Salvation Made Simple
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We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. -Romans 3:22

 On one hand, salvation is a simple matter. When we trust Jesus to take away our sins, we are made right in God’s sight. C. S. Lewis said, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.” The Apostle Paul says this in Romans 3:22, We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

On the other hand, salvation is a serious matter—it cost Christ His life in order to free us from our sin. Adam and Eve’s sin created a deep valley between a perfect God and imperfect humans. We cannot bridge this gap on our own. We need help, just as a person who’s in debt needs someone with money to pay off the debt.

God sent Jesus into the world to pay our debt and to be the only way to be reconciled with Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that we could again be in a deep relationship with God.

Why didn’t God just snap His fingers and make sin go away? God is a just God. The debt for sin in the world had to be paid. Jesus came to earth to pay that price. He died on the cross for our sins. After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared before many witnesses. The debt had been paid. Henry Drummond said this, “The sense of the infinite worth of the single soul, and the recoverableness of man at his worst are the gifts of Christ. The freedom from guilt and the forgiveness of sins come from Christ’s Cross; the hope of immortality springs from Christ’s grace.”7

Salvation changes our lives. It frees us from guilt, remorse, shame, and fear. We’ve all heard the motto Change the behavior, and you change the person. But most of us know that motto is bankrupt. The truth is: Change the person, and behavior changes.

 

 

Jim Vogelzang
The Law of Influence
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When we look back on our lives, we can point to people who influenced us—parents, other family members, teachers, friends…even gang members. Who influenced us the most? Was the influence a positive or negative one?

We can only imagine how different our lives would be if we’d had a successful, law-abiding mentor while growing up. How would our lives have turned out if our mothers had not been addicted to crack? Today, if we admire the hot-shot players with a fondness for trouble, we are soon in trouble. If we have a high regard for women who are always looking to “trade-up” husbands, we will soon find ourselves feeling dissatisfied with our husbands. Our lives are a collection of the people who influence us—for good or for evil. The more time we spend with certain people, the more we become like them. We become like mirrors that reflect the people’s values and character. That’s called The Law of Influence.

The apostle Paul experienced the Law of Influence when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. From then on Paul hung out with Jesus, and his life changed. He went from being a murderer to being a missionary, from being the hunter to being the hunted. He learned the truth of what he wrote in today’s verse.

When we hang out with Jesus, His presence influences us, and we become more like Him. With extended exposure to the Savior, our hearts will produce kindness and tenderness toward people. Our words will soften. Our manners will be more gentle, our conduct more unselfish.

Spend time with Jesus. Become like a mirror that reflects the character of God. When other people look at us, they won’t see us—they’ll see Jesus.

Jim Vogelzang
Conflicted Spirits
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Some people get visibly ugly when they see others prepare to go to worship services. They want to pick a fight. Their hearts and their minds are at war with each other. They have conflicted spirits.

Inner conflict results from holding inside of us two opposing views that are equally strong. For example, perhaps we were brought up in a strict church environment but had a shocking experience with a minister or a priest. Or, maybe our mothers made us go to church as kids and then slapped us around when we got home for fidgeting during the service. These strong, clashing memories put us at odds with ourselves. On the one hand we see the hypocrisy and hurt, and we conclude that faith in God is bogus. But then our heart vibrates with some other rhythm. Our hearts say to us that God is real and that His Word and promises are true. We have conflicted spirits. What is true?

The apostle Paul was no stranger to conflicted spirits. He knew the war between good and evil in his heart (see Romans 7:7-25). He also knew where to find a Peacemaker. When our minds are denying what our hearts know to be true, the only source of a peaceful resolution is Jesus Christ. He suffered hurts greater than our own, yet He never gave up. Jesus resisted temptation and withstood torture, unfair trials, and the death penalty for us. With the help of God’s power, we can let the hurts go, make peace with ourselves and with God.

Jim Vogelzang
We Run, but We Can’t Hide
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We carry around secrets. Those secrets are heavy burdens for us. We don’t want anyone to know our pasts or to be defined by our worst actions. We shudder at the thought of others in our study group, PTA or bowling league being fully aware of our lives that might include violence, sexual assault, abuse, drunkenness and the other stuff we have done. We fear what might happen to us if they found out the truth about us. But God knows everything about us. We can’t hide anything from Him. This is not a scary thought for us who love Him. It is a hopeful and comforting fact. In our hearts, we wish to be completely known and open and honest with Him. We long to lose our illusions, expose our deceptions, face the facts of our lives, confront our fears, and admit our failures. We crave to be loved by someone who knows us, accepts us for who we are, and forgives us for Christ’s sake.

God’s love and forgiveness come to us through Christ when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our souls. Then we expose our hearts for the unclean things they are and uncover the sin that is in the deepest corners of our being.

To make this happen, we must confess our sin to God and turn away from it. We need to believe that God’s Word will protect and sustain us. We can strengthen our faith by beginning each day with prayer and time in God’s Word. We need to change the chilly climate of our hearts and cultivate a tender relationship with Jesus. These disciplines will sustain us when we are tempted to flinch and turn away from God’s presence.

There is no need to fear any condemnation from God when we come close and confess our sins. God loves us and died for us even before we sought Him out. That is the wonderful, comforting thing about God’s Grace.

UncategorizedJim Vogelzang
Do Not Conform—Be Transformed
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Numerous TV shows portray virtuous police officers becoming exactly like the people they’re trying to bust. This happens in real life too. We read about cops who steal the money from a drug bust and keep it for themselves. This risk of becoming like the people around us is a persistent and dangerous threat to our Christian walk. When people who scoff at God and practice sinful deeds surround us, we are tempted to become like them. It’s like swimming in a cesspool, and it’s very difficult to avoid the stink.

The apostle Paul writes about this problem in Romans 12:2. He uses the word conform to indicate the gradual process by which we take on and adopt the rules and standards of those around us. If we are not careful, we can slowly find ourselves becoming insensitive to God’s leading and His grace.

Paul gives us the formula for resisting this temptation when he instructs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we’ve said before: How we think determines how we act. If our minds focus on negative things, we will behave in sinful ways. However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, our whole lives will be transformed.

To renew something often involves stripping off the old and replacing it with something better. As our lives have been stripped of drug addiction, guilt, and shame, we apply the finishing coat of Jesus over our new minds. Then to keep our minds fresh, we need to worship—not only individually through prayer and Bible study, but also with the prison church. This will help us keep our minds focused on the right things as we fight the pressures of everyday life and the dangers of returning to lives that dishonored Jesus.

UncategorizedJim Vogelzang
Friendship with the World
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Take a look at this Bible verse from James 4…”You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” This can be a confusing verse, even though it seems pretty straightforward. Does it mean that as followers of Jesus we must separate ourselves from all the pleasures and wonderful things that Creation offers? Are we denied permission to participate and enjoy the good things of earth? No! It doesn’t mean that at all. This is not what James is talking about.

God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced them good (see Genesis 1). He is a very loving, creative God, and He desires that we, His children, enjoy what He has made for us. He feels the same way about giving pleasure to His children as we did when we took our kids to see a major league baseball game or baked chocolate brownies for them. God is delighted when we’re happy.

What James means in today’s passage by “the world” is everything that lies outside the community of God’s people. A list of those things— including adultery, greed, pride, and anger—are listed in Galatians 5. When we indulge this worldly frame of mind, we are at odds with what God wants for us. The Bible instructs us to imitate the humble character of Jesus and to live unselfish lives of service to others. When we choose the way of the world, we lead self-centered lives that often abuse others. We indulge in drugs, sex, and booze, and don’t give a rip about others. When we live by the world’s standards, it’s all about getting more money, more power to boss others around, greater status and prestige. Those things identify us and define us.

There is no accommodation of these two worldviews. There is no compromise available. We delude ourselves if we think we can have both. We cannot. It is our personal responsibility to make a choice between them. One route leads to bondage…the other to abundant life…which way will you go?

Jim Vogelzang
Kingly Character  
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An incident in the early life of David instructs us about how God sees people and how we should see them as well.

God was not happy with King Saul, so He told His prophet Samuel that He wanted to anoint another man to be king. God directed Samuel to travel to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. When Samuel arrived, Jesse did what any man in his community would have done: he brought his firstborn son to Samuel. Eliab was tall, handsome, and strong. Samuel looked at Eliab and said to himself, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 16:6). But Samuel was wrong. There is an important lesson for us in his error.

We often make the same mistake Samuel did. We are attracted to things that are superficial. We look at other women in the office  and judge them according to their looks or clothes. We honor the guys who are wealthy, powerful or great looking. The timid and unattractive are often ignored. We are blind to the things that God sees. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous speech, I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Dr. King was talking about “kingly character.” A kingly character looks to serve others, not to use them.

As we live our daily lives, let’s not make the blunder Samuel did. Let’s evaluate men and women based on what is in their hearts, not on their looks or manners or popularity. Let’s avoid the trap that sees only people’s external qualities. Let’s look at the eternal qualities and see value where none was visible before.

Releasing Hate

Jesus loved all people, not judging them for their gender, occupation, or race. When Jesus rose from the dead, He announced His resurrection to Mary. Jesus worked through a woman to bring Peter and John to Him. This was radical. Women had no status in first- century Jerusalem. Women couldn’t offer testimony at a trial, and men rarely spoke to women in public.

Jesus also did not discriminate on the basis of occupation.

He chose Matthew, a Jewish tax collector, to be His disciple. Tax collectors could charge whatever they wanted, as long as Rome got its share. As a result, tax collectors were considered traitors. The Jews hated them, yet Jesus chose a tax collector to be a disciple.

On another occasion Jesus went to Samaria and spoke to an adulterous Samaritan woman—an unthinkable gesture. Not only were Samarians considered to be trash, but He—a Jewish male— spoke to a woman who everyone in the town knew was sleeping around. His love reached beyond social barriers.

When we follow Jesus, we cannot hate others because of their skin color, political affiliations, job, chosen religion, or sexual preference. If we say we believe in Jesus, we give up any thoughts of revenge and feelings of contempt or disgust that we felt before we knew the Lord. Our unity with Christ through His sacrifice for our sins makes it unacceptable to hate others.

If these words irritate us, we have a problem. Are we mentally scrolling through the directory of our church or business or country club and mentally naming those we hate because they are people of color, Democrat or Republicans or gay? Then the love of Christ is not in us! We shouldn’t be fooled or misled. We cannot hate those who are different and love God at the same time. To think otherwise is a delusion.

Worship Unites Us

To many people, the suggestion that worship and religion unite us is absurd. They point out that millions have been killed in the name of God through religious wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. They argue that religion has been a great source of division and suffering in the world—and in some ways they are correct.

Religion focusing on “do’s and don’ts” kills the spirit. It is a set of rules and regulations that people use to show God that they are acceptable to Him. By keeping a set of rules and regulations, they mistakenly feel they have done something good—and God is obligated to accept them. They count on their performance to earn God’s love. Jesus had harsh words for rule-keepers—people like the Pharisees—because they missed the Gospel message: God loves and accepts us, even though we are sinners who offend Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to die for us (see Romans 5:8). When we fully understand this undeserved gift, we respond by doing good things and avoiding sinful acts. Religion tied to regulations leads to arrogant self-righteousness.

However, a relationship with Jesus leads to a life of service to others in love.

When we worship together, knowing that our sin has been covered, our worship unites us. It deepens our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood by pointing out our common needs. True worship reminds us that we are all sinners, making it difficult to point a finger of accusation at someone else. The fruit of the Spirit grows in each one of us, resulting in unity and loving attitudes.

Jesus came to abolish religion and replace it with a relationship with Him. We cannot earn His love; He gives it to us for free.

The Power of Music

Music contains great power both to soothe us when we’re anxious and to stir up our emotions. Dentists’ offices play soft music. NBA pre-game music is loud and piercing. Advertising companies work overtime creating catchy jingles to remind us of their products.

Music plays an important role in our walk with God too. It can either help us combat evil, or it can lead us into evil. Like a rudder on a boat, music can set our frame of mind and steer our attitudes and actions toward something good or evil.

Music that degrades male or female dignity and glorifies drug use will poison our minds. Music and words create images in our brains. We visualize shameful stuff in our heads. And what we think is what we do. Bad stuff—wrong direction!

The opposite is also true. Rising from our beds with the words to “Awesome God” running through our heads makes it easier to sidestep the devil’s assault in the office. Quietly singing “Amazing Grace” as we walk to lunch with a friend focuses us on God’s gift instead of our worries. Martin Luther, who wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” felt music was not our invention but rather a gift from God. He taught that the devil hates it because music drives evil out of us. Luther was right.

We must be extra careful about the music that goes into our ears and into our brains. We don’t eat garbage, so why feed it into our heads through our ears? When we put wholesome spiritual food into our bodies, we can expect good spiritual health as a result. We need to discover the power of music and its effects for good or evil in our lives. After we start the day in prayer and in God’s Word, let’s add His music to our souls.

Obey…Don’t Delay?

 

Someone said, “The real disasters in life happen when we get what we want.” We can relate to that. Some of you women readers wanted a man in your lives so badly you would have done most anything. Then, you got one, he verbally abused you, ignored you and treated you with contempt, all the while expecting you to cook, clean and sleep with them! You soon discovered you were better off without him.

Although that statement is true in some human circumstances, it’s not true in our relationship to God. Sometimes the problem is that when God speaks to us, He says things we don’t want to hear. Our idea of what we want God to say is different from what He says. We pray that “Thy Will be done,” but really would like to know what God’s Will is BEFORE we agree to obey and follow. This is not surrender to God but our attempt to keep control over our lives, while asking God for directions.

Our plan may be for God to give us financial security so we can mentor young men and women to help them avoid the mistakes that could send them to prison. A worthy and noble aspiration! But what is our reaction when God speaks to us and we hear Him plainly command us to minister to the homeless community that resides in a tent city a block from our house? Whoa! We immediately think, God must be mistaken. We turn it over in our minds, looking for a sign that we didn’t hear correctly. This is wrong!

Oswald Chambers writes in his book “My Utmost for His Highest” about trying to rationalize that we didn’t hear God correctly. “When I have to weigh the pros and cons, and doubt and debate come in, I am bringing in an element that is not of God, and I come to the conclusion that the suggestion was not a right one.” Our unwillingness to pay attention to what God says may very well lead to disobedience that disappoints God. But obedience leads to a richer and fuller faith. When we hear God’s voice, we must move on it and begin to obey. Let God’s hand be played out on His card table. When it’s over, we may be privileged to witness the results of His work through our efforts. If so, we’ll finally see that He was correct.

In closing, ask yourself, what attitudes lead you to discard your ideas of what you think God has planned for your life and really hear and accept His leading

Out with the Old Life

Going to a funeral isn’t high on any of our lists. Funerals mean we’ve lost someone we know or love. We experience pain and sorrow, along with tears and crying. Not a very good time, usually.

Yet for us to get right with God, we’ve all got to attend what Oswald Chambers would call our own “white funeral”—the burial of our old lives. We call it a white funeral because our old natures—the accepted wisdom that we’ve relied on has gotten us nowhere—must die. Most of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior remember the exact time and date when we attended our own white funeral. Our needs changed from craving success, status, and material pleasures to craving a relationship with Jesus. It is as if we became captivated by God. The Holy Spirit pulled at our hearts like a magnet. We became new persons on the inside.

For those of us who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus, we need a white funeral—to be born again. We may scratch our heads, not really knowing what that means. What it means is this: When we come to that place where our hearts cry out to God and we open them to the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ enters into our hearts. If we truly appeal to God to change our lives in a transforming way, our old natures die and our new natures are born. We gain freedom from guilt, fear, anger, and an unforgiving heart. In its place is a heart that acknowledges sin and comprehends Jesus’ amazing sacrifice on our behalf. We become newborns—new creations in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our sinful selves die; we bury it at our “white funeral” and begin a new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

Fruit of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit promises to grow the Fruit of His Spirit in our lives. But what does that actually mean and how do they manifest themselves on our daily walk, at work, with our families? Lets look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23:

Love: This fruit encompasses them all. When we love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19), it shows that we understand grace and have accepted God’s love for us.

Joy: When we know our names are written in the Book of Life, because of His grace, we will be joyful in the way we act and conduct ourselves around other inmates.

Peace: When we have “made peace with God,” we will cease to be anxious. Our fruit will be a calm, untroubled spirit.

Patience: “Passive” love shows itself in a spirit of tolerance and endurance around any type of personality we meet.

Kindness: “Active” love is the most convincing evidence of God’s love for us. When we are kind, people will be attracted to the Word and to us.

Goodness: Generous and good people do the right thing, even when it hurts or pricks our pride.

Faithfulness: Integrity—doing what we say we are going to do—means we walk the talk.

Gentleness: This fruit makes the weak strong and the strong gentle.

Self-control: When we show this fruit to others, they will respect us and be convinced that we have changed.

When we bear this kind of fruit, we will live the abundant, fruitful life and lead others to it, as well!

 

 

 

Compound Interest

Famous scientist Albert Einstein was asked what he believed was his greatest discovery. He replied, “Compound interest.” Loan sharks know about compound interest and how it works. A person borrows $1,000 from a loan shark at 30% interest per week. After the first week, the person owes $1,300. Without a payment, after two weeks, the victim owes $1690. After three weeks, $2,197, and on and on.

Sin compounds too. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. And apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

Every day at the office, on the road or in our neighborhood tavern, we make decisions. Swearing, bad-mouthing the boss, our wives or boyfriends are just a few bad loans we take from Satan, the ultimate loan shark. Macho trash talk sows a negative seed. That seed grows, and a plan emerges. Once the action plan is in place, it takes only a moment of madness for our world to blow up. On the other hand, when we attempt to love people as Jesus commands, we find ourselves liking them more. As we practice good feelings toward people, we find ourselves liking more people…including those we could never imagine liking.

Walk with Einstein and give Compound Interest a try!

 

 

The Escalator of Temptation

For most of us, if we had the history of our problematic behaviors printed out it would resemble “rap sheets” similar to criminals arrested many times. Many us would have long “rap sheets” that probably don’t begin to detail our entire sketchy history of activity. Our “rap sheets” most likely began with petty stuff. We stole a little beer from our parents, lifted a few bucks from Dad’s wallet, but soon found ourselves wanting and doing ever more dangerous and serious stuff. Temptation is an escalator…it moves us from minor to more difficult indiscretions. Take Rachel’s true story as an example.

Rachel was eleven when her parents split up. She was angry with her parents and angry with herself since she mistakenly blamed herself for her parents’ divorce.

The rage got worse when her mom’s new boyfriend started making sexual moves on her when she turned thirteen. It boiled over when her mother didn’t believe her when she told her about the advances. Rachel decided to run away.

Once on her own, Rachel needed food and began stealing it. Then someone offered her some weed, which took the pain away temporarily. Money was always a problem, so Rachel traded her body for food and drugs. That led to numerous arrests. After getting out, Rachel hooked up with a pimp who was also responsible for a large cook of meth. She started to use and then agreed to sell it. She was busted and sent away for eight years for distribution.

The devil is never satisfied with little temptations. His goal is to lead us up the escalator to “bigger and badder” sins. Remember: King David’s adultery with Bathsheba started with just a peek and ended up being first-degree murder.

We need to understand temptation. We need to know where it comes from, what it looks like, and how it works so that we can identify it, prepare for it, and deal with it. Temptation is ultimately a test. Will we do the right thing, or will we give in to the temptation?

When we realize that each temptation leads to greater sin, we need to stop and think. We must recognize the path that we’re on. Never be deceived into thinking temptation is a one-shot deal.

Jesus was tempted too. Jesus did not give in. He did not sin in the face of temptation. He won the battle. We serve a Savior who faced the same temptations we do every day. Jesus went into the wilderness for a showdown with Satan, the enemy of our souls—and Jesus won!

Let’s be on our guard. We can be confident of God’s strength to give us victory over temptation.

God’s Repair Shop

Some days we feel broken. Shattered. Useless. We wonder if God could ever find us useful to Him.

We need to remember that even if our lives are completely blown up, they can be repaired. God is a repairman who fixes shattered lives and makes them whole again. His tools are conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sin. These are the tools of deep, permanent, personal change in our lives.

One of the dangerous facts about sin is that the more it increases, the more our awareness of it often decreases. We become numb to our own inner rebellion. We need the touch of the Holy Spirit—or friends who are willing to be honest with us—to make us aware of our sins. Conviction is the first great tool in God’s repair shop.

Once convicted, we must confess our sins to God. When we confess them, we are agreeing with God that we are not in tune with His plan for our lives. Our confessions to Him tune the radio of our hearts to the exact frequency, bringing clear music into our souls.

When we repent, we turn away from our sinful behavior. We admit that the problem lies in us. When we repent, we give God permission to begin His repair work.

God’s forgiveness is like the finish coat of paint on an old toy. It makes it look new again. Forgiveness helps us begin to feel worthwhile again. Our spirits are made whole. We can begin to perceive ourselves as worthy because we are worthy in God’s eyes.

 

 

New Life

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become totally new persons. Our old life of bondage is gone, and a new life of freedom begins. Many of us know bondage. Some of us were (or still are) in slavery to drugs. We know fear and what it feels like to be really afraid. Many of us were abused and are now held hostage by feelings of abandonment and rejection. We still feel the pinch of the shackles of hopelessness around the wrists and ankles of our lives.

We carry around the chains of pride and self-centeredness that prevent us from asking God to unlock the manacles of hopelessness. Some of us are afraid to trust Christ because we don’t really believe He will get our lives right. We fall into the trap of thinking that a life in Christ is all about rules and regulations. It isn’t. Anything that stresses rules and regulations as a way to God may be a religion, but it’s not a relationship. It is not true Christianity. When Jesus saves us, He saves us for a life of freedom—not freedom to sin, but freedom to do the right things.

Our Savior’s keys unlock our chains. Our old lives—with their bondage and negative patterns—are gone. A process of change begins. Our old lives are like polluted fish tanks that smell up a room when the water filter is broken. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He places a new water filter in the water tanks of our lives. He drops chlorine tablets into the reservoir of our hearts. The result is pure, sweet water that promotes life and health and hope.

Point Them to Jesus

Taking our faith in Jesus to work or out with our friends is an intimidating thing. We are considered wimps or worse for believing in Jesus, and we get confronted with tough questions. People want to know why a “loving” God allows starvation in Africa or massive earthquakes in poor countries or a gunman killing six-year-old kids at school. They consider us extremist, arrogant and intolerant for believing that Christianity is the only way to God.

While we should and can validate their questions and exhibit Jesus’ sympathetic and understanding heart, we must avoid the devil’s trap. Don’t let those taunts and questions intimidate us and prevent us from proclaiming the truth. So how do we avoid that ambush and share our faith? Point them to Jesus!

Jesus is not a religion—He’s a person. That makes all the difference. He the foundation that must be addressed before any other issues are talked about. As any builder knows, the foundation is the most important thing to get right. It does no good to discuss kitchen cabinets until the foundation is squared away.

People must decide who Jesus is. They must be given the chance to examine His life and ministry so that they can decide if He is a liar, a nut-job, or Lord of the universe. If they reject the claims of Jesus, then discussing God with them is a waste of time. If they come to accept Jesus as Lord, then the tough issues are put into context of a loving Lord who gave His life for us.

If the hub of a wheel is true to form, the whole wheel performs correctly. When we take our faith to the yard, we must take our searching sisters and brothers to meet the risen Lord. Everything else will fall into place once they get Jesus right!

How Do We Mature?

When we discover something for the first time and like what we’ve learned, we usually get excited about it. We can remember the excitement of skateboarding, fly fishing or putting on makeup for the first time. Similarly, many of us recall our excitement when we first came to Christ. We experienced His forgiveness and acceptance. We wanted to shout it from the rooftops.

Many new believers are on fire for evangelism and may impulsively walk into the coffee break room at work and declare the Gospel to every bleary-eyed coffee drinker in the room. Or we take the microphone at a family reunion and preach a ten-minute sermon when all they asked us to do was open with prayer. We buttonhole our team at the bowling league and drive them to distraction with our over-the-top testimonials about Jesus! Ugh! Even seasoned Christians might get tired of this type of over enthusiastic evangelism!

As admirable as this enthusiasm is, the Bible teaches us that we need to mature, allowing older Christians to counsel us. Just as sixteen-year-olds need driver’s training to go along with new driving privileges, newborn Christians need mentoring. Mature believers in our church have the responsibility to recognize that new Christians need help. In their passion for Jesus, new Christians may be judgmental. They may rightly identify sin but could harshly condemn it in others, without the love and gentleness more mature men and women of faith might exercise. Baby Christians can be quite demanding in their desire to be fed. Just as newborn babies demand feeding, baby Christians insist on getting attention. Full-grown believers must teach and offer loving suggestions for contemplation, personal Bible study, prayer, and corporate worship. Allow new believers to mature before electing them to positions of leadership (see 1 Timothy 3:6).

The body of Christ in our world today has many members, and each must nurture the other. New Christians must submit to the authority of the mature members, while the mature saints must not smother the ardor of the new ones. In unity, the work of Christ moves forward.

Prisons Without Walls

Many of us are in prisons without walls.  Those prisons are self-made places of confinement that we have constructed in our minds. Built over time, we believe that because of some of the things we have done in our lives, God could never love us. The devil whispers to us, “God could never love someone who has had an abortion, abused drugs, gotten divorced or hooked up on a regular basis.”  As usual, the devil’s got it wrong!

One of the amazing things about God’s love is that He loves us despite who we are, not because of who we are. That is radical grace. We all have spent too many years trying to be someone who was worthy of another’s love. We’ve tried to earn love from our parents, our boyfriends, the people we work with, drug dealers, and our bosses. We’ve worked hard to be rich enough, pretty enough, or tough enough to deserve their attention and love. God’s love works differently. God sent His own Son to die for us while we were still sinners. (See Romans 5:8, But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.) Even when we were selling dope, cheating on our income taxes or worse…God loved us. He doesn’t say to us, “Straighten yourself up and clean yourself off and then I’ll take a look at you.” No. He loves us as we are—period.

Another amazing thing about God’s love is that it’s extravagant, over-the-top. God doesn’t skimp on love. He shows His love by sending His own Son—not some low-level flunky—to die for us. He sent His own Son—His only Son—to die for us. Most of us have never experienced that kind of unconditional love.

That unconditional love is life-changing. It offers forgiveness and gives us value, hope, and peace. When it seems dark in our bedrooms are 3 A.M., we can hear His voice calling our name, saying, “I love you just the way you are. Come to Me. Accept My love. My Son has covered your sin.” Who wouldn’t want to say yes to that kind of love?