Getting What We Don’t Deserve and Can’t Earn…

A Muslim friend of mine tells me that in his faith, getting to heaven requires doing enough of the right things so that Allah is pleased enough to let you in. But he says there’s no way to know whether you’ve done enough to make it or not.cross-1149878_640

Some people think Christianity works the same way. Go to church often enough, be baptized, take communion, read the Bible, pray, do good things to help others — do enough of the right things and God will let you in. But the Bible is clear that it doesn’t work that way.

The Bible does teach good deeds are important, but not because they earn us credits toward heaven. Obedience to the things that please God should be our response to God’s love, not a way for us to earn it.

Consider this fictional story:

Jim and Jeff were twin brothers. Their lives were as parallel as any two lives could be. They went to church together, supported the church financially, served at a homeless shelter together, both served on the church music team, and were well-respected members of their community. They even died at the same time.

When Jim and Jeff stood before God’s judgment seat, Jim was welcomed into heaven and Jeff wasn’t. Why? Isn’t God fair in how He treats everyone?

I Samuel 16:7b tells us,

“…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Jim and Jeff look the same to us, but God sees deeper than we do.

We see this illustrated in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Both offered sacrifices to God, and it wasn’t because God preferred meat to vegetables that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that it was Abel’s faith (what he believed) that made the difference.

Consider Romans 10:9-10:

“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Nothing there about doing good deeds to be saved.

That’s really good news since none of us is capable of living a life that is good enough to meet God’s high standards. God is holy and perfect, we aren’t. Something had to be done if imperfect people are to live eternally in God’s holy presence.

God’s solution was to take the consequences of our sin upon himself. He came to earth as a man, Jesus, and lived a perfect life not worthy of death. Although He didn’t deserve it, He chose to die the death that we deserved. God sees us as cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Admission to heaven results from accepting that we can’t get there by our own effort — Only Jesus makes it possible for those who believe in Him. Jim believed it, Jeff didn’t.

Believe it and say so.

‘Twas the Night After Christmas…

Calling all poets (and wannabes): christmas-911251_1280
Add your own stanza(s) to this poem describing what Mary might have thought, felt, said, or done as she looked at her newborn son:

‘Twas the night after Christmas and all through the stable
Most creatures were sleeping, to the extent they were able.
The ox swished his tail at a pesky old fly
And the mice scurried ’round on the rafters up high.

Wind rattled the latch on the creaking barn door
And stirred up the dust from the straw on the floor.
Moonlight streamed in through a crack in the wall
And fell on the manger at the back of the stall.

Joseph was sleeping, his snores did attest,
Exhausted from multiple days without rest.
Tired though she was, Mary lay pondering;
About her son’s future and life she was wondering.

Slowly she rose, first sitting then standing,
Crossing the floor — the cold notwithstanding.
Wrapped in her blanket by the manger she knelt
Immersed in the wondrous new things that she felt.

“It really is true — I am now a mother;
And to this special child, this one like no other!
Will I be able to care for his needs?
Am I up to this task, to go where God leads?”

…you fill in the rest of her reflections…post your stanzas as replies here

God’s Supply Chain Problem

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

1 John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We can read verses like that, or we can choose to live verses like that. And so it is that I’m writing this from an airport in the Middle East, awaiting the last leg of my flight to Iraq in a few hours. We have brothers & sisters in Iraq who have been forced from their homes, often with nothing but the shirts on their back because of their faith. Many have been slaughtered for refusing to denounce Jesus.

iraqmap_300Meanwhile, God has blessed American Christians with a wealth of resources. We mistakenly think God has blessed us so that we can live out our lives in safety and comfort (that’s how we like to define the “peace” God promises us). But even as God blessed Abraham and his offspring to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 28:14), God gives us our blessings so that we can pass them on to others. However, it seems God has a supply chain problem:  He manufactures the blessings and gives them to us to distribute, but we consume them for ourselves instead of passing them on.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go to Iraq (or other places where people are in need). Not everyone has financial resources to give. But everyone can pray, everyone can care, everyone can look for opportunities to meet needs in Jesus’ Name. As you intentionally seek to be used by God to meet needs, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities.

Take inventory of the blessings you’ve received and consider whether you’re part of God’s supply chain problem or are using those blessings for God’s glory by passing them on to others.

 

The Christmas Gift

A cross of wood made from a tree
Stood on a hill, one among three.
No glitt’ring balls nor twinkling lights
Just a Savior’s love shining bright.
Transformed by grace, now can it be?
The gift beneath the tree — is me.

Post-Christian France

IMG_0728I’ve sometimes had people ask why we send missionaries to Europe. Shouldn’t missionaries go to uncivilized places like Africa, Cambodia, and the jungles of South America? Well, yes, they should go to those places. But you’re just as likely to find people who don’t know who Jesus is in France.

Consider: In the 18th century, 95% of French people would have declared themselves Catholic, most of the rest Protestant. But in 1789, the French launched a program of de-Christianization that resulted in church property being confiscated, destruction of crosses and other signs of worship, instituting cults, killing priests, and celebrating the goddess, “Reason”.

IMG_0681Today’s French gods are individualism, hedonism, consumerism and other similar -isms. They reject anything having to do with the church, Christianity, or religion — these things are viewed as obviously incompatible with values like justice.

The current generation of French are over 200 years removed from Christianity in their culture, and the last vestiges of religion in their history were full of corruption, not the hope that we know comes from true relationships with the Living God.

So how do you restore hope and truth to this pessimistic, lost generation of Europeans? Theological debate won’t give you the credibility to open the door, let alone win the argument.  As Lesslie Newbigin said, “the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” And so we plant churches in Europe.

I’ve met some amazing people this week, Americans and Europeans, who have IMG_0715dedicated their lives to being that hermeneutic of the gospel to the people of Europe. I’m inspired by their courage, creativity, and steadfastness in the face of incredible obstacles. It’s clear that God has not turned His back on Europeans even though so many of them have turned their back on Him. Progress is slow, but there is progress.

Europe is considered the materially richest continent in the world. Join us in praying that God brings a fresh wind of revival to make it spiritually rich!

Response to Adversity

First it was the garbage disposal leaking and damaging the wood floor. But after replacing the garbage disposal on Christmas Eve and tearing out the floor, I discovered the 20+ year old dishwasher was leaking worse than the garbage disposal. Replaced that. The faucet had a small crack so that got replaced. Then I discovered the corroded cast-iron sink was leaking around the counter.  Time for a new sink. I call it a spiritual battle, others just call it plumbing.

We have experienced more traumatic events than a flooded kitchen. Twenty three years ago today my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia. Her odds of being cancer free in five years were less than 40%. Today she’s doing great. Praise God He’s not constrained by probabilities.

First Peter says that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But 2 Chronicles says that “the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” So we live in the context of a spiritual battle. Not that Satan is any match for God, but God doesn’t promise to keep us out of the battles, only to support us through them. Psalm 23 talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death while fearing no evil. It doesn’t say He’ll keep us out of that valley. Adversity is part of life.

But here’s another angle on adversity: Haggai 1 says that disobedience, and not caring about the things that please and glorify God can create trials. God can cause our earnings to be put into a “purse with holes” as he “blows away” what we bring home. He can cause even nature itself to withhold its produce because of our disobedience.

There’s a flip-side to that:  If we return to God in obedience and seek His glory, Malachi 3 says, “‘test Me now in this, ‘says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'” It goes on to describe how God will make nature respond with abundance.

Trials may come because of the spiritual battles that are part of life, or because of our disobedience. That begs the question, “how do we recognize the difference?”

Chasing leaks around my kitchen sure felt like my efforts were being blown to the wind. But when we humbly ask God if we need to repent of something, He’s not inclined to hide that answer from us. In this case, after asking God and searching my own heart, I concluded my kitchen is just my latest spiritual battleground.

In one sense, the cause doesn’t matter. My objective is the same in either case: Bring God glory through how I respond.  This particular victory was best represented by my wife’s observation on the last day:  I hadn’t responded with the anger and frustration that these circumstances often bring out in me. To God be the glory for that!

Abundance and Blessing

How often do we take comfort in verses like:

“I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” – Psalm 18:3

And:

“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.” – Psalm 18:6

There are many verses like this that give us confidence in the Lord’s care and protection.  But do we consider the implications of what’s in between verses 18:3 and 18:6?

“The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.  The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me.” – Psalm 18:4-5

David’s celebration of God’s faithful response grew out of his being in circumstances from which he needed to be rescued.  We tend to think of the “blessed life” as one of continually pleasant circumstances.  But is that the life that truly brings God the most glory?  Not that we should seek trials and struggles, but do we use the ones we encounter as an opportunity to rely upon the Lord and bring Him glory out of our difficulties?

I was recently reading about the 14+ years Lutheran minister, Richard Wurmbrand, spent in Romanian prisons because of his faith.  The incredible ways God used him and the glory God has received as a result of his imprisonment are amazing.  Had his imprisonment lasted only a few weeks, his life may have been “much easier” but the resulting glory to God would have been dramatically less.

So how serious are we when we say we want to live for God’s glory?  I don’t believe anyone should seek to live the life of a martyr.  But I also don’t believe we should interpret “the good life” as being the ultimate blessing.  Even God’s apparent delay in rescuing us may be a chance to give Him greater glory.  If we’re truly living for God’s glory we’ll find ways to give Him that glory in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.   As Paul said in Philippians 4,

“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” – Phil 4:12

This is the same chapter where he says things like, “Rejoice in the Lord always”, “be anxious for nothing”, and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  All of these statements apply to the times of suffering as well as the times of abundance.

We will be most satisfied with our lives when our greatest satisfaction comes from seeing God glorified.