Sinners

My Biggest Problem & The Beauty of The Struggle

Life is hard. I think most of us can agree with this statement. Certainly there is much beauty that surrounds us, but the undeniable truth is that life is also quite the struggle. Most of us spend our days either ignoring these struggles, or simply trying to avoid them.We just have to grin and bear it, and eventually we will be able to move past the struggle, and once again we will be see the beauty. The beauty is what we are after, but the struggle seems to be where we often find ourselves.

Two things are on my mind this morning.

How we respond to the struggles of life says much about us. My default is to blame other people or to blame my circumstances. I am a perfect illustration of Genesis 3:12-13. After man sinned in the garden, God asked man what happened…Instead of fessing up he decided to blame both the woman and even God himself…”This woman YOU gave me, she is the one who gave me the fruit!” In the same way, the woman also blamed the serpent. Neither the man nor the woman were willing to take the blame for their own actions. Instead of appealing to and trusting in the mercy of God, they chose to take the low road and say, “It isn’t my fault!”

Now, perhaps we can give Adam and Eve a pass. They’d never sinned before, so perhaps they didn’t have that great a grasp on the mercy of God. Perhaps they didn’t fully understand how this grace thing worked. We don’t have this excuse. We’ve been seeing people sin for quite a while. We’ve only lived in the midst of sinners. In fact, all we’ve ever been is sinners. Yet, we’ve also seen grace in action, especially in the person of Christ.

The point I’m trying to make is this. My biggest problem isn’t my circumstances. My biggest problem isn’t other people. My biggest problem is myself. The struggle is there for all of us. Yet, the issue is not really the struggle, but how I respond to the struggle. Do I blame everyone, including God? Or do I accept the struggle, accept my responsibility for the struggle, and hand it over to God appealing to his rich steadfast love and mercy? (Psalm 51:1) Turning it over to God is the only right answer. This is true whether we are speaking of sin (our own or of someone else) or any other struggle of life. The fact is, whatever your struggle, whatever your circumstance…God has you there for a reason. This doesn’t make it easy, but seen in the proper light, wherever you are, whatever ever your situation…is an opportunity to glorify God. (I am reminded once again of Philippians 1:20-27)

And this takes me to my last point. Perhaps the struggle is the point. Perhaps the struggle is the beauty of it all. There is nothing more beautiful than the love, mercy, and grace of God. This is never more evident than in the midst of trying times. It might take us a while to see it, but once we are able to re-center and refocus ourselves on God we know this to be true. Apart from these struggles we could never know the the mercies of God, at least not in any experiential way. This is true in speaking of sin, sickness, or even death. It’s even true when the kids are driving you nuts or the drive-thru is slower than it should be. So, perhaps the struggles are there to point us to God.

Maybe, just maybe, the struggle isn’t the opposite of beauty…Maybe, the struggle is all part of the beauty.

Advertisements

Getting Religion & Rotten Sinners

 

It has become quite the fashionable thing these days to bash religion. Sadly, this is almost as common amongst Christians as it is non-Christians. I’m sure many of us have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I know what people mean when they utter this phrase. The problem is it’s simply not true, nor is it biblical. The Bible speaks of religion, and not in negative terms. Certainly, there is a wrong way to be religious, and a right way…But isn’t this true of everything? James, the brother of Jesus, in his letter to Jewish Christians says this:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:26-27

So James here isn’t speaking ill of religion. What James is speaking against is false religion. People who fail to bridle their tongue. People who are outwardly religious, but don’t have the heart to match. People who claim to be religious, yet are not doing the things that Scripture commands of them. As James says in 1:22, we are to be “doers of the word, not hearers only.” Basically, James is referring to people we like to refer to as hypocrites. John the Baptist and Jesus spoke against these same people.

So, you see, religion isn’t the problem. The problem is false religion. The problem is religion that doesn’t come from the heart of one who has been changed by the Gospel of Christ. R. C. Sproul in one of his books defines religion as what springs forth from theology. Another way to say it would be religion is what we do in response to what we believe about God. So, our religion (and ALL of us are religious because we all believe something about God) is our response to God.

Jesus was not anti religion. In fact, Jesus was probably the most religious man in the history of the world. Why? Because he knew God the Father perfectly. In the same way, Jesus being sinless, his response to God was always perfect. Obviously, this isn’t the case with us. Our religion is often very defiled…Our religion is often quite stained by the world and it’s ways. Very rarely do we practice pure religion…because our hearts aren’t pure. Yet, the problem isn’t with religion…the problem is with us.

We are sinful. Sinful to our core. We never graduate from this point. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners”, and he did it in the present tense (1 Timothy 1:15). If Paul, one of the Godliest men ever refers to himself as the chief of sinners…what does that make me? In Romans 7 Paul refers to his own struggles with sin and doing what he ought to do. Paul never ceased to be a sinner in his earthly life…Neither will we. This being true, our religion won’t always look like it should. Our churches won’t always look like they should.

So yes, sometimes religion looks pretty ugly. It would be very easy to write it off and say that religion is the problem. The problem is though, like I said, it simply isn’t true nor biblical. The Bible doesn’t tell us to stop being religious, the Bible tells us what religion is supposed to look like. This picture of pure and undefiled religion is what we are to be striving for on this side of eternity. As is always true though, we don’t do it perfectly. This is why we rest in our relationship with Christ.

It is through our relationship with the one who was perfectly religious that our hearts are changed and we are able in some measure to get closer to the biblical picture of right religion.

Conundrum?

I hate sin, but I love it when God shatters my idol of self righteousness…

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. -Romans 7:14-19

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.-Romans 10:3-4

I think Keller just nailed me…

I’m currently reading Timothy Kellers, “Counterfeit Gods.” Wonderful, convicting, and challenging book. I was reading tonight and the following passages really stuck out to me as he began discussing the idols that many Christians and Christian communities have set up, and the damage it has and is doing. You can find it on pages 131-133 in the book.

“An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give. Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace. It is a subtle but deadly mistake. The sign that you have slipped into this form of self-justification is that you become what the book of Proverbs calls a “scoffer.” Scoffers always show contempt and disdain for opponents rather than graciousness. This is a sign that they do not see themselves as sinners saved by grace. Instead, their trust in the rightness of their views makes them feel superior…

Wow, I think Keller nailed me. I like to think I don’t have this issue, but when I search myself and am really honest with myself, there are many times that the above passage here sums me up quite well. Forgive me Lord, I am indeed a sinner, in need of Your grace.

“…the Enlightenment abandoned religious orthodoxy and put in God’s place things like the American system or individual self-fulfillment. The results have not been good. Putting Nation in place of God leads to cultural imperialism, and putting Self in the place of God leads to many of the dysfunctional dynamics we have discussed throughout this book. Why did our culture largely abandon God as its hope? I believe it was because our religious communities have been and continue to be filled with these false gods. Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ. These toxic effects of religious idolatry have led to widespread disaffection with religion in general and Christianity in particular. Thinking we have tried God, we have turned to other Hope, with devastating consequences.”

Again, I think Keller nailed me, and many people I know. Certainly a need for much repentance within the Church…

I encourage everyone, especially Christian leaders to go out and get this book.

“Homo-Friendly”

Ok, so first off, let me set the record straight. The title of this message wasn’t meant to be offensive. I’m sure some of you when you saw the title were thinking how rude, or politically incorrect.

Also, this isn’t going to be one of those anti-gay, all homos are going to hell posts. Actually quite the opposite.

I have a cousin who is involved in a lesbian relationship. She and I have been very close over the years, not as close recently as we should be, but I still love her very much. I recently was able to meet, hang out, and converse with her and her girlfriend at a family function. I enjoyed it very much. I found her girlfriend to be a great person who I hope to get to know better in the future.

During one of our conversations, her girlfriend mentioned something about how they had recently started attending a different church closer to their home. I thought it was great that they were going to church. So I asked about it. My cousin started telling me some of the things that were going on at this church and it sent up some red flags to me that ok, maybe this isn’t the type of church I was expecting. So I asked what type of church they were going to. She went on to tell me it is a Unity Church. I really had no idea what this was, so I asked what that meant. She said it was a church where “a buddhist” could attend. She also said it was a “homo” friendly church, which was sort of a neccessity for them.

Again, let me state, I don’t know much about this church, but from what I gathered it is not a Christian church. I remember hearing a couple of years ago about a church where people of all faiths could come, and worship however they choose. Basically what I gather is this a church that teaches that there is no “truth” and that anyone can believe whatever they choose, and so on and so forth. If I am wrong about this, please someone correct me. It seems to me to be a church that is about “Spirituality” but you don’t have to be tied to any “rules” of organized religion.

So let me say first and foremost that this is worse, much worse than not going to church at all. Truth is truth, whether you want to believe it or not. The fact that you don’t believe it, doesn’t make the truth no longer true. I’m not going to go into a long discourse on why I believe in the God of the Bible, or that Jesus was who He said He was, other than to say I believe the fact that He died, and was raised on the third day is pretty overwhelming proof. If anyone wants to learn more about why I feel confident in my beliefs, I’d be happy to talk about it further. But this isn’t the purpose of this message. I do want to say though, anyone that teaches spirituality, or a way of spending eternity in the presence of God, outside of a saving relationship with Jesus is teaching something that is simply not true. It doesn’t matter how spiritual you think you are, or even how spiritual you feel, if you haven’t put your faith in the only one that can take away those sins, you are still eternally seperated from God, and as the Bible says, “the wages of sin is death”. If you aren’t going to spend eternity with God, then I don’t think you need me to tell you where you will be spending it.

But again, this isn’t the real reason for this message. The real reason is what my cousin said about this church being “homo friendly”. My response to this was, “well I believe all churches should be that way.” I really do believe this. Aren’t we all sinners? I believe without a doubt the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and I don’t condone it in anyway, shape, form, or fashion. But the Bible is very clear on a lot of things that are sinful. Yet, in most churches, homosexuals are shunned, while the other sins are sort of swept under the rug as if they aren’t really that bad. Who gave us the right to decide which sins were acceptable, and which ones arent? The fact is that all sin is unacceptable to God.

I was talking with a co-worker a couple of months ago who is bi-sexual. He was telling me that he was in church with his grandmother, and during the sermon the preacher basically said that all gays were going to hell. Now I don’t know if this is really what the preacher said, or if my friend was just really offended, and that is how he took it. We all have a tendency, when our faults or our sin is pointed out to shut our ears, and make what is being said worse than it really is. However, this is the message that I think you’ll hear at some churches. Even if it isn’t, this is how many in the congregation will treat someone whom they know is practicing this lifestyle. Yet we urge forgiveness for the alcoholic, or the guy cheating on his wife.

Don’t get me wrong, these folks need forgiveness. Not only from us, but first and foremost from God. The Bible tells us that in order to be forgiven our sins we must confess our sins, and repent or turn away from that sin. So yes, I do believe homosexuality is a sin, and yes I do believe that those practicing this lifestyle need to confess and turn from this sin. But these poor souls need to also feel loved, and welcome at our churches. They need to hear the message of God preached, just as much as the rest of us. They are just as worthy of the love of Christ as anyone else. Who can say that they don’t sin. I wish I could say it, but I can’t. I have to confess my sins, and ask forgiveness on a daily basis. I like what it says on one of my friends myspace page. She calls herself a “work in progress” and that is what we all are. I’m not talking about sugar coating sin, or saying its ok. It isn’t. As Paul says, we can’t continue sinning just because God is gracious. Yes He is, but if you truly put your faith in Him, and you are truly saved, you will want to turn from that sin. You will no longer want to continue sinning. That is the difference. The desire to turn from that sin. But how will people know this, if we don’t allow them in our church, or make them to feel like they aren’t worthy of God’s love. The fact is, none of us are. But praise God Jesus didn’t just die to forgive me, or those we see in churches. He chose to die, to forgive every person of their sins, if only they’ll ask for it. Not just those we think are worthy, because like I said, none of us are. The results of accepting that forgiveness is a changed life. I’m living proof of that.

Look at Jesus, during His ministry, He regularly hung out with all different types of sinners and what most people of the day would call the “bad” people in society. When asked about it He said, I didn’t come for the righteous, but for the sinner. Ministry for Jesus was the person right in front of Him. No matter how bad, or how good society might of thought they were. He didn’t sugarcoat the sin, or tell them it was ok. In fact, more times than not, Jesus pointed out that sin and made the people feel uncomfortable. However He also forgave those who were willing to acknowledge their sin, and repent. No matter what, His words were always filled with love. Just as ours should be. Jesus also told those whom He forgave to go, and sin no more. So you see, I’m not talking about a Joel Osteen gospel, everyone feel good, do what you want, God loves you anyway. Yes He does love you, so much that He desires you live the life He wants you to live, and a life fitting of a child of God. But this is a message everyone needs to hear. Even those whom some think shouldn’t be at church. All churches ought to be “Homo friendly” and “Drug Addict friendly” insert whatever you want here..we all need forgiveness..let us tell all whom God sends through our church doors..God bless..