Human Effort

Everything Depends on God's Mercy


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What Kind of Christian are You?

what

An interesting idea passed through my reading list this week. The comment was that each person, denomination, tradition, or opinion sees God and scripture in their own image. The challenge the person put forth is that everyone reads into the scripture their own “interpretation” and there is no actual single Christian view of things. While true that different Christian traditions might form church government and worship services differently. And some traditions may disagree on some minor aspects of what is most important. What is not true is that a right “interpretation” of scripture is impossible to know. The reality is that most misunderstandings are basically ignorance because so few people spend time reading with their heart open to hear from God. Other wrong “interpretations” are based on purposeful manipulation out of a desire for something other than God. Jesus assumed that his teachings would be remembered and understood by those that followed him and Jesus is never wrong so we can know exactly what is true.

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26 ESV

And this is where the church comes in. If the leadership and those teaching are following Christ (not their own selfish ambitions) then they can guide parishioners on how to read and understand what Jesus taught.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 ESV

Christianity also uniquely has the source text in Greek and Hebrew that any lay person can learn to read if they are so inclined. Even that is not necessary because of access to modern translations of nearly original letters. The apostles encouraged the churches to search these texts to confirm what they taught was true.

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:10-11 ESV

God is true and so all his words, actions, and calls in our life must be consistent with Himself. The Bible is that consistency given to humankind. God will never ask something of someone that a) he was has not already done himself and b) is contrary to his very nature. Scripture then is a baseline that even the greatest Christian teacher must work from. One well known Bible teacher once wrote that followers of Christ must teach and believe what the Bible states as true not what we want the Bible to say is true. I may not like or understand everything but that does not diminish God that only proves my lack of understanding in all things. God has the entire picture and he has proven himself trustworthy.

The last Chapter of Hebrews is the closing of the letter and the author runs through a liturgy of sorts that when lived out mark a Christian in this world. What kind of Christian are you? If you can’t say yes to everything in this list then you may want to reevaluate what kind of Christian you have been.

Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Christians must not be self-seeking but be servants to those in need. Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you ready to show hospitality to strangers in need? Do you remember and pray for Christians in prison or those mistreated because they are Christian? This is the type of person that Jesus has called you to be.

4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Hebrews 13:4 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God did not create man and woman to be sexually promiscuous. He created man and woman to love each other and to honor the marriage bed. If you are living with someone outside of marriage, if you are having an affair, if you are a consumer of porn or lustful images of any kind, or you believe that whatever your preferences are regarding sex are more important than God’s perfect standards then you are not living the life that Jesus has called you to live. Make this right with God there is no other way.

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:5-6; 16 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God never promises to make men rich. God does however promise that he will provide our daily bread. Do not fear living with limited money. The Lord is our helper and His resources are endless. If you do have anything be ready to share sacrificially because this pleases God. The type of person that Jesus called you to be is the person who is not in love with money and stuff.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:7-9; 17 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: God has called each Christian to serve and live within a Church that honors His word. Submit to the leaders of this church and look to their example to imitate. Confirm their example by finding it written about in the Bible. The leadership in your church has been given to you by God and they are accountable to God if they teach what is not true. Do not complain about the Church leadership but make their job a joy (remember they are only men and women like yourself). If you are not in a church or if you are not attending a physical church with real relationships then you are not following the desires of Christ. Jesus is a relational Creator and he never desires for his followers to operate in isolation.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18 ESV

I agree in the Affirmative: Followers of Christ act honorably in ALL things. These standards of God are not negotiable. He has saved us and he has died in our stead so we can live. Do you love Jesus, then in obedience set your dead self aside and find life that can only come from Christ.

What kind of Christian are you? If you are not answering affirmatively to the above with a desire to live it out real time then the answer to the question of what kind of Christian are you is either not at all or not much of one. Harsh I know. Sometimes the truth hurts but God has plainly laid out his standards even the parts we may not like.


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The Hard Work of Discipline

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Discipline is a word that brings up the concept of short term pain for long term gain. No pain; no gain the adage goes. Discipline also brings up the idea of how to correct unruly behavior in children. To spank or not to spank? Spare the rod spoil the child. While these two views of discipline are similar they are not the same. And in our relationship with Christ both have implications. The Bible speaks of discipline a great deal. In modern translations like NIV or ESV one can find the word from 40 to 50 times. But in an older translation like the King James version it is only used once. The King James translation liked the word “chasten”. Whatever changes have occurred to the English language over time the idea of discipline has not become any less important.

Discipline #1: The engagement of the believer in Christ to organize life in such a way that the relationship and service to God is more effective.

Living a life that puts Christ and His priorities first is not easy. There are varying degrees of success in this endeavor. Some people have lived amazing miraculous lives that are examples to us all. Some have been called saints and some have died unknown and forgotten to all but God. But others seem to barely understand the Christ that saved them. Their lives seem undistinguished from the rest of the world. What separates these two extremes is discipline in Christ. Those who show Christ have lives marked by life of discipline that maximizes praying, reading, loving, serving, and sharing God with the world. They became intentional as some level and through discipline bent their desires to be subject to Christ. The power of this relationship becomes accelerated through the discipline and self-denial of one who is seeking Christ first.

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV

The author of Hebrews states that in the moment discipline seems painful. The King James translation uses the word “chasten” which means a moderating and restraining effect. This kind of discipline is talking about how adults correct mistakes in their life and how they learn to curb the passions of life. Fasting is not fun. Serving others is a chore. Denying a life of hedonism does not seem all that wonderful to those who are young. But later on, from the other side of chasing Christ is a peace and comfort of a life lived as God intended.

Discipline #2: The act of a perfect Father correcting a child and training a child for the future.

God is no passive Creator that is only now watching his creation evolve. God became a man and died on a cross to reconcile people to Himself. God is actively involved in the life of every single person. For those whom God calls son or daughter he will correct and discipline. God has not left his children without a way or without his love.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Revelation 3:19 ESV

The loving correction of a Father may produce tears in the child but this kind of correction sets a child on a path to a life well lived. God’s correction will set one to life eternal. God’s correction will draw one closer and will allow one to respect Him and His plans for life more. It is no accident that listed along with the types of sin that will destroy a man are those that are disobedient to their parents.

29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 ESV

If honoring parents made it into the 10 Commandments how much more so is the obedience of submitting to a heavenly father’s correction and discipline.

These two forms of discipline are vital. First is the loving correction of God to remove and cutout sinful behavior and second the effort and restraint where we choose to organize our lives around prayer, church, fasting, and serving to know him better. Together these disciplines done through Christ will draw us nearer to the prize of life in eternity.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV


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And now for the Payoff

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I watched a military leader of some stripe promoting a new book he had written called Make Your Bed and he had written it as a wisdom book about being successful in life. His wisdom being that making the bed first thing starts the day in the right direction. This act establishes discipline and therefore allows more accomplishment as the day moves on. Very sound wisdom… Maybe my life could be more successful if I become more disciplined? Success and being successful is a huge motivator for most people and that raises some questions for me on what it is we expect from this life.

A large percentage of people might agree with the following statement… “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” This is the heart of much advertising especially around sports. The problem is how many people start a work and never see it realized? How many have died before seeing their children grow? How many have been taken advantage of and lost everything they ever saved? How many refugees are forced to move because of war leaving behind everything including family? A wise man once complained of how evil it is that a stranger might enjoy the work of someone else’s toil and savvy.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 ESV

What are you committed to right now? A sport? A way to become famous? What if you fail? What if all the work does not pay off? Is the work still worth it? If all that you have is taken by a government or lost in war is the life still worth living? These are questions that many people the world over have had to not only ponder but live out.

While coming up short on some major desire or plan for life might be a “grievous evil” what about the person who abandon’s everything to follow God’s call and God’s promise but never sees it fulfilled? In Hebrews, the chapter on faith, the author points out this problem that many of the Old Testament believers experienced first hand.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 ESV

God called them to live an unusual life, many times not a pleasant life, and showed them a future promise that they would not live to experience. Dear Reader would you tolerate such a situation? These men and women not only tolerated such a seeming disappointment they are commended for their faith and trust in God’s bigger picture. Note what it says they came to understand. That they were strangers and exiles on this earth and this life. They understood that this is not their home. Strive, work, make your bed, and be successful. However take stock in why and for what reason one desires success. In the statement “When I grow up and am done with this life I want all my arduous work and effort to payoff.” The real question is what is the payoff at the end of all that work and success?

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12 ESV

If the payoff is not God’s grace and the fellowship as a son or daughter through Christ in eternity then that successful life lived will be dedicated to an earth that is not home and will not last.


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Why did Jesus Need to Die?

death

Death is such an ugly business. Especially brutality and murder. Outside of the voyeuristic obsession moviegoers seem to have with death most people push the aging and sick off to the sides of society. Personally, to my good fortune and shame, I have never spent time in a hospice for those who are dying. Those that deal with death in these settings daily as a part of their job must have special insight into the moments between life and death. On one hand, I would like to experience and understand on the other I shudder at the emotional weight of such finality. When relatives, loved ones, and even pets die it is a heart wrenching emotion for those left to carry on. Even when the death is expected and drawn out the emotion of the situation can be overwhelming to even the most stoic of persons. I fall into that category. I do not want to deal with death unless necessary and even then, emotions must be held in check. Why would God allow such an unnatural evil to invade our space and our all too short of lives on this earth? The short answer is “grace and mercy” because of sin life is cutoff otherwise we would all be cursed to live forever in our sins not unlike some miserable vampire forever without purpose and without fellowship with our Creator. But why would God need Jesus to die to secure salvation for me? What does God need from Jesus? The author of Hebrews addresses this in an interesting way.  

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hebrews 9:16-17 ESV

The author is explaining to the Jews of his day that Jesus is a new covenant replacing the old covenant where priests sacrificed goats, bulls, and sheep to cover the sin of the peoples. No longer will those sacrifices be needed because their fulfillment was completed in the death of Jesus on the cross. But what is interesting is that he uses the contract of a will to describe the process. God could have just given us a room in his house, or given his creation a large sum of credit to fix the problem of sin. However, that credit and that place to stay would not make us whole it would only make us dependent. God wanted creation to be his children, sons and daughters, we were made to be family to the king. God resolved the issue by putting on the flesh of a man, becoming Jesus, and then being killed so that he could give the creation an inheritance of life, fellowship, and restoration of a curse removed. The only way to make us whole was his death so the will and inheritance could take effect.

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV

God loves his creation and as members of that creation he is calling us to an inheritance that only can be provided through Christ. When we stand at judgment will it be in our own sin or the perfect blood of Jesus?


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Mistakes were Made Fault is Found

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Why is this world so messed up? There are some truly evil things, people, and circumstances that make any caring person angry. Life is hard and many make bad choices that compound the difficulty of life. If God made everything then one can naturally look toward this Creator and ask the question. “Why!?” Why is life so hard, so short, and miserable for so many? Why can the evils around the world of people murdering other people continue? What God are you doing to fix the mess?

Mostly the answer to these questions is found in an understanding of the nature of the fall and curse brought on by man’s rebellion. Essentially this world is temporary and the imperfect nature of this world is a direct result of men choosing to live selfish lives. The Bible is the story of God’s personal intervention into His creation to draw people to himself. Personally, I have struggled to understand why God would need a “new” testament in His plans to restore the relationship with mankind. Did God make a mistake with the “old” testament?

6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. Hebrews 8:6 ESV

Obviously, the ministry of Christ is superior to the old testament laws and sacrifices. Why it is “enacted on better promises” I will leave for another discussion, however for now the question is was the old way a mistake. Did God make a mistake?

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:7 ESV

The author of Hebrews seems to indicate that yes, the Old Testament had a fault so God did make a mistake. His laws, prophets, and priests where not sufficient so he needed a do over. But that idea that the first covenant had a fault is not consistent with a God who is all knowing and perfect. God can’t make mistakes because if he did then he would cease to be God.

The mistake however was not on God’s part. In the same way that the evil of men and the nature of life on this world being cursed is not God’s fault so too is the fact that the Old Testament’s fault is not God’s mistake. The author of Hebrews clarifies where the fault falls…

8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. Hebrews 8:8-9 ESV

The mistake is on “them” the people when they did not continue following the perfect plans that God laid out. God who saved the people from slavery and provided for them a perfect religion and God to worship rejected him. They followed their own ways and chased after gods of stone and hedonism. The fault was the rejection by the people of the perfect religion and relationship with God.

God made no mistake. Through the law, God showed people why their relationship with Him is broken. The Old Testament proves that on our own we cannot and will not meet His perfect standards.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20 ESV

Jesus being “enacted on better promises” comes to earth. Jesus being God in the flesh completely fulfills the Old Testament covenant on our failed behalf. Jesus, who is God, lives a perfect life. The better promise that Jesus is founded on is his giving us credit for the perfect life he lived by imparting Jesus into our hearts. We will know who God is at our very core.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:10-12 ESV

My prayer: Father my hope is in you. My prayer is that you would place your law and your ways into the mind and heart of all people, men, women, and children that draw near to you. I pray that you would ready us all to draw near to you. Thank you Father for allowing us to know you, to fellowship with you, and for remembering our sins no more. In the name of Jesus, I pray.


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Jesus is not a Moral Teacher

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Jesus sometimes is brought into discussions and used by opposing sides of social, political, or religious factions to make a point about the cause that fuels the social, political, or religious dialog. Many religions that are not Christian would claim Jesus is a moral or prophetic person. Political groups like to claim the teaching of Jesus are aligned with their cause. And generally speaking people might argue what Jesus would have done in a certain situation.

The reality however is that most people do not fully grasp the nature and weight of his actions and teaching. In contemporary society Jesus is a good natured softie that just wants everyone to love and be a “can’t we all get along?” kind of guy. But the Jesus represented in the Biblical Gospel is actually a very intense person with the gravitas to demand attention just by his very nature. That charisma did not come from any kind of societal privilege. He was born poor, working class, and not part of any Roman Citizenship. Yet when he came onto the scene he immediately attracted followers of everyday people and made enemies at the top of the privileged elitist ladders.

The unknown author of Hebrews claims that Jesus is the “exact representation” or “imprint” of God. If God, Creator of the Universe, life, and time itself where to join the creation in the form of a person then this man Jesus is the “exact representation” of who that Creator would be.

3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:3 NIV

Dwell on that for a moment. God walking among men and women would look, act, and be just like Jesus because Jesus is God. Does it seem crazy to say Jesus is God in those terms? Don’t believe the claim of the Hebrew text then here are the words of Jesus.

7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:7-9 ESV

Jesus told the disciples in no uncertain terms that by seeing him and knowing him that the disciples had known and seen the very creator of everything God the Father. Jesus is telling the disciples and us today plainly that He is God. Think on that. They are conversing with God who is in their presence.

Now we can hate him and deny him but what we are not able to do is claim him as some important prophet or moral teacher. Unique to Christ is the claim of being God in the flesh. Moral teacher undermines who Jesus claims to be. A religious prophet is only a spokesman for God. So the quandary comes home quickly on how to deal with Jesus.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote that there are only three conclusions one may draw on Jesus. He is either Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God. Anyone before or after who claims to be god in those terms is simply a crazy person. Or if he claims to be god it is for some selfish manipulative motive to gain power and wealth. Neither of those options fit Jesus and very few people ever make a case against Jesus on those terms. The only other conclusion is that Jesus who claims to be God in the flesh is indeed God in the flesh. In fact right before telling the Disciples that he, Jesus, is God the Father he made an exclusive claim that salvation, relationship, and life can be found only in him.

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:5-7 ESV

How do you categorize Jesus? Is he Lord with the authority to say “I am the way”?