Will the Real Christian Please Stand Up?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are many people today who claim to be Christians, but are they? In 1997, 85% of the U.S.A. claimed to be “Christian.” In that survey, people who responded positively included Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and everything else in-between. Can you guess the state with the highest % claiming to be Christian? Utah, with 79.6% claiming to be Christian.

Let’s be very clear – there are some good people who do good things that are part of the Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witness organizations. But not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. In Matthew 7 Jesus says:

21″Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

So if it is possible to say you believe in Jesus but not really be a Christian, and if it is possible to do good things and be a good person and not be a Christian, what are the marks of a true Christian? In his first letter, John tells us that there are 3 marks that identify a true Christian:

1. Truth
2. Righteousness
3. Love

Truth means believing the right things about God and about Jesus. I had a conversation recently with someone who believes in God but doesn’t believe that God revealed himself as a man named Jesus. There are many people who don’t believe that Jesus is God. But the Bible is clear that Jesus, although a man with flesh and blood, was God. I’ve run across many people who have trouble with the exclusive claims of Christianity, but it is what it is. The Bible makes it clear that all roads DO NOT lead to God. There is only one way and that is by faith in Jesus.

Righteousness is the act or conduct of holiness and purity. It really comes down to a personal commitment to follow what God has set out as His standard for behavior. It is not enough to believe in our heads the right stuff about Jesus – our hearts have to follow. And changed hearts yield changed behavior, where we come to the place that we no longer desire to do things our way but strive to be more and more like Jesus.

Love means acting towards others the way Jesus acts towards people. Love is NOT a sappy feeling. In fact, emotion has little to do with love. Emotion ebbs and flows. Relationships would be short-term indeed if we thought of love purely as emotion. As any couple can tell you – emotions can change in a “loving” relationship. One week it’s all good, the next week things aren’t so good. But biblical love is not about emotion – it’s more about selfless service. Love puts the needs and good of the “other” above oneself.

What marks a true Christian? What you believe, how you obey God, and how you act towards people. These 3 items have been repeated over and over and over again all through this letter. In fact, John uses a spiral pattern all through his letter to keep returning to his main points.

1. Truth – …which we have seen with our eyes and which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life… (1 John 1:1)
2. Righteousness – …The man who says, ‘I know him’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… (1 John 2:4)
3. Love – …Whoever loves his brother lives in the light… (1 John 2:10)

1. Truth – …Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
2. Righteousness – …No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him… (1 John 3:6)
3. Love – …If anyone has material possessions and sees is brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

1. Truth – …Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist. (1 John 4:2-3)
2. Love – …Since God loved so us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

At the end of his letter, John writes:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

Truth – Jesus is the Christ.
Righteousness – Obeying God’s commands.
Love – is God’s command!

All three marks must be present in a genuine Christian. What happens if you have one mark but omit the others?

1. Truth – we have a word for people who say they believe one thing but don’t act it out – hypocrite

2. Righteousness – When you take care to follow all of God’s commands but don’t necessarily believe the right things or love other people…you’re a legalistic spiritualist (like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day)

3. Love – When you act right towards others but leave our truth and righteousness you’re a social do-gooder, but not necessarily a Christian.

All three marks must be present in a genuine Christian!

So what can you do? What does this mean for you and me?

1. Check what you believe. This one isn’t up to me to convince you, it’s a matter of faith. The Holy Spirit is the one who convinces and convicts us to faith. You cannot simply wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’m going to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh and that his death on the cross was a way for me to be forgiven for my immoral thoughts and behavior.” But if you feel God tugging at you and you say, “Yes, I believe,” then you are holding on to the truth that John talks about.

2. Make sure you’re living in righteousness – that your behavior matches up to the conduct God asks of us. That means when we know that we’re doing something that isn’t right, something that wouldn’t make God happy, we knock it off. That is the simplest way to define obedience. How does Nike define obedience? “Just do it.”

3. Make sure you’re loving people the way God loves people. That means we go out of our way to help meet people’s needs. We sacrifice ourselves to give good things to others.

No one is perfect, and these marks will never be a perfect trifecta leading to the perfect super-Christian. We should, however, see these three marks permeating and defining our lives, so that we are recognized more by these three qualities than by anything else.

How about you? Which mark do you need to see realized more in your life?

C’mon Baby Make it Hurt So Good: Persecuted Christianity

The Faith Will Survive
The Faith Will Survive

It seems the world is going crazy. In Egypt, churches are being burned and Christians are being shot at. Read one story here – it is overwhelming.

The Apostle Peter once wrote to the Church ~

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)

BE PECULIAR

Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). That is a mandate, not a recommendation. Invest in eternity!

People in our society are wealthier than any civilization in the history of man. Sadly, they rapidly squander their blessings on things that cannot last. If our treasure reveals the condition of our hearts, this generation is in serious spiritual trouble. Our buying habits show little concern for anything of eternal value.

Perhaps the saddest observation of all is that the spending habits of people in the church differ little from those of the world. The lifestyles of most professing Christians are not substantially different from anyone else’s. Too many in the church have adopted the world’s attitudes. It is as if the church has forgotten Christianity’s call to be different, to be peculiar.

But it’s not just about money. It’s about being comfortable. It’s about being satisfied. When we are in a place of comfort we tend to minimize our need for God. Hosea 13:6 sums up this tragic disparity:

Being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me.

When we become prosperous, we become proud. Then we forget God. Frankly, for the Church, persecution is easier to endure than prosperity.

PECULIARITY BRINGS PERSECUTION

A Christian faith free from persecution grows soft. We become complacent. We begin to feel entitled. Then, when we do feel some twinge of persecution, we have a hissy fit and take to the streets with signs and campaign our little hearts out to get fair treatment! Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about persecution and the Christian faith:

Romans 12:14 ~ Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not.

Christians, from leadership to lay person, are responding with indignation and wrath towards those that persecute or cause us inconvenience in any form. The rallying cry becomes unite; fight; we have our rights too; and stop the persecution against Christians. Some Christians seem to feel Christians are failing in their duties if they do not protest vigorously against various atrocities and persecutions. They see these acts of persecution as offensive and contrary to their goal of the world’s acceptance of Christianity. They want people to take political action in some form.

Should we be rallying, protesting and demanding the State or the United Nations intervene to write and enforce laws that “may” stop persecution towards us? Can that remove unwarranted persecution against Christians?

The Bible speaks of the attitude and responses Jesus taught we are to have towards persecutions.

Matthew 5:43-45 ~ 43

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44″But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

PERSECUTION MEANS WE’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK!

Peter writes again ~

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter:12-16)

Christians have a clear course for understanding persecution. We are not to view persecution as wrong or something to be feared. We are to view it as part of God’s plan for our lives, and to count it a blessing to suffer for our Lord. Jesus. The apostles wrote these guidelines for us out of their own experiences with persecution. Jesus underwent greater persecution than anyone else. His response is noteworthy and clearly something to be remembered, as the servants are not above the Master.

Jesus once had a conversation with a Roman governor that went like this:

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:35-36)

Jesus also said:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master ‘ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18-21 ~ 18)

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22 ~ 22)

Some are deeply offended and angry when persecution takes place. The reaction is to retaliate in one way or another. They desire their “rights” and are not willing to lose any of their “possessions”, but would rather rally and try to force some confrontation with the issue, and obtain what they feel are their just dues. Some seem to feel that to suffer in any manner goes against being a Christian. Many want to be accepted and treated the same as non-believers. We are not the same. We belong to God. If we become offended or retaliate, we are being disobedient. These actions can also point to something more than just disobedience, maybe also a turning away from God.

The issue is not how to stop persecution. The issue is recognizing that persecution will indeed happen if we belong to Him. That understanding leads to depending on Him as to how we deal with those circumstances and allowing Christ to be glorified through it all.

Jesus, be glorified in our lives and our behavior, even as your Church endures difficult times.

6 Ways to Build or Demolish Unity

All for One!
All for One!

When the Angels won the World Series in 2002 it wasn’t because they had a roster full of superstar ball players. In fact, if you had looked at the individual players that made up the team, you wouldn’t have expected them to be the champions. But the way they played baseball went beyond the ability of any one player. Championship teams are not always those with the most stars, but those teams that band together into a fighting unit.

One of the greatest battles of all time is the battle of Rorke’s Drift, January of 1879. It took place between the Zulu warriors in South   Africa and the military unit posted at a small mission. 139 British soldiers went up against 4000 Zulu warriors. Just when it seems that the Zulu warriors are about to overtake the outpost, the commanding officer orders his soldiers to form ranks like they had never done before. The front rank fires while the back ranks are loading weapons. Then the middle rank fires while the others are reloading. Then the back rank fires while the front ranks reload. This way there is an almost constant barrage of rifle fire as they fight for their lives.

Because they were able to unite, they were able to stay alive. Sometimes we fail to see how our behavior builds up or destroys unity. We think that our little squabbles are not too serious, or that they really won’t affect the church. If we lack unity and love for each other then we risk failing in our God-given purpose, and that kind of failure could have eternal casualties. A forest fire starts with a single spark, and we’re playing with fire if we don’t take unity seriously. It’s time to suit up, assume the ranks, and get to work.

Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says about unity:

Eph 4:1-3 ~ I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to live in a way that is worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, along with patience, accepting one another in love. Do your best to maintain the unity of the Spirit by means of the bond of peace.

Col 3:12-14 ~ Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Put up with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, you also should forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which ties everything together in unity.

Unity can accomplish anything. Disunity prevents anything from happening. Let’s talk about  what unity isn’t: We’re not talking about uniformity. Unity is also not “one world, one faith.” COEXIST isn’t the goal. Nor does it mean than nobody ever brings up a disagreement. Christian unity is not Communist-style conformity, but a pervading love that is maintained even when differences come up. True unity is represented by an orchestra. Everyone has a part to play, and when you play your part in cooperation with all of the other parts you make glorious music!

Here are 3 things that tear down unity and three things that promote true unity. If you’ve ever done any kind of home improvement you’ll know that demolition is always the easy part. Building back up is more difficult. The same is true when it comes to unity. Demo is easy, building requires effort and time.

Demo #1 – misunderstandings. These are unavoidable. Because we are limited in our ability to communicate, we never fully speak perfectly and we never fully understand perfectly, there are always going to be misunderstandings between people. One person says something that is misunderstood and the result is that people are offended or criticize him. Even Jesus had to deal with misunderstandings. One time he was talking to a large group of followers and he was telling them that they would have to eat his body and drink his blood. Of course, he wasn’t being literal, he’s not asking for his followers to be cannibals. He’s speaking symbolically, but the disciples misunderstand. They start to grumble and complain, “This is a hard teaching, who can follow it?” And from that time on a lot of disciples turned away and stopped following Jesus. They stopped following Jesus because of misunderstanding. They broke unity.

Building #1 – seeking true understanding. If misunderstanding can destroy unity, seeking true understanding is a surefire way to build up unity. Seeking understanding requires effort – you have to actually exert yourself to find that understanding and place of unity. Seeking understanding means that we don’t turn on people when they say or do something that bothers us. Remember what Paul says in Colossians 3: Put up with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against another. So many misunderstandings could be resolved if we could actually live out what Paul is saying. You know the easiest way to clear up a misunderstanding? It’s with one simple question: “What did you mean when you said…?” Or, “What was your intention when you did…?” And if you have a complaint Paul says, “Forgive.” Are you able to put out that little bit of effort to come to a place of understanding others? It’s easier to live with our misunderstanding, but if we really want unity in the church, seek true understanding, and put up with each other.

Demo #2 – perceived rights. This is a huge unity destroyer! Perceived rights simply means when you think you have a right to something over somebody else. We think we have rights for a lot of different reasons. Have you ever had an idea that someone else wanted to take and tweak a little bit? “That’s my idea, so we should do it the way I envisioned it or not at all.” “I created this – I took the time and effort to do this and now you want to change it? You don’t have the right to do that.” This actually happens more than we would care to admit in the church. When we create something, come up with something, start doing something, we have a sense of ownership about whatever it is we are doing. If somebody tries to “mess with” what we have done, our perceived rights are violated. “You can’t do that!” We forget that when we come to Christ we give up all of our rights. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6: You are not your own – you were bought at a price! So, if you are not your own, you belong to Jesus, then everything you do should be seen, not as your own, but belonging to Jesus as well! This is harder to live out than it is to say. What we do, what we create, our ideas, our efforts, our everything, all belong to Him. So if someone comes along and changes it a little, or does something that doesn’t fit in with your original image, it’s not your right to get upset. Perceived rights are the demolition of unity.

Building #2 – humility. Look again at Colossians 3. Paul says: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, and humility….” Can you believe that the Bible says we’re supposed to humiliate ourselves to put others first? We talked about this a little bit this last Wednesday at Bible Study, where we were looking at the story where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. It was a humiliating thing to do. The feet are disgusting. We walk on them every day. Rich Jews wouldn’t even make their Jewish servants wash feet – they’d let the gentile servants do it! Jesus was the teacher, the master, he had a right not to do that kind of work. He had a right to have others wash his feet. But he chooses to put aside “rights” and act in humility. This kind of behavior builds unity. Can you imagine our church if everyone choose to act in this way towards everyone else?

Demo #3 – not handling offenses properly. What builds unity #3 – handling offenses properly. This might be one of the biggest unity killers in the Christian world. Many people don’t know that Jesus talks about how to handle being offended and grieved by someone else. This is what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

What destroys unity is when we don’t handle offenses properly. Now, let’s be honest, Jesus words seem to be talking about serious issues, the kind of issues that would eventually call for the removal of a member from the church if they didn’t repent. However, the underlying principal applies to all sorts of grievances and offenses. Sinning against you isn’t about your pet peeves (I really hate it when you chew with your mouth open). It’s about someone wronging you. You did this to me…. You said this to me…. Then the appropriate response is to follow Jesus’ instructions. Take a close look at how Jesus starts out… If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you….

The proper way to handle when someone sins against you is to go privately to that person tell them, show them their fault. But we don’t do that. How do people handle offenses and grievances? Some bottle it up and hold on to bitterness and anger. But it is almost impossible to remain quiet about an offense. If you don’t tell the person who sinned against you, you will most likely tell others. This is just plain gossip. Then if there is no reconciliation between just the two of you, then bring in a third party as a neutral mediator. Maybe the third party can ease tension and help bring balance, an outside perspective to the situation. If we are going to be a church that actively builds unity then we need to start taking the words of Jesus seriously and handle our offenses biblically. The great thing about approaching others in love is that you set the tone for restoration, healing and unity.

Pointing out problems is not breaking unity, but it depends on the spirit in which it is done. Check your heart. Jesus’ words are not meant to punish or to prove you right, but to restore relationship, so that Christians can continue living as family. But it’s hard to do. Pointing out someone’s fault is risky, for there is no way of knowing how he will respond. But if done gently and graciously, the offender will be more likely to recognize the error than become stubborn and bitter. This is loving, caring confrontation. The person initiating the confrontation should explain his concern and then ask, ‘Am I understanding this situation correctly? Is there some clarification that can be made?’

There’s an African proverb that says: When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion. When Christians are united in a common purpose and mission, nothing will stop it from doing what God has called it to do. Do we take the Apostle Paul seriously in Colossians and Ephesians? Do we put up with one another? Do we work to maintain unity? If we want to see unity then we will have to start doing things that actively build up unity and not tear it down.

Now is the time to be intentional – to say, “From this point on, I want to be a unity builder for God’s kingdom.” Will you help build unity in your home, in your church, and in your community?

Do Your Friends REALLY Care?

Ain't Nobody Like This Buddy
Ain’t Nobody Like This Buddy

Are you a good buddy? Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person? What’s the difference between acquaintance and friend? Do you have a close friend? Do you have a friend that is so close that the friend is, in some regards, closer and dearer to you than family? Now, how far would you go for a friend?.

Would you go out of your way and drop what you’re doing in order to help out a friend? When our oldest child was born, we had several friends who went out of their way to help us out. I was at the hospital with my wife while friends went to pick up my mother-in-law at the airport. That night, I stayed at the hospital with my wife and the baby. We gave my wife’s car keys to her mom who was going to sleep at our place.

After her mom had been gone for about 15-20 minutes I realized that her key ring didn’t have our apartment key on it. Mom couldn’t get in! One of my closest friends and his wife lived around the corner of the hospital and he was kind enough to drive me home so we could let Mom in the door and then drive me back to the hospital. There is something humbling about asking and receiving help from friends. But I have found that many times friends don’t mind helping out if you genuinely need it!

Would you be willing to destroy someone else’s property in order to help out a friend? How far would you go, and where do you draw the line? One time Jesus was back home from his travels, probably to rest before getting back to work. But people had heard that he’s back in town and they swarmed Jesus’ house. And some guys bring a crippled friend and, in an effort to get to Jesus break through the roof and lower their crippled friend right down in front of Jesus.

Now we’ve got 5 major players here: Jesus, the crowds, the crippled man, the crippled man’s friends, and the teachers of the law (who were there probably to evaluate and assess who Jesus was and what he was doing and saying. Listen to the story and specifically think about the story from the teachers of the law’s point of view.

Several days later Jesus returned to Capernaum, and it was reported that he was at home. So many crowds had gathered that there wasn’t any room left for them, even in front of the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them when some people came and brought him a paralyzed man being carried by four men. Since they couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof over the place where he was. They dug through it and let down the cot on which the paralyzed man was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some scribes were sitting there, arguing among themselves, “Why does this man talk this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

At once, Jesus knew in his spirit what they were saying to themselves. He said to them, “Why are you arguing about such things among yourselves? Which is easier: to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your cot, and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then he said to the paralyzed man, “I say to you, get up, pick up your cot, and go home!” So the man got up, immediately picked up his cot, and went out before all of them. As a result, all of the people were amazed and began to glorify God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

It would be great if we could really get inside the heads of the people in this story. Can you imagine being able to ask them questions about what they experienced that day?

Jesus, it seems to me that you simply wanted some peace and quiet at home. Maybe put your feet up, munch on some fish and chips…. How did it feel to have so many people pressing around you invading your personal space? How did you feel when these yahoos ripped apart your roof so you would see their friend?

Teacher of the law, why were you there? What did you expect to find? Why were you so offended at Jesus’ comments about forgiving sin?

I’d have to ask the friends of the crippled man, “What were thinking when you carried your friend over to Jesus’ house?” Do you think it was fair to be cutting in line when so many people wanted to see Jesus that day?

To the crowd, “What was it like being there on that day?”

I’d ask the crippled, well, formerly crippled, man, “Did you have any idea what your friends were planning that day? How does it feel to have such good friends that they would go to any lengths to get you in front of Jesus?

I guess it really comes down to this; with whom are you going to choose to identify? Clearly, we can be Jesus. Many of us have had an encounter with Jesus already. That means we are left with 3 characters with whom we could identify. You can be 1) the spectators, 2) the judging legalist, or 3) the friend who stops at nothing to take his friend to meet Jesus.

Don’t be the spectators. They’re just coming to see the show. They don’t really care about what is happening. Don’t be the judging legalist. He’s never understood what Jesus was up to. I love the line where Jesus says, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk?”

Which is easier? What happens if you say, “Your sins are forgiven” but you’re wrong? Who notices? What happens if you say, “Get up and walk,” but you’re wrong? Who notices? It’s MUCH easier to SAY your sins are forgiven. But Jesus doesn’t hide behind anything. He says, “So that you know that I have authority to talk about the forgiveness of sins, watch this – Get up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the teachers of the law are left with egg on their faces.

We don’t want to be mere spectators. We don’t want to be the teachers of the law. We want to be the friends. How far would you go to take your friends to meet Jesus? Would you carry them? Would you break through buildings? We all know hurting and crippled people who need Him. How far are you willing to go to bring your friends to Jesus?

Breaking G.I. Joes

Yo, Joe!
Yo, Joe!

From the beginning of history, we have lived in a broken world. What does it mean when something is broken? It doesn’t work the way it is supposed to work.

When I was a kid I was playing G.I. Joes with my younger brother. He started teasing me and laughing at me. I can’t even remember what he was laughing about, I just remember that he was making me mad! The more he laughed, the angrier I became. I was holding a G.I. Joe in my hand. I became so angry that I threw it at him as hard as I could!

The Bible tells us that all of us do things that break our connection to God. Even if we try really hard to be good, we still do things that damage our relationship with Him. Anything that breaks our connection to God we call “sin.”

So as my G.I. Joe goes flying through the air, my brother ducks and the Joe sails over his head…and crashes into the window. CRACK! I broke the window! My dad came into the room and asked, “What’s going on in here?” So I confessed. I said that Kevin made me so made that he made me throw the G.I. Joe and it hit the window and the window broke. But my brother didn’t MAKE me do it, did he? I did it myself. And when someone breaks something, who should have to pay to fix it? The one who broke it. So my dad drove me down to the hardware store to buy a new window.

But remember – God says that we ALL do things to break our connection to him. Buying a window is hard enough – who is going to pay to fix our broken connection to God? You don’t have enough money. You can’t do enough good things to fix it. So God said, “I will pay the price to fix it myself.”

When you do something bad, what is the price you have to pay as punishment? If we are left to ourselves, we do bad things and we break that connection with God – the punishment is death. That’s a pretty steep price! And God said he would pay it himself. So God became a man, and his name was Jesus.

John 3:16 says: “This is how God loves us – that he gave us one of a kind son, so that anyone who believes in Jesus would not die but would live with God forever.”

Jesus came to pay the price we couldn’t pay – death.

So they put Jesus on a cross and he was punished so that we wouldn’t have to be. It hurt a lot to be on that cross. It even felt that God had forgotten him. And when it hurt the worst Jesus yelled out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

And then Jesus died. He died so that he would fully experience life and pay the biggest price anyone could pay. And, just to make sure he wasn’t pretending, a soldier took a spear and stabbed Jesus through the side, and blood and fluid came out. As the final act in his death they put him in a tomb carved out of rock and they closed it off with a huge stone.

So What?!? The cross makes a difference.

How do we respond to the story of Easter? This is a REALLY important question! God took the first step. He says, “Here, I want to give you a present!” If someone wants to give you a present you can choose to ignore it. Or you can choose to respond and to accept the gift. God’s gift is Jesus, who paid the price for what we broke.

How will you respond to Jesus? C.S. Lewis said that there are only 3 options for how we respond to Jesus. #1 – we can call him a lunatic, a crazy person for saying what he said and doing what he did. And then we ignore him. #2 – we can call him a liar, a person who wanted to trick everyone. And the new ignore him. Or #3 – we call him Lord (which means the boss) and we admit that he is who he says he is. And is Jesus wasn’t a lunatic, if he wasn’t a liar, then he must be Lord – and if he is Lord then we can’t ignore him but need to follow him.

Romans 6:4 says, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.”

The cross makes a difference.

Everyone who hears the Easter story needs to make a decision: how will you respond to Jesus? Is he a lunatic? Is he a liar? Or is he Lord? If he’s Lord, it’s time to tell him and time to start living the new life God wants us to live.

What’s your decision? Are you willing to say, “I believe Jesus paid the price for me”? Are you willing to say, “I want the cross to make a difference in my life”? Are you ready to say, “I will follow Jesus”? The cross makes a difference. Are you ready to say, “I believe, and I want him to make a difference in me”?

A prayer for you:

I believe that Jesus paid the price for my brokenness.

I believe that the cross makes a difference.

God, I want you to make a difference in me.

Change me.

Make me more like you.

Amen.

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~ They Imprisoned the Wrong Man

A Christian Response to Death

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Death – it’s the opposite of life. It destroys what God has created and is thus contrary to God’s ultimate desire and design. But in this broken world it’s a reality we all face.

I once took an informal poll on Facebook – I asked people what came to mind when they thought about dying. I received quite a variety of answers:

–          Does our spirit immediately go to heaven?
–          No more sickness and no pain!
–          Is it going to hurt…?
–          Jesus…and playing like a crazy person on a grand piano on the other side of the Golden gates. lol. I mean Pearly gates.
–          My Mother whom suffered for months, my Twin Sister who passed away with cancer – if you’re prayed up, packed up and ready to go then it is the final healing, no more suffering, pain, or sickness.
–          When I think of death and dying I envision two different ends of the spectrum. On one end is the person/s left behind which can be a very emotional experience. On the other end is the person who has died. In that I see calmness, blessing and a peaceful beginning with our Jesus…King of Kings.
–          I can’t wait! – Not for the trauma of the death of this old body, but for who is waiting for me in heaven. I can’t wait to see Jesus!!!!!
–          I know it sounds overplayed and we lose sight of the real impact and meaning of it but we get to see and be with The Lord Jesus Christ forever!!! If creation is intricate but still flawed as it is any indication of what is to come our minds our going to be blown!!! Wow! God forever!!!
–          Meeting my daughter in her Glorified body…..and knowing I MADE IT! LOL!!!!
–          I think how much I love my family and how I never want any of them to die, but neither do I want them to suffer. At the very least, should any of them go, I know where it is they go, with whom they’ll be, and that the family left behind will be civil toward each other.
–          Sweet release! The next phase of life.

Our responses to death cover a wide range of philosophy, religion, stuff we’ve read in Dante’s works, and myriad other places. Let’s take a little time and look at what the Bible says about death, dying, and some other related aspects of death.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. (Mark 14:32-39)

It is a normal human response to have an aversion to death. Even Jesus, when faced with death, prayed repeatedly that God would alter the path before him so that he could avoid the cross. In our own humanity it’s okay to dislike death. The Bible doesn’t tell us to “have a stiff upper lip” when it comes to our mortality. Like Jesus, we might find ourselves praying, “God, please change this course. I don’t want to walk this road.”

I once read that we fear death more intensely than other things because it is the only area of life that is uncontrollable and unknown. It’s something that comes to us all. Sometimes we know it’s coming. Sometimes it takes us by surprise. That not knowing can mess with us, can instill us with fear, can paralyze us. But fear is not a result of trusting in God. Fear is a result of our own attempts to control life. Jesus showed aversion to death – he didn’t show fear. In the end he surrendered his will to the Father because he knew that there was something more – something greater – in store.

Living here and now in light of tomorrow is the hallmark of Christian death. We might have an aversion and avoid it as we can, but embracing the idea that death finds us all compels the Christian to action in the here and now. The Apostle Paul talks about the death of Christ being a catalyst for a new way of living life:

For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (Romans 6:7-12)

Life here needs to be lived in light of Jesus’ death and in light of the life that awaits us on the other side. To echo Maximus from Gladiator: What we do now echoes in eternity!

Because there is more to come. There is a world that awaits us when we cross from this life to the next. Grave sites originally called coemeteria (cemeteries), literally “resting places” – because people knew that dust was not the end – the spirit lives on. Thus, while Christians mourn our own loss at the passing of a loved one, we can celebrate death because we know of what awaits. Before A.D. 700 the funeral dress was white, not black. They were joyous occasions. Look at the words of Jesus:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”( John 14:1-4 ~ 14)

And the words of the Apostle Paul:

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”( 1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

This world is not the end. Christians used to say, “This world is not my home, I’m simply passin’ through.” There is more to life than this flesh and blood. And one day the pain, the suffering, and the sorrows that we face will cease.

As long as I have breath I know that God has a plan and purpose for me, but I won’t fear the day when I leave this world behind. All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong.

Give me Jesus.