Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jesus Paid It All

I AM HERE . . .

God is so faithful, and I am so unfair. While God is busy forgiving me, I am off casting stones at others. When God is mercifully taking me back into His loving arms, I am struggling to release the bitterness in my heart against those who have wronged me. There could not be a greater gap between the character of God and the carnality of my human heart.

Time and time again, God forgave the Israelites in the wilderness, so often did He show them mercy, but they always managed to fall back into grievous sin. It's amazing how easy it is for me to read the Old Testament accounts and think "Man, God did so much for them, provided them with all things, and they STILL turned away?!? I would NEVER do that." But then I look back upon my own life and realize that I am no different from the Israelite nation.

Pastor Barker preached the other night on the Israelites and the golden calf. The elders of Israel had JUST SEEN the power of the Lord, the whole nation camped in the shadow of Mt. Sinai where Moses met with God and saw the cloud of the Lord descend upon it, but despite the magnitude of God's presence at that place, the people begged Aaron for a god. Aaron gave them the golden calf. Again, it is soooo easy for me to judge them self-righteously. But . . . Every day I see the loving-kindness of the Lord, every day He is gracious toward me and provides for all my needs and more--and I STILL forget to thank Him, still forget to seek His face, and I still forget to give Him the praise and worship that He deserves. It is at times like these that I need to seek the face of God and remember again that I am here to do all things for His glory. Christ has changed my life, and I owe everything to Him.


How about you? Do you see yourself as a good person? Do you compare yourselves to others and think, "Gee, I don't do THAT, I must be okay" and then move on with your life? If so, I would encourage you to read the Bible and see what God has to say. God teaches that there are none righteous, no not one, that we have all turned aside to seek after things that will please and gratify us NOW. Only ONE was good, and that one was Jesus Christ.

God is a just God--would you want Him any other way? How would you feel if someone murdered one of your loved ones and the judge decided to be a nice guy on trial day and let the guy get away without any penalty at all? I could be wrong, but I think you'd be outraged. I know I would be upset. So God is just. He is also holy, and He hates sin. He cannot let sin go unpunished. That is why Jesus came to earth: to take the punishment for our sin. Only someone without sin could be a sacrifice in place of sin. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death--in other words, hell--but that Christ came to take the blame for any who would believe on Him. Jesus was a propitiation, a sacrifice to turn away the wrath of God, for us. You know that "little white lie" you told your boss this morning? No big deal, right? Wrong. Even if that was the only sin that you ever committed, it would still be enough to send your never-dying soul to Hell. Being a "good person" or living a "clean life" just isn't good enough. In Isaiah 64:6, we are told, "But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Filthy rags? That's pretty base and just gross. That is how God views sin. If we have sinned, which we all have, there is nothing that we can do to earn salvation. Instead, we must turn to the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. Jesus came to save sinners. That includes you, me, and everyone else who has ever been born except Jesus. Come to Christ. Turn from your sin and believe that He is the only way to enter heaven. Seek after Him, pray to Him, and dare to see how He can change your life.

God doesn't just want part of you. Maybe you think that going to church once a week means you have a "get out of jail free" card from God. Going to church isn't enough, being a "good person" isn't enough--the only thing that will make you right with God is salvation through Jesus Christ, the one who paid your debt of death for you if you will trust in Him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Anne Shirley! To Despair Is to Turn Your Back on God!"

Who would have thought that this quote from Anne of Green Gables would end up being the basis for a blog post? When you think about it, this statement is really quite true. Despair, discouragement . . . it's all natural, right?

I've been talking to my amazing roomie a lot about encouragement lately. As one who becomes discouraged very easily, I often find myself wondering why. I've come to a few different conclusions about discouragement, and I thought I'd quickly post them here (I really need to get to bed, but I don't want to forget this).

Discouragement is NOT a natural part of life.

It is so easy to be sucked into the lie that discouragement is natural, that it is something that we must all just deal with. Not true. We are to be encouraged in the Lord, not worrying about tomorrow, and we must trust in God to take care of us. Be reminded that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose AND do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. God cares for the birds, the fish, the grass, and every living thing. Trust Him fully.

Also under this I would clarify that suffering and trials ARE a natural part of life in this fallen world. However, that does not mean that we should be discouraged in them.

Discouragement IS a sin.

Yes, we will have difficulty in this life. Yes, we will suffer and go through much trial and tribulation. No, we are not to be discouraged. God gives us these things because He loves us, because He wants to test our faith and to cause us to grow in Him. When we grow discouraged, we doubt this and distrust God. Instead of becoming discouraged in hard times, rejoice in them. Bless God that He sees fit to try you and seek Him more diligently that you may grow all the more during your trial. Though all seem lost and the world caving in around you, remember that God is in control and that He is using this for your good.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path. Our own understanding will tell us that we have a right to be discouraged, that it's okay to be depressed. It's not. Instead, we need to rely on God. I became very discouraged the summer that my grandfather died, but I also found that God used that time to draw me closer to Him than I had ever been before and to cause me to trust in Him completely.

Pray through trials and against discouragement. Be ENCOURAGED that God loves you enough to try you and that He is in complete control. Lean on Him in your time of need, and He will never fail you. Use your time of tribulation to grow in faith, love, and adoration for our Lord. What could be more amazing than that? Who would have thought that it could rise from the depths of despair?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Could I Possibly BE More Relevant?

Conservative. It’s a word that I always would have used to describe myself. Politically conservative, theologically conservative, whatever conservative . . . so perhaps I never had much credibility with the "cool" crowd, those who were always on to the latest and most hip "thing" in life. Perhaps now that I'm marrying a guy with a tattoo and an earring I can up my standing some. Seriously, though, I've discovered something as I've grown older: I'm just not that different from everyone else out there. What do I mean by this? And why is it that things are creeping into the church in the name of relevance?

When I go to college, I look just like everyone else. True, my chest and stomach are decently covered at all times and my jeans are more loose than most, but I pretty well fit in with the typical college crowd (especially when I ditch the geeky backpack that I use to carry my laptop and million pound load of books). I work in an environment where employees can dress casually. I fit in there too. I never leave the house without some makeup. I change my hair color every couple of months, and my hair is cut short in the now-popular "inverted bob" style. All in all, I highly doubt anyone at school would look at me and think, "Man, what planet is she from?" or "Dude, look at the way she dresses--is she from Little House on the Prairie?"

I listen to secular music all the time, but I am discriminating about what goes in my ear-gates. I watch a lot of movies and shows on television, but I am very careful about what goes in my eye-gates. I have a facebook account, frequent my Google Chat and AIM accounts, and speak like a normal person in the 21st century. I'll scream at the Terp's game on Saturday (albeit without the cursing) and then go out to Starbucks for coffee afterward. Sound normal? I think so.

Why is it, then, that I keep getting blasted with the phrase, "YOU NEED TO BE CULTURALLY RELEVANT" ?!? How could I possibly BE more relevant without sinning? To be completely honest with you, I'm not trying to be relevant and normal, I just am. In all sincerity, I have enough trouble being conformed to the image of God without worrying about fitting in with the world. It's easy to be a part of the world, it's seeking after God whole-heartedly that is so difficult.

If I hear another sermon on cultural relevance, I think that I am going to scream. People ARE culturally relevant. Instead of doing all in our power to look, smell, and be like the world, we need to be more concerned with being "in the world, but not of the world." The Bible teaches that anyone who loves the world does not love God, that it is impossible to love both. Loving the world comes naturally to us because we are sinners. Seeking after God and loving Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength takes a lot of prayer and work.

My first priority in life is MY SOUL. I am responsible for working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. I personally believe that IF I am doing my duty and molding my own life after Christ's, then witnessing to others and being a godly example will flow from that. Yes, I'll still need to work and pray about it, but I do think that it is a natural progression from personal holiness to personal evangelism.

The church is set apart. Different. The Bride of Christ. Why are men trying to conform the church to the world to make men more comfortable? The unsaved are supposed to feel somewhat uncomfortable when they come into church. They are supposed to see that THIS is DIFFERENT, that something is GOING ON here. Sermons tailored to make sinners feel "at home" are more doing a disservice to them, in my opinion, because the word of God (foolishness to those who do not believe) is supposed to point them to Christ. If they walk away from hearing the Word preached thinking that they are "cool" with God because He just loves everyone and has wonderful plans for their lives, then they are walking further down the path to hell. Hell, the word that so many are shying away from. Perhaps it is called "the bad place" or not spoken of at all. Sinners need to KNOW, so why worry about offending them. The Gospel IS offensive to those who are not saved. When the Word of God is preached, the Gospel and the saving work of Christ should be CLEAR. Forget being culturally relevant. Preach the Word and trust God to do the rest.

Another thing that truly bothers me is a growing fad to use foul language and crude/ribald stories/jokes from the pulpit. I shudder to think of what happened to Nadab and Abihu in the Bible when they offered strange fire before the Lord. Everything in the Bible teaches that God is serious about the way that He is worshipped. Using things that He has deemed unholy and joking about that which He calls sin should NOT be used to draw people to Christ. I do not care how "culturally relevant" it may be, it is wrong. Do you want your sons and daughters speaking dirty words? Would you like them telling and laughing at lewd descriptions or stories? I think not. Why is it that these things are all of a sudden acceptable when coming from a pulpit? Is it because the preacher is drawing large numbers of people to his church? So what?! Who cares? We should be more concerned about the glory of God and what pleases Him. This is truly offensive. I would walk out of any sermon like those described above, and I would never choose use such language myself. I would not even consider marrying a man who spoke like that. Why is it that these things are okay? I've heard the argument that we can take some good things from preachers like this and then leave the bad. Does the end justify the means? No.

It's getting late and I have classes tomorrow, so I am going to draw this to a close. The whole cultural relevance thing is really starting to get on my nerves. It's like a CD that is stuck on the same track and keeps repeating the same two seconds over and over and over again. AAHH!! Why can we not just focus on the important things: the glory of God, our own salvation and sanctification, and winning sinners to Christ? I believe that God will bless those who follow Him, and I think that we should keep our eyes on him, not on the numbers (or lack thereof) in our pews. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. The end never justifies the means, and using "cultural relevance" and foul language is not the way to evangelize a lost world. They need to see a difference, to see the light of Christ in a fallen world. We should not put the dimmer on our candles so that we blend in better with the darkness. Let your light so shine before men--brighter and brighter and brighter. Do not risk putting out your light by covering it up to blur the line between saint and sinner. Seek God and put your trust in Him.