Thursday, July 30, 2009

What must I do to be saved?

Our blogging group this week is tackling the question: What must I do to be saved? This is an important question, because it is a question that deals with not only our life here on earth, but also with what happens to us when we die. When Jesus was on this earth, he was asked that very same question. It's in the Bible, in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 19. A rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks him: What must I do have eternal life? They proceded to talk about keeping the law, living for God. The man thinks he's doing all the right things, and pridefully thinks that he's kept the law and thus is deserving of heaven.
But then Jesus shows the man how his thinking is off by telling the man that he then needs to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and then come and follow Jesus. What Jesus is saying to the man is that his riches and his pride and his position are keeping him from living the way God wants him to live; living for God. In the Bible, Jesus made it very clear, there is only ONE way to be saved, and that is by accepting Jesus as our Savior, believing that Jesus' death on the cross is what removes our sin, and allows us to be in a relationship with God. As Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ."
We think that the life we have is supposed to be about what we want. But this thinking is wrong, just like the thinking of the rich young ruler was wrong. We were created to be in relationship with God first, and then with others. We were created to give ourselves fully over to God, and let God lead us in a way to care for and help others. As Jesus summed it up: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself."
This is challenging, but it is life saving. For our life here on earth, and our life to come!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pray in the Spirit

In Ephesians 6:18 it says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” We read these words, and our tendency is to focus on the word pray. While this word is important, I think we need to focus on the phrase “in the Spirit.” What does it mean to pray in the Spirit?
Praying in the Spirit is about letting God's Spirit lead you to constant prayer. Often times we only pray when there is a crises, or when we have something specific to pray for. But we are called to "pray without ceasing," and this can only be accomplished when the Holy Spirit is directing us to pray. Second, praying in the Spirit is about praying with grace. We often bring judgment into our prayers. Instead we need to leave the judgment to God and simply pray with love and concern. In fact, Jesus did tell us to pray even for our enemies.
Third, praying in the Spirit is about learning how to let God’s words flow from us. This comes from knowing God deeply. The deeper we know God, the more we will know what God wants us to think, and wants us to say, and how God wants us to pray. For example, we may want to pray for healing for someone, but God may be using that sickness in the person's life to teach them to trust in Him, or for them to be an example to someone else who is sick. As we open ourselves up to God’s Spirit, God’s Spirit will help to lead us how to pray.
Lastly, we are to pray in the Spirit in all of our prayers, and all of our supplications. Even the simplest of prayers need to be offered through the guidance of the Spirit. This reminds us that God is concerned with even the minute aspects of our lives. To leave the Spirit out of any prayer will lead us to pray in our sinfulness and selfishness.
So let's try and incorporate this fuller aspect of prayer into our lives. If we do, we will pray with more power!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taking Up Your Cross

In the Bible we read about "taking up your cross." Literally it could mean carrying around a cross. But the phrase is not to be taken literally. We find this statement by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 34. In this chapter Jesus is trying to teach the people what it means to give of yourself. Jesus is trying to help them understand that He came to this earth for the purpose of giving His life so that all would be saved through Him.
As the disciples heard Jesus talking about having to be killed, Peter tried to tell Jesus this wasn't going to happen. In doing this, Peter was not able to see the eternal perspective. Peter was more concerned with having Jesus with them than trying to understand the powerful ramifications of Jesus dying on the cross. So Jesus seeks to go a step further and explain the concept of self-sacrifice.
As Jesus was going to give Himself on the cross, He teaches us that to really follow Jesus means that we must deny our selfishness, our self-indulgence, and give ourselves over to serving God through serving others. It is only in giving up our wants and seeking God that we can ever really live for God.
The problem is that we get caught up in what we can have in this world. As we see all the materialistic goods around us, we lose sight of Jesus, and the cross. In fact, Jesus has turned into an expletive for many, instead of them seeing Him as Lord and Savior. How far people have turned. How can they take up their cross, when they don't even see their need for the cross?
And that's where we come in, because as we take up our cross and love others for Jesus, we begin to help people understand the full extent of Jesus' love. All the more, as we take up our cross, and deny ourselves, we begin to live a life of fullness, and richness, and blessing. In doing this, we receive more blessing than we could imagine; more blessing than the goods of the world can supply.
What do you need to give up for God? It's a great question. I hope you take some time to analyze and answer it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Love one another, not judge one another

It seems so easy to judge others. Maybe it's because it makes us feel better. Maybe it is because it keeps us from having to look at our own faults and weaknesses. Maybe it's because people are just unhappy, and want to take it out on others. But whatever the reasons, people are very quick to judge.
The Bible warns us against such attitudes. In the book of James, chapter 4, verses 11-12 we are told: "Do not speak against one another, my brethren. If you speak against a brother or judge a brother, you speak against the law and judge the law. There is only one judge and lawgiver, the One who is able to save and destroy." In other words, we are not to be the judge of others, God is.
But there you have the challenge, because we like to play God. We think we know what is good and right. We think we have all the answers. We think we have the best plan; at least a better plan than God seems to have. And so we put ourselves in the place of God. And once in this place, we can play judge!
But all the more, we are told in Matthew 7:1-5, " 1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." These are powerful verses. They remind us that we have faults, and because we have faults, we cannot put ourselves in the place of a judge.
The better way to live is by loving others. It is better for them, and better for us. It creates a better environment in which to live, and a better countenance. We will enjoy life a whole lot more if we are so full of love that we have to share. Love keeps you thinking in the postivie. Judgement keeps your mind on the negative.
Let's regale ourselves with the excitement of loving people. I'm sure going to try.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dangerous Prayer

Statistics show that many people pray. In fact, for a good number of people, praying is as commonplace as going to a baseball game. You go, you watch, the game finishes, you leave. It isn't necessarily an exciting experience, but something to do. It doesn't change your life, but occupies your time. Or you do it because you were invited to.
But what if we took prayer seriously? What if we actually prayed in a way that was exciting? Dangerous? What would that look like? What kind of prayers might that be? Jesus, in Matthew 7:7-8 said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
However, Jesus gives us some qualification in John 14:13-14 that what we ask for needs to glorify the Father.
And so we are encouraged to ask boldly, to ask dangerously, about many things: such as God exposing you to your sin and weaknesses; that God would break you so that you would rely totally on Him; that God would use you beyond your current boundaries or expectations along the lines of the well known prayer of Jabez: "Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, 'Oh that Thou would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast [territory], and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!' And God granted him that which he requested." (1 Chronicles 4:10)
Unfortunately, we want our lives to be comfortable and easy. So we don't pray seriously. We don't pray dangerously. We pray selfishly. We pray for ourselves or those close to us that all or problems will go away and that we will have no worries. We don't pray in a way that might inconvience our lives in any way; that might change how we act or how we might serve the Lord.
However, if you want to have spiritual depth, if you want to make an impact on the kingdom of God, then you need to pray dangerous kinds of prayer and be ready to be challenged and stretched by God.
God created us to live dangerous lives in faith. God desires for us to have ever expanding ministry boundaries. I encourage you to let yourself be challenged in this way, and stop being safe in your prayers. The excitement of God's working in and through you will be great. Amen.