According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: August, 2014

Word Up!

The New Testament is full of language of how Christians are supposed to talk toward one another. Here are a few examples:

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

So encourage each other with these words.” -1 Thessalonians 4:18

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” -Ephesians 4:29

We love that preacher who will get up in front of a crowd and talk about how bad Christians are doing. “You need to get out of Facebook and get into the Book! You don’t pray enough! You should be evangelizing more! You are not giving enough effort in your walk!”

Certainly, there are times when it is necessary to rebuke and correct. However, we hear this kind of teaching and we start thinking about how terrible everyone around us is doing in their walk and we boast internally to ourselves that this guy is talking about all of them. We hear this kind of talk and we yell, “Preach it, brother!”

But if a speaker gets on the stage and encourages the audience in their walk. If he tells them that they are doing well, the crowd isn’t so entertained. Now, I understand, sometimes this can be bad. Just recently, Joel Osteen’s wife got on stage and “encouraged” everyone to do good  for themselves because God is happy when we do things for ourselves.

However, there is such a lack of encouragement among Christians. We are really good at being critical of others. But we rarely encourage one another in the Lord to continue following after Jesus.

So do that. Think about people you know who are doing well in their walk with Jesus and go encourage them to continue in him. Based on the New Testament, that is what the church community is for: To encourage one another because Christ’s return is near!

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The “B” Word that Christians Probably Say Too Much

In the United States, it is easy to be a Christian and still have a pretty good life along with it. And that is not wrong. It’s not wrong to have a great family, to make a good living, to go to a nice university, or anything else. There is a certain freedom that comes with living for Christ when you are not in the situation like the Christians in Iraq getting chased up a mountain by people who want to kill you.

However, something that I see way too often is a Christian bragging about how blessed they are (usually on Facebook). Sometimes, I fear that we talk more about being blessed than about Jesus. And it is never the overall blessing that we have that we are talking about. It’s never the blessed that Ephesians 1 says that we are. That blessing that we are blessed in Christ with every blessing in the heavenly places, adopted in love before the foundation of the world and made holy and blameless with the grace of God lavished on to us.

The blessed we usually boast about is something so much less than that.

“It’s my sixth month anniversary with my boyfriend/girlfriend. I’m so blessed!”

“I found 10 dollars on the ground. I’m so blessed!”

“I love college! I’m so blessed!”

I even saw one on Facebook once that looked like this: “My life is perfect right now! I am so blessed! It says in the Bible that if you are obedient to God he will bless you and that is so true!!!!” (First, you are boasting about your obedience; Second, I’m sure that’s what the Apostle Paul said as he was getting pelted with rocks in Lystra)

Now, don’t misunderstand. I already said that all these things are great. All the things you have that you would call blessings are great things. But I caution always bragging about being blessed.

Statements like “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” are both corny and wrong. Jesus is the most blessed person in existence and yet he sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane because of the stress of what he was about to go through on the cross.

But we need to stop saying these kind of things for 2 reasons.

First, if we create the mentality that you are blessed by God with material possessions because of your obedience then we insult our brothers and sisters around the world who are being much more obedient to God than we ever have. They are taking beatings, imprisonment, and martyrdom and still remaining obedient to Jesus.

Second, according to Jesus, it’s not those who have all the stuff that are the blessed ones. It is the opposite. Check out this passage:

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

Jesus seems to use the language that those who have it all now are actually in danger in eternity.

Let me say one more time, I don’t think it is bad that you have stuff. I don’t think it’s bad that you are “blessed” with good relationships, a job, a car, a house, or anything else.

But I do think it’s bad when your identity is found in those things instead of Jesus and what he has done on the cross. He is more important and more valuable than any of your “blessings” will ever be and you should be willing to depart from any and every blessing of this world for the sake of following him if it comes down to it.

Finishing Well

Nearly every summer and winter during my college years, I have worked at a retail store known as Rural King. It is a farm and home store across the eastern part of the US. Tomorrow is my final shift of this summer before I leave for seminary on Thursday. I plan on this being the last time I work there, because I will be living at Seminary during winters and summers, but the job is there for me to come back if I ever need to.

It has really been on my heart this final week that in the work that we do, we should finish it well. Often in the final days of a chapter of our lives, we can start to slack off, knowing that we are finished. This could be the final couple shifts of a job, the final few days of school, or anything else. However, as followers of Christ, is that really the attitude that we should have?

When Jesus was nearing the end of his life, he spent 5 chapters of the Gospel of John giving final instruction to his disciples. That section starts out with this verse.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” -John 13:1

So Jesus didn’t slack off at the very end. He didn’t say, “I’ve only got a couple more days on earth, so I can take it easy.” Rather, he worked his hardest at the end. He loved his disciples to the very end. And in the culmination of that love, he carried a cross, allowing himself to be nailed to it and punished in order to save his disciples. He worked the hardest at that moment.

So, followers of Jesus, I want to encourage you all to work your hardest even to the very end. Don’t slack off at the end. It doesn’t reflect the attitude of the Jesus you are following. I want to be more and more like him! So in everything, work hard, with honesty and integrity. Even to the very end.

How We Over-Spiritualize Our Lives

A few days ago, I got a massive headache. This was a bad one. It lasted nearly 48 hours and never let up. I’ll bet I took 20 Ibuprofen in that 48 hour span (pray for my liver) trying to get rid of it.

So what did I do? The same thing I always do when I have a problem with my body. Google it to try to figure out how to get rid of it. I’m sure I’m not the only person who does that, but it’s a habit that may cause you problems. I found something called “Computer Vision Syndrome” which is what I deduced that it was. CDS occurs when you look at screens (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) too long, resulting in headaches, neck aches, and sleeping problems. I work as a cashier currently, so I am always looking at a computer screen. I have also been watching LOST like crazy, trying to finish it before seminary. (I said in an earlier blog post that I had given up watching LOST because it was causing problems in my walk, but after a few weeks, that got worked out.)

Desperate to get the pain to go away, I shut my computer and cell phone off and said that I wasn’t going to look at them for a couple of days until the pain went away. This left me with little to do. I couldn’t read either, because it would strain my eyes. I actually sat in my room for about an hour singing songs from a hymnal because everything I typically do in free time involves a screen or reading.

I was convinced that God had given me this headache in order to help me depend more on him, as that is not something I typically have to do here at home too much, because it’s so comfortable.

After a couple days, the pain was still there. So another thought came into my head. “I have a brain tumor.” So, I thought to myself, God must be planning to bring me home soon to be with Jesus. So, subconsciously, I started planning, in the event that I was right, how in the last 3 months that the doctor would give me to live, I would go around to various churches preaching a message on Philippians 1:21 “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” This was going to be the purpose for which my last few months were lived out in life for the glory of Christ.

Then it hit me. Earlier that week, I had decided to fast from caffeine for a few days, just because I haven’t fasted much lately, so it was a discipline I wanted to do. So, I went from having several cups of coffee a day to none. I googled caffeine headaches and it exactly described what was happening to me. It also said they can last up to 9 days! So, I decided to quit the fast earlier than intended and I drank 2 cups of coffee and a glass of iced tea. As my body was shaking from so much caffeine, the headache went away.

So the headache really served no spiritual purpose whatsoever. It was just that my body didn’t have the caffeine that it was used to.

I tell you that really long story to show you how I can sometimes over-spiritualize my life. And I am sure I’m not the only one who does that. Christians all around do it. For me, it is an immaturity in my Christian walk that Christ has yet to fully sanctify me through, but he will.

We all do this. We make our lives more spiritual than they actually are. I believe God is sovereign over everything, but we can often assume that everything that happens to us has a super-spiritual purpose for us.

So, you get a head cold. I’m just going to be honest with you. It’s very, very unlikely that that head cold was sent to you to teach you some spiritual lesson. The truth is that sin has corrupted creation and we get head colds because it’s part of living in a sinful world.

I don’t know why we do this. I can kind of guess for me. I have a tendency to view myself as a main character in the world. I don’t purposefully do this. It just kind of happens. I do this in my pride. So, I read Scripture and see what seems like Peter or Paul being the main character of the world. The truth is they were just one of the ways God was working in the world, but it was the one that got recorded in the Bible. We don’t hear about the great discipleship that was happening in the church at Philippi or Thessalonica. We don’t even see the missionary work that the other apostles of Jesus were doing in the world. Just Paul.

So, as I am the biggest story I see in the world, I have a sinful tendency to assume that I am the main character of the story God is working on the world, so every small thing that happens to me must be this super spiritual thing. But it’s not. You and I are not the main characters of God’s story in the world. Jesus is. Everything in the story points to him as the star of the show. We are all supporting cast and guest stars that Jesus uses.

I don’t know why you over-spiritualize things in your life, but that is why I have a tendency to. Maybe it’s the same for you, but maybe it’s different. These are things that God is continuing to work out in me as I follow Jesus.

Is there another reason you over-spiritualize things?

Why Many Church Kids Leave the Church

I’m sure you know at least one of them. You know those people who grew up in church. They were at all the fellowships. They went to church camp every year and probably even cried during that emotional final night of the week. They might have led worship during youth group and maybe even taught a Bible study.

But today, they are grown up and they are not in the church. In fact, they might even be professing atheists today. And you look at them and wonder, “What happened to you?” Maybe you believe in the doctrine of eternal security which says that you can’t lose your salvation (as I do) and this kind of person makes you question it. Yeah, people will say that those kids probably never knew Jesus, but that is hard to compare with how passionate they were for him during their youth years.

I have known many people who fit the bill for this description. I’ve even had really close friends who fit this description. I can’t say I know the answer to the question above of “were they ever really saved?”, but maybe I can offer some insight as to why I think they are no longer in church and no longer following after Jesus.

Disclaimer: I am not claiming that this is the case with every kid who grew up in church that is not in church anymore.

A big reason that church kids leave the church is because of the adults in their lives. That could be their parents, the adults in their church, or any other Christian adult they know.

You get well-meaning adults who genuinely do want the best for kids and they begin teaching Christianity to those kids, but in a wretchedly wrong way. They don’t teach them the truth of the Gospel. Rather, they teach them morality.

So those church kids grow up knowing a list of moral commands that they must keep in order to be a “good” Christian with no emphasis on Jesus. They know that true love waits. They know that we shouldn’t drink beer or cuss. We shouldn’t do anything more than hold hands with someone we are not married to. We shouldn’t see any movie that is rated “R” (we make an exception for “The Passion of the Christ”). They know that every good Christian votes Republican and only votes on 3 issues: traditional marriage, pro-life, and the right to bear arms. They know that being a good Christian means that you are a generally nice person in public and don’t end up in jail. They know that in difficult situations, they should ask What Would Jesus Do (and they probably wear bracelets with WWJD on it). They are taught to pray when they get up, before their meals, and before they go to bed.

And they are taught that if you don’t do these things or if you screw up and slip into a sin, God is sitting in heaven disgusted at you. In fact, you’d better ask for forgiveness quickly or he might blast fire out of heaven and kill you where you stand.

So this exhausting list of moral impossibility is taught to the church kids while they are young. During their young years, they understand it as proper obedience, until they move out or go off to college. Then they realize they are free to do whatever they want. With this freedom, they leave the church and start doing everything they were ever told not to do.

While some of these things above are true laws for the Christian to flourish in their relationship with Christ, if they are the basis of salvation, we are no different from the religions that seek to earn God’s approval. Often, people openly say they don’t believe salvation is by works, but then they teach a works-based system like this.

Church kids, along with all the church, must be taught over and over again the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. We did nothing to obtain salvation. It was all because of Jesus. In fact, we are completely unable to reach God’s perfection. It’s time we stop splitting the world into good and bad people. You and all your friends and loved ones are not the good guys. We are all the bad guys and Jesus is the good guy who took on our badness to save us from ourselves.

And so, as he is nailed to the cross, he cries out to God, “Have you forsaken me?” He says this so that forever, those who believe the Gospel do not have to. They will be forever with God! The “good” Christian is not the one who successfully keeps the ten commandments of American evangelicalism. It is the one who believes the Gospel. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Your works don’t determine if God looks at you with favor. Jesus Christ on the cross determines that you have favor with God.

And the even more exciting news is that you can’t lose that favor. I can’t sin my way out of God’s love and favor, for Christ is the one who died. This means that when you screw up, as you will a lot, you don’t have to put yourself in the penalty box and wait a couple of days to come back to God. You can come back now! You are still righteous before God by the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for those in Christ!

Maybe you think this kind of teaching will lead people to sin like crazy with no worry. And that is a temptation sometimes. But if you truly understand this grace that God has given you in Christ, you won’t do it. Yes, you will sometimes turn, even willingly, to sin, but your allegiance will be to Jesus Christ, who you love with all your heart.

This is the message that youth in the church, as well as adults in the church, need to be taught. That God adopted Christians in Christ. That Christians are his children who he will never cast out. That he has made us holy and blameless in his sight. And that he continues to lavish his grace upon us every day.

Oh, this grace on which I stand!