Friday, January 26, 2007

In the means-time...

I don't know about you but one of the main things in life that keeps me from experiencing more joy and peace of mind is that I often have my mind set more on the "ends" than on the "means."

Focusing solely or predominantly on the "ends" (the hoped-for end results) can produce some unwanted fruit: lack of joy, lack of peace, impatience, lack of kindness... and so on, you get the gist.

Not that we don't have goals that we keep our eyes on, and not that we don't want our circumstances to change, but I've found that most of life is not lived in the "ends," but rather in the "means" that it takes to get there. And whether or not you ever get to the "ends" that you're hoping for, you cannot avoid the "means" of life!

Perhaps what I'm really talking about when I say "means" is the never-ending (ongoing) daily circumstances of life. So many of our circumstances in life are really part of the means that God is using to get us to various ends, but in so many of our circumstances in life we can't see how God could possibly be doing anything good! And so we pray for the "end" to come. We pray that these circumstances would end quickly and that the great, wonderful, end result would arrive. We "humbly" add, "And may all this be according to Your will and in Your timing." But then 5 seconds later we're wondering again when this will end!

I believe there is meant to be a lot of JOY in the Christian life. I also believe that suffering is a necessary part of the Christian life, and that the hoped-for end result of our suffering... is trusting in God. Oh, Joel, there you go upsetting all those "happy-all-the-time Christians!" (I honestly once heard a preacher say that when you accept Christ, you're happy ALL the time!). Anyway, "suffering" could mean that you don't get to the light before it turns red, or it could mean that you are shipwrecked, stoned almost to death, and receive 39 lashes multiple times, as happened with the Apostle Paul - all while he was doing the Lord's work. It could mean not getting that promotion. It could mean not having all your godly desires fulfilled right here and now. Suffering could mean all kinds of things. I'm sure we could all make a list!

Now, I personally don't believe that God is the author of all our suffering. And if He does intentionally put us into the midst of sticky circumstances, or if He doesn't get us out of all our sticky circumstances, it's not because He likes seeing us suffer. But I believe that He will use any and all of these circumstances in life for one main purpose - to help us to trust Him. I believe the bottom line of the Christian life has absolutely nothing to do with everything going our way and working out just right like an episode of the Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch is fiction. We are living real lives.

The fall of man, back in Genesis, wasn't about disobedience. It wasn't about some great sinful desire that Adam had. Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because he believed the deceit of the serpent, and therefore didn't trust God. God had set everything up for Adam to have perfect union with Him, and great joy and peace. It was a paradise setting that has never, ever been seen since. Adam believed there was something more to be had, and he left behind the sufficiency of God and pursued a path based upon his own sufficiency.

The bottom line of Christianity is faith. Trust God. It's not about "changing your behavior." It's not about "naming, claiming and framing" all your material and spiritual desires. It's not about getting all our circumstances to work out in neat and tidy ways. It's not even about being happy! (Happiness and joy are two different things. Happiness is great, but it's based upon current circumstances being just the way you want it. Joy is a very wonderful fruit that develops from trusting God in the midst of any and all circumstances). I think there are many people who try to set up all the circumstances of their lives to make themselves happy, and they miss out on true, deep joy.

And so this post is really about getting our hearts, our focus, back to trusting in God, no matter what "means" He is using to get us to HIS ends. When we trust Him, our behavior will change naturally, not forcefully. We get so focused on changing behavior - our own behavior and THE BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS! Our loved ones who are caught up in "bad behavior" don't need our lectures about how they need to "stop doing this" and "start doing that." They really need us to be patient and to wrap our arms around them (literally and figuratively) and to join our lives together with them and go through the long process with them of learning to trust God - and who we are in Him.

To summarize, I really believe that God's purposes in the circumstances of our lives are to draw us into deeper, trusting fellowship with Him. Again, JOY is one of the many wonderful fruits that comes from trust. He Himself is our sufficiency. I believe that's the bottom line of our relationship with Him! I think He'll use all kinds of ways to help us trust Him. So since life is mostly "means" and not "ends," enjoy the means that He is using to draw you into that trustful place.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Just for fun...!

Tagged by nightwatch

Here we go...! Nightwatch tagged me and these are the instructions.

1) grab the nearest book to you
2) go to page 123
3) go to the fourth sentence and post the next three sentences
4) name the title and author of the book
5) tag three others to do the same

(What a cool game!)

I am surrounded by books, working on a class for church! The nearest book is "Grace Rules" by Steve McVey.

"A clear understanding will draw the Christian toward Jesus Christ. When grace rules our decision-making process, our focus will be on Him, not a plan. ¶ The propensity toward seeking the right path presents another subtle danger."

If you want to know what that subtle danger is... read the book. :)

water powered cars, laboring to rest and branch of vine... consider yourselves TAGGED! I linked to your blogs, but that's not in the instructions... it's just something I do. ;)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Convicted of Righteousness

"But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." (John 16:5-11)

A friend and I have been working together on an outline for Week 1 of a 6-week class we'll be teaching called "Who Are You - Identity Revealed." The overall gist of the class, as you can probably tell by the title, is our identity in Christ. The title of the first week is "What is the Gospel?" Our cornerstone verse for this week is Romans 1:17. Many of us have the verse preceding it memorized (Romans 1:16 - "I am not ashamed of the gospel..."), but what about this:

For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:17)

The gospel is a revelation of a righteousness that man could never have come up with on his own - God's very own righteousness! Before coming to know Jesus Christ by faith, the very best we had to offer God was our own righteousness (self-righteousness). If, after Romans 1:17, you continue reading up to Romans 3:21, you will see the Apostle Paul making a very strong case against man's righteousness. It's really an in-depth account of all of man's unrighteousness. No one is excluded. Isaiah had been very clear with it as well: "But we are all like and unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6a).

So it's made very clear that all our righteousness amounts to is filthy rags to God. Look at the term "filthy rags" in the original language - it's really talking about the "rags" from a woman's monthly cycle. No need to go further in-depth there... ;)

What is so very "good" about the good news is that a righteousness is revealed that has absolutely nothing to do with our own attempts at it. Again, "filthy rags" is the very best we have to offer God. The gospel, the good news, is a revelation of righteousness that we could never, ever come up with on our own. It is righteousness that is given to us as a gift from God. It is His very own righteousness - which is the only thing He accepts as righteousness!

In the passage above (John 16:5-11), Jesus says the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. What is the reason He gives when talking about being convicted of sin? He says the world will be convicted of sin, "because they do no believe in Me." Are you among those who don't believe in Him? Then count yourself among those who are convicted of sin. But... are you among those who have now believed in Him? Then get your conscience into the place where it's meant to be, and allow yourself to understand that you are no longer among those who are convicted of sin. You've been there in the past, when you walked in unbelief. But now you've believed, and now you are among those who are convicted of righteousness!!!

In our class, we'll be talking a lot about what the Bible says about us as believers. Here's just a portion of some of what we'll be sharing:

You are a new creation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (II Corinthians 5:17)

You've been made the righteousness of God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthians 5:21)

You have been given righteousness. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified [made righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:11)

You don't have your own righteousness, but His. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death... (Philippians 3:8-10)

You are righteous apart from your works. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit... (Titus 3:4-5)

There really is too much to get into right now, in regards to who we are in Christ, and in regards to the righteousness in which we stand - God's righteousness. The whole point here is that we are righteous. Fully and completely. It's not because of anything we've done or not done. It's a gift of God. Instead of walking around in guilt because of things you may have done, let the Holy Spirit convict your conscience of righteousness!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Why were Jesus and the disciples persecuted? Why were the people of the early church persecuted? And another important question - who persecuted them?

In Western Christian culture, we tend to think of persecution as "good Christians" being put down or made fun of by "sinners." But I guess I just don't see that happening to Jesus or to the early church. The persecution that Jesus, the disciples and the early church received was from the religious people! Jesus was not put down and mocked - and ultimately killed - because He went around telling "bad" people to start being "good." He was hated by the religious people because He put His arms around sinners. He supped with them. He loved them.

Jesus told His disciples, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). It's true that many people today hate Christians. We've done a good job of making sure that's the case! But... I think we've gotten them to hate us for the wrong reasons! In fact, I think we've gotten the wrong people to hate us!

Jesus told His disciples, "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2). The people who hated Jesus and the disciples believed in God and wanted others to walk in His ways. But there was something "unsynagoguish" about Jesus and His disciples. I often think they would be kicked out of many of today's churches, too.

Again, who is it that did the persecuting, and why? Why was Saul standing there holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen? Then later, after Saul became a Christian (now known as Paul), why was he so heavily persecuted? Why was the early church so persecuted? Was it because they were "standing up for what is right!" (?) Was it because they were living such good, clean lives, that sinners all around began mocking them and calling them "goody two shoes?" Was it because they were protesting all the anti-Christian behavior that was going on around them, attending rallies and carrying signs and trying to get "moral" laws passed?

I realize that the point I'm making flies in the face of the modern church... :) But the people doing the persecuting were often the goody-two shoes, the religious, the law-abiding legalists! The ones being persecuted were persecuted for rejecting Moses and embracing Jesus. "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Saul had been a man who had great confidence in his flesh. Later, when he became known as Paul, he would testify about his past life, before coming to know Jesus: "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil 3:4-6).

Saul had gone around persecuting these new Christians who had rejected that way of life and instead embraced Christ. But then Jesus came to him. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). After his conversion he realized how he had been so far from the truth. Saul's former "testimony" was cleaner than that of the squeakiest clean of today's squeaky clean Christians! But he turned away from that testimony to that he could have Christ instead.

He went on to share about his turning away from that law-abiding way of life: "But what things were gain to me (the things listed in Phil 3:4-6), these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith..." (Phil 3:7-9).

Paul turned from his law-abiding life (he counted it as "dung") to a Christ-abiding life. There is a huge difference. The first way seemed like it should bear good fruit, but it only bore fruit unto death. "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit unto death" (Rom 7:5).

Paul may have spent the latter part of his life in the chains of men, being persecuted by his own people for rejecting their ways, but he lived in perfect freedom, the freedom for which Christ had set him free!

Fallen from grace

Gal 5:1-7
5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. 7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? NASB

"You were running well," Paul says to the body of Christ at Galatia. "You had rejected the works of the law (self-righteousness) in order to come to know Jesus by His grace and you were living your daily life in the same way, by grace and not by trying to maintain your salvation by your own works. So what's going on? Who has kept you from obeying the truth that you started in?"

"You know that if you try to keep even one ounce of the law," Paul tells them, "then you are obligated to keep the whole thing - every jot and every tittle (see James 2:10). But that's not what God called you to do. You had to die to Mr. Law in order to be married to Mr. Grace (Rom 7:4) (thanks to Steve McVey for the "Mr. Law/Mr. Grace" word picture). But now you're going back to the old way? You're trying to mix law and grace? You're thankful for Jesus, but yet you're thinking that it's your own works that somehow will keep you justified?"

"You have fallen from grace!"

The Galatians had known the truth. They had lived in the truth. They had trusted solely in the name of Jesus - in God's grace - for their justification and salvation. But some legalists had slipped in among them and were trying to persuade them that they had to keep the law.

"But," Paul said, "we through the Spirit eagerly await for the hope of righteousness by faith," not by our own efforts. If you have fallen from grace, get back up and put your whole confidence in Jesus, and Jesus alone. His grace holds all the power that our self-effort could never achieve. Remember you are married to Mr. Grace. Get out of that adulterous relationship with Mr. Law!

Love is Like a Rock

One of my all-time favorite songs - I dug it back then and I dig it today. :)

Donnie Iris - Love is Like a Rock

You can't depend on your teacher
You can't depend on your preacher
You can't depend on politicians
You can't depend on superstitions

Love can rock you
Never stop you
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah
Love is like a rock

You can't rely on Mother Nature
You can't rely on your paycheck
You can't depend on your doctor
You can't rely on your lawyer

Love can rock you
Never stop you
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah,
Love is like a rock

Sunday, January 07, 2007

15 Years - A Testimony

I wasn't "born again" on this day, January 7, 1992, but my life drastically changed.

Today has been one of reflection for me, one of happy tears and thankfulness. To back up a little, I was a just three months away from the age of 23, but I believe I had been saved long before this day. Looking back, as long as I can remember I have always believed. But since my actions didn't always line up with how I thought they had to be, I didn't really think of myself as "saved." I sort of remember asking Jesus to come into my life at various points in my teenage years and into those early 20's. "Someday," I would sometimes think to myself, "I'll begin living a Christian life."

But I just couldn't seem to make it happen. Smoking, partying, fornication, drinking, swearing, etc... those were just some of the things on my list that I thought I had to stop doing before I could truly come to Jesus. I mean, it really was a state of mind in which I thought I had to stop all these things. I think I believed that a person was saved by grace, but yet I still carried around those thoughts that I had to change first. I remember having 'thief on the cross' thoughts like, "I hope that if I'm driving my car and I get in a wreck, I have enough time to call out to Jesus to forgive my sins and save my soul in the instant before I die." :)

I would also have these hopeful times when I thought, "Yes! This is it... I'm finally going to live the Christian life." I would go a few hours without a cigarette. Or I would go a few hours, or even days, with feelings inside that made me think I had really changed. But then I'd go back to the same old lifestyle, with no real change. It was very discouraging at times. It was kind of frustrating that I thought I had to change, and sometimes thought I could change, but then when it came down to it, I didn't change.

There are so many details in all of this, but the short of it was that deep inside, I wanted to "live the Christian life," but it was just too far of a goal to reach for. In a sense, I thought that the only way it would ever happen would be if that great light came from the sky, and an array of angels appeared, and all that jazz, and God would just change my life in an instant! But I knew that fantasy was just a fantasy, and I thought I still needed to change. How I wish I'd known back then that it wasn't up to me to change, but that I was God's workmanship! I simply believed, and it was His work in me that meant anything and everything.

Well, I had this friend, Rob, who was a Christian. Every once in a while, perhaps every 6 months or so, during a period of a couple of years, I'd see him. He either stopped by the gas station where I worked, or I'd see him downtown somewhere. He had such a peace about him. We'd go walking downtown at night, and he'd point out the beautiful night sky with all the stars, etc. We'd go back to his humble little house, which was really an old garage that had been converted into a house. I just sensed a peace there, a peace that I knew I wanted. I would leave Rob's house and have great hopes and expectations that this peace, this relationship with God, would be in my life.

But after a day or two, or even an hour or two, that feeling was gone and I was back to my old self. Until... this day, January 7th, 1992.

I lived in Waverly, Iowa at the time. That day, I had driven to a larger town about 15-20 miles away, Cedar Falls, for one reason or another, and I was on my way back to Waverly. I drove by the place where Rob worked in Cedar Falls, a small lawn mower sales & repair shop that was on the highway to Waverly. It had been a while since I'd seen Rob, and I thought to myself, "I should go see Rob sometime soon." Today wasn't going to be the day, though, or at least that's what I thought. I just wanted to get back to Waverly. So... I kept on driving, past the shop. But about a quarter or a half mile down the road, something happened. I really can't explain it. It just seemed like something was happening that was beyond my "will," but yet it was ok. I found myself turning the car around at the next intersection - it was as if it wasn't really me turning the steering wheel - and going back to the shop.

I walked into the store, and back to the repair shop. When Rob saw me, he asked me what I was doing there. I know that I wasn't really sure what I was doing there, but I said something like, "I think I'm looking for Jesus." He joked about it, making certain that I knew he was not Jesus. :) But he knew, of course, that something was going on. Long story short, he invited me to his church the next night (a Wednesday). I left the shop thinking, hoping, that perhaps this was it. Perhaps this was the start of my Christian walk. But since I'd had so many other letdowns in the past, I just wasn't sure.

Today, January 7, 2007, I can look back and tell you for certain that my life truly did change that day, 15 years ago. There's so much to tell! I'll just say that even though I know I had truly been born again when I was much younger, I had a completely renewed "feeling" inside, and I knew that the Lord was doing a work in me like I'd never sensed before. My head literally felt lighter. It's like I sensed this invisible "halo" around my head. :) My vision, my outlook, my mind, was changed forever. I did spend quite a bit of my first 2 or 3 years as quite the legalist (oh the stories I could tell, and I'm sure others could tell about me!), but a faith was being built up inside of me - the Lord's doing - that was one of trusting in Him, not myself.

Today, and yesterday as well, as I was out on the road and as I was anticipating this day, I have had such a feeling of gratitude. As I said, I've been shedding tears of happiness as I've looked back on these past 15 years. And what is it that I'm happy about? What is it that I'm joyful about? What is it that I'm thankful about? It's that "He who began a good work in me is being faithful to complete it..." (Phil 1:6). I had spent so many years thinking that I must begin some good work, and not only that, but that I must sustain it. As I look back on the past 15 years, I see that I have absolutely nothing to boast about. Although the Lord has done much in and through me, a vessel, I can tell you that I have no sense of having accomplished anything for Him. He started the work, I'm His workmanship, and He's continuing the work! It can never and will never be about what I can accomplish for Him. He's made that ever so clear to me, and it's something I can rest in.

I think Philippians 1:6 has been somewhat of a cornerstone verse in my life during these 15 years. Another verse that truly helped me to trust in Him and not in myself, right from the start, was 1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." See, right up until that day - that very day, January 7th, 1992 - I had been struggling with anxiety, and panic attacks for several years. I had seen a psychiatrist, and was seeing a counselor to help me wade through all the reasons why I was living with anxiety. My very best friend for 2 or 3 years had been Xanax - a prescription drug to help calm anxiety. I could do nothing without my Xanax. If I drove more than 5 miles from home, I needed to pop a Xanax, or else I'd have a panic attack. I could do all things through Xanax, which calmed my nerves.

Well, during those first few days, after January 7, 1992, I had begun reading from a prayer book that I'd been given when I was a teen. There was a certain "anxiety" prayer in there, and that verse, 1 Peter 5:7, along with it. So I prayed the prayer, and took the verse to heart. Again, none of this was my doing. I look back and see it was the work of the Lord all along. Well, I ended up driving out of town. I can't remember the reason for going out of town, but I do remember bringing along my Xanax, as usual. But this time I pictured myself "casting" all my anxiety on the Lord, because He cares for me. Instead of popping the pill - and I really can't explain this - I just trusted that He was in control. And I made the whole trip out of town and back, with no need for Xanax.

Two weeks later... I was digging around in my mess of a bedroom, and I saw the bottle of pills. Since that day two weeks earlier, I hadn't even thought of the Xanax, never mind feeling the need for one!

This was the work of the Lord, my friends! It's ALL the work of the Lord. Take no credit for yourself. Stop trying to live the life. You know you can't do it! And you know that He truly can!

Jesus will never take you back

How could He? You haven't gone anywhere!

1 Thess 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

2 Tim 2:13
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

Phil 1:6
...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Gal 2:20-21
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Gal 3:1-3
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

If you have believed in the name of Jesus, but yet you may have thought that you had gone "away" from Him because you hadn't been putting any effort into living the Christian life, or you had done things that you know aren't "faithful" to Him, please digest those verses (and of course there are many more). Yes, we want to be faithful to Him, but our salvation isn't dependent upon our faithfulness to Him. It's fully dependent upon His faithfulness to us, and He always remains faithful to us! In our minds, we may sometimes feel we have strayed, even in some major ways, but if our trust is in His righteousness and not our own, then we have never gone anywhere!

At that first moment of belief, He joined Himself with us. Our spirits were literally changed into new creations and we became His workmanship. The new creation that we are can never be separated from Him. We are literally, spiritually, inseparable from Him. Sometimes our thoughts, words and actions don't line up with that union that we have with Him, but that doesn't mean He's "unjoined" Himself from us. If our thoughts, words and actions ever meant that we went away from Him, then we'd be going away from Him and coming back to Him and going away from Him and coming back to Him and going away from Him and coming back to Him all the time! It would mean that the new creation that we are would change back into that old man and then change back to a new creation and back and forth and so on and so on, all the time.

But He has never left us and He has never forsaken us. He has joined Himself with us. We were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and we rose again with Him.

Rom 6:5-7
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.

We (our "old man") have died, one time and one time only, and the body of sin has been done away with, one time and one time only. We are no longer slaves to sin, since we have died. We are to reckon ourselves (acknowledge that it is truly a fact) to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:11).

Why then, do we still sin? We are dead to it and we are to reckon that as a fact, so why do we still sin? Why is it that "the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will not to do, that I practice?" (Rom 6:19). The question is answered in both verses 17 and 21.

Rom 7:17, 20
But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me... Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

It is no longer I who do it. Remember... I have died... and I reckon that as a fact! So when I sin, it isn't ME. It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. While I used to be inseparable from my sin, I have now died to it, and I've been raised with Christ into a new creation. Sin dwells in me, in this corruptible body, but that sin is not me, nor does it represent me. I will leave this corruptible body someday, and put on an incorruptible one!

All that to say this: No matter what deeds you've done in the flesh, your spirit has remained one with Him, in tact, and has been and always will be dead to sin. You have never left Jesus, so He can never take you back!

If there has been sin in your life, perhaps an abundance of sin, you don't have to come back to Jesus. Simply acknowledge that you already are dead to sin, but you've been allowing the sin that dwells in you to govern your actions. But the sin you do isn't you. You don't have to beg Jesus to take you back! He has remained faithful to you, He has remained joined with you, even if you have felt millions of miles apart. Your actions haven't broken that union. Your actions can't break that union! Your actions didn't make the union happen in the first place. It was His workmanship and it will always be His workmanship. Knowing who you are in Him - the New Creation, blameless, justified, righteous, holy - through no effort of your own, makes all the difference in how you live your life. We live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us!

Remember this as well, when you see sinful actions in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ. You so much want to focus on their behavior. But be gentle, be loving and be patient... and put the focus on who they are in Christ, not their sin. A focus on sin doesn't overcome the sin that dwells in us! A focus on the reality of who we are, a spirit that is in unbreakable union with Christ, is the only way to overcome and live in victory!

This is the day the Lord has made

22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD's doing'
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Ps 118:22-24 NKJV

Have you ever read verse 24 (above) in the context in which it was written? I've heard people rejoice that "today" is the day the Lord has made. "Today," to them, could perhaps mean this very day, a new day, a fresh start that the Lord has provided. Or it could mean the Sabbath. Or it could mean Sunday.

But I guess I'm not so sure that's what the Psalmist was talking about. Nor Jesus, when He quoted the preceding verses, 22-23, after telling the parable of the wicked vinedressers to the chief priests and scribes (Matt 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19). The parable tells of a man who planted a vineyard and leased it to vinedressers. Long story short, the vinedressers beat up and killed the servants who were sent to collect the fruit. At last, the man sent his beloved son, and they killed the son too. Jesus ends the parable, "Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others" (Luke 20:15-16).

And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"

Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:

'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone'?

Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."
And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people — for they knew He had spoken this parable against them (Luke 20:17-19).

This parable was spoken against the "whitewashed tombs," the religious, the finger-pointers, the hypocrites, the unbelievers.

They, as we now know, would reject this Stone and He would become the Chief Cornerstone.

I don't believe that David was talking about waking up on any given day and singing a song and thanking God for that particular day. NOT that we shouldn't be thankful for today! But... This is the day the Lord has made: the day the vinedressers beat up and killed the beloved son, and the master came and made him the chief cornerstone and gave the vineyard to others (us)! This was the Lord's doing, because He so loved the world. Let us rejoice and be glad in that!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spaced Out!

Some out of town friends were visiting a few weeks ago, and they were showing us their MySpace sites. I've always thought of having my own, but really with my own website and a blog already, I didn't think it was worth much time to make it happen. But I had some time off work last week and I decided to go for it, just for fun. I don't want to be egotistical, and I know that can be a temptation anytime you do anything publicly. "Hey look everybody, it's MEEE!" That's especially easy for me online, since I'm essentially introverted when around others, but more of an extrovert behind the keyboard. ;) So this is really just a fun thing, to share life with my friends. Also, another outlet to share Jesus and His grace. I'll hopefully get a few pics up there soon, and I'm looking at other people's sites for ideas as to how a MySpace site can actually be of good use. :)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The aroma of Christians

I've been reading Philip Yancey's book, What's So Amazing About Grace. Funny that up till now I haven't read it. It's been on my list, and it's finally in my hands. So far, it's as good and honest as any other Yancey book I've read, which by the way is The Jesus I Never Knew. :)

Passage from What's So Amazing...

Mark Twain used to talk about people who were "good in the worst sense of the word," a phrase that, for many, captures the reputation of Christians today. Recently I have been asking a question of strangers - for example, seatmates on an airplane - when I strike up a conversation. "When I say the words 'evangelical Christian,' what comes to mind?" In reply, mostly I hear political descriptions: of strident pro-life activists, or gay-rights opponents, or proposals for censoring the Internet. I hear references to the Moral Majority, an organization disbanded years ago. Not once - not once - have I heard a description redolent of grace. Apparently that is not the aroma Christians give off in the world.

I have often sensed that that is the way the world must view Christians, at least here in America. I have even, at times, wanted to shy away from the word 'Christian' (identifying myself with that name), just because I know that the image that is conjured up in the minds of people is so far from what I know is in my heart. Bluntly: I'm not ashamed of Christ, I just sometimes have a hard time with Christians.

Today on a local rock station (mainstream, not Christian), there was a contest in which a rock artist was heard talking, and to win you had to identify the band he was in. I didn't stay tuned in to find out the answer, but I heard the voice of the artist. His words had to do with why he wanted nothing to do with religion. He said he had been baptized as a Presbyterian, but as he grew he found that it just wasn't what he wanted. Something about all the hypocrisy. I so much wanted to tell him (inside my radio) that I, too, wanted nothing to do with the Christian religion!

You all know what I'm talking about. I love Jesus and I love all my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I'm far from perfect. Hypocrisy runs through my blood too. But many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are so caught up in what they're against. So much of the time, it really is hard to find any grace. There can be 99 wonderful illustrations of grace around, but the focus ends up on the 1 thing that is just so terribly horrible in the eyes of God.

Or, while they may understand that there's forgiveness for the tax collector or the woman caught in adultery, they want to make sure those people repent and apologize publicly and show true signs of change before they think about putting their arms around them. Again, you all know what I'm saying. I'm just as sad as anyone else that there's a lot of sin in this world. But I'm just as sad, well, much more sad, that there's a lot of JESUS in each of us believers, but we somehow think we're still Moses, and we come across as hypocritical, finger-pointing Pharisees!

Grace and forgiveness don't come after one overcomes sin. Grace and forgiveness given freely and unconditionally are what leads to the overcoming of sin. This world doesn't need the Ten Commandments posted in every classroom. The New Testament reminds us that the Law never had any power to change a person. Therefore the world needed JESUS and this world still needs JESUS flowing out of each and every one of us who know Him!

But we don't turn the other cheek. We get a boycott going. We don't embrace those who don't live our 'Christian lifestyle.' We try to get another law passed. We don't try to win them to the Savior. We beat them up with the cross of Christ (our version of Christ). We don't pray for them. We just talk about how bad they are. We talk about how rotten the world is getting, but instead of offering up the sweet aroma of Jesus, with His love and compassion, and His grace, mercy and forgiveness, what we end up offering is the putrid stench of the filthy rags of self-righteousness. Often, the three words that best describe us are as follows, and I quote, "Stink, Stank, Stunk."

I'm speaking of myself. I mean, I hope in my years so far of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus I've overcome much of my self-righteousness and hypocrisy, but I know there's still a long way to go. I pray for the LIGHT of Jesus to shine in me, so people may see my good deeds and glorify my Father who is in heaven. They don't really care what I'm against. But what will smell good to them is the sweet aroma of grace. They'll know it when they see it.