BEING A CHRISTIAN

If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” [Romans 10:9-11 (GW)]

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples. He said to them, “Those who want to follow me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them. But those who lose their lives for me and for the Good News will save them. [Mark 8:34-35(GW)]

Becoming a Christian is the most important step we will ever take in our lives and has longer reaching consequences that our choice of career or spouse. Fortunately, it is relatively easy: admit our sinfulness and turn away from sin, believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and to give us eternal life, and declare our faith in Jesus Christ. Repenting, accepting and confessing one’s faith—that’s the easy part.

Being a Christian—now, that’s where it gets difficult. Being a Christian is so much more than going to church, knowing Bible verses or saying prayers. It certainly is more than tithing, being baptized, confirmed, or even partaking in Holy Communion. Being a Christian isn’t a one-time event or an occasional action; it is a day-to-day process. By accepting Christ, we’ve become a new person. Unfortunately, that old sinful self is still there, relentlessly trying to assert itself. Being a Christian is a continual process of repentance and forgiveness and poses the daily challenge of giving our heart, minds and bodies to Him. It is allowing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—to become evident and grow in our lives. Being a Christian isn’t knowing about Jesus; it’s actually knowing Him and having a relationship with Him. It is hearing and heeding His voice; it is loving Him and being loved by Him; it is devoting ourselves to Him, doing for Him, being His disciple, and spreading the gospel message.

I became a Christian years ago; being a Christian—well, I’m still working on that! Right now, I’m just a work in progress.

I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian. [Saint Ignatius]

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. [Billy Graham]

Examine yourselves to see whether you are still in the Christian faith. Test yourselves! Don’t you recognize that you are people in whom Jesus Christ lives? Could it be that you’re failing the test? [2 Corinthians 13:5 (GW)]

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WALKING ADVERTISEMENTS

The one thing I would stress is this: your public behaviour must match up to the gospel of the king. [Philippians 1:27a (NTE)]

As children of obedience, don’t be squashed into the shape of the passions you used to indulge when you were still in ignorance. Rather, just as the one who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves, in every aspect of behaviour. It is written, you see, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ [1 Peter 1:14-16 (NTE)]

ducks domestic

When I’m riding “shotgun” and we’re moving at snail’s pace in a traffic jam, I often amuse myself by reading the bumper stickers on the cars and trucks surrounding us. People tell us the number of children they have (and how bright they are) and make known their favorite pets, profession, and hobbies along with their stand on a variety of political issues. Bumper stickers certainly give an impression of the driver (or possibly the vehicle’s previous owners). While some stickers indicate the driver might be someone I’d enjoy meeting, I know I’d have little in common with the trucker who said he hated everybody, the one who thanked God he was an atheist, or the driver who told me to test my faith by driving with my eyes closed and avoid hangovers by staying drunk.

With the election coming up, many vehicles now display political ads. I don’t base my vote on bumper stickers, but the sentiments expressed by the other stickers on a vehicle often tell me something about the kind of person who supports the advertised party or cause. When the vehicles with political stickers also sport idiotic, hateful, bigoted or rude messages, their combination gives me pause. If the sort of person who supports that policy, party or politician sees nothing wrong or inappropriate with the rest of his messages, what does that say about his politics? If this driver is a typical supporter, would I want to further that movement?

If we were cars, what sort of messages would we display? Would they be the sort of stickers Jesus would have on His bumper? Or, do we claim to be Christian but preach a different story with words of hate, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, or sexism? Are we good spokespersons for the church of Christ or do people look at us and want nothing to do with whatever it is we claim to believe? People judge Jesus by His followers and the world is watching us. What message are we sending with our words and actions?

The world takes its notions of God from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; they only hear about Jesus Christ. [Alexander MacLaren]

Behave wisely towards outsiders; buy up every opportunity. When you speak, make sure it’s always full of grace, and well flavoured with salt! [Colossians 4:5-6a (NTE)]

Anyone who says, “I abide in him,” ought to behave in the same way that he behaved. [1 John 2:6 (NTE)]

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SUBMITTING – Part 2

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. [Ephesians 5:22 (NIV)]

I’m not quite ready to put to rest Paul’s use of the word “submit.” With one in three women having experienced some form of domestic violence, the word “submit” makes us bristle as we think of passivity in the face of abuse. Throughout the ages, women have been mistreated, exploited, demeaned, and discounted. We’ve had the vote for just a century and it wasn’t that long ago when our career choices were pretty much limited to teaching or nursing. Today, women continue to earn only about 80% of what men make and professional women still bump their heads on the glass ceiling. Wanting independence and empowerment, submitting sounds too much like surrendering whatever power we have, buckling under to unfairness, and servitude.

Paul’s words regarding submission, however, deserve more than a quick dismissal as being outdated or politically incorrect. In actuality, we voluntarily submit to people all the time simply because submission is a vital part of living in a community. We yield at intersections, move to the side so someone can pass, hold a door, wait our turn in line, yield the floor so someone else can speak, remain silent during a concert, or let the kids pick the night’s movie. We submit to one another because we’re in this crazy world together and surviving it takes a cooperative effort.

Submission isn’t the same as obedience. Obedience responds to rules and is imposed but submission responds to reason and is freely given. Obedience doesn’t require a relationship; submission does. When we, as Christians, bear one another’s burdens, we are submitting. When we don’t dominate, we are submitting. When we are humble, we submit. When we respond to one another’s needs, we submit. Submission is a sign of strength, not weakness. It doesn’t elevate one person above the other or cancel their equality. Moreover, it has nothing to do with allowing abuse of any kind.

Submission is what happens when there is a collaborative effort and any relationship worth having is worth making that kind of effort. I regularly submit to my husband out of respect, affection, or persuasion (but I usually don’t call it submitting). In the same way, he often defers (or submits) to me. That’s how we’ve lasted 53 years! While we recognize one another’s rights, we also recognize our obligation to put aside our own personal agenda to serve one another.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)]

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [James 4:7 (NIV)]

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INDIFFERENCE (Esther – Part 1)

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8 (NLT)]

snowy egretIn 1986, holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” That thought, however, has a longer history. In 1897, in George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, these words were spoken: The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” The evil of indifference can be found as far back as 474 BC in the story of Esther and as recently as today in our newspapers.

It’s in the Persian capital of Susa that we find King Xerxes’ “prime minister” Haman (a descendant of Agag from the race of Amalekites) facing off with the Jewish Mordecai (a descendant of King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin). The two families had a long history of hatred between them and Mordecai continually refused to bow down to the powerful Haman. Although Jews were permitted to bow down to people out of respect, Mordecai did not respect Haman and no self-respecting descendant of Saul would ever bow before an ancient enemy like an Amalekite. The incensed Haman took their personal animosity to another level by convincing the king that a “certain race” in the empire posed a threat and should be killed. The king was so indifferent to these unidentified people that he never even asked who they were. Xerxes gave Mordecai free rein to do with them and their wealth as he wanted. Written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring, Mordecai sent out an order for the Jews’ extermination to take place March 7.

Although the Jews had their unique dietary laws and customs, they had integrated into the Persian culture. They lived throughout the kingdom and interacted with the Persians daily. Mordecai, for example, had been born in Persia, had a Persian name, was a court official himself, and had even saved the king’s life. The Jews reacted to their extermination date with mourning, but what of the Persians? Scripture tells us that the city of Susa was perplexed but nothing more. There was nearly a year between the edict and execution date but we never read of people approaching the king on behalf of their Jewish friends and neighbors. The nation appeared indifferent to the slaughter of an entire people!

Enlisting Esther’s help, Mordecai asked her to beg the king for mercy. While not exactly indifferent to the Jews’ plight, Esther was more concerned with her safety than theirs. She balked at his request until Mordecai pointed out that the Jewish queen was not exempt from the king’s edict. To quickly summarize: Esther took action, Haman was executed, Mordecai became prime minister, and the Jews were saved.

Xerxes’ indifference to the fate of an entire race, the Persians’ indifference to the massacre of their neighbors, Esther’s initial indifference to her people’s plight, the indifference of Elie Wiesel’s countrymen as Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, the world’s indifference as it looked the other way while millions were exterminated, and our indifference as we witness injustice, genocide, inequality, human trafficking, discrimination, slave labor, and repression in the world today—indifference to wrongs that don’t personally affect us—is, indeed, “the essence of inhumanity.” Let us remember that, like the beautiful queen Esther, we are not exempt from being touched by the world’s evil. Perhaps, like her, we are here “for just such a time as this!” [Esther 4:14]

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. [Martin Niemöller]

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:17 (NLT)]

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. [Proverbs 21:13 (NLT)]

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MORE THAN HOT AIR

But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (NLT)]

hot air balloonBecause we heard the fan running, we didn’t realize the AC wasn’t working until we returned home after being gone most of the day. By then, the inside temperature of 86 told us we were in trouble. A check outside told us the AC compressor wasn’t operating and the blackened grass near it told us why: a lightning strike during the previous night’s storm! Although the fan could still operate, without the power of the compressor, all it did was blow hot air!

Sure there was a lesson somewhere in all of that useless hot air, I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressing his concern about eloquence without evidence. Even though some of their teachers were saying the right things, they weren’t living them out. Without God’s power, they were just windbags and, like our fan, full of hot air! Accustomed as they were to great orators, the Greeks were impressed by eloquent speeches but talk is cheap. Paul explained that the Kingdom of God isn’t speaking the right words; it is living them! He promised that, when he came to Corinth, they’d see the real power of God!

When Paul referred to the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t referring to Christ’s future reign but to Christ’s present reign in the hearts of His followers. The Kingdom of God is wherever the King is and His kingdom isn’t powered by words; it’s powered by the Holy Spirit and leads to changed lives.

John Calvin described a Christian’s task this way: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” That’s not done with flowery phrases, grandiose sermons, impressive words, or empty promises; it’s done by the way we live. As Paul said to the Corinthians: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” [13:1] The Kingdom is made visible by the evidence that our King rules us in every aspect of our lives: whether at work, school, church, or home; with family, friends, co-workers or strangers; when writing a check, browsing the internet, or posting on social media.

The power enabling our air conditioner to function is in its compressor; the power enabling us to function as citizens of the Kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. If we find ourselves just blowing hot air; it’s time to check the connection!

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. [2 Corinthians 6:6-7 (NLT)]

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NOT SEEING THE CAMELS FOR THE GNATS

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! [Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)]

camelJesus criticized the Pharisees for their meticulous tithing of herbs and spices while missing the more important aspects of the law. While both gnats and camels were forbidden food, in a wonderfully graphic hyperbole, He compared the way they poured their wine through a strainer to avoid accidentally swallowing a gnat (the smallest of prohibited “unclean” animals) while actually swallowing a camel (the largest)! Feeling self-righteous over their adherence to minor details, the Pharisees entirely missed the foundational principles of the Law: loving God and loving others.

Although the law demanded the tithing of produce, the Pharisees in Jesus day debated whether that applied to all the herbs and spices. One group determined it didn’t apply to black cumin but, in later years, the tithing of cumin was again required when the tithing of mint wasn’t. While this seems much ado about nothing, I’m not sure we’re that much different from the Pharisees. We’re probably not splitting hairs about herbs or accidentally ingesting a gnat, but it’s easy to become fixated on the details (tithing, attire, drinking, church attendance, rituals, sex, smoking) while missing the bigger issues like materialism, impatience, anger, pride, selfishness, callousness, lust, duplicity, and prejudice as well as justice, mercy, and faith. If we haven’t neglected church attendance, committed adultery, murdered anyone, robbed a bank, pummeled someone with our fists, or watched porn, we feel complacent and self-righteous. Like the Pharisees, we might not be doing the wrong things, but are we putting into practice the right ones?

It is in Christ’s character that we find the Christian virtues: things like humility, wisdom, self-control, courage, perseverance, patience, peace, joy, self-denial, gentleness, compassion, moderation, kindness, mercy, goodness, integrity, faithfulness, and love. Noting that “things will go swimmingly” for the first week, C.S. Lewis suggested making a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues for at least six weeks. By then, he noted, we’ll have taken “the first step toward true humility” and discovered some rather unpleasant truths about ourselves. “No one knows how bad he is,” said Lewis, “until he has tried very hard to be good.”

It didn’t cost the Pharisees much to strain out a gnat or tithe their herbs and it doesn’t cost us much to obey the letter of the law. Justice, mercy, and faith, however, came at a cost to the Pharisees as the Christian virtues do to us. What good was it for the Pharisee to tithe his dill to the priests but refuse a crumb to the destitute leper begging at the temple steps? What good is it for us to donate ten percent of our money when we won’t give ten minutes of our time to someone in need? Putting into practice Christian virtues is a great deal more difficult than putting ourselves into a pew in a Christian church.

Because they were more concerned about appearing pious than actually being men of virtue and integrity, Jesus continued his denunciation of the Pharisees by comparing them to a cup that is clean on the outside but filthy inside! Like the Pharisees, it’s much easier to avoid scandalous sins – to appear righteous to our neighbors – than to actually be godly people – to be clean both on the outside and inside! Just a week of consciously practicing Christian virtues can be humbling; that’s all it took for me to realize how dirty my cup actually is!

Now is the hour we should humbly prostrate ourselves before God, willing to be convicted afresh of our sins by the Holy Spirit. [Watchman Nee]

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!  You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. [Matthew 23:25-26 (NLT)]

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