Monday, April 29, 2013

Salvation

I learned of a fantastic reference book that I use in quite often in my writing. I heard of it from Pastor Eric Ludy of  the Elerslie Mission Society while listening to one of his sermons.  The name of the book is The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster. And check the date (1828). What I really like about it is its reference to scripture as a means of describing our words.

For example, the word salvation, as described in today's Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, is "1
a: deliverance from the power and effects of sin, b: the agent or means that effects salvation." And then it gives an example of "salvation" from . . . The Christian Science Church "c: Christian Science: the realization of the supremacy of infinite Mind over all bringing with it the destruction of the illusion of sin, sickness, and death."

The "illusion" of sin, sickness, and death? Seriously? Okay. Well, here's the definition of "salvation" from the The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster (1828).

SALVA'TION, n. [L. salvo, to save.] 1.) The act of saving; preservation from destruction, danger or great calamity. 2.) Appropriately in theology, the redemption of man from the bondage of sin and liability to eternal death, and the conferring on him everlasting happiness. This is the great salvation.
Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation. 2 Cor 7. 3.) Deliverance from enemies; victory. Exo 14. 4.) Remission of sins, or saving graces. Luke 19. 5.) The author of man's salvation. Psa 27. 6.) A term of praise or benediction. Rev 19.

See why I like the 1828 dictionary so much? It uses the Bible to give meaning to our words. Nice.

So, anyway, our topic for discussion today is "salvation." We've already read the definition. Let's put it into terms we can understand it a little better. Here's a story for you - a parable if you will . . . The Parable of The Cookie.

Let's say that when you were younger your mom made a batch of cookies one day. She gave you and your brother each a cookie and a glass of milk. She put the rest of the cookies in a jar and said, "The rest of those cookies are for church. Hands off." Then she left the room.

Those cookies sure were good. Surely there were more than enough cookies in that jar for church. Surely mom wouldn't notice if you took just one more. So you took one and ate it.

The next day your mom calls you and your brother into the kitchen and says, "Yesterday I put 24 cookies in that jar and today there are only 23. Anyone want to explain where the other cookie went?"

You look at your brother and he looks at you. Both of you knew who took that cookie.

Suddenly, your brother stands up and says, "I take the blame."

"Fine," your mother says. "Just wait until your dad gets home. You deliberately disobeyed me. You KNOW that I love you, but you know what disobeying your parents means."

It meant a spanking. Your brother was going to get a spanking for something that YOU did.

That, my friends, is salvation. Your brother saved your butt, literally, at the expense of his own.

How would that make you feel?? Would you feel guilty? How would you feel when you heard your brother being spanked? Would that bother you at all? Of course it would. So what would you do?

Would you go to your parents and tell them that YOU were the one who stole the cookie? Would that take away your guilt? Maybe. But I'm guessing you would still feel that you owed your brother something for doing what he did - for taking your punishment.

When Jesus died on the cross, he took the punishment for each of us. He took the consequences of our sin on himself. Once, and for all. How does that make you feel? Do we feel like we owe Jesus for what he did? I sure do. So how can we repay Him? I offered my life back to Him - a sacrifice, and a pale one at that, but I gave Him MY life to show Him my gratitude for taking my punishment on his shoulders.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." - Isaiah 53:5

Thank you Jesus.

And just to drive the point home about what Jesus did for us, here's a little bonus lesson . . . about Grace.

Going back to my cookie parable for a moment, suppose that after your brother received that spanking - the spanking that really should have been yours - suppose he came into your room, rubbing his sore rear end and, with tears in his eyes he said to you, "Here, I saved this for you." And he handed you a cookie. His cookie.

"I saved it for you yesterday cuz I knew you always like to eat two cookies and mom only gave you one."

That, my friends, is grace.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Seek

Everyone likes to feel welcome when they go to church. We all like to have someone smile at us and to greet us with a handshake or a hug. We love to be loved, no matter who we are or what we have done. We would never say this out loud but we also might want people to comment about the nice clothes we are wearing, or ask us about our jobs, or our family. And we want to feel comfortable. Being able to bring a cup of coffee in to worship helps. And we certainly don't want to feel bad about ourselves. Not when we've dragged our butts out of bed at eight stinking AM to go to (gulp) church. Because if we didn't "feel" right, we might not come back. Welcome to the Seeker Sensitive church.

Some of that sounds good. We SHOULD be welcoming at our churches. We should feel loved. But we really need to ask ourselves a few questions like, "Should these things really matter to us?" Another question to get answered first is, "What is the purpose of "the church"? Why do we go to church in the first place? Is it for us? Or is it for God?

The Seeker Sensitive Church Model (as described here by GotQuestions.org) is designed to get people to not only feel welcome when they come to church but to keep them coming back. To feel that they are loved, despite what they may have done, or despite their personal opinion of Jesus or The Cross. They are focused on retaining the "seeker" and having them eventually come to a faith in Jesus. They also would tend to be welcoming to ALL faiths and denominations - the Mormon, the Muslim, even the agnostic or the atheist.

I am all for "seekers" coming to saving faith in Christ, but WHICH Christ? Are they hearing the complete gospel message? Or a watered-down version so that no one becomes offended?

There also is a tendancy for these churches to put a lot of emphasis on "the experience" and the "feelings" we have while at the Seeker Sensitive church. "The music was really awesome today!" "The doughnuts were a little stale this morning, and the coffee? Do we ever wash those coffeemakers?" Our "experience" is often what matters most and we tend to forget about the main purpose of the church - to teach, to exhort, and to preach the gospel. When we get right down to it, the real problem with some of our churches today is that they are MAN centered, not GOD centered.

Let's talk about church for a bit. Should we be modeling our own churches after big churches like Willow Creek (Bill Hybels), Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) or Lakeland Church (Joel Osteen). They're big. They must be successful, right? Let's turn to God's Word for our answer. Let's take a look at the book of Acts and read about the very FIRST church. What was IT like? What should OUR churches really look like and "feel" like today?

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47

Wow! There's a whole list of church characteristics! If you're church shopping, if you're "seeking," you might want to take the following checklist with you from Acts 2:
  • They were devoted to the teaching
  • They were devoted to fellowship
  • They were devoted to the breaking of bread
  • They were devoted to prayer
  • Everyone was filled with awe
  • They were together and had everything in common
  • They sold their possessions
  • They gave to anyone who had a need
  • They met every day
  • They ate together
  • They praised God
Nowhere in that list does it say ANYTHING about the style of music, or the freshness of the doughnuts (although it DOES mention bread), or greeting people at the door or the latest video and audio technology. That stuff is all MAN-centered. We're forgetting that, as churches, we should be CHRIST-centered. We are CHRIST-ians, not MAN-ians . . . we might as well be mannequins!

In 2007, Bill Hybels, lead pastor at Willow Creek Church - a very seeker-sensitive church in suburban Chicago, announced to his congregation that all of their seeker sensitive plans and models, all the millions of dollars their Willow Creek Association had spent on programs, were "not working all that well." It was determined after a massive survey of their members and several focus groups, which is another seeker-sensitive characteristic, that what was REALLY desired by the people of their congregation was to "grow closer to God." Duh.

Please watch this video. It's amazing. Bill Hybels stands in front of his congregation and tells them that he and many of the Willow Creek programs have failed. Bill is supposed to be a great leader but he led his flock nowhere. Survey after survey after survey (enough with the surveys Bill!) showed them where they were failing. They strayed from the Acts 2 church model.

Bill Hybels - Seeker Sensitive Failings.

Amen to that!! Amazing stuff Bill. Thanks . . . I guess.

The problem with the seeker sensitive church comes when they become SO seeker sensitive that they begin to tweak the Gospel message because they don't want to offend anyone. The seeker sensitive churches grow because the people hear what they WANT to hear. They seldom hear about sin and the need for repentance. God calls these people, "people with itching ears" in 2 Timothy 4:3. Read it . . and weep. It applies to many of our churches today.

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

We are so focused on the "nickels and noses" these days, and about being politically correct and not offending anyone, that we forget that we are most likely offending a holy and righteous God!

I pray that ALL churches would be God-centered, not man-centered - just sprinkling a little Jesus dust on the service to make it "official." Jesus is what matters most, my fellow Christians, not us. Everyday, we need to be reminded of the Gospel message, we need to be in fellowship EVERY DAY. We, as churches, are to be a family of believers, not "seekers."

Here's a test to try sometime. Once you get past the greeters, try counting the number of people greeting each other in love. The pastor of our church encourages "healthy touch" (hugs, handshakes, holding hands during prayer, etc). That's good! And what ever happened to the "holy kiss" that is mentioned in scripture SEVERAL times? I'm not suggesting we french-kiss our neighbors but would a kiss on the cheek be so bad? And let our affection for our brothers and sisters be real, not fake or forced.

One more verse for you before I close. If you are still open to the book of Acts, go back to the beginning of the chapter. Read about the Holy Spirit coming amongst the fellowship of believers, then about Peter as he stands up and preaches the Gospel, and THOUSANDS were added to their number.

The Gospel message was read, people believed and were baptised. The church began! And then we read how the church grew. It wasn't because they were "cool" and had amazing treats, worship music and special lighting. It wasn't ANYTHING that man did, it was all God's doing. Read the last half of verse 47 . . .

" . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Yes, we should greet others when they arrive at church, but not because we are "assigned" to do so or "because we want to appear welcoming." We should all have the Spirit of Christ in us. And the feeling welcomed part? Everyone should feel welcomed because of our love. As the old song goes, "They will know we are Christians . . . by our love" - not by the ornate, flowing robes and collars that priests and pastors wear, Not by the number of Hawaiian shirts in the crowd, or by the "cool" bumper videos.

Church, and this is US, not a building, should be about praising God, worshiping God, and loving God. We should be all about God and nothing else. If our focus is on things above, on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, everything else will take care of itself. God will add to His church. It's HIS church. We should keep it that way.

A church family is a wonderful thing. There is no need for bells and whistles when there is the love of God to warm us. God, thank you for the church, YOUR church. May we always be an example of your love here on earth . . . as it is in heaven.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Deer!

There must be something in my family genes that makes me constantly search the horizons and the fields . . . for deer. There's just something about them . . . When I was younger, my grandfather liked to keep an eye open for deer in the fields of our family farm in Michigan. So did my dad. And so did I.
 
These days, I live in Wisconsin. We have just as many deer here in our back yard sometimes as we did back on the farm in Michigan. When I am home I find myself looking out the kitchen window, searching the woods behind our house for the slightest hint of movement - the flash of a white tail in the dark woods.
 
Come springtime, there is nothing more enjoyable than watching newly born fawns following their mothers through the tall, dewy grass - on their way to some unknown destination.
 
There's just something about those four-legged creatures. I always enjoy watching them walk slowly across just about any landscape situation you can think of . . . except when they peacefully step into the path of my HEADLIGHTS!
 
A few days ago as I was heading to work, I found myself getting a bit hungry so I reached over for my lunch bag which was sitting on the passenger seat. I groped through the bag with my right hand, keeping my eyes on the road, and managed to find a granola bar. I only looked away for a second but just when I grabbed my snack a deer suddenly stepped into view. Right . . . in front . . . of my car!!
 
I swerved hard to the left, my front tires complaining at the sudden input from the steering wheel. I JUST missed the deers rear end. I was grateful that God had gifted me with at least SOME defensive driving ability! However, I found myself wishing God would have blessed His deer, ALL deer, with a bit more brains.
 
Have you ever had an event suddenly occur in your life that you weren't really ready for? There was no way I was prepared for that deer stepping on to the road when it did. Has anything like that ever happened to you?
 
Maybe it's a phone call in the middle of the night from one of your children. Somethings wrong. Or maybe it's a call from your mom or dad to tell you about an illness . . . or worse.
 
How do we prepare ourselves for something like that? There's no way! Unless God gifted us with an amazing ability to cope, most of us would find these "sudden appearance" events to be quite challenging.
 
Last night I was talking with a small group of teens. I asked them if any of them had ever had an experience where they were suddenly blindsided by some major news. One kid spoke up about when he first heard that his dad had cancer . . . right after his grandfather had just died . . . from cancer.

These things happen so quickly. Just like the deer suddenly appearing in my headlights, these life-changing events can happen to anyone, at any time.

Here's a hypothetical question for you. What if you knew ahead of time that these events were about to happen. Would you be better prepared? We might say "yes" but I'm not so sure.

One of the tires on my car is currently making a really nasty vibrating noise. I should get it replaced, yet I procrastinate. I wait. My tire could explode at any time, possibly resulting in an accident. Perhaps even a fatal one. Yet I choose to wait. Why? Honestly? I think it's because I'm lazy. And not too smart.

It's the same way when it comes to receiving Jesus into our hearts. We tend to wait and wait and wait. Often it's a MAJOR event in our lives that forces to think about our own mortality. A deer suddenly appearing in the headlights, a grandfather dying, Someone dying on a cross . . . for you.

If someone told me that my tire was going to blow tomorrow morning on my way to work, would I change it tonight? Possibly. But probably not. Why? Because how would THEY know? Who are they? Why are we so reluctant to make those decisions that could save our lives? I think it's because we just don't think that anything would happen. We don't think, period. WE ARE the deer in the headlights at the same time we are the driver of the car!

So, if we are both the driver of the car AND the deer in the headlights does that mean we are going to be killing ourselves unless one of us makes a decision to act? Yes. Yes it does, my friends.

Have YOU made a decision for Christ yet?

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." - Isaiah 30:21

Walk in it! Guarantee your place in His Kingdom by making a decision for Christ today. You will be glad you did.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boom!

The thing about bombs is they do not think about who their intended victims are. They just explode. Boom! It doesn't matter to them who is standing next to them when they go off. It could be an old man like me or a six month old baby like my grandson. They have one purpose and that is to explode.

Same thing with guns. The whole purpose of guns is to shoot at stuff, The guns themselves don't care what they shoot at. They're inanimate. They just go Bang! The problem with guns, and with bombs, is when their owners, their creators, decide to do bad things.

Guns and bombs CAN be used for good too. Guns and bombs can be used to defend our country. Most of our soldiers carry them both into battle. Guns are used for hunting - for putting food on the table. They can be used for sport or in defending our homes.

Bombs can also be used for good. They can loosen solid rock so we can build roadways and buildings. Explosives were used to help excavate a hole for the building next door to where I work. The problem is not the guns or the explosives. The problem is . . . us. Or, more precisely, sin.

Most of us would probably be considered good, law-abiding citizens. We get up in the morning, we go to work or school, we come home at night, kiss our spouses, hugs our 2.3 kids, and we go to sleep. The problem with "us" comes when evil creeps into our hearts, when we do what is evil.

So, how do we fix that? What can we do to become "less evil?" Hmm. Hey . . . NOW we are beginning to get somewhere. That is THEE question. What can we do to get rid of the evil in the world? The evil in our very hearts? It's very easy. Jesus told us in Mark 12:31. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

These guys who set off the bombs in Boston. There are many people who would like to see them dead. One of the bombers has already died in a shootout with police. The other is in protective custody in a hospital where he is recovering from the gunshot wounds that WE inflicted upon him . . . using the guns our government wants to ban. We as a people have no idea how to fix things in this world.

I'd like for you to read something. It is a solution for eliminating all of the violence in the world. It is a solution that does not eliminate guns or bombs, because this solution eliminates the need for us to be concerned about them. This solution would be massive in scale, capable of being delivered to the entire planet. And there it little or no cost involved. Sounds like a win-win situation, right? Here it is, in just four short paragraphs . . .

"7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely
on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."
- 1 John 4:7-21

The answer, my friends,  . . . is Jesus. He is the answer to all of the bombings and the shootings. He is the answer to all of the evil that exists in our world today. Jesus is the answer to those who are starving and those who are dying of cancer. Jesus is the answer to a Muslim extremist lying in a hospital bed being hated by millions.

Jesus commanded us, he didn't ASK us, he COMMANDED us 2000 years ago to "make disciples of all nations" and we STILL have not done what He told us to do. Do you think, maybe, just maybe, we should start making an effort? As a nation? As a planet?

Our president told us that "we are no longer a Christian nation" (watch video). Perhaps it is time that we became one, once again.

If you do not know Jesus, as your personal Lord and Savior, please trust Him with your life today. The last thing you want to hear is . . . Boom! . . . and have that be the end of things. My brothers and sisters, there IS no "end" with Jesus Christ.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." - Revelation 21:4

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Privilege

We here in the United States of America are very privileged. We can come and go as we please for
the most part. We don't need to carry any "papers" with us to tell the authorities who we are. We can even burn the American flag if we so choose, not that I ever would, but we are free to protest our own government. That is rare - a freedom that not everyone on this planet has. Freedom is truly a privilege, earned.

We can stand in the middle of our towns and pray to our God. We take that for granted. There are other Christians in this world who risk their very lives every time they even mention the name of Jesus. Yet, we take that for granted.

Many of our freedoms and our privileges come from those who have served in our military. Lives have been lost, sacrificed willingly, to defend and protect us and our country.What a privilege to live in a country like ours.

This past Wednesday I had the privilege of addressing our church's youth group. I got to deliver the Easter message - the story of Jesus and his resurrection. What an incredible miracle that was - the resurrection of Jesus that is, not my talk. It was because of that miracle, God raising Jesus from the dead, that you and I have the privilege of calling ourselves sons and daughters of the most high God. It is through our belief and through our repentance that we have been saved.

Not everyone, however, sees that as a privilege. There are people who detest Christians and make it their life's work to battle against us. There are kids in our youth group who do not believe in Jesus yet. That's sad but true. There are others who say they believe but they don't seem to be bearing any of the fruit typically associated with their faith. They have not made Jesus "Lord" of their lives yet. That may seem like servitude or enslavement of sorts but I can tell you first hand that it is truly a privilege, yet few choose to grasp it.

This was interesting. The night I spoke, I asked the kids in my small group, “How many times during the day do you think about Jesus?” One said, “Umm, two . . . maybe three.” Another said, “Three.” Another said, “Two. Once in the morning and once at night.”

One kid at least had a somewhat better answer. He said, “It all depends . . . on the kind of day I am having.” Honest, yet still far from what is required of us. Honestly? I am about ready to explode . . . in frustration. We, and I'm talking about all of us now, not just teens in a Wednesday night youth group. We need to get back to basics. Like, what is the greatest commandment?

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." - Deuteronomy 6:5

God wants us to be obsessed about Him. He wants our full attention. He wants our devotion and obedience, not just to be thought about when we need him.

My friend at work and I cannot STOP thinking about God. He is constantly on our minds. How can we serve Him? What is His will for our lives? We pray, we fast, we spend hours each week listening to faith-based pod casts & sermons, and STILL we feel we aren't doing enough for Him. We aren't spending enough time with him, in prayer or in His Word.

I think the difference between TRUE Christians, and those that just "Honor Him with their lips,"
is the word "privilege." I have been so blessed by God! I pray that I never take Him and His blessings for granted. I feel extremely privileged that God would even care about me, yet alone desire to walk with me in the garden one day. I am so unworthy of His grace, yet God gives it freely, and without measure.

I came across this last night. As I read it I thought, "This really applies to how we should feel every day of our lives." We ALL should feel that it is a privilege to serve our God and King.

"And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
 
And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have."
- 2 Corinthians 1:12


It is a privilege to be called a Christian. Though some of us may be persecuted for our beliefs, we choose to stand firm for our King. He is our savior, yes, But he must also become our Lord. Then, and only then, will we be given the greatest gift of all - to dwell with Him . . . forever. :)

"What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer . . ."

What a Friend We Have in Jesus - Alan Jackson
 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Discernment

"As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men." - Acts 17:10-12

When I first came to believe and made Jesus Lord of my life, I read just about every book I could get my hands on. I could NOT read and learn enough about Jesus and why he had to die for me. It was like I was starving for information about God, about Jesus, and words were my food.

I began by reading The Bible of course, Duh. But I didn't stop there. Then came The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I took in all this knowledge and stored it in my heart and in my mind.

I also watched television shows about God - The Gospel of Judas (it's not in the Bible) on the History Channel. I watched Jimmy Swaggert, Joyce Meyer & Robert Schuller in that beautiful Crystal Cathedral. I started to watch a Joel Osteen sermon once but I had to change the channel. That guy just gave me the creeps!

And then there were the movies - The Passion of the Christ, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, I watched them all. Even Flywheel! And, of course, Rob Bell's Nooma videos.

I took a class in Spiritual Formation at the ELCA Lutheran church I was attending. I went through Purpose Driven Youth Ministry training. All these things provided me with information in my new-found faith. But then something happened. I began . . . to question.

I wasn't questioning God or his Word, but I began to see things happening in the church that made me wonder. I would be reading about certain things in my Bible and they didn't seem to line up with what was happening in the church and in it's doctrine. I began to question . . . my church. I began to wonder what the truth was.

The turning point for me came in 2009 - The ELCA's decision to allow and actively encourage gay and lesbian pastors. (ELCA Social Statement on Sexuality). It is rather clear to me that God does not support this. It seemed like "man" (the ELCA) was trying to define God in terms of who THEY thought he should be, not embracing who he truly is. I took my concerns to the church council, hoping they would understand. I had verses to back me up and everything. They chose not to deviate from what the ELCA handed down, despite it being contrary to God's written word. So I left the church.

From that point on though, not wanting to be burned again, I began to examine everything that came my way. Each week, as I listened to the pastor of my new church preach, I examined everything he said and compared it to God's Word. I STILL do that. So far, I have not been disappointed.

A friend of mine suggested I listen to Stand Up For The Truth, a radio talk show out of Green Bay, WI. They have a bunch of pod casts you can download and listen to. They are an excellent source of truth and they always refer their listeners back to God's Word. GotQuestions.org is another good source it you ever have any questions.

Those people I mentioned earlier? They have all spoken words contrary to God's written word or they have Approach with caution. Rob Bell and Robert Schuller are both leaders of the Emergent Church. They question many of he Bibles teachings.

Rick Warren, "America's Pastor," is a seems to be a proponent of Chrislam - a blending of the Christian and Muslim faiths. Here is a link to a YouTube video where Pastor Warren prays in the name of "Isa" at President Obama's inauguration. Isa is merely a prophet in the Qur'an, not the Son of the living God. There are many other wolves in sheep's clothing out there . .. so Beware!

As a youth leader I have a tremendous responsibility as a teacher (James 3:1). I will be held responsible for any of those I lead astray because of my teaching. I will answer to God. I must be very discerning in what I say is truth because teens WILL remember what they have heard. God's Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).

We ALL have a responsibility to our Lord and Savior, Jesus. He died for us. We owe Him our very lives. When we tell others about Him, let us make sure we tell them the truth. Refer to His Word. Read from the text. We are followers, not spin doctors. The minute we stray from what GOD says, and start "interpreting" for ourselves through the filter of what WE think, we sinning against God. By my count, we are breaking half of the ten commandments all at once!

Spread the Gospel. But spread THEE Gospel, not a man-made version of it. There is only one source of for truth and that is The Bible. Sola Scriptura baby!! By scripture alone!!

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." - Matthew 10:16

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Temptation

Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls. Mmm. I made up a tube of those sinfully, delicious treats this weekend for me and my wife. We try to limit ourselves to just two apiece, but two is just not enough. Invariably, we always return to the kitchen for "just one more." Truth be told, I could eat an entire tube all by myself. All eight of them! They're THAT GOOD!!

We don't eat them that often. That's probably a good thing. If we did, we'd never be able to get out of the house! Our three-foot wide door simply would not be wide enough to allow egress for our "wide load" cinnamon butts. Those cinnamon rolls are just sooooo good.

Peanut M&M's Oh, yeah. There's another thing I could eat an entire bag of. Although that probably would NOT be a good thing for me to do. I tend to gain a little weight whenever those things are around. They tempt me you know - just lying there in a little bowl on the kitchen counter. It's their fault! They actually call out to me. "Bob, come over and spend some time with us."

Candy, cinnamon rolls or any really good tasting food item can all be a form of temptation. There are many other types of temptation as well, many other ways we can become tempted, and they all share one thing in common. Ourselves, and our continual desire to feed our id, our "self." When we place OUR wants above our needs.

Television is absolutely FILLED with temptation. The latest luxury car, a sizzling steak on a grille, a beautiful super-model, with wind blowing through her hair, advertising the underwear that she is ALMOST wearing. Ads like these are ALWAYS playing. It's not like we choose to watch them either. They just come on and they're in our heads. So, do you know what I do? I turn off the TV or I get up and go into another room. I don't need that stuff in my head, bouncing around where it shouldn't be.

I heard someone say once that, "You can't keep a bird from flying over your head, but you CAN keep a bird from building a nest in your hair." That's a little weird but it's a good thing to remember. We can see a good looking guy or gal walking down the street but it's what we do with that image in our minds that defines us and who we really are . . . in God's eyes.

I believe in the old adage, "Out of site, out of mind." For example, my wife likes to bake. She makes wonderfully delicious breads and cookies. When they're sitting on the counter, I eat them. I can say to myself, "I probably should eat these four cookies, but I'll watch what I eat . . . later . . .after they're all gone." But if my wife would bake her banana bread and then hide it, I'd never know any better. I wouldn't eat the bread because it wasn't in my line of sight. Unless, of course, I could smell it.

We humans have been tempted from Day 1. I wrote a little bit about that in a blog I posted a few weeks ago (Sin). We will always be tempted. So what do we do about it? How do we keep that "bird" from building a nest in our head?

Turn off the television. That's the biggest step right there. When you see a beautiful woman, or a good looking guy, walking down the hallway at work, turn your head. Take a different hallway. When the opportunity for temptation presents itself, kick it in the groin. I think that's the key. Don't let temptation have a chance.

Here's something that will mess with your head a bit. Do you know the Lord's Prayer? It can be found in the book of Matthew (6:9-13) and in the Book of Luke (11:1-4). Look at Matthew, verse 13 - "And lead us not into temptation . . ." implying that God might lead us into temptation. Think about that for a moment. Jesus is praying to God, asking, not to be led into temptation. Why would God do that? If we read James 1:13 we are told, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one."

Isn't this a conflict in the Bible? These two verses seem contradictory. Context, my friends context. God will never TEMPT us to sin, but he WILL TEST us. Although God himself doesn't tempt us to sin, God allows us to be tempted as a test. Read James 1:12

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."

The Hebrew word for tempted is "nacah" which means, "to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test.” The Greek word for temptation, "peiraz√≥," means ,"try, tempt, test." It is a test!

When we ARE tempted to sin, it is not from God. But God will use those temptations as a test of our faith and our character. Ahh! So, what do I need to do to pass the test??

Well, the next time I make cinnamon rolls for my wife, I need to look at my temptation to eat more rolls than I should . . . as a test. Gluttony (eating too much) is a sin (Deuteronomy 21:20) so maybe next time, although I am tempted, I will choose not to eat the entire package of cinnamon rolls.

"They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved." - Psalm 78:18

I'm not one for changing or modifying God's Word but perhaps this "translation" would have made more sense to those who tend to say "God tempted me.". . .

"Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into trials, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." - Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Zombies!!

College is basically a killing field, where many young Christians willingly go to die. The Barna Group, an evangelical polling & statistics group, says that 80% of young Christians today will walk away from their faith. Eighty percent!!

I was one of those "Christian" youth group kids who "abandoned ship" back in the mid-seventies. Things started out alright when I got to college but things slowly deteriorated spiritually and, eventually, I left the church. It became unimportant. Too many other FUN things to do.

My first year at college, I came home on weekends to play guitar in the worship band for our youth group. Looking back, I'd have to say that I REALLY came home to play guitar with my friends, not to worship God. Sadly, I never really "got it" when I was in high school.

That same apathetic pattern continued throughout most of my life. No one really cared enough to talk with me about my faith, or lack of it. My wife kept asking me to go to church with her but that seldom worked - only when I felt "guilty." I was lost, spiritually, and no one cared. And that was just fine with me.

There were lots of us "lost" types out there, especially back in college. Dorm parties, Wapatuli parties, pantie raids . . . I remember walking into the bathroom one day and there was a guy AND a girl showering together. There were thousands of us on that campus, most of us were terribly, horribly lost. Like a bunch of Zombies!

During my freshman year I went to see a movie - Night of the Living Dead. It was about, yes, you guessed it, Zombies. I learned quite a few life changing lessons in that movie.
  1. Zombies are always dirty. It's probably because they just climbed out of some grave some place, but 'Zombie hygeine' is an oxymoron.
  2. Zombies always walk slowly. That's probably because the were dead not that long ago and they were a little stiff. Rigor mortise you know. Totally understandable.
  3. Zombies crave human flesh. I don't know where that desire came from but it became very apparent in that movie. They couldn't find food at the grocery store? Nope, apparently it was human flesh or nothing.
  4. Zombies can only be killed by a shot to the head. Anywhere else on their body and they just keep on a comin'!
You know, now that I think about it, and based on those zombie characteristics, I went to school with a LOT of zombies. Many of my dorm mates sure fit the description above - usually after a frat party. They were dirty, they walked slowly, if they could walk at all, and they craved human flesh . . . but in a different way, if you know what I mean. And the shots to the head? Think about it. College parties are filled with shots to the head. Jello shots, shots of whiskey . . . (sigh)

Where did we go wrong? What turns nice, church-going young adults into wishy-washy "Christians" who only pull God out to hopefully extinguish some personal "fire" in our lives. We walk away because we are lazy and too self-absorbed to want to change.

Things took a turn for the worse shortly after the serpent asked Eve, "Did God really say . . . " (Gen 3:1)

My friends, there are millions of zombies out there! They are literally the walking dead. They're everywhere on this planet. "Open your eyes and look at the fields!" (John 4:35). They're in our schools. They sit right next to us at work. There may be one sleeping next to you at night. Scary? It should be! But the scariest thought is that WE are also Zombies. The only thing that saved us is a shot, not to the head, but to the heart. An infusion of blood - the blood of Christ. Without his blood we might as well just crawl right back into the grave from whence we came. With the blood of Jesus Christ, we would be totally, eternally dead.

What if we switched around the entire zombie scenario. What if WE, the children of God, actively began seeking out the lost, the zombies of this world. We need to become a different kind of zombie, "possessed" by our desire to serve Jesus. What if we were obsessively driven, slow to move yet extremely determined. What if we craved to deliver, to ALL the Zombies of the world, the message of the Gospel. Our mighty invincible weapon would be God's Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the power of HIS blood - sacrificed, once and for all, so that we might live, and NEVER die. Think about that. That is what we are called to do!!

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:1-10

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Devoted

Devoted - characterized by loyalty and devotion (a devoted fan), (he is devoted to her). Synonyms include words like loyal, faithful, staunch, dedicated and attached.

When I think of someone as being devoted I get a picture in my mind of my grandfather and grandmother. They were incredibly devoted to one another. They loved each other and didn't really like to be away from each other. No one had to tell me that. It was obvious.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother became a different person. She was still "grandma" when we came to visit her, but once in a while we would catch her with tears in her eyes, crying. She really missed my grandpa after her passed.

They weren't a "perfect couple." They still disagreed upon occasion but those moments were few and far between and they always made up for any hurt feelings with hugs and kisses.

Recently, I've been reading through the Old Testament and it is very apparent in those books that God is looking for a "devoted" Israel. There were times when Israel and God had a good relationship but there were many other times where they "did evil in the eyes of the Lord." The relationship went bad and Israel was punished, or "given over to the hands of their enemies."

Just like God's relationship with Israel, our earthly relationships are extremely important in God's eyes. Especially our relationship with Him.We were created by Him for that very purpose. I mentioned that in my previous post (Creation). Our devotion to God, in our relationships and at work, are all extremely important to God.

My question for you today is: Are you totally devoted to God? Key word = totally.

Speaking for myself, I try very hard to be devoted, but I always seem to be falling short. I try to be in God's Word daily. I listen to sermons playing in my ears while I am working. I go to worship every Sunday. I have a small group I lead at church. I am a volunteer youth leader, etc, etc, etc. but I am nowhere near devoted.

If I was totally devoted I would pray every day and throughout the day. I don't do that. If I was totally devoted to God I would quit my job and find something more God-honoring to do with my life but . . . I am comfortable and my family depends on me making money so we can pay our bills. Does it concern me that I am not devoted to God when His first and greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. " (Deuteronomy 6:5)

I'm hopeless. Well, I shouldn't say that. I have Jesus. Jesus gives me hope. Yet, despite his dying on the cross for me because I am not devoted to Him, I STILL am not devoted to him!!! Grrr.

So what should we do, we "devoted followers of Christ?" What should we do with our incredible lack of devotion, KNOWING that God demands it. Get down on our knees and beg forgiveness for starters. And then take steps to GET devoted!

Set aside time for God every day. Manage to be in the Bible every day. No exceptions!!! It's okay to spend time at work or school, but use those opportunities to bring glory to God. Speak to a friend or co-worker about Jesus. Let His light shine through you into the lives of those around you. He placed his Holy Spirit in you for a reason - to help you, to guide you. Follow!!!

Look at it this way. We are here on this planet for a very short time. The greatest stretch of time we will ever experience is with our God, our King. So why are we wasting time worrying about what kind of clothes to wear or who's friends with whom?

Prioritize your life today and become devoted, totally devoted, to the very meaning of the word. God is devoted. He is devoted to loving us despite our shortcomings. Maybe it's time we devoted ourselves to Him for a change. And who knows, perhaps God will bless us in those other areas of our lives BECAUSE of our devotion to Him.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." - Matthew 28:33

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Creation

I haven't eaten at McDonald's for years. My absence from their counter is due to many things but one of them is actor/comedian, Steve Martin. He had a theory that everything McDonald's "created" came out of one giant machine in the back room - cheeseburgers, shakes, cardboard boxes, nerds at the counter, everything. Slightly funny but somehow his words had a hint of truth to them, at least for me. When I used to eat there though, I often had me a Filet-O-Fish sandwich! Fish. Yummm. :)

So, what does a fish sandwich have to do with a blog post about creation? Read on, Ronald McDonald.

I was listening to a Christian radio talk show this past week (Stand Up For The Truth) and I heard something that really made me think. The host and his guest were discussing creationism. They were going through the Old Testament account of creation found in the book of Genesis.

That was good but I have already heard all the arguments about creation vs evolution. I have chosen to believe everything that is written in the Bible. Oh, but I still believe in the Big Bang theory ;) . . . as written on a bumper sticker I saw once . . . "I believe in the Big Bang Theory. God created the universe. BANG!" Funny. Anyway, let's get back to the radio show about the evidence for creation side of things.

The guest said he learned something new about creation and God by reading a NEW Testament story - the feeding of the 5000. Evidence of creation in the New Testament? See if you can find it. Here's the story from the Book of Matthew.

"When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children." - Matthew 14:13-21

Think about what had just happened for a moment. You have just read a story of creation . . . on a smaller scale than the creation of the universe to be sure, but think about what Jesus did there. Hmm, I wonder how those who were present that day reacted when they witnessed "creation" occurring in their very presence.They actually saw Jesus create enough fish and bread to feed 5,000 men PLUS all their women and children. God created, right before their eyes!

I wonder how evolutionists could explain THAT story. I mean, according to evolution, wouldn't Jesus have to find a single-celled organism, toss it into a pool of "ooze" and then tell everyone to wait a few a gazillion years? But Jesus didn't do that. He created fully-grown, adult fish and hundreds of loaves of baked bread, without a net, without an oven. BANG! Right there on the spot!

It was late, Jesus, the disciples and the townspeople had all experienced a long day of travel - some by boat, others by foot. Yet Jesus healed ALL of their sick, and then he CREATED enough food to feed them all to eat! And Jesus just did it, easily, after a long day, by giving thanks to God and breaking bread.

After reading that story, I don't know about you but I am rather impressed. No wonder all the people were bringing their sick to be healed. Jesus healed . . . and then he fed them! He provided for their every need. Amazing!

Why then do we have so much trouble believing that God created everything? Why are there all these "theories" trying to explain everything from creation to the flood to Jonah living three days in the belly of a whale? Why can't we be satisfied knowing that God has the power to do ALL these things? He IS God after all!!

I think it's because we humans keep trying to explain the seemingly impossible actions of an incomprehensible God. We get frustrated trying to understand God on our terms, human terms, when the fact is, God is way, WAY beyond our own understanding. God must be shaking His head at our silly little theories and ideas.

Even Moses, when he was talking with God on Mount Sinai, even HE tried describing God in human terms. Moses wanted to know God's name. After all, us humans ALL have names, God should too, right? And what did God say?

"I am who I am." (Exodus 3:14). God has no name, He simply . . . is.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day." - Genesis 1:20-23

We humans always have to have an explanation, a reason, a purpose, for everything we do. It's our nature I guess. We have to understand everything, conquer everything, and justify everything that has been done throughout all of time. You know, all we REALLY need to do is to have faith and trust and belief in a God whose thoughts simply become reality.

Let us be content in the knowledge that God is God. There is no other. There is none like him. We are all unworthy to be in His presence. Yet, that is the very thing that God desires. He wants us to be with Him (like Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden). Despite our disobedience, God continues to love us. He loves us SO much that he sacrificed His one and only Son so that he could feed us "bread" (Jesus) and work a "miracle" in each of us (through His Holy Spirit). Rather than question and doubt, trying to do things on our own, let us embrace God for who He is and give Him thanks and praise.

Friday, April 5, 2013

180

One of the things I like to do periodically is to figuratively turn around, do a 180 of sorts, and take a look at where I've come from. Good knowledge can be gained by examining all of the "fork in the road" decisions I've made that have led me to where I am today.

Actually, "fork in the road" decisions are usually the easiest decisions to examine. I either chose the right path. Or I chose the wrong one.

"Yeah, I probably shouldn't have eaten that last helping of potato salad, especially after it had been sitting there on that picnic table . . .  all afternoon . . . in the sun." Or, "I'm sure I have enough gasoline to make it to the next exit. I'm sure there be will be a gas station there . . . right?" Sometimes it's rather obvious. We're either right or we're wrong.

Complex types of decisions are a lot more like stepping stones across a river than they are forks in the road. There are many more paths to choose, many more variables in our decision-making process. What appears to be an easy path can suddenly become more difficult when the stones become slippery when wet or the rocks we have chosen to step on are wobbly and unstable.

Just like the chicken crossing the road, the goal when crossing a river is to get to the other side . . . without getting wet. There may appear to be many ways to accomplish the crossing but if we end up knee-deep in the water, the journey is not going to be as enjoyable or rewarding.

Most of us tend to go through our lives without examining the stones we're about to step on. We just take a step, figuring everything will be alright. Suddenly the rock moves underneath our feet and it's too late. We're soaked.

A wiser person would take the time to pick a route in advance. They might say to themselves, "The last time I stepped on a rock that looked like that I got wet. I think I'll try this one instead." Experience is a great teacher. But a better teacher would be listening to someone who has already crossed the river. They already know the right steps to take. They have already made it to the other side. It would be foolish not to gain from their experience and heed their advice. However we don't usually do that because that would mean depending on someone else. Sometimes, we humans can be so stubborn!

Most of our daily decisions are unimportant. Paper or plastic? regular or decaf? Other decisions can have bigger consequences. "I think I can handle just one more drink" or "I can't really afford to have a baby right now. Maybe I'll just make it go away."

Take a look back at your own life. Are there any decisions you made that you'd like to change? Sure there are. We all have them. Now the only thing we can do is to live with all of the decisions we've made. And hopefully learn from them. If only there was a way to eliminate all those bad choices, the stupid decisions we naively made that ended up costing us dearly. Pssst. Guess what? There is . . . a way.

The Bible is an amazing instruction manual, in additional to being the infallible, always truthful, Word of God. You know that B.I.B.L.E. acronym right? Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. Use God's Word as your GPS - God's Positioning System. (Wow! I just used two acronyms in one paragraph!!)

Before we take our next step in life, before we make our next decision, ask God what He thinks about it. He's seen every decision everyone has ever made. Ask Him what He would do. "Which path would you choose God?"

What I have learned, as a 60-year-old follower of Jesus, is to make sure all of my decisions are honoring to God and according to His will. "But how can I find out what God's will is for me?"

Three words . . . . read . . . the . . . Bible!

There is nothing worse, when looking back on the steps we've taken in our lives, than to say "I should have . . ." or "If only I'd known . . ." It is much better to look back on one's life and see nothing but God-honoring decisions made. And when someday we find ourselves on the other side of the river (hopefully with dry feet) we can look up at God and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6
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I have two links for you today. The first is to a short film called "180." It is a story about decisions made and the consequences. Nearly 4 million people have watched it. It's 30 minutes long.


The second link is to a song by Skillet. It's about the father of a child who was never born. One of those decisions made that now he wishes he could change.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sin

Now that Easter is over and we are all hopefully returning to a more normal eating pattern, I thought I would rewind a little bit . . . back past the resurrection of Jesus . . . past his crucifixion . . . and write about just WHY Jesus had to die.

One could easily assume that Jesus died so he could come back to life and show us what awaits us if we would become his followers. I guess that's partially true. But that is not the main reason Jesus had to die. Sadly, WE, my friends, are the main reason Jesus was nailed to the cross.

If you go back to the book of Genesis and read about what things were like BEFORE anyone took a bite out of that apple, you will find an amazing relationship between God and Adam and Eve. God had made a garden for them ALL to enjoy - The Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). If we skip ahead a bit, after the fall, we can get a glimpse of what our relationship was supposed to be like.

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day . . ." - Genesis 3:8

God was actually WITH Adam and Eve! God desired to be walking in the garden with us! Whoa?

But then came the fall and all of us, every one of us right down the line, became separated from God - banished from the garden (Genesis 3:22). Still, God loves us and provides for us, just like he did for Adam and Eve by making them clothes to wear (Genesis 3:21). But from that point on man was on a path towards death.

Since that day God has demanded sacrifices for our sins. Pick an Old Testament book like Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy. Those books are filled with instructions for sacrifices - grain sacrifices, wave sacrifices, burnt offerings . . . but the important one for this particular discussion is . . . the sin offering. The sin offering demanded blood. In the Old Testament days, the high priest was instructed to lay his hand upon the head of a bull (representing our sin), and then slay "the sin" before the Lord. Then blood was taken and poured out at the base of the altar (Leviticus 4).

The Israelites were pretty much in a constant state of sin. It must have been frustrating from God's viewpoint. However, God is patient, SO incredibly patient. However, he is NOT tolerant of our sinning against who He is - a holy, righteous God. But we just can't seem to help ourselves.We were born to sin it seems.

But, from the very beginning, God had a plan and His name was (and still is) Jesus.

"There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." - Proverbs 14:12

These words could not be more true, especially today in the world in which we live. We are SO consumed with our ourselves. Hey, if it feels good, do it! We've gotten to the point where the only opinion that matters about what is right and wrong, is ours. We forget that our "opinion" about right and wrong simply does not matter. It is only God's opinion that does.

Actually, that's not quite true. Wanna know why? Because God does not HAVE an "opinion?" An opinion is defined as "a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge." God is the same - yesterday, today and tomorrow. God never changes. God is always right. And God never lies. He is always just, always tells the truth and He is simply right . . . ALL of the time. There are no OPINIONS about what is right and what is wrong in God's mind. It simply IS right, or it's wrong, to God.

Here's an example of sin that most people are familiar with - the woman caught in adultery. It shows the grace extended by God to the sinners. God loves, God cares, but God is not accepting of our sin.

"Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” - John 8:2-11

The biggest problem with our understanding of this story is that many of us think we can go on sinning because "Jesus will forgive." We tend to forget the last little line from that story where Jesus tells us . . . "Go and sin no more."

I'd like you to read something. It pretty much got MY attention. See if this adds any light to the "Go and sin no more" command given to us by Jesus.

"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." - Hebrews 10:26-31

We are all going to sin. We shouldn't, but we will. It's a given. But after reading that passage from Hebrews, it makes me REALLY not want to sin anymore! Read that first line again, slowly.

"If we go on sinning . . . willfully . . . after receiving the knowledge of truth, . . . there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins."

Wow.

I pray that we might be constantly on guard for all of the temptations offered to us in this sin-filled world. I pray that we might be as forgiving to others as Jesus is to us. And I pray that we would grow beyond the "Adam and Eve" in each of us and embrace the risen Christ, Jesus. He died for us as a sacrifice for OUR sins. Jesus was OUR sin offering - poured out for OUR sins on the cross. So . . . how are we going to deal with that? And what are we going to do about it? Perhaps we should repent and look to Jesus for forgiveness . . . and then . . . pray.