Secure: Present Posture

The Bible says that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from sin. Faith makes us righteous in God’s eyes, not faith in ourselves, but faith that Christ’s righteousness was given to us at the cross. Paul, the apostle who wrote the biblical book of Romans, said…

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…. (Romans 4:5 ESV)

When you sat down to read this post, you demonstrated faith. You believed the chair in which you sat would hold you. You acted on that belief. I doubt anyone questioned the ability of the chair to hold you on the way down into it, not even the bigger guys. Chairs are designed to hold people. Their material strength and structural design promise to hold us. They’re worthy of our faith, our action based on belief the chair is faithful.

God promises to hold us too, to be faithful, if we’re willing to put our faith or believe in Him. What exactly is it that He calls us to believe in faith? Very simply put, it’s this: He has told us the truth. He said He created each of us. He said each of us bears His image. He said each of us is irreconcilably separated from Him by a natural defiance against His Lordship, called “sin.” He gave us perfect laws we couldn’t keep, to show us the depth of our depravity, to show us we deserve wrath. At the same time, He offered mercy. He promised a perfect Messiah, without sin, who could keep the law, who would come into our reality and show us what He was like. He promised that Messiah, His Son, would take our sin on Himself by dying for us and give us His righteousness in exchange. He promised that, once we believed by faith, we were saved. Have you ever, by a strong, volitional choice of the will, believed what God says is true?

That’s a question I struggled to answer for years. In junior high, I kept desperately trying to find assurance that I had done believed what God said. I would beg Jesus to forgive me, with tears and remorse, and mean it. But a week later, I would begin wondering, “Did I really mean it enough?” A well-meaning adult once said to me, “The next time you feel doubts about your decision, make a new sincere decision. Then, go to the hardware store, buy a large metal stake, go out into the back yard, and drive the stake into the ground in the corner of the yard. The next time you feel doubts, you can walk out into the yard, see the stake, and remember you made a sincere decision.” That might work for some, but I would just wonder, “Did I really mean it enough, when I put the stake in the ground?” I kept desperately trying to have an experience that would stay undeniably fresh to me. Only later did I realize I was putting my faith in the wrong transaction.

The strength of our faith was never meant to be found in the memory of a transaction we made, a decision we claim. It was meant to be found in a transaction Jesus Christ made 2,000 years ago on the cross, when He traded our sin for His righteousness. Our present posture of trust in a transaction that happened millennia ago is a greater indication of salvation than any memory of a decision, feeling, act or thought we had.

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Excuses: Reluctant

What does it take to be a fully-invested follower of Jesus Christ? The biblical book of Luke tells how Jesus approached or was approached by three would-be followers. Each one was offered the same opportunity to experience life as God intended. Each one offered an excuse. We’re masters of making excuses. We do it without even thinking why. It’s human nature. When God calls, we have a hundred rehearsed reasons why we can’t do what he wants. People have been making the same excuses for centuries.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58 ESV)

A parallel account in the book of Matthew tells us the man was a “grammateus,” the Greek word for “scribe.” Few people in Jesus’ day could read or write. Fewer had access to written copies of Scripture. Scribes not only could read and write, but were experts in teaching, interpretation, and the law. Each scribe-in-training would follow a rabbi or teacher for years, learn his craft, and take his place in the ranks of the well-respected, Jewish, legal and religious experts. Why would a scribe, already trained by a rabbi, offer to follow Jesus? We assume it’s because he was impacted by Jesus’ message, believed, and wanted to be a disciple. That’s unlikely, based on Jesus’ response. It’s most likely, the scribe thought following Jesus was a path to prosperity.

Mature scribes in Jesus’ day would follow a series of rabbis, one after another, not because they desired a master-and-disciple relationship, but because they wanted to figure out who offered the best benefits. They kept their options open. Following one rabbi might land a scribe in political circles and give him a comfortable advisory position with wealth and power. Following another rabbi might put a scribe into the inner circle of the temple and guarantee him religious prestige and influence. A scribe who learned his craft from one teacher would later follow others to see who opened the best doors. Jesus was the newest, most-exciting rabbi in town. This scribe was willing to follow Him to see what he might gain. But Jesus disappointed him.

Jesus said to the man, “Foxes have holes or dens. Birds have nests. They have places that belong to them. My followers and I don’t. Count the cost. If you follow Me, you will not find the worldly benefits that you seek.” Jesus knew where He was going. He and his disciples would be rejected. They would have little material wealth, almost no comfort, and the respect of few. They would even have trouble finding a place to sleep at night. In the end, Jesus and all but one of His disciples would die for His kingdom.

How do you respond when God calls you to a particular path, a college major, career, a relationship, an area in which to serve, and you know by choosing that one path, you are eliminating all the others? Are you reluctant? Do you keep your options open?

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Micro: Warriors

Often, the first time we set foot in church, it’s because we want change. Life isn’t going the way we expected. A relationship fell apart. A job disappeared. Our health is gone. Our financial security vaporized. We’re discouraged or lonely or bored or disappointed or frustrated or all of the above, and we’re ready to try almost anything, even God. We want real change. We want to be transformed. We want to start over. But, something happens to many of us after we’ve been living in church circles for awhile. We develop a routine. We stop expecting God to change us. We hope He doesn’t. We like things safe.

How do we get the desire for change back? Many of us try to change. We buckle down. We decide to spend more time alone reading our Bibles. We decide to get alone to pray more. We make a renewed commitment to attending church. We sign up to serve, show up, work hard, and go home. We make lists and try to follow them, but we quickly find those things aren’t transforming us. We don’t see real, lasting change. Why not? It’s because we’re doing most of those things alone. Some we do alone physically. Some we do alone in a crowd. But, God didn’t design us for isolation. God designed us to grow, to change, to be transformed in a context of living, breathing relationships.

King David, the greatest of the kings of Israel, is best remembered for his solitary achievements, killing a lion, a bear, and a man named Goliath, writing most of the Psalms. But, left alone, he made some of his biggest mistakes, calling a census, having an affair. David needed help from a few close friends to keep doing what God wanted. So, David surrounded himself with a few mighty men who would challenge him.

These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory. (2 Samuel 23:8-12 ESV)

David had a group of close friends, men whom the Israelites called “The Three,” the men of highest honor inside of his officer corps. The Three were each known for a particular battle where they had performed almost superhuman acts. But more than that, they were known for their loyalty to David. They inspired him to fight, to keep the mission first, and to sacrifice for each other. Who are the mighty men who inspire you?

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Gripped: Fears of Death

Early in his ministry, Jesus Christ sent out his disciples on their own to teach what he taught, to heal the sick, to drive out evil spirits. He gave them lengthy instructions.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:16-22 ESV)

Jesus warned his disciples they would face great danger. They would be hated, betrayed, arrested, and tortured. The threat of pain and death would be a daily reality. Most of us have a great fear of death. What is it that makes us so fearful? Is it the pain? Is the possibility of humiliation, when we can no longer care for ourselves and must be entirely dependent on people who may not love us? Is it the fact that we might leave unfinished business behind, that we might not have said or done what needed to be said or done? Is it the unknown? Is it the possibility of judgment? What is most scary?

Jesus offers strength to get through the pain. He offers the Holy Spirit to comfort, advise, and carry us when we’re weak. He’s made clear that he loves the people we might have left behind more than us. He wants the best for them and will do all that he can to give it. For Jesus, death is not an unknown. He’s been through it. He knows what it feels like and what’s on the other side, and he tells us to have no fear. In fact, he said, “Don’t be afraid of anything or anyone, except one person.”

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:26-28 ESV)

Jesus said, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That command didn’t mean, “Live in terror and do nothing.” It was meant instead to drive his disciples to make certain that their relationship with him was true and faithful. On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin that satisfies the demands of a holy God. There is no reason why anyone has to experience death without the certainty of salvation. Are you scared of death? You don’t have to be. Pursue Jesus by faith and conquer fear.

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Second Chances: Self-Righteous

One day, Jewish religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus. They said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” They had eyewitnesses, irrefutable proof in Jewish society that a grave moral and legal sin had been committed. They demanded that Jesus act, that he carry out their version of justice in front of them.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. (John 8:2-6 ESV)

Most of us aren’t really shocked by the woman’s sin. In our culture, adultery, unless you’ve been the victim of it, feels commonplace. While many say it’s morally wrong, others think nothing of it. We snicker a little at the image of a bunch of self-important, puffed-up, old men getting red in the face and demanding justice for it. But to a first-century Jew, this was a shocking breach of trust, between two people, their local community, and God. The community had to rid itself of that sin. If that was the only motive of the religious leaders, we might excuse their misplaced zealousness.

But Jesus saw a more sinister problem brewing. Those men were not simply concerned about the community’s moral fallout. They felt more than capable of bolstering its ethical foundation with their own superior actions. They were blind to their own sin, so blind that they looked right through it to point the finger of blame at other people. Seeing that, Jesus did something none of those men expected. He began to write in the sand.

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.” (John 8:7-11 ESV)

When Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone,” he forced the leaders to examine their own hearts, to recognize their sinful, self-righteous motives. The Pharisees knew about mercy and love. They understood second chances, but they refused to give them to those they deemed undeserving. To them, an adulteress wasn’t worthy of God’s forgiveness. They could use her and feel no remorse. As Christians, we’re often guilty of that. We say, “God forgives,” but deep inside we think, “They aren’t worthy of my forgiveness.” That makes us guilty of self-righteousness. Who’s worse?

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