Paying the Price

Discipleship, Faith, Hebrews 1 Comment »

Being a disciple of Jesus is costly.

Sometimes we pay financially. There are jobs Christians will not do. There are deals Christians won’t make, promotions they never get, strategies they can’t use.

Sometimes the cost of following Jesus is social. Sometimes a family will bail on a new Christian convert. You mention the Lord Jesus more than twice at a party and you might not be invited back. There are entertainment and pastimes disciples of Jesus won’t be a part of.

Sometimes it’s an intellectual or emotional price. It’s a whole lot more demanding mentally and emotionally figuring out how to love your enemies than it is trying to get even. Being different from the culture, always swimming upstream, takes a toll. the cross is the heaviest piece of furniture to move, and Christians are called to pick it up and carry it every day.

And Christians pay the price politically. There are appointments Christians will never be considered for. There are powers Christians refuse to use, lords they refuse to serve, and compromises they refuse to make.

Commitment to the faith carries a cost — we know that. But Christians are not always willing to pay that cost. The price can seem too high in some circumstances. Or maybe we just get tired of paying it every single day. Most of the time, though, what chips away at our confidence and erodes our strength is a loss of hope. We keep paying the price and making the sacrifices, but nothing changes. The problems don’t get fixed, the powers against us still seem to be in control, and none of the issues go away.

It’s a struggle.

We grow weary and lose heart. We get tired of serving other people. Tired of trying to keep the church going. Tired of being different and pointed at and whispered about. We get tired of trying not to sin, tired of reading the Bible, tired of praying. Tired of battling our own cravings and addictions. Christians grow weary of walking the walk.

And Christians who are tired and losing hope don’t usually do something dramatic. They don’t become atheists, they don’t join a witches coven, they don’t start suddenly rooting for the Red Sox. They just give up. They just quit.

The sermon in Hebrews is addressed to Christians on the verge of quitting. The preacher in Hebrews is concerned about people who stop coming to church. He’s worried about people who pour their lives into the collection plate but never receive the blessing. He’s concerned about people who have all the scars, but none of the hope.

I want to spend the rest of this week looking at some really encouraging words from Hebrews 12 that speak directly to those who are losing hope in the midst of terrible pains and hardship. Tomorrow, Hebrews 12:5-9, our suffering has meaning. Friday, Hebrews 12:10-11, the gain is worth the pain. And then Saturday, Hebrews 12:12-13, healing comes in the running.

In the meantime: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful people, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” ~Hebrews 12:2-3

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Holy Spirit No Comments »

Allow me to pick up where we left off yesterday and conclude this short conversation on holiness.

When you put on Christ in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified, everything becomes brand new. It’s panoramic. It’s all-inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. You’ve got new desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no room for other gods, no place for selfish behavior, no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness. Holiness has to be pushed into the room and dominate what I do and say and think. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

But, I can’t.

I find myself on a holiness roller coaster, some days great, some days awful, some weeks in tune with God and his will, some weeks or months living for my goals instead of his. I want to be holy, I want to live a pure life all the time. But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 sound scary: “He who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God.”

But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes the rest of the verse a word of divine grace: “…God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Being holy is powered by God’s Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit living inside each one of us that works in us to make us holy. The Spirit is given to us to root out the sin in our lives and lead us in this process of sanctification. Yes, we’re called to be holy; but, praise God, we’re also equipped to be holy! It IS possible, only by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in holiness. God is the one who makes it happen — not you, not me. God does it through his Son and by the power of his Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t merely provide the holy standard we’re to live by based on his character and holiness. He also provides us with the power and the resources to live that way.

I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Exodus 31
I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Leviticus 20
God in Christ makes us holy – Hebrews 2
Christ Jesus is our holiness – 1 Corinthians 1
We’re made holy through Jesus – Hebrews 10

The Christian life is not about working to become something you’re not; it’s about being what you already are. God’s Spirit is in us, working to sanctify us, working to make us holy — if we’ll just stop fighting it.

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to start loving each other and acting right. They already are. He acknowledges how well they’re doing in their walk with Christ. He just encourages them to do more. Take it further. Be so completely wrapped up in God’s claim on your life. Be so totally dependent on Jesus Christ for your salvation. Be so thoroughly led by the Spirit inside you to holiness and sanctification. Ride it, don’t fight it. It’s God’s will, let him do it.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. It’s what he wants to do. Let him do it.

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Life

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship No Comments »

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:7

Can we take Paul’s instructions regarding our sexuality and sexual expressions and apply them to every part of our lives? The way you handle your money? The way you deal with jobs and career? How you treat your parents? What you do when nobody’s watching? Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica to think about their sexual conduct, not as a separate part of their lives, but within the larger framework of their walk with Christ.

Everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to sleep — God claims all of it! His will is that all of it be holy. We don’t belong to ourselves. Every second, every square inch — we belong to the Holy Creator of the Universe. We need to change the way we look at things. It’s bigger than we think.

Christianity is not, “Hey, God does exist and he makes some demands on me through Jesus.” The Gospel is not a systematic approach to ethics, it’s not a rational understanding of morality. Jesus does not bring a new teaching or a new ethic or a new set of morals. He brings a brand new reality!

If anyone is in Christ: New Creation! Everything’s new. All of creation is brand new. Everything looks new. Everything’s re-interpreted. Jesus is not an add-on to the story; he IS the story! Jesus is not the missing piece to the puzzle; he IS the puzzle and the box it came in! And the card table and chairs and bag of chips and whatever else is in the room! That’s our reality. Our conduct is attached to how we see the world. We act according to our understanding of reality.

Think about what happened to your conduct the day you learned you were pregnant with your first child. Everything you know as reality shifted dramatically. And your priorities change. You spend money differently. You start saving money differently. The things you look at in the store are different. You’re checking consumer reports on baby strollers and car seats. There’s a baby coming! You’re painting your study or your workout room in warm pastels because you want the baby to feel welcomed. You’re buying little things to stick in the plugs and latches for the kitchen cabinets because you want the baby to be safe. Your wife starts eating differently and you can’t find Dr Pepper in the house anymore. The things you talk about and think about are different. Everything’s a little more serious. Your outlook on life becomes a little more big picture.

Why?

Most of this stuff had never occurred to you before. But now you’ve got a brand new reality. New creation. You’re seeing things you’ve never seen before. And your behavior changes to reflect it.

When you put on Christ Jesus in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified and like his, everything’s new. It’s panoramic. It’s all inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. New desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no place for selfish behavior. There’s no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness.

God’s claim on my life in Jesus has to be pushed into the room and dominate everything I do and say and think about. It has to. It must be at the very core of my being and the very reason for everything I do.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Sex

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Sin 6 Comments »

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Of the many ways that holiness or sanctification impacts us, Paul focuses on sex. Why? In this particular context, with this specific group of Christians, as far as the apostle is concerned, this is the definition of holiness: Avoid sexual immorality. Why?

Think with me about this first century Hellenistic society in Thessalonica. There’s no real connection between religion and morality. The culture was such that as long as you provided for your wife and you didn’t abuse her physically, it didn’t really matter who you had sex with. No big deal. In this culture, as long as nobody got hurt, anything goes — wherever, whenever, whoever. Culturally, socially, mistresses, concubines, even religiously. Consider what was happening down the street at First Aphrodite Church: Naked priestesses and temple prostitutes — pagan worship rituals were based on and drenched in sex.

Now these brand new Christians are meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica for songs and prayers, words of encouragement and a meal. And these new converts to Christ have no understanding of a right or wrong way to behave sexually. This was the main issue for Christians back then.

And it’s the main issue for Christians in the United States today.

We live in a completely sexualized culture. I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to point it out. It’s everywhere. And don’t think for a minute it’s not a problem in your church. In this country, three out of every four 4-year-olds has his or her own iPad or some kind of device with a search engine. We’re throwing our youngest into the line of fire and calling it good. In middle school, what they’re nonchalantly sharing with each other on Instagram and Snapchat is disturbing. The clothes we let our daughters wear — it’s a problem.

If the statistics are even close — recent surveys of church-going Christians in the U.S. — 77% of the men in your church are looking at pornography at least once a month. Thirty-five percent of the married men in your church have had an extra-marital sexual affair. Christians! Us! I’m not telling you this to point fingers, I’m telling you this so maybe we can get a better grip on the scope of the problem. We live in a hook-up culture where cohabitation before marriage and casual sex outside marriage are normal and we’re carrying easy and ready access to pornography in our pockets. That’s a problem.

How we behave sexually has everything to do with our Christianity. The two are very much connected. Paul shows us that “holy and honorable” are the opposite of “passionate lust.” He points out that “passionate lust” is self-centered and concerned only with my needs and my desires. “Holy and honorable” is concerned with what’s best for others.

Look at the contrast. The heathen don’t know God and they’re sexually immoral. They don’t control their bodies. If you do know God, you don’t act that way.

We know God. And that obligates us to honor him. With all of ourselves. With our bodies.

God’s will for us — to be holy, to be sanctified — is to enjoy sex only within the confines of holy marriage. Anything else — anyone else, anywhere else, anywhen else — is driven by passionate lust and self-seeking desires and it’s not holy.

But, look, my girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yeah, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex. We can’t wait that long. I’m a 21-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have sex before marriage or I have to go to porn. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you do have a choice! In the name of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit, you have lots of choices! How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created and saved for his holy purposes?

We don’t talk about sex anymore in church because our culture tells us it’s nobody’s business. Sex is personal and private. No! Wrong answer! Sex is not personal or private! Every single sexual thing you do impacts our families, impacts our community, impacts our relationships with God, and impacts his Church. Holy sexual conduct honors and glorifies God and our relationships with each other and our community and our families and the Church. Unholy sexual conduct dishonors all that. It wrongs our brothers and sisters and takes advantage of other people.

God did not call you and save you and come to live inside you so you could live an impure life. We are redeemed and called by our loving Creator to be holy.

Peace,

Allan

Win Them By Our Life

Discipleship, Evangelism No Comments »

“Let this, I say, be our way of overpowering them, and of conducting our warfare against them; and let us, before all words, astound them by our way of life. For this is the main battle, this is the unanswerable argument, the argument from actions. For though we give ten thousand precepts of philosophy in words, if we do not exhibit a life better than theirs, the gain is nothing. For it is not what is said that draws their attention, but their enquiry is, what we do. Let us win them therefore by our life.”

John Chrysostom
388 AD

Strong Christians

Church, Discipleship, Giving, Grace, Romans No Comments »

oneheartbaptism

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” ~Romans 15:1-3

As children of God and followers of his Christ, the Church takes its example from Jesus. The Son of God is the one who calls us to live with each other the way we do. We realize that Christ Jesus never once did a single thing to please himself. Instead, he gave up everything, he sacrificed everything, to benefit others. And by choosing to serve others instead of please himself, Jesus sets the pattern that we must accept as our own: Putting others first, considering the needs of others more important than our own, never about me, always about you.

And Paul puts it on the strong. It’s up to the strong Christians, not the weak, to make sure this happens in God’s Church. It’s on the strong to bear with the failings of the weak sister or brother. That’s hard. It’s on the strong to make the concessions to our weaker brothers and sisters and that’s not easy. It’s easier to be the weaker Christian, drawing the lines and insisting that everybody cater to me. It’s the strong, Paul says, who are able to grasp the truth that our love and mercy and grace to others is like Christ.

“But I can’t stop doing this certain thing; not for him.”
“I can’t give up practicing this particular thing; not for her.”
“I can’t sacrifice this behavior or this privilege or this freedom; not for them.”

You call yourself a follower of Christ? Jesus gave up everything! Jesus sacrificed it all for you and me, for all our brothers and sisters, for the strong and the weak! That’s what makes a strong Christian strong: a faith that comes to the realization that a lot of the things you care so much about are really not that important to God. You love your weaker brother so much, you care about your weaker sister so much, you’re willing to keep those things between you and the Lord and sacrificially carry the burdens of the weak. And the stronger your faith, the easier it becomes. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. You can do this.

Bottom line, here’s what separates the strong Christians from the weak Christians: Strong Christians with strong faith know that the more you sacrifice and the more you give up for others, the more like Christ you are. The more you insist on your own way, the more you assert yourself for your own interests, the less like Christ you are. Pretty simple.

So, what if all of us, to a person, decided that we would put ourselves at the back of the line? What if we all vowed to bend over backwards to make everybody else happy and sacrifice our own feelings and opinions in order to build up others? What if we all did that?

If we all accepted each other like Christ accepted us, if we all bore the failings of the weak just like Jesus does, it still wouldn’t result in a perfect Church. It wouldn’t eliminate our differences of opinion. It won’t do away with our arguments and debates. But it would mean figuring out how to live together in the Gospel. And we’ll know for sure that the Jesus who unites us is greater by far than the differences that may divide us. And our grace-filled conversations and our mercy-laden interactions with each other will reflect and strengthen that conviction.

Peace,

Allan