Sunday, January 15, 2012

Law versus Grace - and ramblings

I read a very interesting and candid interview with Bono, the lead singer from U2, regarding grace and karma this evening.  It is well worth the read.  It is actually an excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas

So what does this have to do with the topic: Law versus Grace?  Well, in a way, karma is like the Law.  Both teach that we get what we deserve.  What goes around, comes around.  I know, trite cliches that annoy many people -- sorry about that.  However, it is important to note that God offers grace today.  Yes at one time, He required sacrifices and the Israelites were bound to the Law. Then Jesus came to Earth, lived as a man, suffered at the hands of the Romans (because of the Pharisees), died on the cross for the sins of the world--which means each one of us!

Paul, who was once known as Saul, was one of the strictest adherents to the Law when he was a Pharisee. In fact, he was one of those who made it his mission to persecute the followers of "The Way" as it was first known shortly after Jesus was killed and resurrected. 

Once converted to Christianity however, Paul became one of the strongest advocates for Grace!  He went so far as to state that those who wanted to go back under the Law should go ahead and emasculate themselves when they try to be circumcised. (see Galatians chapter 3)  Now that is harsh! Paul himself points out that none of us can be righteous and earn forgiveness. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984). Gal 2:21.

So where do we go from here?  Some would say that since we cannot be good, why even try? Well I say that although I cannot be worthy, I can be grateful.  The Bible also warns us that those of us that have tasted God's forgiveness should not remain in sin.  We should live as good a life as we can, not that we earn His mercy, but rather to show Him our gratitude.

Thank You, Jesus!  

I have said it many times in this blog, and I will say it many more times.  This is the truth that separates Christianity from all other religions.  God loved and loves us, He sought and seeks us, He paid the penalty for our sins.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

When Things go Wrong?

Some people tell you that a Christian will have a great life and that if you live in accordance with God's laws, everything will go well for you. God will heal your sickness, keep you safe and bless you in every aspect of your life.

So what does one do when these things do not happen. What happens when a Christian is sick, has cancer, has financial problems, his marriage falls apart? Does this mean he is not a good Christian? Did he fail to give God his entire heart and life?

Let's check a few facts... Jesus warned His disciples that, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984). Jn 16:33. The apostles did have troubles especially a few years after Jesus' death and resurrection. They began to be persecuted strongly by the Jews. Jesus had also told them that if the Jews had persecuted Him, the Jews would also persecute them.  

I have known many Christians who have had serious illnesses, that for whatever reason--only God knows--they were not healed despite many prayers and great patience. 

The questions are not always easy to answer. Here are some thoughts that I believe are Biblically sound. 
  • We live in a fallen world. Sin is rampant, not everything/everyone submits to God's authority. 
  • Disease and death entered the world due to man's sin. None of us are immune.
  • God DOES heal. 
  • Some people DO NOT get healed. 
  • 11 of 12 Early Church Apostles were martyred. John, the only one not martyred was exiled to Patmos after being boiled in oil, to live the remainder of his days in relative isolation.
  • The promise of God for Christians is that in the NEXT LIFE, there will be no sickness, death or even tears.
We believe that God has everything under control, but does not necessarily protect us from ALL harm. He promised that He would give us strength when times are tough and give us the words we need when we are put on trial for His sake.

I have personally known people who have been miraculously healed of diseases, drug addictions, cancers, and self-destructive habits. Therefore, I know God DOES heal! I just do not know the answers why some are and some are not.  I guess that is why I am NOT God!

So what do we do with the questions? We TRUST GOD. He promised that He would be with us through all our circumstances, trials and tribulations even to the end of time. We hold to the truth that God loves us. We CONTINUE to pray for healing for those we know, and hear about that are sick, injured or are going through hard times.  We rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. 

I believe that those who claim that our lives should be trouble free when we are Jesus' followers need a reality check. What do you think? 

What We Hear and Who We Are

This past Sunday, two of my friends attended the same worship service, heard the same sermon, in all ways external, had the same experience.

One was excited by what she heard--the message, the speaker's illustrations/experiences, and his dedication and involvement in his message. The other one was not as excited by what he heard--the message or the speaker's experiences and illustrations. 

How can this be, and what does it mean for those who follow Christ?

I have wondered this for years, as I grew up Roman Catholic and a Christian, and I know many others who are similar.  I also know many people who are Roman Catholic, or generic Protestant, that do not seem to know Christ [be a Christian].  I think it is the same as when two or more people witness the same accident. They generally see something different than one another. 

We all filter things [everything] through our own filtration systems, our thoughts, beliefs, philosophies, desires, etc. One person attends church and finds Jesus, another finds nothing. Many people attend church, love Jesus, and yet differ in their experiences at similar or the same worship service as others.  

I believe the bottom line is not what we see or hear, but what filtration process we use.  It is all about the heart of the individual. Even Christians who are similar have different filters because of what they have experienced, learned, read, etc.

We must, if we call ourselves Christian, submit ourselves to Jesus! We must strive to see things His way. Does this mean that we cannot have differences? Absolutely NOT! God did not create robots, and He does not want us all exactly the same.  He DOES want us to be sincere about our faith, and it MUST BE an active faith. His word declares that faith without works is dead.  So, we should as it says in Romans 14, allow people to have some leeway in how they practice their faith. We need to accept people that see things differently (as long as it is not contrary to sound doctrine). 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Standards we Hold

Recently a good friend and I were talking about the standards by which we live our lives. I mentioned that I was trying to get back on track with my relationship with God, and he questioned what I meant. By that, I did not mean that I was trying to earn God's love, forgiveness, or anything else, but rather that I was trying to live the way God wants me to. Jesus forgives us of our sins, not because of anything we do, or can do, or could do, but only because He paid the penalty for us. He calls us to live for Him, and to "Go forth and sin no more." However, it is worth mentioning again, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984). Eph 2:8-9.

This is the crux of the message of Salvation, indeed the Gospel message.

Anyway, the standards, how to get back to the standards...

The Apostle Paul, probably the best at reminding the early Church about living up to standards, was also very free with his grace. He figured that he had been forgiven much, so he must also forgive much. I have to agree with that. The hard part is to raise up a standard that makes some people cringe, yet to forgive them when they fall short. Jesus told us to be holy, even as He is holy. Now that is a tough standard.  We can never live up to that one, however we should do our best to do so. I am continually reminded of the warning to be careful how we judge, for the same standards we use will be used to judge us.

Some people misuse the verse to say that we should not judge at all, but that is not accurate. we are called to judge right from wrong, and to make correction where we see the need.  HOWEVER, we are reminded to be careful, as already stated, the other shoe will drop on us someday!  

So. Standards. Gotta have them, gotta live them. But why, if there is grace, do we need to obey standards? Out of gratitude.  God created us. God redeemed us. God loves us. God asks us to live by certain standards. I, for one, plan to live by them.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and Coffee

New Year's Resolutions - some make them, some don't. Does anyone keep them? I do not know of anyone who makes and keeps their resolutions. It is possible, but I do not know of them. Yet many of us continue to make them. Why?

I think it is the same reason that we tell our God, other people and ourselves, that we are going to change. We intend to change, but old habits die hard.  Does that mean that we cannot change? I don't think so, it is just difficult.  It requires effort. A lot of effort.

Some years ago, I was addicted to coffee. Really addicted. I tried to quit and endured a headache for about 18 days give or take a couple.  So I gave in and had a cup of coffee, and BAM, the headache was gone in about an hour.  Then a few years later, as I was driving to work, merging onto the freeway, with my coffee cup in hand, as I was being passed by people on the freeway with coffee cups in their hands, I thought to myself, "If America was half as addicted to Jesus as we are to coffee, we wouldn't have half the problems that we do!"

So, I asked God to help me break my addiction to coffee. I started cutting down on the coffee consumption, and in a couple months, I was only drinking a couple of cups a day.  So I quit. No headaches and no coffee for about three months I had no coffee and I was fine.  Now I can take it or leave it.  Every couple of months, I even quit for a few days just to be sure.  I like coffee, always have, probably always will, but now I don't have to have it. Thank you Jesus.

The point is -- and I know I kinda meandered a little -- New Years Resolutions are like choosing to end a coffee (or any other) addiction.  We CAN do it, we just have to be persistent, and forgive the pun, Resolute!

So, if you have a New Years Resolution, whatever it is, I am sure it is to improve some aspect of your life. So ask God to help you, ask others to help you, resolve to do it, and go for it. If you fail at first, just keep trying.  With God all things are possible.

Remember, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13
The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984). Php 4:13.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Man in the Mirror

The other day, I saw some gravestones on Facebook, that had friends names, and birth and "death dates and causes" fictitiously posted, so I accepted the app and allowed it to create one for me as well. Well, it said that I lived 96 years and died by looking in the mirror. Anyway, that got me thinking (actually it got me laughing hysterically, but then I got to thinking.) 

Potential gravestone!
When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Do I see the same thing others see when they look at me? Or more? I have heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I am not sure what this phrase means, but I do know that no one who looks at me, really sees what is inside my soul. Only God and I know what goes on deep inside. 

So who is this man in the mirror? Why would looking in the mirror kill me? And the most important question of all, how does this relate to Christianity? I shall attempt to answer and relate all these questions together in the lines that follow.

The Bible states that every inclination of man's heart is evil from childhood. Genesis 6: 5, 8:21. Note in the context of these passages it is not singling one particular man out, but emphasizing that we are all evil from childhood. In the New Testament, it states that there are none righteous, not even one. Romans 3:10.  Fortunately for me, other people cannot look through my eyes and see the depravity in my soul. Nor can I look into your eyes and see the depravity in you.  It is generally through our actions and words that we are judged by others. However, there remains the mirror.  When I look into the mirror, I can look at my reflection, or I can look deeper. Sometimes it scares me to look deeper.  Maybe someday it will kill me, but for now, not really. 

Fortunately, for the Christian, there is forgiveness. It is not that we are better than others, although we SHOULD be, given what we have been given by our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus forgave us by the shedding of His blood. He willingly paid the debt that we had for our sins.  He did ask us to stop sinning, so we really should. We should do as Christ asks, esp. since He has done so much for us. "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." James 1:23-25
The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984). Jas 1:23-25.

So to wrap this article up, let me say that although looking in the mirror will not kill me or you, it should cause us to think of what is happening in our hearts and double check our motives. We should evaluate our lives as we begin the year of 2012 and ask ourselves if we are doing what God wants us to do, or merely gazing at our reflection in the mirror and forgetting what we look like when we turn away?