that choice.  So often, our default is to choose the path that has our attention – and it’s usually the one that feels easy or good or even right in the moment: 

  • I think I’ll eat nachos in front of the TV like I did all last week.
  • I think I’ll stay home because I am more comfortable when there’s not people around.
  • I think I’ll just keep shopping, drinking, moving from one romance to the next because I feel better for a while.
  • I think I will keep looking up porn – it’s just entertainment, right?
  • I think I will keep going, going and going because I want to accomplish a lot with the time that I have.

And then we get frustrated because our health is shot, and we have trouble making friends, and we are spending or drinking or sleeping our way into compulsions or addictions, and that porn we thought was entertainment has become an addiction and just corrupted our thought life, and we drift away from God or our families…  And in moments of clarity we ask,  “Why is this happening to me?”

Because something the seemed good caught our attention, and that turned us in a particular direction, and then we were at a destination we never planned on – but there we are. We are harvesting what we planted. Do you want your character or your situation to change? You have to acknowledge whatever unhealthy habits have had your attention and direction, then change what you plant so the harvest can change.  

QUESTIONS ABOUT ATTENTION***

  • What are the things that have your attention right now? (Hint: look at your time and money).
  • Are you paying attention to the right things?
  • What are some things right now that deserve your attention? What doesn’t?
  • What does a spouse or close friend have to say about these questions? 

QUESTIONS ABOUT DIRECTION

  • Has anyone confronted or affirmed you recently about a relationship or lifestyle issue?
  • Does your spouse or close friend keep bringing up the same thing (with either admiration or concern)?
  • Are you getting to defensive over things that “are no big deal"?
  • Are you responding with intentions (what you hope is your destination) instead of being honest about where you are (where your steps now are taking you)?
  • Where do you want to go in life? What kind of person do you want to be? What hard choice must you make now so you don’t pay even more later?”

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* This series is based on one of Andy Stanley's books, Principle s of the Path. I highly recommend you buy it and consume it!

**Just to be clear: we’re not talking about inexplicable health issues, or abuse, or investments crashing because the economy crashed. We will be talking about ordinary moments of life when we freely make decisions to do a particular thing and live a particular way free of emotional or physical coercion.

***Some of the questions on attention and direction are from Stanley's book; some are mine.

In Need of a Doctor

 “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me,' Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'  (Mark 2: 13-17)

     The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners,” or the “sick” than he was on them. Being a tax collector was bad enough, but the “sinners” here were non-covenant Gentiles, the  blatant sinners who were “wide of the mark." These were the people the Pharisees had been taught to despise, and Jesus had the audacity to spend a lot of time with them.

    If I may paraphrase what was really behind the Pharisees' question to the disciples:“Look how cleaned up we are! Wouldn’t Jesus rather hang out with us? We have a great lineage, we actually know the law, and our sins are much, much closer to hitting the mark than theirs!”

     And Jesus said (and once again I paraphrase), “Oh, wow! You really are amazing! If you’re that fine without me, carry on.  I'll find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”

     Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim.  He used a common experience (doctors help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus saves the spiritually sick).  It's an analogy that hits close to home in a broken world.


 1)  A medical doctor desires to bring health, stability and hope to those who are hurting. Jesus offers to save us in ways a medical doctor never can; to bring stability and rest to our souls; to take even those who are dead in their sins and bring them back to life.

 2) If you go to a doctor, you have to be honest about yourself if you want to get an honest diagnosis. You can’t say, “It hurts here!” when it actually hurts “there.”  You shouldn’t lie if the doctor asks you background information.  You have to tell the doctor what the problem is – which means honesty and humility. In our case, when we come to Christ for healing, we have to be honest about the problem: we are in trouble. Sure, we bear the scars of what others have done to us, but we are deeply sick.

 This is not meant to be depressing. Once the problem is identified and acknowledged, healing can begin (think of this as confession and repentance).  There is hope to be found on the other side of honesty.  Typically, this involves a medical doctor saying something like, “I think I know what you have. I can offer you a cure. I can make you better.” Once again, Jesus, the Great Physician, offers us so much more:

“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” Ezekiel 18:31-32 


 
”Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” Acts 3:19

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ) 

     That’s good news!  But what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean suddenly all the accumulated baggage of my life disappears?  In a spiritual sense, yes.  When we engage in honest repentance, God does supernatural work in which our sins are covered.  He breaks the power of sin and He takes care of the eternal penalty of sin. 

    But we have established patterns, habits, ways of thinking and living that require “after care.”  There will be follow up appointments – not because the physician has failed, but because God has allowed us to keep our free will, and we tend to undermine our own spiritual health.

   3) Often, after a doctor makes you whole, you are given a set of instructions: “If you would like to enjoy this new health, you will need to participate with me in your new life.” This could include diet, exercise, medications, support groups, etc.

      After Jesus brings in the new to replace the old, we also are told that there will be a change of direction in our lives. We will need to participate in our new-found spiritual health. The Apostle Paul said:

 “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

    We cannot save ourselves by what we do!  But if we want to fully participate in the new life Christ offers in the Community of the Healed, we must participate in the "after care" program.

    4)  If you’ve gone to the doctor and they healed you, you can’t help but tell others. “Hey, my doctor is amazing! I was sick, and now I'm not!”  My physical therapist comes up in every conversation involving aching backs, because she fixed me once when no one else could. I see something similar happening after Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman:

“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”  (John 4:28-30)

     She couldn’t help it. She had found the One who could change her, who could make her new. That’s Someone to talk about.  In the same way, we all have opportunities in normal conversations to let the presence of God flow out of us as we talk about what God can do in our lives.

     Jesus is the Great Physician; only He offers ultimate salvation. But his patients - his disciples - have the privilege of providing the community in which the spiritually sick can experience restoration along with others to whom Jesus has brought healing and hope.  We get to carry (and receive) the bandages and crutches as we, the walking wounded, continually seek the healing of the One who can truly make us whole.

Game On

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The Apostle Paul often used figures of speech from arena competition.  In Corinth, the people were most familiar with the Isthmian Games.  Since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 9 in that context, it’s worth learning a bit more about the games before looking at the passage.

      Athletes had to have the right credentials. They could not compete if they did not pass a background check that had to do with social class (they could not be slaves or criminals) and personal character (they could not be liars and cheats). They trained with intensity for ten months before even being allowed in the games. They ate a particular diet; they exercised a lot; they sacrificed many comforts for the sake of the games.

      During the games, a herald (which we translate “preacher”) had quite a few roles:

  • display the prizes
  • encourage the contestants
  • convince the audience they should emulate the contestants
  • explains the rules of each contest
  • announce the victors and crown them

     In fact, when the athletes entered the venue, the herald would loudly announce: “Who can accuse this man?” If no one did, he would say that since the contestant was not a slave, thief, or person of corrupt morals, he could enter the games. After the competition, the judges declared one winner, who received a crown of some type of vegetation.

     It’s in this context that Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)


Paul is the herald for the church – the “preacher.’ As 1 Corinthians 9 unfolds he displays the prize, exhorts the contestants, encourages people to copy them, declares the terms (rules and boundaries), and declares his own eligibility.

There’s at least one key difference - Paul doesn’t address their origin or training.  There was no herald in the church announcing who was qualified to enter the games based on their history.  If that were the case, no one would be eligible. They couldn’t earn their way into the spiritual arena through birth or hard work. They were in if they followed Christ.

Paul then tells them to train and compete as athletes who really want to win.  Jesus once said, “Count the cost if you want to follow me.” Paul picks up this theme – following Christ will demand time, attention, and effort. It will change your life if you run is such a way as to win. 

In order to do this, Paul had to discipline his body, literally “making it a slave.”  This is a wrestling analogy. Paul is going to put his sinful urges into a headlock and put them down for the count. If you’ve heard the phrase “like a boss,” that’s what’s going on here.

Then Paul says, “I do not run like one running aimlessly (ignorantly), so that I myself will not be disqualified.” No athlete would start a contest without knowing the rules. Paul was basically saying, “I do not follow Christ like one ignorant about life in the Kingdom of God. What I do is purposeful.”

 What was the prize? The New Testament refers to a number of different prizes, goals, or rewards:

  • "the calling that is above" (Galatians 4:26; Colossians 3:1)
  • "the heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1)
  • "the crown of righteousness" (1Corinthians 9:24; 2Timothy 4:8)
  • "crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)
  • "a crown of glory that does not fade away." (1Peter 5:4)
  • “prize of the upward call of Christ” (Philippians 3:4)

These are all part of the broader “citizenship of heaven” Paul talks about in Philippians 3.  We are citizens of Heaven, but right now we live here. There is a race and a prize even while we wait for the Ultimate Crown of Life. The most direct language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9 is connected with his calling as a minister of the Gospel. The prize is the blessing and reward of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord…?  Don’t we have the right to food and drink?  Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?  ...If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?” But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ…What is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge…. “   (1 Corinthians 9:1-12 – excerpted)

Who goes to war, plants a field, or raises a herd at their own expense? Nobody – at least not willingly.  In the same way, Paul had the right to be honored and supported for the spiritual service he has given them. But Paul said that really didn’t matter. What mattered was the work of the gospel, not whether or not he was underappreciated and treated unfairly.  He went on to clarify:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) 

Remember, he’d just written about how they were to honor each other in midst of the “MeatGate Scandal.”  The ruling principle in that situation applies here as well: Paul would give up all kinds of rights and privileges and non-compromising issues to spread the gospel. Rather than make all people become like him, he was going to become like them.

So he went to the Jews and observed their ceremonies - and the Gentiles said, “What? Is he reverting to legalism? We’re the freedom people! You’re ruining the gospel!” He went to the Gentiles and hung out with them - and the Jews said, “What?  They are law breakers! You’re ruining the Gospel!”  But Paul was just seeing how he could connect with a group that needed to hear about Jesus in a way that did not compromise his integrity or the Gospel message. 

That’s the race Paul was running and heralding here: sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with integrity will bring about a prize that will not fade for all of eternity.

 

Conquering the Course of Life (1 Corinthians 7)

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In some ways, life is like a slalom course. There are sudden turns that come too fast, rough water, fatigue, sharp turns, wakes that can send you flying or flailing. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts. 

So how do we successfully navigate the slalom course of life? Rough waters show up in many ways: the death of a loved one, sickness, employment changes, relational breakdowns. Our lives taken sudden turns when our children get in trouble, or our friends let us down. Fatigue sets in when our ministry is unappreciated or ineffective. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts.

A common mistake is to use all our energy to change our circumstance. When we encounter rough waters and sharp turns, we look for a different job, a different car, a different town, a different husband or wife, a different church. If we are unhappy single, we look for a spouse. If we are unhappy married we look for a way out. We’re sure that if we can just change our circumstance our lives will change for the better.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses people who are having trouble on the course of their life. While his message is aimed toward several particular groups, Paul has a common message for all of them: no matter the water, the weather, or the twists and turns of life,  pursue undistracted devotion to the Lord (v. 35). 

First, he addresses those who are unhappy with their relational status, and he begins with those who are married:

 “But because of immoralities let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband give his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. “ (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

    Paul is not saying sex is the only or most important reason for marriage. He is answering a specific questions Corinthians had about marriage at that time and in their circumstances. Considering the culture in which they lived, it’s no surprise they had some questions about sex.

As noted earlier in 1 Corinthians, some of the Christians thought it was okay to hire prostitutes, and now others were wondering if it really spiritual spouses should have sex at all. Paul says no to the former and yes to the latter, but he moves the subject beyond just sex – affection matters too. (For what it's worth, Paul may have been married at one time. He was an exemplary Jew (Philippians 3:4-6). Jews believed that an unmarried twenty-year-old man was sinning by not being married. Paul was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (as he “cast my vote” in Acts 26:10), and only married men could be members of the Sanhedrin). Basically Paul says (and I am, of course, paraphrasing):

“Here’s what you need to navigate the slalom course of marriage. Self-sacrifice is the rough water; responsibility the fatigue. Your body isn’t yours alone. It belongs to God first and your mate second. The entire relationship - including sex -  not just one person’s duty and the other one’s privilege. You need to meet each other’s sexual and emotional needs, and you need to hang in there even when you want to drop the rope and call it quits.

‘But he/she brings out the worst in me!’  Yep. That’s one way God reveals who you really are. Don’t change mates - change yourself by the grace of God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, part of the “body” of Christ on earth. Like Christ, you are called to be a loving servant, blessing when cursed, forgiving, interceding, confronting in love, and sacrificing. Don’t serve with expectation of earning something in return; it will only lead to resentment. You are trying to please the Lord and your spouse, not get something from them.”

Next, Paul addresses those who are single:

“(vs. 7-9) I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, but I say to the unmarried and the widow that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. (Vs 28) But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (Vs 32-34) But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided."

If I may paraphrase Paul again, I believe he is saying something like this:

Here’s the reality. You are on the slalom course of the single life. There’s basically one thing you need to know in order to navigate that course, come rough waters or fatigue: Marriage is a challenge. It’s hard. Staying single will free you from the relational challenges of marriage and free you to serve God with undivided attention. Sexual temptation is the rough water; loneliness the fatigue. If God has given you the ability to stay the course, stay the course. The slalom is not necessarily easier on the other side of the lake.”

On the slalom course, you can’t change the course – but you can learn how to navigate in such a way that the challenges become the very things that bring you joy. Paul says in verse 7 that successfully navigating both marriage and singleness is a “gift,” and he uses the same word he uses in 1 Corinthians 12 to describe spiritual gifts that God gives believers. Some are able and willing to please God better while being single, others while being married. Paul summarizes his teaching on singleness and marriage with this line in verse 17: Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches."

If you read the entire chapter, you will see that Paul applied this principle even more broadly:

"Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave." (vs. 18-21)

That may seem like an odd list to include with marriage and singleness, but all of these "stations" in life were a big deal at the time. Marital status played a huge factor in social standing in Greek, Roman, and Hebrew culture; circumcision was such a contentious issue that the first church council in Acts had to deal with it (and there was a method to reverse a circumcisions); slaves were scorned by everyone.  Jewish men routinely thanked God for not making them a woman, a Gentile, or a slave.   

In the cultural context, Paul tells people that in the midst of their circumstance - no matter how dire - they were to live as a believer, not because their situation was perfect, but because God was present.  Meanwhile, Paul gives advice on how to make that circumstance better (or in the case of slavery, a hope that it will end). Husbands and wives, give affection and show submission to your spouse; Gentile Christians, don't feel obligated to get circumcised; Jewish Christians, don't feel the need to reverse a circumcision; slaves, Christ has made you as free as anyone else - and if there is a way to make your physical reality match your spiritual one, that's ideal. And while Paul does not address slave owners directly, surely there is an implication for them as well. 

The bottom line? Live devoted to God, no matter how dire the circumstances.

To Paul ,the most important thing was not changing circumstances (though he offers a path of hope). The most important things was changing our stance in the midst of our circumstance.

 - Based on the sermon notes of Scott Norris, 9/16/12

Faith, Hope, and Love

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. .. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10
"…remembering without ceasing your work of faith, your labor of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 
 “ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...” Romans 5:1-5
“ let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…" Hebrews 10:22-24  
”“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   1 Corinthians 13:13
     If the Apostle Paul thought these three theological virtues were worth discussing together, it's probably worth looking at how God intertwines the three of them in our lives today.
   A Greek mathematician who wrote during Paul's time gave this explanation for Paul's chosen word for faith: “"A demonstration of the certainly of a thing by sure arguments and indubitable reasons." In other words, faith is what we get when God has so convinced us He is right that we reorder our lives to follow him.  Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
     Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Faith is a response to truth that we absorb and embrace. I  hear language about faith as if it is a process in which we bring our emotions together and really focus ourselves so we feel strongly that we believe something.  If we feel strongly enough we will be people of faith. Faith and feelings will intersect, but faith – the foundation of truth that we absorbed and embraced - should inform and steady our feelings, not be driven by our feelings.
    The Bible does not present faith as a feeling.  Faith is obedience in response to God’s persuasion. “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” - Elton Trueblood
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    The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it this way: “the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.”
  • (Romans 15:4)
 - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  • (Colossians 1:5) - 
”For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
  • (Galatians 5:5)
 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    So hopes builds on the firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 6:18-19 says,  “The hope set before us…as the anchor of the soul.”  It is meant to keep us stable through the storms of life. As Billy Graham said, "I've read the last page of the Bible.  It's all going to turn out all right."

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  • Romans 5:5
 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 
  • Ephesians 5:2
”…and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” 
  • Galatians 5:14
 - "For all the law is fulfilled in one command: "You should love your neighbor as yourself."

     While agapao has multiple meanings, in the plainest sense, it involves choosing, embracing, and doing the will of God.  In other words, it is “doing what the Lord prefers.” Sir Charles Villiers Stanford once noted, "To love as Christ loves is to let our love be a practical thing and not a sentimental thing." The grounding of this kind of love is not the emotion; the grounding of agapao love is commitment and action.
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    If you have trust and obedience in response to God's persuasion, you have faith; if you have true faith, you will have a confident expectation based on your foundation of truth (hope). If you have true faith and hope, you cannot resist doing what God prefers (love). 

A Christian's Achilles Heel

In February of 2006 I  ruptured my Achilles’ Tendon at a men’s retreat.  In one sudden burst of pain I found that I had a great difficulty walking – and you really don’t want to do that if you have a choice. 
I remember vividly sitting in the doctor's office a day or two before the surgery, getting the low-down on what I would be facing both during the surgery and in the weeks of recovery  that followed: Six weeks in a cast followed by six weeks in a boot.
After going over a lot of details, Dr. Licht looked squarely at me and said,  “I’m good at what I do.  I can repair this tendon perfectly one time!  If you follow my instructions things will go well!  If you don’t follow my instructions to the letter, and you rupture this tendon again, I won’t be as successful, and you’ll likely walk with a limp for the rest of your life!  I want your leg elevated every waking moment unless you are in the bathroom or brushing you teeth.  Do you understand?"

 For  twelve weeks I did exactly what he said.  Today, my Achilles tendon is perfect and I have no limp and no limitations.  What made the difference?  I chose to trust someone who knew far more than I. 
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Here’s a painful truth: we are headed down a road of destruction because we have trivialized the Word of God.  We bend and manipulate the Word, trying to make it to say whatever we choose; whatever suits our weak behaviors.  We don’t regard it as what it truly is: the unalterable Word of God. 

We view this book as an accumulation of interesting stories, and we assign those stories whatever value we deem appropriate.  We don’t view this as being a book of Words that were divinely inspired, coming from God, revealed by His Holy Spirit to man, and intended to be received and accepted as authoritative.  

Oh, sure, we still check out God’s thoughts on a range of topics - and we blend His thoughts with ours.  It’s not just that it’s wrong thinking, and as such an offence to God.  This kind of worldview tears apart the very safeguards that God established to protect us.  The church at Thessalonica received and accepted what Paul said AS THE WORD OF GOD,"...which also performs its work in you who believe." (Philippians 2:13)


Is it any wonder that the world around us is falling apart?  We have substituted our thoughts for His thoughts, and our ways for His ways! Even worse, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ are falling apart because we’re toying with the Word of God.
Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), an English Bible commentator and Presbyterian minister, said this about the Bible: We should receive the word of God with affections suitable to its holiness, wisdom, truth, and goodness. The words of men are frail and perishing, like themselves, and sometimes false, foolish, and fickle; but God's word is holy, wise, just, and faithful. Let us receive and regard it accordingly.
When we receive and accept and believethe Word of God, it changes us.  We begin to be transformed into the image of the very One who saves us: Jesus Christ Himself.  Believing is the key to becoming like Christ!  And this happens when His awesome power empowers my humble consent.

Philippians 2:13 also suggests that those who do not believe will not see the transformative power of Christ and His word in their lives! "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

What is “belief” in God really about?  It is when I humble my arrogant self to His glorious Lordship of my life; when I give my humble consent to Him bringing a new governmental structure in my life and my world. When I was a child, our church used to sing this hymn:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus,but to trust and obey.

The foundational premise for “trusting and obeying" lies in having a profound realization of the one in whom I have place my trust and obedience!  Is this God or not?  

It is no surprise that unbelievers ignore God.  They have not experienced the amazing miracle of forgiveness, and they do not possess the Holy Spirit living inside of them.

But when we say we love and follow God, ignore or twist or compromise His word, all while expecting that we’ll still reap His blessings because we’re in the Club, we're in trouble !


If I’ve truly come to trust Him over my years of following Him, then why on earth would I question his Words – His wisdom – His instruction?

- Ted Smith, at Church of the Living God, on Sunday, April 22, 2012

FREEDOM

 But whoever studies and knows God’s perfect law of liberty that brings true freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard and seen about themselves, but actually changing because of it—they will be blessed as a result of their honesty and obedience.  Real faith, the kind that honors God, expresses itself: it reaches out to the homeless and alone, and works to keep itself pure in the midst of a godless world.         (James 1:25-27)


   Ever watch kids play when one of them makes up the rules as they go along? Their freedom with the rules has robbed the others of the freedom to enjoy the game, and usually of their good attitude.  This in turn robs us parents of the freedom to talk with little Bobby’s mom or day while the kids play.  That’s not perfect liberty, that’s chaos.

   Ever driven with someone who apparently has no sense of the rules of the road?  Stop signs are pause signs, speed limits are silly, merging is an opportunity to show people you aren’t scared, double yellow lines are mere suggestions, maybe even blood alcohol levels are irrelevant.  Their freedom is robbing others of the ability to drive free from the worry of accidents.  It might rob their family of money if they have to pay a fine.  It might even rob somebody of their life.  That’s not perfect liberty, that’s chaos.

   Or perhaps you know someone or have experienced yourself what happens when addictive behaviors result from freely chosen decisions.

   When your freedom destroys you and hurts those around you, you need a different definition of freedom.  A true exercise of freedom simultaneously brings life to us and brings life  others.

    As followers of Christ we are freed from the bondage of sin. We are released into the “perfect law of liberty,” not into the perfect lawlessness of liberty.James’s perfect law of liberty does not mean, “Do what you want.  You now have free access to the world without having to think about anybody but yourself. ”  It means you had once been a slave to things that were breaking you down and ruining you and those around you, but God in his mercy has shown you how to be released from that bondage and live in such a way that God is seen in and through you.