Posts in Christianity
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.

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!

 

 

 

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.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cannot “Earn” God’s Love

The writer Helen Wodehouse said, “We think we must climb to a certain height of goodness before we can reach God. But He [God] does not say, ‘At the end of the way you may find me’; He says, ‘I am the Way; I am the road under your feet, the road that begins just as low down as you happen to be.’ If we are in a hole, the Way begins in the hole. The moment we set our face in the same direction as His, we are walking with God.”

Many of us wake up each morning feeling that God could never love us. People we trusted sometimes sexually abused us as children and then afterward angrily told us we were worthless. As adults, we often stayed in abusive relationships, hopelessly searching for love. We misguidedly thought that if we treated our abusers better, we could earn their love.

Many of us view a relationship with a loving God in the same twisted way. We mistakenly feel we must “be good” to earn His love. Nothing is further from the truth!

God does not care where we have been; He is concerned only about where we are going. He searches for us and meets us where we are. God comes alongside us at the most depressing moment of our lives and whispers that He loves us, forgives us, and believes in us (see John 3:16; Jeremiah 29:11). We can trust those words!

We can experience God’s redeeming love. We can cop to the sin in our lives and turn away (repent) from it (see 1 John 1:9). When we confess and change direction, we will be on the right road. His genuine, authentic love will flood our hearts as we walk in His direction.

 

Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Christmas is a happy time! Christmas is a time when trees are decorated with lights and ornaments, gifts are bought, put under the tree and families gather to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. The popular Christmas songs we play create a mood and atmosphere of playfulness and warm feelings. The popular song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, while it may be true for us, for those souls in prison, it is the very opposite. The Holidays, especially for women in prison are a period of aggravated loneliness and severe self-loathing. Self-loathing and self-hatred flourish during the holidays for the incarcerated because they cannot be with their families…and, they know the reasons why. They have been convicted of a crime where the penalty is separation from society. They understand that, but recognition of their mistakes does nothing to alleviate the pain of their not being able to hug their babies, or press their noses against their child’s neck and inhale the sweet smell of their young child’s skin. They understand their actions and mistakes have caused their pain, but that makes them feel even worse about themselves. Christmastime, rather than being a time of family celebration and warm feelings, becomes, for women in prison, similar to being on a merry-go-round that has stopped dead. Life is no longer moving and all they can do is wait, pray and cry themselves to sleep. It is a very rough, tough and relentlessly cruel period of time for those in prison.

As followers of Jesus, we are not told to open up the prison doors and let everyone out regardless of crime. We are not commanded to ignore personal consequences and individual accountability. To be sure, Jesus would not advocate for a quick fix.

Rather, Jesus calls us to visit those in prison (See Matthew 25). To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He instructs us to love and visit them, and in doing so, love and visit Him, by proxy.

How can we do that? Several ways:

  • Give a Gift: Prison Fellowship sponsors a program called Angel Tree. Angel Tree (pfm.org). PFM works with local churches and organizations to provides the names of the children of those incarcerated to people who are willing to buy a gift and have it delivered to the child in the parent’s name (google Angel Tree in your town).
  • Write a ChristmasCard: Every prison has a Chaplain that can receive Christmas cards, even written anonymously, and distributed to inmates who wish a card. Look up a prison nearest to you on the Internet for specific facility information.
  • Google “prison ministry (your city’s name): You will be astounded at how many small boutique prison ministries exist to help you connect with those hurting this Christmas Season.

All it takes is the willingness to help and the awareness that there are women and men who need to feel Jesus’ love through you and your efforts. Let them know, during this Christmas season, they are remembered! Do it today!

 

 

Jesus Ain’t Santa Claus

We all have a need to feel connected to another human being. Good marriages thrive on communication. Without daily sharing, one partner feels disconnected and alone. Suicides occur when people lose all loving contact with another human being. In our daily friendships, we require connection to each other. The people with whom we eat lunch or work out with, offer us a sense of community that’s vital to mental health and happiness. But sometimes spouses or friends abuse that connection by using us for their own selfish, personal advantage. Some of us have been ripped off by a “friend” who stole from us to feed her habit. Perhaps we’ve done it to someone else. Any betrayal damages trust, but it also makes it less likely that we’ll offer that gift of connection again. Think about how we treat God and the connection He offers us through the intimacy of prayer. Don’t we often bring our own selfish wish list to our prayers? Don’t we often consider God a sort of Santa Claus and try to make deals with Him? And then we wonder why our prayers never seem to get an answer! Consider what James said about that, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3 Prayer is not a way to get our wish list completed. Jesus is not our gofer who is just about giving us what we want!

Rather, and more important, prayer is a direct link to the Creator of the universe. He has a plan for our lives, but like most plans, He needs to share them with us. Without our willingness to put aside our selfish concerns and really be quiet and listen to God speaking to us, we’ll never learn what He wants to say to us.

When we pray, let’s connect to God by using our ears first and our mouths second. Let’s keep our motives pure and ask God for the things we need so that we can serve Him.

 

Getting Virtues into our Lives: Virtues Practiced

We have been looking at 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s famous chapter on Love and what author Henry Drummond had to say about it in his essay, The Greatest Thing in the World. We have studied one virtue per month that when taken together form Love, i.e., The Greatest Thing in the World. But as we read about these virtues, we admire them and would welcome them into our lives on a daily basis, but we also wonder how we do that? How can we get patience, kindness, generosity and humility, to name just a few, into our everyday persona? How do we learn to Love? The answer is the same answer to the question asked of a taxi driver in New York City. When a tourist asked, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" the driver sarcastically replied, "Practice, practice, practice.”"

Drummond speaks to that taxi driver’s snarky (but accurate) response when he says:

"The world is not a playground; it is a school-room. Life is not a holiday; but and education. And one eternal lesson for us all is how better can we love. What makes a man a good (musician, sculptor, artist or athlete)…practice. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character."

Christian character is crafted out of ever-changing circumstances. Sometimes the times are wonderful and happy; other times it is a trial and temptation. We should give thanks to God for both occasions. The good times are a classroom to practice humility. When we are flush with money, generosity should flourish in our hearts. But it is the tough times and painful experiences that mold our characters the most. Someone once said, "Pain is the Mother of Compassion." That person was insightful.

We cannot isolate ourselves when times are good nor shrink away and curse our God when times are tough. When times are calm, we have the luxury of focusing on what pleases us. But it is the storms of life that build character. The German poet Goethe said as much when he wrote: "Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life."

Do you want to be patient, kind, humble and generous? Then make a point to practice these virtues everyday, in some situation, for someone. You will be surprised as how fast these virtues take root in your souls.

Thanksgiving: A New Perspective!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Thanksgiving Day is a time set aside for us to acknowledge our gratitude and thanks to God and those around us for the bounty and blessings we have received. If over the last year our bosses gave us a bonus, we give thanks. If our children or spouses have been healthy and successful, we give thanks. Thanksgiving Day is almost 100% about expressing heartfelt gratitude for things we have received.

And, this is exactly the right thing to do. However, the Apostle Paul offers a new perspective on giving thanks that leads to banishment of fear and anxiety. In addition, the fear and anxiety is replaced with a peace that defies understanding…and the key to it is…giving thanks!

When we read the above listed passage from Philippians, we notice that we are instructed to not be anxious about anything…that would include, but not be limited to…our finances, our health, our jobs, our marriages or relationships…or absence of the same. It means giving up our fears about our children, grandchildren, and sons in prison or the drugs that assault our schools every day.

Paul teaches us to do three things: pray…petition (request, implore, plead) and give THANKS! Now, we certainly GET the first two…but most of us feel Paul has got the third thing wrong. How can we give thanks for something we have yet to receive? Are we supposed to thank God for an outcome that we are not sure is correct? Paul must have this one out of place…surely we should wait until we know what God’s answer is BEFORE we offer up Thanksgiving to God for His answer?

But Paul has not got it wrong. To receive the blessings of peace and rest, we need to trust God and do all three things. This means that we give THANKS to God for His answer to our prayers BEFORE we know the answer! This faith and trust in His provision signals to God that we are willing to acknowledge that His answers to prayer are better than our expectations…that HE WILL GET IT RIGHT! Faith that delivers freedom from anxiety and fear begins with the faith and trust that prays this prayer: “God hear the prayer that I would have prayed, if I had all your information.”

Let this Thanksgiving Day be one where we offer up praise and thanks for answers yet unknown…and live with adequacy knowing God has our back!

 

The Importance of Unity

Many church choirs are very good. They’re easy on the ears because there is a unified blending between the higher and lower voices. The choir members have common goal, mixing their voices together to create harmony. Sports teams that win championships aren’t always the ones with the most talented athletes. More often, they are the teams that have few superstars but really are united as a team.

Ever wonder why that is so? When people have common goals, like great harmony or winning a championship, they put aside their own agendas and work for that goal. However, if individual egos emerge, disunity destroys the harmony. This is why so many great teams fall apart after big wins. Too many egos want credit and demand bigger contracts. Without unity, the common goal is unreachable.

It is very much the same with the church. The most effective church is one that has the unified purpose of spreading the love of God. The goal is to preach the Good News and nurture those who hear and accept the Word. When new believers accept Christ, they may think that that is enough. But seasoned Christians know that the devil is prowling around, waiting to cause believers to stumble. It is absolutely necessary for new Christians to have a safe and harmonious refuge where they can be nurtured and taught. Then they can grow in Christ. We must commit ourselves to harmony in our churches so that each believer can be an effective servant of Christ.

Spiritual Q-Tips
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Ever feel like God isn’t talking to you? Ever wonder why? To really understand something takes work. If we want to speak another language, we take language lessons and study it. We discipline ourselves to put in the hours to learn. Some of us are great piano players, but did we wake up one day and play jazz piano? Not likely. It took years of practice to achieve excellence. So why don’t we apply this same dedication and discipline to our relationship with God? God called Samuel three times. Samuel was just a boy, but he knew something was up. Samuel heard God’s voice because his ears were trained and open. Why don’t we hear the Lord’s call on our lives? Is it because we take God for granted? Do we expect too much from God, thinking that He will get through to us somehow? Or, are we lazy, letting our ears fill up with the static of the world? To take our relationship with God as seriously as our relationship with our golf buddies or the ladies we catch a drink with, we must get the world’s wax out of our ears. Then when God calls us, we will hear Him.

What are some of the world’s wax that need to be cleaned out of our ears by Christ centered Q-tips? If we are involved in obvious sin, that is, sin directly prohibited by the Bible, we must repent and stop. We all know in our hearts what those sins are, too! Don’t deny or fool yourself. When our ears are clogged up with the wax of spite, hate, discord, envy, greed, lust and sleeping around…we will NOT hear God’s voice. We must use the ear wash of personal devotions every day…for centering in our lives and to help keep those sins we all know about, at bay! And, we must faithfully attend the church services. We may not always get something out of them, but we will never get anything if we don’t attend. Besides our presence in the church may feed someone else. Plus, get into a small group in your church. Only through community and friends will you be able to see yourself clearly.

Start with this treatment of Q-tips and see if your hearing doesn’t improve…it will! With our ears cleaned out, we will hear God’s voice.

ChristianityJim Vogelzang
Joy
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Back in February, there was a really moving story on TV about a young girl in Chicago who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. Her organs were donated to six different persons. Each person came together with the mother of the slain girl to celebrate their happiness and joy because recipients had been given new life because of the death of this young person. There were hugs of gratitude and tears of delight as the recipients celebrated and at the same time, cried for the loss that made it possible. As tragic and wonderful as this story is, it makes us wonder why don’t we celebrate and feel the gratitude and joy that these donor recipient’s felt when we consider the death of Jesus and the new eternal life that comes to us as a result. If we stop long enough to contemplate that the Son of God was killed so that we all could get a new heart transplant, then the joy we might feel might be contagious.

As we spread the joy to others, we will witness to them that our faith is not a bunch of "Thou shalt not’s" Rather, our contagious, joyful faith will infect and draw people to Jesus. Joyful people are kind people. Kind people are the most convincing evidence of God’s love.

It all starts with gratitude for the undeserved gift of a transplanted heart (grace). When we recognize the new life that new heart offers us, really recognize the enormity of the gift… Joy is the emotion… kindness is the gift to others… and to Jesus.

Living Without Fear
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Ever consider the real reasons why we obey traffic laws, don’t we cheat on our income taxes, and do not even consider stealing shoes, perfume or other items when we go into a store? We all like to think of ourselves as upstanding, moral human beings. Our answer is most likely, "Because it is the right thing to do!" But if we are honest with ourselves, a very big reason we obey the police, don’t steal, tell the truth on our taxes and are faithful to our spouses is FEAR. It is the fear of landing in jail… fear of going to prison for tax evasion and fear of divorce… or worse… if we got catch cheating.

So, ask yourself, why do we obey God’s laws? Why are we moral and regular church attenders? Could it be the same reason that we avoid the issues listed above… FEAR? Are we afraid that if we sleep around, do drugs or do not give enough to the church, God will notice and punish us? Are we frightened that if we do not memorize enough Scripture and volunteer the perfect number of hours, somehow we just might not be "good enough" to be accepted into heaven when it is our time to die? Is it a spirit of fear that is our incentive to live good lives?

The Bible speaks about how perfect love drives out fear. (See I John 4:18 and Romans 8:15). It expresses how the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on our hearts and does not make us slaves to fear or bondage. What does that mean for us?

It means that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us that the perfect love of God was coupled with His wisdom and expressed to us with Jesus death and resurrection.

It means that the Holy Spirit will change our incentives and motivations from fear to joyful gratitude.

The Holy Spirit points us towards recognition of the fact that in Jesus we have the perfect example of God’s love. When we recognize and receive this perfect gift our responses change. The fears of losing out, fears of not being good enough, fears of punishment are banished. As God's heirs, we rest in the kind, loving arms of a God who valued us so much He sent His only Son to rescue us.

Live without fear!

What The Cross Tells Us
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Easter has passed. The celebrations have ended, but what are the lessons of Easter and the Cross for us going forward? What does the Cross tell us about ourselves and about God? If we broke the law but received a summons in the mail from the NYPD, we might not consider our crime is not all that serious. If we found out that the NYPD had put out an APD (All Points Bulletin) on us, we would immediately know it is more serious. If the NYPD linked up with the FBI and a SWAT teams in helicopters, there would be no doubt that we that we were in serious trouble.

When we take stock of our lives we usually think, "We’re OK…not the best, but better than most." We really feel that our sin is not that big of a deal. We sometimes wonder why God makes such a fuss over it. We sometimes think, God, just send us the speeding ticket and we will pay the fine…

So seriously consider this: What then does it say about our self-centered, human natures, our personal lives and behavior on Earth that it took the Son of God hanging on the Cross to make us right with God? Much more than being in trouble with the police force that requires a SWAT Team, we are out of sync with Almighty God. We are out of harmony with Him. What it tells us in BOLD TYPE is that we are more corrupted, messed up, sinful, than we ever dared imagine…and it took the Son of God’s death to fix it!

But wait! The news gets better…

Because, in God’s wisdom, He sent Jesus to pay the ransom for our debt (sin) it also shouts at us that we are more precious, more valued and more loved than we ever dared hope.

Here, in this passion play is the essence of the Gospel. We did not and cannot earn salvation. There are no tricks, good works or donations that we can offer to secure a righteous standing before God. Only our humble, surrendered hearts accepting this free gift allows us to stand before Him, justified.

Justified before God means two things: 1) because of the blood of Christ, we are declared “Not Guilty” but 2) we are declared "righteous." This means we are perfect in front of God. We are a sweet aroma in God’s nostrils.

Women and men of God, let these facts about the meaning of the Cross wash over you. And after you realize the gift that is offered, accept it with humility and offer your lives in gratitude in serving Him.

Jesus: The Ultimate Feminist

Jesus and the Apostle Paul place a great deal of emphasis on being a "Son" of God and being called into "Sonship" with Christ (See Matthew 5:9; Luke 6:35; John 12:36; Romans 8:14 & 9: 26; Galatians 3:26 & 4: 4-6). For many women, these passages and references to the Son and Sonship irritate and sometimes cause women to turn away from the Gospel of Jesus. They feel it is not inclusive or worthy of 21st Century thinking. To many it seems outdated and therefore irrelevant.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Jesus is and was the ultimate supporter and promoter of women. To fully understand how significant His affirmations of women were then and are today, we must comprehend the culture of 1st Century Judea.  Then, a woman had no status, nor was her testimony admissible in courts of law.  Men could divorce their wives by simply saying, three times, "I divorce you." Men were not expected to address women in public. Women were treated as possessions. In 1st Century Judea, you had to be a man to inherited family wealth.

Jesus, in 1st Century Judea, by contrast, was the ultimate feminist! No one bestowed honor and value and worth to women more than our Savior. Consider three occasions that prove this point. First, in John 4: 1-42, Jesus meets, talks and asks for a drink of water from the Samaritan woman at the well. By doing this, He broke the rules of male/female relationships. In John 8: 1-11, Jesus defends and counsels the woman caught in adultery. He protects her, values her and gently instructs her to "go and sin no more." Lastly, in John 20: 11-18, Jesus first appears to Mary. He entrusts the most important moment and message of history to a woman! He empowers Mary, who would not normally be believed on any subject, with the responsibility of informing the disciples that He is Risen! By 1st Century standards, this would not have been considered a promising way to begin a religious movement.

Jesus was elevating women to men’s level. Full equality! When Jesus talked to all people about becoming Sons of God and Paul continues with his teachings that we are ALL heirs of God’s bounty and righteousness, they are speaking to ALL people…women included, that they are Sons of God! To Jews listening in 1st Century Jerusalem, Jesus was preaching a radical orthodoxy that made women equal to men. The announcement that all women are equal to men and heirs to the Kingdom of God speaks powerfully to the inclusiveness of the wonderful, God we serve.

Good News, not Good Advice

truth We are all bombarded with self-help programs; programs to treat violent anger, addiction, and other behavioral abnormalities. Sometimes our anger management classes bump into our 12-Step AA and NA schedules. If we are not in group therapy, we are in book clubs that discuss Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Most of these give good advice and counsel. But let’s not mistake good advice for the Good News of Jesus.

Jesus claims that He is the Son of God and the only way to the Father. He is the One who became flesh, was crucified, and rose from the dead. Jesus bridges the gap between sinful humanity and a perfect God. Christ became sin for all of us so that we might be able to live with God for eternity. He paid our debt.

The Good News of Jesus is similar to the New York Times, in that the newspaper shares accounts of events that actually happened—fact not fiction. And Jesus is not fiction. He lived, He loved, He died and He rose from the dead…fact, not fiction.

Jesus is not a self-help guru. To see Jesus as an ancient psychiatrist would be to miss His power and life-changing mission. Many of us prefer the self-help version of Jesus because it allows us to pick and choose which advice to follow. It permits us to keep the rules we like and discard the ones that complicate our lifestyles. It lets us try to save ourselves, rather than surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives.

Imitating Jesus’ commands and life choices is a good thing, but it is not good enough. He wants surrender, not imitation. Bending a knee in total surrender to the living person of Jesus as Savior and accepting His grace is the only way to salvation. This is the cornerstone lesson from the life of Jesus.