What Do I Need to Know to Become a Christian?

IMG20007

For many Christians, we have been Christian so long that we have forgotten what it was that brought to salvation in the first place. It’s hard to explain to someone interested in Christ how it is to become a Christian, so we ought to take some time looking at what it means to become a Christian.

Most Religions in the world call upon a new convert to perform a number of tasks to be saved. For example, the Muslims believe in five “pillars” or tasks essential to becoming a saved Muslim. This includes praying five time a day (facing Mecca), giving alms, and making at least one trip (or pilgrimage) to Mecca. Mormons on the other hand have to spend two years doing evangelistic work, which is why they stop by your door from time to time. Catholics have to work through nine sacraments of grace, including Christening, First Communion, Marriage in the Church or Holy Orders, Frequent Confession, and even Last Rites. But all of these beg for grace. All of these in their own way beg the Almighty, or as they see Him, for grace to be saved. They are all efforts done by men to earn grace, but sadly, all of these fall far short to be worthy of salvation.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) This is what makes Christianity different from every other Religion. Every other religion relies on the effort of men to secure their own salvation from judgment, but in Christ, God has done all the work. All we have to do is accept it. But before we say it’s easy, accepting the salvation that God offers through Christ.

Far from being work, but effort enough to make it memorable, salvation through Christ forces us to recall the events outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, When God came down and offered His own Son in exchange for our lives. Walking through salvation takes us through the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Salvation in Christ isn’t all bottles up in a single text, though there are several texts that include more than one element. This calls for reading throughout the New Testament to get the full picture.

Believe

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
(Act 16:31)

Repent

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
(2Co 7:10)

Confess

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
(Rom 10:9)

Be Baptized

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
(1Pe 3:21)

Work Out Your Salvation

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
(Php 2:12)

Giving

Lavish Expressions of Love

In light of the recent stories about churches removing people from membership for lack of attendance and lack of tithing, I am reminded of this passage in 2 Corinthians 8 about “God loves a cheerful giver”. A person should not give reluctantly or under compulsion, which is exactly what a church puts in place if they say you have to tithe to them to continue to be a member. There is some thing to be said for being an active attender of a church. A person ought not to neglect the fellowship. But church cannot demand a tithe, or make it a condition of membership. Rather, giving should be an expression of love and dependence on the Father who gives His own love lavishly in the atoning blood of his Son, i addition to the grace and blessings we receive every day.

God bless you on this Friday!

A Little More

Jesus Knows Why

Are you ever content with what you know about Jesus? Do you ever say, “I know enough”? Don’t. A mind closed to a deeper relationship to Jesus is a mind closed off to Jesus. Never be content, because knowing Jesus is one thing He tells us to pursue, to be greedy for, to never be satisfied with. For there is always more of Jesus to know and learn.

Worry and Anxiety

bible.com/72/mat.6.25.hcsb

is there a difference? Worry is something we do, almost reflexively. A lifestyle of worry is anxiety. Anxiety can become a medical condition, treated with medication. Jesus calls us not to a lifestyle of worry and self-doubt, but to trust in Him. When we worry, we proclaim that He is not enough for our needs, that our faith in His provision is faltering. I know this because worry has been the fault in my own family. And though there are times I have been anxious, I try not to think about the what-ifs. I encourage you to think about this text in the context of your own life. Ask yourself if there is anything that you hold on to that God cannot take up for you. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He offers to share the burdens with us, rather than we bear them alone.

Wrestling for What?

Image result for jabbok river Jacob

Jacob’s struggle with (the angel of) God at Jabbok is given little detail and it leaves much to interpretation. It appears to say that Jacob wrestled with an unknown assailant until dawn (from sometime the night or morning before) and prevailed. But before he released his assailant (after a crippling blow to his own hip), he begged for a blessing. Many understand this as “wrestling” in prayer. But this was a true, physical confrontation. The wrestling is unique to Jacob’s path.

Is this God’s allowance for Jacob’s free will?

Is this saying that we cannot win against God until we submit to Him?

The story of Jacob wrestling with God is so vague that interpretations of it reveal more about ourselves than the original story. The story itself is nearly inscrutable. So any attempt to understand the story without immediately inserting ourselves into it is challenging.

The word translated “wrestled” literally means “to stir up dust” or “make dusty”. So the idea of Jacob and God here is that they had a “dust-up”. It is just that vague.

We need to set the scene. Jacob spent some of that night sending off gifts to appease his brother Esau. Then, he was speaking to, organizing, and sending ahead his wives and children in different groups. Finally he found a place to be alone. Whether he had moonlight, starlight, or torchlight, it was still dark, and could have been early morning by this time.

By modern pictures, the terrain around Jabbok is rocky, as river beds and river banks usually are, making for unsure footing unless you can see where you are going. So that Jacob encountered this “man” in the dark, on unstable ground (with a river running through it) and stirred up the dust with him. Dust stings the eyes and gets into places, making you feel grimy, especially if he exerted himself and perspired. If Jacob wrestled with God, he was a mess quickly.

Isn’t wrestling about submission? in order to win, doesn’t that mean your opponent is in a hold they cannot break from? So for hours, at least, Jacob and God grappled in the mud, the dust, the water, trying to gain a hold on the other. The point of this physical confrontation, for lack of any other information, is submission. It’s done in the dark, so that Jacob doesn’t see the face of God while he is wrestling. Only when he submits (and changes his relationship with God)  in the morning does he see (the angel) of God’s face. That’s why daybreak is crucial in the story, lest Jacob see the holiness that is represented by the angel and die. What’s why the angel forces the confrontation to a close by breaking Jacob’s hip (a very painful injury). Only when he is broken does Jacob submit. So maybe its not that Jacob couldn’t pin God, but that Jacob wouldn’t let God pin him. And God limited Himself to the power and strength of a man to bleed off Jacob’s will? It is assumed that the Angel attacked Jacob, and thus Jacob defended himself. Over time, Jacob realized this was not mere man.

We get an answer to our questions about this text in Hosea. When he “wept” he finally “prevailed”:

“He strove with the Angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor . . .” (Hosea 12:4)

Isn’t this the only way to win with God?

No one else in Scripture wrestles with God. Thus it is not prescribed as normal practice. We cannot then recommend that anyone else wrestle with God. If a person is wrestling with God today, it means they refuse to submit to him. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a noble deed.

0011 – Source Code 3 – Every Careless Word

IMG20095

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exo 20:7)

For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
(Heb 6:16)

What is it that responds so viscerally to the name of God? And surely this response only occurs in those who know the Word and its meaning. Once we learn His name, we become responsible for it. Once you know the Name of God, you can never go back. Once you’ve named that Thing you’ve always known, He can’t be ignored.

The Israelites became acquainted with the Name at the foot of Sinai. “I am the Lord (YHWH) Your God.” This God, the YHWH, had delivered them from Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, given them manna in the desert. This was the God doing the impossible before their eyes. Is it possible to get used to something like that?

But once he had given out His special covenant Name, they were obligated to protect it, and not use it frivolously. Digging into the text a bit, we find that “take” means primarily to “lift” where vain means “empty”. Is this lifting your voice? Lifting up the Name? Offering false praise or empty praise?

It seems to me that the prohibition is two-pronged. First that all use of the Name be weighted accordingly, and second, all those who seek a place in the Name should live as such. They are not actually two, but since we are fond of separating our actions from our thoughts, we will do so here.

I have never heard hypocrisy addressed from this text but what if we considered this a prohibition against hypocrisy? I think it goes without saying hypocrisy is a cancerous corruption in any church. Recently I had opportunity to take in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. In the play, honest, God-fearing “covenanted Christians” are put on trial for witchcraft. The villain, the scorned Abigail, declares that the whole church is full of hypocrites, and her righteous mission is to eradicate hypocrisy in the church. It made me wonder why God allowed the original trials to take place, and good men and women hung on a gallows. Could Abigail’s charge ring true? Certainly it is not a new charge. Do “good Christian people” take the name in vain, offer vacuous praise and empty soulless prayers? Haven’t we often reduced relationship with Christ to ritual within Church and true Christian fellowship to “a friendly church”? If God did judge Salem for hypocrisy, then He must surely apologize to them today.

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, (Isa 29:13)

Consider the church that bears the Name of God, but with none of the characteristics of God. A Church that is unloving, unkind, closed to all but the insiders, and is only concerned about itself. Is this taking the Name of the Lord in vain? The Lord hates lying lips, and surely the Lord hates a Church whose name is on their lips, but pray with blood-stained hands.

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Pro 12:22)

Suppose taking the Name in vain is a prohibition against heartless worship. To take His name in vain is more than swearing or using His Name as a curse word. It speaks to the whole manner of life of a person covered in such a name. The Israelites were God’s covenant people. A people called by His Name. Moses alludes to this when God threatens to destroy Israel after her sin with the golden calf.

But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Exo 32:11-13)

But it is after this that we get the fuller expression of the Name of God as He passes over Moses in the cleft of the rock.

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exo 34:6-7)

It is not the bitter, vengeful God we are confronted with, but the merciful, kind, longsuffering God, who is holy and just. It is not a bitter, selfish God we offend, for in that we might be justified. But it is a loving, holy, and just God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and in all places at once.

This is why we never use our own name. We are weak and powerless. We might try someone else’s name, someone greater than us. (“Stop in the name of the Law!” or “In the Name of the King!”) but to call down the Name of the Almighty God makes everyone give pause. It makes a heart tuned to Him stop a moment, in the midst of a “god-damn” or a “Jesus H. Christ!” They are blasphemous, and they are wrong, but they get attention.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecc 3:11)

If so, then we must be subconsciously aware of His power, since we automatically ascribe to Him all things beyond our comprehension and all things beyond our power and ability. We cry out to God for help when we can’t do anything else. As the old saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

The danger of a “Christian” nation is that the ill-equipped and unchurched know enough to use God’s Name, and the power of the Name, to lace their expletives with it. The English words themselves carry no power, but they represent the Divine Being, and whether it is God, Gott, or Deus, they are all the Creator-God and Loving Savior of mankind. And God knew we would be both afraid of His power, but in our anger, would wield this power against our enemies, the most formidable power we know.

And so God laid out the boundary against the abuse of His Name. “Do not take the Name of the Lord Thy God in vain.” Do not abuse His mercy or His love. Leviticus 24:11-16 illustrates the point by calling for execution any who blaspheme the name, whether native or alien, among the congregation.

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus cautions anyone who misuses the name, saying, “let your yes be yes and your no, no.” That is to say, be honest in your every day conversation, and you wont’ have to swear by the Lord to convince others you are telling the truth.

It seems that Scripture declares a wide berth between the name of God and our ordinary language, unless our ordinary conduct reflects the character of God. Let your worship be authentic and your words reflect the glory and character of God. Don’t even try to use the words that pretend to blaspheme, like “golly”, “geez”, “gee-whiz”, or “What in the name of . . .?” Declare for yourself a wide berth between your language and the holiness of God.

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mat 12:35-37)

Money Matters

When it’s tax time, that means its time to focus on the one thing that comes third in our lives, after God and family, and that’s money. Did you know that the Bible has more to say about money and money management than any other single topic? It’s no wonder, since many of our decisions often factor in 1) how much will this cost? 2) will I be able to pay this off, and 3) does my insurance cover this? Whether we are thinking about a house, a car, a new job, or surgery, money often becomes a deciding factor in our decision. Thankfully the Bible gives us solid guidelines on the use and saving of money, because money often represents time, as often as it represents assets.

Converting time and assets into money is nothing new. Ancient Israelites would convert their livestock into money, making it easier for them to travel to Jerusalem and there buy the proper sacrifices for the Temple. A person’s time working in another man’s field was considered a “day’s wage”. When you collect a paycheck, you are agreeing to the exchange of time (and skill), your invaluable, irreplaceable commodity, for the benefit of someone else’s profit margin. But this is a willing surrender, since compensation means a house payment, a car payment, and food on the table.

The Bible also speaks to the ownership of private property when it commands “thou shalt not steal”. God is very concerned about fairness, but not income inequality. Though the idea of equal pay for equal work is to be commended, income inequality is about envy, contrary to another commandment, “thou shalt not covet . . .”.

The Bible gives us rules and ethics for honest work, and what it means to provide for our families, but it also teaches about the proper use of debt, the payment of taxes, giving back to God, and saving for retirement. Just a cursory glance at the Bible’s principles of spending and saving money is enough to make me wonder if I’m honoring God with my money.

Principle of Work

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
(2Th 3:10)
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that even though he was apostle, he did not ignore the fact that he needed to work, with his own hands, to take care of his own needs. He argues that he had the right to expect compensation, but their sake, did not demand it. As long as we are able, we should be willing to work with our hands hands to care for our daily needs.

Principles of Debt and Repayment

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
(Rom 13:7)

In this section on respecting and honoring government (even when its hostile), Paul also reminds them that just because you are now a new man in Christ doesn’t erase financial and legal obligations to the state and others whose privileges you enjoy.

Principles of Giving

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2Co 9:7)
Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about giving go far beyond tithing to the idea that we give as as we believe, according to our dependence on God. God lays no strict tithing program upon the Christian, but to give as he is cheerfully able.

Warning about Retirement and Planning for the Future

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
(Luk 12:19-20)

Jesus’ warning to the Jews of his day include this short story about  a man whose barns weren’t big enough to store his crop. It is a this point that the man decides to retire. This is exactly when God warns him that his life has come to an end, and what does he have to show for it? When it comes to retirement planning, Jesus is is calling us to give greater thought to how we plan for ourselves and our families.

Hello There

I hope you’ve been finding these posts interesting. I been doing a lot of mining lately, into old articles that I’ve written, journal entries and whatnot, trying to build up this collection of blog posts and begin to generate a following. To be honest, I hadn’t intended on starting a blog, but once I got started, everything fell into place. I want to thank everyone who has been taking the. time to read thus far. I really appreciate you. I never knew how exciting it was to open my phone to discover someone new liked my blog. 

As I’ve title it, this is a place for my thoughts to ramble. Many of my posts are about things I’ve been thinking about about, or have written about. My interests are primarily with Christianity and Scripture, but have been known to wander into other areas. Because I’ve been used to writing sermons every week, some of my material will sound like that, and if some understand Christ a little better, then I shall not see my efforts wasted.

Going forward, I anticipate the impact this blog will have. I look forward to hearing from you. God bless you all!