Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Love the Sojourner

Allow me to share something that has been on my heart recently. In Deuteronomy 10:19 Moses tells the Israelites “Love the sojourner, therefore, because you were once sojourners in the land of Egypt.” He is telling the people to welcome those who do not belong. Welcome the people who are different than you. They had once been in Egypt where they were not native people, and the flipside was now true. God through Moses was instructing them to welcome foreigners. Why do I bring this up? We are in one sense sojourners. As Christians, this earth is not our ultimate eternal destination. In one sense we do not belong on this earth. In another sense non-Christians are sojourners when they are in our midst because they do not belong to the kingdom of heaven. This is the group I want to turn our attention too. We need to love the sojourners, the ones who are not yet of the kingdom of heaven. If an unbeliever walks into your church, he is a sojourner. He does not belong to the kingdom of heaven yet, but it is the duty of Christians to love such a one because here is the reality; you were once in the same boat. Christians are all sinners saved by the grace of God. You were once in their position – you were a sinner condemned to hell but were saved and now according to Romans 8:1 you are no longer under condemnation. A good friend of mine and I were talking recently and she turned to me and she said “Why are we wasting time judging those who are lost in sin rather than loving them and reaching out to them in the Love of Christ.” This coming a few months after another conversation I had with a stranger on an airplane. I try to take opportunities to witness to a captive audience and if you’re thousands of feet in the air, I don’t think you’re going to get too far in the way of escape. I opened up a conversation with her but before I got far she asked me “Are you like all those other Christians?” With slight hesitancy I asked her to define that terminology and I was not prepared for her response. “What are other Christians like?” I asked. She said “All you Christians do is judge people and tell us we are going to hell for not believing in Christ.” This thought has stuck in my brain since then. The doctrine of hell is true, and it’s a horrifying reality to know that people are going to hell every day. As Dr. Bob Jones III of Bob Jones University says “The most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.” Is it possible that we have forgotten the love aspect of the gospel? Is it possible that we spend so much time judging people for their sins that we actually shed a bad light on the gospel and on Christ and turn people off to the message of Salvation? I think the answer is yes and it’s a reality that needs to change, my brothers and sisters. I think every Christian needs to sit down and read First Corinthians 6:9-11 – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” I think a lot of us see in the world those who represent the first part of that verse and we don’t see the second part – ourselves. We were all vile in God’s sight until God himself through the blood of Jesus Christ cleansed us from our sins. What right do you or I have to judge someone who is not saved, or even a fellow Christian for their sin when we are no better? The only difference between me and someone who is not a Christian is that I am covered by the blood of Jesus Christ my God! We have a duty to love others. A line of “O Church Arise” (a favorite hymn of mine) mentions part of our call is “to love the captive soul, but to rage against the captor.” Satan has a hold on this world and we sit around here saying “Look at these homosexuals. How could you possible love another man?” Or we look at a man like Jery Sandusky who sexually abused multiple children and we say “That’s disgusting how could anyone do that?” I will tell you how. Jesus is not called the light of the world for no reason. This is a world darkened in sin and because of that there are people in darkness slaves to sin who are susceptible to the devil leading them astray and leading them to commit abominable acts like murder, rape, child abuse, homosexuality and everything else we see as awful and terrible. Here is a novel idea that some of you are going to think I’m crazy for saying. Instead of sitting around thinking how terrible these sins are, how about you visit a prison and share the gospel. Find someone on death row and tell them about the life-giver who can provide eternal life for them even after their earthly bodies die. Yes I’m serious, go find these people you are judging and share the gospel with them; love them. Some of you may be thinking “That’s crazy, they have had their chance, and they don’t deserve to go to heaven after everything that they did.” If you are thinking that you don’t understand the gospel. Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Not only that, but none of us deserves heaven. We have all broken God’s law; we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). God in his grace provided us a way to escape the hell that we all deserve. Isaiah 53:6 says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus didn’t pay the price for our sin so that we could be self-righteous. He paid the price so that we may have life in him and that we would share the hope we have in him with others. The bottom line I’m getting at is this: Stop judging other people, stop sitting in church just listening how bad the world has gotten, stop sitting around with your friends talking about how someone else is so horrible for – insert a sin here – and go out and do what you were called to do: love like Jesus. Reach out to the spiritually sick, care for them. There is an old cliché that says “No one cares what you know until they know that you care.” While it’s a phrase you have doubtless heard before it is true. If you go around telling people that their sin is bad and that they need to turn to Jesus, they will likely not listen to you. Show them that you care about them personally. Let your love shine before them so that their hearts will soften and they will believe in Jesus, the life – giver, the savior, before whom we stand. There is no greater calling than to serve Jesus, but to serve him, you must love like him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Created to Be Like him: Installment 1 - "Created to Pray"

If you have been have been a Christian for any amount of time really, you've probably heard that we are made in the image of God (Gen1:27), and that we should reflect Christ (Eph. 5:1).  Ok that's all fine and well, but let us dive into scriptures and see what God is like, and how we can live like Christ. This is the beginning of a series that I'm entitling "Created to be like Him." In this first post I would like to focus on the aspect of prayer. Jesus was found praying multiple times. Matthew 14:23, Matthew 26:39, Mark 6:46, Mark 14:32, you get the picture. But how do we pray and what do we pray for? For that we need to look to Matthew 6:5-14 and here it is for convenience:

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.’"
Who likes biology? I ask because its dissection time; breaking down this passage. Jesus tells us to go to our room and shut the door. This isn't so literal as it is principle...no matter where you pray whether in church, prayer group, devotions, or whatever it might be, do not pray to impress others, pray from the heart. Jesus doesn't want you to sound spiritual, he wants your earnest praises and petitions, and to be honest if you are praying publicly, most people will see right through fake spiritual prayers anyway. So, first pray from the heart. Secondly there's another principle evidenced here..in your prayers be simple. We see this in v. 7-8. Jesus isn't looking for a lengthy prayer that incorporates all the religious jargon and terminology that you know, he is looking for simple earnest prayers from his children. Verse 8 reminds us that he knows what we need before we ask, he just wants us to acknowledge this. Onward to the actual Lord's prayer. This is a prayer that some of us pray every Sunday or even every day, but it also sets before us an example of how to pray; its not just a prayer that we need to state verbatim, but rather a structure to follow. "Our Father in heaven Hallowed be your name," indicates that we should first acknowledge God as holy. Hallowed be your name is basically saying "Lord your name is holy and may we recognize it as such." When you go before God in prayer, you are going before the sovereign King, almighty God, the one who split the Red Sea, the same God that that holds everything in place; acknowledge that. The prayer continues "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as is in heaven." We so often separate this phrase when we read these verses, but let's take it in one piece and realize the meaning. The kingdom of heaven exists and we must pray that the Lord continues to prepare the earth to establish his kingdom here. Notice "as it is in heaven." We are praying the Lord's will to be done in the establishment of his kingdom here on earth, the same way as it is established in heaven. The next phrase "give us this day our daily bread" is a prayer for our very existence. This is a simple prayer that God would provide for use what we need to survive for that day; food, water, his presence in our lives. This is our daily bread; what we need to survive and to thrive while we are here on this earth. We then find out the next thing we should pray for is forgiveness - "Forgive us our debts as we also has forgiven our debtors." There is a condition clause here...if we are not willing to forgive others first, we have no right to be asking forgiveness. There is plenty of biblical support to show that we must forgive others before we ask God for forgiveness. Mark 11:25 -"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." Matthew 6:14 - "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Both these verses tell us that we will be forgiven IF we forgive others. The inverse is also true in Matthew 6:15 - "But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."We need to pray for forgiveness but only after we have forgiven others. The next phrase says "And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." James 1:13 says "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." Aren't we to pray God does not lead us into temptation though? Yes both of these statements are true and they can be reconciled. Matthew Henry's commentary explains it this way: 

"Lead us not into temptation. Having prayed that the guilt of sin may be removed, we pray, as it is fit, that we may never return again to folly, that we may not be tempted to it. It is not as if God tempted any to sin; but, "Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us; chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful; Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Ps 19:13), for we are very weak; Lord, do not lay stumbling-blocks and snares before us, nor put us into circumstances that may be an occasion of falling." Temptations are to be prayed against, both because of the discomfort and trouble of them, and because of the danger we are in of being overcome by them, and the guilt and grief that then follow."  (Source: Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume V (Matthew to John)

We then continue, "but delver us from evil." We are praying that when we go to God in prayer during times of trial and temptation, that he himself would guide us through and not allow us to fall into sin. God promises to guide us in the Psalms such as these
  • Psalm 25:9 - “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.”
  • Psalm 31:3 - “For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.”
  • Psalm 32:8 - “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”
  • Psalm 48:14 - “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death]
So God is always guiding us and is therefore more than capable of delivering us from evil. The final phrase is "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."  Its an all out surrender, a recognition of God's control, and an effective bookend for the Lord's prayer. So how do we pray? In a one sentence summary; pray earnestly adoring Christ, praising him, confessing your sin, spend time in supplication for ourselves and for others, and pray for guidance as we journey through this earthly life. Some people use ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), PRAY (Praise, Repent. Ask, Yield) or other similar methods, but no matter what abbreviation you use, their is no better example than we have The Lord's prayer, prescribed by Jesus himself.