Being Careful With The Gospel

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Matthew 9:9

There has been so much discussion of late about the actual event we label ‘getting saved.’ Prayers are said by a bedside, at an altar, and the Gospel is presented as a free gift that is easy to obtain. It is confusing when some who said the prayers don’t pursue God afterwards. Perhaps their enthusiasm was evident early on but actually making Christ Lord of their lives didn’t happen. Does that mean that the prayer they prayed wasn’t real? Only God knows.

Adventures and road trips.Sunset and travel concept.Road and cross on the hill

Many testify that they once trusted Christ but it wasn’t until later in life that they surrendered their heart/will to Jesus. They say that the events of salvation and lordship are two different things. I am not saying that those who prayed the prayer aren’t God’s children. I was a Christian robot until my forties even though I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven. But what I am saying is this ~

  1. Jesus didn’t separate the two events. He simply called his disciples and told them to follow – to leave everything. He made it clear that to become His disciple involved taking up a cross.
  2. We must be challenged when sharing the Gospel. It is not a series of magic words that enable others to escape eternal condemnation and wrath. It is not ‘fire insurance.’ In the Gospel presentation, the person of Jesus must be front and center. He must be unveiled as One who is beautiful, as One to be treasured above all things. If anyone is going to pick up and change their life course, they must have a relationship with the One who calls them to such a sacrifice.

I really like how our daughter, Jaime, puts it as she shares Jesus with her two boys. She tells them the Gospel story and then asks the question, “Are you ready to make Jesus your King?”

If I am really humbled by Your death in my place, calling You ‘King’ will come easily on my tongue. Amen

Nobody Else Should Have It Either!

And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  Luke 4:27-28

I may not want something and even turn up my nose at it but at the same time, I don’t want anyone else to have it either.  Jealousy has many manifestations.

When Jesus read Isaiah 61 in the synagogue and revealed that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy, the Jews were furious.  They rejected Jesus and though He called them “His people”, they did not call Him ‘their Savior’.

New Testament 3 Production Still Photography

He reminded them that God’s grace had often been sent to the Gentiles, the ones the Jews believed to be spiritually inferior.  They knew the stories but their jealousy erupted at the reminder.

Jealousy is not rational.  The Pharisee’s  teaching was probably lifeless, full of rules and regulations. They were proponents of the law and sticklers for keeping every “i” dotted and “t” crossed.  The spirit of their listeners sunk as they increased the heavy yoke on their shoulders.  The only ones who enjoyed their company were like-minded legalists.  They didn’t want Jesus but they also didn’t want Him to be desired outside of their circles.

Today, a similar jealousy can be among us.  Those who have been the spiritual fathers of a certain church can come to see the church as ‘their church.’  But when the move of the Spirit is quenched by familiarity and tradition, God takes the fire and zeal to a new generation.

Those who look, dress, and worship differently suddenly occupy their seats, once considered to be reserved for pillar families in the congregation who had claimed them as their own spot Sunday after Sunday.  There can be an indignant and unrighteous response, believing that God has done wrongly in extending the Gospel to an untamed and undeserving crowd.  God uses jealousy to stir up the pot and allow the impurities to come to the surface.

To personalize:  Am I rejoicing over the ways the Gospel changes all lives?  Am I grateful for the favor God puts upon others if I am in a wilderness?  Can I express my joy over the providence of God and trust His sovereignty?  If any twinges of jealousy stir in me as I read or write this, I have an issue with God and He invites conversation in prayer.

Bless my enemies and help me mean it in all seasons of my life.  Amen

I’m Not Really Over It Sometimes!

“You nullify the word of God by your tradition.”  Mark 7:13 

What God leads my conscience to do, or not do, is entirely specific to me.  The problem comes when I feel that every other child of God should make the same choices.  My father in law, the evangelist Jack Wyrtzen, came to Christ out of a culture of dance bands and nightclubs.  He was a musician and played in a band.  Every time he heard jazz, the sound took him back to the clubs he had left behind for Jesus.  To him, jazz was a stumbling block.  Jazz however, in and of itself, is a neutral thing.  It is just music; an assembly of notes, rhythms, and instrumentation.  How many churches have split over the issue of music styles when the real emphasis should be on the Spirit behind the music and whether the people who lead it have been anointed to do it.  Talent and style of music are secondary issues.

In Paul’s day, there were similar hot topics.  Jesus’ ministry was conducted almost exclusively within the Jewish community.  Keeping kosher was an important part of Judaism.  But Jesus stretched his fellow Jews out of their comfort zone when he and His disciples ate without washing their hands ceremonially.  Jesus even sent His disciples into the town of Sychar (in Samaria) to buy food for lunch.  A Jew would never touch food that a Samaritan had prepared.  When the Pharisees erupted over Jesus and His group breaking the law, He answered them by attacking their legalism.  “You nullify the word of God by your tradition.”  Mark 7:13  Then He talked to them about their hearts, that it’s what in the heart that makes a man clean or unclean.  But we’ve always tried to make our Christianity about external things; what we do and don’t do.

istock_000016081418largeHaving grown up in legalistic circles, there were many rules. Don’t go to the theateR because someone seeing you exit won’t know if you saw a PG or an R movie.  Don’t order a glass of wine at dinner because someone watching won’t know if you drink excessively in the privacy of your own home.  Don’t even play the game of Rook in your own home because someone driving by might see you playing cards and assume they’re real playing cards.  Of course, as a teenager and young adult, the only things I wanted to do were the things that were denied.  Human nature.

Am I over legalism?  Nope.  I still fight it.  The rules have just changed.  I can avoid those circles who are legalistic and want little to do with them.  My bias can easily do a 180 degree turn and that’s just as sinful.  God is constantly dealing with me about this.  He often sends me to legalistic churches to bring the healing message of grace to them.  To teach them, I must forgive them.  To teach them, I must ask for forgiveness.  To be effective, I must love them.  And to be effective, I must let God love the sinful Christine.  Oh, I’m a work in progress and it’s humbling how far I have to go sometimes.  You can pray for me.

Legalism kills.  Others killed my faith but I often still do it to others in new and creative ways.  Show me.  Forgive me.  Change me.  Amen

The Lie That I Am Neutral

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  Matt. 22:36

Only a fool thinks that walking according to God’s precepts is confining.  It’s only because that person hasn’t tried it.  I used to be a fool.  I put discipleship on hold; the kind of discipleship that sought after God and His Word with a single-minded passion.  I considered myself neutral.  I wasn’t consciously running after Satan’s precepts, nor was I running after God’s.

I failed to realize that neutrality doesn’t exist.  To not hunger and thirst after righteousness is to settle for the ways of my soul, which are really the devil’s counterfeit.  I found out the hard way that doing my own thing, even though I was moral in my behavior, led to confinement.  I hadn’t counted on the minefields of the mind, the unstable grounds of the heart.  My internal world looked nothing like the composed, controlled outward exterior I showed to the public.  Inside, I was scared, threatened, lonely, and lost.  Without the precepts of the mind of Christ, I was subject to my own rudder, or lack of.  I ended up in a prison of my own making.  Confinement to say the least!

01-heart-disease-in-women-heart-attack-symptomsNow, as a matter of daily discipline, I bind my mind to the mind of Christ.  I loose my mind from the grip of my flesh.  As long as God’s precepts rule my world, inside and outside, I know the freedom of living in a spacious place.  The vistas are expansive.  The view is breathtaking.  The roads available to me are endless.  The mysteries are intellectually and intuitively challenging.  There is no graduation, then coasting into retirement before taking my last breath.  There is wonder for the keenest centenarian.

The doors inside the castle of the kingdom are only available for the one who enters by the narrow gate.  To come by way of Jesus is to come initially through the narrow way – which then opens to the wide places the psalmist describes.  David said in another Psalm.  “He brought me out into a spacious place and rescued me because He delighted in me.”  God’s precepts don’t lead to an imprisoned life.  They lead to an endless array of exhilarating choices.

I think I’ve only just begun to see what spacious really means, Lord.  I want it all.  Open my heart fully to your kingdom.  Amen

 

When I’m Haunted By My Past

Then Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. “Now” go and sin no more.  John 8:10-11

When someone hurts me badly, seeing them can be a reminder of what they’ve done.  The sin is attached to the person.  Even after I forgive them, I can still remember it when I see them across the room.  Did the woman caught in adultery still struggle with the crowd who dragged her to the temple to be stoned?  I think not.  She had experienced Jesus’ radical forgiveness up close.

I need to remember that when God forgives, he separates my sin from me.  I no longer wear it when He looks at me.  One of the words for ‘forgive’ is to ‘send away’.  This is what Peter meant when he said, “He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live to righteousness.”  I Pet.2:24  God took that ‘thing’ for which I repented, took it off of me and put it on Jesus.  Jesus died for it as if He was the One who committed it.

nin6d23px5k-edwin-andradeSo why would I wallow in past failures?  Why would I let my one huge mistake weigh down my spirit and cause me to walk with my head to the ground?  Jesus took it from me and put it on Himself, forever.  When He looks at me, He does not see the sin.  He sees His own perfection.  I am not defined, in heaven, by my past.

I echo David’s words to himself in Psalm 42. “Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?”  Satan is the author of a self-punishing lifestyle.  He takes every failure, magnifies it by a thousand, records it like a movie and plays it over and over again in my head.  He rejoices when I am hard on myself.  He encourages payback and self-hatred.  He offers a heavy robe of guilt as a part of my wardrobe and I often wear it because it appears to fit me perfectly.  Right color.  Right size.  Right length.

When I can’t hold my head up, I remember that I am not my sin!  Christ wore my sin, once and for all, on a cross.  Then He declared, “It is finished.”  Sin, forever removed.  So, who am I?  A forgiven, justified, righteous, child of God.  He is the lifter of my head to this new reality.  I throw guilt into the depths of the sea.

Do I really understand justification yet, Lord?  Write Romans on my heart, in every place.  Amen

Talk Or Not Talk?

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  What do you say?”  They said this to test Him so that they might have some charge to bring against Him.  John 8:3-6

Questions were asked of Jesus for many reasons.  Some were curious, wanting to be enlightened, adding to their intellectual prowess.  Some were seeking, drawn toward the Light because they had tasted the torment of the darkness.  Some were testing, wanting to discredit Jesus by trapping Him between, what they thought might be, only two possible answers.  Either of those answers would implicate Him.  Truth was never trapped however.  Knowing the hearts of men, He answered outside the box in the genius of deity.

Jesus Writing on the sand with his finger

If Jesus said that the woman should be stoned, His message of grace and forgiveness would be compromised.  If He let her go free, He would violate the law of Moses.  What a bind He was in.  If I had been in the crowd, I would have been holding my breath.  Learning from Him, I add to my repertoire of people skills.

1. Not every question or comment needs to be answered, even though posed.

2. Some are driven by personal agendas to ask inappropriate questions.  By answering, it feeds their boldness.

3. Questions can be wonderful things if the one asking is truly seeking and there is no ulterior motive.

4. Questions can be dangerous if the intent is entrapment.

Oftentimes, my own body language will tell me what I need to know about the one asking the question.  For instance, I could be asked the same question by two different people.  One would feel safe and I’d love answering it.  The other would feel invasive and I would scramble to know what to do with it.  Listening to my gut, which is where the Spirit often moves and speaks in a believer, is important.  I must be like Jesus and never answer on the fly.  He was constantly listening to His Father; discerning, unrushed, willing for others to bear the uncomfortable silences if necessary.  He was not manipulated by the schemes of men, nor should I be.  Though tongues can often set a trap, I dwell in a spacious place with a God who rescues me, moment by moment, because He delights in me.  (Ps.18:19)

If ever I needed to know Your mind, it’s in this area, Lord.  I want to think like You, discern like You.  Give me the courage to speak the truth, sit on the truth until it’s an appropriate time, or fall silent.  Clothe me the surpassing power You promise each of Your children.  Amen

Strange Bedfellows

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” John 17:22

I heard on the news again that Saudi Arabia and Israel are flirting with making an alliance. The reason? They share a mutual concern over a common enemy ~ Iran. slovenia-double-taxation-avoidance-agreementsThese two nations are certainly strange bedfellows and under any other circumstance, they would be adversaries. If they unite, their alliance will not be strong.

The same is true of personal connections. Friendships, even marriages, are pursued for similar reasons. Two people come together because they are against the same things. Their bond is also fragile. Common values are missing. Unity in the things that really matter are absent and this is what creates strong fiber between people.

This matter of unity was so important that Jesus prayed about it the night He was betrayed. This was His ‘goodbye prayer’ before leaving His disciples. He asked God to help them experience the kind of unity that He and His Father enjoyed. When hard times hit them in the days ahead, Jesus knew that only a spiritual unity would keep the early church strong.

I have had many soulish friendships over the course of my life. We would often recount all the things we shared in common. They were good things but it took maturity to realize that they weren’t deep things. Our fellowship was only as deep as our passions. Without Jesus at the center, we were just playmates.

I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who married for reasons other than spiritual kinship. Things were fine until life tested their values. They discovered that they were worlds apart in what they deemed most important. Unity was impossible as long as only one of them was passionate about truth. The fiber of their marriage eroded until God intervened with saving faith for the unbelieving spouse.

So, it is good to put each of our relationships to the test. Upon what is our unity based? How deep does it go? What issues would put us at odds? What things are we most passionate about and are we unified? If Jesus is not at the center of our shared affections, we can expect the stability the likes of a Saudi/Israeli treaty.

As I remember Your words, “Let them be one as we are one”…I celebrate and I also lament. Strengthen the bonds of my holy alliances. Expose all unholy affiliations and show me how to pray for change. Don’t let me lose my voice to keep the peace. It is false peace, Lord. Amen