Hey! Who Am I?

If you’ve seen the news recently, then you’ve probably heard about the 4-year-old girl who was kidnapped by Greek gypsies in Athens. Stories of kidnapped children are nothing new, especially in our day and age, but this story is rather unique. Typically, a family reports the kidnapping, and then the child is found. In this case, the child was found first, and now authorities are trying to find who she belongs to.

This story just got me thinking; how many people out there are just like her? They are wondering  around, but nobody knows who they belong to. Sometimes I think christians fall into the same trap. They go to church every Sunday, and participate in services, but they’re not really sure that they are a child of God. If you asked them, “are you a child of God who will be saved when Jesus comes back?” they would say something like, “I thinks so,” or “I hope so.” They don’t have the confidence to say, “absolutely!”

In 1 John 2:5-6, John says,“but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” John tells us that if we walk in the way that Jesus walked, that we can know that we are His, and that we are saved. You don’t have to live aimlessly, not knowing who you belong to; in Jesus we have confidence in our identity and salvation.

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A Jew is a Jew is a Jew…or is he?

In Matthew 3:8-9, a group of Pharisees and Saducees came down to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John rebukes them saying, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” God told Abraham that He would make of him a great nation–Israel. The Jews took great pride in that fact that they were the offspring of Abraham, the chosen people of God. However, the Jews went too far in their pride, believing that they were justified before God simply because of their lineage, not because of their love and obedience to God.

Jesus challenged this thinking in John 8:39 where He said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” Simply being a descendent was not enough, they had to act like Abraham as well. In Colossians 2:11, Paul says that we have a circumcision made without hands; a circumcision of the heart, which is baptism. Just like the Jews in Jesus’ time, I believe that there are some christians today that believe that they are justified because they are members of the church who have been spiritually circumcised (baptized), but don’t seek to live like their Father (God). Their confidence is in who they are, not whose they are.

I think we need to keep what Paul said in Romans 2:28-29 in mind– “for no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Salvation isn’t about what we do, but what God has done for us.

 

Is Your Sword in the Stone?

photoMy dad is a preacher, but for as long as I can remember, he has had various jobs in construction. Being that he has worked with his hands so long, he is rather familiar with his tools. When my dad picks up his hammer, it becomes an extension of his hand. This is so true, that one time he proceeded to hammer in a nail using the claw end of the hammer without even noticing it. When I got my first framing hammer, I tried to follow my dad’s example, and use it like he did. It did not go so well, as my fingertips can attest to. While I wanted to be able to use a hammer like my dad, I couldn’t because he had so much more experience than me.

In Ephesians 6:17, Paul tells the Ephesians brothers to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. In antiquity, the sword was the primary offensive weapon used by soldiers. The sword was the soldier’s tools, his means of accomplishing his work, and preserving his life.

You may be wondering where all this is going. Well, let me ask you a question. How does your Bible feel in your hands? Not literally, but how comfortable is it for you to use it? Soldiers had to be comfortable with their swords because it was the tool of their trade. My dad is comfortable with his hammer because it is his tool. As christians, the Bible is our tool; how comfortable are we with it? I think sometimes, that we have a tendency to only really study our Bible during Sunday morning Bible class. If we are, we are not going to get very comfortable using our Bible. I think it’s time for us to pull our swords out of the stone, and get comfortable with them. The better we know them, the better servants we will be for God.

The Big Picture

photoWhen I was 13, may dad took me hunting for the first time (yes, I’m using a hunting story. If you don’t like hunting, I’m sorry). On one particular afternoon, my dad and I were watching a hillside through our binoculars for any activity. All I saw was grass. Suddenly, my dad got excited and said, “Andy, look to your right.” I looked to my right, and all I saw was more grass. “What?” I asked. “Right in front of you,” my dad said. I dropped my gaze slightly, and all I saw was even more grass. My dad finally said, “put your binoculars down.” I put my binoculars down, and standing right in front of me were two deer, just staring at us. I had been so engrossed at looking at small things far away, that I hadn’t noticed the big things standing right in front of me.

No, I didn’t shoot either one of the deer (they weren’t legal size), however, as you may have guessed, there is an application to this story. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up on one little thing that we miss the big picture. When Jesus came to the earth, there were a lot of people who couldn’t see the big picture. In Mark 12:28ff, a scribe asked Jesus what the greatest command was. Jesus responded that it was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That (the big picture) is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices (the small things). While sacrifices and offerings were important to the Jews, and they were commanded by God, loving God and other people was more important.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the same things in our lives. We can get so caught up in obeying the specifics, and going through the motions that we forget what it’s all about. While obedience is important (John 14:15), we need to remember what makes religion important: God, and our relationship to Him.

New=Happy

Yesterday, Apple set a new record for how many people were looking at their phones and tablets at exactly the same time. Ok, I made that up, but it’s probably true. Everyone was excited about iOS 7. Some people were checking their phones every 5 minutes to see if the update was ready yet. Now, you can hardly look at any news source without seeing multiple articles about it. iOS 7 is big. Why is it big? Because it is new. It is different, it’s fresh and exciting. As humans, we like things that are new. Ok, there are some exceptions, like my dad who still fondly reminisces about typewriters, but for the most part, there is an excitement about things that are new.

In Romans 6:4, Paul says, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that . . . we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul says that there is a newness to our lives when we become christians, and are buried with Christ in baptism. In 2 Corinthians we are told that, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” When we are in Christ, that newness is us, we become a new creation that is made after the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24).

What should all this newness make us do? It should make us rejoice! When the Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized in Acts 8, it says that he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Often times, however, we christians are not characterized by joyfulness. We are seen as depressed, negative, and unhappy people. This should not be the case! We, as christians, should be the happiest of all people because we have been born again, in Christ, for salvation. Perhaps we need to pray the words spoken by David in Psalm 51:12, “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” While iOS 7 is cool, it will be replaced next year, but our newness in Christ will never need updating. Rejoice in the lord alway!

 

Security Check

photoSeptember 11, 2001. Two planes, having been highjacked by terrorists, crashed into the world trade center. In response to this tragedy, planes were grounded for days all over the United States, and airports began to vastly tighten up their security. Even now, twelve years later, airport security is very high, in hopes of preventing another catastrophe from occurring.

A few thousand years before this, in a different part of the world, Jesus told His followers, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). Jesus wasn’t saying that He was literally a large, rectangular piece of wood with a nob on it; rather, He was saying that if we go through Him, we will be saved and find pasture (figuratively, of course). Then, in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In both verses, Jesus tells His followers that if they want to be saved, they must go through Him. Jesus is the way. The question is, is there a way to get into heaven? Any back way or ventilator shafts to sneak through? The last part of John 14:6 answers that for us; no one comes to the Father except through Christ. There are no back doors into heaven, no ways to bypass the security. If we want to get to heaven we have to do it God’s way. Unlike human security, there is no way to get around God’s rules; if we want to be saved, we must go through Jesus.

While God’s “security” may be exclusive, it is not oppressive. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). It is true that we may have to leave some things at the gate when we enter through the door; however, it is worth it, because the ride is truly wonderful, and the destination even better.

Christians Undercover

azimuth:0.000000||elevation:0.000000||horizon:0.000000 In 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge in the Arden forest of Belgium, a group of German SS soldiers were sent behind American lines in order to cause disorder and confusion. The men, lead by Otto “scarface” Skorzney (really, they actually called him scarface!), dressed in American army clothing and were able to successfully sneak behind enemy lines and cause a great deal of damage.

Seemingly unrelated to this, in Mathew 5:14-16, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is telling us that we need to live in such a way that people see God’s influence in our lives.

Now then, how does that fit with our introduction? Well, let me ask you a question; how are we doing at letting our light shine before others? Very often, I think, we may love God and want to follow him, but we end up acting like scarface Otto and his group of commandos, in that what we show to the world isn’t who we really are. We are christians undercover. Matthew 15:14-16 tells us that we need to be letting our light shine, not covering it up, and trying to act like the rest of the world. Some may say that they don’t let their light shine very bright because they are afraid of people thinking they are weird. The fact of the matter is, as christians, we are weird; don’t try to hide it, embrace it! In conclusion, remember Paul’s words to the Romans, “for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).