Christian Character Part 12

Carry Your Passport at All Times

When you travel abroad, you must carry your passport at all times. I am told that in Europe and Africa, passports are often used for identification even within countries, as the countries are small and people frequently travel between them, and often have their passports with them at all times, as a matter of course. So, a passport is your personal identification of your country of citizenship, kind of like your driver’s license or your school ID. It tells the world that either by birth, or choice through naturalization, you are a citizen of America or of Russia, or of Malawi, etc. It is an identification of the country to whom you owe your national allegiance, whose laws you are called to obey (for Christians, subject to the things we learned last year in the series on God, Man and Society), the country which is your culture, your history, your home, and probably the country where most of your family lives. So, you always want to be able to, and are required to, produce your passport so, through the passport, others can be assured that you are who you say you are. Thus, you would carry it at all times.

I am also told that some people carry multiple passports, where they have dual citizenship — say their parents were citizens of two different countries, or neither was a citizen of the country in which the child was born, then the child most often would have citizenship in his birth nation, and in the nation(s) of the country (–ies) of citizenship of his parents.

Similarly, diplomats are given fancy papers to prove their appointments as representatives of their respective countries and they formally present those fancy papers, their official credentials, to the authorities in the countries to which they are sent, for such proofs.

Now, we have a similar, but importantly different citizenship structure as Christians, and as Christians, we all, also, are diplomats (we are “ambassadors for Christ”, II Corinthians 5:20). But we don’t have a passport so naming us, nor do we have fancy papers, or imposing official credentials, so naming us. Our fancy papers, our passport, as Christians, is simply the history of our lives, the testimony, our lives as living epistles. What we choose to do in different circumstances, and how we balance those choices, when sinful, with repentance and change, become the passport, the statement of our national identity, of the nation of God, whose laws we are called, and have chosen, to obey, of the country which is our culture, the source of our history, your home, and, indeed, the country where most of our family lives. We Christians each produce that passport, those diplomatic credentials of our ambassadorship, as our mind thinks and decides, and as our heart considers, and as our emotions ebb and flow, and as our body acts in word and deed. Thus, we Christians are always carrying our passports with us, and we produce them even without pulling them out of our pockets or purses. Our Christian passports are self-evident in our lives.

Our US Constitution and other founding documents acknowledge that our Creator endowed us with certain rights, and those rights are held by “all persons born or naturalized” into citizenship in our country. Naturalization is a choice one makes, and one having made that choice (salvation) goes through a schooling process (discipleship), and then renounces other citizenship (loyalty to sin) and pledges loyalty to USA, and then is received into the fellowship of citizenship by naturalization, or choice.

Obviously, that is what we do, in coming through Christ into the kingdom of God. We choose and, if you will bear with me in the metaphor, we are naturalized as citizens into the kingdom of God. And God does not want us to try to hold multiple passports at once. Indeed, His word says we can’t do that! Let’s see.

Jesus, Himself, considered that He was, and is, the King of the Jews and not subject to Roman authority (John 19:9-11). Jesus did not consider that He needed to carry a Roman passport. Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, and He used that natural-world passport to get Himself to Rome to evangelize the Romans, spreading the Gospel of Christ, his true Kingdom, the source of his true passport.

Jesus was, and is, concerned about duality of citizenship, of multiple passports, of one hand with the Christian passport and one with the passport to sin, and He didn’t like it and knew it would not work in the Kingdom of God. See Luke 16:13, Jesus speaking, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus made clear that we had to be clear in our choices of naturalization, of service.

In the history of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, we come to understand three things about God’s view of this issue of duality or, or splitting of, loyalty: First, that our citizenship in the Kingdom of God separates us from citizenship in any nation on earth and, second, that God will not suffer us to be double-minded about our citizenship and, third, that He will always supply His remnant with protection.

Let’s look at this history: Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah were visited by the Lord with two angels and Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, in their advance age. But, also, the Lord had a discussion about Sodom and Gomorrah, and particularly and in detail about Sodom, where Lot lived with his family. The colloquy between Abraham and the Lord was that the Lord was going to destroy those two cities because their sin was very grave (serious), and Abraham was pleading with the Lord for temperance, so as not to destroy the city of Sodom, where Lot lived with his family, and the righteous remnant living there, even a remnant as small as ten people in the whole of Sodom, and God agreed. God has a tremendous heart of protection of any remnant of faithful believers. However, Genesis 19, when the two angels got to Sodom, and found Lot sitting in the gate of the city, and over the night the angels found that the only righteous man in the whole city of Sodom was Lot, himself. Thus, the angels determined to destroy the whole city of Sodom, in accordance with the agreement the Lord made with Abraham to spare the city if ten righteous could be found there. Then, the angels warned Lot to take his family out of Sodom so as not to be destroyed, and Lot’s sons-in-law laughed at him, so he had only his wife and two unmarried daughters to take to safety. But the angels gave an admonition, a condition, verse 17, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.

So in this history of Lot, we see these three principles of citizenship in God’s kingdom, three principles we must know and understand if we are to sustain this testimony of our Christian passport:  First, that our citizenship in the Kingdom of God separates us from citizenship in any nation on earth (Lot and his immediate family had to leave Sodom and all their property behind) and, second, that God will not suffer us to be double-minded about our citizenship (the angels gave Lot no choice but to leave) and, third, that God will always supply His remnant with protection (God allowed Lot and his women to leave). The underlying sad thing here is the double-mindedness of Lot’s wife, verse 26, “But his wife looked back behind him and she became a pillar of salt.” She violated the first and second principles of citizenship in God’s kingdom and therefore did not enjoy the fruit of the third principle, and she caused her husband and two unmarried daughters to do without her continued life with them. Sad!

The history of Lot and his wife was very important to Jesus, and His explanation to His disciples, whom we are today, Luke 17:32-33. “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

What Jesus was teaching against was the double-mindedness that James told us (James 1:7-8) would keep us from receiving anything from the Lord, would make us unstable in all our ways.

Paul later explained all this in several of his letters: In Colossians 1:21-23, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies (of God) in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard.” And in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Paul was explaining what Jesus had taught: When we were citizens of the world, when we carried as our essential identity, the passport of the world, we were aliens of the kingdom of God, being without Him, and without hope.

However, Paul continued his teaching in I Peter 2:11 (NIV) that, when saved by the blood of Christ and not moved away from the hope of the gospel of Christ, we supernaturally become aliens and strangers in the world as we have become citizens of the kingdom of God. And in Hebrews 11, speaking of the Fathers of Faith from Abel to Abraham, and Sister Sarah, verse 13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them from afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers (aliens) and pilgrims on the earth.

When we leave behind our earthly citizenship, our earthly passport, and receive in faith our eternal citizenship, our eternal passport, in the kingdom of God, something very supernatural happens to us: we become, like Lot, but not like his wife, willing to be First, separated from citizenship in any nation on earth (Lot and his immediate family had to leave Sodom and all their property behind) and, second, so loving God in obedience that we, too, discipline ourselves and do not suffer ourselves to be double-minded about our citizenship (the angels gave Lot no choice but to leave) and, third, that God will always supply His remnant with protection if we accept his admonitions and conditions to that protection.

In his book, the prophet Isaiah summed this up, Chapter 1:2-20, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know; my people do not consider.’ Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters (not just corrupted, but corrupting others)! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again (we ask children, and we were asked, are you sure you want to be chastised again?)? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a hut in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah. (Lot was the male remnant in Sodom, just Lot and his three women! And God protected them, if they would but follow His admonitions and conditions.) Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’, says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs and goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Conclusion

The choice is ever before us, just as Isaiah said, and just as the angels said to Lot and his women. And most people want to make that choice, especially in their early days of salvation, thinking that they can continue to carry their earthly passports, along with their passports in the kingdom of God, keeping one foot in heaven and one foot in sin. But in maturity (perfection, completeness), we have learned that “it ain’t so”. We must, Isaiah 1:17, Cease to do evil, and verse 18, our sins need to be washed away, and verse 19, we must be willing and obedient to God! Only by such maturity – leaving behind double-mindedness and instability – can we truly carry our Christian passport at all times, showing it to God and to all those whom we meet, at all times. Are your walking in that maturity? Are your not but are ready to walk in that maturity? Would you like prayer with me today to walk in that maturity – to be a mature citizen in the kingdom of God? Come now, if you wish, and we will pray.

God bless His word for us today. May it be fruitful and multiply. Amen.

Christian Character Part 9

A Prayer for America and God’s People

Lord, we pray in Jesus’ Name, His Holy Name, for America and for God’s people, that You will have mercy on us all.

We live today in a time in Your dialectic of history in which nations conspire against the Godly, when, even in our nation, our leaders conspire against You.  Psalm 2 shows us how You see all this and how You loathe the arrogance of nations, as we know You loathe the arrogance of individual men. Official prayer in school has been declared unconstitutional, and now unofficial prayers and pray-ers are illegal. All across the land, murder of the unborn has been legalized, and by school policies and government policies in the name of “privacy,” parents are prevented notice and decisional control over the reproductive decisions of their children.

The United Nations bullies all nations into Godlessness and other sin and weaknesses. Our Government maliciously would join the United Nations in its manipulations and power grabs.

We cry out to you in hope for your mercy as we consider the fears generated by the pending collapse of the American Experiment: the collapse of democracy, into the coming economic crises of American’s fiscal and monetary policies, the tyranny of socialism in the mask of progressivism, creeping in drip by drip, wave by wave, causing the leveling of our society into one where freedom of assembly is challenged (Arizona and California, last week), where freedom of speech is muzzled (hate speech), where the right of self-defense is given by utopian socialists to international bullies and dictators (Hillary Clinton, Sec. of State, agrees to the UN “Small Arms Treaty”), and the government would claim dominion over our very bodies (Health Care Decisions by the Government), as well as our labor and income, and money and resources (tax policy to redistribute wealth).

This is not the time or place to go into the politics of all of this, but what is noted above are facts of our times, and facts that cause us to cry out, not just as Americans, but as Christians, and say, “Lord, have mercy on us, please, please, have mercy on us.”

We know that our people, Your people here, and all around the world, and even so much as in Israel, your chosen and beloved people into whom we are grafted by the Blood of Christ, have sinned, and do sin, and fall short of Your glory. We all are guilty of self-centeredness and all that it brings (disobedience of You and Your commands, covetousness, idolatry, pride, arrogance, the breakdown of the church as the source, instead of the government, of charity), we are all guilty of traipsing off into our wicked ways, falling into the ditches on the left and right of the narrow, and straight, highway.

Lord, today we know that many of us, many of Your people, have confessed their sins, repented and turned from their wicked ways, and that You have forgiven us and them. Yet, we know that many have not confessed their sins, repented and turned from their wicked ways. We know that many remain double-minded and tainted in their hearts, unstable in all their ways. And Lord, we know that it is that instability, that double-mindedness, has produced not only the fleshly sins of self-centeredness, like adultery and idolatry, but that same instability from double-mindedness has produced spiritual adultery. Many of our people, many of Your people, think that if they merely keep a toe-hold in the Church, if they just nod and bow at the Name of Jesus, their fire insurance for Heaven is assured, and so they can continue to consort with the great Harlot you describe in Revelation 17. This double-mindedness has had two effects on Your people: they are comfortable in their sin, and they have authorized and embraced the government of this land, and the governments of the nations, to be comfortable in national ungodliness and sin. Lord, we know that there is no greater recipe for instability than this.

So, we know that in this time of instability, this time in which tectonic plates are sliding around and causing earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, that the governmental and spiritual foundations are also being shaken and destroyed. Here is the question: Psalm 11: 3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” And Psalm 11 (read it) gives us the answer: Be righteous!!!! And He will test us, but uphold us!

Okay, how do we do that? The answer is two-fold: (1) the Blood of Jesus leading to salvation (John 3:16) (Only through Jesus, by God’s Grace, can we receive the forgiveness of God that enables us to be righteous.); and (2) because we, the righteous, have His promises, God’s promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit – all forms of adultery, covetousness and pride – and perfect holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1). (We need to live in righteousness being restored by God’s Grace, and our hearts striving for purity and holiness; Hebrews 12:23, “. . . the spirits of righteous men made perfect.”)

I look around at Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Progressives, and all the subdivisions of American politics and I know that I can change nothing on a national level. So, I am not here to talk about politics, but about how we live and cope with the politics of our times.

I am reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote, in about 1830, that America was great because it was good, that America was good because it was Christian. He also said that the American Experiment, great as it was, would probably last only a couple of hundred years or so, that it would last only as long as it took for the politicians to figure out that they could get votes by promising payment of taxpayer dollars, public money, to different interest groups and individuals. So, now we have reached a place where in the year since he took our office, our President has not been photographed setting foot in a church, not even on National Prayer Day last year. He had to have his arm twisted and to be talked into allowing a Nativity scene in the White House at “Holiday” or what we call “Christmas”, despite that the White House was full of displays of pagan religions at that time. That is our leadership. Can God use him for God’s purposes? Of course God can use Mr. Obama. God even used Pharaoh, as you remember. We have also, quite obviously reached the place where politicians, from the White House on down, use public money to buy political support in the form of votes and private campaign contributions.

Lord, we and our country are in mess today, and we cry out for your mercy. Please, uphold us, Your righteous all over the world, and please uphold this country, America, in spite of itself, that you given to Your righteous who live here.

We don’t know where our country, our nation, is going, but it doesn’t look good from here. We don’t know the outcome of the political promises of public money leading up to the votes on Mr. Obama’s health care plan today, and we don’t know the outcome of giving away – just printing paper – all this money to businesses that are said to be too big to fail (which started while George W. Bush was President), while small businesses that normally supply about 90% of the jobs in America have been left floundering. We don’t know the outcome of the Government taking control of our bodies through healthcare decision-making, such as cutting Medicare for seniors by half a trillion dollars, and taking even more control over our income (remember 50% of Americans pay no income tax; 40% of Americans pay 10% of the income tax, and 10% of Americans pay 90% of the income tax) and therefore over our labor (again, in effect, over our bodies).

What has really gotten lost in the shuffle of American politics, government and economics, is this: Lord, You are Creator. Not only did you create the earth and the heavens and life itself, but in creating all that, in creating life, you gave people certain inalienable – non-transferable – rights. Lord, forgive our nation, please, forgive America, our nation, that our government, following in the footsteps of Rome, and Russia and China and North Korea, and many other nations, proclaims that rights come from the government, not from You, God, and that therefore our nation, America, has denied You before men; has dishonored and rejected You, the Creator; has corporately, like is said of individuals in II Tim. 3: 2-5, become a lover of itself, of Big Government, a lover of money (because it buys power), a boaster (of what it can do for us that God has not or cannot do), proud, a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, a slanderer of the Truth, with no self-control, brutal, a despiser of Christian goodness, a traitor to You, and the foundations You had established, haughty, a lover of pleasure rather than of You — Yes, our government claiming its own form of godliness, as the source of rights that You gave. But Lord, we know that that our government denies the power of Your Godliness. Still, Lord, we cry out for Your mercy and forgiveness of this nation and its people.

But Lord we know that this American government – just like Rome did to the Jews in Israel and to much of the rest of the then-known world – can actually take control over our bodies and our labor and our money and resources. But Lord we know that the government can only take control of our minds and hearts if we let them do it, and if we do, Lord, then we know we are fully given over to sin, that our double-mindedness will give way to single-minded secularism and sin. And we pray and stand against this slavery of heart and mind with all that we are and have in You.

So, Lord we, Your righteous through the Blood of Christ, know that we are being tested, and so we repent on behalf of America today, we humble ourselves and seek your face, and we, at least, turn from our personal wicked ways and strive to be the fullness of the stature of Christ, living in us, and pray that our fellow Americans and our government will do so, and that you will forgive us, individually and nationally, and heal us and our land.

Lord, we understand that America has been lost to the enemy one family, one heart, one soul, at a time, and it can be rescued only in the same way, one family, one heart, one soul, at a time. So, meanwhile, we ask you to withhold Your wrath promised in Psalm 2, withhold it from America. And we ask you to so fill our hearts, even in these circumstances, with the excitement, the hope, the joy, and the peace, of knowing You, of receiving Your Grace, of living in and with the power of the Holy Spirit, that we continue to spread the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus, preaching it in season and out of season, all across this land, like Jesus did (Luke 8), going to “every city and village” to share Your Truth, Jesus. Lord, please forgive us that we haven’t done it yet, but show us how to do it. Show us, Lord, how to be Your hands and feet and mouths, but most especially how to have the mind and heart of Christ, without double-mindedness and instability, as we stand against the forces of darkness in the earth and its nations, including our own.

God, please show us what all we are to do, other than to go on just eating, and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage (like before the Flood). And, then, Father God, when we have done all we can do, we pray for your strength that we can, and will, and do, stand in faith, still crying out to You. It is You who laughs at the raging conspiracies against you by the nations of the earth, You who hold them in derision, You who shall speak to them in Your wrath, You who shall break them with Your rod of iron, You who shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. It is You Who says, Haggai 2: 6-9, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. (And by the way) The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of hosts.”

So, God, today, we seek Your instruction, Your wisdom, Your prophecy, Your blessings, as we seek to trust You and to serve You with fear, even as we rejoice with trembling, knowing that the shaking of all nations and of the desires of all the nations, is coming in Your divine power and in Your divine timing and in Your divine perfection.

This is our Prayer today, in Jesus’ Name, a prayer for our nation and for us, a part of Your chosen people. Amen.

Christian Character Part 8

Not Ashamed of the Gospel of Christ

The title of the message comes from Romans 1:16, another true measure of Christian Character is whether or not we are ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s read Paul’s words, beginning in Verse 15, “So, as much as it is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith : as it is written (Hab. 2:4), ‘The just shall live by faith.'”

Let’s break this passage into its moving parts: (i) “as much as it is in me”; (ii) ready to preach the gospel; (iii) not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; (iv) the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for he who believes, and in it the righteousness of God is revealed , bringing forth lives of faith and justice. What more could you ask for?

The first question is what is the gospel of Christ? Professor Vines, in his Expository Dictionary, gives us the Greek word “EUANGELION” for gospel. In English, we translate this word to gospel, meaning “good news”, as the equivalent of “EUANGELION”. In the New Testament, it denotes the good news of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through Jesus Christ, to be received by faith. Thus, according to Professor Vines, an evangelist is a messenger of good news, a preacher or missionary of the Gospel of Christ. As we just read in Romans 1, Paul explained this Gospel of Christ as being the power of God to salvation for those who believe, as being the place in which the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Implicitly, Paul is here acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), as we who believe go and live “from faith to faith”.

Now, the first part of our focal passage, Romans 1:16, says, “as much as it (the gospel of Christ) is in me”: How does the gospel of Christ get into you: Paul has an explanation of this too: First, in his case, he had a special revelation from Jesus Christ himself, who put that gospel into Paul (Acts, Chapter 9, and elsewhere). But, also, in Romans 1, Paul wants us to know that God is visible to us, all around us, in the created world: Romans 1: 20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The proof of the truth of God is all around us, but many refuse to believe it, (verse 22), refuse to let that good news get into them, professing to be wise but becoming fools. In addition, the Holy Spirit (John 16:1I Corinthians 12: 7-11 ) provides us with guidance in the way of all truth, conviction in regards to sin, righteousness and judgment, as well as words of knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, etc.)

All this brings us to the Great Commission, Matthew 28: 19-20, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. . . .” This passage, this call to “Go” is a call to evangelize, to preach, a call to discipleship and teaching for the purpose of bringing the power of God to salvation to those who professed to be wise, but had become, or were becoming, fools, because they do not recognize or glorify God, nor are they thankful to Him and for Him. In other words, the people that don’t get it, that don’t get the Gospel of Christ, by direct revelation from Jesus (like Paul), nor from the creation around them, are only going to get it by evangelism, and that requires two things: readiness to preach the Gospel, and not to be ashamed of the Gospel and its preaching.

So, how do we get ready to preach? In Acts 9, Paul was ready to preach within a few days of his personal, transforming experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9: 9, 19 and 20, we get the timeline: Jesus confronted and blinded Paul and he was three days without sight; then, he spent some days in Damascus with the disciples he had come, and them there is this great word for a timeline, verse 20, “Immediately, he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” That was pretty quick; he preached what he knew and what he had experienced and that was enough to share the Gospel of Christ, and he was ready and not ashamed.

Paul explained this issue of readiness in two other places for us: in II Corinthians 3: 6, he explains that God has made us “sufficient as ministers of the new covenant” and in II Timothy 4:2, he says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” So, how do you get ready: First, you know Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; second you know what that means to you (forgiveness, salvation and eternal life); third, you embark on a life of obedience and repentance in all humility; fourth, start preaching without shame; fifth, continue to learn as much of God’s word as you can. That’s it!

Now, we finally come to the meat of the matter for today: shame. Why is that such a big deal? It is because it is that one human frailty, shame, which keeps us from being fully obedient to God, from following His commands, including the commandments of Jesus, to evangelize to spread the Gospel. Shame comes from a fear of lack of ability, or from a fear of offending someone or breaking some law, or from fear of suffering and/or dying as Christ and so many others, including Paul, did. That’s it, so we have to overcome shame. Paul did it – once he met Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life, he never looked back and was never ashamed.

On the other hand, we can learn from the lesson of the dear Apostle Peter, after the Crucifixion: At first he was ashamed to preach the Gospel of Christ, even to acknowledge that he was acquainted with Jesus. In all four of the Gospels is recorded the story of Peter denying Christ three times before morning when the rooster crowed. Those denials were from shame, and we can understand, because we are under those same pressures, those same fears of unreadiness, of embarrassment, of reprisal and consequences of pain, suffering and death.

We usually find that the fundamental expression of our fears that stops us from obedience is found in nervousness. When we are nervous, we know that we know that we have gotten out of our comfort zone, or that we are being called out of it, and guess what, our flesh does not want to go, does not want to get out of comfort. It is because we are trained to be prudent, to avoid risk, and to stay comfort. Although I don’t think it takes a lot of training to prefer to stay comfortable. On a camping trip we like to rough it, but we also like comforts of home, so we try to pick the right season to go – not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry: a dry shelter, a warm sleeping bag, a fire, good food, nice weather, freedom from mosquitos and gnats, and from snakes and bears, and even from two-legged villains, as well. Yeah, we like those comforts, and we can often obtain them, because we manage the risks with equipment and planning, leaving as little left over for God to manage as we can.

Yet, the call on our lives is to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season (i.e., all the time), and for this we must let God manage all of the risks, being prudent as and when the Holy Spirit dictates, but otherwise throwing all risk-management on God, because we are merely His bondservants, bid to do His calling, when, where and how He calls. So, in His calling, we give up risk-management and in faith, trust God to use us so that, in Heaven and on Earth, His will – not ours – shall be done, by us and through us as He directs.

But we know, now, to be of good cheer, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the challenges and opportunities, no matter what He directs and calls us to, no matter what risks we see, because we who are saved do know the Gospel of Christ, and we are ready to preach it, and all we need is the faith to have the will to preach it, to share it with the person next to us that we don’t know, with our friend or family member who resists. Each of us has been given that measure of faith (Romans 12:3) and it is sufficient for all of God’s purposes in us. That readiness, that faith and its sufficiency, that commitment to be obedient to God and His call to evangelize, to share the good news of Christ, all the days of our lives, are the things that empower us to break through the barrier of shame, of being ashamed.

As always in matters of Christian Character, we have choices to make. We can choose to be like Peter the night after Jesus’ crucifixion, or like Paul after his conversion. God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, our failures, our shortcomings, when we confess we gave in to shame over the Gospel, when we let our nervousness control us instead of our faith. Like Peter, we can pick up the pieces, pick up our cross again, and follow Jesus through death because that is the road to life, to eternal life. Remember, It does not matter what happens in consequence of our obedience, just that we obey, for as Paul said, “I die daily.” (I Corinthians 15: 31) and “For to live is Christ, to die is gain!” (Philippians 1: 21). In such a life is a life well –lived, well-spent, one not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, the power of God to salvation for all who believe. Don’t’ be bashful; help out your neighbor today – share the Gospel of Christ, without shame.

God bless you+

Christian Character Part 7

Be of Good Cheer

Be of Good Cheer!! Even though the Swine Flu H1N1 has backed way off its epidemic threats, the times and seasons around us are no less tough this week than last week: earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and rumors of wars, financial and economic weakness, marriages and families under stress, illness and aging, deception and dishonesty and distrust.

There is a whole lot going on to shrink our courage in fear, immobilize us in uncertainty, fill us with doubt and dismantle our faith. Satan has a plan and so does God. Our mettle is being tested, the depth of our faith is being measured, the reality of our love of God is being seasoned.

We are salt and light. We understand the light of Christ, and the fact that darkness is defined by light, but do we understand salt? What happens when something is seasoned, especially with salt? Two things: taste changes and that something is preserved. Scripture challenges us to ask ourselves whether we have lost our saltiness (Mark 9:50), and so we must ask whether we the light of Christ is growing dim in us, whether the light of Christ is stagnant and not growing brighter in us. These are self-examination questions. Scripture admonishes us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) as to whether we are in the faith, whether Jesus Christ is us.

Despite the ominous command of EXAMINE YOURSELVES and TEST YOURSELVES, from 2 Corinthians 13:5, we have reasons not to fear our circumstances, not to fear the natural disasters ever present in our world, not to fear the temptations of the flesh nor the deceptions and attacks of Satan. We have reason to be of good cheer.

Listen to what Jesus told the paralyzed man brought to Jesus in His own city of Nazareth (Matthew 9:1-2): “So He got into a boat, crossed over and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith ” (not necessarily just the paralyzed man’s faith), “He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.'”

There you have the foundation of our attitude towards the troubles of life: we can be and are called to be of good cheer. Our sins are forgiven, and though we have not escaped the temptations and attacks of Satan, and we have not yet escaped the confines of earth with its persistent natural disasters, we have gained forgiveness of sin, through Christ, and we have the assurance of eternal life in Heaven with Christ, God, the Holy Spirit and all the saints and heavenly hosts! Hallelujah!!

But then, Jesus explains that we have another reason to be of good cheer. Matthew 14, after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from only five loaves and two fish, Jesus made His disciples get into a boat to cross a large body of water. Let’s read, beginning at verse 21, through verse 32. In verse 27, in response to the fear that gripped the disciples, Jesus said, in the midst of the disciples’ fear, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Jesus accepted Peter’s test in verse 28, and commanded Peter to come to Jesus, to walk on the water. How did that work for Peter? Well, you know Peter had just seen and been a part of the miracle of feeding all those five thousand people, so you would think Peter would believe anything Jesus said. And so, this walking on the water at Jesus’ command, worked well for Peter as long as he focused on Jesus. But when Peter focused on the circumstances of boisterous seas, under and all around him, he saw that there was a whole lot going on around him that threatened his life. What was happening to Peter’s faith? He feared and the fear shrank his courage, as he realized the physical limits of his ability to survive in that circumstance. But here is what differentiates Peter, in that situation, from some many, and so many Christians, in difficult situations: Peter knew that Jesus was with him and Peter called out for Jesus to save him. So, in his fear, yes, Peter was immobilized in uncertainty, he was filled with doubt, and the circumstances challenged his faith. But these circumstances did not dismantle his faith: he knew Jesus was with him, and he knew that Jesus could hear him, and Peter had enough left faith left to call out to Jesus to save him, and Jesus did save him. And this became a teachable moment for Peter, because, even as Jesus grasped Peter’s hand (verse 31), Jesus brought a teaching correction into Peter’s life, yet again: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt”. [Seque: as you mature in the Lord, you will learn that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit do not usually speak to us with accusations about our sin, but with questions that engage us in an introspection and a responsive dialogue with them. Satan usually confines himself to accusations of our unworthiness about our sin, which he lead us into!] Peter asked for this test. Not many of us really ask to be tested, but Peter did. And so, Peter’s mettle was tested, the depth of his faith was measured. But here is what really happened: Peter chose to get beyond his comfort zone, to get out of the boat, and to try to rely on Jesus, and when he reached the end of himself he called out again to Jesus and found Jesus there, ready to save, and ready to teach. Peter’s faith was stretched all out of proportion. In Mary’s word shared with us in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+ today, she described athletic conditioning, and we can analogize that to “spiritual conditioning” That stretching of faith is like physical exercise: Peter went to the point of “muscle fatigue” in his faith, to the point where he doubted and therefore feared and at the end of his muscles, of his faith, he found out, again, that Jesus answered the call for help. So his faith muscles were strengthened against weakness, and he was preserved for another day when he could and would extend further in his faith. Thus, the reality of Peter’s love of God, through Christ, was seasoned, and (because we love God by obedience to his commands (2 John 6), Peter would in the future be able to be more obedient than merely, or even, walking on water!! Peter had reason to be of good cheer, just like Jesus said to comfort the disciples that it was no ghost walking upon the sea, but just their friend, Jesus, doing one of His normal supernatural things!

Even though Peter’s faith was measured and seasoned by his experience on the sea, that experience of walking on the water was not unlike that of Daniel and his friends walking in the fire pit that killed the soldiers who put them in it (Daniel 3: 25, “‘Look!’ he (King Nebuchadnezzar) answered (his counselors), ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is that of the Son of God.'”

Mark 9:49, just before verse 50 (about salt), says this, “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” And verse 50 goes on and says, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor (its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another.”

These experiences in life, the ones like Peter that we asked for, and the ones like Daniel that we don’t exactly ask for, these experiences that extend and test our faith, are experiences of fire (like Will Barnes led us to today, in the Ministry of the Holy Spirit+, in Psalm 29: 7, for God divided the fire around Daniel and his friends, and God/Jesus overcame the laws of physics to allow Peter to walk on the water. These experiences of fire are what season us and increase the flavor of the salt in us, and that is good!

Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in Matthew 5:1-11, gives the Beatitudes, and their explanation (Read them), and then gives us an encourage, and it is an encouragement to be of good cheer, verses 12-16: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Paul received from Jesus Himself this encouragement to be of good cheer. There is the passage in Acts 23, when Paul was in custody of the Roman soldiers and was in debate with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the debate produced what verse 9 calls a “loud outcry”, so much so says that (verse 12) the Jews wanted to kill Paul immediately, and here we find that the commander of the soldiers, fearing what he called a “great dissension”, took action. Verses 10-11, “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them (the Jews), commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks (not the jail, as such). But the following night the Lord stood by (Paul) and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul, for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'”

At the Last Supper (John 13-17), after Judas, the traitor, had left, Jesus poured out His heart, and His final encouragements and admonitions to His disciples. In response His disciples said this, John 16: 29-30, “His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came from God.'” And in verses 31-33, Jesus answered them with these words of encouragement, words we need if we have the faith of the apostles, in the generation and season for which we were created and in which we live: “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In a world of tribulations of all sorts – sin, flesh, natural disaster – Jesus offers us reason to be of good cheer: faith without fear, forgiveness of sin, eternal life, resurrection bodies, constant teaching, peace, and per Mark 9:50, salt to season and preserve us, and to share in our good works with others, and peace to have with everyone.

Examine yourselves, and if you are lacking in any of these, then, like Peter, ask God to command you out of your comfort zone, let God take you to the point of the spiritual – and maybe the physical – limit of muscle fatigue, faith fatigue. Thus, like Jesus, Luke 2:52, you will grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

So, no matter what, be of good cheer!!

Christian Character Part 6

Hypocrisy and Judgmentalism

In this series of studies on Christian Character, we need to realize that we have looked at a number of issues, but we have not really focused yet on the foundational concept that what defines Christian Character is the commitment one makes, in humility, repentance and love, to live out the admonition of Jesus to the woman accused of adultery, “Go and sin no more.” But whenever we are making a foundation for something, we have to dig out the trash, dig out the unstable, to get down to hard compaction, to enough density, that we can place our foundation there.

So many Christians have a great deal of trouble with this process, the process of dealing with the artifacts of sin in their lives: the memories of the sins of themselves and of others, the trigger points, the flash points, the woundings and scarrings in themselves and others. And so many Christians can’t get over those things, those chapters of history in their lives, those things that give psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors a job.

When we have a flesh wound, it hurts, it bleeds, it itches as it heals, but even as a young child, we learn that once the wound is cleaned out, and the antibiotic ointment placed, and the bandage pressed in place over the wound, we are okay and our wound will soon be a thing of the past. Young children usually lose their tears as the bandage is removed from its sanitary wrapper, and the backing removed, and the adhesive surfaces of the bandage are pressed into place.

It is not always so, however, with the residue of sin. The country singer of our generation, Randy Travis, in his deep voice, sings with much melancholy the song about “Digging Up Bones”. What he describes is a person who is unable to deal with the losses and woundings and scarrings of the past, a person who keeps the present fully occupied with the pains of the past, a person who can’t leave those old bones buried and done with, but who must take them out and rage and cry over them, a person whose life can’t get to its future because it is a life lived in the person’s past.

In the evolution to maturity of our Christian Character, we must overcome our past or we will stop evolving to maturity. When we stop that evolving, we are stuck in the mud, digging up bones that need to stay buried, and so we stop moving forward in and with our lives. Then we miss out on something vitally important to our fulfillment in life, that which we are encouraged in Ephesians 4:13-15, “. . . til we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and from and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ– . . . .”

The defining essence of the Christian is love of God and of neighbor, as required by the Great Commandment. Without forgiveness there is no human love, and without God we cannot even learn what forgiveness is. Let’s analyze this a bit: we are all imperfect: it takes little living in life to know that because we usually first figure that out about ourselves, and rather quickly we figure that out about those who are role models, usually those in our very family! And, in a Christian family, we learn that our family is trying to teach us by word and example about Christ, to introduce us to him that we might make Christ our real role model. But what so often gets lost in the translation is that we decide that our difficulties in emulating Christ, in following him as our role model, are because are human role models are hypocrites, not perfect in all their past or present, and certainly, therefore, not likely to be perfect in all their future. And when we see that sin of the past, even that sin of the present, we are tempted by the deceiver to hold our human role models in contempt, to judge them as unworthy, as failures, and then not to forgive them. The conclusion so often reached is that those human role models are unloveable, once we have discovered their clay feet.

We see that conclusion so often reached in the fall from favor of public figures, of politicians, of athletes, of the Jim Bakers, and the Jimmy Swaggarts, of ordinary mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters all across the land.

If you get stuck in this place, your progression to Christian Character, to the fullness of Christ, to maturity in Christ, is just that, it is stuck, and stuck in the mud, and may even be going backwards if you are not soon rescued from it.

If you are in that place, if there is anyone in your life against whom you hold any grudge, any speck of unforgiveness, anyone from whom you have chosen to withhold love because of how they treated you, or treated someone else you love, or treated God, then today is a day for you to dig out of the mud, to dig out of the ditch and move on with Christ at the center of your life, from glory to glory! Hallelujah, today is the day for you!

In Matthew 7: 1-5, we are admonished to examine our own state of perfection, our own state of sinlessness or sinfulness, applying the measure of Christ to evaluate our personal maturity. This passage reads, as Jesus explains to us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

What Jesus is telling us that whenever we judge the hypocirisy in another’s life, we are judging ourselves to be the same, also a hypocrite, unless we have removed the plank from our own eye. Jesus is saying that we should not condemn our brother before we have measured ourselves against the fullness of Christ, and found ourselves perfect, complete and mature. Then, the underlying message in this passage is that we will see our brother, the one (all of them) with the speck in his eye, differently than when we had a plank in our own eye: when – if (a huge “if”) we ever get the planks out of our own eyes, then we will truly see our brother as Christ seems him: not willing to condemn our brother in judgment for his hypocrisy, but loving our brother enough, even in his sin, to die for him that his sins might be forgiven. That is how much God loves us, and how much Jesus loves us, and how obedient Jesus was — to die for us. It was in that act, in that process, that God’s grace was extended to us even though in his omniscience, he know of our specks and planks and loved us enough anyway to die for us and to forgive us. We are called to do nothing less for our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, and our other imperfect human role models. This calling is the true measure of our maturity in Christ, the calling to love each other in spite of themselves and in spite of ourselves. And how we measure up to this calling, in our actual lives, is a measure of whether we will continue in our sin of not loving others in spite of themselves and in spite of ourselves, and that is how we can get out of the trap of Romans 6:1-2.

But here is the problem: most of us can’t dig the trash out of our own lives and bury it at the Cross, completely enough to get all those planks out of our own eyes, and so we remain conflicted with all those we love, with all those who have tried to be our human role models, and in that conflict we wallow in a pollution of love, a love where forgiveness is incompletes and where, as a result, love is incomplete.

Now, do you see why Dr. Dobson’s research shows that Christian families are about as likely as non-Christian families to suffer divorce. Divorce is devastating in all aspects of family, of human life: emotional, financial, spiritual and even in physical health. So why wouldn’t Christians do better in our marriages and families? It is because we won’t let go of the old bones of sin and hurt, the old bones of hypocrisy we see in our loved ones, and so our anger rages, and the grass looks so much greener on the other side of someone else’s fence, and the eyes wander to evil things, even as the heart beats in bitter un-forgiveness and broken love. How do I know this? I know it, as many of you know, because in my immaturity in Christ, I was there, I have been through that, and suffered others to go through that, and I have received God’s forgiveness and thus been empowered to move on with His calling on my life. David took Uriah’s wife and killed Urriah so he could keep Bathsheba, and, then in repentance, David received God’s forgiveness and moved on with God’s calling on his life. However, in my case, and in David’s case, indeed in all cases of sin, there are consequences and impacts, personally and generationally that still have to be dealt with. In God and Christ you will learn and be empowered to deal with sin, and sin repented, and sin forgiven, and not live your lives stuck in the sin of the past, but, in spite of yourself, moving on with God’s calling on your life.

Now, for sure, there is a place where God allows divorce in marriage, and that is for cause of adultery (Matthew 5:32) just as there is a place where He, with great regret, allows people, in free will, to be separated from Him in spiritual adultery (Rev. 2:22). God knows well that love is based on free will, on choices made, and He honors choices of fidelity and rejects choices of infidelity.

So, what do we do about this, what do we do about ourselves and our brothers and sisters? God’s instruction is for us not to let our brother’s sin (his speck in the eye) be an obstacle to our repentance (our plank in the eye). There is only one way to avoid making hypocrites of our selves as we judge others to be, or to have been, hypocrites: that is to see others as God and Christ see us, in grace extended in unmerited favor. Small wonder that C.S. Lewis always said, when asked how he was doing, how things were going for him, in honest humility, “better than I deserve.” God, in Christ, applies grace to our lives, and when we accept Christ, God is willing to apply all of his strength, all of his knowledge, all of his presence, all of his love to his call on our lives and to our perfection in Christ. We are called to do no less with our human loved ones, indeed to humans God calls us to in ministry. God does not plan for us to live in arrogance and pride, but in humility, not in the assurance of our personal greatness or talents or goodness, but in the assurance of His love for us, not in the hope and record of our own success, but in the knowledge of our own failure, our own failures, our own planks, not in judgment of others, but with the grace and compassion of God and Christ given to others, not as a hypocrite viewing the hypocrisy of others, but as a sinner viewing the sin of others, in love, with the hope of forgiveness and salvation, with the hope of the development in us and our loved ones, and others – even our enemies – of maturity (completion, perfection) to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Figuring all this out, and adopting it into how we live is a major marker of growth of our Christian Character: it is the marker that empowers us in humility and love to live outside of, and beyond, the anger, the rage, the confusion, the fear, the distrust, of the sins in our past, those sins of our own and those of which we were victims. Everyone has a past, none are perfect. Everyone has been harmed in their past, even – maybe even especially – by loved ones, human role models who failed. For your own sake, for the sake of God’s love of you, of Christ’s death for you, forgive yourselves for the sins of your past, forgive those who you think have hurt you in their own sins, and in humility keep those planks coming out of your own eyes, forgiving others instead of judging them for faults, sins, that you share with them.

God is good and gracious and His mercy is eternal. Jesus made it freely available to you. Take, eat and drink, it is the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation! Love others, and yourselves, as Christ loves you!!

Christian Character Part 5

Marriage (Valentine’s Day)

Yes, today is Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love, especially the love we share in marriage, and so today, at the risk of some meddling, I am led to share with you about marriage. And while Valentine’s Day is a good day to celebrate marriage and family, it is also a good day to study marriage and family and see how to make them stronger and stronger. Marriage is strengthened by the yieldedness of both spouses to the Cross of Christ, but also by the principles of Cross-sowing and Cross-reaping.

God gives us the principles of marriage, and puts them in context, in Genesis 1: 26-28; Genesis 2; 7-8, 18, 21-25; Genesis 3: 12-18:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps in the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them male and female He created them. … 

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted (principle of sowing and reaping) a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man He had formed. … 

“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper companion to him.… 

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said, ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.… 

“Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field, on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life, and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’ To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’; Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field, in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.'”

Thus we are now charged with knowledge of the Scriptural history, foundations, and operating principles of marriage, and these operating principles of marriage are the following:

  1. Man was created in God’s image, the image of the Trinity, and for God’s purposes.
  2. And God knew man’s loneliness, and so created Eve from Adam’s rib, and presented him to Adam in the first marriage we have recorded: Man and Wife.
  3. And we know that God ordained that in marriage priorities changed from those of child to natural parents, to those of husband and wife.
  4. And we know that God ordained marriage as the vehicle for procreation, for making more people to populate the earth, to replace those dying and to increase those here.
  5. And with the fall, we see that God ordained the work and pain and warfare consequences of that original sin, and explained them in part as a life of hard work, and with women to be submitted to their husbands.

In this passage from Genesis, we discern several important things about how marriage should be formed and how it needs to operate:

  1. Let God choose your spouse for you (the odds of God making a mistake are considerably less than the odds of you making mistakes).
  2. It takes maturity to sustain a marriage, but not to start one, because you have to grown up, be grown up enough, to stand away from your parents emotionally, in provision of food and other material essentials of life, and in the commitment of love. A three year-old should not marry in part because a toddler cannot meet its own needs, and must await sufficient maturity. Immaturity is selfishness, not service. It is “I want, I want; Mine, mine, mine.”
  3. Intimacy with one’s spouse fills up that emptiness that is the result of loneliness; the intimacy that overcomes loneliness by definition promotes fidelity, which stabilizes marriages and the future of children and grandchildren. Hiddenness of honesty (which is a polite reference to dishonesty) and hiddenness of pure, deep communications prevents intimacy, without which trust is never fully built or is weakened and, from time to time, destroyed.
  4. Marriage is the intended source and home for children, so that they may be trained up in the way they should go.
  5. Marriage requires a work ethic, a serious one!
  6. Marriage, to be most effective, requires Christian Character, with the planting of the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the harvesting of the fruit of those seeds planted by one spouse, each in the other, and in their children and grandchildren.

In our culture, like all those past us, people are busy working, eating, drinking, making merry, marrying and giving in marriage. And we say, “What is the problem?” The problem is that marriage and the family is under such great attack. Statistically, according to Jim Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the divorce rate among Christians is about the same as among non-Christians in America. That is one effective measure of how well Christian marriages are not doing, and a measure of the failure of the church to teach of the church and the family in holding loved ones accountable in their marriages.

There are only three things that really threaten a marriage: Satan, the flesh of the man and the flesh of the woman. Satan uses our flesh, in marriage, as in everything else, to tempt us to violate the Ten Commandments, and every other structure of obedience God has ordained for our lives. That disobedience is sin, and creates more sin. And sin is the cancer of life, spiritually and emotionally, and is the cancer that attacks marriage. At the root of almost every divorce is some combination of too much me and not enough you, too much Satan and not enough God, and the resulting destruction of intimacy, honesty and commitment.

In marriage, there is the Godly principle of agriculture, of sowing and reaping: A farmer keeps on planting his crops year after year, because the fruit of those plantings brings forth a harvest of nourishing fruit, and few farmers prefer starvation, but rather prefer nourishment. And so with marriage, the more we sow, the more we reap, in both earthly and heavenly treasure, though not measured in money or stocks or land or gold. In marriage, as Sripture says, it is more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also blessed to receive that nourishment from your spouse!

I think the most insightful thing in the Genesis passage about marriage is the revelation of the future of spiritual warfare, and its direct impact on families: Genesis 3: 15 (God speaking to the Serpent): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed” (referring to her lineage through Jesus the man); “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” We don’t get through life without dealing with Satan, and no marriage gets through live without spiritual warfare with Satan either. In fact, in areas where a spouse is weak in some aspect of spiritual warfare, some area of sin or temptation to sin, the marriage is weakened in that aspect and intimacy is impaired. Whenever intimacy is impaired, loneliness is increased, and infidelity abounds in a sinful and futile attempt to overcome loneliness.

So, to strengthen marriage, we, as husbands and wives, need to strengthen personal Christian Character, need to walk about fully protected in the armor of God, and we need to use our defensive shield of faith, and the offensive weapon of the Sword of the Spirit, til we have done all we can do, and then we need to stand in faith, trusting God, beseeching Him in prayer, praying in the Spirit that God’s perfect will be accomplished. The battle in each spouse, each child, each marriage is all the Lord’s.

There can be, like the song says, seasons in a marriage, even rarely whole marriages, where “it is Summer time and the living is easy,” but that is not the normal, and I figure you can handle that pretty well. Where you need help and guidance is when the living together ain’t so easy, and for you who are unmarried, you need to know how to handle the rough times, the times when it may seem your spouse is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

Sometimes, a spouse is in a difficult place in his or her personal walk with the Lord Jesus, maybe in a season of questioning the foundations of faith, maybe in dealing with unresolved generational curses or stubborn strongholds of sin, embarrassment of sin, maybe in withholding honesty; maybe in fighting addictions, maybe even in a season of offense-taking and un-forgiveness. These are the most difficult times in which to continue to plant the seeds of love, the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit+.

But like the farmer who continues to sow, to plant, to weed, to water, to nourish, so it is in a Christian marriage: it takes Christian Character to walk out the hard times, to sow, to plant, to weed, to water, to nourish. And it takes patience: when the soil is bad, the growing is slower. And it takes intercession, and it takes a full administration of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, in favor of the spouse who is in a rocky place, while the Holy Spirit battles for the Lord’s victory over sin.

But the burden is not just on the one spouse to pour into the life of the spouse in a rocky or mean or dangerous space. God is insistent that even the spouse in a difficult place must bear up against the temptation to sin, must continue to sow, weed, water, nuture the seeds of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the other spouse. Weaknesses, trials, temptations, addictions, confusions, double-mindedness – all may explain, but none really confuse: We have this insight into God’s view, from Malachi 2: 13-16, “And this is the second thing” (after spiritual adultery, Malachi 2: 10-12) “you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks Godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed of your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

Conclusion: On this Valentine’s Day, take heed that you do not deal treacherously with your spouse. Invest (that is what “Cross-sowing is) the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your spouse at all times, in all circumstances, do what you can do, and fight for your marriage, your children, your family, for obedience to God and for the keeping of the covenant of marriage. Keep yourself in repentance at the foot of the Cross of Christ, and continue to Cross-sow into your spouse, so you may Cross-reap the fruit of your Cross-sowing and your marriage strengthened and strengthened and strengthened!! If you are not married, take heed, and wise counsel, and be prepared for the day of marriage, should God present you a spouse, that your eyes will be wide open, and so will your heart, not to deal treacherously with each other, but to deal graciously with each other, in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline! (Galations 5: 22-23) By this, they will know that we are His, because we love one another, and we together can resist the enemy’s attack on Christian marriages and families!

Christian Character Part 4

Serving God and Others

At a wedding we attended yesterday, we were struck by the gravity of the minister’s admonition to the couple: “Your happiness will be found in your spouse’s well-being.” The quest for marriage, and the right marriage partner is often defined in the question of who makes me happy. This admonition challenged that definition, by, instead, asking the question, “Who can you make happy?” This admonition challenges and encourages all of us, and will challenge and encourage this fine couple, to live lives of love, which is measured by service, starting in the home.

I am very particular about the use of the words and concepts of happiness and joy. Our popular culture would have us think that these two words really mean the same thing, but they don’t. Popular culture has long taught, in an ungodly manner, that parents should want their children to be happy, to do whatever makes them happy. This popular cultural mantra would legitimate a life of self-indulgence, a life without responsibility, a life without service, a life without love, a life without Christian Character.

The English word, “happiness” appears far more sparingly in Scripture than does the English word, “joy.” In Professor Vine’s Expository Dictionary, he helps us with the translations: In the New Testament, the Greek word for happy is makarios, an adjective, and in the Greek it signifies “blessed” and in the verb form, makarizo, it signifies “to call blessed”. On the other hand, a different Greek word, chara or (in its verb form, chairo) is the word we translate as joy, wherein it is understood to connote exultation, in contrast with weeping and sorrow, to signify the circumstances attending co-operation in the authority of the Lord Jesus and His work.

I take from this word study, that being blessed, being made happy, is what may happen to us; on the big other hand, joy is our response to what happens to us. Hence, neither Romans 5 nor James 1 tell us to be “happy” in our troubles and trials and tribulations, but rather to “take” joy. Taking joy takes, if you will pardon the pun, a little work, and sometimes a lot of work: it is the labor of co-operation in the authority of our Lord and His work.

The Gospel of John speaks clearly from God about the source of joy: John 15: 9-11, “As the father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

When we abide in our Lord, we are co-operating in the authority of the Lord Jesus and His work, and it is that circumstance of co-operation, an act of taking our place with Jesus, in His work, and in His sufferings, that produces our joy.

In the application of this to marriage, and family, we find our joy in serving, as Christ served. Ephesians 5: 25, 28, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. . . . so Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.”

This passage also speaks of the respect of a wife for her husband. Professor Vine explains to us that the Greek word, Apoblepo, means to “look away from all else but one object”. And of course, so should a husband confine the object of his gaze.

As is so clear, our harvest fields begin at home, and it is there where we are first called in Christ to serve. In I Timothy 3: 1-13 and in Titus 1: 5-9, the qualifications of leadership in the church include knowing how to rule one’s own house, setting into place the credentials of service and its always accompanying humility and selflessness.

Paul described himself as a bondservant of Christ (Romans 1: 1), and Jesus Himself said He came as our servant, Matthew 20: 26-28, “. . . but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

In II Corinthians 11; 23-30, Paul gave us a summary of the sufferings of Christ in which he shared, because of His love for Christ, his abiding in Christ, and in Romans 5, Paul told us to glory in those tribulations, which is to rejoice in them, or to take and re-take joy in them! Paul knew and learned that joy is not necessarily fun, and that the blessings of spiritual happiness are not necessarily fun.

The foundation of Jesus’ and God’s service to us is their love for us (see John 3:16), and if we accept their love for us, we must find conviction of sin, and through that conviction, then we would find repentance and forgiveness, and in that we are set to serve in a godly manner, beginning in our homes. Love conquers all and keeps no account of wrong-doing (I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter). Thus are the headwaters of the Sea of Forgetfulness and every marriage needs those headwaters so they have a Sea into which to leave behind the things forgiven.

The issue is not the indulgence of your selfishness, but the surrendering of yourselves to God, through Christ, so that in serving others, starting by treating your spouse and children and parents as your first “neighbors”, you are obedient to God by loving Him and your neighbors!

In John 15: 7-8 it is explained to us that if we abide in Christ, and if His word abides in us, then what we desire will be done for us, and we will bear much fruit, which will glorify the Father, and we will be Jesus’ disciples.

In Part III of this study in Christian Character we focused on the Ten Most Wanted individuals in our lives, and we learned that only by depositing in each of them the 9 fruits of the spirit, could we hope to harvest similar fruit from their lives to enrich our lives.

When we pour out our love and service for another person’s, our spouse’s, our children’s, our parents’, well-being, we are cooperating in the authority of Jesus Christ and His works, and with Christ, even as we suffer, we are defeating the works of the Devil, and so we are abiding in Christ and His word, and by that abiding and co-operating, we are taking joy. Taking joy may not always bring us happiness in the popular cultural sense, but it will bring us blessings, even if not always fun, in the spiritual sense of happiness: It is more blessed to give than to receive. This is a mantra for family relationships, it is a description of the results of service. Be like Paul, be like the other old and current disciples of Christ, be like Christ: SERVE, especially those to whom you have committed love!

Christian Character Part 3

The Ten Most Wanted List

We have started off this year, 2010, in a study of Christian Character, of which this message is the third in the series. We have considered that, as with a New Year and with New Year’s resolutions, a commitment or rededication to Christ is a place and season of New Beginnings, as we are new creatures in Christ, and in repentance and work and reverent awe of God, we seek to bury the old self and put on the new self, wearing Christ on the outside even as He is, in the Holy Spirit, on the inside, of us. Our New Beginning is to be His holy temple. And last week, we studied the need to examine ourselves anew, to determine how we are doing in the construction of Christian Character in ourselves. Today, we address the fundamental characteristic, “character” if you will, of the Christian: Grace, and what that has to do with who we are, how we live, and the people who have to put up with how we live, that is, at the primary level, the people with whom we are in the closest, most intimate relationships.

What I like about the study of character, is that it is a study of how that which is on the inside of you comes out of you: character is not to be hidden under a bushel basket, but to be opened and shared with others. As our character is exposed, it is revealed for what it is, and measures from the outside that which is on the inside of us. Character is the relative light and dark in us. It is where we, others, and God find out what we are made of , who we really are. Character is the grading scale of testing, and it measures that light and darkness in us, and – guess what – everything is a test!

We don’t even get to a discussion of Christian Character lest we have Christ. And, in the first place, we don’t get to be Christians except because of God’s Grace, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

I take from this passage the foundational principle that we don’t get to be Christians by anything by God’s Grace – not by birth station or status, or race or gender or economic class, or morality or one’s personal goodness in works or in heart. Because of our inherited sin nature, and our sin choices, God, in His holiness abhors acceptance of each one of us, even as He loves each one of us enough to extend His Grace that through faith we may be saved and reconciled to Him! How marvelous – meaning how much we must marvel and wonder at the surprise of that principle, as we grasp its meaning, and truly understand that we can’t get there on our own, but only through God’s Grace. He provided a way, the only way, for us, in His Grace, still keeping true to His nature and character, in the atoning Blood of Jesus.

And we see a second foundational principle at work in Ephesians2:8: Grace is a gift to us. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it.

In this I am reminded of the passage (Acts 20:35) where Paul quotes Jesus in assuring us that it is both blessed to give and to receive. And if the gift we receive is such a blessing, how do we respond to such a blessing? Like a birthday, anniversary, or other love gift, do we receive it gladly; does not that gift bind us ever more deeply to the one we love, the one who loved us enough to bless us with a gift?

Now, we ask ourselves, why did, and why does, God want to give us such a marvelous thing, this thing that we can’t get on our own, that thing being salvation from sin? God explained this in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

You see that the foundation of the Character of Grace is Love. It is because of love, because He chose, even beforehand, to love us in spite of who we were, who we are, and who, in our struggle to perfection in Christ, we will be or fail to be. In it all, God chose and has chosen, and will choose, to love us, and out of that love He is Rich, Rich, Rich, in mercy, and out of the riches of that mercy comes forth Grace! And it is through Grace that He rescued us, saved us, changes us, transforms us.

Grace is the sum of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galations 5:22-23. Those nine elements are a description of the ways in which God is gracious to us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (self-discipline).

Now, any time you see the use of the word, the concept, of fruit, you are into the principles of sowing and reaping, the principles of planting, nurturing, protecting, and harvesting. And there is something cyclical about all of that: with a seed we plant, then we harvest, then we have more seed, which are replanted, but we also have fruit which feeds us. The concept of fruit, or bearing fruit, is not just a concept of being, it is a concept of doing.

The fruit of the Spirit in us does three things:

  1. It is evidence that we have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us;
  2. it shows that our character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that we express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them;
  3. that we are fed by that fruit of being a tree of blessings to others whom our lives touch, and those with whom we live.

There is that simple principle, so simple and so important that it is often taught to the very young: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the so-called Golden Rule. This is a paraphrase of the Great Commandment, of loving our neighbors as ourself.

The Golden Rule, indicates that we can expect to reap what we sow, the most direct application of the principle of planting.

The Apostle Paul clearly understood this principle, for not only did he sow, and plant and nurture, all over His part of the world and elsewhere, but he knew and explained how it worked. In Philippians 2:3- 5, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” And in Philippians 2:14-16, which we reviewed, I think, last week: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life . . . .” And in Philippians 1:27 (which is our family’s support verse for Hilton Head Christian Academy), “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. . . .”

So, when you examined yourself (“What’s up, Dude?”), like I asked you to do during the week since we last met, what did you learn about yourself? What did you find out about yourself? Is your conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us?”

Now, I ask you to look around yourself, at your closest, most intimate, most wanted relationships, and I ask you to be brutally honest with yourself, even at the risk of visiting places of the scarred past in your life, places of current turmoil, and places of fears, hopes and dreams for the future. I ask you to look at each one of your personal relationships. List the top ten relationships you are in with people – if you have even that many! I would call it the “Ten Most Wanted List”, but it could be more, it could be the “Sixteen Most Wanted List” – you will know for yourself. If you are married, you must start with your wife or husband, then go to your children, and the spouses of your children, and reach back to your parents and your siblings, and then to your non-family friends.

When you live in Grace, it is a gift back, your inside coming to your outside, the measure of your Christian Character, to God of the gift He gave you; then, it is God’s and your gift to those on your List, and to all others.

As you look at each one of these relationships, examine and test yourselves, by deciding how the Fruit of the Spirit in you is doing, how you are producing and receiving fruit:

  • is there clear and convincing evidence that you have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us? You can figure this out by asking two other questions: Has sin lost its power over me, and has death – even death of my pride and flesh – lost its sting to me? That’s how you know if you are transformed by God’s Grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit!
  • is there clear and convincing evidence that your character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that you , in your heart attitudes and the choices you make in your life, express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them?
  • is there clear and convincing evidence that you are fed by that fruit from being a tree of blessings to others whom your life touches, and those with whom you live?

This morning, God wants to be up close and personal with you! He cares, in His love and the Rich, Rich, Rich mercy that comes from His love for you, about you and your life. He cares how you must, in truth, answer these three questions; in fact, He already knows the answers, but His knowledge about that does you no good, unless you appropriate His knowledge of that truth into your life. And that same Holy Spirit is here to guide you in the way of all truth (John 16:13), so you can honestly answer those questions and gain the freedom of truth, so you can have in our heart the Fruit of the Spirit, and so you can share it with those top ten people in your personal relationships, and be seed to them, as they are fruit to you. If you are not planting those nine seeds in those top ten people, you will not be harvesting those nine fruits back from those top ten people! That is tough, and requires patience, as sometimes, it takes a while for those seeds to take root in one of those ten people, or several of them, for those seeds to germinate, to heal from the scarrings of an untimely cold snap, or drought, or flooding, or the nibbles of a hungry animal, to be nourished and to grow enough in his/her/their own Christian Character to produce that fruit and feed you. This, in part, is what Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 are all about: as James there wrote, ” My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

God knows, it takes patience to put up with growth in people, even His own children, and you may find that at times true with one or more on your “Ten Most Wanted List”. Measure your character and get right with God and those on your Ten Most Wanted List!

If you have undertaken the responsibility of those ten relationships, and all relationships are responsibilities, or whatever the number is on your list, and you are troubled or unhappy, or not joyful, or not at peace, or not dealing with any one or more of those relationships our of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline, then you are in trouble, and you need to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance into the way of truth, all truth, and to bring you conviction, that you may repent to God for your sins, and ask Him to help you cleanse yourself from all unrigheousness of flesh and spirit, that you may live in reverent awe of God, and in right relationship with those top ten people on your personal relationship list. He is just and faithful to do so, if you, by an honest faith, are faithful to do so, and to mean it.

As God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness have been freely given to us, only as we freely give them to others are we conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, only then are we of Christian Character, only then is God’s Grace, and His graciousness, alive and well within us; only then will we position ourselves to want to harvest what we have sown! In it all, through it all, will you choose to love those Top Ten Most Wanted in your life, as much as God loved, and loves you, that while you were yet a sinner God sent His only begotten Son to die for us that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. Are you willing to lay down your life; to delay, amend or delete your hopes and dreams; to patiently exercise your self-discipline in faith to overcome your fears, all so that you can love these others in your life, these Top Ten Most Wanted ones, because God first loved you? What is the true and honest state of your own Christian Character? If you have examined yourself, and found some shortcomings, don’t be alarmed, but be thankful for the truth of that knowledge, for God’s Grace abounds! You don’t have to keep on in the sins of your flesh, but you need to make a choices, some choices. God explained so clearly through Paul in Romans 6:1-2, when he asked rhetorically, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died in sin live any longer in it?” Dig deep and repent and let God heal you and those around you. Oh, and join Moveon.God! Amen!

Christian Character Part 2

What’s Up, Dude?

The question today is the foundation for today’s sermon: What’s up, Dude? You see, God wants us to examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28; Galations 6:4) and figure out where we are in the present of our lives. That means we will be looking back, somewhat, at where we have been, and we will be looking forward to where we have placed our goals, our resolutions of new beginnings. But, mostly, it is an examination of where we ARE, not where we HAVE BEEN, nor where we might think we WILL BE! God wants us to let go of the old in our personal histories, and Let God be glorified in our present! He wants us to make Him a present – freely and willingly given – of our present life, today, and each next day, a present present presented to God!

This is Part II in our new series on Christian Character. Last week, we focused on New Beginnings, at the beginning of the New Year, and we did some foundational work in the heart issues, reviewing the hearts of Saul and David, as we brought into focus that it is out of the fullness of our hearts that we welcome, or uninvited, or merely put up with the Holy Spirit in our lives. And so as we consider what our hearts have to do with it, we learn that our hearts have everything to do with Christian Character. After all, God loved David so much because David, even as a young man, was a man after God’s own heart. May it be so with us, each one of us.

Today, we are going to study certain qualities of Christian Character. This so, even though you may think it is all summed up in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 (Fear God and obey His commandments—and be ready for judgmental inspection). This is a bit of “There’s the formula, but this time we are going to help you work out the details.” Once you invite the Holy Spirit into your life you are like the recalcitrant young colt taught submission, obedience and manners by spending a week in a pasture being tied to an old Jack donkey: at the end of the week, the young colt is no longer “recalcitrant” and is now quite willing to go wherever the old donkey wants him to go. I wish we could learn as fast as such a young horse! So, today, we review seven of the qualities of Christian Character, what we call The Seven “C’s” of Christian Character:

  1. Christ in Me (Salvation): Galations 3:26-29; Philippians 3:10-11; I Timothy 4:9-10 (The real question in life as you examine yourself is where do you put your HOPE?)
  2. Commitment (Faith): Hebrews 11:1 (concept of where is our HOPE?); Psalm 71:14-16 (per Mary Eklund’s Word from HS+ today.)
  3. Calling: Romans 8:28-30; 1 Timothy 2:1-6
  4. Courage: Galations 2:20; Galations 4:8-9 (Mortify Flesh; Say No to Temptations Fleshly Un-Accoutability—You can’t live a “No strings attached life” as a Christian!)
  5. Conditioning (Hebrews 5:13-14) (Constant Use – stay in the present in living the life of Christ and making decisions for Him and as He would make them)
  6. Cleansing: II Corinthians 7:1; I John 1:9 (Work at it through repentance and the other “C’s”)
  7. Conduct: Hebrews 5:7-9. (Prayers, Reverent Submission, Obedience and Suffering); Philippians 2:12-16a (Hold the Standard of God and Christ in a crooked and perverse generation—Work it out!); I Timothy 4:7-8 (train yourself to be Godly); James 1:27 (Practice True Religion – helping the widows and orphans); Matthew 22:36-38 and I Corinthians 13:13 (God’s greatest commandments are that we love, and love never fails).

Summary: Romans 5:1-6 (Have you examined yourself today as to the Seven C’s of Christian Character? What’s up, Dude, in your life: inside and outside of you. It is your life, after all . . . . or is it your life? It will be tough, but tough is Good and good for you to do so! Overcome childhood (and adult) woundings, scarrings, offenses, strongholds, blind spots, generational curses, fleshly weaknesses – that is working out your salvation with fear and trembling. Work it out! Live free from sin and death because of Christ, and abide in His Joy and Peace. Oh, and by the way, help the widows and orphans, for that is the true test of whether love reigns in your heart and life! Your true religion is not just what is going on inside of you, but what is coming out of you! So, “What’s up, Dude?, what’s really up with you?” To God be the glory, in Him, and in you, now and forever!

Christian Character Part 1

New Beginnings

When you think about it, New Year’s Day is just another day – yet by an artifice of the mind we decide that it is the advent of a New Year, as the ball descends in Time Square, as the fireworks explode in our neighborhoods, and elsewhere. It is a traditional time for celebration. Bendigo Shafter, a character in a great Louis Lamour novel of the westward migration in America, once wondered how we would do without marking time, living in a constant “present,” and not “aging”.

Today, I ask you why you put so much on the newness of a new year – and you do it every year? Mr. Lamour had a point: people spend an awful lot of time remembering the past and working on the future, and often not near enough time living in the “present”. We cannot worship God in the past or the future, we give him glory in the present! So, we need to change our focus from so much past and future, and start being aware of our present and focusing on its living for the glory of God!

This “newness” thing we associate with a new year does get us away from the past and focused on a new future, in which we sin less, get in better shape, manage our finances and relationships better, etc.. Planning for change is, or can be, a component of repentance, when we set our foreheads like flint (Ezekiel 3:8-9), to listen to sin no more. In that context “newness” is good, and it is good because it plans for a new “newness” that would have us more and more giving God the glory in the new days and hours to come, in our lives.

Now, let’s examine this thing of “newness” or “new” for a moment: “New” = different, it implies change – and we have heard a lot of political hype about change, and it has been spun in a positive way, politically, because it is explained that change will bring us hope, hope for a better future. Some politicians have made history on the hype of “hope” and “change”. But what have they accomplished in the Kingdom of God?

God likes these concepts of hope and change, and He intends that these concepts accomplish much in His Kingdom: He hopes that we do change, and that we change for the better, all as He defines it. When, through repentance, we do change like God wants us to change, something very important happens – hope turns into a new, personal history, as we build Christian Character. That is the kind of change God hopes we make in our lives. The living of our lives is the making of history. God knows our lives will be better, and better eternally, if, through repentance, we make personal history, for ourselves and those we serve, by turning God’s hope into our hope, and their hope, in the form of Christian Character.

You see, no matter how you are living your life, no matter what happens to your New Year’s Resolutions – and no matter whether you made any New Year’s Resolutions are not – you are making your own history, your personal story. And there will be a time when the Book of Life will be opened – it will already have been written – (Rev. 20:12) and the history of your life will be clear, but it will be published after your death, your first death, and you can no longer edit the Book of Life. The words in that Book, accurately recording the things you said, did, thought, felt, and those you didn’t, are down in black and white and you’re stuck with them. And so is God.

But you have two bases to change today, in this New Year 2010, this new decade (you only get a few decades in your life here) the way the rest of your personal history, your Book of Life, is written, not just this year but henceforth and forever: The first basis of change for you is the atonement of the Blood of Christ, shed for you and for many, who believe He is Who He says He is. The second basis for change is the construction in your life of Christian Character on the foundation of your Redemption in the Blood of Christ.

Now, you say, I understand at least the theory of the first one, the Divine Exchange at the foot of the Cross, of His suffering for my sins. Indeed, you say, I have received Jesus as my personal Savior, I believe in His Name (John 3:16, and all of that), so what is the big deal? Isn’t that it? No, that is not all there is to it, but you can’t go any further without it. It is first base, and you have to tag it to go on to the other bases.

Now, this second base is often more difficult for us. Salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8), unmerited favor, and that by the gift of God. We can all receive a gift, so we can receive the tagging of first base, if you will, but on this second basis of change and hope, it is not such a gift, it is a bit of work and therefore of discipline, self-discipline (Galations 5:22-23) – how do I build the Christian Character on that foundation of redemption?

This really is the central issue for the true Christian. In that same sense, the central issue for the unsaved, is salvation and redemption. Salvation and redemption, and its heart of repentance, open the door to forgiveness, and the construction of Christian Character in your life means that you have to open that door to forgiveness less and less often and that pleases God!

Building Christian Character is life in the “present”; it is building skill in the word of righteousness! It is where, from moment to moment, we choose good over evil in our lives, manifesting our maturity, or maturing, as we live and write our Book of Life. Hebrews 5:12-14 is foundational guidance in the philosophy of Christian Character: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

This passage from Hebrews speaks to us of teaching, which is what God is doing with us today, as He teaches us the word of righteousness, and this passage teaches us that we are all to be teachers, and that the way we do that, the way we become mature enough to teach others the word of righteousness is by our our own “constant use” of the “word of righteousness”, applying it to every feeling, thought, and decision in our lives. Now, you notice that I did not say every action in our lives, every deed. That is because the actions and deeds of our bodies – even of our tongues and words – are directed or permitted by the decisions we make based on our thoughts and feelings. The construction of Christian Character requires the application and constant use of the word of righteousness to our thoughts and feelings. If we do that, then we are disciplining ourselves to require, in each one of us, that God’s word of righteousness control our feelings and thoughts and therefore our words and deeds.

In order to appropriate fully the word of righteousness into our lives, we have to do something, and that something is called “choice”: to do this we have to make a choice, actually a lifetime series of choices, for God and His word of righteousness to come into our hearts, like we asked Jesus to come into our hearts and save us by the redemptive power of His Blood.

As we appropriate the word of righteousness fully into our lives, we undergo an amazing metamorphosis, A DIVINE HEART TRANSPLANT: our hearts of stone are softened and changed into hearts of flesh, (Ezekiel 36:26-27), which with the Holy Spirit brings us into obedience of God. God even described David as a man after my own heart (I Samuel 13:14), And Job said, (Job 23:16, NKJV), “For God made my heart weak (‘soft’ in King James Version, and the Almighty terrifies me . . . .”). And we know (I Samuel 10:9) that at the anointing by Samuel, God gave King Saul a new heart, but something happened to it as he lived out his days as king: Saul do not hold onto what the Lord had commanded him (I Samuel 13:14). And we know of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, right after the Ascension of Jesus, about David and His relationship with Jesus (Acts 2:22-39), that they were cut (NKJV) or pricked (KJV) to the heart.

So, even from the Old Testament, it is very clear (Jesus is very clear, Matthew 12:34, that out of the fullness of the heart doth the mouth speak. In other words it is what our hearts love that controls our words and actions, because, like with all issues of love, our hearts wrestle with our commitment to the beloved. As the Bride of Christ, we in the church often think we resolved this issue of commitment at the point of public confession of faith in Jesus Christ, or when we asked Him into our hearts, or when we were baptized. But, that was only the starting point, that was the beginning of the real war, the war of commitment in each of our hearts. Jesus knew, and knows, and we should know, Matthew 15:19, that out of the heart – due to original sin – proceed evil thoughts, and if we nurture those evil thoughts, we will speak and do evil. On the other hand, Jesus wanted to, and wants to, bless the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8, from the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes).

In the Parable of the Sower, in Matthew 13, Jesus makes it clear that when the Word of God is spoken it is sown as a seed not in our minds, and not in our feelings, but in our hearts, and it can be stolen away from our hearts by misunderstanding (verse 19), or because he has no root in himself to overcome tribulation or persecution (verse 20), or because the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it is unfruitful in his life (verse 22). But, majestically, Jesus makes it clear (verse 23), that the Word of God, the word of righteousness, bears fruit and multiplies greatly, when it is heard and understood, without being choked out and stolen away by tribulation or persecution or the cares of this world or by the deceitfulness of riches, then it will bear fruit all around us, in our marriages, in our children, in our extended family, in our church, in the unsaved world!

Conclusion

Given that we mark time with the new year, the new decade, we know that we are living out our days on this earth. Regardless of whether we have made resolutions to change, because we hope to live our lives better to the greater glory of God, or even not so, the future is today, it is upon us like a wind chill!

As Paul noted in the letter to the Romans, will your hard and impenitent (‘unrepentant’ ) heart treasure up for you wrath at the day of wrath, revelation and judgment by the righteous God (Romans 2:5), that being the day when the Book of Life is read (Rev. 20:12-15)? Will you be allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out, and stolen away, by misunderstanding? If so, you need to be a student and have a teacher and get thee understanding!. Will you allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out and stolen away by not maturing a root to withstand tribulation or persecution? If so, then you need to pray to God to so fill your heart that you have the eagerness, the passion, to use, constantly, the word of righteousness, and so to discern good and evil, in your life. Will you allow the Word of God, and of His Righteousness, to be choked out and stolen away by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches? If so, then you need to confront the weakness of your flesh and the deceitfulness of Satan, and you need to mortify your flesh and its weaknesses, and you need to act in faith to command Satan to leave you!

It’s up to you. If you are not saved, today could be the day for your New Beginnings in Christ, for life eternal in love and power, by His Grace. If you are saved, the question remains for you as to what you will do with the word implanted by the Sower in your heart: will you be repentant unto true life changes, in the Hope that is in Christ Jesus, which does not disappoint, like King David, or will you give yourself over without apology to the weakness of the flesh, and the temptations and deceits of Satan, like King Saul?

Every day, David and Saul made choices. Neither was perfect. David’s heart was after God; Saul – even with his new heart – chose not to fill it up with obedience and repentance and the constant use of the word of righteousness, to be mature and a teacher, by word and example, of others.

Every day, you make choices. Will you follow the paths of righteousness for His Name Sake (Psalm 23:3), or like Saul, Romans 10:3, will you seek to justify yourself by your own righteousness?

Ask your self this question – II Corinthians 6:14 KJV, “What fellowship has righteousness to do with unrighteousness”? Then, you decide, for after all, it is a new year, a time of New Beginnings, and it is your life . . . . or is it your life?