Getting Out of the Box with Christ

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. -John 3:16 (NRSV)

For some time now I have been attending an evangelical church nearby and have made friends with some of my fellow ‘parishioners’ along the way. A big part of the appeal was [and is] the emphasis placed on Bible teaching and the man (pastor) who does it. I find it refreshing and, at the same time, accurate (to the best of my researching capability). This particular church is somewhere between being fundamentalist and charismatic in its theology. They make an effort to avoid labels– another thing I find appealing in my journey with Jesus. Somehow, I don’t think He would be overly fond of labels, either.

I went from the Lutheran background of my childhood to a Pentecostal church, a Southern Baptist church and settled into an American Baptist Church for several years.  (There was also a sprinkling of others thrown in for good measure). I would say much of my “church life” has taken place in more mainstream (some might call them liberal) churches. Somewhere along the line (in my teens) I met Jesus as my Savior. (My best guess is during the summer of 1975). I believed in Him since childhood (because I was taught to) but didn’t have the type of personal relationship I have with Him now until many years had passed. I allowed my personal stuff (struggles) and the legalism I was subjected to in early life to influence me and retard my growth. I suppose some (who must use labels) would have called me a ‘carnal Christian.’

A few years back I attended my first “Purpose-Driven Life” program at the church I currently attend and was, to my surprise, taken back with a few simple facts: it’s not all about me; it’s all about God. I also learned to love that fact and acquire an even deeper appreciation for Him in the process. As I move along on my personal journey with Him, I have come to see more and more of how self-centered I can be and how much work there remains for me to do, even after passing the half-century mark of human existence a few years back. This is not said to allow Satan to beat me up and try to make me ineffective for Christ; if anything, it makes me a more effective witness for Him because he loves me despite all of my shortcomings!  I endeavor today to spend time in the Word and know Him better.

I suppose, from an evangelical standpoint, I might be considered somewhat liberal in my approach to certain theological matters and interpretation of the Bible. From a mainstream Protestant view, I might be considered somewhat conservative– perhaps even a tad fundamental, in my views of the Bible and what it teaches. So what do I believe? What are my views on things like inerrancy, heaven, hell, etc.?

Here it comes…

First and foremost, I acknowledge God as a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe Christ came to this earth as a man, was crucified and rose from the dead. In His death, He became the sacrifice for our sins and when we call upon Him as our Savior, He saves us. I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting for those who embrace Jesus as their Savior. I am not a universalist and acknowledge that people have the right to make their own choice and either receive Him or reject Him. I am also not a cessationist and believe that the gifts of the Spirit are available today. I am not what one would call a Pentecostal but am somewhat “charismatic” in my beliefs and worship. I suppose you could call me an ecumenical person, since I am happy to worship with people from a variety of Christian faith backgrounds and acknowledge that Christians are everywhere (the ‘invisible’ church). I believe that Catholics may be every bit as much ‘Christian’ as I am– provided that they acknowledge and love Jesus as their personal Savior and know they can’t “work their way into Heaven.” It’s all about His grace. I have no problem with women being preachers and teachers. I love to listen to Joyce Meyer and others like her who have an in-depth knowledge of Scripture and share it in practical, everyday ways. By the same token, I learn much from people like N.T. Wright, whose books I read with deep appreciation for his insight and agree with a great deal of his theology. I make an effort to avoid mean-spirited, overly judgmental Christians who put down their brothers and sisters in Christ, denouncing them for some theological differences they may have– differences which, at the end of the day, aren’t going to matter all that much. I avoid “KJV-onlyists” and similar folks like the plague. I fear that some of them spend more time worshiping a book than they do God. I have a problem with too much talk of hell. The Bible teaches of its existence, so I believe it.  Let’s call it a place of separation from God and leave it at that. I would much rather win people to Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit [and portrayal of God’s love] than try scaring them into some “confession of faith at gunpoint.” Some of our culture has adopted an almost ‘paganesque’ view of hell and take as literal depictions from Dante’s Inferno. When you come right down to it, while the Bible spends some time discussing hell, more time is devoted to the glory that awaits us. In regard to the Bible, it is God’s Word to us– as relevant today as it was when its pages were first recorded. Some parts of it are meant to be taken literally and others are more metaphoric in nature. The Holy Spirit will make its meaning clear to the believer who reads with that understanding in mind. Spend more time discovering its meaning, rather than just focusing on its words or individual sentences. It will enrich your life in ways unimagined. I read the Apocrypha and find much inspiration and knowledge contained within its pages. Some consider the books of the Apocrypha to be inspired (canonical) and others do not. To what degree they are accepted as canonical depends on the church. Catholics accept certain books and Anglicans and Orthodox revere still others. All I know is that I find much of value within them and am pleased to have them contained in my Bible for ready reference and encouragement. They have certainly inspired me from time to time. Find a translation that you are comfortable with and find engaging. I personally like the New Revised Standard Version. You may prefer something more conservative, like the New King James or English Standard Version. There are many wonderful translations out there. They will deliver to you the same message as the King James Version did to our forefathers who asked. They will tell you what you need to know about Jesus. There are one or two oddballs that I would avoid, but almost all are fine. (I suggest that you look for recommendations from your pastor or fellow church members).

Too often, I think we focus on the “world to come” and miss that which is right in front of us in the “here and now.” So many of us look forward to the resurrection– when we will live forever in a perfect place and disregard this world because we see it as evil or, at least, broken. I have come to realize that eternal life is not something which begins later, it is a process we are already committed to and involved in right now. It is in progress. Live in His kingdom right now.

To wrap this up, it’s all about Jesus. Love Jesus and do what He tells you to do: Love God and love others. Die in Christ and rise with Him. How can you go wrong?

Let me sum up my beliefs with the Apostle’s Creed:

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

11. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

An Untimely Death

Do not invite death by the error of your life,
or bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
-Wisdom 1:12-14 (NRSV)

I attend an evangelical church that recently lost one of its “members” (in quotes because there is no formal ‘membership role’ as in most churches) to a drug overdose. He was 43 years old and struggled with a heroin addiction for some time. Sadly, he wasted his life and witness for Christ– because he died after making the decision to use again. I cannot and will not spin it any other way.

There are those who say that God may have taken him before things got any worse for him or those around him, and that may be true. Someday, perhaps we will know the truth of it. Of course, it does not negate the fact that I am fairly confident that the abrupt end to his life by a drug overdose is not what God wanted. I do not wish to start speaking for God or pretending to know His will for everyone else’s life– when I am not even sure of what it is for me. I discover that for myself on a daily basis. But, from what I know of the Bible and through my walk with Christ, it doesn’t fit that he would be happy with this.

I am sad, deeply sad, that he seems to have “invited death by the error of his life.” I also know that God has the ability to redeem this situation and turn it to His good in some way that I may not find obvious. Perhaps our friend’s final witness will impact somebody who is heading down the wrong path and may take notice of the life and tragic death of our friend. Maybe his death will save someone else.

My friend’s name is Chris and now he resides with others in a realm awaiting that glorious day of resurrection. I look forward to our meeting again and pray that the remembrance of him and his life will contribute to this world in a positive way and bring glory to our Father in heaven. I must always remember that it is better to be dead with Christ than alive without Him.

Pure Religion

What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world. -James 1:27 (GNT)

Thank God we are saved by grace and not by our own works, as the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians. There are some legalistic Christians that disagree and try to impart some measure of works into the Gospel message of salvation. To do so, in my opinion, diminishes the finished work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection. However, religion certainly has its place in the believer’s life and daily walk with Jesus. The writer of James understood that.

It was not enough for me just to accept Jesus as my savior and leave it at that. I did just that for many years and wasted much time that should have been spent growing and being effective in the service of my Lord. While I regret that wasted time and the loss of happiness that I could have had much sooner, I am blessed to know that God is gracious and gives us more than one chance if we but repent and follow Him. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us will produce the practice of effective, fruitful religion.

My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!”—if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. -James 2:14-17 (GNT)

Where Does Wisdom Come From?

All wisdom is from the Lord,
and with him it remains forever.
The sand of the sea, the drops of rain,
and the days of eternity—who can count them?
The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth,
the abyss, and wisdom—who can search them out?
Wisdom was created before all other things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.
The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties—who knows them?
There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared,
seated upon his throne—the Lord.
It is he who created her;
he saw her and took her measure;
he poured her out upon all his works,
upon all the living according to his gift;
he lavished her upon those who love him.

-Sirach 1:1-10 (NRSV)

We live in an age of marvelous technological advances that seem to have ‘leap-frogged’ ahead in some ways. It is easy to be full of ourselves and, as a character from one of the Star Wars movies did, think we (like his fictional ‘Death Star’) have become the “ultimate power in the universe.” I chose to quote from the book of Sirach (a book of the Apocrypha also known as Ecclesiasticus in some circles) because the truth of where wisdom actually comes from is adequately stated here. May God bless you as you ponder the awesome, immeasurable wisdom that He freely gives us– if we but ask in faith.

Seeking Peace

For

“Those who desire life
    and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
    and their lips from speaking deceit;
11 let them turn away from evil and do good;
    let them seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

-1 Peter 3:10-12 (NRSV)

Recently, I attended a Saturday evening worship service at my church and ran into somebody I had not seen for a long time. A while back I made the decision to “unfriend” him on a social media site because he tended to post a lot of mean-spirited, violent stuff (along side his ‘Christian’ posts). I had my fill of it– not just from him but also someone else who was doing the same sort of thing. In my estimation, all that does is create strife and serves little or no useful purpose. (The “someone else” I eventually re-added because I really do sense a good heart in him and know he is plagued with ‘ghosts from the past.’) The older I get and [hopefully] more mature in my walk with Christ, the less room I wish to make in my life for conflict and strife. This individual I ran into showed me within a few minutes of conversation that he is the same as ever, chasing some elusive and imaginary  source of happiness that he can never quite catch– and feeling cheated and angry about it. He thrives on conflict and made it clear in a very real [and sick] way that he enjoys it. Such people disturb me by their actions and speech. This sort of thing can be a distraction from God and worth putting some effort into avoiding. There is enough of it in life that must be faced and dealt with on a daily basis without staying in a situation or environment that is toxic when you do not have to. Today I think my prayer focus should be on seeking peace.