Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Great Exchange

I've been reflecting on the love of God these last couple of weeks and it's caused me to take a fresh look at His grace. I think this has been good for me...

You know how when you first get saved and you remember how much Jesus did for you on the cross because you were so aware of your sin? You knew you needed a Savior and grace was so evident because you didn't deserve anything, yet you felt God's love and peace flood your heart.  (If you've never experienced the presence of God is this way, I pray you stop right now and ask Him to reveal Himself to you!)

Often in our journey with the Lord, somewhere along the way,we begin to drift away from grace. In an effort to please Him, we can easily fall for the works mentality trap. This is where the Galatians found themselves when Paul called them "foolish":
"Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human strength? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? - Gal. 3:2-5
He goes on to talk about how Abraham believed what God told him, and it was accredited to him as righteousness. So we see that righteousness has to do with faith, not works. Of course we balance that out in James where it says that faith without deeds is dead, but it starts with believing! In other words, we do not EARN righteousness, we believe it and receive it.

Another example is Eph. 2:1-9
 In verses 8 & 9 it says "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast."
So we're not to boast or brag as if we did anything good on our own. That would make us a modern day Pharisee.

And finally, here is one of my favorite Scriptures that explains what an insult it would be for anyone to think they could be good enough to earn God's love:

"I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die." - Gal. 2:21

How cruel would that be for Jesus to have died such a terrible, painful death, if there was another way to Heaven? But we know from Jesus own mouth that He alone is the way, the truth and the life, and no man can get to the Father except by Him.

Why do you think it's so natural for people to disregard grace?  You would think they would welcome it...after all, the gospel means "good news". Even Christians who readily receive it, sometimes later wander back to trying to measure up on their own...we fall for the lies of the enemy that tell us that God is unhappy with us if we're not "doing", or that it ties in with our performance.

Human nature is completely opposite from God's way - God's way was so loving, so selfless, so unconditional, it boggles the mind! In fact, the cross seems foolish to the natural mind and can not be understood except by the Holy Spirit's revelation. It's not something we look at when we first receive Christ and then leave it behind to go onto "deeper truths". Everything was accomplished at the cross!

I've come to think of it as the "Great Exchange" and I think this explains why it's so difficult at times to accept, because it seems too good to be true.

We exchange...
  • our sin for His righteousness
  • our pain for His miraculous healing
  • our fear for His peace
  • our shame for His purity
  • our failures for His plan for us
  • our heavy burdens for His yoke that is easy and light
  • our weakness for His power
  • our chains for His freedom!
On and on it goes - every problem, resolved - every dirty emotion or mindset, wiped clean, every lie of the enemy exposed by the truth...and we do it all by grace through faith, just receiving and believing.

While most things in life that sound that easy are too good to be true, the Gospel is one thing that is too good not to be believed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Price and Pay-Off of Popularity

As a Mom to two boys, I assumed that I would escape the drama of hearing my kids beg for the latest trend in fashion...wrong! I've found that boys can be just as picky about what they're wearing, only it's a plea for the latest athletic wear...if I had a dollar for every time I've heard "every body's wearing them!" then I might actually be able to afford these overpriced gym clothes. Name brands like UnderArmor, Nike, & Reebok...The price to fit-in is too high in my opinion.
It's not just about what's on the outside - this "people pleasing" phenomenon spreads into we think,
..........what we believe,
 ...............................and how we live our lives.

Culture, fueled by the "popular" and the "majority" decides what is acceptable.  Unfortunately, this is evident even in the church, where we sometimes struggle to fit God's Word into a nice little package that doesn't offend anyone. After all, if we want to truly be accepted, we can't just look the part, but must match our ideologies with what's popular. Otherwise, we stand the risk of being labeled with a less than flattering title.

Understandably this is a problem for Christians, who are called to be light in a dark world. Popularity is not our goal, and should not be confused with influence. We want to be people who make a difference, but it must be done without compromising the truth. Otherwise, we could fall into the trap called "the fear of man". Fearing man's opinion above God's is called a "snare" (Prov. 29:25).
As always, it is very important that we speak this truth in LOVE!!!  Culture changes over the years based on what is now acceptable. God's Word never changes. This can cause a problem when the two collide...

Why is the majority so hostile to those who don't conform? 

Last Sunday our Pastor started a series from the Book of Esther. As he was reading the Scriptures for his sermon, this verse jumped out at me.
"All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor." - Esther 3:2
While this was not the subject of his teaching, I was overwhelmed by the similarity of Esther & Mordecai's plight to what we as Christians face today.
As a Jew, Mordecai was to bow down to God alone - so he was following his conscience to obey God's law rather than the kings. The Scripture goes on to say:
"When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes." - Esther 3:5-6
How is this similar to what Christians face today?

At times the world's way of thinking goes against what God has commanded of us - in these moments, whom should we obey? When we follow our conscience to obey God's Word, as Mordecai did, we go against the status qua and make many enemies. Just as Haman wasn't satisfied with punishing Mordecai alone, but rather made plants to wipe out the entire Jewish race, so our enemy (the devil) wants to silence the voice of all Christians who are not bowing to his plan.

In the New Testament, we see that while Jesus loved the people, He was NOT concerned with pleasing them:
  • Jesus purposely healed on the Sabbath just to shake up the religious leaders (Mark 3:1-6)
  • He turned over the money tables in the Temple (John 2:15)
  • He cast out demons and sent them into the pigs, who then jumped off a cliff. Those tending the pigs went and told the townspeople, who then begged for Jesus to leave. (Mark 5:17) They seemed unhappy that he delivered a man and let the demons destroy the pigs (all about money)
  • Jesus taught things that the people said were too hard to follow, like "eating his flesh and drinking his blood". Many of His disciples left. Jesus just asked "does this offend you?" Upon seeing some leave, He simply asked the Twelve "Do you want to leave too?" (John 6:54-67)
These are just some examples - In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 that He didn't come to bring peace, but a sword. He wasn't speaking literally, but instead making the point that His message would be a dividing factor, between those who would accept Him and those who would not. Further evidence corresponding with this Scripture is found in 2 Cor. 2:15:
"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life..."
Even with all of this...Jesus was love epitomized. He laid down His life for us while we were still sinners - who could love someone more than that?
So we see, loving someone doesn't mean that we don't speak the truth that at times is not widely accepted. It doesn't mean that you won't get persecuted or asked to leave, or have people turn away from you because you're misunderstood.

What is the price and pay-off of popularity?
  • Price = Conforming to the world's system and turning your back on God's truth puts spiritual blinders on your eyes and can harden your heart to God's plan for your life.
  • Pay-off = Momentary recognition, but with no eternal value 
What is the price and pay-off for following God's Word?
  • Price = Persecution - John 15:20 says "Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you."
  • Pay-Off = Reward - Matthew 5:10-12 - "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
  • Pay-Off = Good company - you are following in the shoes of the prophets, disciples, and other Believers who weren't ashamed to stand up for the Gospel (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 12:1)
Let's end with this decision:

Joshua 24:15 asks for the people to choose this day whom they will serve...either the gods of their ancestors, or the Lord. He said, "But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Based on the above Scripture, the decision for us today is:
Will you follow the culture and seek man's approval? Will you sacrifice God's truth for being accepted? Will you fear man more than God?

Or will you not be ashamed of the Gospel, and of God's Word, and speak the truth in love?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Be Careful What You Say

 If ever there was a lesson on being careful what you say, lest it come true...this was it!!!

I was getting ready for church one Sundays not too long ago - I was super excited that I was able to "fit" into a pair of slacks that I hadn't worn in awhile. As I came downstairs, my husband told me I looked nice. I said "thanks, I only hope I don't have to bend over or I'll probably split my pants."

Yep, I'm sure you see where this is going...

We were going to a flea market after church and I didn't want to wear my church clothes, so I brought a change of clothes.  When I went to the car to get my clothes I noticed it wasn't as warm as I thought it was going to be. So I decided to keep on the long pants and just change my blouse, and dress shoes to flip flops. I went to the restroom and when I bent over to pick up my dress shoes, apparently my earlier prediction came true...only I didn't notice.

I then left the church restroom located on one side of the building near the baptismal lobby, and walked all the way down the hallway, past the nursuries, into the Fellowship Hall and kitchen area, outside to the parking lot...stopped to talk to someone, gave them a hug, and finally went to my car.


We stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch on the way to the flea market. I was standing in line with my husband when a lady behind me said "Ma'am, did you know you had a split in your pants?" Like I would knowingly be walking around nonchalant about my underwear showing for all the world to see.

I very calmly said, "no, I didn't realize that." My husband who heard this conversation takes a look behind me and says "wow, you do have a large split in your pants!"

Already completely humiliated, but choosing not to panic, I thanked the lady for informing me of the split, turned to my husband and finished giving him my order. Then I excused myself to go out to the car and put on my Capri pants that it was too cold to be wearing.

The thought occurred to me that I really didn't want to take the pants and traipse through the restaurant to the bathroom to change since I would be once again parading my panties in front of everyone. I had no other alternative but to dress in the car. This was no easy task I can tell you that! I did eventually change without further incident and returned to the restaurant. My husband and the lady who informed me of my dilemma were still in line (it hadn't really moved at all, so it's safe to say that the term "fast food" did NOT apply).

When the lady saw that I came in wearing different pants she said "well that was fast (it wasn't really) and she commented how convenient it was that I had another pair of pants. She gave me credit for it almost as if I was some girl scout who always came prepared for any situation. Maybe that's not a bad idea to always keep an extra set of clothes in the car for an emergency. I used to always carry extra clothes for my children...who would of thought that I would need to do the same for myself???

After it was all said and done - I realized that I set this whole thing in motion that very morning when I spoke those fateful words "I hope I don't have to bend over or I might split my pants." It was a self-fulfilling prophesy, LOL  Of course it doesn't help to keep eating at fast food restaurants either. Don't think I missed the irony of someone who splits their pants and doesn't even run out to change before placing their food order.

The other lesson I've learned from this ordeal is...

Church people don't tell you embarrassing things!!!

Hope this gave you a little chuckle. After all, what's the point of an embarrassing moment if you can't use it to brighton someone's day.