Friday, September 30, 2011

Chasing the Dream

Philippians 2:5-1

When truth is adjusted just slightly, it can actually sound better than the truth.  There is an insidious force out there called self-determination that can fool you into false thinking about your abilities.   Self-determination is the idea that we can get what we want on our own, but this belief is the ultimate rejection of God.  Self-determination is encouraged in our society, because everywhere you go, you will hear the mantra that anything is possible through hard work.  This seems logical because it seems there are examples of people who have remade themselves into something great through sheer self-determination.  The truth about the nature of success is much more complicated. 
We often talk about the “American Dream” where anyone can become great.   This just seems to make sense, but it is a slight adjustment of the truth. The oft quoted Biblical verse, “God helps those who help themselves” is not Biblical.  It came from one of Aesop’s fables and was later popularized by Ben Franklin.  The self help mantra sounds so good, but is exactly opposite of what the Bible teaches (James 4:13-17).  The reason the saying makes sense is that it jives with a part of us that does not want to submit to God.  We do not like the sound of the word submit because it means there can be unpleasant obligations.  Jesus welcomes you into this submission, but offers solace for all your troubles (Matthew 11:29-30)
God has created you for a relationship with Him and part of this relationship is dependence on Him for things that are not under your control.  In reality, very little is under your control. As I get closer to God, I am becoming more amazed at the regularities of life as real and true gifts.  My job is a gift, my children are a gift, and the food in my refrigerator is a gift.    Hard work is a Biblical command that carries logical benefits, but you need to understand the results are in His hands (Proverbs 19:21)
Poverty can befall anyone (Job 1:8-12).  We say that those who are poor are that way by choice because they are lazy, have an addiction etc., but we often utilize this thought process to shuck our duty to help those in need. This is flat-out wrong thinking because we have a duty to serve the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:41). Don’t get caught up in deciding if people are worthy to be helped.  If God is telling you to give, you should give (Proverbs 14:12-14).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Prodigal Son or Prodigal Pig… Both are “Coming Home” Part II

Before he passed away, Pastor J. Vernon McGee introduced the concept of the prodigal pig in connection with  2 Peter 2:22.   He also compared the prodigal pig with the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). 

The idea is that a child, regardless of their location, is still a child of their parents.  In the same way, a pig is a pig regardless of its current location or level of cleanliness.  Just as the prodigal son was still a son while in the pig sty, a pig will remain a pig even if you bathe it, clothe it and treat it as a son.  When we become a child of God we (or anyone or anything) can never undo this transformation (Romans 8:38-39). 

The problem is that continued sin will begin to erode God's influence in your life and you will grow cold.  As I shared yesterday, I had brought my marriage to the brink of ruin through my selfishness.  We therefore reap what we sow.  If we live a life of sin there will be real consequences, but this does not include a loss of salvation.

When a child of God wanders away from the faith, God searches intently for them. God calls His children home through the active work of the Holy Spirit.  A person who has undergone the divine transaction of salvation cannot go on sinning, they will eventually be drawn back to God  (1 John 3:9). 

There are people who have cleaned themselves up and walk among Christians, but they have never undergone spiritual rebirth, when they “fall away”, they are just showing that they were never saved in the first place (1 John 2:18-20).  This type of person becomes much worse off as they throw off the final trappings of pretending to be a Christian (2 Peter 2:20).
Child of God, are you running from Him?  He wants a restored relationship with you (Revelation 3:20).  The farther you run from Him, the more your character will erode.  Submit yourself to Him before you lose everything that you care about. 

Warnings to a fallen son or daughter of God:
  1. Although your salvation is secure, sin has its consequences. The prodigal son got a party upon his return but not his inheritance (Luke 15:31-32).
  2. Shame is the outcome of sin (Romans 6:20-22)
  3. We will have to account for our sins  ( 1 Corinthians 3:12-16)
  4. If you are not submitting to God, you will have less self-control (Galatians 5:16-18)
  5. If you are not submitting to God you will be filled with anger and bitterness (Galatians 5:19-21
  6. If you are not submitting to God you will miss out on the blessings of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26)
  7. You will not be able to face down Satan, you’re on your own (James 4:7) (1 Peter 5:7-9)

What can I do if I’m far from Him and want to get back?
  1. Go back, God will meet you on the way (Luke 15:20)
  2. Confess your sins (1 John 1:9)
  3. Press forward with God and forget what was behind (Philippians 3:7-14)
Repeat steps 1-3 continually (Romans 7:14-25) (Romans 8:1-17)

What about the rest of us?
       For those of you reading who have not crossed the line and handed God the control of your life, please do it now. You are the prodigal pig!!!  If you have been going through the motions of Christianity, God knows your heart and cannot be fooled. Fall on your knees and accept the wonderful gift that God paid for you.  Only then will you be reborn as a son of God (John 1:12).

Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
Luke 15:7

Monday, September 26, 2011

Prodigal Son or Prodigal Pig… Both are “Coming Home”

As a child, I had always attended church but I had no personal relationship with God.  He was an abstract entity to me.  I felt He was out there, but a deeply personal relationship with Him was not something I was ever taught.  In high school I met a person who would bring about great change in my life.  His name was Dave Ringenberg, (who now flies for Mission Aviation Fellowship) and we were on the track and field team.  One day he asked me if I was religious and I remember saying yes, so he invited me to his youth group.  In one of those meetings the plan of salvation was laid out to me:
  1. God Loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. John 3:16
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God.  Therefore he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life. (Romans 3:23) (Romans 6:23)
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin.  Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life. (Romans 5:8) (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) (John 14:6)
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives. (John 1:12) (Ephesians 2:8,9) (Read John 3:1-8)  (Revelation 3:20)

I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior that day.  I dove into my new faith head first.  The only thing I can figure is that I placed too much of an emphasis on head knowledge of scripture.  This led to a lot of pride. In my early twenties, I walked away from God.
During that period I lost that connection with God and stopped serving Him. I turned inward and became very selfish. I gradually gave up more and more of the values that defined me and became quite dysfunctional.  I stopped reading the scriptures, stopped attending church and stopped praying in any way.  I developed some destructive habits that would bring my marriage to the brink of ruin.  The odd thing is that during this time, I knew I was a child of God and in my fallen state I knew I needed to recommit myself to Him.  He would continue to teach me things about Himself during that period and kept calling for me with His still, quiet voice.
Once our kids were old enough to start asking about God, we joined the nearest church.  I didn’t really like it and just went to go along.  Eventually, I recommitted myself to Him with reservations.  I didn’t want to give up my destructive habits.  As I drew closer to God, He made it clear that I needed to cut out these habits.  I would try, have some success and falter.  Over time, I began to plead with God to just take these habits away.  But that was not the way it was going to go down.  God had a bitter pill for me to swallow, because I was trying to hold on to my bad habits while doing a relationship with Him.
            I was humiliated and exposed in a very painful way.  I was bitter over how it all happened, but it allowed me to start working on the core reasons for those destructive habits.  In a startling way, God opened my eyes to my selfishness and the effect that has had on others.  Sin has consequences and mine certainly did.  As I allowed God to renew my heart, things began improving.  Things aren’t perfect, but they are improving.  I am slowly being released from the pull of those bad habits, in addition our marriage has moved from critical to stable condition.  I look forward in hopeful expectation for a strong marriage that glorifies Jesus our Savior.  There are times I get frustrated at myself because I can still see my sin nature, but I know God has been changing me.  There is a long way to go, but much of the anxiety that runs my life is melting away as I lean ever closer into God.  It is amazing that God gives second chances. 
So the question is: What was going on spiritually during my period of “backsliding?”  More tomorrow…

Friday, September 23, 2011

Choose Your Destiny Part II

College seems to take forever, but remember that it is a small fraction of your life.  There was this hallway at a job back when I was in college, and this hallway symbolized the glacial pace of college.  Summers were the hardest because I didn’t feel I was actively progressing towards my degree.   I worked at Herman’s Sporting Goods in a mall, and they didn’t want us going through the front gate, so I had to walk along this bare hall to the back, ring the bell multiple times and wait for someone to let me in.  I hated this hallway, because it seemed to mock me every day.  It felt like this was a dead end job that would suck my soul.  It could have been a dead end job, but since it was a means to a degree it wasn’t really a dead end job.  As the summer wore on, I had to tell myself over and over that I was a college student even though I wasn’t taking classes at the time.  I know this sounds silly, but your mind can play tricks on you.  Herman’s was a very short episode in my life and after about two years I found a much better job to finish out college.  When you have the luxury of looking back, it becomes apparent how short seasons of life can be. The problem is that the present can take hold of you in such a way that no other reality seems plausible.  In this state, you will feel that college is taking forever.  When it feels like you are stuck in neutral you will need to challenge that thought.  If what you are doing is part of the plan then dismiss that feeling with truth. Your thoughts (or Satan’s) should not rule you (1 Cor 10:5) (Matthew 4:1-11).
            When you view the length of life within the context of eternity, you will experience something wholly new and groundbreaking.  The eternal perspective can help you through periods of life that seem disappointing, boring, or unglamorous (Rom 8:25).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Choose your Destiny

Take a good, hard look at the timeline. The right side portrays a path of life that involves quickly getting through college successfully, working hard at your career, and making good money choices.  On the left is an alternative destiny.  It involves having fun and living it up under your parents’ house.  If you choose the party life, there will come a point where your parents will get tired of this.  I call this moment the “deadbeat threshold.”  At that point, your parents will kick you out because they finally get it that by supporting you financially they are not helping you mature.  You are not progressing in life and are stuck.  Fed up, your parents serve your eviction papers thus ushering in a life of poverty that will ensnare you and the generations to follow Proverbs 10:1.
I don’t think people say, “Hey I want to be stuck in poverty all my life, how do I go about doing that?  The reality is that poverty is the natural outcome of a life that is done out of order.  If you have children before you complete your schooling, it will be very difficult to finish your schooling.  Do life in order, it’s education, career, then kids.  Get it out of order and you will be in poverty.  Looking at the graphic, please notice how a person who starts work immediately is getting things out of order.  The party life will lead you to the poverty life, because you will be neglecting the things that could enrich your life in the long run Proverbs 21:17.
            Living for God and being a partier is incompatible (Eph 5:18) (Gal 5:19-21) (James 4:4) (Prov 23:21).  Partying will not make you more popular, because people are popular because they have traits that people value.  Don’t get caught envying the “beautiful people” who are having a great time, God has other plans for you (Prov 23:17).  Their lives are a mirage, because the glamour will fade away and you will have purpose.  People who like others because they are attractive are vain, so why would you want those types of people as friends.  Find people who share the same values as you and you will be happier.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The 10 Most Important Truths That You Must Consider

Please Note:  There are many Biblical Verses here.  You can see the verse by just hovering over the text.  You will not need to click on the links.  This will allow you to quickly check the verse and stay with me.  

  1. God has created all humanity (including you) for a personal relationship with Him. He knows you will be most happy when you are in a relationship with Him.  He deeply loves you and intensely desires this relationship with you.  He did not build you into an automaton that must obey, instead He gave you free will with the ability to reject or accept Him (John 10:10) (Rev 3:20). 
  2. The original sin of Adam and Eve placed in you a sin nature that is the source of sin and the evil in your heart. Your natural state is sinful, and people are not naturally good while God is a holy God who is perfect and sinless.  You hurt others as well as yourself.  There is much pain and tragedy in this world as a result of sin. (Gen 1:19) (1 Cor 15:22).
  3. All of us have sinned and continue to sin willingly.  All of us have not lived up to the perfect standard of God.  There is no grading curve with God, because He is perfect, and He expects perfection. (Pr 14:12)  (Rom 3:23)
  4. This sin has consequences.  God sees all sin as worthy of death, and there is no differences or gradations in how God views sin.  God will not do a relationship with us when we are in sin.  The Bible says that the wages of sin are death.  This death is a physical death as well as an eternal one.  We are excluded from the blessings of God.  Hell is real, excruciatingly painful, and never-ending (Matt 25:41) (Rev 20). 
  5. We feel this separation and try please God in the way we feel is right, but it is not enough.  We sense emptiness and try to fill the void with useless things to take our minds off our guilt and unhappiness.  Your natural condition is like a huge chasm that is very wide and deep, with no possibility of getting to the other side without help.  You cannot please God on your own (Eph 2:8).
  6. We need forgiveness.  We need a break.  God must do it for us, but sin must be paid for, because He is infinitely righteous.  God knows our inability and wishes to have relationship with us.  He loves us tremendously, so He sent His Son Jesus to be condemned in our place.  I can’t explain how painful it was for God to do this, but you are worth it.  If you, yes you, were the only human to ever walk this earth, He would have sent his Son just for you.  Jesus stepped out of his position beside His Father, a position of total power and love and took the form of man and willingly humbled Himself to death as a sacrifice for our sins.  This was a perfect sacrifice, and it was enough.  God has approved of this sacrifice by raising His Son after the third day.  There is no more need for any more sacrifices, it is finished (Heb 10:13) (1 Cor 15:20).  
  7. We must do our part, but don’t get lost here, because it isn’t what you think.  There is nothing you do to earn anything.  Eternal salvation is a free gift of God that is conditional on us accepting it.  This gift only comes through the sacrifice of the Son of God.  God has made Him the only way to him.   We have free will to accept this gift or reject it.  You must take the gift.  Please take it, otherwise you will have to pay for your sins yourself (John 14:6) (John1:12).
  8. We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and submit to Him as Lord of our lives with authority to direct our steps.  We must confess that Jesus is Lord and turn over the control of our lives to Him.  If we do this we are saved.  Forever! The moment you do this an amazing one-way transaction happens.  At that point the Spirit of God comes into you, bringing a full guarantee that this salvation can never be snatched away.  (Rom 10:9) (Rom 8:38) (John 3:16)
  9. Once saved, we now have the power to obey God; we now have the potential of being a part of God’s plan on this earth.  We have access through obedience to Him for the fruit of the Spirit for love, joy, peace, happiness, and self-control. It won’t happen immediately, you must strive to depend on Him in ever increasing measure. Your life is on the way to being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus over time, but you must submit to Him.  You will screw up a lot, so when you do, you must confess your sins, get up, dust yourself off and continue walking with God.  Rest in the fact that God takes an active part in shaping your destiny (1 John 1:9) (Gal 5) (Heb 10:14).
  10. We still have free will.  The sin nature is still present, so we must submit to walking in the Spirit.  If we walk away from obeying God, there will be consequences.  Our salvation is secure, but if we walk away from the blessings of God we become sidelined and no longer a part of God’s plan on this earth.  We can lose our sense of joy and peace.  God is always ready to take you to newer places, but you must remain open to his leadership in your life. (1 Cor 5:5) (John 14:23) (Eph 2:8-10)

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Way

Proverbs 14:12

Have you ever experienced an addict at their worst?   They don’t care about anything or anyone more than getting their next high?   It makes sense to outsiders that they are ruining their lives, but the addict doesn’t really care about the consequences of the addiction.  An addict is totally out of control with no ability to help him or herself.  How is your self control?  Do you feel confident in your ability to control yourself in all areas of your life?  What areas do you sense a need for improvement?  Your assessment of your situation matters to this discussion, because it is highly likely you are unaware of your true condition. God has placed eternity in our hearts.  Another way to talk about this is that there is a God-sized hole in our hearts and all our attempts to fill it fail miserably. We still try and we can have fleeting moments of success.  These false fulfillments can give us moments of pure bliss, and though this bliss can be very intensive, these highs become the goal as they become more and more difficult to obtain.  Soon we are working hard just to be at normal.  We all do this, and not just addicts, for our true condition is beyond our ability to fix ourselves.
Your sense of willpower matters.  If you feel you have control over most of what life is doing, you are mistaken and have little chance of improvement.  Can you really get it done when you want to?  Addicts at rock bottom have an opportunity to see themselves as they actually are which is at the mercy of their own weaknesses with no way out, but the rest of us just don’t get it,  Similarly, a rich person often sees no need for God, while a poor person has nowhere else to turn.  I am not arguing that all poor people are righteous and the poor are evil; it is that the poor clearly understand their helpless situation in life.  Successful people who have no relationship with God have a way viewing their accomplishments as a result of their own effort.  They are ignoring all of the breaks (both seen and unseen) that have led to their success.  It is possible to be successful (by the world’s standards) outside of God’s will, so why do life God’s way and what does that look like?  We will discuss this next time: The 10 Most Important Truths You Must Consider