The Gospel according to the Preacher

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78 - my blue hydrangeas with lots of blooms

Fear God and keep his commandments….eat and drink and find satisfaction in (your) work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?….Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love….Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 12: 13b; 2: 24-25; 9: 9a, 10a

Having pursued projects and pleasures, the Preacher’s life principle emerges, germinates and blooms. And I inhale:

Treasure and fear God. Then obey Him, enjoying every good gift He gives, namely the ‘dailies’. The accompanying joy will cleave to me as I work with my heart at what He assigns me.

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

Why do you trust Christianity? (aka: Why are you a Christian?)

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The only reason to be a Christian or to trust Christianity as a worldview is…

..if it’s TRUE!

Truth is a cross

The God of the universe is a ‘reasonable’ God.  That means He created EVERYTHING in a manner that can be attested to rationally (i.e. backed up with reasons or evidence), using His life-generating ‘logical’ Word.

In fact, God says in Isaiah 1:18 – “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 

So on this Easter Sunday, I want to pass on what I am learning to articulate, 4 simple facts that even agnostic New Testament scholars and quite a few atheists agree on.  Where disputes and disagreements lie are in the interpretations of the facts.

Being equipped with ‘just the facts, ma’am’, can give you confidence when you find yourself with someone who doesn’t know the truth about Jesus.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Here is what is past dispute and agreed upon by most reputable scholars, no matter their faith positions:

 

 

 

 

  • Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion and laid in a tomb 
  • The tomb was discovered empty 2 days later
  • His disciples believed they had seen the risen, physical Jesus after his death
  • These disciples dramatically changed from cowering, demoralized followers to energized, bold and confident men and women who started a world-wide Christian movement that continues to endure and to grow both stronger and more numerous 2000+ years later

The evidence that backs up these facts comes NOT just from the Gospel accounts and letters written by Jesus’ earliest followers, but also from a-sympathetic historians, (that is to say, from those who didn’t have a dog in the race!)

To give you further confidence when sharing these 4 simple and incontrovertible facts, you only need to know ONE thing more.  Claims are most solid when they can be falsified.

So what would quickly falsify Christianity?

Empty tomb

 

 

 

Produce the body!

That’s all it would take to disprove and shut down the claims of these followers.  And you had better believe it, that the Romans AND the Jewish leaders did all they could to find the dead Galilean.

So as you celebrate and think about the living Savior, be confident, that you can trust the claims of the Bible.  Jesus IS (present tense) the truth, the light and the life.

Jesus' tomb is empty, unlike others

 

Guilt and the American Way of Life

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The American way of life makes me feel guilty!

I get suckered into thinking I should be more goal-oriented.  (Thank you Charles Sanders Peirce!) )

This pragmatic, can-do philosophy has even pervaded American Christianity.

I was reading an article last night whose premise was that we often plan a 2- week vacation with more intentionality than we do our Christian life. The author suggested that if we wanted to DO BETTER than waste our life, we should implement some systematic backward planning.  Something like, “Picture your funeral – what do you want to be remembered for having done as a Christian?”  And the advice was:  with THAT goal in mind, just plan the necessary steps to reach it.

I was left with the feeling that I am just a selfish drifter, wasting my life!  And shame on me for having chosen to move somewhere SIMPLY because it’s a pretty part of the country (Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina).

Thankfully, in church this morning recollections of some writings of one of my mentors (Martin Luther) reached the conscious level of my thoughts and I regained some clarity.   How Luther blesses us is in his re-iteration of Paul’s view of work and life.  We are to do ALL for the glory of God, whether it is serving up meals, changing diapers, repairing a car or preparing coffee at Starbucks.  NO work is ‘merely’ a job to endure, with no connection to Christ.  Work was commanded by God BEFORE the Fall.  We are made in the image of God and God WORKED and continues to work/uphold all creation/ direct all creation.

Hence we are to labor WITHOUT guilt but with gusto & gratitude. There doesn’t have to be any grand goal, other than the moment-by-moment abiding in Him AS we live out our 3 score and ten.

Jesus boiled down the entire  Law to Loving God and Loving our Neighbor.  If living with gratitude and in God’s power is how we love Him, then what does it look like to love one’s neighbor?   Here is my sense drawn from Scripture:    

Loving others is wanting God’s best for them.  What could be better for any human being than to know that the God who created them designed them for His glory and to be in an intimate relation with Him?   Loving the people we come in contact with through our work/daily errands means being willing to share the good news of what Jesus has done.

I was running a potential conversation through my mind this morning:

Me slowly, deliberately and with enthusiasm:  – Have you heard what Jesus Christ has done?

My ‘neighbor’: – yes, no, tell me, who cares……

Me: Because we have rebelled, each one of us, against God – our Creator, we deserve death for that treason. But Jesus stood in the place of condemned humanity to take our punishment!

My ‘neighbor’:  – So? Your point is? What does that have to do with me? Really?

Me: good question and yes it IS important to YOU!  There are only 2 kinds of people in this world: a) those who are poor, needy and grateful to be rescued from the punishment for their guilt AND….b) those who are poor, needy but intend to face God on their own, standing on their own merits.

My ‘neighbor’:  – Hmm, I don’t believe that; That’s so judgmental; that’s not fair; everyone goes to heaven; there’s nothing after we die; that’s just YOUR opinion! Whatever….

Me: That’s not all!  Besides being rescued from having to pay for our guilt on our own….. God the Father, solely because of what Jesus has done for us, offers us ADOPTION into the royal – forever family!  Now that is GOOD news.  Had you heard that before?

*

Anyway, that is what I am praying I will courageously offer with those people God brings across my path HERE in WNC (western North Carolina). 

I’ll leave you with a question.  Isn’t it ‘kinda’ PRE-SUMP-TU-OUS to think that WE are in charge of our lives and therefore, should set life goals?

When a fellow Christian hurts you

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“She’s gonna pay!”

Have you ever been THAT kind of mad at a sister/brother in Christ?  I have!

You could have caught me ‘speechless’ the other night, after reading John Piper’s daily reflection on my iphone app called “Piper Devotional” (excerpted from his book Future Grace).

What stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider the times when I’ve been mad at others was reading Piper’s thoughts on Romans 8:1

There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What that means is that when someone else in the Church hurts me and they rightly deserve to pay for that offense, the payment has already been made – in the past – on the cross by none other than Jesus.   It HAS to be that way for them NOT to be condemned by God.  The other alternative would be for God to say, “Susie has hurt you?  Just forgive her – ‘cause she’s your sister-in- Christ.  Period!”

That, actually, would NOT be fair!  And God is the God of justice, or else he is NOT God!  Someone WILL pay or HAS paid or DOES pay.  One of the privileges of being in the King of the Universe’s family is having Big Brother Jesus cover our deliberate AND inadvertent mean or thoughtless words/ actions toward one another.  How?- in his flesh, on the cross.

When I want to make Christian sister Susie pay, I’m actually saying that I want Jesus to suffer STILL MORE for the harm done me.

Reading Piper’s piece, I actually pictured Jesus softly saying, “That’s okay, Maria, I can take it.  If that brother-in-Christ needs to pay for what he did to you, then I’ll pay for him.  Lay his iniquity on me.  I’m here to suffer the rightful punishment for what he did to you!”

In my scenario, I found myself saying almost with tears:

‘No, Lord, I don’t want You to suffer any more; I will let my brother go, I won’t hold IT against him anymore.”

Talk about injustice!  If my twisted desire, to see him or her PAY, means Jesus has to suffer more, then I don’t want that, especially not just to make me feel better.

Now THAT’s a sure, quick way to drain off self-righteous anger!

So what am I saying?  That they should get off, just because they are Christian?

–      Well, you and I have ‘gotten off’, haven’t we?

–      Are we aware of all the ways we have hurt someone else, another family member of God?

–      And what about all the many ways we have ignored God or rebelled against Him?

Jesus HAS paid it all.  And it did cost Him.

I HOPE that the next time I start to feed some righteous indignation due to wounds from a fellow member of the household of Christ that I can PICTURE Jesus asking me, “How much do you want them to squirm…however much you think they deserve, I’m ready, in their place. Your call, Maria!”    

It’s not about You!

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Do you ever feel ashamed of the lack of sanctification in your life?  Does that keep you from telling someone about Jesus?  Afraid to promote the cause of Christ because you can’t point to much visible difference He has made in your life?

Last Friday at the gym I listened to a podcast as I was doing my stretching routine.  What the pastor explained liberated me from that mouth-shutting fear and set my thinking right.

All along, I have thought:

“If I tell someone who really knows me the Good News about how God came to Earth to save us from our sins, that person will probably find me hypocritical.  All he or she has to do is contrast my DECLARATION that Jesus has made a difference in my life with RECOLLECTIONS of past unkind remarks I might have made to them, an aspect of my selfish attitude, my self-centeredness…..you name it.”

These thoughts have worked together to keep me from taking advantage of opportunities to talk about God.

But the Good News is NOT about the differences in ME that others can see.  The actual change is something INVISIBLE, that is not physically noticeable to material beings/ aka those who are alive and walking around in bodies.

The enmity barrier between God the Father and each one of us is REMOVED when we turn from our dead, futile works of trying to make ourselves acceptable, when we put our trust in CHRIST’s righteousness offered to us.

You can’t see either the wrath hanging over an unbeliever’s head, but it is there!  You can’t see the Holy Spirit implanted forever into the heart of a believer, but He is there!

So what we are free to share JOYFULLY & ENTHUSIASTICALLY & FREELY is that by  receiving this gift of mercy, all our sins (past, present and future) have been forever nailed to the cross when Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced and fastened to that wood.

My life doesn’t have to be exemplar before I open my mouth.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Him and what He has done for me, for you!  That takes the pressure off.

Has being added to God’s Forever Family made a difference in my life, that is – my actions and attitudes?  Yes!  But a lot of that is still being worked out as my mind is being renewed and changed.  Although I received the Holy Spirit implanted in me at age 24, I didn’t start to grow until joining Bible Study Fellowship the fall after my 40th birthday.  Fossilized thought patterns and resultant actions take a while to be transformed.

As the saying goes, First God catches fish and then He cleans them”.  So go ahead  now and tell other fish you encounter about the most marvelous Fish Food imaginable.  About the Fisherman-Artist who…… once He pulls you out of dead, stinky waters, puts you into Fresh water and starts lovingly crafting you into a new creation.

 

 

I’m adopted!

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I’m adopted!

….which means that I have been chosen, wanted and planned for.  It is this idea that needs to dominate and be my source of comfort every idle moment.

The ‘New City’ iPad app has a shortened, edited version of the Westminster Catechism (52 Qs & As – one for each week).  Question 1 gets right to the point:  “What is our only hope in life and death?”  Answer:  “That we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death to God and our Savior Jesus Christ”

In my last post I talked about spiritual warfare.  The enemy prowls around, intent on sabotaging and weakening our faith.  Natural physical rhythms like sleep also attenuate our faith. So when we awaken in the morning, we must draw new strength for the day by preaching the good news, the TRUTH, to ourselves.

Part of my routine on my morning walk is to remind myself out loud of what I am glad.  And you know, these benefits that accompany my adoption actually are written down in the official adoption papers called the Bible.

  • My life is hidden safe in Christ.
  • Christ is in me.  How so? –the Holy Spirit God moved in as a down-payment/deposit/ engagement ring or promise. Therefore, I have the assurance of future glory and an inheritance.
  • I have everything I need (all grace) to do what God wants me to do as His ambassador, His steward, His soldier.  I am not dependent on my ideas or my strength. I am not limited by the lack of resources.
  • His purpose for my life is the development of His likeness in me – i.e. growing in holiness….becoming suitable for His Son as a member of the Heavenly Bride
  • I’m carrying in my spiritual pocket an invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.  When I RSVPd, the Angels rejoiced in heaven
  • That RSVP (my name engraved on His hands) I can never lose.  And it entitles me to untold spiritual riches
  • I can trust God and what He promises by looking at two things:

-His compassion shown on the Cross

-His power shown by the resurrection

I don’t feel like thinking of these FACTS all the time, so the times when I DO feel less resistant to spiritual matters (1st thing in the morning), I need to eat, take in spiritual nourishment.  And you might have heard what the French say, “L’appétit vient en mangeant”   One becomes hungry by eating.   Bon appétit!

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