This Way to True Life

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

I believe that there is something after I die. While I live on this earth, I live because of Christ. When I die, I gain the Kingdom. I gain heaven. I gain a new relationship with God, one that I don’t have here on earth.

But until that happens? I truly believe what Jesus said when He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re supposed to bring the Kingdom to earth. I live under that understanding. While I’m here, I’m an ambassador who is supposed to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. And I believe that I can help do that. I believe that the Spirit of God helps lead me into areas where I can help.

The Spirit will lead you, if you’re living the lifestyle of Jesus.

That’s what the disciples did. They lived the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus foretold it. He told the disciples, “Greater things will you do after I leave, because you will be empowered by the Spirit.” And after Jesus was gone, they were! And they did!

The proof is in the persecution they suffered. I mean, no one dies for a decision. There’s no way you can tell me the disciples were hung upside down on crosses, were martyred, jailed, stoned, and beaten, simply because they were trying to get people to say they accepted Christ. For the disciples, conversion wasn’t just a matter of saying that Jesus is Lord. If that’s all we had to do, there’s no way anyone would die for it.

No, you accept that Jesus is Lord and then you live a brand new life. A life in Jesus! That’s what the disciples did. They not only accepted Jesus as Lord, they lived like He lived. They lived with a discipleship mentality. They walked the walk, and then they died for it. They died for the lifestyle of Jesus. True life! When they accepted Christ as Lord, when they believed that He was the Savior, they did not stop. For them, discipleship was a way of life.

What was that life? It was life in relationship. Life using the “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. The disciples wanted to make sure that they brought God’s Kingdom to earth. That’s why they wanted to live like Jesus lived. That’s why they wanted to love people like Jesus loved people. And that’s what they died for. They died for the lifestyle that they knew was right.

It makes sense to me. If I’m going to die for something, it will be something that I know is right.

I think the disciples knew true life. Paul said, “Take joy in trials and tribulations.” Take joy? How? How are we supposed to take joy in trials and tribulations? Who does that? The disciples did, because they didn’t find their joy in the physical aspects of life. Life for the disciples wasn’t hunky dory on the outside. It wasn’t that they were joyful because they never had anything bad happen to them. In fact, they always had something bad happening to them! Not a moment of life was free of turmoil. There was a lot of stuff that went down.

So why did they challenge people to live a life of Jesus, when they knew they would die for it? They did it because it was fulfilling. They had true joy. They had true happiness. They said, “Things may go wrong around me, but I know where my joy is. It’s in my Savior! I’m filled with joy, because I know what it’s like to love people!”

Now that’s the way to live! That’s the way to live the true life. See you Monday.

Jesus is Our Reason and Our Purpose

A lot of people don’t get why we’re here. They really wonder about the meaning of life. This includes some Christians! So think about the people that don’t believe in God. I think they would be even more lost! Because if you really think about it, what is the point of seventy, or eighty, or even ninety years on earth if there is nothing left when it’s over? If there’s nothing after death, then isn’t life absurd?

The Bible says that everything in life has a reason and a purpose, a beginning and an end. The Forest Service burns trees down specifically so they can re-seed. In the death of trees, there’s a replenishment of life. When you eat an apple, you think you’ve consumed the total fruit, but there’s a seed there. It replenishes life!

Ends, then, are beginnings. Why should it be different with people? It’s not. It’s the same with human life. Our lives don’t end. In the Bible, when people died, Jesus said, “They’re just sleeping.” In Jesus’s eyes, the dead are not dead, they’re just sleeping. Life after death might look different, and it might end up being different. I think it will be different. But it won’t end.

I believe in eternal life. I believe there is an eternity for me. There is more for me after I die. I will join up with the King.

But I don’t think our reason and purpose is merely to continue on after death. There is a reason we’re here. There is something we’re here to do. And that is to live a life of Jesus. In other words, we’re here to serve. We’re here to be Ambassadors of Christ.

A lot of people forget this, even in the Christian world. You’d be amazed at how many Christians regard the Old Testament as just an old book that they don’t need to read. The Old Testament is part of our story! It’s part of the Gospel message, and part of Israel’s story. You know, when God created Adam and Eve, He created life in its perfection. Imperfection was brought in by a decision that Adam and Eve made. And then Jesus came down to redeem that mistake.

Through one man’s decision to eat the fruit of a tree, judgment entered the world. Through another man’s decision to die on a tree, there’s redemption for that judgment. That’s our story. That’s the concept of salvation. But it’s too easy to finish the story there. That isn’t where it ends.

Those of us who truly understand who Jesus is realize that following Him is not just a matter of saying, “Well, I’ll accept Christ as my savior and then I’ll just hang out.” No, choosing Christ is choosing a very special way of life. You don’t just accept your salvation and then do nothing. Christ is our reason, even when we don’t understand. He is our purpose, even when we’ve lost our way.

The purpose of life, the reason we’re here, is to live a life of discipleship. The reason and purpose of your life is to follow Him.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Trust in Who You Are

In Romans Paul says, “Who can save me from this battle with sin that rages within my body? I’m never doing what I should be doing, and I’m always doing what I shouldn’t be doing! Who is going to save me from this? Only one can, and that’s Jesus Christ.” (Romans 7:15-20)

Even though we are imperfect in our flesh, in the Spirit we are holy and righteous. Even though we mess up, we are welcome in the presence of God. Why? Because of Jesus. Because of Him, we can live a righteous life in the Spirit of God.

The Bible says that the Spirit gives birth to the Spirit, while the flesh gives birth to the flesh. (John 3:6) So the ability to walk in righteousness and holiness can only happen with the Spirit. It’s not going to happen in our flesh. When we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, that’s when we can walk in the Spirit.

Jesus said He had to leave so that the “other counselor” could come down. The Holy Spirit is the other counselor, basically, the other lawyer. We try to make the “counselor” into some kind of gushy-gushy thing, but the Spirit is a counselor as in “legal counsel.” As counselor, Jesus can present a case, and He’s up there doing that. The Bible says He’s up there fighting for us. The Holy Spirit is here, doing an even greater work. Jesus said, “I have to go, and you will do even greater things than I have done, because you’ll have the Holy Spirit. You’re going to walk with Him, generation upon generation.” The Holy Spirit is not only giving us legal counsel, He is encouraging us. He is reminding us that we are holy and righteous. That’s who we are.

We forget who we are. We don’t trust very well. Because we don’t trust very well, we try to pretend. We try to pretend that it’s all good. We try to pretend that we’re always doing great. We try to pretend that we have it all together and we never make mistakes. We do this with the very best of intentions. But when we base our theology in pretending, we can’t build communities of trust.

This kills the church. It kills the church when we feel like we have to make ourselves worthy of the Kingdom of God.

We don’t have to earn our worth! Jesus did it for us! Through Christ and in Christ, we can go boldly before the throne of grace. And there, we will find mercy.

There are no preconditions. God did not say, “Don’t come to my throne of grace before you go to confession.” He didn’t tell us to stay away from His grace and mercy until we do penance for our sins. That is not what He said!

He said the Holy Spirit is in you now. You walk in Jesus now. And because you walk in Him, you can boldly go and stand before the throne of God.

You have to live in that. You have to trust that. Because when you can trust that, you’re free. You’ll be able to mess up and let it go. Flesh is flesh, and we will mess up. But trust in the Spirit. Trust in who you are: His beloved child.

See you Monday.

Confess and Find Grace

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

There is no condemnation! We can go before the throne of God without fear, and receive grace and mercy. We can trust in God’s love and salvation, which frees us to recognize our sins, accept them, and let them go.

But why do we ask God for forgiveness? We don’t do it for Him. We don’t need to ask for forgiveness to be right with God because we are already righteous and holy. When we go to God to ask for forgiveness, we are recognizing and accepting what we have done. It’s a way of admitting, “Okay, that was not the best way to behave.” And it’s a way to tell God, “You know what? That was stupid. I get that.”

Going to God with confession in our hearts is not a way of telling God, “I need forgiveness.” He already gives us grace. So going to God with confession in our hearts is how we say, “Thank you for forgiving me for that.” For example, we might say, “Hey God, you know what? I lived in the flesh right there when that guy cut me off. I yelled at him and I cussed him out. Thank you for forgiving me! And thank you for giving me the grace to move on. Help me to use more wisdom next time so that I won’t act like that. I acted from my flesh, and I would rather act in your Spirit, because that’s what I’m destined to do.”

The Bible also tells us to confess our sins to one another. Why does God want us to do that? He wants us to confess to one another because it is a liberating thing to do. What if you could sit in grace among fellow believers? Try to imagine it. You would sit with people and say, “I’m going to confess my sin to you. I can do this because you will not shame me. And this will free me.”

The Bible says that this is what believers do. We confess our sins to one another because it’s the confession that lets the sin out. But we have to do this in grace. As followers of Jesus Christ, our responsibility is to look at the person making his confession and say, “I just want to let you know that I love you. I’ve been in your situation. I’ve messed up like that. Or maybe I haven’t messed up like that, but here’s how I messed up the other day. Here’s my confession.”

This is how we know and love each other as human beings. When we confess to one another, we look at each other and accept that we all live in the flesh. At the same time, we understand that we live in the Spirit as well.  We choose to live in the flesh sometimes, but that is not who we are. So embrace each other in grace. You are holy, and you are free.

Freedom from Shame

Do you find yourself trying to do enough good, or to be good enough, in order to get people to like you? Do you try to free yourself from sin so that God will like you? What if you didn’t have to do that? What if you could receive grace?

It’s so freeing to get into relationships where you don’t have to perform to be liked. It’s so freeing to discover that you are liked, just because. Someone likes you and even loves you, just as you are. When that happens, it gets easier to accept your mistakes and your problems. When you live in grace, you understand that the flesh will always be the flesh. You will always make mistakes, and you will always have problems. And yet you are loved. Just like that! Just as you are.

Living in my flesh, I know that something is always going to go wrong. In my flesh, I might cuss somebody out. In my flesh, I might lie. In my flesh, I might lust. In my flesh, I might boil in anger. In my flesh, I might gossip. That is all part of the flesh. We all make mistakes.

So why do we shame each other? Why do we shame ourselves? Is there anyone who hasn’t lived in their flesh? Can you tell me that you have never acted out? Never cut someone off in traffic? Never flipped someone off? Never yelled at someone? Never gossiped? Never had a bad thought about anybody? I know you have! Everybody has.

We know this, and yet we still feel shame. We struggle to clean up the mess we’ve made. And we hide it all, because we fear our shame. Fear and shame cause us to put on a mask and pretend that we are perfect.

But that mask is a burden. We get hot and sweaty behind it. We don’t breathe well. When you wear a mask at Halloween, it’s not very comfortable, is it? Kids take their masks off their heads because they don’t want to wear them anymore. So why do we wear them all the time?

It’s not fun to wear a mask, but that’s what happens when you try to fix your own sin. You think, “I won’t be loved unless I’m good, so I have to pretend to be good while I figure this out. I can pretend by putting on this mask. No one will see my fear and shame while I figure out how to be good.” We do this all the time, but it’s exhausting.

The Bible says there’s no condemnation now. Grace abounds over sin, and you can live a righteous life in truth, not shame. Truth sets us free from shame! That’s what happens with the Spirit of God.

I’ll continue this next time. See you Monday.

To Receive Grace

Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” John 8:1-11

Looking at this from the perspective of grace, I’m starting to see a lot of things. I’m starting to see how this story is possible.

In the past, I have always wondered how this could have happened. Jesus was the Son of God. How is it possible that He did not condemn a woman caught in sin? I mean, she was actually caught while committing the act! How could He just look at her and say, “Yeah, I’m not going to accuse you.” And all He said was, “I think you already know that it wasn’t right what you did, so I’m not going to accuse you. But stop sinning. You need to stop.”

Looking at it now with what I’ve learned about grace, I can see why Jesus treated the woman this way. The Son of God did not look at sinners and say, “Oh, I cannot be around this!” He didn’t! He loved being around sinners! And sinners loved being around Him. To be with Him was to receive grace. He looked at people and said, “They’re human beings. And they’re going to have these problems. It’s part of life. Even when they accept me as their Savior, even when they accept that I died for them, they’re still going to have these problems.” Jesus knew that!

Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Romans, and he is so honest about it. Romans is so good to read when you start learning about grace and trust in relationships. In Chapter 7 he asks, “Why do I always do what I don’t want to do, and what I want to do, I don’t do?” We know the answer before he tells us. It’s because he lives in his flesh!

Nowhere in Scripture can I find anything about the redemption of the flesh. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus died to change our flesh. He died so we can live by the Spirit. He knew we’d still experience problems in our flesh.

In my experience of trust with Jesus, I have started to realize that I can also live in a trusting relationship with people. I can trust them because they are who they are. They can trust me because I am who I am. We can trust each other, and we can love on each other, and we can encourage each other. We don’t have to perform to be liked. We can just be. We are imperfect, sure. But still, we are precious children of God.

It’s so freeing to get into relationships where you don’t have to perform to be liked. It’s so freeing to know that you are liked just because. It’s so freeing when someone likes you and loves you, just as you are. When that happens, you begin to see people as Jesus sees them. As He sees you. With love and grace. You know that flesh will always be flesh, and you don’t have to hide anymore.

More on that last point next time. See you Thursday.

Those Days that Stink

You will experience grace when you trust people with your real, true self. You will experience grace when you trust God to love you just as you are. And it’s okay to trust. It’s good to trust. You don’t have to hide your issues, because everybody has issues. Everybody! In the course of a day, you’re going to come across all kinds of people who really aren’t having a blessed and wonderful day. Ask them how they’re really doing. You might be very surprised by what they say.

That is a very freeing thing! Think about it. People ask you all day, “How are you doing?” Well, what if you’re doing lousy, and you say so? And then what if that person says, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” How good would you feel? I think you’d say, “I like this person.”

On the other hand, if they judge you it feels terrible! What if they say, “You shouldn’t feel lousy. Have you been reading your Bible lately? How often have you been praying?” You would feel guilty, right? You would feel condemned. I think you would feel frustrated. You know how I know? I’ve been there!

Being judged leaves you wanting to make yourself feel better. You might decide to read the whole Book of Proverbs or something, just to get past the judgment. Yet, in the end, you don’t feel any better. You still have a bad day. It’s just what it is, sometimes.

On a lousy day, God looks down on you and He says, “Yeah, you’re having a rough day. And you know what? I love you. I’m right here with you. I’m walking through your bad day with you. Take joy in that! Take joy in the understanding that I love you, and I care about you, and you walk in that same Spirit that I let Jesus walk in.”

There are going to be bad days. Jesus had them. He got pushed to the edge of a cliff! I mean, people were trying to kill Him! He had to escape out the back gate of the city because there were people trying to hunt Him down and murder Him. It wasn’t like He was hunky dory every day. Paul was in prison! The apostles went through all kinds of things. It wasn’t like they were always having a great day!

Most of the time, we do feel blessed. Most of the time, we do feel loved. But there will be days when we don’t feel blessed and we don’t feel loved. Some days just stink. You know? Some days, we feel judged. Sometimes, you put yourself out there for somebody and they mock you, or they judge you, or they tell you you’re a bad person. And on those days, we can always say, “Ah, but God has said that by the blood of Jesus, I am now righteous and holy.”

When someone has a bad day, we don’t get on their case or call them a bad person. Because there is now no condemnation! We don’t say, “How dare you feel lousy when you are so blessed? Shame on you!” Instead, we actually look at people, just the way Jesus did. We love on them.

Looking at things this way, I’m starting to see a lot of stuff that I missed before. I’ll continue with this next time. See you Monday.