Category: Sin

“Happy Birthday To Me!”

2004 vacation 09536 years ago today I experienced my spiritual birth. Over the years I have learned new things and been challenged in many ways. I was a 21-year-old living at home with a dead-end job, substance addiction, little hope and no direction or purpose. I had declared that I would be dead before I reached 30 but what is really scary is that I didn’t care.

I have been encouraged and I have been declared crazy because of my encounter with Jesus of Nazareth that night. During that encounter with Jesus I felt as though a warm shower had washed over me removing all of the doubt, despair and hopelessness that had haunted me.

Joplin_Thank_You
Tornado Relief Team!
Me, Larrabee & Vido
Lifelong Friends!

Since then, I survived my thirtieth birthday, been blessed with the best family and friends any person could dream of. I have been trained and conditioned in all of the “correctness” of religion and have wrestled with the tension of thinking and believing what I understood I was supposed to think and believe.

Wedding Photo
August 11, 1984
Lisette & I
The Best Daughter EVER!
20160507_133016
The Best Son EVER!
Happily_ever_after
Happily Ever After!

My theology is still pretty orthodox but my relationship with The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are more important than the components of my doctrine and theology. I found tremendous freedom in understanding that God will continue to be a wonderful mystery to me and that He will never run out of ways to amaze, encourage and inspire me. “…His compassions never fail. They are new every morning…”

I knew that I had reached what could be considered spiritual “maturity” when I became complacent in my journey. I felt I had learned and experienced everything there is to experience and that there was nothing new under the sun.

Then one day, when I read King David’s words in the 51st Psalm, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation”, I realized that God doesn’t want me to be “mature” to the point of complacent haughtiness. He wants me to continue to experience the joy, peace, hope, wonder and amazement that I experienced 30 years earlier. He wants to amaze me – and He continues to do so.

Blitz & Me - McKinnon / Kruze Wedding
Me & “Blitz” At A Wedding

Jesus said, “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. I want to always look at God and all of creation with the wonder and hope of a child. Maybe that makes me immature, childish or even naïve, but it also brings me peace, joy and hope.

People can argue my theology and my experience. Other believers can question my doctrine and theology, people of different faiths or no faith can question and doubt my experience but the simple beauty is this: No one can take it away from me! It’s mine – it’s in my heart, mind and spirit. And that can never be taken from me!

Steve-Preaching-010608
I Get PAID To Talk!

Thank you, Jesus! I love you!

Advertisements

“Commandments, Suggestions & Relationships”

2004 vacation 095(I haven’t posted in a few months but the following thought came to mind. After arriving at my conclusion I figured that it is a good subject to post)

God gave us the Ten Commandments as the foundation of the Law (Torah). As people of faith we need to look at the Law through the lens of God’s heart.

Why did God give us the Law? What does God ultimately want? Does He want our obedience or our love and devotion?  He wants both but how should they be prioritized?

Jesus said that the Law, all of the Law and Prophets, were summed up in the Greatest Commandment, which is, from a human perspective, two commandments intertwined as to be unable to be separated.

Mark 12:30-31                                                                                                                                             “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’”

Relationship is the key. God wants us to love Him first and foremost. He does want our obedience but He wants our obedience to be an outflowing of love and devotion to Him rather than an act of self-protection from divine wrath.

The best way for me to illustrate this concept is as follows…

The seventh commandment instructs us to “not commit adultery”. In our household that has never been stated as a house rule or law. (We don’t really have house rules, just an implied code of conduct developed over years of relationship.)  it would however, be a violation of a vow I took over 30 years ago to be a “true and devoted husband, faithful to her and to her only…”

I have never committed adultery, I have never cheated on my wife. Why have I not committed adultery and why will I not do so? Is it because I do not want to face the consequences of breaking that rule? That could be a secondary motivation but the primary reason that I have not nor will I ever commit adultery is because I love my wife. I am madly in love with her and I could not bear to hurt her, break her heart or betray her.

iStock_000009976314_Medium

While the consequences of such an act would be devastating to me that devastation on my part would be warranted but the pain that my wife would endure would be incomprehensible and I could never recover from knowing that I had inflicted such an atrocity on someone so special and so important to me.

My reason for obeying the no adultery rule or not because it would be a violation of law but because I would be hurting someone I love deeply. Our relationship would at best be damaged and at worst, destroyed.

God wants us to get to know Him on such a level that our adherence to His commands are motivated by love for Him, not of simply doing good.

“Everyone Agrees with the Gospel, They Just Don’t Know It!”

2004 vacation 095Donald Southerland was recently interviewed on Good Morning America about his role as President Snow in The Hunger Games movie series. When asked about his desire to play the role he said, “I asked for it”. He asked for the role in the franchise because “I wanted to end my life being part of something that I thought would maybe catalyze and revolutionize young people because they have been so dormant. This election, it was the lowest voter representation in 72 years. Young people have to get out, you have to get out and change things, you really do. It’s up to you. We’ve wrecked this world and if you’re gonna fix it, you’ve gotta do it now.”

 Donald_Sutherland_a_l

His statement that “We’ve wrecked this world” was validation of the message that followers of Jesus Christ have been saying since the church’s inception. We live in a fallen, broken world that needs fixing, healing and restoration. While I applaud Mr. Sutherland’s call for the young generation to fix what we’ve wrecked I have to say that this is nothing new. The cultural revolution of the 1960’s was an attempt to accomplish the same objective as was so well illustrated by the 1967 “Summer of Love” phenomenon. The problem is that while a call for everyone to love one another was delivered, it was done so without the divine power of unconditional or agape love. The love that was being called for was a conditional love and therefore fell short of realizing the transformative result that was desired.

Jesus has the answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus also said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you”. Jesus has the answer and Jesus is the answer.

A Time to Kill and a Time to Heal

*Note: Click on the link at the end of the post when you finish reading for a related video.

2004-vacation-0951.jpg

The iconic Byrds ballad, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, has always stirred something in me.  It wonderfully and *biblically illustrates the diverse seasons of life that we all experience. (*See Ecclesiastes 3:3) Some of those experiences are good, some not so good, some wonderful and some horrific.

As physical battles rage Christ-followers in the military, law enforcement and even politics are confronted daily with decisions that could avert imminent danger to individuals and nations.  They are necessary and we support them with every fiber of our being.

We are now engaged in a different kind of war!  A war has been launched against the church – the Kingdom of God.  It is primarily a cultural or social war but nevertheless, a war.  Naturally, when attacked the logical response is to return fire; in other words fight fire with fire.  However, why not fight fire with water?

Consider the following option.  It may be time for the church to raise a white flag.  Not a flag of surrender but a flag of purity; purity of heart that calls us to level weapons of love and prayer toward our opponents.  Jesus prayed thusly for His attackers, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

When we employ the same weapons as our attackers we lower ourselves to snarky insults and spiteful strategies intended to bring down our antagonists.  However, Jesus endorsed the following strategy, “…bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” Luke 6:28-29

Let us leave judgment in the hands of the Father and begin viewing our antagonists through the lens of the completed work of the cross. Though it may be a rose-colored lens, it will empower us to have greater impact through sharing Christ’s love over assigning God’s judgment and wrath.  A strategy of blessing and encouraging others will yield numerous opportunities to share the deeper truths of God than if we engage in mean-spirited culture wars.  The old adage clearly illustrates, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.

Unfortunately many of Christ’s adversaries are such because they have never experienced the love of God that has been vociferously proclaimed but seldom practiced.

The Apostle Paul wrote that the love of Jesus was demonstrated thusly, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8  We must practice love to those around us who are “still sinners” rather than applying condemnation and behavior modification.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”                            Ephesians 6:12

http://youtu.be/2zx6j4vI8lE

Not Guilty; Not Innocent

2004-vacation-0951.jpgA sentiment reflected on bumper stickers in the 1970’s and 80’s asserted,  “Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven”.   My initial encounter with Jesus, my “conversion”, left me incredibly transformed  but I also knew that I was still very definitely not perfect… I was not without sin.  How could I walk in the freedom of forgiveness if I still succumbed to my selfish desires? To this day, whenever I stumble it grieves me to consider the heartbreak I inflict on the One who gave everything in order to free me from the consequences of sin, to save me from myself.

A traditional presentation of the Gospel often implies that with submission to the pursuing hounds of heaven and  the beginning of the journey of following Jesus, an expectation to live in strict obedience to the Old Testament Law exists.  Ironically, a premise of the Gospel is that obedience to the Law is not possible.  Therefore, God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect and holy life (obedience to the Law)  and then, although innocent, expressed altruistic love by paying the death penalty for man’s sin.

A tension arose within me.  Am I more like Christ or more like the “sinners” of our world?  I identify with Jesus and endeavor to honor and love Him but my life still reflects more human selfishness than divine altruism.  I believe that my perspectives and attitudes are increasingly lining up with those of Jesus but my priorities are still more about me.  I do not consider the welfare of others to the degree that Jesus does.  He became a servant of all placing our needs above His own.  (Matthew 20:25-28)  Of all the miracles that Jesus performed, He never performed one for His own personal benefit revealing that His primary focus is for the benefit of others.

How can I, with any integrity consider myself a follower of Christ when I appear more like the rest of the world than like Him?  How can I accept His forgiveness when my actions reveal something different?  How can a just God afford me this freedom?

The answer can be found in our own jurisprudence.  Our criminal judicial system allows three principle adjudications: guilty, not guilty and innocent.  A guilty verdict indicates the overwhelming evidence of guilt.  An innocent verdict indicates equally overwhelming  evidence of no guilt.  However, in certain circumstances, there may be insufficient evidence of guilt or extenuating circumstances that compels the judge or jury to render a verdict of not guilty.  Having entered into a relationship with Jesus, we still sin (1 John 1:8-10) but due to extenuating circumstances; namely, the cross, while we are not innocent neither are we in a state of guilt.

In summary, followers of Christ are responsible for our actions but Jesus has freely imparted His innocence to those who receive it declaring us not guilty.  Not innocent but also, not guilty.

That is true freedom!

“One Cheek, Two Cheek, Three Cheek, Four”

2004-vacation-0951.jpgAfter reading recent social media posts I am moved by the number of people who have lost or abandoned any faith they might have once embraced or for which they may have simply searched.  I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised, I have stated frequently that had I founded my faith on other Christians I would have left the church within a year.  I’m not saying that Christians treat people better or worse than our secular neighbors but that we do so in like manner.  Politics and pain are commonplace in many organizations but church is where people go vulnerably in search of healing for the soul.  Yet most people who have ever attended church for any significant period of time have been hurt by a fellow parishioner or leader.  As I reflected on this painful truth I pondered what church might look like if she rid herself of selfishness.  Here is what I came up with.

Picture an individual entering a church service late, interrupting with a string of blasphemous expletives, stealing the wallets of the congregants, using their credit cards to commit identity theft and slashing the tires of every car in the parking lot on his way out.  Now, imagine that in response the church members throw the violator a surprise birthday party complete with champagne, caviar, steak and lobster followed by a three-tier birthday cake and then for a gift present him with a luxury Caribbean cruise.  To top it all off, the members pay off all of the perpetrator’s debts.  I envision a church that would make John Lennon’s world of “Imagine” appear more like a totalitarian police state.

You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  The landscape of our social world is littered with the debris of wounded souls who sought God’s healing in church only to be victimized by the selfishness of the devout.  However, some still maintain hope.

I am confident that Jesus would prefer His church to be known as a purveyor of forgiveness and grace rather than as one divided over music, preaching styles, service times, carpet colors, and chairs versus pews.  Moreover, I have not drawn this illustration to describe the odd congregation that 20/20 might highlight in a documentary piece but rather as the expected norm throughout Christendom.

The shame is that even many of God’s people would consider such a notion implausible. What could possibly possess sane people to respond with such forgiveness?  That is a topic for another day.  For those who scoff at the impracticality of this vision I encourage you to set pragmatism aside for a moment and focus on the heart change required, yet available to realize such transformation.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  John 3:17