Sunday, March 13, 2016

You're Included

When I first came to the Christian faith, I struggled not with daily bible readings, praying, church attendance, or being fired up about sharing Jesus. Ironically, I struggled believing and accepting God really loved me with no strings attached. I wouldn't admit it at first. Yet after hearing several sermons in church, I began to let it be known first to my wife and then close friends that I doubted God's love for me and whether or not he really included me in what His Son did. Altar call after altar call, sinner's prayer after sinner's prayer, multiple baptisms. I just couldn't seem to be convinced God loved me. 

Eventually, I got sick of not believing God loved me and gave up on Christianity altogether. For about a year I was as hard hearted towards anything with faith as one can imagine. Then one day on the way to work while flipping through the radio station, it just clicked. I suddenly became aware of God's mercy towards me and was convinced Jesus included me when He died and rose again. 

Many people, whether they will admit it or not, struggle with God's love for them. You will never be able to truly enjoy His gifts if you're not convinced He loves you. As long as you're not convinced, God will always seem like an Indian giver or task master.   

You cannot relax and have faith in someone if you think they might not love or even like you. God demonstrated His love for us when He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross. God doesn't have our relationship with Him based on a probationary state. His Son actually finished the dividing wall of sin at His death. It is finished. You can be confident of God's love for you. It is not based on how well you are doing this week or if you are going to blow it tomorrow. God's relationship with us is based on the finished work of Christ, not your work for Him. 

Jesus ate with sinners and the outcast of society not because they promised to do better at reading their bible that week, pledged to quit drinking beer, or promised to quit cussing. He ate with sinners because He loves us. He is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are all included in that love. Yes, you too. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Incapable


15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of[a] the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat[b] with tax collectors and sinners?”17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15-17

Many Christians are currently in the thicket of Lenten season. It's a time where many give up particular things to focus on God. I have personally given up chocolates, Facebook, and Internet in the past for Lent. Here is what I have found how it works out for a lot of us. We start out well. We have the best intentions. Yet at some point down the line we get weary and slip up on our commitment that began on Ash Wednesday. Our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak so to speak. Now keep in mind, we are speaking of a seasonal fast, not a lifetime commitment. Yet even though it's for a season, we struggle to finish with the gusto we began with. 

Isn't that like a lot of things in our life? How many times have we promised God we would give up something for good or began doing something for the rest of our lives only to fall short. Lent can be like that for a lot of us. It's a reminder of our sinfulness and despite our best intentions, we are weak in ourselves. No matter how hard we try and no matter how rigorous our discipline, we fall short of God's standard. Some of us recognize it, some of us don't. 

Even when I think I am doing really well, I often find later my motives aren't pure. The Pharisees in the gospel story thought they were completely pure and nothing like those sinners and tax collectors Jesus reclined to eat with. Little did they know, they belonged at that table with Jesus too. 

Jesus came for sinners and bad people because quite frankly that's all there is. No matter how terrible of a sinner you are or how good you think you may be, Jesus came for you. Romans 5:8 says, "God demonstrates His love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

You see it isn't that anyone was worth saving. Even the best of us are undeserving of God's love.  No, it's while we were still sinners, while we hated God, while we were at our worst that God still sent His Son and He willingly, full of love, gave Himself for us. That's the gospel. The good news is that those who are the most undeserving are the ones that Jesus pours out his mercy and grace on. 

So take heart. No matter how bad you've blown it or how good you think you are doing at being a Christian, Jesus' commitment to you is unwavering. He is the same always. We are incapable.  He is capable of saving to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Led by the Spirit


This post is based on some notes I prepared for a discussion with our youth group. There is a lot more that can be said on the topic. However, I believe the points made are a good foundation for daily application.

When it comes to being led by the Spirit, the Christian must remember we follow a Person who lives out the definition of what it means to be Spirit led. We don't have to scratch our heads as if no one has done it. Jesus, even to this day, lives by the Spirit. There is no moment when our Savior ceases to yield Himself to the control of God's Spirit. So we must not look to others as our chief example of the Spirit filled life. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)

In scripture we see how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, dealt with temptation, loved people, prayed, and forgave. If we are going to do the same, we too must be filled with the same Spirit. I have been a Christian almost half my life now. I have seen and experienced what it looks like when people allow the Spirit fill them. Unfortunately, I have seen what it looks like when those who say they follow Jesus don't allow the Spirit to fill them. I won't go any further with that one.

Below are four practical ways I see in scripture and experience to be Spirit led.
1-  Read the bible, John 14:25.  How can the Spirit remind you of what Jesus has already said if you don't download it? Many times in my life there have been instances in which I would have made a decision that could have a negative consequence if the Spirit had not reminded me of a scripture passage. See how Jesus defeated temptation in Luke 4. He spoke the Word.

2- As a Christian, ask for the Spirit, Luke 11:9-13. Notice how the Lord promises when we ask and seek for the Spirit from the Father, He will not send something else. He will send the Spirit. This is something that should be done daily. I ate three square meals yesterday. Will that keep me going today or tomorrow? It might for a little while, but eventually my energy will be depleted from lack of caloric intake. It's the same with the Spirit. Yesterday's fill up will not sustain me forever. It must be daily sought. 

3- Be a person of prayer. Luke 11:1 Jesus got up early to pray and spend time with God. He had a spot the bible said was "certain". Designate a place that is known to others you live with as that "certain place". If He needed to do it, shouldn't we? If we are to walk and be led by the Spirit, it must be intentional and will take effort on your part to make it a priority. Jesus didn't live a life in the Spirit by chance, he had a relationship.

4- Actively listen for the Spirit's leading as you go about your day. Galatians 5:16. Don't be shocked when God gives you a prompting. When He does, obey. Have you ever been driving along and someone popped into your mind and wouldn't go away? So you drop by their house or gave them a call and they needed it?  That's a God thing that happens when we listen and obey the Spirit. 

Again, there is more that can be said about living a Spirit led life. However, I do think the above points are great starting point. Remember, it is Jesus who is our example of what it means to live Spirit led. Follow Him. 





Sunday, January 10, 2016

Remember your baptism


21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[c] with you I am well pleased - Luke 3:21-22

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. -Romans 6:4

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. - Galatians 3:27


Today we remember the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the big deal about remembering the baptism of our Lord? We read in Luke's account that "all the people had been baptized, and Jesus had been baptized". The baptism being performed was led by John the Baptist. It was for repentance. Yet Jesus is sinless and has no need of repentance. In His baptism he identified with sinners like you and me. The voice from heaven declared, "this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". Everything Jesus did and does pleases the Father. When the Son of God chose to identify with sinners in His baptism, it was God's desire and will. It pleased the Father for His Son to identify with you and me. Let that sink in.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 

So, in our baptism we are identified with the Son of God (Colossians 2:12).  In our baptism our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). In our baptism we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). In our baptism our hearts are circumcised (Colossians 2:11). In our baptism God speaks over us as He did with Christ, "this is my child" (Luke 3:22). 

Baptism is God's doing, not anyone else's. He does it right the first time so there is no need for any "re-baptisms". Ephesians 4 states that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

We would do well to remember our baptism and be thankful.  Martin Luther would tell himself each morning, "I am baptized."  He knew what his baptism meant and what it meant for all who had been baptized. He encouraged his hearers that each time they washed their face they should remember their baptism. 

Today and tomorrow, remember your baptism and be thankful. 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Starting back in the gym


                          

As the new year starts, it's quite common for many of us to want to get back into the gym. Whether it's been several years of no physical activity or we blew our diet and exercise through the holidays like a boss, there are a few important things I would like to share to ensure we all safely get back to the grind. 

First things first, if it has been a long long long time since you last did any physical activity, check with your doctor. They will be able to help with any underlying issues. It might be time for a check up?

Second, you need to have some clear goals. What are you wanting to do? If you plan on losing weight, have a goal you can realistically attain by a certain time frame, and then make another goal from there. Maybe you want to get back into that swimsuit you were rockin' three years ago by July? Whatever it is, you need to have a specific goal and a specific time frame. This will help you stay disciplined and track your progress. 

Next, when you get back in the gym, warm up. A 5-10 minute walk on a the treadmill will help get the blood circulating. Numerous injuries can be prevented with a simple warm up. Don't neglect your warm up people. After your warm up, stretch for a few minutes.

Lastly, ease back into it. This probably is more for the guys. We have been gifted with the larger than life ego. Anyways, start back light. Just because you used to workout with three wheels on each side of the bar a month or years ago, doesn't mean that's where you should pick back up. 
       

Leave your ego in '82, and start light...real light. You will be sore, don't cripple yourself by adding unnecessary weight. 

Here's to us all.  Good luck. 


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 2015


Today is the first day of Advent. For many this means absolutely nothing. In our American consumeristic culture, it marks the beginning of holiday shopping deals, a season long of special coffees, and making travel plans to visit family.

A youtuber, Maple Anglican, provides a nice overview of what advent is.

Advent actually marks the beginning of the Christian calendar. Advent is a Latin term that literally means "coming". Christians kick off the year preparing our hearts for the second coming of the Christ. You see Christ came the first time to reveal Himself and ransom people for God. His second coming will bring judgement and separation of the sheep and goats. To some it will be met with joy. To others it will be a time of great sorrow and regret. 

This season of Advent reminds me of the story Jesus told of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.[e]

Friends, we must be diligent to prepare ourselves for "that Day". We must make sure our lamps have oil. We do not know the time the Master will return. It will come upon us like a thief in the night.


I know it is easy to get distracted during the holidays. We all want to be able to give gifts and see our loved ones. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Yet, we are commanded to always seek first the kingdom of God. Instead of focusing on what our culture says the season is about, let us fix our eyes on Jesus first and foremost. 

Men, take your family to church. As the dad goes, so goes the family.  Quit putting your hobbies in the way of your family and God. It's not the mom's responsibility to lead your family. It's yours! Quit being a coward. Man up and show your family what it looks like to seek the Lord. That's another blog post for another day.

This Advent season, be diligent in seeking the Lord. Prepare your heart for His coming. Do not say to yourself, "tomorrow I will seek the Lord." None of us know the day or the hour when He will come. Be ready. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It's Thanksgiving, RELAX

We are officially on the eve of the big day! It's truly a moment for us all to reminisce and be thankful. It's a time for us to enjoy the good company of family and friends. It's also a time for us all to enjoy eating good food!

I can't emphasize the enjoy good food part enough. I have stated in a previous post about healthy living that it's important to have a healthy diet. When I say healthy diet, I'm not talking about binge diets many of us roller coast on. I'm talking about an overall lifestyle of eating healthy. It's important to eat a good balanced diet consisting of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. We need to eat good meat, assortments of vegetables, and fruits. We also need to relax and enjoy the holiday food.

Nothing is worse than being "that guy" or "that girl" who during holidays sticks with water only and snoodily looks at everyone else eating turkey and dressing while rummaging through a salad. Here's some advice from someone who by grace has survived congestive heart failure. Enjoy the holiday food! Eat the turkey, ham, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potato pies, deviled eggs, etc. Live a little!

When I was initially recovering from heart failure in 2003, I was placed on a strict low sodium diet. I went hardcore and monitored every single milligram of sodium in my diet. When I would report back to my heart doctor every few weeks, I didn't hesitate to let them know how I was following "the plan". Well, after about two months of visiting my doctor, he frustratedly told me to "chill out!", in his Indian accent. He said I needed to not be afraid to live a little and enjoy a snickers or slice of pizza every now and then. He wasn't telling me to just drop my diet, however he was telling me to relax.

During this holiday season, RELAX. Enjoy the company of family, friends, and food.