Tag Archives: life

We must shine!

It may seem to you that our country is coming apart at the seams. Violence has been on the rise. Bigotry is once again raising its ugly head. Our police, those men and women who stand in the gap for us, are coming under fire both literally and in the media. The leadership in our country is severely divided. Our economy has muddled along without any real growth as the industry in our country continues to suffer. There seems to be no hope, right? Wrong.

While all of these things are serious, there is nothing new. In Ecclesiastes 1, Solomon speaks of how things come and go, but nothing is new. Even with all of the seasons of change, there really is nothing new that we face. Sometimes it helps to step back and look at the long history of God’s creation. Since Adam and Eve fell in the garden, humanity has been at odds with God. Because of our separation from God and our focus on self, we have also been at odds with each other. As soon as Adam and Eve’s first two children reached maturity, strife, greed, jealousy, and anger raised their head. Hatred, conceived in the heart of Cain gave birth to murder. Adam and Eve knew the grief of losing a child, Cain knew the shame, horror, and guilt of an act that could never be fixed.

Since that time, humanity has striven against itself. Governments have risen and fallen. Wars were fought. Economies grew and economies imploded. Bigotry has raged against people because of their religion, the color of their skin, the place of their birth, their education level, their economic position, their ideology, and gender. What we are facing today is the same old thing coming back again and again. Sin, humanity’s desire to serve self rather than God, is the root of the problem. As long as there is sin, there will be strife. So, what is our response? How should we live in times like these?

First, we need to repent. Repentance is an admission of our guilt and a turning back to God. Wait a minute, you might say. I’m not the one causing these problems. I didn’t shoot police officers.  I’m not bigoted. I just want to be able to raise my family, go to work, and live my life in peace. Why do I need to repent? I can answer that! It’s biblical.

During the Babylonian captivity, Daniel was studying God’s word. To be specific, he was studying Jeremiah’s prophecies. He realized that the time of the Babylonian captivity was coming to an end and he turns to God to pray for himself and Israel. His prayer is one of repentance. This godly man approaches God and begins, “…confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill…” (Daniel 9:20). His prayer is so serious that he, “…turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Starting in verse 4, Daniel prays and confesses. He acknowledges that God is righteous while he and his people are covered in shame. He admits that his people and the leadership of his country turned away from God and his laws. He remembers the way that God delivered his people. Then, in verses 18-19, he says, “…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” Like Daniel, as Christians, we need to acknowledge our own personal sin as well as our sin as a people and nation.

Second, we need to unify. The call of the book of Philippians is one of unity. While reminding us of the humility of Christ in which he gave his life for us, Paul calls us to “…work out our faith with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation…” (Phil 2:12-15). The world may be filled with strife, anger, distrust, gossip, and discord, but the church should not be. We’re different. We have experienced the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit lives within us, he changes us, and he makes it possible for us to be obedient to him. The salvation that Jesus secured for us and the change he works in us is so amazing that our response should be living faith with fear and trembling? Why? Because we are so awed at what our God has done. Our awe of him and our desire to be like him should drive us to live and serve together in a way that pleases him! Remember, there is one thing that unites us all. Paul says in Galatians 3:26-28, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” What does that mean for us today? In Christ, there is no division based on nationality, occupation, gender, or skin color. In Christ, all believers stand united!

The people of our world live in darkness. It is darkness so severe that nothing of the world can penetrate it. It leaves people helpless, hopeless, and lost.  John tells us that in Jesus is the life and that life is the light of men.  He is the light that shines in the darkness. Paul tells us that living in Jesus makes us, “shine like the stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16). So, we need to shine. More than ever, we need to shine.

The light we reflect is beautiful, brilliant, and attractive. We reflect it, not just by being followers of Jesus, but by sharing God’s word. It is both a part of us and an action taken by us. Notice that Paul does not stop at saying that we are to shine like the stars in the universe. He says that we are to shine like the stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life!

If we are to shine, then we must engage. Our churches and our people need to leave their sanctuaries and hit the streets. We need to make friends with people who are not like us, to build relationships with people who do not know, and to share our lives, our faith, and God’s Word with others. We need to be a presence at rallies and events, in our neighborhoods, in our schools and jobs, and in our homes. We need to stand united, not for or against political parties, but as members of a kingdom that transcends any of our earthly governments. And, we need to do so humbly and repentantly so that people see and experience the grace and mercy of our God.

This is our calling. This is the command that Jesus has given us. This is our response to the troubles of these time!

It’s Ok To Be Religious

A friend of mine recently shared an article on Facebook. The article gave reasons why the author hated religion. The author of the article was a Christian, so it wasn’t an argument against Christianity. Rather, it was an argument against religion that chokes out faith. I’ve heard these statements many times over the years. In fact, I can remember saying, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian.”

I understand the heart behind the statement, but I find the statement itself at fault. The believer who says this is usually reacting to the world’s understanding of what religion is. To the world, religion, and especially organized religion or church, is just a list of rules that you have to keep or things you have to do in order to be a good person and get to go to heaven or paradise and receive whatever reward is coming to you. That’s why there are so many memes out on the internet about how a person can be a good person without ever going to a church. I read one recently that said, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, you lack empathy, not religion.” If we allow the world’s definition of religion, then we are constantly on the defensive or may even find ourselves embarrassed to admit that we are a Christian.

Christians who make the statement that they’re not religious are usually trying to say that they’re not legalistic. The bible speaks clearly in both the Old Testament and the New Testament about how a believer is supposed to live. There are clearly things that believers should do and things that they should avoid. That is not legalism. Legalism is when the rules become the object of our zeal and worship rather than the God who authored those rules.

Christians, can we say that we’re religious without being embarrassed or afraid that we’ll offend someone? Yes! We can!  Jesus challenged the prevailing thought on religion by describing what a life defined by religion really is. Instead of telling people that they had to eat certain foods, worship on certain days, wear clothing that looked a certain way and was made from a certain material, Jesus defined true religion by the outward living of the inward change that takes place in a man or woman who truly believes. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus was born Jewish. He went to temple. He honored the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus lived the rules laid out in scripture. But, he didn’t do them out of worship for the rules. He lived the rules to the glory of his father.

So, what does religion look like in the Bible? James tells us, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)” Paul tells us, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21) In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught a sermon that would forever change the world. In it, he shows what a life changed by grace received through faith in Him looks like. This is true religion.

So, let’s not think about religion or being religious as the world does. It is not a set of rules that teach a moral standard or make a person good. It is not a set of rules that you follow to earn your way to heaven or into God’s good graces. Instead, it is a lifestyle marked by faith and lived in thankfulness to the God whose grace saved us while we were yet sinners, set us free from slavery to sin, and gives us new life, new hope, and a new record.

Faith First

While listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg, I was struck by a comment that he made. He said, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” History is marked by men and women who have tried to reach God through outward activities rather than an inward commitment.

Martin Luther is a famous example. In his attempts to come close to God, he joined a monastery, willingly suffered many physical penances, constantly went to confession and often struggled with guilt in between times of confession, studied, prayed, and did everything he was advised to do in order to be close to God. When that didn’t work, he pursued mysticism, the idea that if he just loved God and loved Him as a father, he would draw closer to God. But, he had a strained relationship with His earthly father and found that he couldn’t relate to God in that way without feeling hostility and hatred. He was even made a pastor and professor in Wittenberg in the hopes that he would find peace. All of the outward experiences and activities he tried to force on himself only led him to realize how far away from God he was.

The change, for Martin Luther, came when he was teaching the book of Romans. As aware of his struggles to know God as he was, he was shocked when he realized that the righteousness of God and faith in God were both gifts imparted to us by God (Romans 1:17). No matter how hard he worked at being righteous and faithful, he couldn’t truly be righteous and faithful without accepting those gifts from God. God gives that gift based on His own righteousness and to His glory. When we realize that God’s gift comes first, that he reaches to us first, it changes things. It humbles us to realize that the gift He gives us has been totally paid for by His Son. No activity we do can earn it. We come as beggars and we receive the King.

In his letter, James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). Understand this, brothers and sisters, James is not telling us to work our way to faith. God graciously and abundantly gives us faith. We surrender in that faith and live in that faith. That gift of faith comes first and with that gift comes the declaration of our righteousness. It is an inward change, it is new life, it is a new heart, and a new record. From that faith, eternal life flows. It is only when faith comes first that the outward works follow. It is then, and only then, do the religious activities matter. Alistair is right, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” Our cleansing comes through the grace of God extended in the saving work of His Son. It comes through our surrender and acceptance of the faith that He offers and the righteousness that He imparts to us. And, finally, our activities flow from that cleansed heart and life!