Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Has Jesus Changed Your Heart

There are some in the church, even some who lead churches who believe that we can ignore many of the teachings of Jesus.  They believe Jesus said it, they believe the Bible to be the Word of God, but they think that much of his teachings are not applicable to Christians.  They make the argument that the New Covenant did not exist until Jesus died and so what Jesus taught was law.  I suppose then even the Sermon on the Mount has no application to the Christian life, that is if you buy that argument.   I suppose I do not have to forgive someone who sins against me.  I guess I do not have to love my enemy, either.  That is, of course, if that idea held any water whatsoever.  It doesn't, of course.  Let me begin with some Scripture to immediately dispel that false teaching.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'   Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV
There are some very important lessons in this short passage, but I am going to focus on two lessons.  The first lesson is that we are not saved by works.  These men did many works.  They preached, the prophesied (though probably not true prophesy), cast out demons (again, without the Spirit, I do not think they were authentic), and did many wonders.  Whether they were deceived into thinking they were doing genuine works or knowingly deceiving others, they were deceived into thinking they were saved by those works.  Nothing you can do for God can earn your way into Heaven.  We are not saved by works.

The second message is just as important.  We also learn that they were still sinners.  Jesus called them "you who practices lawlessness."  So we know that they were not saved by works and we know that they were identified as sinners, then we can conclude that they were never even saved to begin with.  It is interesting that Jesus did not refer to them as those who did not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Please also note that Jesus did not identify them as eschewing the grace of God.  All of these may be true, but Jesus chose to refer to them as sinners.  He pointed to their sin.  He pointed to their unchanged hearts.  The reason for that is that that when we are saved, we should not still be living in sin.  There should be a change in our lives.  We should be following the commands of Jesus. 
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. Matthew 7:24-27 NKJV
Jesus reveals the purpose of the illustration.  The purpose is that we should not be looking to what we are doing for God (really for ourselves), but we should look to see if Jesus has changed our hearts.  When someone is truly saved, that person should have a changed life.  It is not about doing things for God but a changed heart that can only come as a result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence.  To say that we can ignore the teachings of Jesus saying they have no application to our lives to to teach people to be foolish.  As I covered in many of my posts, a changed life is a sign of being saved.  I am not teaching that we have to change our lives in order to be saved, I am saying that being saved means a changed life. 

The same person will tell us that I am creating a situation that someone may constantly question their salvation.  I am not teaching that either, but the fact is that the Bible tells us to examine ourselves. 
Examine yourselves [as to] whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified.  2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV
The purpose of examining ourselves is to encourage us that we are saved, it is not meant to make us constantly doubt that we are saved.  However, if you are not saved, is it better to examine yourself in humility or go to Hell in pride?  We should examine our lives. We should see if we truly love Jesus, that is we are following His commands.  We should examine our faith, to ensure that it is in Jesus and Jesus alone that we have put our faith in.  We should examine the fruit of our lives to see if it is the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the flesh.  We are also called to examine ourselves before we partake of the Lord's supper.  Self examination is important in the life of a Christian.  

There is one other passage I want to share that really brings home the message of a changed life being the result of being saved.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NKJV
This verse clearly states that a Christian should have a changed life.  We were some or all of those things, and even if not one of those, we were some kind of a sinner.  We came to Jesus and we were washed from those sins.  Some like to end there, saying that our sins are forgiven and life goes on.  Jesus tells us like he told the adulterous woman, to go and sin no more.  We were not just washed, but we were sanctified.  That is we were changed.  We were freed from the life of sin that was our life before Jesus.  Sure we all still sin from time to time, but now we are conscious of it and we confess and repent those times that we do.  We are a new man, a new creation, we have a new heart, and we are filled with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  If you can say all of that is true yet not have any change in your life, then you are foolish. 

I think the mistake is that some people believe that any talk of accountability is talk of salvation by works.  They seem to have mental block, purposeful or otherwise, that refuses to consider the idea of all of those things being a result of salvation.  You see, when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He was not drawing a road map that one must follow to be saved nor was He setting up an impossible standard to draw people to His grace.  What Jesus was doing was painting a portrait of what the saved man should look like.  We love our enemy because we know that Jesus loved us while we were still His enemies.  We forgive others because we are forgiven.  We give to the poor because we know that what we do to the least of this world we do for Jesus.  We turn the other cheek because we know God did not take vengeance on us for what our sin did to His son.  We bless those who curse us because their salvation is more important than our vengeance or anger.  We do all that we do as a sign to the world of what God has done in us.  We leave our lives of sin because the blood of Jesus has freed us from slavery to our flesh.  We are the light and salt of the earth because that is what Jesus has made us by virtue of accepting Him as Lord and Savior. 

Finally, it is never about what we do for God, but about what God has done in us.  That is the purpose of the illustration that Jesus gave in Matthew.  Despite all of their great works, they still had the same sinful hearts.  There was no inward change because there was no Holy Spirit living inside their hearts.  Those tragically deceived people did so much for God but never took the time to examine if God was in their hearts.  I pray that none of us ever end up standing before Jesus thinking we are saved but learning that we are not.  Please, take the time now for self examination. 
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:1-4 NKJV

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hey Rick Warren, Christians and Muslims Do NOT Worship the Same God

Yesterday I read a very disturbing report regarding Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and known for his Purpose Drive series.  If anyone knows me, they know I disagree with Mr. Warren on many levels, but this seems way out of bounds even for him.  In his desire for some kind of world compromise, I mean peace, he is building a relationship with Islam.  He is denying that he has any interest in combining the two faiths into this new thing called Chrislam, but he is saying some very troubling things in his efforts to make friendships.  I am not saying we should be at war with Muslims.  Jesus died for them as much as He did for us and it is our responsibility to reach out to them with the Gospel.  The answer is not, however, to compromise our own faith or acknowledge any part of theirs as true in the process.  Specifically, Mr. Warren is saying that we worship the same God. I can not begin to say how untrue that is. 
Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, "Your name [is] Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name." So He called his name Israel. Also God said to him: "I [am] God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land."  Genesis 35:9-12 NKJV
This may seem like an odd verse to show that Rick Warren can not claim to be a Christian while also claiming to think that Islam worships the same God, but please bear with me.  What it comes to is Israel.  Islam lays claim to Jerusalem and Israel based on a mythical visit made by Mohammed to Jerusalem.  Islam claims that Jerusalem is a holy place that belongs to them.  This is what they claim their god says through their prophet.  Is that the same God as our God?  Did our God give Israel to the Muslims?  God have Israel to the descendents of Jacob (Islam claims to be defended through Ishmael).  So unless God changed His mind, they can not be the same God.  If Mr. Warren gives any credence to the argument that Israel does not belong to the Jews then rick Warren is saying that there is a chance that the Bible is wrong and the Qur'an is right. 

Another issue is that the Bible declares that the Jewish nation is God's chosen people. Islam claims that Muslims are God's chosen people.  There is no way to reconcile the two beliefs.  Once again, it comes down to how strongly you believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  If you believe it to be the Word of God, Islam can not have the same God as their god has chosen an entirely different people.  Furthermore, would the same God that we believe in tell Muslims to conquer Jewish people and either force them to convert, pay a tax, enslave them, or kill them?  Would our God ever endorse the command to kill all the Jews?  Would our God want Israel wiped off the face of the earth?  I would say not if the land was given to the descendents of Jacob for all time. 

Finally, and most importantly, there is the message of grace.  Allah is not a god of grace by any stretch of the imagination.  The Qur'an teaches that Allah actually tortures doomed souls in Hell.  Our God sent His only son to suffer a torturous death so that we do not have to go to Hell.  Allah is a god who must be perpetually pleased and even then there is never a guarantee that you will end up in paradise.  Our God sent His Holy Spirit to live in our hearts so that we can know that we have eternal life through His Son.  Allah is a god who expects his followers to kill all unbelievers.  Our God expects us to reach out to unbelievers in love to share with them the love of Jesus Christ.   It is an insult to God to say He is the same "god" worshiped by Muslims. 

I realize this is not an exhaustive lists and many great books have been written on the subject.  I think even from these simple principles that Muslims do not worship the same God as we worship.  They are nearly opposites of one another and they are absolutely incompatible.  To reach out with Muslims in such a way that upholds their faith is only allowing them to believe a lie that they have any hope of pleasing God without Jesus Christ.  I am not saying we should not be friends with our Muslim neighbors, we should reach out to them with the love of Jesus Christ.  Give them the hope that is in you to destroy the fear that lives inside them.  There is nothing in Islam that can lead to salvation and all that prayer and dedication will only take them to Hell.  Their faith rejects Jesus as nothing more than a misunderstood prophet, Jesus says something completely different.  Instead of upholding the lie they believe about their false God, share with them the truth about Jesus Christ. 
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6 NKJV

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Primer on Persecution

Last week, the death sentence for a pastor in Iran was upheld by their government and his death can happen anytime.  From what I read, it can happen now or be dragged in for a few more years, but unless there is a miracle, he will be put to death for his faith in Jesus Christ.  I wrote about this when his sentence was first handed down some time ago, but I think today is a good reminder as to what it is like to be a Christian in most of the world.  There is a verse that comes to mind.
This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."  John 21:19 NKJV
Jesus, as we know, was talking to Peter.  Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down, at his own request, because he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner of his Lord.  The phrase that really gets me in this verse is "by what death he would glorify God."  Think about that for a moment.  We often think of glorifying God by the work He does through us in life, and that is true.  It does not end there as we even glorify God in our death, even a horrible death.  This should be of no surprise to us as Jesus was our example and He glorified God by His death as well. 

This raises a question that I think is hard to for any of us to answer and that question is whether we are ready to glorify God not just with the lives we lead, but also in our death?  Perhaps this is a morbid question and perhaps it seems a bit far off that even think of such a thing, but that is only because we live where we live.  We never have to really consider giving our lives for the Lord.  We do not live in a place where a government either supports or even carries out death sentences for Christians.  We do not even live in a place where police look the other way when it does happen.  We live in relative peace and security when compared to the rest of the world.  We should appreciate that blessing.  We certainly did not plan to be born in America.  That happened only by the grace of God.  We also did not plan to have whatever Christian influences we have had in our lives to lead us to having that saving faith in Jesus Christ.  That is also by the grace of God.  We did not choose to live in the areas that we live where Christians can go to church in peace.  That, once again, is by the grace of God.  We all live in a relatively stable nation  that still has a large Christian influence so it is not something we need to consider for our future.  But should we?  Just as God has given us the gift of this great place to live, God can also change things on a dime and we can be left in a situation that much of the rest of the world lives in.  We can be attacked, we can be occupied, we can be subject to random terrorist attacks, or we can be consumed with "political correctness" where it literally becomes criminal to preach Jesus (as he is exclusive) or His idea of righteousness (that is counter to the culture of political correctness).  So today I want to raise the "what if" idea.  Are we all ready to suffer and die to glorify our Lord?

First of all, if we should ever find ourselves in that position, we should not be surprised.
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 1 John 3:13 NKJV
Despite Jesus telling us this would happen, the Bible takes an extra step to tell us to not be surprised.  God knew that people (especially ones as spoiled as we are) would be completely surprised that the world has turned against us.  I know we love our messages on abundance and prosperity, but the fact is that Jesus promised that our lot in life will be hate and persecution.  Just because that persecution happens to be light in our current time and place does not mean it will always be the case.  I imagine it will be quite a shock for many who are not prepared for such a thing to happen.  I know many believe that their lives will be nothing but sunshine and rainbows with overflowing buckets of gold around every corner, but that is not reality.  Jesus never promised that.  The fact is we should expect persecution.  Jesus did make that promise. 

When the persecution does happen, we should not worry. 
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute [you], delivering [you] up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle [it] in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put [some] of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  Luke 21:12-18 NKJV
There are two kinds of worry that can happen when suddenly faced when we are under persecution.  The first kind of worry is  about the persecution itself.  We worry what might come of it.  Will we lose friends, family, or money?  Will we be beaten and tortured?  Will the ones that we love suffer the same fate? Will we spend time in prison?  Will we be killed?  All of those are possible, but we are not to worry about them.  Jesus tells us here that we will be betrayed by those who are closest to us.  Jesus says that some may even be put to death.  Jesus says we will be hated and with hatred comes every kind of mistreatment imaginable.  Despite all of these, not a hair on our head will be lost.  Wait a minute, did not Jesus just say we may be put to death?  Once again, I feel a scripture is important to understand just what Jesus means.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Matthew 10:28 NKJV
Death is not something we should fear.  While it is true that we may lose our lives under some form of persecution, we will still be saved eternally.  We still have our salvation.  If we are not to fear death, we should not fear any of the lesser things such as imprisonment, isolation, humiliation, or pain.  None of these can take away the eternal reward that awaits us.  Do not worry about what may come of persecution, because the absolute worst that can happen to you is to be sent to the presence of our Lord.  That is how we can, like Peter, glorify God even in our death.  We can because we can hold on to the hope of the glory that awaits us.  No man can take that from you and the worst man can do is send you to it. 

The other kind of worry is when we worry about how we will respond to persecution. We worry if we will crack under the pressure.  We worry about what we will say to our persecutors.  We worry if we will be a good witness.  Jesus tells us to not even think of those things.  God will give us the words to speak should we ever be under persecution.  The reason why is that we will only mess things up.  We do not know the hearts of our oppressors. We do not know what words will plant seeds in their hearts.  Being human and in that situation, we will also be under tremendous temptation to act out in the flesh.  If they offend us, our natural reaction is to offend back.  If we are are hurt, our natural reaction would be to defend ourselves and strike back.  We must allow the Spirit to work through us to speak the words God has for whomever is persecuting us.  The best thing we can do to prepare for persecution is to just rest our hearts and trust that God will work through us. 

Finally, should persecution come into our lives, the response is not to grumble and complain, but rather the opposite.  When persecution does come, we should rejoice. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  James 1:2-3 NKJV

So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  Acts 5:41 NKJV
There are two reasons why we should rejoice.  The first reason is that God is going to use whatever you go through to increase your faith.  It is easy to become dejected when under persecution.  That is the natural reaction, that is, of the flesh.  However, we do not live under the flesh anymore, but we live in the spirit.  In that, we can take heart that God is allowing what we are going through not to destroy us, but to strengthen us.  James tells us to count it all joy, that is to consider it a joy.  That takes a deliberate step.  That takes actually ignoring the circumstances we are under and choosing to rejoice in that God is choosing to do a very special work in us.  If you want to draw nearer to Jesus, then suffer for His name.  There is a certain fellowship of suffering the Bible speaks of where we know we have a savior who was persecuted just as we are.  I know persecution is not fun, but we must know that no matter what we will be closer to the Lord when all is said and done.  We will be closer to Him in our lives should it end in this life or we will be rather literally closer to Him in His presence should the persecution take our lives. 

Secondly, we rejoice because we are counted worthy to suffer for the Lord.  The Apostles did not whine and complain after they suffered for their faith, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  Understand that if you are persecuted, God has allowed it to happen.  If God has allowed it to happen, He has a purpose that He is using you for at that time.  Persecution does not choose us, but God chooses to allow us to suffer persecution for His glory.  God has chosen you to be a testimony even under tremendous circumstances.  God has chosen you for a test He knows that He will strengthen you to pass.  Rejoice that God has chosen you for this special work.  Rejoice that God has chosen you for that special fellowship with Jesus for those who suffer for His name.  Rejoice for the blessing and reward that will come for suffering for the sake of the cross. 

I am going to say something that may sound a little crazy to many of you.  Persecution of the likes we have never even imagined may be coming into our lives.  Do not fear it, do not deny it, do not be surprised when it arrives, and do not fear it as you suffer through it.  However, rejoice.  Rejoice that our Lord is choosing us for a special work.  Rejoice that God is doing a work in our lives through it.  Rejoice in the fellowship with our Lord to comes from it.  And rejoice in the reward to come after it.  God did promise us persecution, but that promise comes with a glorious reward.   
Blessed [are] those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great [is] your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Common Misconception of Tehe Great Commission

One thing that really frustrates me is when people say that we should all just focus on sharing the Gospel and nothing about repentance.  Do not get me wrong, we should preach the Gospel always with words and with our lives.  The idea, though, that we should only share Jesus saves with no mention of Jesus changing our lives and with no mention on righteous living in Christ not only denies most of the New Testament example on teaching but it also denies the Great Commission.  Let's review the Great Commission.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age." Amen.  Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV
Many people mistake the Great Commission as just a call to preach the gospel to all the world.  While that is a part of it, that is by no means all of it.  The call is to make disciples of all the world and Jesus tells us we accomplish that by teaching them to observe all the things that Jesus commanded the apostles.  In other words, we are not just making converts, but we are raising up mature men and women of Christ.  The Gospel is their salvation, their Baptism is their symbolic death to the world and coming alive again in Christ, and then the rest is teaching them how to be a Christian.  Far too many are stuck on step 1 and rely on whatever church they end up going to for step 2.  If we were called to make converts of all the nations, this would not be a big deal.  However, we are called to make disciples of all the nations.  If we reject raising up those we reach for Christ, we are only making aimless converts many of whom will go back to the world. 

I can understand why people reject step 3.  Step 3 is hard.  It is about obedience.  It is about repentance.  It is about giving up those things we hold onto but really shouldn't.  It is about changing our own lives to be a witness to others.  It is one thing to teach someone about living righteously in Jesus Christ, it is another thing to do it as an example.  Step 3 means commitment to Christ not just for your own sake but for the sake of others you are raising up.  It is hard to teach obedience to others when we either do no believe we need to be obedient ourselves or that we know we should but just do not want to.  There is no way around it, though.  Part of being a Christian is putting away our former conduct and living to emulate our Lord who saved us.  It is a rather incomplete and wrong view of the gospel to believe otherwise.  Being a Christian is not just accepting Jesus and then going on with your life just as before.  Being a Christian means a transformed life. 

Whether it be a personal desire to not give up our sins, laziness, or even well-intended but misguided notions of making as many converts as possible with no concern for what kind of Christian you are making, we have gone off the rails of the Great Commission.  If we look at the example of Paul (and the Bible tells us to look at the example of Paul), we see that he preached the Gospel and planted churches, but he did not stop there.  He discipled those churches through epistles, follow-up visits, and sending others to those churches.  He did not just make converts, but disciples and we must do the same.  Our failure to follow in that example has brought us to where we are today.  I think that it is not that so many of us have no interest in discipleship, it is just that very few of us were actually discipled.  If we were never discipled ourselves, we will not know the importance of discipling others that we reach for Christ.  I do hope we can change course, otherwise that time known as the Great Apostasy might just be right around the corner.

Teaching others the love of Jesus is a beautiful message.  Not only is it a beautiful message, but it is also an essential message.  There is no greater thing in my life then knowing Jesus loves me and loves me enough to have suffered and died for my sins so that I do not have to.  We can never stop teaching people that glorious message.  But there comes a point in time when we start to love Jesus back and that is where discipleship comes in.  Discipleship is not about teaching people how to get Jesus to love them, but teaching people how to love Jesus back.  And how do we love Him back?  Jesus sums it up in just a few words.
"If you love Me, keep My commandments. " John 14:15 NKJV