The Resolution of Life
A new year is upon us, or so it seems anyway. With it comes hope, fear and likely apprehension. If only we could know, if only we knew as we are known.
Like many of you, this season isn't necessarily a pleasant one for me. Despite all the greeting and giving, meetings and memories, I still find an underlying sadness that makes all the running and preparation seem to be vain. What is really accomplished by all the effort and enthusiasm we pour into these holiday events and festivities? Is Jesus the center of it all? Would Jesus even want to be front and center of it all? Rare is the one questioning so.
A few years back I made a decision that I was no longer going to participate in what I deemed as another worldly gathering that never really centered around Jesus anyway. I'm specifically refering to gathering together with the other members of my immediate family over the holidays. Several reasons led me in this direction, and believe it or not, it was partially due to the very things that seem to reflect aspects of Jesus Himself (the love, the generosity, the sharing of meals etc). It was also due to what at least in appearance seemed Christian, (the music, cards and even some of the gifts). Far too often, we allow what is apparently good amongst us to overshadow the ultimate good or truth Jesus desires to convey through us. In other words, all of the above, although seemingly "Christian" in nature, often block the very Christ from becoming a "living reality" in the midst of all of our preparations. How can this be?
Some clarification is probably in order. First, every member of my immediate family would claim to be a Christian. As far as I know they each are members of the Catholic Church. I don't go as far as some in condemning Catholics, but without question even cursory study shows Catholic doctrine as opposed to Biblical Christianity on many fronts. In most cases the individuals involved in the various aspects and "ministries" of Catholicism know nothing or little about official Catholic doctrine. Most really could care less. In most cases these people are preoccupied with either their own lives or what they deem to be "good" about the Catholic Church. Either choice can be equally deadly. The former (the self life) has failed to be recreated in Christ and therefore still resides in Adam, the latter (an emphasis upon "doing good") often leaves these folks in a state of self justification or an attempt at self-righteousness before God. Interstingly, despite true believers seeing "our righteousness" as filthy rags before God, many others consider this a badge to wear before both men and God. Everything they do does and must merit favor in the eyes of the Almighty. How silly, how sad, how deceived. The very sacrifices these individuals make are in God's eyes an abomination! In the end, there's really no difference between a group of generous beer drinking family members sitting around a lighted tree and those who temper this excess with the idolatry of football games and overeating. God knows well the real objects of our affection and worship.
Please understand. I am not advocating some stance against all things Christmas. I'm certainly not suggesting we all attempt to gain God's favor by giving up the affection we have for our "favorite" sports teams or our favorite foods. Such acts don't propel us where we think and often only leave us bitter in the end anyway. We need something no doubt, but the manner of our arrival will not be found in what we do and don't do. All of us do and don't do things for all kinds of reason and motives. Reasons matter and so do motives, but Jesus brings us further yet; He brings us to life.
I LOVE TO:
Every human being has passions and desires that drive them to and fro. We only need to listen to ourselves or others for a few moments and all becomes clear enough. The overflow of our heart spills out repetively enough. It's bare and borne for all others to see and hear it is not? Does not Jesus say in Matthew 12:34;
"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart."
Let's look at the above verse a little closer. The principle of the above verse is apparent enough. What we fill our hearts with (what we long for, what we talk about, set our affections upon) that is what will fill our hearts and eventually be spoken outwardly before others. In one sense, we are what we speak. Jesus spoke these words to religious men, to men who not only questioned the miracles of Jesus (vs. 22-25) but also His teaching (vs. 25-29) as well as His claim to being God (as only God can forgive sin (vs. 31,32). These were people who were not for Him but rather against Him. (verses 11:25-32).
The predominate antagonists to Jesus' miracles, teaching and exclusivity were religious people. They were the ones who proved through their own words God's just condemnation of them.
As those justified through the shed blood of Christ, we would hardly classify ourselves as Pharisees or as those denying any of the above. Without question, we believe Jesus to have performed miracles. We accept and trust in His teachings. We believe Jesus when He claims to be the exclusive way in which to have a relationship with God the Father. Nonetheless, the principle remains the same: out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. We do well to consider, as I recently had opportunity, what others are saying about who we are and what we supposedly place value upon.
Although I do not personally regard one day as more important than another (Romans 14), I do usually visit my dad on Thansgiving at his home and my mother a few days prior to Christmas at a restaurant for lunch. Although I want to live my Christian convictions out, I also want to show love and concern for my blood family as I would any other individuals in need of Jesus for salvation. I view them this way for two primary reasons. First, because of what is said in 1 John 3:7-9:
"Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who praqctices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God"
Furthermore, and equally important are the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:37 we noted earlier;
"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned"
This of course isn't an alternative to being justified through faith in Christ alone, rather, it is the evidence of what an individual truly believes or is trusting in. In other words, if someone says for example, "their are many ways to God" or "what matters is whether a person is sincere," these statements oppose Jesus and Biblical Christianity. They "prove" an individual claim to being Christian as false.
The apostle John also states about himself and all true believers in 1 John 4:6:
"We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error"
All born again believers would agree with the above statement. Unbelievers would view this as narrow minded, conceited, arrogant, intolerant and a host of other adjectives. To them such a stand or belief would be entirely unacceptable.
The Proof of our Witness
This year my mother wrote up a little letter that detailed what each of the children and grandchildren were occupied with. It included work, hobbies, passions etc for each of us. I have to admit, I wasn't very pleased with what she wrote about me. These are her exact words:
"Mike is in Grand Rapids, busy in the warmer seasons with his landscaping business and making an annual trip to the Upper Peninsula each Winter to visit friends and ice fish"
Now, their is certainly nothing wrong with these words as they were merely descriptive of what I do for a living and also some of what I enjoy. But there are two things I would like you to consider. First, this is an apt description of what most of my family knows about me. The key word is knows. They all know I own a small business and they know I like to ice fish in the Winter. But is that really the manner in which I desire my life to be characterized? Is this what I want to be remembered for?
Without question, some of the blame is my own. Generally my family does not desire to talk about God. Therefore, I usually communicate with them about things we've been busy with lately, be that work, problems or recreation. At best this might happen once or twice a year as we simply do not identify one with another. Yes, we get along, provided Jesus is never the center of our conversation. Now why would individuals, each claiming to be Christians be so opposed to talking about the God they say they serve and love? Isn't that what being a real Christian entails? Wasn't it Jesus who asked this question:
"Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division"
Immediately following He relates how family members will be divided one from another. Why will they be divided? Because of Him. Because of who He is. Because of what He requires. Because of what He represents.
Who He Is
Jesus Himself claims to be the exclusive way to have a relationship with God the Father. Furthermore, He calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. He makes it abundantly clear that without Him no one has true life but rather is dead spiritually. [John 14:6] [John 8:24] [1 John 5:11, 12]
Is the above message divisive? Of course. This world deems it narrow, conceited, unfair, intolerant and a host of other terms. That is why the people of this world reject who Jesus says He is.
What He Requires
Jesus requires obedience to Himself. First in accepting Who He is above, [John 3:36] but also in obeying the contents of the gospel [2 Thessalonians 1:8] [1 Peter 4:17]. It is only in those who obey Him in which he becomes the Source of eternal salvation. [Hebrews 5:9]
Is the above message divisive? Of course. The people opposed to God want to serve Him on their own terms. To them, that means obeying Him in ways they deem proper or acceptable. In this manner they refuse to obey what He requires from them.
What He Represents
Jesus represents the opposite of what this world system values. Man values the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. [1 John 2:15-17]
Is the above message divisive? Of course. The people claim to know God, all the while holding unto their sins or in some cases even attributing the reception of their lusts to God. In this they call evil as good. Men want a better life with more of their lusts to boot. God wants men to die, not only to their lusts but even their own imagination, ideas and dead works. Without a willing exchange of their life for His, they cannot represent the will of His Father throughout the earth for they only appear so in name and not in reality.
There is a second reason I sorrow about my mother's description of me above. It's not what I value most in life, not even close. In fact, seeing that this description was dispersed throughout the entire family before the holidays, the family and relatives would get the impression that I valued ice fishing more than I do them or their company as I left for my trip prior to the holidays. That said, no one even bothered asking why. I don't think they've ever asked why.
I remember the difficulty my mother had when I quoted her this verse in Matthew 10:37 as very new believer:
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me" This is a similar passage as the one above in Luke 12 except here the word sword is used instead of division. The passage in Matthew makes it even more clear the necessity to place Jesus before and above all things and all people. This is a condition of genuine discipleship and indicative of someone truly following after and in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
The truth is as Jesus has made clear, that those who do the will of the Father, he is my brother, sister and mother. [Matthew 7:21, 12:50]. This is not merely true for Jesus Himself, it is true for everyone who truly is part of the family of God. What my blood family and relatives fail to understand is this: I find no satisfaction, contentment, peace nor happiness among those who refuse to accept Who He is, obey what He requires and represent Him upon this earth. How could I, knowing they are separate from the grace of God.
They stumble over works
Have you ever asked any particular individual who claims to be a Christian why they think they are one? They give you all kinds of reasons like I do this, I do that or a whole list of specific reasons. They volunteer, they perform church work, teach, serve in some capacity. I wonder if it ever enters their mind just exactly what they are saying about themselves? Is the goal of one's faith to become someone, to start something or perform some kind of service? It sure appears that way from where I'm standing- and that sure isn't upon anything I'm doing or have done.
The stumbling blocks of instutions
Have you ever asked any particular individual why they attend a particular institution or church? They give you all kinds of reasons, primarily because they enjoy what that particular place (entity) has to offer. For after all, it goes without saying that due to the number of the diverse gatherings about, a competition ensues for both the participation of members as well as the collection of their resources. Like a club, these "dues" allow for some to take upon themselves certain responsibilities- one of which becomes the creation of certain programs (often called ministries) and then recruiting volunteers to carry out the function of those programs. Like any program, the functions must be prepared and planned in advance to insure smooth sailing.
Like this world system, all institutions give and take. It's the nature of the beast. The institution will give you a leader and demand you obey them. They will set up a hierarchy and watch you fight over a position. As long as you play by the rules, you have a chance to be over others as they are. Institutions set up rules, thereby keeping some near, yet others far away. You earn your way to become someone or something. Conformity is the name of the game. Provided you conform you are welcome, otherwise take heed, you will be both branded and ousted much like Jesus Himself.
The Spirit gives Life
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…..
When we observe the above closely or even firsthand, one can only question who it is that is really in charge. Sure we say Jesus is in charge, yet everything we DO betrays that as real. Did the Spirit of God tell one or more persons to build a building in which to meet? Did the Spirit of God lead some individual from some other locale to come and be the leader over people they don't even know or have met? Did the Spirit of God lead these men to create a top down system of authority where some men or women rule over their brethren? Does the Spirit of God create an atmoshere where most remain silent while the few exercize their spiritual gifts? Does the Spirit lead self-appointed leaders to make demands, counsel your wife and children, demand tithes and/or participation, espouse and enforce their doctrines and version of the Bible and force you to submit?
Friend, the Spirit of God is nowhere present in the above scenario. The above scenario breeds only death, it will not, it cannot breed life. It is fleshly, earthy, sesual. When men are in control over others, Jesus plainly called that "lording it over others." When men were paid to perform a function, He called them "hirelings." When they took titles for themselves among the people He called that sin. It was not to be so among family members.
The Spirit breeds Liberty
…..the words that I have spoken are spirit and are life.
Have you ever really been liberated? From anything, from others, from yourself?
I few years back I joined the Air Force hoping to get away from my problems with alcohol abuse. Although I was an excellent worker day after day, I made a single wrong choice that cost me my freedom for three weeks.on the neighboring Army Base. It was a correctional facility that was established to deal with apparent delinquents.
By all appearances the place from the outside looked pretty tame. They had a little obstacle course out front, a few small buildings and a few guys marching around the place. It took all of about 5 minutes to discover the place wasn't exactly what it appeared as I was thrust upon the course with little if any instruction. For the next two weeks my favorite slogan became "no slack" and I'm telling you these seargents meant it. This was exasperated all the more because I was an airman on an Army base.
Just as I came, so I left. I stood upon a line 30 or so yards from the two seargents who came to pick me up and return me to the airbase. Upon notice, I was told to run as fast as I could toward them- at least until I heard the seargent behind me yell "drop." That was the word which became synonomous with "6O" pushups, not sixty, but 6O, as in oh! This was the minimum sentence one would receive if anyone ever moved, spoke or requested any need or service in error. After every ten pushups, I would have to stand and yell "no slack" as loud as I could. After completing the task of 6O, I would remain on my face while asking to "Recover." Recovery was granted, yet only momentarily between two more attempts to reach the seargents at the exit to this place. No one could ever have convinced me it was possible to perform some 180 pushups in less than 10 minutes had I not done it myself! What a relief. I had finally been liberated from the consequences of my choices!
Returning relieved to the airbase, I had to meet with my immediate commander who I foolishly neglected to salute in his office. As a result my liberation was short lived. I returned for another week of "correctional custody." How could I have been so foolish? Had I not been set free from that place?
Several months later upon my birthday I made the choice to take my vehicle for a little cruise. I ended up out of town and ended up justifying my lonliness with some discounted drinks at a restaurant. I was so angry after the fact I sped through a pouring rainstorm all the way back to the base where I amazingly was let in. The rage returned and I found myself on a back road going over 120mph when I saw the stop sign. It was too late as I crossed the road, launched my vehicle 22 feet in the air and parked it in some neighboring trees, all with no seatbelt on. It took several minutes for anyone to find me I was so buried in the brush. Something died that day, but it still wasn't enough.
The scenario above played out after God has called me unto Himself. I had truly been born again prior to these choices, yet sadly those about me really didn't understand just how to help me. They made the assumption that if I just read my Bible, just prayed, just fellowshipped daily and shared my faith all would be well. I did all those things and more, yet I still wasn't free.
Help me God
I don't want to seem cruel, but most of us need to stop asking God for help. I read this quote elsewhere, and I wholeheartedly agree. How can I say such a thing?
My friends above cared deeply about me and tried to help me. In some very practical ways they did. They taught me the importance of abiding in Christ, they taught me to be separate from this world and to evangelize the lost. Sadly though, they failed to show me not how I could get free from sin, but that I was free through my union with Christ. They are not by any means the same thing.
Most Christians, despite God providing everything they need for life and godliness are still asking God for what has ALREADY BEEN PROVIDED for.through their union with Christ. If this were properly taught and understood, the people of God would stop asking God to give them what they already possess.
It is only our failure to recognize, believe and appropriate God's promises that lead us to substitute our own efforts in the place of Jesus Himself.
New Years Resolutions
A few years back I read upon a church sign something like, "Let Jesus help you with your New Years Resolution" Would you think about this for a minute? What is that statement actually saying? Just how would God go about doing this? Is He going to give me something to help me overcome so I can then glorify Him? Sorry folks, this is not Christian living or Christian vicory- that must originate outside of oneself. Until we recognize and acknowledge our entire bankruptcy and subsequent dependency upon Jesus alone, in vain will be our pleas for help. What we need we already possess, the Seed of Life wherein we find our sustenance.
In the beginning…the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. [Genesis 2;7]
We find above the origin of man. Obviously in creation it was God who formed, it was God who fashioned and God who gave life to otherwise still bodies. If was life that God breathed into them that made them capable of carrying out the responsibilities they would soon be given. It was only when Eve chose to make a decision outside of the parameters of the life God gave them that troubled ensued. Sound familiar?
Many people, even professing Christians believe that God prohibits them from certain things they would otherwise enjoy. But regardless whether that includes any of what God prohibits man, the fact is that through our own choices we would destroy ourselves. We simply do not have the ability to know what is actually needed at any given point in our lives. That is why it is imperative we learn to rely daily upon His Life. If it is truly no longer I who live (the old me with my intentions, dreams and selfish pursuits) I will be free to rest upon the all sufficient One in carrying out His will through me day by day, moment by moment. All we ever really need as Christians is His ongoing life in and through us, and the belief that He is now at this moment meeting every need, every possible contingency.
All Things in Christ
With certainty, many will go on in the standard methodologies of well meaning but misguided men. I suppose this cannot altogether be avoided. Others, tasting the goodness of God, will continue to attempt to create or established what will be proven contrary to His will over time. These also, well meaning, but devoid of the power that ruled the hearts of those altering the new world in days past. They share in the notoriety of the religious masses, yet find themselves without the grace that altered sinful hearts and once established those who came in need to them for deliverance. Powerless, they lead them only to more bondage through the dictates of their own traditions and theories.
There is one however, who has travailed through suffering, exiting in triumph over all. It is Him in whom we behold, it is Him to whom we are united in spirit and in intent. He has made His way clear despite what we often say, pray and hear from others. We don't need some book, some method or some mans reasoning about a matter. Why would a soul, knowing full well the fruitlessness of a man-centered society continue to support it? Why would anyone, having suffered the consequences of their actions, having proven such methodologies as ineffectual and vain, continue to promote them? Why would we, as blood bought saints of our Lord ever settle for one iota less than every aspect of the inheritance that God has promised us? Is it not because of our willingness to replace the real thing with some form of relief, some form of a substitute for our own benefit?
Why do we continue to ask and pray: God, help me overcome this habit? or God, please meet my need in this area? or God, bless me with this or that? Have you no confidence and faith in the One you call Your Father? Why would we continue to doubt the reality of what God has said and thus return to that from which we;ve been freed? Do we realize just how far we've been brought from where we once resided? Can we any longer share in what used to be?
Abba Father, in You alone is everything I need for life and godly living. In you is Life. Whether I see the daily reality of this from my own estimation is irrelevant. I have, I possess, because you say so, because Your words cannot be altered.
SLAVERY= DEATH, LIFE = FREEDOM
Do I really believe what God has done, having delivered me from death? If so, why was I delivered? Was it not so I would no longer bring forth fruit unto death?
We plant in every single aspect of what we have learned to call Christian these days- seeds of life, seeds of death. Every day, each of us chooses to abide in Christ (to trust in His words which are life) or revert back to our own manner of thinking and doing which breeds death). How we perceive our Father (life or death), How we treat others (life or death), what we believe (life or death), how we fellowship (life or death). Choice and subject matter, anything that corresponds with what you deem to be your Christian life. Is it Life that you are living or are you cultivating death?
Every year brings a new awareness does it not of who we are, what we think we need and how we think we're performing according to our own standards. That is why we so easily get caught up in this worlds philosophies and this years "resolutions." We've been told, we've been trained to try or attempt to accomplish what we think will give us life. How many times has this world exclaimed to us, "It will change your life" if you only do this, buy that or act in a certain fashion. If you only buy this book, align yourself with this teaching, this exercize or this individual. How often we have fallen for the empiness of what we think we can do. And why? Because we are attempting to find outside of Christ what we cannot have, what He will not give us. Life is found in Him and Him alone.
Some things are true, others false, this certain. Jesus does not endorse any mans claim that you need what he himself has created. That is an outright lie.
Friend, if you have trusted in Jesus, if you have heard His voice, believed upon Him for salvation, then Life has become your inheritance. Every single thing you will ever need you either have now or can be found in Him. Would you return to that which cannot give life, to the idols you once served, the people you once admired or the methods you once relied upon. Therein lies death!
Decide today to make a resolution of life. If you truly have Him then you have life, and as a result you have the capacity to truly live as He would have you. Yesterday is gone, tommorrow has no bearing, yet life is ever present…..in Him.