Called Out Of Darkness

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My Musings – “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  (Yogi Berra).  It certainly isn’t.  Hopelessly lost and separated from our Creator, with no hope for reconciliation by our own efforts.  Facing an eternity apart from God in Hell.  No Exit. His righteousness demanded it.  That was our future.

Where there was no hope, God provided hope.  Where there was no way, God provided a way.  The possibility of being reunited with our Creator because He made it possible for us to be a new creation through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  His grace satisfied His righteousness.  The opportunity to spend eternity reunited with God in Heaven.  This can be our future.

My Advice – Which future do we want?  This should be an obvious choice.  Yet so many stumble over it.  Yes, Jesus is the only way, because His sacrifice was the only possible way to satisfy God’s righteousness.  But whoever calls on His name will be saved.  He’s calling us out of darkness.  Will we respond?

Contempt For God’s Grace

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My Musings – “Do you need a good lawyer?” “I need a good judge.” Mattie Ross and Ned Pepper in True Grit.  We have a good judge, whose judgment is based on truth, kindness, long-suffering and righteousness.  We show contempt for these when we pass judgment on others and are guilty of some of the same things.  While the text does not specifically state this, I think we likely also show contempt when we pass judgment on others just because they sin differently than we do (“their sin is worse than mine”).

My Advice – As Christians, we are recipients of God’s grace – undeserved favor.  Who’s to say that those we are tempted to pass judgment on are less deserving than we are?  They are not.  So let’s not be too hasty in casting the first stone, because we are cannot see clearly enough with the “log” in our eye.  So, rather than passing judgment, let’s pass along the Gospel of Christ so that they too might be recipients of God’s mercy.

Only One Flavor

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My Musings – “I wish I had an answer to that, because I’m tired of answering that question.”  This is a quote from Yogi Berra, a baseball player of a bygone era who was famous for his nonsensical comments that, upon reflection, made a lot of sense after all.

After nearly 2,000 years, it seems that everyone should know the answer to the question, “what must I do to be saved?”  Yet many continue to believe that salvation has more than one “flavor.”

Religion – “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV 1978).  Religion is an external observance that does not lead to a transformed. But a heart that is transformed by a personal encounter with Christ, is a spiritual act of worship, a religious expression that demonstrates that our heart has been changed  (Romans 12:1 –2). Religion is not the answer to the question, but it should be a result of the answer.

Obey God’s Laws – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10, NIV 1978).  We could not obey one simple command in the Garden, much less the ten on the tablets.  But even nine out of ten would be insufficient. But an encounter with Jesus will set us free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32-34).  Obedience to the law is not the answer to the question, but it should be a result of the answer.

Doing Good Works – “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalms 14:3, NIV 1978).  Goodness is measured by God’s unchanging standards, not relative to society’s ever-changing standards. But the light of Christ reflected in our transformed lives, can point the way for others (Matthew 5:16). Good works are not the answer to the question, but they should be a result of the answer.

Grace Through Faith In Christ Alone –  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves [religion, laws, good works], it is the gift of God – – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV 1978). When you know the real answer to the question, you never get tired of answering.

My Advice – If salvation was dependent upon religion, obeying the law, or good works, how could we ever be sure that we were religious enough, we had not broken the wrong (one) rule, or we had done enough good deeds (the good you ought to do but do not do, that is sin to you)?  It should be a relief to know that our salvation does not depend upon the depth of our desires (never deep enough) or the degree of our efforts (never high enough), but on God’s mercy (inexhaustible).  “It [salvation] does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16, NIV 1978).  Forget your desires.  Give up on your efforts. Appeal to God’s mercy.  You’ll never get tired of His answer.

Continue In Faith

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My Musings – So then, just how did we receive Christ?  Did we work for it?  No, that would be earning our salvation, like receiving wages.   The only “wages” we earn are for our sins.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV 1984).

We may think that our sins are not that bad, at least not compared to some, but that would be the wrong comparison.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:23–24, NIV 1984).

The correct measure, or standard, is God’s glory, and all have sinned, which means all fall short.  All means all.  No exceptions.

But there is a “flip side” to both of these passages.  “The gift of God is eternal life,” and “we are justified freely by His grace.”  The “gift” is “freely” given.  That is what makes it a gift and not a wage (something earned).

One does not earn a gift.  One receives a gift.  Which brings us back to the original question: just how did we receive Christ?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:8–10, NIV 1984).

By grace, through faith.  We received Him by faith, and that is how we are to “continue to live (walk) in Him.” We walk by faith.  We live out our faith.  As a result we are:

Rooted – To establish deeply and firmly.

Built Up – To develop in magnitude or extent.

Strengthened – To become stronger or more difficult to break.

We are established, developed and made stronger for a reason:  “created in Christ Jesus [born again] to do good works.”  This is where works come in.  They do not result in salvation, they are a result of salvation.

My Advice – If you have not received Him, put your faith in Him and receive His free gift: the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  If you have already received, continue to live in him and walk by faith.

 

Wishes and Works

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My Musings – What happens in fairytales stay in fairytales.  In real life, we cannot wish (desire) or work (effort) our way to Heaven.

You can whistle while you work or even wish upon a star,
but without God’s grace and mercy you won’t get very far.
Many that went before us, had credentials that were so fine,
But still not nearly good enough, to cross Heaven’s finish line.
Makes no difference who you are, no sin is too extreme,
Salvation is God’s free gift, not a wage, a wish or dream.
But anytime your heart desires, the Master will come to you,
To seek and save His lost sheep, when nothing else will do.

No you know why I stick to prose.  The following are just a few who had “credentials that were so fine.”

Adam & Eve – Created in God’s image. Genesis 1:26
Noah – The last righteous man. Genesis 6:9.
Job – A man that God boasted about. Job 1:8.
Abraham – A man of great faith. Galatians 3:9.
Moses – He spoke to God face-to-face. Deuteronomy 34:10.
David – God called him “a man after My own heart.” Acts 13:22.
Mary – The mother of Jesus, highly favored by God. Luke 1:28.
John The Baptist – None greater born of woman. Matthew 11:11.
Peter – The man on whom Jesus built His Church. Matthew 16:18, 19.
Paul – He fought the good fight. 2 Timothy 4:7.

None of these were saved by their own “desire or effort.” It took God’s mercy.

My Advice – What about you and me.  Are we any better than these.  Does our desire and effort surpass theirs?  No.  It will take God’s mercy.  It’s not what we do, it’s what God has done.  Accept His free gift.

Jesus – The way and the truth and the life. God’s mercy comes only through His desire for us and His effort on our behalf. John 14:6

Do not set aside the grace [mercy] of God, for if righteousness [salvation] could be gained through the law [religion, good works], Christ died for nothing! (Galatians 2:21, NIV 1978). Why would He die if He did not have too?

Go and Do Likewise

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My Musings – “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

What indeed?  I’ve done it.  Maybe you have too.  The stranded motorist all alone.  Well, who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?  They can call someone.  It’s a busy road, someone is bound to stop.  I’m running late, I can’t be bothered this time, I’ll get the next one.  What if it’s a ruse, I could be putting myself in real danger.  On the other hand, what if they don’t have a cell phone?  Would it be a bother even if I did have the time?  What if it’s a not to well-traveled road?  What if I don’t stop to help, they could be left in real danger?

How about the shabbily-dressed person on the corner with the crudely lettered sign “any amount will help?”  They’re probably running a scam.  They’ll probably use it for drugs or alcohol.  Why don’t they go out and look for a job?  What if they’ve tried it all and just want to feed their family just for this day?

Without getting too political (too late), what about the refugee seeking a better life?  They’re probably here for free benefits.  They just want to come here and change things to the same as what they left.  What if they belong to some sleeper cell?  Why don’t they just come here legally?  What if they really did flee a life and death situation?

Maybe some of the concerns and objections above are legitimate.  After all, there will always be those looking to take advantage. Many of the situations we face will be tough calls.  But do we really want to turn a “blind-eye” to those who might be truly in need because we are afraid of what might happen to us or skeptical hat their needs are genuine?  While we need to be wise and wary, at the end of the day we are responsible for our hearts and actions and not the other person’s motives.

My Advice – We all know that immediately after the above question “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Isn’t it interesting that the two in the parable most likely to lend a hand did not (maybe they used some of the above rationalizations), and the one least likely to care at all (the “hated” Samaritan) cared enough to act.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, NIV 1984).

Maybe the ones we find in apparently needy situations are our “hated” Samaritans.  Should it make a difference?  The point of the parable is no.  They are just as much our neighbor as the ones we visit with over the white picket fence.

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Just Say Whoa to Woe

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My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation.  But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian?  Is that how the world sees many of us?  Are they justified in seeing us that way?  We want to scream that they are way off base.  That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted.  But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright.  For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.

We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us?  Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care.  Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too.  But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much.  For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another.  And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.

Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares.  He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy.  His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!”  Whoa.  Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them.  We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.

  • Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
  • Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

  • Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”

  • Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

  • Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

  • Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

  • Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly.  But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own?  On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside?  Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)?  Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others?  Let’s just say whoa to woe.