Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What Is Christianity?

I would like to give my interpretation and answer to this very important question, because I believe the Christianity we see in this world is often watered down at best and at worst, blatantly inaccurate.

Let's start with some examples of what I believe Christianity is not: Faith in Christ is not a membership to a select group of people who have become perfect. Despite what the bible says about this topic, many Christians have taken it upon themselves to think their faith gives them a moral superiority over those who do not believe in Christ. As a result of this cold behavior, many unbelievers are reluctant to become a Christian because they associate it with being mean and judgmental toward others. Honestly, who can blame them? If that is what it meant to be Christian, I would also reject it.

People who claim to have a moral superiority over others are only fooling themselves. Everyone who feels this way has not taken an honest evaluation of their own heart. When we do this, we learn it is impossible to become perfect or without blame. Once we realize this truth, we also realize our only hope is to trust in the mercy of God through Christ. Following rules or doing good deeds to "cancel" our bad deeds does nothing to change our hearts from death unto life. Only the acceptance of Jesus into our hearts can accomplish this miracle. 

Christianity is not a "get out of jail free" card. Some Christians have this idea that, because we believe in Christ, somehow everything will work out perfectly in life. Some feel Jesus is like a shield against every kind of suffering. Ironically, the bible is clear the exact opposite is true. Yes, God promises He will protect us from evil and be a shelter in our time of need...but this is meant to help us overcome adversity, not necessarily to avoid it.

Jesus is clear that believers will find trouble in this world. Why? Because the world is filled with evil and hypocrisy. They persecuted and killed Jesus, who was perfect; it is therefore logical to assume they would try and do the same to us, if we accurately reflect the nature of Christ. And let us not forget, God sometimes allows us to suffer so we can find spiritual growth. Looking back, I can see how many of my own trials in life have made me stronger and brought me closer to God. 

Christianity is not a rulebook to follow in order to earn eternal life. Our redemption is not a scoreboard where God keeps track of our good deeds versus our bad deeds. The bible is very clear about this topic: Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. It is about admitting we have a sinful nature, and then asking Jesus Christ into our hearts to make us new. A genuine faith in Christ is one where we acknowledge our weakness to Him and ask for help to change our behavior.

The bible is clear: That which is sinful will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Our Lord's death on the cross makes it possible for us to shed our inherited, sinful nature and receive His righteousness in its place. Those who accept Christ are judged by what He did; however, those who reject Christ are judged based on what they did. Needless to say, every person on this earth has sinned against God and what is right. If we try and stand on our own merit, we will fall short of redemption and salvation. Only when we trust in the One who is perfect can we be justified before God and His righteous judgment. 

To summarize, Christianity is not a club for people who want to feel superior to others. The truth is, nobody will ever be perfect, including Christians. To be a Christian means admitting your faults to God and receiving the gift of salvation, found only in Christ. It's a desire to shed our inherited, sinful nature so we can become holy like Jesus. It is important to note this transformation does not happen overnight; and no matter how hard we try, we can never become exactly like Christ. But it is our persistent quest to reach perfection in Him that changes us for the better. This lifelong journey and relationship with Jesus is the essence of Christianity.

(Scripture references: Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-11, 1Peter 4:12-16, 1John 3:11-15, John 15:18-25, Ephesians 2:1-10) 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Why Do We Believe In Christ?

How would you answer this question? Are you a Christian simply because you were raised that way? Or do you believe in God because it's the right thing to do? Maybe you're just being prudent and saving yourself from going to hell. All of these are valid reasons to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of our souls.

Maybe you are like me and your faith goes a little deeper. Perhaps you struggled with behavior you knew was wrong but couldn't stop. You knew something was not right inside your heart and wanted to change. Maybe you took a look around this world and realized the selfish pleasures in this life could not satisfy your hunger for true love. And when all of these weights came crashing down on your spirit, perhaps you cried out to God for help, in hopes He might prove Himself to be real and rescue you from your helpless state. 

The bible says people of this world think faith in Christ is foolish. In fact, they cannot even recognize the Spirit of God because they themselves lack God in their hearts. I know this Scripture is true because I myself fell into that category many years ago. When I was engrossed in my selfish lifestyle, I was blind to the existence of God. It wasn't until I began to embrace an unselfish and faithful way to love that I started to find truth.

Because of this, I know from experience what it's like to be on both sides of the equation. Later in life and as I sit here now writing this, I realize God allowed me to go through darkness so I would learn from it. Though I wouldn't ever want to go back, what I have learned has strengthened my faith in God and has allowed me to relate to and perhaps help those who are going down a similar path.

I have also learned the spell of deception that engulfs this world is very powerful and deceptive. If my faith were simply choosing to believe words in a book because of my upbringing, it would not survive. Thankfully, my faith has withstood this deceitful world because the words of the bible have come alive in my heart. The reason is, I have become a new creature in Christ and have received the Holy Spirit of God. What I could not see before I now see very clearly; so much so that even when my own feelings and what I see around me betray my faith in God, I can still overcome in Christ by remembering what I've learned.

The bible says anybody who loves the world is an enemy to God. It also says we must live in this world as ambassadors for Christ in a strange land. It took me a long time to really understand what this meant. Why? Because I was too much like the world. 

Deep inside my heart, I originally accepted Christ because of a desire for something more than what I saw around me; and yet, for years I did not fully submit myself to God, choosing (rather foolishly) to hold onto to some of the chains around my heart. Now that I have further distanced myself from the world, I can see why God has declared it as His enemy. But until my eyes were opened it was hidden from me.

The motivation for my belief in Christ was to stop sinning; I cried out to a God I wasn't sure was real in search of help. Because the motivation for my search was genuine, I found what I was looking for. Jesus Christ answered my cry for help and made me new on the inside, making it possible to resist sin, since I was no longer a slave to it. 

If you believe in Jesus Christ, do you know why? If you do then you know what a blessing this is! If you're not quite sure why, there is no reason to despair; all of us have been there. The good news is, any doubts or uncertainties we might have can eventually fade away, if we completely submit our hearts to the One we believe in. May we all strive to give more of ourselves to God, so that we can be confident of the salvation promised to us in Jesus Christ.

(Scripture references: 2Corinthians 5:16-21, 2Corinthians 2:4, 1Corinthians 1:18, 1Corinthains 2:6-16) NIV


Friday, November 3, 2017

The Gospel Of Grace

Those who are redeemed and have given their life to Christ; those who truly have spiritual rebirth from death unto life, cannot lose their salvation because of imperfections, weaknesses or mistakes. Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ; it cannot be earned. This can be a hard concept to grasp, because on the surface it seems to be a "license to sin."  

For those who gave their life to Jesus so they could have help to stop sinning, God's grace is not a license to sin. Instead, it gives those who sincerely want to become holy the freedom to grow in the Lord, without fear of punishment when we make mistakes.

If the gift of salvation could be forfeited because of our bad choices, none of us would be saved. Those who think otherwise are being deceived. We must be careful not to look at our salvation as a scale of good and bad works. Some believe as long as our good deeds outweigh the bad ones, we're alright with God. The truth is, our sin is way too heavy to be outweighed by any amount of good deeds.

This is why Jesus died on the cross; only He could do a work that could outweigh and overcome the weight of our sin. Otherwise, why did Jesus have to die for us? Didn't we have the Jewish religion before He came to earth? If doing works in obedience to their laws was sufficient, Christ would never have to die. But since our works were insufficient to overcome sin, we needed Jesus (who is perfect and knew no sin) to do a work of redemption in our place.

If we are focused on earning our redemption, it is inevitable we will judge those around us. This is because our hearts are in the wrong place. Once we accept the truth, that all of us will never be good enough to make up for our sin, now we become focused on God's grace toward us. When our hearts are in this place of love and forgiveness we are more compassionate to others, since we ourselves recognize our faults and weaknesses. In spite of these God still loves and accepts us, which makes it easier to the same to others, in spite of their faults and weaknesses.

Sin is still bad and must be avoided. However, for most of us it is not always that easy. If I am losing my battle with sin in a particular area, does this mean I am not going to Heaven when I die? Of course not, since all of us in some ways fall short of the glory of God. None of us would be saved if salvation was based on our works. This is precisely why Jesus died in our place, so we could have the freedom to grow and learn from our mistakes, without the fear of punishment or relinquishing our redemption.

The key is, we must not accept excuses that justify our sinful lifestyle. No matter how many times we succumb to temptation, we must admit our guilt and get right back in the fight. We must run to Jesus instead of hiding from Him because of guilt. If we trust in Him to give us victory over the demons which have tormented us for so long, and keep fighting the good fight of faith while never giving up, eventually we will overcome.Take it from me, these words are true. I can testify of this because it has happened to me.

If I had died while I was in the middle of this struggle, having not yet attained victory, would I have gone to hell? Of course not! Not if I remained in Christ and He in me. And even when I did temporarily turn my back on God, He didn't give up on me. He waited patiently until I was ready, willing and able to become completely obedient to His will. Only God knows our hearts; I received grace because He knew I would eventually turn from sin.

The bottom line is this: None of us can ever earn redemption for sin and a place in Heaven. Only by accepting the gift of grace through Jesus' work on the cross can we be counted as righteous. That is because we ourselves can never do enough to pay the price for sin. But if we accept Jesus' gift of salvation in our hearts, God doesn't see our unrighteousness and disobedience anymore. Rather, he sees the righteousness and obedience of Christ in its place.

The Gospel of Grace is not a license to sin; it only appears to be when our hearts are in the wrong place. We should be concerned with our own life...but if someone is so worried about others, rest assured that God will not be mocked. Those who believe God's grace is a license to sin do not desire the rebirth found in Christ, therefore their faith is not genuine. They just want an excuse to justify their love for sin. But those who truly have Jesus in their hearts do so because they wanted to STOP sinning. God knows the difference and we will all be judged accordingly. 

In light of this, let us all be focused more on our own hearts instead of worrying somebody else might "get away with something." We need to make sure we don't fall into the trap of becoming like the Prodigal Son's brother. The Gospel of Grace allows us to redeemed and to grow in His love and guidance, all without fear of losing His love for us. It is the greatest gift ever given to mankind.

(Scripture references: Ephesians 2:8-10, Colossians 2:16-23) NIV

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Devil Is Showing His Hand

I hate politics. While one side of the aisle definitely favors many of my own beliefs, I consider myself neither Republican nor Democrat. Nevertheless, I believe it is important we pay attention to what is going on in politics, nauseating as that may be.

For years I was "politically illiterate" but about four years ago, God put it on my heart to delve into and figure out what was going on. In a nutshell, what I found opened my eyes to a darker reality of our country and world.This ongoing "revelation" has also served to strengthen and confirm my faith in Christ.

Having said all of this, I'd like to talk about something I read today. In a town hall meeting recently, a Democratic politician told her audience that Republicans were evil and they (Democrats) were the good guys. In light of this, I'd like to set aside any emotional, partisan feelings and get to the root of what is really happening, and to the spiritual inspiration behind this sort of behavior.

I'm sure many of you are aware of what the bible says will happen before Jesus returns. The world will be ruled by an evil tyrant (anti-Christ) who will commit mass genocide against Jews and Christians. In the past, I could never imagine how a civilized world could ever buy into that ideology...that is until the last few years. You see, in order to sell his worldwide message that Christians and Jews must renounce their faith or be killed, the devil will need to create a false "moral high ground" if you will, in order to justify his murderous plans.

If we are paying attention, the seeds for Satan's plan are already being sown. If he can get us to pass judgment on large groups according to a "label" rather than as individuals, it becomes easier to successfully demonize those groups .

Now, if I'm being honest, I think in some rare cases this philosophy applies: For example, all people who condone and participate in the rape and murder of children could be considered evil. Or, people who like to torture others for pleasure could reasonably be herded into the category of evil. However, I think it is a bit narrow minded and outright moronic to label all Republicans as evil, simply because they want lower taxes, less government and the right to bear arms. And by saying this, even I am judging a book by its cover. I'm sure there are many Republicans who disagree on one or more of these and other beliefs, in regards to government. The moral of this story is, it is both foolish and inaccurate to judge the masses as one rather than as individuals.

I'm sure this politician who managed to judge millions of Republican Americans as evil would agree that judging a person simply because of their skin color is why is the former any different? Shouldn't we all be judged as individuals, rather than as one large body of groupthink Lemmings? Quite frankly, it is arrogant, hateful and idiotic to label any large group of people as evil, simply because of their political beliefs.

The same applies to religious beliefs. Do all Muslims condone murdering innocent people just because some Muslims are terrorists? Are all Catholics child molesters because some Priests rape children? Are all Protestants money loving hypocrites because some televangelists enrich themselves by abusing the money they receive from unsuspecting Christians? Are all the people who didn't commit these crimes guilty and evil, just because a select few of the same religious belief actually did those things? 

I am sharing this with you because this blind way of thinking is what I believe the devil (through anti-Christ and the False Prophet) will use to demonize Christians and Jews in the future, in order to justify his mass world-wide genocide upon them. What will this propaganda look like? I think we're seeing some of it today. For instance, if a Christian simply believes homosexuality is a sin, that means they are hateful and intolerant. Never mind they didn't actually hurt anyone or that they weren't mean toward people who have gay sex. Never mind most Christians love their neighbors, and try to show kindness toward everyone (yes, even homosexuals); simply disagreeing with homosexual sex makes them evil.

Are you seeing it now? Do you see how Satan is showing his hand in these final days? By conditioning us to judge a large group of people as evil just because of their political affiliation, it will be easier for the devil to one day sell the lie that all Christians and Jews are evil and must be exterminated. If you think about it, aren't there many people that believe this lie today? Christian and Jewish persecution and demonization is alive and well right now. What happens in the coming generations, when those who love Jesus and free speech become the minority; when intolerant people who hate God and those who love Him become the majority and gain political power over this nation and the world? When this happens, the world becomes ripe for the devil (through anti-Christ) to gain control and establish the future described in the bible.

What do we do? Should we just roll over and accept our fate? Quite the opposite...those who have the truth must shine the loving light of Christ now more than ever. Our goal should be to reflect Jesus to our future brothers and sisters, who will one day receive His love in their heart and become reborn. Otherwise, how will those who choose truth in the future do so if they cannot see it?

As for those who will choose evil and death, nothing will change their minds. They are blinded from truth because they love lies and hatred, just like their father the devil. Nevertheless, those who love Jesus must continue to be strong in these last days, even if it means we may suffer abuse from these evil people. We can do so, knowing that God warned of this suffering in advance and by anticipating our eternal reward.

Nobody knows exactly when Jesus will come. But if we are paying attention, we can see some of the signs of His return. The devil has indeed begun to show his hand, how he will fulfill the words of bible prophecy. But let's not forget the end of that story; afterwards, Jesus will come and establish His righteous kingdom forever. On that day, once and for all He will remove the devil and all those who love evil from power, and they will never be heard from again.

(Scripture References: 2 Thessalonians 2:3-17) NIV

Monday, October 30, 2017

My Quest For Truth

In some of my previous writings, I've touched on many experiences with Christ in my quest for truth. Today I'd like to condense much of that info and perhaps expand on some of it.

In my own experience, it wasn't until I was ready (or willing) to be completely honest with ALL of my thoughts and feelings that I started to receive true wisdom from God. I can say this with confidence, since I myself have hidden from the truth inside my heart.

Why did I hide? I was afraid to confront deep fears inside myself. I also was unwilling to accept the truth because in some ways, it conflicted with my love for certain "worldly" pleasures. Accepting certain truths would mean I no longer had the "moral high ground" to justify my lifestyle choices. For example, who can say sin is really sin if there is no God? Hence, it was more convenient to believe the explanations given to support the belief God is not real; that way I could fool myself into thinking my actions were justified, or at the very least could not be condemned.

There are other reasons why many of us hide from the truth; though they may differ in substance, they are all born from the same motive, which is to try and justify our reluctance to accept truth. It wasn't until I was finally willing to accept responsibility for my dishonest and selfish lifestyle that I began to find real truth, which is Jesus Christ.

The journey is still ongoing. It seems like everyday God is showing me something else that was hidden to me before. But what has happened up until now has been a long and slow process. For about 20 years I lived my life as a born again believer whose lifestyle was very much like that of our secular world. Yes, even though my initial acceptance of Christ was motivated by a desire to have my dishonest heart changed and finding help to turn away from sin, I was still stubborn and reluctant to offer my entire life to God. This resulted in minimal spiritual growth and maturity, yielding little fruits of the Spirit.

Almost 5 years ago, I reached a critical turning point in my life. Once and for all, I was finally willing and able to give up indulging in a sinful lifestyle choice which had haunted me for many years. I didn't know it then, but this was a crucial step in Jesus changing my whole life. Sin separates us from God; it also blinds us from His truth, making it harder to discern right from wrong in an evil and darkened world. 

The Lord used each victory from my obedience as a building block for more spiritual growth. The pattern of my complete submission to Christ and the Holy Spirit looked like this: After some internal analysis of my feelings and thoughts about a matter, I was able to discern God's instruction over Satan's deception. Once I overcame my temptation to procrastinate or reluctance to give up a worldly pleasure that was blocking me from God's blessing, I was granted a little more spiritual strength and insight.

After I reached a place where my entire lifestyle was in complete obedience to the Holy Spirit's instruction in my heart, God's wisdom about the world around me and life in general began pouring into me. Many of the deceptions and mysteries of this world hidden to me before began to be exposed and uncovered. Not only that, a deep desire to speak His truth began to grow inside my heart. But it wasn't until I submitted everything to Him that I received these blessings and guidance in my life. 

Before I continue, let me make it clear I do not see myself as some enlightened guru who is better than anyone else. Quite the contrary...though God (through His grace and my strong desire to pursue it) has given me this priceless wisdom, there are many, MANY ways in which I struggle in this world. My guess  is, He has done this to keep me any rate my point is, I am not telling you this so I can be a big shot and have people think I'm smart or perfect (which I'm not). I am just some fool that God (for some reason) has chosen to learn and share these things with others. I am no better or worse than any of you. Indeed, we are all equal; brothers and sisters in our walk with Jesus, in the hope we might share eternal life with Him in glory one day.

Here is everything in a nutshell: The level with which we are willing to deny ourselves (in regards to our useless lusts and desires) and instead accept the truth and responsibility for our actions, will directly relate to how much spiritual enlightenment we receive from Jesus Christ, who is the only source of real truth in this world full of lies. If we do this a little bit, we will gain a little bit of victory over sin and uncertainty. But if we do this a lot...yes, if we are able to submit every thought, action and lifestyle choice over to the Holy Spirit for approval or denial, and then we are able to obey God in every single way He instructs, our lives will miraculously be transformed for the better. If we do this, like never before we will know the true meaning of when Jesus said:

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

(Scripture references: John 8:31-32) NIV

Friday, October 27, 2017

Godly Discipline

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7-11) NIV

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sin And Suffering

In the bible, it tells of a man described as an "invalid" that was healed by Jesus. The man did not realize who Jesus was, and then:

"Later Jesus found him at the temple and said, 'See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.'" (John 5:14) NIV

From this we learn sin has a negative impact in our lives. In this case, a man's body was severely damaged. Why did this happen? Is it because God was punishing him for his disobedience? Many people might think so. In fact, I believe it is human nature to think this way. However, I don't believe this is true.

We all have a tendency to blame God for our troubles. But in doing so, we forget about one important person: Satan. The bible says Satan looks to kill, steal and destroy. Since he hates God he hates us as well, because we are God's cherished creation and made in His image.

When we are frustrated at God because of our suffering from sin, we are focusing our angst on the wrong person. For example, what loving parent would intentionally hurt their children in response to their mistakes? Sometimes we let them fail so they can learn from their mistakes and to know there are consequences for bad choices...but I don't believe any loving parent would intentionally hurt their children because they did something wrong. 

I believe our Heavenly Father is the same way. If we suffer because of bad choices, God will allow it so we can learn to avoid sin. However, the source of pain is the devil. God works everything for our good; He does not cause our pain but He will use it to make us stronger.

Notice what this bible passage says:

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15) NIV

It is Satan who is responsible for temptation, sin and the pain that results from it, not God. When we suffer because of sin, it is because we have opened a spiritual door for Satan to cause pain in our lives. If we put our hands into fire, we are burned because that is what fire does. It doesn't pick and choose who gets burned; it doesn't single out the "bad" people and refrain from burning "good" people. In the same way, if we suffer from sin it's because that is what sin does: It causes suffering and eventually death. God does not punish us because we are bad...rather, we are giving the devil a license to cause pain in our lives because of sin. When you play with fire long enough, eventually you get burned.

I should mention the bible says not all suffering is because of our sin. Sometimes God allows hardship in our lives to make us stronger. However, if we are suffering because of a sinful lifestyle, we can be confident God is not punishing us. The devil is the source of sin and the painful results associated with it, not God. One day God will punish the world for their evil ways and refusal of His love, but until then we are covered in grace because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Are we suffering right now because of sin? If so, let's start to listen for the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If we practice distinguishing His voice from everything else, we can start to know what direction He wants us to go. By doing this, He will eventually shine a light on the sin that is the source of our suffering. God commands we refrain from certain things, not because He is a mean tyrant but because those things are actually harmful to us, even though they might seem good. 

Eternal life cannot be earned; we receive it by faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of our sins. However, our level of obedience to God in this life will have a direct effect on our mental, physical and spiritual health. If we suffer because of a sinful lifestyle, let us obey God and slam the door of influence Satan is using in our lives to harm us.