Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Amazing and Sad

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 ESV)



It's amazing, and sad, how the teachings of the traditions of people as doctrine has kept people away from Jesus Christ. Many are offended at the mere mention of His name because loud, religious, arrogant hypocrites claim to have equal authority (implicitly or explicitly) as God and impose all sorts of rules and requirements for behavior modification and blind submission to that false authority.

Yet, Christ went all out to completely remove the barrier of personal sins from reconciliation with the Father, and the Father was completely satisfied with that work.

If people would humbly give Christ a chance apart from rituals and sacrifices, maybe they would see the beauty, patience, loving care, mercy, and grace of a Person who wants nothing more than to have intimate fellowship with them.

Maybe then they would believe, trust, and learn from Him in the Scriptures, and know real love and truth for the first time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Freedom in Christ

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:1, 13, 16 ESV)


Gorgeous view of the bay near sunset from Route 64 bridge heading west toward home from Nags Head, NC, where I spent the day with my friend Steve and his family. Wonderful time. Lovely family. Good man.

Beautiful scenery, too. Reminds me of freedom. In this case, freedom from a huge, deceptive lie.

The yoke of slavery was not slapped around my neck and bolted while I was distracted or unconscious. Rather, I walked in to a popular outlet that sold them for a tithe, eyes wide open, and admired their sturdy, aromatic, and decorative qualities. I thought it would be good to wear one and it would look good on me, or I in it.

So I slipped it on. At first, I took it off and put it on as the mood fit. Eventually, I wore it all the time, even sleeping with it on.

After a while, however, something didn't seem right. Its qualities I once admired, I noticed, were merely external. I wasn't becoming sturdier. I was starting to look like a hypocrite to those who knew me, including myself.

In addition, it was feeling tighter, even if only in my mind. When I went to adjust it, I noticed it was stuck. It had fused with the skin of my neck.

I had to make a choice. Would I scrub it off by the washing of water with the Word? Or would I try to ignore the discomfort, think of something else, busy myself with rituals, and get used to it?

I knew the former choice would be a path of pain and suffering before it got better. It might even leave scars. Likely so, but still I clung to the hope of it getting better.

I knew the latter choice would be torture. I couldn't pretend my heart matched the appearance or ever would. I was no longer motivated to fit in. Besides, I couldn't ignore the slow tightening of the yoke like a noose; it would eventually strangle me.

Freedom came with a fight.

For some battles, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you in the separation process. I was wielding weapons of warfare I hadn't yet been trained to use. I was cocky as a toddler with a red cape and a pencil-sword. And just as annoying.

Eventually, I acknowledged the fight was inward, not external. I wasn't going to be able to release the yoke by yanking and criticizing it. Nor was I wrestling with the flesh and blood of those who sold it.

I became more focused on fighting the good fight, contending for the faith in my own mind and heart. The Word of God would provide the armor I needed for the real battle.

As I focused, new skin on my neck provided healing from the inside out, becoming transformed by the renewal of my mind and heart. The yoke lost its grip as I shed the old layers of lifeless cells.

One day, it just slipped off and fell. My yanking it was only counter-productive; a lesson I had to learn. I stared at the crumpled yoke, with its claw marks and stains of dried blood lying in a heap at my feet, wondering why I ever admired it.

Then I looked up to the heavens and smiled, recognizing the Word coming alive within me. Healing and transformation had come as I humbly abided in Him. Not to impress, for that was the lie. Not to judge others or be judged by others, for that was the deception. But to know the truth.

The Son had set me free and I was free indeed.

Can a person's lifestyle condemn them?

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19 ESV)



For a good friend (thanks for the chat)...
Can a person's lifestyle condemn them?

Answer: No! 
In God's eyes, it is not behavior that condemns a person.

Condemnation is the judgment declared by God for the trespass of one man, Adam. The rest of us were born condemned; God established that as well. Condemnation is not, and cannot be, the result of personal sin, bad choices, disagreeable lifestyles, or immoral behavior any more than one can decide whether or not to be born.

Justification, on the other hand, is declared by God to be the righteousness available to us because of the righteous deeds of another man, Jesus Christ, who was not "born of Adam," and, therefore, was not born condemned. Justification is not, and cannot be, the result of moral behavior, good choices (except one*), decent living, loving others, judging others, or hating sin.

* What is the one "good choice?" God declared a simple solution to go from condemnation to justification; believe in His only Son, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. That's it; choose to believe, which means to trust Him for your soul's salvation. Humbly turn the responsibility over to Him and rest in Him.

Adam did what he did on his own free will, and yet we all are paying the price. In him, we were all born condemned. No one is better than anyone else or has any advantage. This is death, which is separation from God.

Christ also did what He did on His own free will, and now we can all share in His Sonship. In Him, we can be born again to justification. No one is disqualified because of what they did or did not do; anyone can be saved. This is life, the new life, which is reconciliation to God.

He made this offer because He "so loved the world." He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4)

Don't reject Him because of what arrogant people say and do. Accept His pure love, motivation, mercy and grace because of what He has said and done for you.

Trust Him for the salvation of your soul. It's your choice to accept His offer. You'll be glad you did.

(Also read Ephesians 2:8-9.)

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV

Think about it...

If you are already condemned at birth, how do you earn condemnation? Can you become more condemned? If you have a sin nature because you were born in sin, how do you earn that sin nature from the sins you personally commit?

It would be like earning a heart after you are born; it's there because you were born with it. You deserve a beating heart because it's a part of who you are. Likewise, you cannot do anything righteous because that is NOT who you are. That is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.

Think about it some more...

Absolutely, you are responsible for your own sin. But in Romans 5:12, "All sinned" is not separate or new information than 5:18; the point Paul is making is that sin came into the world and was spread to all people through one man, Adam. Another way to say the same thing is condemnation came into the world and was imputed to all people through one man, Adam.

What then would be the difference between sinning before one is saved and after one is saved? Do both condemn a person? No, absolutely not if one is justified in Christ. Does it condemn a person who is not justified? No, absolutely not, because they are already condemned.

No one earns salvation. Can anyone reduce their sinning enough so that God would say, "Okay, that's good enough. You're saved." Likewise, can one increase their sin enough to become condemned? What if a person born in Adam never sinned? Hypothetical, yes, but they would still be just as condemned.

Besides, lost and saved alike both sin. Those don't change your status of saved or lost. Both condemnation and justification are on God's terms, not ours. If God declares it in His word, it must be so. Christ already paid the full price for everyone's sins because "He is the propitiation for our sins, but not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). And He, in Christ, is "reconciling the world to Himself, not counting man's trespassing against them" (2 Cor 5:19).

Now THAT'S Good News!‬‬

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Married to Christ (Part 7 of 7)

[The Apostle Paul worked hard ...] that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 
(Colossians 2:2-3 ESV)



As I explained previously, I am referring to my spiritual, Christian marriage to Christ. He is the bridegroom and I, as part of His church, which is His body, am the bride. Together, the two have become one.

In today's verses from Colossians 2, we have the word "mystery" again. On day one, I quoted from Ephesians 5 which showed that earthly marriage was used as an analogy for a "profound mystery." This profound mystery is what Paul indicated he was really talking about.

I used to believe the cliche "God moves in mysterious ways" applied whenever the word "mystery" was used. Whatever was a mystery was unknown, couldn't be known, and a little spooky.
After quite a bit of study, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I came to understand the original Greek word translated as "mystery," and how it applied to the profound thought Paul was communicating.

Unlike the genre of movies where certain knowledge is forbidden and remains shrouded, its usage here in Scripture describes something previously hidden but now fully revealed. This is special information that God has been saving up. Now He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the [full, accurate] knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).

This mystery is unprecedented unity with God the Father and Christ, His Son, and through all of us sharing the same Holy Spirit.

That is why I say I am married to Christ, whose work, not my effort, made this all possible according to the will of the Father. Am I happily married? You bet!

Married to Christ (Part 6 of 7)

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4 ESV)



For a long time, I certainly didn't "walk in the truth." Not even near it. I didn't know what the truth was, or why I should care. I was occasionally curious enough to extend some sort of effort to find out. But mostly not.

Was truth even knowable? If so, who was closest to finding out? Scientists? Philosophers? The classical writers? Ancient civilizations? Religious leaders? Seminary scholars? Spiritual gurus? Mom? Dad?

Maybe truth wasn't knowable, even though it sometimes tugged on me hard enough that I'd slip into its pursuit. Maybe it wasn't even relevant to life. So what if I found truth? What would I do with it? Would anyone believe me?

Then one day my older brother shipped to boot camp in preparation for his Navy career. I was given a small box of stuff he brought with him, but couldn't keep while there.

One of its content items was a Bible. Curious, I picked it up and started reading it, randomly. The book of Proverbs was particularly interesting, very interesting. In fact, at times I felt Someone had been watching me over my shoulder, and they knew me better than I knew myself. Where did such wisdom come from?!

I opened other books within its covers and had two thoughts as I read: 1) this was incredibly profound, and 2) this was incredibly confusing. I'd have to come back to this, but for now I had young adult issues to deal with. Discovering truth was an on/off, fair-weather friend kind of a relationship, even while at church.

Fast forward to today. I know now God's Spirit, through His common grace, was convincing me that the light I was seeing at the end of proverbial tunnel was real.

It's been a twisty, challenging, refreshing, gritty, painful, joyful journey coming to know God, and being saved, all the while struggling to make sense of His place in the world. Why did denominations compete? Why were there still apparently conflicting verses in Scripture? And most of all, having turned to many resources to help me understand, why did I believe what I truly believed?

Was there more truth beyond the salvation of my soul and visible changes in moral behavior? Was worship more than gathering together on a weekly basis? Mostly, could I prove (to myself) from Scripture, not from among man's many interpretations, that God's word made perfect sense?

It was with such gladness in my heart that I discovered the positive answers to those questions, especially the latter. Then I recognized my salvation, as great as it was, was merely a door. Far more truths, deeper truths, were awaiting me inside its warm walls and cathedral ceilings.

God's Spirit Himself would guide me into many rooms, and the whole structure would glory in its exquisite details. I stood at the threshold of a gorgeous mansion when I realized I was neither visitor nor guest. I was home.

My heart rejoices greatly. And now it brings me such joy to hear when others have gone beyond the threshold and into the mansion, walking in the light as He is in the light. Walking as One in the Spirit.

Thank you for reading.

Married to Christ (Part 5 of 7)

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4 ESV)



Sometimes, I just delight in Him. I'm not sure how to describe it. It's like my mind and heart are in harmonious contemplation of His words and His thoughts, and they are so soothing, comforting, and encouraging.

(If you have one, get out your copy of God's word as I leave a trail of Scripture references below. Or use the Internet, such sites as BibleGateway, or smart phone apps, like YouVersion.)

I could not have imagined the wonderful things He planned for me from before the ages. Things He planned for all who believe in Him in this church age. (1 Corinthians 2:6-7)

No one could have asked or thought of what He can do. For it is exceedingly abundantly beyond our capacity. Yet, what no heart has imagined God prepared for those who love Him, He has revealed through His Spirit. (Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

I delight in knowing who I am, Whose I am, why I'm here, what is my purpose. No, I'm not wealthy, nor am I poor. I have a job, but I'm not wildly successful in business. I have some stuff, but nothing luxurious or exquisite. Yet, I'm perfectly content. In all honesty, however, I have yet to completely conquer complaining. (Philippians 4:11-14)

Most of all, I delight in knowing these are His words and His thoughts. To me, what this world has to offer is ultimately trash compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.

What are the desires of my heart? To delight in Him!
(Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 3:7-8; Psalm 37:4)

What are yours?

Married to Christ (Part 4 of 7)

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19 ESV)



I think one of the most amazing grace salvation passages in Scripture is this: in Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself, NOT counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19)!

Along with passages like Romans 8:38-39 (nothing can separate us from the love of Christ), 1 John 2:2 (He is the propitiation for the sins of the world), and Ephesians 2:8-9 (by grace you have been saved through faith...) it contributes to the foundation of our understanding just how permanent and real salvation is.

There is nothing 'right' for us to accomplish. It's not about working hard at being good enough. It's about trusting Christ did the right thing for us. In salvation, we learn to trust in His obedience to His Father, now our Father. It's about relying on His work as the only work that could ever secure our salvation.

It's like spreading out your arms on a warm fall day and falling backwards into a hammock where our only response is refreshing gladness and true rest.

Salvation is by grace, a gift from God. It is not of our effort. No one, therefore, has anything to boast about. Certainly, there are no grounds upon which anyone can stand to judge others. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Reconciliation with God is purely on His terms. I've learned the secret to contentment is to accept His terms. Now I make my marriage to Christ my priority. How can I help but love Someone who loves me so much He would sacrifice everything for me, even His life, and then never let me go?

I'm happily married now, but I've been married and divorced before. I've been in and out of relationships that were supposed to mean something. I had issues, baggage, etc. In fact, I still use "had" lightly.

Remember the other day when I admitted I made and make mistakes? Only a few were private. I've hurt people, some deeply. I'm so sorry. I've apologized to some, and don't know where to start with others. Reconciliation seems impossible.

But, God took the initiative toward reconciliation with me, and with you. Could we have imagined having our many mistakes, or even blatant disregard for God, not count against us? How could this be? Isn't it all based on our behavior?

Thanks be to God we don't have to prequalify! He did the work us. All He asks is that we believe in His solution for our reconciliation; the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He put forth as a propitiation for us and for our salvation.

In Him, there is no condemnation, at all!