Self-Created Righteousness

I’ve been doing a study lately about attitudes, specifically the kind of attitudes Christians should have concerning such important things like sin, worship, or money.  This is all in preparation for a Bible class series I’m teaching soon, and one of the topics I decided to add was studying the type of attitude we should have towards ourselves.

There’s no question that God has a clear standard and that we as sinners have broken it.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 adds, “the wages of sin is death.”  This is not necessarily some form of self-deprecation where we demean ourselves to the point of feeling worthless, but that we recognize that our God is perfect and he has defined what true righteousness is and that we fall miserably short of that standard.  He has asked that those who carry his name remain holy (1 Peter 1:16), requires us to have a proper and humble view of who we are and where we’ve come from, and to remember that it is God who justifies (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

I think the dangerous part begins when we attempt to change God’s standard, either by making it easier for ourselves or by making it harder for others.  Sometimes we decide to create our own form of righteousness based on what we believe is fair or by comparing ourselves to others who we believe are somehow worse than we are.  God, on the other hand, doesn’t see it that way.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of sin like we do so we come off looking better than those in the world.  He doesn’t keep track of church attendance or works completed and say, “That guy is really dedicated, I’ll make sure to give him an extra portion of grace!”  Instead, God examines our heart, our attitude towards self and decides whether we truly love him or not.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem, and sadly, it’s still a bit of a problem today.  As the religious elite, the Pharisees made sure to change God’s standard to suit their needs.  They would pray openly, fast painfully, and brag loudly about their knowledge of God’s word, all the while holding everyone else to a standard or level righteousness that they themselves were unable to fulfill (Matthew 23:1-7).  But Jesus could see right to their heart and knew that their attitude was all wrong.  They looked for reasons to condemn instead of ways to show love and grace.  They did everything they could to prevent people from ever experiencing the true, merciful God.

And so it is today.  Some in the church treat people in the world as though Christians have a lock on some religious club and they can’t get in unless they follow the rules.  We can’t go around shutting people out of the kingdom of God because we falsely assume their sin is worse than ours.  We can’t take the job of judgment away from God, and anyways, that’s a very dangerous choice to make (Matthew 7:1-2).

Jesus was our physical manifestation of righteousness and he didn’t treat sinners with contempt and disdain.  Instead, he showed grace to the penitent and offered up hope for those who were searching for the truth.  If we are followers of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?

Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help others come to know God and his love for them?  Let’s remember that Jesus died for WHOEVER would believe in him (John 3:16), and that we shouldn’t put a stumbling block or any form of discouragement in front of anyone searching for the truth of the gospel.  We should make every effort to live up to God’s standard of righteousness and encourage and assist others in doing the same.

-Joe

 

Freedom Isn’t Free

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I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard this phrase before. Freedom isn’t free.  And it’s true, it isn’t free. We think of the freedoms we’re afforded in America and we’re wise to remember the sacrifices made by many citizens over the years.  For those of us from military families, we’re easily reminded of time served in defense and service to our country. Today, America’s Independence Day, we’re especially mindful of what a great nation we live in and the hard work, dedication, and patriotic fervor that went into making it great.

But today, freedom doesn’t seem to have the same meaning it once had. When most think of freedom, they think of their God-given and Constitutional right to do as they please.  Freedom means we can vehemently voice our objections to anyone wanting to take it away.

“Freedom of speech?  Don’t dare try to stop me from saying what I want to say.”

“The right to bear arms?  That’s right, you better keep your hands off my guns.”

“Religious beliefs?  You better not tell me what I can and can’t believe in.”

There’s an arrogance surrounding our personal freedoms and most people forget that they come at a cost.  The men who drafted our Constitution did so in order to grow a strong and united nation, not so we could use that document just to get what we want. The women and men who have served in the military and died for our country made the ultimate sacrifice in order that you may enjoy your freedoms responsibly and not use them in a casual and flippant way.  The providence God has showered down upon us was because America was a godly nation, not an arrogant one.

So today, remember that your freedoms have been paid with a price.  They are continuing to be paid for.  Set aside the drinks and hamburgers and fireworks for just a moment and appreciate the blessings we’ve been given and always remember…

Freedom isn’t free.

-Joe

Worship for Real

worshipFamily traditions.  Every family has them.  How you spend the holidays may immediately come to mind but that is not the only area where we practice traditions.  In my home, it’s tradition to eat out just about every Friday night.  It’s the end of the work week and we look forward to getting out of the house for a little family time.  Or take our nightly routine.  Every evening around 8:15, we start processing our daughter for bed.  She always comes into our room and I do a short devotional with her and then we say our prayers and she goes to sleep.  Traditions like those are good. 

But what about our religious traditions?  Should we have them or are they preventing us from a truly intimate relationship with God?

I know that others have been a Christian longer than I have, but after being saved 30 years ago, I’ve had a lot of time to witness the religious landscape of Christianity.  My observation is that, while effective and not always bad, traditions are keeping many followers of Christ from really experiencing a close relationship with him.  When speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus taught us that our worship of him is a balance of spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).  In God’s eyes, one cannot exist without the other.

A Christian who worships in spirit and not truth may look on fire for God.  They may be very passionate and want to know him closely, but without truth, he can easily fall into a false understanding of scripture and a lack of obedience to God’s commands.  While worshipping in spirit should be the aim of all Christians, it can’t come as a result of what we want or what we envision religion to look like.  Our worship must be grounded in the only standard that never changes…God’s word.

On the other hand, a Christian can just as easily fall into the trap of placing all their focus on truth and completely neglect the role of the Spirit in their lives.  Christians who do nothing but drive home truth at every opportunity become legalistic and judgmental, staking claim on the one true way to know Christ.  Jesus spent much of his ministry on earth criticizing this very thing among the Pharisees.  They were the religious elite who created and bound laws upon the Jews that would have been impossible for anyone to follow.  They led lives of arrogance and pride and used their position and wisdom of scripture for power and control.  Jesus told them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:8-9)

I believe that the church really needs admonishment in this area if we are to please God with our worship.  It’s time we take a good, hard look at our traditions and presuppositions to see if they are preventing us from really knowing God.  Most of the religious world falls into one extreme of the other in regards to spirit and truth.  Isn’t it time we do as Jesus has instructed with respect to worship?  If you lean towards a more relaxed approach to worship that primarily stokes your feelings but is not rooted in truth, then take the time to study God’s word.  Be sure that your worship reflects what he desires.  And if your worship stands firm in the truth but lacks passion and intimacy, pay attention to where your heart lies.  Be sure you don’t just show up for worship but have a genuine love for it (Psalm 26:8, 27:4).

Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  It’s not our way, it’s his way.  Always has been and always will be.

-Joe

There is Only One Path

one pathLocated in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee lies Mt. LeConte.  At 6,593 feet, it is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are five separate trails (Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bullhead and Boulevard) that reach the summit.  Some are harder than others but they all reach their destination.  I’ve been to Mt. LeConte on three of those five trails and sure enough, I always ended up at the top of the mountain.

In today’s religious landscape, it’s popular to believe in many spiritual paths.  Tolerance is preached as the ultimate in religious maturity.  Many people want to create their own personal idea of God and salvation and develop their own path to get there, one that is easy and comfortable.

The truth is, there is only one path…through Jesus!

It may be unpopular to speak in absolutes, but the Bible, the inspired word of God, teaches that there is only one way to know God and that’s through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Let the words of Jesus himself, the Son of God, convince you:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

(John 14:6)

Nowhere in that passage does it give us permission to create our own path.  There’s no evidence suggesting Jesus will be tolerant of mankind’s idea of how to find God.  What’s scary is that the path is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).  That doesn’t mean that the path is hard to find.  It means that many will choose not to take it.

In hiking terms, trying to walk through the wilderness without a path is called bushwacking.  There is no discernable path, but you try to create one by traveling through the brush.  Needless to say, it’s hard and much easier to become lost.  In a way, our walk towards God is much the same.  When you’re not on the path, it’s hard and impossible to find Him.

Jesus was very clear about how to find God.  He was very adamant that obedience to that way is an all or nothing proposition.  The word of God is as simple as we want to make it.  We either follow the path God laid out for us or we don’t.

There is only one path.

There is no other way.

-Joe

No Impact Without Contact

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As the holiday season winds down, I’m reminded of all the wonderful things that happen this time of year. Families spend more time with one another, relishing their common love. Christians and even some non-Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and what that means for our salvation. People are more generous, giving of their time and finances to assist others in their time of need.

It’s this added sense of generosity and benevolence that has me wondering why we seem to need a special season or time of year to give to those in need. Chalk it up to the spirit of Christmas or whatever you want to call it. Kindness to our fellow man tends to drop off once the new year begins.

The reality is, people of all walks of life are constantly in need and the date on the calendar should not predicate whether we should help or not. Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), shows us that a need may arise at any moment, even when we are going about our way and following our own plans. Are we prepared to help when the time comes, to provide contact to the hurting and the lost?  There is no impact without contact.  We can’t pass by on the other side of the road like the religious elite in Jesus’ parable.  Sometimes we have to go out of our way to come alongside someone and take care of them the way Jesus would if he were there.

I really don’t know the answer, but these questions are worth pondering. Would there be homelessness in America if the Christians of this nation used our resources to take care of the poor?  Would the church continue to grow if we made it a priority to love our neighbor as ourselves?  Jesus went out of his way to meet the needs of the hurting and the lost. If we are really followers of him, shouldn’t we do the same?

-Joe

Truth Divides

truth dividesTruth is a tough pill to swallow for some.  In the world today where truth is primarily relative, people decide what truth fits them best and live their lives accordingly.  Real truth requires a standard, a baseline to rest firmly upon so all know where truth ends and lies begin.  You see, truth is not a series of shades of gray or just situations where we decide what’s right based on how we feel that day.  It is a black or white, line-dividing, all or nothing issue.  You either fall on the side of truth or not.

In regards to Christianity, truth is a highly debated topic even in churches today.  Many are trying to change God’s truth to fit the changing views of today’s society.  It is being taught that religion must advance with the times.  But that is not what God tells us in his word.  “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

We don’t get the liberty to decide which of God’s truths to follow.  We’re not allowed to dictate to Him what truth will be.  We must choose to obey his word as it is written and not change it to meet our needs.  Will this cause division?  It may, but Jesus reminds us that truth divides (Luke 12:49-53).

I want to stand on the side of truth that God instructs me to stand on.  Does that mean that I may face opposition?  Probably, but I will stand there nonetheless.

-Joe

I’m At The End of Me

Dear God,

I’m finally at the end of me.

Broken.

Hopeless.

I’ve lost the will to fight.

I’ve watched as everything I deem important has fallen apart around me.  Everything I thought you wanted me to do has blown up in my face and left me wheeling and confused.  Why?  Why have you let it get to this point?  You promised that you would never give me more than I could bear.  Well, I’m there beyond the point that I can bear.  I have questions but no answers.  I need help but have no one to help me.  Why is this so hard?  Where are you when I need you the most?  Am I supposed to learn something?  Am I supposed to show patience and strength when I have none left?  Am I meant to reside in my weakness so that you can finally take over?

Please help!

I’m lost!

I don’t know what to do!

Amen.