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The bottom line!

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Romans 6: 20-23 “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life  in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     A young man that I know relapsed recently and smoked a lot of dope.  He is deeply ashamed of his relapse and all the toxic shame of his past has flooded back to him, threatening to overwhelm him.  It is so easy to say (or think and not say); “Serves him right – what a jerk? What a backslider!  If he keeps that up he’ll die some day!   He’ll never get it right!”  This is so easy for me to say because I’m a judger.  I’ve never smoked dope.    I’ve never done bad stuff like he did.  I’m way better than he is.    Yet in spite of my tendency to condemn and judge we all know what God thinks about this young man’s relapse; “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

     The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write those words for my young friend who relapsed.  The Living Word of God reaches out across thousands of years and thousands of miles to all of us who fall down and do ‘bad’ things.  Paul was describing the spiritual economic facts of life in a fallen world – wages paid out for services rendered be it death or redemption.  Judgement doesn’t enter into the calculations on this side of eternity.  To all those who would condemn and judge, Jesus said, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’  (John 8:7).  We can ask King David (2 Samuel 12:9) and we can ask Peter (Matthew 26:75) what it means to fall down.  We can ask the thief on his cross beside Jesus  on His cross what it feels like to be condemned by a world of judgers like me while being embraced by His love (Luke 23:43).

     The road to holiness isn’t smooth, broad and wide.  The road to holiness is narrow, rough and filled with slips, relapses and tears of repentance.  It is marked by cut and bleeding feet, bruised knees and brokenness.  The people who walk it are often outcasts, rejects and unclean.  What of those who die on it – who really die on it?   Do we say they didn’t make it?  Do we say they were not good enough?  Do we say that  they tried to carry their cross but didn’t make it?  Jesus said; “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What does that mean?   The ultimate denial of self is the realisation of your true spiritual condition – that you can’t make it on your own.  Jesus will always have to close the gap between you and God!  The self-righteous, no matter how good they are (or pretend to be) cannot walk the narrow way to brokenness.

     A few days ago my wife and I went to the hospital to visit another young man and his family.  The young man was a close friend of my son’s.  They started rehab together.  I spent a lot of time with him as well.  There he lay comatose in intensive care. My son had gone ahead and was comforting his mom and siblings when we arrived.  We went into pray over the young man.  I placed my hand on the side of his head and quietly prayed by his ear.  In my mind’s eye I could see my son overlain on this young fellow’s face.   But for a few different choices, it could have been my son laying there! They were such good friends.  He had just gotten out of prison some weeks earlier.  Emotions of compassion for him, his mother and family swept over me.  For a brief moment my love for my son and for this young man were indistinguishable.   Is this, in a small way a taste of how God loves us?  He sees us through His love for His own Son.  And He embraces us.

     I don’t know what recent events transpired to bring this young man to be lying comatose in intensive care.  I know that he had a disease called addiction that he struggled with it on a daily basis. He was a slave to drugs because of his fallen condition.   I know that he loved Jesus and accepted Him.   He struggled to follow Jesus but his addiction kept dragging at him.  Some would say he didn’t make it far down the road to holiness. He made it far enough to know that he was a sinner and he admitted it.  Like Paul, he often failed; “ For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)  As best he could, he repented of his actions and attitudes.  He knew he had no hope of ‘being good’ on his own.  He had no righteousness of his own so he clung to Jesus.   Not having gone down the holiness path any great distance he left a wake of wreckage behind him.  Limping, shamed and in filthy rags he finally collapsed alone and broken, broken, broken.

     When he was in recovery this young man read the Bible and as best he could lived out the promises in scripture.  He loved his friends and shared his faith at every opportunity.  After my experience in the intensive care unit, seeing my son even ever so briefly in his place how can I judge the boy – I can only love him and call out to Jesus for mercy.  He made some really bad mistakes because of his disease and the world may yet pay him his wages of death in full.  The world has judged and condemned him – just another junkie. 

     Addiction like any other disease can kill.  We can only keep a vigil and support his family as we wait for the outcome.  I believe that Jesus covered his debt in full – full knowing him and all his shortcomings.  Like the repentant thief dying on his cross because of his ‘lifestyle choices’ we cannot know what conversation this young man had with Jesus just prior to his coma.   I believe my son’s friend will claim his gift from God – soon or later.   The bottom line is that it’s in God’s hands.

     Jesus  made this promise;  “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live . . .”

     Praise the Lord!

Alive by faith

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Romans 1:17  “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ”

     A few days ago I drove three young men to a health clinic who had developed a nasty case of ‘lifestyle consequences’ because of their past. One young man was almost overwhelmed with worry about what the future effect of his condition would be.  We spoke about all the new medicines and the advancements in medical science and I tried to encourage him.  This picked him up a little bit but I could  still see a lot of fear in his eyes.  I thought to myself; “This man doesn’t need encouragement he needs hope!”

      By turning our discussion towards the topic of alcohol and drug recovery and the central core of Harvest House teaching that faith in Jesus Christ rebuilds a shattered life, I hoped to steady this young man by giving him hope.  I reminded the young man that repentance and change go hand in hand.  Although consequences don’t go away on the recovery journey, a person opens up to God’s Grace which is always available to one who believes and accepts His Word.  God can heal! And as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says; “. . . God could and would if He were sought.[emphasis mine]” 

     After giving testimony about my healing I said to him; “God will even give you that little bit of faith – that tiny amount you need to start  believing in His Word, to start living out His promises – you just have to accept it.”  Scripture tells us that; “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue . . .” (2 Peter 1:3)  God reaches down into our pit and gives us a hand out.  Without His help we wouldn’t be able to get out by ourselves.  The next verse gives a lot of hope to the guys I work with; “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)

     As we came up to a stop light on the way to the clinic I looked over to the young man to see if he was ‘getting’ what I was saying.  He looked out the passenger window and remarked; “I like those Tacoma trucks, they’re really neat.”  A lot of the guys we work with have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder).  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t listening.  It can mean that they are paying attention to you while paying attention to many other things as well.    Will this young man start the journey of faith?  Will he start living by faith?  Certainly he has no righteousness of his own – he knows it too – so in an odd way his poor self-esteem can work for him. Time and a lot of patient love will tell.

     If this young man gets to know His Word, gets to know Jesus and abides in Him, he will live and live by faith. This young man gets the ‘same deal’ from God as we do. Why? Because he, like us didn’t earn it – God loves us so much He freely gave it.  His past is past;  “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

     Praise the Lord!
  

The Simple Gospel

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Acts 26:15 -18 ” ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you  from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them  to open their eyes  and turn them from darkness to light,  and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins  and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “

     When God put His call on Paul we can clearly see what Jesus wanted of him.  Paul was to be a servant and a witness to his personal experience with Jesus. Paul practised open disclosure about his past.  He openly told others that he was a first class sinner; “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  There was no hiding of who and what he was in Paul’s ministry.  There was no self righteous pretence but rather an open heart wrenching declaration of his own spiritual need; “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)

     Paul had a tough time in his ministry; “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Cor 11:25-27)  God opened the door for Paul and it was a rough ride.  But through it all God was faithful.  In one of Paul’s tough times he declared; “. . . the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

     The Gospel that Paul preached, the Gospel that got Paul beat up and shipwrecked was straightforward; “For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:17,18)  No great fanfare or brilliant theology just the plain truth; “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1,2)

     Paul wasn’t a professional and he didn’t preach like one;  “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power . . . ” (1 Cor 2:3,4)  Why? What was Paul’s intent in preaching plainly and humbly?  The next verse tells us; “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  What is this power of God?  “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”  (Romans 6:4,5,6)

     This power of God makes a new man out of a ‘dead man walking’.  This power of God transforms an individual from the inside outwards until all witness the change.  Paul exhorts us; “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6,7)  Paul warns us to watch out for; ” . . . empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

     This is the Gospel and we like Paul are called by Jesus to share it.  Don’t expect the world to open its arms and embrace His Word or you.   The world likes its gospel complicated, nuanced and accommodating.  One website advises; “We must present the Gospel differently in a postmodern situation. People may not initially be interested in our version of truth, especially if it is presented dogmatically and without humor. However, they may well be interested in solutions which meet the problems they face in life. An apologetic approach can be valuable in our postmodern culture.”

     No one will come awake with our version of the truth.  No one will be set free from the power of Satan with our version of the truth.   No eyes will be opened by our version of the truth.  It’s not our version of the truth that counts.  Rather it is His truth that saves!  Paul was right and righteous when he declared; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)  Share His message by living it; loving God first, loving your neighbour as yourself, and un-apologetically being a witness to His transforming power in your life.

    Praise the Lord!

The Gospel paddles its own canoe

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Acts 20:32-35  “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

     Paul was saying goodbye to his friends in Ephesus; he was compelled to go to Jerusalem and he was sure he wouldn’t see them again.   Paul had something very important to say to his close friends.  He wanted to make sure that they understood what was important and what wasn’t.  Paul’s message was that God and ‘the word of his grace’ was what counted not the personality relaying it.  The Gospel blesses and the Gospel places requirements on the people, not Paul – not the preacher.  Paul paid his own way and didn’t place any demands on the people.    He followed Jesus’ example and gave rather than received.

     Paul was warning the elders of Ephesus.  Earlier he says; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)  The elders where ‘overseers’ of the church.  They were made so by the Holy Spirit not by human traditions.  They were shepherds of a people that didn’t belong to them – they belonged to Jesus – purchased by ‘His Blood’.  Paul was warning against wolves in sheep’s clothing.

     Jesus said; “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” (Matthew 7:15,16,17).    No one would deny that people have suffered because of these wolves in sheeps’ clothing.  The church has suffered as well.  We can’t discard the church because of these wolves.    Jesus built his church to withstand the onslaught of hell (Matthew 16:18) and Jesus meant us to live within the church community (Matthew 18:17).   Scripture tells us that the church was purchased with Jesus’ own Blood!  Paul admonishes the leaders; “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

     Do we in the church overemphasize our leaders’ status and underemphasize our own responsibilities?  This question is important because it causes us to look at our role in His church and removes the easy out of blaming ‘bad pastors’.  I can’t help but think of the Israelites wanting Moses to be their ‘go between’ so they wouldn’t have to get too close to God (Exodus 20:18-21).  Sadly it is an all too human tendency to want others to tell us what to do and want others to worry about what is right or wrong in order for us escape from personal responsiblility.  There is no earthly ‘go between’ any more (Hebrews 1:1,2).  We stand or fall on our personal relationship with God – with His Word, with Jesus!   Any organizational system that fosters ‘go betweens’ predisposes those it serves to avoid their personal responsibility and inadvertently sets up an environment that enables ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’.

     So often I have heard in the church that it’s the pastor’s job to visit the sick.  It’s the pastor’s job to sort out all the conflicts.  It’s the pastor’s job to do funerals, preach and do the finances.   It’s the pastor’s job to pray.  It’s the pastor’s job to figure out the Bible and then he or she is to tell us what it says.   After twenty years as a churchman its been my experience that most laypeople like to leave all the ‘spiritual stuff’ to the professionals.  Lazy laymen and predatorial clergy can flourish in this kind of environment.  The church suffers because of both. 

     Some would argue that the clergy-layman divide does much to create this situation.  Jon Zens writes:  “Like it or not, this “clergy” role ends up requiring a virtual omni-competence from those behind the pulpit. ‘Clergy’ are paid to perform whatever is necessary to keep the religious machinery going, and the expectations are very high for those who wear the many hats this profession demands. The deadly problem with this unscriptural system is that it eats up those within its pale. Burnout, moral lapse, divorce, and suicide are very high among the ‘clergy’. Is it any wonder such repeated tragedies occur in light of what is expected of one person? Christ never intended anyone to fill such an ecclesiastical role. In light of Paul’s remark in 1 Cor. 12:14 that ‘the body is not one part but many’, we should be able to discern that the ‘clergy’ position is neither healthy for those in it, nor is it beneficial for the body of Christ.”

     Predation and abuse cannot occur in the light of the Gospel.  Where predation and abuse exists the Gospel doesn’t.  Jesus said; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18,19)  Are we prepared to admit that the church doesn’t spread the Gospel rather the Gospel spreads the church?

     Sadly we often loose sight of the fact that the Gospel paddles its own canoe.

    Praise the Lord!

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