Boring Christianity? – Wordless Wednesday

2021-09-15 WW - Is It Boring Being a Christian

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Do I Have to Forgive . . . AGAIN!?

ForgivenessForgiveness, again?  How many times should I write about forgiveness?  Well, an apostle asked a similar question to Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)  So how many times should I write about it?  Well, how many times do we (meaning “I) need to be reminded of it!?

Forgiveness is a lot easier to talk or write about when the offender is me.  I want to be forgiven.  It is another story when I am the offended party.  Then it seems a lot harder to address this topic.  Like C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive . . . And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”

You see, forgiveness is much easier in the abstract of asking God to forgive our sins, when in reality we do not think we have that much of which to be forgiven.  We have many excuses to show we were not really so bad, and that God is actually pretty lucky to have someone so nice on His team, so humble that we even ask for forgiveness when we do not really need it.

But that is not really the issue of forgiveness.  When we have an excuse, we only need understanding, not forgiveness.  To forgive is to first suffer an offense and then stop blaming the offender even though he really is at fault.  Let’s look at the dictionary definitions:
• to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
• to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
• to grant pardon to (a person).
• to cease to feel resentment against (e.g. to forgive one’s enemies).
• to cancel an indebtedness or liability of (e.g. to forgive the interest owed on a loan).

To understand the potential offenses God may forgive if we ask Him to do so we just need to look at the Big Ten.  Not the athletes, but the Laws.  (Here we use the Hebrew list; as Matthew Sleeth pointed out, “They owned the real estate first.”)
I. Do not worship any other gods but Yahweh.
II. Do not make carved images to which you bow down and worship.The Ten Commandments Hebrew.jpg
III. Do not misuse Yahweh’s name.
IV. Honor the Sabbath by keeping a special day each week for spiritual development.
V. Make your parents proud of you.
VI. Do not murder (not the same word as “kill,” but that’s for another blog).
VII. Do not commit adultery.
VIII. Do not take what does not belong to you.
IX. Do not lie.
X. Do not crave a thing or person that belongs to someone else.

A lawyer once told me all the laws in all the books in all the world are simply a reflection of our inability to keep these basics.  And we do not just kind of stumble into disobedience of these laws like slipping on a threshold going into a room.  There is no excuse for breaking any of these, but all the volumes of all the law books all over the world reveal simply our attempts to make excuses.  “I did not really lie; it just depends on what your definition of “is” is.”

MoneyA man gave another a loan of several hundred dollars to be repaid in small increments over several months.  The first month the lender received a check in the mail.  The second check came in the third month, and thereafter nothing.  Going to a wise counselor, it was suggested he write a letter telling the debtor he was forgiven in Jesus’ name.  He and the counselor thought maybe the debtor would feel so guilty he would repay the rest.

But as the lender thought about it, he realized he could not accept payment even if the man offered now.  He reported to us as his friends that after he wrote the forgiveness letter the Holy Spirit convicted him that he really had not yet forgiven the debt, and was lying in the letter if he accepted the payment!  When the offer of repayment came up, which the lender had expected, he humbly told the debtor he would not accept the payments.  The debt had been forgiven!  Look back at the definitions of ‘forgive,’ and see if this was not true.

However, what we need to understand is that forgiveness is not only for the benefit of the offender who seems to need it.  Our debtor no longer owed the debt, true enough.  But our lender was under great stress about ‘his’ money until he grasped that he really could forgive the debt.  Once he came to understand the full nature of his forgiveness of the debt, he was the one set free.  He was no longer concerned with getting ‘his’ money back, because it was not ‘his’ anymore.

So let’s not make excuses.  Let’s ask for forgiveness.  Better yet, offer it when it is needed because the offender has no excuse.  Jesus made it clear that our acceptance of His forgiveness was contingent on our understanding of the nature of forgiveness which is only demonstrated when we forgive.  He even made it a caveat in His model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, in the same way that we have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Please forgive me when we visit this topic again next week. 😉

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” C.S.Lewis

 

“What have you heard lately?”

Gary has been a friend for several years, but about two years ago he went waaaay up in my esteem.  We were sitting over coffee and had talked about his small remodel project he was considering.  Out of the blue, he asked me, “Well, c.a., what have you heard from the Lord lately?  What’s He saying to you these days?”

Now there’s a mind-bender when you’re not expecting one!  I had blogged about Prayer, Love, The God Who Is There, the Bible, Jesus, and many other Christ-centered themes, but I did not expect to hear from God that particular day.  Like most of us I had settled into my routines and was living for God.  But most of the stuff on my “living for God” list was back to ancient teachings from when I was a kid; basically, a list of things I did not do.

Let’s see:
1. No beating up anybody, although I got very angry at that other driver and would have shot his tires if that would not get me arrested.
2. No swearing, although several unkind words were on my mind about that same driver.
3. No lying.  Actually this one is easy for me because if I lie, I will have to remember what I told someone.  I always tell the truth even when it is to my disadvantage.
4. No porn, although I thought for an awful long time about that girl in the mall with the short shorts and tank top.
5. No cheating on my taxes (okay, so my wife does our annual tribute to the IRS).Ten Commandments 2
6. No smoking; I have never even had a drag on a cigarette, but don’t think one goes to hell for this anyway.

And actually there was a list of things I did DO, but many of them were also part of the routine.  I attended meetings of believers regularly per Hebrews 10:25.  We gave faithfully to the reach of Jesus in the world through various organizations and participated in active missions whenever we traveled, even if the cover for the trip was academic or social.  I prayed fairly regularly for friends and family.  And both of these lists could go on.

But the thing that struck me with Gary’s question was the expectation that if I was living with a living God, Gary expected us to be in conversation!  It was shortly after this that I blogged on Practicing the Presence ().  His question awoke in me an awareness that most of the time I was not listening for Someone else’s voice, ePharisees.pngven as I blogged on Christ-honoring themes.  What a Pharisee I was turning back into!

Not everything about the Pharisees was bad.  Paul even listed off some of the good things his life as a Pharisee meant.  But then he said, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)  Even the good stuff of being a religious leader, even the zeal for godliness that came through obedience to the Law of Moses.

So now Gary’s question keeps ringing in my ears, even after two years, and I listen for that Voice more often.  Whether serving my home owners’ association, going out to dinner with friends, shopping at Walmart or Lowes, planning a trip to Arizona to see my brother or Miami to see former students, or dealing with issues with my K.C. family, I try to listen for a Voice, and when I listen I discover He is not silent.  I am not an expert at this, but I am growing and listening more than ever before.

When you gather with other believers this weekend, if you attend a church or small group, consider asking questions that will open their hearts and serve them.
Start with what Gary asked me,
1. “What has God been saying to you lately?”
Then ask two other questions (stolen from Crossway 😉 ):
2. What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
3. What is the worst thing that happened to you this week?

Lisrening.jpgBe prepared to take some time for the answers.  Be genuine in your desire to build up and encourage holiness, obedience and unfettered love among the disciples.  And listen for a Voice that will tell you how to live according to His word in love, faith and hope.  Like Francis Shaeffer said in his excellent book by this title, “He is there and He is not silent.”

What have you heard lately?

 

 

Love Me. That’s an Order!

Love Me Thats An OrderLove me. That’s an Order!  Imagine the reaction most dates would have to this!  “YOU are ORDERing me to LOVE you!?”  Probably may want to wait a few days to ask for a second date? emo laugh

Yet that is exactly what our God says to us in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Pretty sure of Himself, don’t you think?  Well, actually yes.  And it is that surety on which all our faith relies.

The only way a man (or woman) could tell another person, “You have to love me with all your heart,” is if he knew he was the very best that she could find.  But no man knows this for certain.  There could be someone out there living in Timbuktu who would be a better match, a better spouse, a better lover, friend, confidante, and soul mate than him.  Thus, it would be very foolhardy for any guy to give this kind of command to a woman (and vice versa).

So human love is usually based on mutual conditions.  An attraction is felt, usually to physical appearance, financial security, emotional support or some other benefit that the lover can receive, and the decision is made to love the one who is attractive in one way or another.  The whole concept of love to most Americans is a shallow attraction to benefits the lover can receive by loving his/her partner.

God’s love is far better than this.  He did not demand that we clean up our acts, get our lives in order, straighten out our finances, or even make our beds, before loving us unconditionally.  He loves when there is nothing we can do, add to or give in return.  We are totally and completely the beneficiaries of a love that is “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.”  He loves us so much that if there was anyone or anything better for us than Himself, He would not hesitate to send us to that one for love.  He would command, “Yahweh is one; love that other One with all your heart and with all your soul . . .”

There’s the catch.  There is simply no one better for us than The God Who Is There and He knows this.  In fact there is nothing He does not know. (See June 17, 2018.)  So when He commands us to love Him, it is not a selfish demand such as a man saying this to a woman would be making.  Even His command to love Him is based on His desire for what is good for us, and He knows He is simply the best there is.

Love Me Thats An Order 2We do not need to be afraid of His love.  This may seem redundant, but really it is not.  Though perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), too many have heard promises of love only to be disappointed when the lover failed or cheated or deceived.  When someone hears that God loves her, her heart may go back to previous promises of love, and say, “Not again.  He said he loved me and look what happened.”  Broken promises cover our lives like peanut shells on the floor of a Logan’s Steakhouse.

When we hear that God loves us, our natural suspicion is that there must be a catch.  Yeah, He “loves us” but only if we do nice things; only if we don’t cuss or lust or get mad.  “You don’t know me like I do, and if you did, YOU would not love me, so why would a God who you say DOES know everything about me?  EVERYTHING?  He even knows what I THINK!?  How could He love ME!?”

God Loves You This MuchVery simply because that is what He does.  He loves.  So much so that John said, “God IS love!” (1 John 4:8)  It is part of His very character and nature to look for who and what He can shower with love, and when He runs out of angels to love, He creates humans so that His love can have another outlet.  That is why you were born, so that He could love you.  That is why you are reading this blog, so that you can discover more of His love.  If you will risk letting Him love you and love Him in return, you will find that everything that has happened in your life will bear the marks of His love.  Even the terrible things that made you wonder at the time if there even was a God.  He will redeem, that is “repurchase,” those events and show that He was loving you even then.

But if you will not risk letting Him love you like that, you take the greater risk of not being loved at all, and of not loving at all.  C.S.Lewis, in The Four Loves, summed it up like this:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Allow the Holy Spirit to open your heart to a love that is almost unbelievable.  In fact, it would be unbelievable if not for the evidence of Jesus.  He loves as no other and look what happened to Him!  But loving us was worth it, because YOU are worth it.  So love Him in return.  That’s an order.