Mercy 101

“Show us Thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us Thy salvation” (Psalm 85:7).

There’s a story about a lady who went to a photographer to have her photo made. When she saw it, she didn’t like it. So she took it back and told the photographer, “You’ll have to take this over.” He asked, “What’s wrong with it?” She said, “It doesn’t do me justice.” He looked at it and looked at her and said, “Lady, you don’t need justice; what you need is mercy.”

When God takes our portrait, we are able to see ourselves in a new light. Unfortunately we don’t like what we see. We have a tendency to think much about ourselves. However, outside of Christ, we are sinners; and from God’s perspective, sin is ugly.

One of the great gifts God gives us is to show us our sin. Only when we see ourselves from His perspective can we begin to understand why we need a Savior. When we see what He sees, we learn that there is nothing we can do to rid us of the ugliness of our sin. Going to church, serving on committees, or doing any of the other stuff that we associate with church, can’t rid us of the ugliness of sin.

Only Jesus can take away the ugliness of our sin and make us acceptable in the eyes of the Father. He does this by giving us the righteousness of God. The Bible says, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

God is just, and if He were to give us what we deserve, we would be punished for our sin. But God delights in Mercy. So He sent Jesus to suffer judgment in our place. Jesus died on the cross so He could remove the ugliness of our sin. He rose again the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father so that we might receive the Gift of His righteousness and eternal salvation. But before we can receive these gifts, we have to recognize the ugliness of our sin.

If you have never come to the place where you have seen yourself as a lost sinner before Almighty God and cried out to Him for mercy, then you’ve never been saved. You may have joined a church, but have you thrown yourself on the mercy of God through Christ? Have you said, “Lord God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13)?

God is waiting. Come to Him today.

Fresh Fruit

I have a great love affair with fresh fruit. I particularly love blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. I love them in sugar, with whip-cream on top, in cobbler and freshly picked from the berry patch. In fact, I can’t think of a single dish with berries that I do not like. However, there is only one real problem with berries, they are seasonal!

Frozen berries are good, but they are not quite the same as fresh berries. Candy flavors just don’t come close to the real thing. The one real problem for berry lovers, then, is that there is no substitute. But wouldn’t it be great if we could create a fruit factory? Sure we have farms, but a how about a factory that can produce fresh fruit year round?

Yup, I know, it’s only a pipe dream. It ranks right up there with growing money on trees – another idea I’m all for!

In John 15:4-5 Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Just as we cannot produce those wonderful berries artificially, in the same way we cannot produce the Fruits of the Spirit artificially (Gal 5:22-25). Just as fruit is organic, dependent upon a natural environment, so too, the Christian life is dependent upon a spiritual environment.

The Christian life happens naturally when a person abides in Christ. Only from His life flowing through the believer can a person begin to exhibit the qualities of the Spirit. In order for that to happen, believers need to abide in Christ. The authentic Christian life is a result of His life flowing through and out from a person who abides in Him.

I suspect that I will never see a fruit factory happily spinning out fresh fruit. But I know that I if I cling to Jesus in faith, allowing Him to be the Lord of my life, then I can expect to see His fruit being produced in me in abundance!

Are you abiding Christ? And is His life flowing through you to produce a fresh crop of the Fruits of the Spirit? The desire of God’s heart is that you become a spiritual fruit factory where God’s life is put on display through you.

Under the Influence

“While Peter was still speaking these words (the gospel), the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44)

When was the last time you experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Jesus taught that it was through Him that the Christian life would be lived (John 14:26). When the household of Cornelius heard the gospel preached, the Holy Spirit fell upon them.

Likewise, when the day of Pentecost arrived in Acts 2, the disciples were together praying when the Holy Spirit came into their lives. At that time those ragged disciples who were previously hiding became changed people. Peter, the very one who had denied Christ three times, walked outside and boldly preached the gospel to an apparently hostile community. Not withstanding, over three-thousand people were saved through that solitary sermon.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life brings profound transformation into a person’s life. The first area of transformation is seen in the early churche’s boldness for Christ. When a person is living under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they have a supernatural boldness for the person of Jesus. They want to make Him known. They want to stand up for His integrity. They desire to worship Him. They will say, as the apostle Paul did, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” even if such boldness were to cost them their lives (Rom 1:16).

Another area of change is seen in their willingness to walk away from the world (cf. Phil 3:7; 1 John 2:15-16). When a person is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they understand that they are a stranger in this world, and citizens of the world to come (Eph 2:19-22). It is for that reason that when they are given the choice between denying Christ or suffering persecution, the early church always chose the latter.

Yet another area of change for the person under the influence of the Holy Spirit is their desire to love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This, of course, does not mean they will never have a fight, or disagree; but it does mean that the overall tenor of their conduct toward fellow believers will be one of kindly affection and brotherly love.

And yet another area of change, but certainly not the last, is their desire to flee from sin. When a person is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they develop a desire to live a holy life. As children of God, they seek to reflect the character of their heavenly Father; and they seek to honor Him through their daily conduct.

The reality is that when a person is under the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, that person is a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). There are many changes that come about as a result of walking in the Spirit, but the point is that the Spirit filled life is the Christian life. Are you living life under the influence?

Star Gazing

One of the marks of a Christian is their desire to keep God’s word. The Bible says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” But the text goes on to say, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5).

Keeping God’s word is not always easy. We all fail in many ways. However, it is important to know that the Bible is not teaching legalistic perfectionism. The Apostle John is, instead, describing the heart’s desire of a follower of Jesus.

Notice he says, “The love of God is perfected in Him.” The Greek word translated “perfected” means to complete a goal. As such it refers to those whose hearts have matured in their love for God. Because they love God, they desire to keep God’s word.

The word “keep” in this verse is a derivative of a word that sailors once used to refer to their practice of steering their course by “keeping” the stars. This did not mean, of course, that a sailor would not be blown off course or that he might not over-steer. It didn’t mean that he might not nod-off at the wheel, or somehow be distracted, or fail to keep a perfect chart. But the goal, the aim, the desire, and the controlling principle in his life were those stars. He knew that with them he could find direction to his destination.

In the same way, John says God’s commandments are to be the standard by which you and I chart the course of our life. Such a person, we are told, has the love of God perfected in him.

I believe we would all admit that there have been times in our life where we have fallen-asleep at the wheel, or have allowed ourselves to be distracted from God’s word, or allowed the circumstances of life to blow us off course. However, because of our love for God, we woke up, or decided to pay attention to where we were going, and adjusted accordingly by looking up and getting a correct bearing on life.

Maybe as you read this, you realize you have been blown of course for a while, or have been distracted, or maybe you just dosed off. Fear not. God loves you. Look to His word. He’ll help you get back on course.

Expanded Horizons

“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

What a sobering reminder of the brevity of this world and the necessity to be earnestly seeking God. I believe it is easy to coast through life and never seriously consider the importance of eternal things. Yet, at the end of the day, those things are all that matter.

We are told that the “end of all things is at hand.” It’s hard for us to sympathize with that statement. After all, it was written two-thousand years ago. It seems a terribly long time; and from our perspective it seems that “the end of all things” was not at hand. So we live our lives. We focus on the priorities of today. The “end of all things” seems a long way off.

The statement however, was written from the divine perspective. From God’s point of view, the world is finished. It is but a moment to its end; and everything within the world will be swept away forever. So God encourages us to “be serious and watchful in our prayers.”

To be serious in our prayers is to allow them to have a place of distinction and permanence in our lives. If I am serious about something, I will be diligent in its pursuit and earnest in its achievement. To be watchful is to be alert and anxious for the accomplishment of what we are seeking. In this case, we are expected to be anxious for God’s kingdom and looking for the return of the coming King.

This verse offers a perspective on life that we are not altogether familiar with. Yet it is also an invitation to faith. God seeks to expand the horizon of our faith. He wants that horizon to reach beyond this world and expand into the next. When our faith grows to such a degree that we are able to peer, however feebly, into that vast horizon of eternal life, we will suddenly see with brilliant clarity the futility, frailty and vanity of present things. We will understand that the “end of all things is at hand.”

The result of such faith is a radicalization of one’s life. Such a person begins to live as though they are a citizen of a world not yet seen – yet embracing with zeal and joy the honor and dignity of that kingdom. They begin to worship an invisible God as though they were visibly looking upon His glorious majesty. They express an unyielding devotion and love to a Savior they have never gazed upon; and because of their love, they are willing to die for the honor of His name.

Such has been the faith of many who have gone before us (see Hebrews chapter 11), and such is the faith that God invites you to enter today.

Do you have such faith? If not, “be serious and watchful in your prayers;” believing that God will not disappoint, but rather will lift you up until the horizon of your faith extends into all things eternal.

Satisfying Waters

Elisabeth Elliot once wrote “The Christian life is a process of God breaking our idols one by one.” I believe she is right.

Throughout Scripture we are warned against the danger of idols. In the Ten Commandments we are commanded not to have any idols, nor to make an idol. In the story of Aaron and the Golden Calf we are shown the danger of idols. Through the prophets we are warned about the spiritual degeneration caused by idols. Seeking to encourage the church, the apostle John wrote, “Little children, keep yourself from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21).

Amen, indeed! Idols are to the soul what cancer is to the liver – fatal. Simply put, an idol is anything that has command over our affections. It is the thing (or things) that we desire most.

Idols lead to spiritual destitution because we were created to worship and desire God above all things. At the core of our beings, we all worship something. We were created to worship. There is no getting away from it. Either we worship our God and creator, or we worship something else. Idols steal the worship that rightfully belongs to God. In the process, they choke off the spiritual life we receive through proper worship of God.

Proper worship is essential for spiritual health. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is described as offering all people the waters of life (Rev 21:6). In John 4:14, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “But whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst. But the water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” When we worship the true, living God through Jesus Christ, we are fed the spiritual water that gives life and sustenance to our souls. Without the “waters of life” we die.

The problem with idols is that they promise temporary relief and satisfaction. We all long for spiritual satisfaction; and only God can fill that need. But most people substitute that desire with something else – an idol. In the big picture of spiritual life and death, the satisfaction that an idol brings is similar to the relief that a strong pain killer can bring to a patient suffering terminal cancer. As the pain killer brings relief for a brief time, so does the idol. When the satisfaction of the idol begins to wear off, most people simply substitute the idol for a new one, believing the new idol will bring more satisfaction. This process, unfortunately, is continued until the spiritual cancer destroys the person.

Jesus is the only cure for all spiritual disease. When we replace our idols with the worship of the true, living God through Christ, we discover that the waters of life Jesus freely gives both eliminates the spiritual disease, and brings profound satisfaction to the soul that never ceases.

“Little children, keep yourself from idols. Amen.” Amen indeed!

The Joyful Struggle

“To be almost saved is to be totally lost.” I once had that statement displayed on the marquee in my last church. This morning I heard a young preacher preach a message on the same topic. “Almost” does not cut it in the kingdom of God.

The problem is that genuine faith can be easy to fake. There is a Christian veneer that is easily placed over a darkened heart. It is possible to sing praise songs, pray eloquently and have a nice big smile on your face; but at the same time have a heart polluted with sin and unbelief. Our actions don’t always demonstrate the true condition of our heart.

Yet, in every church and throughout time in every generation, there are those who convince themselves they are genuine when they are not.

Ultimately only the Lord knows who belongs to Him. But don’t you want to know that you do belong to Him? Of course you do! The interesting fact is that the Bible creates a tension at this point. We are told that we can have assurance (Eph 1:13-14; John 10:28-29); and we are also told that there are people who have assurance, but are not warranted in doing so (Matt 7:21-23; 25:11-12).

Fear not. There is really no reason to ever doubt your salvation. People who believe they are saved, but who, in fact, are not, don’t think about such things. Their Christianity is skin deep and carefree. They don’t struggle with personal holiness. They don’t wrestle with sin. Repentance is something that is only an intellectual fancy for them, not an experiential reality. They worship only through outward actions, not through an inward, introspective seeking and communion with God. The idea of witnessing about the death and resurrection of Christ sounds great to them, but they have never done it – in fact, that’s what they pay others to do!

In short, if you ever worry about whether or not you are really saved, have no fear. The genuine Christian understands that he/she falls short of God’s glory. As a result, he/she does worry; but it’s a worry generated from a dissatisfaction with worldly living. This dissatisfaction drives the true believer to have a heartfelt desire to excel in the things of God.

For those who are not truly saved, not so much. They have never experienced any dissatisfaction in their spiritual life. They are happy and carefree – but only for a short time.

Genuine Christianity is a struggle. Those who have labored in the struggle are marked by a sense of humility. They know they are saved by faith. In fact, they have come to a point where they really know, both experientially and intellectually, that there is no good in them and that their salvation is all because of Jesus Christ.

Not only is there a sense of humility with the genuine Christian, but there is also a sense of dependency. The genuine Christian has learned to walk with Christ. They have learned the meaning of Jesus’ words when He said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). They know that everything pertaining to the Christian life – strength, wisdom, faith etc. – all find their source in Christ. They have learned that Jesus alone is sufficient for all their needs (Phil 4:13).

But the genuine Christian is also marked by a stubborn joy. Because they understand that salvation is all the work of Christ, they have learned to enter the Sabbath rest of God. In so doing, they no longer seek to earn God’s approval. They understand what it means to be accepted in the beloved. Further, they are joyful because they have learned be content in whatever state they are. Their joy is stubborn, because the world cannot take it away from them. Because they are content, they no longer worry about tomorrow. Because they are accepted, they are able to enjoy the love and grace of God today.

To be a genuine Christian is to live between two worlds – almost, but not yet. It is to have a dissatisfaction with worldly living while seeking to grow in heavenly graces. It is to understand that too much of the world is in me and not enough of heaven; yet, it is also to recognize that all of heaven is mine – its joys, victories and satisfaction. Praise be to God!

Here’s to the struggle and joy of being a Christian!

Daily Exercise

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

I remember a time I was in a gym lifting weights. I was in Ft. Lewis, Washington, and enjoying my time in the army. At the time, I had not been lifting weights very long; as such I was struggling with a few measly pounds on the bench press. However, next to me were two other soldiers who were also benching. To my utter astonishment, they were lifting over five-hundred pounds! The bar seemed to bend under that weight, and the men gave a low guttural grunt as they slowly pushed the weight up from their chest.

I was thinking that if I had that weight on my chest I too would have been groaning – but it would have been the sound of my last breath coming out of my broken body! At the same time I was also encouraged. I realized that those two men didn’t get to that level overnight. They definitely spent years working up to that point. They were strong because of constant practice.

The writer of Hebrews is essentially making the same point about Christian maturity. Growing in Christ is something that takes intentional effort. Just as a person gains strength from constant use of their muscles, so too a Christian grows spiritually by constant use of their spiritual capabilities. Spiritual strength requires spiritual exercise.

The verse above says that “solid food” is for the mature. Solid food is the meat of Christianity but can only be obtained through “constant practice.” It is like the heavy weights of spirituality. One does not get to that level overnight, and certainly not by accident.

Rather, the ability to become a spiritually strong person who knows good from evil, and who can live a life of faith without compromising with the world, is developed over time with intentionality.

The reality is that God desires, and even demands that we grow in Christ. He wants you to be filled with the Spirit. He wants you to be living your life according to the Bible. He wants you to experience His power in your life. He wants you to trust Him with all things.

The truth is that, as Christians, we are going in one of two directions. We are either growing in Christ, or being drawn away from Christ (Luke 8:11-15). There is no neutral ground where we can be comfortable. The authentic Christian life is a constant uphill struggle against the world, the flesh, and the evil one. The moment we stop exercising our spiritual muscles is the moment one of the three forces of worldliness begins to take advantage of us.

I still go to the gym. I haven’t reached the five-hundred pound mark on the bench, and most likely never will; but I have come a long way since that day in Ft. Lewis. As a Christian I too have grown much over the last sixteen years. I have not arrived, to be sure, but I seek daily to exercise my spiritual muscles so that I can continue to grow in the things of God. If you know that your spiritual muscles are getting a little flabby, join me at the gym. I will most likely need a spotter the next time I’m on the bench.

Authentic Living

As he walked down the street a business man was approached by a street vendor wearing a long overcoat. The street vendor stopped the business man, opened his coat and proceeded to remove fake Rolex watches from the coat’s many inside pockets. The business man, intrigued, looked over the watches, inquired as to the amount and was pleased to learn they cost only thirty dollars. With his purchase on his wrist, the business man walked away proudly sporting his “Rolex” watch.

It looked good, but there was one problem; it was a cheap fake. I once heard a preacher comment that the one real problem with Christianity was that it was too easy to fake. Like the watch it has all the glitter of the real thing, but lacks true authenticity.

Speaking with an unauthentic group of believers, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Authentic Christianity is difficult. Jesus likens it to a narrow road that is both hard to travel and unpopular (Matt 7:14). It requires the determined effort to live for another, whose ways are sweet but altogether unfamiliar (John 14:5). He requires absolute devotion to Him alone (Matt 10:37). He seeks to make you into something that is altogether different from what you have been (2 Cor 5:17). He requires you to die to your ambitions and earthy desires (1 John 2:15-16). And He seeks to eradicate everything from your life in which you once found both comfort and security (1 John 5:21). Finally, recognizing that He can accomplish none of these things while you are alive, He demands that you die (Luke 9:23).

And therein lies the rub. In Luke 9:23 Jesus said to them all, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” This is what faith looks like… dying to self and living for another.

The authentic Christian however, has joyfully succumbed to this admonition of faith. He does so gladly because he knows that it is only in dying to self that he can begin to live through the power of Christ’s resurrected life (Phil 3:7-11)

The things that Jesus seeks to accomplish in our lives can never be accomplished while we are clinging to this life. Jesus taught that we cannot serve two masters; for we will hate one and love the other (Matt 6:24). If we believe in Him, let us also trust in Him and allow ourselves to die, so that He can live through us with the power of His eternal, indestructible, and holy life. Only in so doing can we know the joy, strength and hope of that eternal life He so earnestly seeks to give away.

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5).

Rise and Shine!

“And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius … For the last will be first and the first last” (Matt 20:9,16).

Some people thrive in the morning. They wake up bubbly and ready to go. They usually wonder how anyone in their right mind can sleep past, say 6 am! By seven they have cut the grass, ran to the store, cooked pancakes, sausage and eggs and begun any chores that were needed to be done that day. Others, not so much; they are slow to rise in the morning. Like a 747, they need a long runway to get going in the morning.

I’m a not so much person. I need a long runway before me in the morning. When my alarm goes off, I’m usually somewhere between death and the comma state. I usually have to set my alarm a good hour before I have to get up. It takes me a good 45 minutes to even hear the confounded thing! It takes me another 30 minutes to even realize where I’m at. And people wonder why I drink so much coffee in the morning.

The Christian life can be like that sometimes. There are some people who jut take off running. Before they are a day old in Christ they have won people to the Lord, volunteered for every VBS, missions trip, and service community project the church can throw at them, and they still want more. Those are the early morning Christians! God bless ’em!

Then there are others who wake up to the Christian life much more slowly. It takes them a good while to warm up to everything. Coming into the church is a strange experience. They love the Lord, but are sometimes unsure of His people. They want to grow, but take longer to be comfortable in Sunday school and worship. They know the direction they want to go, but are not always certain on how to begin. That describes my first few years as a Christian!

The wonderful news of the Gospel is that Christ loves the slow to raise Christians as much as the early morning Christians. In fact, the bible says that God shows no partiality between people. Our Father takes delight in all of His children!

So whether you’re an early riser or still waking up, God seeks to bless you richly in Christ. Even if it’s late when you get to the table, He’ll keep the pancakes warm for you.