Sunday, September 18, 2016

How are Christians motivated to live as Christians?

We all have someone in our lives whom we would like to change.  I can probably say that there are times when my fellow congregational members and my wife would like to change me (and for good reason). But how is it done? How does one get a person to control their temper? To stop drinking? To do their homework? To do what God wants us to do? How do we encourage our fellow church members to be more fully dedicated to Christ? To attend church regularly?  What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?
Laying down the law is the usual method people use to produce changed behavior.  For example, to increase church offerings, a congregation may try shaming its members into giving more.  In such a case the law reads something like this: “A good Christian would give “x” amount of income to the church.”  In a troubled marriage, a spouse may lay down the law like this, “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.”  Parents do the same thing with children. “If you don’t do your homework, you are grounded!”
Sometimes the law throws us a curve. It challenges our sinful nature and it rebels.  It often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands.  God’s Word tells us this.  “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…” (Romans 7:9) Tell a two year old not to touch something and see what happens.
The law may bring about a change in behavior but the real answer is to change the heart. An illustration of this is the parent who says to the two year old, “Don’t touch that glass vase!”  Two seconds later the child’s hand is reaching out to touch the vase or to see how close they can come without touching it.  Laying down the law often moves us to disobedience.  Even if the law’s threats stop us from committing the sin, it can never motivate anyone to want to do the right thing for the right reason. 
So why don’t we use the Gospel to motive and encourage each other?  Perhaps it is because we want to see instantaneous results.  From our impatient human point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work fast enough.  The law may get results but only the gospel can bring forth results that please God. 
A Lutheran pastor named Herman Gockel gave an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel Christians to do the right thing. He wrote, “A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything at the time, but sent him a picture of Jesus.  He put it on his wall.  In a matter of days, the other pictures were gone.  The mother never once badgered him.  Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in his heart what laying down the law could never do.
“For Christ’s love compels us…and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)


Sunday, September 11, 2016

God’s Word is truth. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


We live in a day and age when many of the things we believe in are being assaulted and put to the test. You need only turn on a television and watch a situation comedy, open a newspaper or, talk to a neighbor or friend to find this out. When a son or daughter goes off to college, you know their faith will be tested by some of their professors, fellow students and friends.
These assaults on basic or fundamental Christian beliefs are not something new. They have gone on since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve had their beliefs challenged by the devil in the Garden of Eden. The children of Israel could not resist the lure and temptation of the immoral and idolatrous nations that surrounded them. 
While attacks on Christian beliefs are not new, they seem to bolder than they were a generation ago. When I was growing up, the Bible was still held in high regard. It was considered to be God's Word, true and trustworthy. People may have disagreed on how to interpret it but they agreed that the words in the Bible were given to us by God. 
As I look back, the first real assault on the Bible grew out of the theory of evolution. This theory of Darwin came into direct conflict with the Biblical teaching of creation. As the theory of evolution came into wider acceptance, trust in the Bible began to wain. 
Some said that the Bible was only accurate in matters of salvation and not in such areas as science or history. Others have tried to harmonize the theories of science with the teachings of Scripture by redefining the word “day” from 24 hours to eons.
Some believe that the creation account is merely a fictitious or symbolic account of what really took place. If that's true, God is not being honest with us. One would also have to disregard the many passages that are tied to creation. For example, how are we to understand these words from Exodus 20:11, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day....?" This section, taken from the giving of the commandments, is certainly not to be taken symbolically or figuratively. On the basis of this action the Lord established the Sabbath Day. (with emphasis on the word – day.)
Efforts are made today to find natural explanations for the miracles of the Bible such as the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the feeding of the 5,000. There are even "Christians" who question the resurrection of Christ, the existence of the devil, heaven and hell.
Things have changed a lot over the years. Some changes are good. The loss of respect for the Bible as God's trustworthy Word, is not. What a comfort it is to know the TRUTH!  - to know what is right and wrong; what pleases God and what does not. It fills me with awe and wonder when I think of how the almighty Lord made the universe. The same is true when I think of the miracles he has performed.  How amazed I am when I think of God's love shown to me at the cross! How excited I am as I await the sure and certain resurrection of the dead and eternal life! Don't let anyone take these precious truths away from you.  His Word is truth.  (Jn 17:17)


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Only the real righteousness of Jesus will do.


IMITATIONS - the world is full of them.  You can go to the grocery store and buy imitation orange juice, imitation ice cream, imitation vanilla and artificial sweetener. Today you can get imitation eggs for breakfast and put them along side your imitation bacon and then sprinkle them with a salt substitute. You can go the jewelry store and buy imitation diamonds, sapphires and rubies. You can go to the mall and buy an imitation fur coat, imitation leather shoes and coats, or simulated oak furniture.
Imitations - they often look and feel like the real thing, and are hailed as the next best thing especially when you can't afford or shouldn't have the real thing. But more often than not you get what you pay for. If you buy an imitation, you get an imitation, something that isn't going to last as long or work as well or be as good as the real thing. In most cases, the real thing is better.
In the spiritual realm the real thing is always better. In the spiritual world there is nothing like it. Fakes and poor imitations don't make it here. In fact, false notions or imitation religions can put one’s soul at risk.
A good example of this is found in Jesus' remarks to the Pharisee and Publican found in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee thought he had it made with God. He saw himself as righteous and pleasing to God. The Pharisee prided himself in the keeping of the law. He boasted to God about his good deeds. From his lofty perch of self-righteousness he looked down on the publican who was also there in the temple.
There was only one problem but it was a big one. His righteousness was not real. He was only righteous in his own eyes. He saw himself as righteous because he compared himself to the righteousness of other sinners like the publican. What he needed to do was to compare himself to God. If he had done that, he would have seen how far short of perfection he had come and that he was a sinner without hope.
The publican, on the other hand, knew he was a sinner. He made no excuses for his sin for there were none that God would accept. He saw that his only chance was to throw himself at God's feet and plead for mercy.
Jesus tells us that this man went home justified. Justified means to be declared righteous by God, to be without sin before God. This was accomplished through the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ and is ours by faith. It is real righteousness for Jesus was perfect. Put your faith in Jesus as our Savior. Trust in his righteousness, not yours. His is real! His works! His satisfies God’s demands for holiness. Nothing less will do.
Don't make the mistake the Pharisee did.  Don't look for righteousness in your own good deeds.  Don't think that what you can do will make you acceptable to God.  You'll never be good enough.  Don't take comfort by comparing yourself with others.  There is only one source or real righteousness - Jesus Christ!


Jesus loves children!


It's a boy! This week I was blessed with a new grandbaby. Sebastian was born on Tuesday. Healthy and strong! What a miracle and blessing from God! Children are gifts of God to be viewed with awe, loved, and raised with great care.
Most of us love children. Jesus does too. He did not have any of "his own", but he always had time for them. In another sense, we can say that Jesus does have children. Every child that comes into this world is a gift from God. Jesus as our creator and provider has a right to claim ownership to these children. He simply entrusts them to our care for a time but they are really his.
Jesus loves children so much that he established three institutions in our society to care for them. He instituted governments and powers to look out for all those under their care and protection. That means they are to watch out for the physical welfare of the children under their domain. He also established the church to take care of children's spiritual needs. (The recognition of these two distinct areas of responsibility is reflected in the separation of church and state.) God has also instituted the family to be his daily representative and provide for the welfare of both body and soul.
The home is the other and the most important part of the picture. The home is where parents have the best opportunity to be with their children. The home is where the parents come face to face with their responsibilities for the bodily and spiritual welfare of their children.
The spiritual side is by far the most important. We can let the child grow up and decide what they want to believe. Or we can take an active part in training them. We direct their food choices and teach them about the dangers of fire, taking care of their teeth, etc. Helping them to learn about their Savior's love is equally important.
Parenting is no easy task. The pressures to make a living occupy the majority of our time. Then there are duties around the house and the necessity for some relaxation. In the midst of it all there is the training of our children – the children God entrusted to our care.
The question is, "What will you do?" Teach about Jesus and his love for them. Let them learn about sin and their Savior. Teach it in your home. Bring them to Sunday School and church. Don't put it off!



Serendipity


One of the things I enjoy is studying words. I like to pay attention to the origin and meaning of words. I want to know where they came from and how they got into the English language. One of the words I ran across this week was “serendipity.” Now I understand what the word means and how it is used. It’s used to described something that happens unexpectedly. It comes as a surprise and usually refers to something good.
The word was coined by an English author back in 1754. He was reading a fairy tale called, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” The story is about three princes who traveled to the island of Ceylon which was called Serendip at the time. They were in search of great treasures which they never found. But on their journey they were constantly surprised by unexpected things which were quite amazing. While looking for one thing, they found something else, something good.
Serendipity is a good word to describe what happens in life all the time. We spend our time and energy searching for the treasures of life. We work for money. We seek success. We hope to find satisfaction in our accomplishments. We convince ourselves that the more we have the happier we will be. We believe that our homes, cars, possessions, vacations, are what life is all about. What would life be without them?
Then when we look around we see a life filled with problems. Troubles abound all over the world. They fill our lives as well. We struggle to make our marriage work. The kids are having problems at school. We’ve done things of which we are ashamed. We have messed up more often than we can count. Add to that aches and pains, illness and disease, and the fear of death. Life just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
That’s when the Lord steps in. Serendipity! God comes to us and surprises us with good things, great things! In place of trials and troubles, the Lord promises blessings! With his love and power he promises to use all things for our good. When our conscience troubles us and our sins condemn us, he comes with a promise of forgiveness. If we want happiness, security, a great future, God gives us all of that. In fact, not just for this life but the life to come.

Serendipity. I like that word. It means good things are going to happen. When God is involved, I am sure of it.