Tuesday, August 28, 2012

That’s it!

The question is, how do you live with unbelievers?
Unbelievers, that is, those who do not consider Jesus as Savior, come in all kinds: Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jains and more, plus agnostics, atheists, and some who just never had any religious exposure while they were growing up.
People who do not yet know the good news are beloved human beings whom Jesus was willing to die for. If they are that valuable to Him, we had better regard them as just that valuable. We are called to love them and help lead them into the Kingdom.
What unbelievers do not desire from us is unsolicited advice on how to behave in a Christian manner. What has often happened is that we Christians have brought out the elements of sanctification and tried to give them to, or force them upon, unbelievers. That is not what they need.  What unbelievers need first is that miracle, that extraordinary invasion by the Creator into a corrupt and broken world—the sacrifice of Himself for all, with the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. That is, they need salvation.
Believers should strive to be better conformed to the image of Christ, which is to be sanctified. Having such a goal and lifestyle is a good thing. But pushing it on the unbeliever in some vain hope that they’ll thank you and begin acting like a believer is not only ineffective, but it drives people away.

Jesus said people should know we are His followers because of the way we love each other.
And Paul said,

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with
 which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing
 with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
 peace.”(Ephesians 4:1-3, NKJV)

The way we often fail with unbelievers—or not-yet-believers—is that we get the “grow in holiness” before the “God forgives.”
It is easier to be self-righteous and condemning than it is to love people into the Kingdom. But the truth is, Jesus loved us into the Kingdom, and that is what He wants to do through us for those who don’t yet know of God’s love and forgiveness.

So back to the question, “how do we live with unbelievers?”
We love them, love them, love them.

That’s it!
We don’t share our religion. We don’t compete with other religions. We share this extraordinary gift from God, that while we were yet sinners, God loved us. Jesus died for us, so that the forgiveness of sin is free to us and others, though of great cost to the one who made us. This love, this sacrifice for us, this forgiveness, is available to anyone, anywhere on the planet, right now! All anyone has to do is say yes.

We live with unbelievers the same way we live with believers: We love them as Christ loved us.
In Him,
Pastor George

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Learn to Love Each Other

Jesus said,

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have
loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to
 the world that you are my disciples.”(John 13:34-35)

Christ’s command to us is about loving God and neighbor.

Loving you is hard work. Loving me is hard work. It’s not just mustering up warm feelings; the love of which Jesus speaks is my intentional action for your benefit, and your actions for my benefit.

And Jesus doesn’t say “Love each other when you feel like it.” Nor does He say “Love each other when you’re feeling good about each other” or “. . . when you’re not mad at each other.” He says love, and He means take action for that other person’s benefit. Do it even if you don’t feel like it, even if you don’t want to. Love is action for the other’s benefit: for their success, healing, renewal, redemption.  This is not a suggestion from Jesus; it is a command: Love one another.

Here’s how Apostle John describes it:

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone
 who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not
know God—for God is love.”

God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. The Father loved us and sent his Son as sacrifice to take away our sins. All who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.  We love each other as a result of his loving us first.

Jesus told us to love even our enemies, and pray for them! Jesus does not give me the “option” of hating my opponents. Whether they are brothers and sisters in Christ, or enemies, it is not permitted. If I claim Christ as Savior, I do not have that choice. After all, we were His enemies, and he loved us. Had He hated us, we would all be dead.

Read what Jesus said,

“You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be
acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil
and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too.”

So I challenge you to make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. If your heart is anything like mine, it struggles and fails to do this. But the simple fact that I struggle and fail to love as Jesus has told me to love, does not exempt me from His command.

Learn to love each other.

In Christ,

Pastor George

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why bother with sanctification?

So you have been rescued, saved!
And then what?
Does God simply ask us to live tidy lives and be polite?
Hardly! He invites us to join Him in the effort. He even offers us inner power and guidance in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
A simple definition of sanctification is “Learning to live and love as Jesus did.”
The very desire for sanctification and the power to work through it comes from God. It is powered by the Holy Spirit who lives in us from the moment we are saved.  It is not self-improvement. It is not self-affirmation, self-aggrandizement or self-realization. It is willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit—sovereign God living in us to help accomplish His loving purposes in us and through us here on earth.
Scripture tells us that when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit moves into us.
And Paul says:
“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NKJV)
There is training. There is struggle. There is exhaustion, and there is rest. And there is more struggle and work and even danger. But lives are at stake, and we have the enormous privilege of joining Jesus in the rescue—at His request and under His direction.
Are you willing to join in, behind enemy lines, where we are serving the King of Kings who has come to rescue His own?
Why bother with sanctification? Because Jesus tells us to, and because every other effort in life is tame beyond words.

In Christ,
Pastor George

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The two big goals

If one were to simplify the progression of the Christian life into three phases, we’ve just covered the first two: salvation and sanctification. But there’s one final part we’ve left out—and that’s glorification.

What happens after we die? Everyone has wondered that at one point or another. It’s one of the biggest questions of humanity. Every day, we’re confronted with global tragedy, and reminded that life can change—or end—far too quickly.

When you accept Christ’s salvation, your eternity with God starts right then and there. And upon death, you enter into your heavenly reward, as does everyone else who has accepted that salvation.

Do those rewards differ? That’s a tricky question. One cannot earn their salvation; at the same time, multiple passages discuss storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6, 10; Luke 14, 16). One of these discusses inviting the poor and disenfranchised to your banquets, rather than your typical invite list, for then “at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:14) Later, in chapter 16, Jesus is recorded as saying “I tell you, use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.”

Obviously, a reward is not stored up for those who use their worldly resources for themselves alone. However, as discussed in the distinction between salvation and sanctification, we know that good deeds do not equal going to heaven. Christ’s grace is sufficient.

So what about this difference? It’s like sanctification. You don’t seek to follow God to earn your salvation. It’s the journey that makes it worth it—something too precious to pass up. Likewise, you don’t turn to help your fellow man with one eye toward your reward (like the Pharisees praying on the street corner)—you do it out of the love that God has placed in your heart and the desire to follow Him on the grand adventure.

There are only two things you can possibly take to heaven with you—those treasures that the Lord has stored up for you in honor of faithful service, and the people that you have shared the good news with and invited into the Kingdom. In a world obsessed with power and possessions, reputation and resources, and anything we can grasp onto during our short sojourn on Earth, these two things should point as a compass in answer to the question of how we should live, and why.

In Christ,

Pastor George

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doubting, wailing, fighting—and loved regardless

What does the Christian life look like?

If salvation is the one and only essential, does that mean it’s just a free-for-all after that? Are there rules to follow, or standards to which we must measure up? Why be good when grace is free? Does following the rules cement your salvation?

Yes? No? Kind of? I’ll explain. It’s called sanctification.

Salvation is spiritual birth to a new life. It’s the beginning, the one true essential to the Christian life. Sanctification is living that life, a life in Christ, after this new birth. Though sanctification isn’t essential for salvation, it is essential for this new life in Christ. It’s all about living a rich, full, abundant, godly life, being harmonized with the will of God and being “conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29).

In short, sanctification is learning to live and love like Jesus—at least a life-long process. It matters because Jesus says it does. It isn’t essential to being saved, but it is vital to living faithfully after being saved. It is where we grow toward wholeness, authenticity, and wholehearted love.

Just to reiterate: salvation is entirely grace-based—through no efforts of our own. We’ll always mess up. And Christ has removed that condemnation, past, present, and future. He has removed the sins of the past; He will be faithful to remove the sins of the future.

So why stop? (“Shall I go on sinning so that grace may increase?”)

To echo Paul: By no means!

Why stop? Because we want–we need—to grow. Sanctification is how this new life becomes rich, character-building, filled with love, and nourished by Scripture and other believers while being empowered by the Holy Spirit, working to heal the world and to lead others to Him. It is full of high adventure and dismal failure.

It’s where we desire not to sin and sin anyway.

It’s where we get confused and then see clearly.

It’s where we stumble and fall, and are lifted up.

It’s where we doubt and wail and fight, and are loved anyway.

This is sanctification. Not salvation—nor is salvation dependent upon it. But it’s the grand adventure of love and growth in our Savior. This is the core of life and growth as a Christian. This is the great adventure.

It may not be what gets you your “get out of hell free” card...but who can resist such an opportunity, such a life, such a calling?

Not I.

In Christ,

Pastor George