Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And The Verdict Is...

"...bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." - John 15:8

There is one trial that every man must face, no matter how sinful or righteous he may be. It is a trial that is inescapable. No no, I am not talking about judgment before God. We all, one day soon, will stand before God and be justified or justly punished by our life on this earth. This isn't the trial I have in mind. That is a trial that is to come. The one I speak of is a trial that is presently going on daily.

How does one conclude that another is guilty of a crime? The best fighting chance anyone has of proving anything is through evidence. And good evidence at that. A prosecutor must present exceptional and indisputable evidence to convict a murderer. They must gather such things as finger prints, DNA, witnesses, etc. Whether we as believers know it or not, we too are being constantly examined for a "crime" we may have committed. What's the crime, you ask? The crime of true discipleship. Is there enough evidence for one to convict you of being a Christian?

Evidences of True Discipleship
  1. The defendant knows that in himself, he is nothing, but through faith in Christ and grace from God, he is declared righteous in the eyes of God. "God who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus..." - 2 Tim. 1:9
  2. The defendant loves God and obeys His commands. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." - John 14:15
  3. Love is overflowing from the heart of the defendant. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love, abides in death." - 1 John 3:14
  4. Fruits of the Spirit are evident in the defendant's life. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." - Gal.5:22-23
  5. The defendant is and aims to be pure as Christ is pure. "And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure." - 1 John 3:3
  6. The light of Jesus Christ is illuminated in the defendant. - "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matt. 5:16
  7. Lastly, the defendant is persecuted for the sake of Christ but does not retaliate nor hold ill will towards their persecutors, but rather rejoices in the opportunity for suffering for the sake of Christ. "A servant is no greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you." - John 15"20; "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces...hope.."- Rom. 5:3-5

As you measure yourself up to the overwhelming evidence of a true disciple, how do you stand? If a stranger was to watch you for a day, will there be enough evidence for you to be found guilty or not guilty of true discipleship? Whatever the verdict may be, I'll reiterate Christ's warning: "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit." - Luke 6:43-44. What does your tree say about you? Are your guilty? I realize this may seem far-fetched, but examination of faith is made daily against us even when we don't know it.

The world is watching friends, what is their verdict for you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Am the Great Outlaw

So, my best friend recently gave me a book to read called Faces About the Cross by Clovis G. Chappell. I'm not terribly far in it yet but it's been a wonderful read so far. Chappell takes the stories of minor characters that played a role during the crucifixion and gives insight on each one individually. Yesterday I read the chapter entitled The Great Outlaw and if ever there was a time where I saw myself, my true self, it was there.

As we all very well know, Christ did not die alone, but was crucified alongside two others. Two robbers specifically. Both were filthy criminals absolutely deserving the punishment handed to them. Both men were in the same situation, heard the same crowd, observed the same Man, but came away with two entirely different attitudes toward that Man.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews.” - Luke 23:32-38

Let us picture ourselves there. We join the crowd and march with them toward Calvary to view the execution of three men. We watch as they march up the hill with their dreaded crosses hoisted upon their backs. When they finally make it to their doomed destination, they must lay down their cross, lie upon it, and be horrifically tattooed to it by nails. Can't you hear the shrieking cries of the men? Their oaths and curses thunder over the sounds of the crowd. One, however, does not curse but rather, He...prays. And it isn't that He is praying for relief like the other two. Rather, He is praying for the very ones who crucified Him!

We can assume that both men heard this prayer. However, they're two different responses to such humility. While one abandons the same humility, the other mirrors it beautifully.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” Can't you just hear the pseudo meekness and blatant pride found in this declaration? Yes, this man seeks for the right One to receive salvation. Only, he does not seek it because he sees his own sin. Rather, he feels the pangs of death and is seeking a way of escape. He doesn't desire to change his soul, he only desires to save it. He has become the very picture of Matt. 16:25, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Oh but the other outlaw, that great outlaw, let us observe his own reaction. But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” And He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” While in the same exact boat as the other, he doesn't join in his taunts, but rebukes them! This outlaw sees his sin, his wretched filthiness is uncovered drastically in contrast to the bright purity of the Man on side of him. He knows that he has deserved death, and one much worse than that which was given to him. But instead of joining the crowd and the other robber, he truly sees Christ as He is, sees himself as he is, and makes the most humble request. "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Notice, he does not ask to join Jesus. He seems to feel, as Chappell writes, "that a single thought on his part will suffice him for time and eternity."

And how does Jesus reply to his humble prayer? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Even though this man didn't ask for salvation from the consequences of his sin, even though he only asks for sheer remembrance, Christ, as He always does, gives us more than we ask and promises this great outlaw eternal life! And friend, Christ has promised us the same. Only, first we must do just as the outlaw does, see Christ as the perfect Lamb and sacrifice, observe our own destitute state apart from that sacrifice, and ask. That's it, just ask. Christ has promised that,"...everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."

We're right on side of Him. We all are receiving one of the most inhuman and painful deaths ever known by man. We deserve to be where we are. We're completely lost of hope and in need of someone. We must realize that that someone is the very One who hangs before us. When we see Him there, we look back and surprisingly see that we do not look at Him from the side anymore. Now we look up toward Him because we are no longer there with Him. He has taken our place and suffered death so that we may live. Though we are all outlaws deserving death, we are given a choice. We can either be the petty outlaw who seeks to save his own life but will only end up losing it in the end, or we can be the great outlaw who loses his life in the hope of rising again with His King. Which outlaw will you choose to be?

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Asymptomatic Fight for Perfection

"But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy..." 1 Peter 1:15

I love school. I love to learn and frankly, I'm good at it. Usually, I stay awake for each class but two classes, and only two, sometimes lose my attention and naturally, I begin to drift further and further away from consciousness. These two classes would be algebra and chemistry. Today, however, algebra managed to capture my attention and actually teach me something about my relationship with God. Funny how things work like that huh? Well, I learned about exponential growth and decay (can't you imagine me just snoring right about now...) and something called the asymptote. For those of you who haven't been in an algebra class ever or lately, the asymptote is basically a straight line continually approaching but never meeting a curve. So what does this possibly have to do with the Christian life?? Well my friend, it defines it completely!

Peter tells us that God expects us to be holy just as He is holy. Holiness is perfection, something that, through this admonition, we are expected to strive for. Our Christian life is a line that keeps rising, if we're doing what we're supposed to do, but never quite make it to where we hope to. Let's face it, we're only human, we'll never be perfect. Anyone who thinks they will ever be perfect have embarked on an impossible journey that will only result in failure. Doesn't John tell us, "If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us"? We can never and will never reach the perfection that God has required of us. We are simply asymptomatic creatures, striving for something we'll never attain.

Unlike the asymptote, we have hope of reaching our destination. No, not through ourselves, but through the perfect life and righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Because He lived a perfect life, and because we trust in His redemption, His righteousness is imputed to us and God deems us as holy and just in His sight. Is that not the greatest news ever heard? The God who demands perfection has shown grace enough to provide a way for imperfect humans to reach what He has demanded, through the life and death of His Son.

The asymptomatic line will never cross the x-axis but will only grow closer and closer for all infinity. We will never cross the bar of perfection but through growth in Christ, we will grow nearer. However, this is not a task that should evoke feelings of anger and frustration. We have already been declared holy in the eyes of God. Only, this is not an excuse to not strive to please God through our holiness. "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" No, rather, let us contend for holiness. Sure, we'll never be perfect, but praise God Almighty that such an endeavor is not left up to us but is instead wrapped up in the glorious and holy life of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what I call amazing grace.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Downfall Begins With Doubting

Being in doubt is perhaps one of the lowest points a Christian can ever find him or herself. Because our very life depends on the faith we've submitted to Jesus Christ, when we begin to doubt that faith, we begin a spiraling journey downward. It seems that when all is quiet, when everything is at a standstill, perhaps while trying to fall asleep, we find ourselves deep in thought. Everything we've attempted to escape comes rushing back to the frontal part of our brains and we are far too frightened to fall asleep. For one who's very being is dependent on faith, it's a frightening situation when our faith runs thin.

Why does this doubt strike so often for some? Personally, it feels to me that I'm constantly in doubt. In my case, I just happen to be a terribly analytical and doubting person, two characteristics that I think Christians should try not to fall prey to. I question people's intentions and analyze their actions and words to absolute scrutiny. I do the same to my faith in Christ. I doubt and doubt and analyze to a T whether I ever truly came to Christ. Its a wonder how anyone who is like myself can ever get any sleep at night! However, I've found some reasons as to why doubting can strike us so often.
  1. Unrepentant sin in our hearts may be hindering us from true communion with God. If sin is blocking my communion with God, my doubt seems to flair as my faith begins to fall.
  2. Lack of prayer, which is another form of communion with God, hinders that relationship. When prayer life is neglected, we loose connection with God. Just like in any relationship, it cannot stand if there is no communication between the two parties. If my prayer life is dwindled, so my faith will be also.
  3. Lack of time spent in God's Word can also hinder our relationship with God. We can't have a lasting relationship with anyone if we don't know who they are.
There could be many more reasons why doubt arises in our hearts but these have been the three most common reasons in myself. To be low, to be really low, practically turning away from faith, it's a tough place to be. It's a dark place to be. For one, there's no joy at all. Time spent with God isn't enjoyable, time spent with fellow Christians is brutal, it simply is just the worse time for a follower of Christ. Only once, thank God, I have been this low and I can honestly say that it was the worst time of my life. Going to church was a drag, I hated it because all it did was further show me how outside of God's family I had become. What had plagued me so drastically?

James 1:6 says, " ...for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." In doubt, we may as well be a ship out at sea without a sail, able to be tossed to and fro. Doubting is dangerous and destructive to the Christian. Paul even tells us in Romans 14:23 that not only is it harmful, but it is sin. But what can we do to pull ourselves out of such a hole? First, we must realize that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing. Jesus promises us that with God, all things are possible, only, we must not depend on our own understanding but rather trust in the Lord, have faith in Him. No doubting, not questioning, simply having faith in the Lord. Secondly, we must talk to ourselves, yes, even if it makes us seem crazy. We must remind ourselves of the promises of God. But how do we know His promises if we don't spend time in His word?
  1. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out." - John 6:37 - Be assured that if we come to Christ, He will never send us away.
  2. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." - Rom. 10:13 - If we genuinely come to Him for salvation, He will save us.
  3. "Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" - Rom. 5:1 - We are promised of peace and salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ.
  4. "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.." - Eph. 1:13 - Believing in Christ, our salvation is sealed and can never be taken away from us.
  5. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." - Is. 40:8 - simply knowing God's promises is great, but the promise that His word is faithful and eternal reassures us of every promise bestowed upon us through our faith in Christ our Lord.
Doubting happens, faith is hard. The very fact that we cannot see what we believe is tough but this is the essence of faith. God designed salvation this way and we must be content with what He has graciously given us. His promises are endless and eternal. Turn away from doubt and return to joy in Christ. Everything may wither and fall away, but know that God has promised that His words will endure forever.