The Nonnegotiable in Christianity

 

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others your Father will not forgive your sins.  – Matthew 6:14-15

 

Over the years, I have asked many groups a hypothetical question that I have adapted from Matthew 18:21-35.  It is the story of the unmerciful, or unforgiving servant.  The servant was forgiven for a massive amount of debt.  Yet, when given the opportunity to forgive another of their much, much smaller debt by comparison, he refused to be merciful.  Here is how I have adapted it:

 

Suppose you owed someone $1,000.  They call you and say it is time to pay up.  You simply say that you can’t pay it back and ask for more time.  The person says, “You know what?  Don’t worry about it.  Your debt is forgiven.”  You hang up the phone super glad at what just transpired.  Later that day, you see someone and remember that they owe you $50. You say, “Hey, do you have that 50 bucks you owe me?”  They use the exact same words that you used earlier with your creditor.  They say that they can’t pay it back right now and ask for more time.

 

Now, here are the three options I usually have the audience choose from:

 

  1. Forgive them of the debt completely, especially in light of the fact that you were forgiven earlier that day for much more.

 

  1. Demand that they pay you back immediately.

 

  1. Tell them they have more time and to pay you back as soon as they can.

 

Before reading on, which would you choose?

 

The overwhelming majority of people that I ask choose option 2 or 3, with most choosing option 3.  I would say maybe 20%, or 1 out of 5 people I ask choose option 1.

 

What does this say about us? If a person makes no claim to be a Christian, then I let them off the hook completely.  They are pretty much only bound by the law of the land, their own conscience, or whatever else they choose to follow.  But, if they claim to be a Christian, then they are bound by the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He flat out says, “If you won’t forgive others, I won’t forgive you.”

 

In light of this, it is absolutely imperative that we understand just how much our Lord has forgiven us.  The price He paid for me was extravagant.  When I asked Him into my life, He completely paid my sin debt. This was a debt that I could not pay in a thousand lifetimes.  How can I not extend the same grace to others that He has extended to me?  How will the world ever see Christ in me if I don’t?

 

Every once in a while, I get this right and someone will ask, “Why in the world would you do that?” I get to say the most beautiful words that I believe exist on this planet, “Because Jesus has forgiven me.” It usually produces either an eye roll or a wonderful conversation.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Be Still

I’ve been slack in writing lately, here is a post from a few years ago.

Be still and know that I am God.  —  Psalm 46:10

Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything. — Psalm 46:10 (The message)

One of the advantages of being a teacher is the fact that it is basically a 10 month job.  June and July are just two of the many reasons that most of us became teachers.  I love the fact that every school year is different.  Yes, I will have different students, but most importantly, I will have a different me.  I always learn from the previous year and use that information to be even better next year.

Now, as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, you would think that Summer would be a time of really spending time in the Word of God.  I plan every Summer on reading certain Christian books, memorizing scriptures, and just filling my mind and heart with God.  Unfortunately, it seems like these past few Summers I haven’t done it.  I end up staying up late, which makes me sleep late, and I wake up to the noise of my kids which means that my morning time with God has disappeared.  I may be somewhere for a weekend vacation and not take the time to find a place to hear the Word of the Lord on Sunday.  Before I know it, Summer has passed, and it turns out that I have given a very lukewarm effort in being still and knowing He is God.  I don’t really get to say “I didn’t have time,”  I had pleny, so what’s the problem?

Psalm 46:10 tells me the problem:  I am not being intentional about being still, or “stepping out of the traffic.”  Followers of Christ have an enemy with the sole purpose of making sure you spend as little time with the Lord as possible.  Being still is an intentional, deliberate act on the part of the Christian who claims to be His child. it does not come naturally.  Busyness will take over if you let it.  So, with that being said, I made myself a few suggestions, “be still” goals if you will, for this Summer.  I thought that they might help you as well.

1.  Be still finding time to read the Word.  This does not have to be a long drawn out process.  Find a minimum of 10 minutes during the day where you can read the Bible and talk to God.  Psalm 46 might be a good place to start.

2.  Be still keeping your mind pure.  I don’t know why I am tempted more in the Summer to watch the new blockbuster, R-rated movies that come out.  This is probably because I watch too much TV and see all of the previews on television.  I find myself watching these stupid movies that totally glorify the sin that my Savior delivered me from and died a brutal death on the cross to do so.  I have found myself sitting there and listening to those actors and actresses take my Lord’s name in vain over and over again.  This summer, I will be intentional about keeping my mind pure.

3.  Be still going to church.  Tonya and I just went to a random church when we were on vacation at the beach last year.  Turns out we heard a great quartet sing praises to the King and we met some really great people who have been serving God for a lot longer than we have.  If you are on vacation over the weekend, say a short prayer asking the Lord to lead you where He wants you to go, then just drive and see where you end up, it’s kind of fun.

Most of all, remember that being still is mostly for you.  Knowing that He is God means that you have incredible faith and want to live an obedient life that glorifies and honors Him.  It means that you trust Him with all that you are and all that He leads you to do.  It means that when the storms of life come, you will stand rock solid because you have built your house on the rock.  You won’t be returning to God because all of a sudden you need Him, you will be remaining with Him as you have all along.

Take time to be still today . . . know that He is God.

Later

Adam

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Understandable Christianity

 

He that believes on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  – John 3:18

 

So yesterday someone comes up to me and says this, “I’ve been unable to sleep lately because I’ve been thinking about God.  I don’t really understand about heaven or hell.  It makes the most sense to me that we just cease to exist when we die.  You seem like you know something about God, what can you tell me?”

 

Before reading on, if you claim to be a Christian, really contemplate what you would say.  Think about this all day, maybe even all week. What will you say if and when this opportunity arises?

 

We are all broken and messed up.  We all do wrong.  Everybody sins.  Christians believe it is because of what happened in the Garden of Eden.  God made us perfectly and in perfect relationship with Him.  When the forbidden fruit was eaten, two major things happened.  We spiritually died, which means communication with God was cut off. Also, we now physically die.  We don’t know how, and we don’t know when, but death is coming.  The person I was speaking to did know a little about Adam, Eve, and the serpent, but did not realize what a big deal it was.

 

Since we messed things up, and now are all messed up, God promised to make a way for the curse to be reversed.  In the middle of human history, Jesus came and lived, died, and rose again on the third day.  When you write the date and it says 2018, 2018 years since what?  The person said they didn’t know.  I said 2018 years since Jesus came to this planet. Everything before that is knows as Before Christ.  Jesus is a big, big deal.  The person was pretty blown away at this.

 

Now, all I can tell you is how this worked for me.  When I was 16 years old, I invited Jesus into my heart and life.  I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and make me into what He wants me to be.  It wasn’t like a magic wand or anything that changed me, but I do remember feeling really clean and like the reset button had been pushed in a video game, or something like that.  Over time, God convicted me of certain things.  I was no longer happy doing the sinful things I did.  Over the last 26 years He has changed me and is still changing me.  I served Him at first because I thought I had to in order to not go to hell.  But now, I serve Him because He is really good, knows what is best for me, my life, and I love Him.

 

The persons simply said, “That’s a lot to take in.”

 

I said, “It is.”

 

I also said, “If you ever want God to do for you what He did for me that day, I’m always here for you. I don’t believe we are talking about this by chance.  He loves you. I will be glad to get you started in the process.”

 

I did my best.

 

Lord, I pray for this person and many people that must feel the same way.  They don’t understand what Christianity and salvation is all about.  Save my friend.  Allow me the privilege of leading this soul, and many more, into your kingdom.

 

Adam

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A Moment in the Bay

Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please God, strengthen me once more.” — Judges 16:28

 

Before you read this, I have to admit that this is probably the worst application of a Bible verse I have ever used.

 

Now that that is out of the way . . .

 

So I’ve been taking golf lessons since the beginning of January.  A dozen or so years ago, just before my oldest child was born, I could play the game of golf.  I’ve even shot a few rounds in the 60’s.  Golf was my absolute favorite topic of conversation, and I took every opportunity to sneak away to play and/or practice.

 

When my second child was born, obviously things were different at home.  I really feel like I missed out on the first years of their lives. Instead of transitioning into being a dad and really helping my wife, you know what I did?  Yep, play golf.

 

On top of playing golf, I had begun to take Christianity very seriously.  Looking back, I really was drawing closer and closer to the Lord. I was drawing close enough that I knew He wanted me to cut back on playing golf.  I ignored Him.  Months later, when my wife confirmed what He had been saying for a while now, I got mad. I didn’t see why I couldn’t do the one thing that I loved to do.  You see, golf had become an idol.  I cared about it more than I cared about God, more than I cared about Tonya, and now more than I cared about my kids.  I would have never actually told you that, but my actions sure proved otherwise.

 

So, I wouldn’t give it up. I actually justified that I couldn’t give it up (and I had really good reasons).  In an attempt to get even better at playing golf, I read a book by my favorite golfer at the time, Ernie Els, and started trying to swing like him.  I completely read one part of the book wrong and made a swing change that ended up being a death move for my golf game. After a few weeks or so of practicing wrong, I couldn’t hit a golf ball to save my life.  It got so bad that I eventually quit playing golf.  I won’t even mention that in an attempt to continue playing . . . I learned to play left-handed.

 

I had it bad.

 

Eventually, I could not go back to my old swing and I completely quit playing.  After destroying my idol, or God destroying it for me, whichever you prefer, I drew near to Him like never before.  I told Him over and over in His presence how sorry I was that I chose a game over Him.  I drew near to my wife, and we became as close as we had ever been before.  I still repent to this day that I chose golf over her.  I never would travel with her for the five years we were married and didn’t have children. I told her that I just liked to stay home, which was true, but the ultimate truth was . . . I wanted to play golf. Now, the days we get to travel somewhere and be alone together are some of the greatest days of my life.  The amount of love God has given me for her is just amazing.

 

One day when I was messing around in the garage, I picked up one of my clubs.  I felt God say to me, “You can have it back now.”  I was like, “What?”  He said, “You can have it back now, it isn’t an idol anymore.  It won’t ever hold first place in your heart again.”

 

So there I was this past Monday in what is called “The Bay.”  My instructor puts this fancy stuff on me so he can get all sorts of computer readings and compare my swing to various golf professionals.  For the first time in over a decade, I absolutely striped shot after shot for an hour and a half.  It was like every sensation came back to me from when I could really play.

 

Then it happened.

 

I paused to think just for a moment that years ago I actually valued doing this more than I valued being with God.  I thanked Him right then and there.  I let Him know that nothing compares to knowing Him.  I don’t know how God does this stuff, but I just had this sweet, sweet sense of His Presence right there in the moment, right out of nowhere.  It was all I could do to just fight back tears and not have people wonder what in the world was wrong with me.  Our band at church Sunday played “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury and I haven’t been able to sing it enough.  That song just flooded my mind.  “You have been so so good to me.”  “You have been so so kind to me.”

 

I sang it some more.

 

I shall end this WMD, put my headphones on, and sing it again.

 

Later

 

Adam

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Doing God’s Word

 

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you must meditate in it day and night, that you might observe to do all that is written in it:  for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.  – Joshua 1:8

 

Last year, I started the year out with the goal of being able to recall 100 verses of scripture off the top of my head.  By April of last year, I could do about 50.  This past week, I found the sheet I was using as a checklist.  I tried to see what I remembered and found that I could do about half of the 50 I had checked off.  So, I’m getting back to work on this.

 

I found this book by Robert Morgan called, “100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know.”  I realized pretty quickly that the verses on my list must have pretty much come straight from this book.  When I got to Joshua 1:8, I couldn’t recite it.  As I read it in the book it came back to me pretty quickly. The author talked about his own memorization of it as a kid.  Another pastor had recalled it as the first verse that he ever memorized.  I realized that this verse was a pretty big deal, with many people 80 to100 years ago memorizing this before even John 3:16.

 

The thing that strikes me about it is that God’s ultimate purpose for us is to do His Word, “that you might observe to do all that is written in it.”  American Christians really like the end of it, “for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”  We want the good success, just not the means to get it.  However, according to this verse, a person is truly prosperous and truly has good success as a direct correlation to knowing God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, and then actually living according to His Word.  So, the first question I had to ask myself is, “How much of His Word do I know?” I found that though I read it often, I don’t make an attempt to memorize it.

 

Now that I am back up to around 40 verses or so, I am finding that I love driving in a quiet car and cranking them out either out loud or in my mind.  I can go through Psalm 23 now and picture in my mind each detail the benefits of being as close to the Good Shepherd as possible.  I have the first half of Psalm 1, so I’m still working on that one.  What I have found is that 30 minutes to an hour goes by so quickly while I’m really meditating on His Word.  It is like a complete escape from the cares of this world.

 

The convicting part of all of this lies in this question:  If I haven’t really made an effort to know God’s Word, and because of this I haven’t really meditated on it, then what have I been doing?  Well, if I’m honest, I’ve just been doing what others have taught me.  I listen to and even read sermons ALL the time.  God has certainly used them in my life, but this means I’ve been living off of the secondary source of someone else’s interpretation of the Word, not the primary source of His Word itself.  I’ve been simply trying to do what I think God would have me do based on what I know about Him, which is obviously very little.  No wonder I’m so hit or miss.  I can still see where He has more than taken care of the big stuff, but it is in the little things of life that I seem to have no joy lately. Filling in these spaces of time with only Him and His Word has been quite invigorating.  The amount of peace and even energy that I seem to have is increasing.

 

The immediate context of this is Joshua chapter 1.  In the second verse, God tells Joshua, “Moses, my servant is dead.”  Seems like such a strange thing to say right off the bat. Then again, God didn’t want Joshua to be another Moses.  He didn’t want him living off of the reputation of Moses.  He didn’t want him to do things like Moses.  He just wanted Joshua to be himself, full of His Word, and obedient to His Word.

 

Lord, help me to go and do likewise.

 

Amen

 

Adam

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Urging Him to Remain

Urging Him to Remain

 

But they urged Him strongly, “Stay with us.”  — Luke 24:29

 

I love reading about our resurrected Lord visiting the two men on the road to Emmaus.  As those men were walking seven miles from Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to them in disguise.  When He asked them about their topic of conversation, they were kind of snarky with Him, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about the things that have happened there the last few days.”  “What things?” Jesus asked.

 

Those guys proceeded to tell the resurrection story.  They included these words, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” Jesus called them foolish and proceeded to teach them the Scriptures concerning Him.  The miles and the time flew by and they quickly came close to home. Jesus acted as if He was going to continue on the road and leave them.  That is when they said the words I have chosen as my main text, “Stay with us.”

 

As I read this, I was quite convicted.  I have urged Jesus to do a lot of things.  I’ve urged Him to answer prayers for loved ones that are hurting.  I’ve urged Him to do ridiculous things in the past like make my girlfriend come back to me.  I’ve even urged Him to help me get some particular job above many others.  Only He knows the many other frivolous things I’ve pleaded with Him to do for me.  But, there is one thing that I’m not sure I’ve ever done . . . urge Him strongly for His presence to remain with me.

 

When King David sinned with Bathsheba, God kind of laid the smack down on him.  He lost children, lost his throne, lost his comfort, and lost pretty much his known way of life.  You would think that he would urge God, even beg God, to restore all that was taken away.  Instead, David records in Psalm 51, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”  He knew he deserved for God to have nothing to do with him anymore.  David seemed so unconcerned with his material possessions, he simply says, “God, please don’t take that beautiful sense of Your Presence away from me.”  He was so sorry for not stewarding it well.

 

How powerful is that?

 

How convicting is that?

 

I have had some wonderful encounters with God in my lifetime.  His Presence has been so strong with me for these small windows of time.  Yet, I’m not sure I’ve valued that above all else. I’m not sure I’ve said, “God, no matter what, remain with me.  Make me so aware of just how near you are.  Your presence is everything to me.”

 

That is certainly my prayer this morning as I type this.  Lately, my attitude has kind of stunk.  I look back on the way I’ve lived and it just hasn’t been very God honoring. I could easily start whining for God to change my circumstances and make me more comfortable.  But I know that isn’t what I need.

 

After Jesus was revealed to those men, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

 

Lord, grant me a heart once more that just burns for you.  Help me not take it for granted.  Just like these men on the road to Emmaus, I urge you to remain.  I urge you to stay with me.  Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.   Cleanse me of my sin and unrighteousness.  Help me to cast my cares upon you and steward a presence like I have never known.

 

Amen.

 

Adam

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A Distorted View

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you. – Jeremiah 31:3

I am reading a book right now called “The Holy War,” by John Bunyan. I have read “The Pilgrim’s Progress” several times and I was super pumped to realize that he wrote another book. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but the story begins with a loving God, “Shaddai,” creating a perfect place, “Mansoul,” and the Devil, “Diobolus,” plotting and scheming to convince the inhabitants of Mansoul that Shaddai is not who He says He is. Of course, the plan of Diabolus is executed flawlessly, and the people’s view of Shaddai becomes distorted.

As I read the story, I thought of conversations I’ve had with believers and non-believers alike. Many have a distorted view of God. In the verse I have chosen for this week’s WMD, God says that He has loved us with a love that is everlasting. That is what He says, but if you talk to enough people about God, they reveal the opposite belief. Most believe God to be egotistical, someone who plays favorites, a manipulator, and someone who imposes His rules upon mankind. They certainly don’t describe a loving God who looks out for our best interests and is worth giving their life to.

I wonder where this comes from? There has to be a “Diobolus” element to it. I mean, if I were the devil and wanted God’s prized creation to hate Him, I would begin by ensuring that His subjects could not see Him as He really is. I would make sure there was a distorted view.

It took me a while to figure out that I had been deceived. When I first got saved, I did see God as the big tyrant in the sky who made all the rules and couldn’t wait to send people to everlasting torment. Since I really thought this was who He was, I did whatever I had to do to be right with Him. I asked Him to save me and asked for forgiveness every time I committed any sin that I knew about. After several years of this type of thinking making zero difference in my life, I almost gave up. I remember pressing on after hearing a sermon about how it was God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. The preacher flat out said that until you see God as loving and kind, you will never desire to serve Him.

He was right.

I want to please God right now with every fiber of my being. Yet, I know I don’t always please Him. I still make wrong decisions and do things that don’t represent Him well. Yet, I don’t feel a pressing need to rush and ask for forgiveness like I used to. I think of examples where my own kids have flat out done wrong, never asked for forgiveness, yet I have forgiven them. I forgive them always because they are mine. It is when I really get a sense of His presence that I just can’t stop crying and saying I’m sorry . . . I don’t even know what I’m sorry for, I just know that, in His Holiness, I feel so unclean, and so unworthy to be there. It is the greatest feeling this planet offers.

Every person that enters into this world must simply decide whether or not they want to be His. This is the real decision one makes to receive salvation. It is not a decision to automatically start following all of His rules and doing everything He says. It is a decision to allow Him to begin the step-by-step remodeling process. It is a decision to trust that He will restore you over time into what you were originally created to be. If you receive Him as your Heavenly Father, then He receives you as His son or daughter and pours out His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness upon you. If you reject Him, then He continues to allow you to be the star of your own story. He allows you to call your own shots and live your life the way you see fit.

If you are rejecting Him, you do not know Him, nor do you see Him correctly. I am so sorry that countless preachers like me, and people who call themselves Christians have represented Him so poorly. He really is a good, good Father.

This goodness does not mean He is passive and just allows you to continue on the path that you are on, do whatever you want, and be however you want to be. Of course Dad has rules, but He doesn’t mind taking years to teach them to you as you grow in your faith.  He is not the abusive Dad who beats you up for every little mistake. He is perfect in all of His ways. Everything He does is corrective in the best possible way.

Would you really want Him to be any other way?

Later

 

Adam

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