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Archive for July, 2009

God made it simple for a person to become a Christian.

But by using vague clichés and by embracing misconceptions of the steps one must take to become a Christian, some make salvation seem to be something that is difficult…even complex. Some infer that becoming a Christian is the result of a person’s having done something. This is not a new problem. Since the days of the early church false teachers have made salvation seem to be something much more difficult than it really is. The Apostle Paul dealt with this problem repeatedly.

False teachers in the church of Paul’s day were proclaiming a “gospel” that said that genuine salvation was something that had to be earned through rigid obedience to a complex system of religious laws. Listen to Paul’s response to this erroneous teaching in the church in Galatia:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to distort the gospel of Christ.”

This problem also popped up in the church in Ephesus. Here is Paul’s response:

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

These passages tell us that in the days of Paul’s ministry there was a great deal of confusion over what had to happen in order for a person to be come a Christian. And even today, almost 2,000 years later, there are those who twist the truth of scripture and make salvation appear difficult or complex. So I want  to correct some misconceptions about salvation by taking a basic look at what Salvation is not and what it is.

Let’s begin by looking at what salvation is not:

1. First of all, salvation, becoming a Christian is NOT related to physical birth

In other words, I was not born a Christian. Now my parents are Christians and they took me to church all my life. They even taught me Christian principles. But that did not make me a Christian. A person does not become a Christian as a result of being born in a Christian home, because salvation is not related to physical birth. You cannot be BORN a Christian. In fact, Jesus taught that you must be RE-BORN a Christian!

2. Secondly, salvation is NOT reformation.

It is not turning over a new leaf — acting like a Christian — trying to do better. Don’t get my wrong here, everyone should try to live a moral life. We should be good people. And this should be a result of the new birth that we experience when we become Christians. But turning over a new leaf and trying to do the right thing… simply trying to live a moral life…these efforts do not make you a Christian.

3. Then, thirdly, salvation does NOT come by way of any external religious action….such as partaking of communion, adherance to dietary laws, or church membership.

Please understand–church membership is important. All Christians should publicly join a local church and get involved in its ministry, but church membership is not salvation. You can join a church and follow all its rituals faithfully, but church membership is for people who have already become Christians. And, the ordinances of Baptism and Communion are also important. They are object lessons that Jesus commanded us to observe so that we would never forget some vital truths. Whenever we partake of Communion we are reminded that Christ died for us. And whenever a believer is immersed he or she is using this experience as a way to proclaim that they are committed to making Christ Lord of their lives. So of course we should follow Jesus in baptism…we should regularly observe communion…but participation in these precious symbols does not make you a child of God. These observances are tools God gave us to teach. They are not actions that save us or make us more pure and blameless in God’s sight. Becoming a Christian is not ever the result of anything we do. It is our simple act of faith in what God has done.

But enough of the negative. What IS salvation?

Well, first of all, salvation IS a personal experience. YOU decide. You respond to God. No one does this for you. Remember the third chapter of John records that Jesus said to Nicodemus “YOU must be born again!” Salvation is a personal experience. Your parents can’t do this for you. Your deacon can’t do this for you. Your pastor can’t do this for you. NO ONE CAN! You have to respond to God personally!

Secondly, Salvation IS a transforming experience. Becoming a Christian makes a new person out of you! The word “CONVERSION” literally means “a turned-around life”. When you are converted, you turn from going one way and go the opposite. And this is what salvation is. Your life is transformed. You become a new person. Your goals are changed. As it says in II Corinthians 5:17 : “If any one is in Christ he is a new creation….old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Becoming a Christian is not reformation, but transformation. You do not change, but you ARE changed from within through the power of God.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Salvation IS an act of God’s grace. Grace means that salvation is something we are given that we could never hope to deserve or earn. And maybe that is the hardest thing for us to swallow. We would expect to have to do something to make ourselves somehow worthy of God’s love. But this is a misconception. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation comes from heaven downward–not from earth upward. God’s gift of salvation was God-given, God-driven, God-empowered, and God-originated.

The gift is not from man to God through our efforts. It is from God to man.

4. I John 4:10 helps us realize our need to keep this straight. Listen to what it says,

“It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us in sending His Son to be the way to take away our sins.” On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world.”

No other system, ideology, or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it but deserve judgment instead. All of us were bankrupt before God. Our sin separated us from Him. So out of His gracious love, He sent His only Son to die for us on the cross of Calvary. And in doing that, He took our sin upon Himself. When we confess our sin and ask for God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ we are saved.

It’s as simple as that! Salvation is not something complex. Becoming a Christian is so simple that even a child can do it.

Becoming a Christian is as simple as ABC…

* Admit you are a sinner separated from God.

* Believe that Jesus Christ was God’s only Son…that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead on the third day…

* Commit your life to Him. Make Him your Lord.

A, B, C…It’s easy as 1, 2, 3… what could be simpler?

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Monday we looked at the authority of scripture….Today we look at our belief about Jesus Christ.

It is important to note that these two essentials are intertwined. The Bible from beginning to end is the written record of God pursuing a relationship with mankind. So the love of Jesus can be felt in every word, on every page. One person has said, “Cut the Scriptures anywhere and they bleed with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I can understand why this would be said, because the sacrificial love of God in Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. The thing that Jesus shows us most clearly about God is His love.

Love has never been a normal way of describing what happens between human beings and their God. Not once does the Qur’an apply the word love to God…and Aristotle stated bluntly, “It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus.” But the Bible is different. It very clearly states that love is the reason Jesus was born. I John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

So it is important — essential — for us to believe that, in Jesus, God showed His infinite love for you and me by descending to our level of existence. He became a man like any man who has ever walked the face of this earth. But while Jesus was a man like you and I, He was also unlike you and I. He was different than any man who has ever been or ever will be. Like the title of this message states, Jesus was the man who was different. There are may ways that Jesus was different from any man.

But today, I want us to understand our essential belief about Jesus Christ by looking at this text from Hebrews 1 and using it to focus our study on just two of the ways that He was different.

1. First of all, Jesus was different from any man in that He was God.

Remember the words of verse 3 of today’s text. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” These words serve to remind us that in the past there had been many great teachers who had come from God, but in Jesus, in Jesus, God did something different because Jesus was not just another teacher come from God. He was God Himself come to teach.

Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus Himself claimed to be God. In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” In John 8:58, Jesus used the same name God used to identify Himself to Moses when He said, “Truly, truly I say to you…before Abraham was born, I AM.”

He substantiated this claim by demonstrating powerful attributes which belong to God alone. During His life He demonstrated power over nature by stilling the stormy waves( Mark 4:39 ) and by turning water into wine ( John 2:7-11 ). He showed that He had power over physical disease and power over the spirit world of demons. In fact several times Jesus both claimed and proved that He had the authority and power to raise the dead. He never attended a funeral that He did not ruin by raising the corpse back to life. He also said that He had the power to forgive sins–something that His opponents pointed out that only God could do.( Mark 2:10 ) So, Jesus was omnipotent, all powerful. But, like God, He was also omniscient, or all-knowing. You see, Jesus was the man who was different because He was God.

Since He was God then Jesus was also perfect, Holy, sinless in thought, word, or deed. And like God, Jesus is eternal. He has always existed. Do you remember the words that begin John’s Gospel? “In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God and the WORD was God. He was with God in the beginning.” And then pay close attention to these next words, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” Since Jesus is God, then not only is He eternal, but He created all things. So Jesus is God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, in human flesh.

But that is not the only thing that distinguishes Him from other men.

2. For not only was Jesus God….He was our Redeemer.

Jesus, the creator of the world, was also the redeemer of the world.

Think of it! Even in the misty, pre-creation past, Jesus was thinking of you and me and planning our redemption. Even at the dawn of creation it had already been decided. The One who created the world would be the One who re-created that same world.

Ephesians 1 puts it this way, “…He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. … in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

L. Nelson Bell recounted a story told by a Chinese pastor as a way of explaining Christ’s redemption. He told of a man who fell into a dark, slimy pit. He tried to climb out but could not. Confucius came along, saw the man, and aid, “Poor fellow. IF he had listened to me, he would never have fallen in.” And Confucius walked away. Then Buddha came along. “Poor fellow,” said Buddha, “If he’d come up here, I’d help him.” He, too, walked on. Then Jesus came by. Seeing the man, Jesus said, “Poor fellow,” and then He jumped down into the pit and lifted him out.”

Other religions offer rules and regulations, guidelines to follow and doctrine to believe. But only Christianity offers a living personality who comes to where we are and lifts us out of the pit of sin. Our eternal God of all-knowing power could force obedience from us, His subjects.

But although power can force obedience, it could not summon a response of love which is the one thing God desires from us and is the reason He created us.

Can we reject so great a gift?

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Our Lord and Savior, our Superior in the chain of command, has given us a mission. We call it the GREAT COMMISSION. Remember the commanding words Jesus spoke as He was ascending to heaven while the disciples looked on:

“All authority has been given me in heaven and earth. Therefore, go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I am with you always as you do this.(Matthew 28:18-20 )

Our mission of leading people to accept Christ and become His disciples must take priority in our day to day existence. Lives depend on this. The eternal destinies of men and women hinge on this. We should center our lives as Christians and as members of the church on this task we are called to do and on the essentials that enable us to accomplish it.

If we allow ourselves to be sidetracked into dealing with non-essentials, then we will only slow ourselves down. In fact, we will risk not being able to accomplish our mission. We will hinder our ability to be a part of the greatest task God has ever given to His people. And, to accomplish this mission, there are three essential things we must know and believe.

* We must have a correct belief of the nature and authority of the Bible.

* We must have a precise understanding of who Jesus is. And,

* We must have an accurate comprehension of how a person is saved, converted, how someone comes to be a Christian.

These three beliefs encompass what I believe are the bare essentials that we need if we are to complete the task God has given us. I have always loved the following saying and would love for it to be able to be said about the Christians everywhere ….that in this place we have freedom in the non-essentials, UNITY IN THE ESSENTIALS, and love in every thing. So for the next three posts we will take a close look at these essential beliefs. Today we look at the first essential–our belief about the Bible.

Let’s consider this:

* Why is our belief about the Bible important?

* Why is this an essential?

* Why do Christians revere this book?

We do this because the Bible involves the whole issue of the revelation of God. Think about it. How can we know God exists? How can we know what He is like? You and I are not intelligent enough to even scratch the surface of understanding the nature of God. He is infinitely above you and me. Job 11:17 expresses this when it says, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

The answer is no…we can’t. God is simply too big for us to understand.So if we are to have a relationship with God then He must reveal Himself to us. He must take the initiative. And He has. God has revealed Himself in several ways.

* God has revealed himself through nature… Romans 1:20 says, “…ever since God created the world, His invisible qualities, both His eternal power and His divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made.”

* God has revealed Himself through History. The Old Testament is full of expressions that reflect a recognition of God because of His activity in the affairs of men and nations. II Chronicles 33:13 reflects this acknowledgment of God as being active in the history of Israel when it says, “Then Israel knew that the Lord is God.”

* God also revealed Himself through the prophets He sent. These men often used the phrase, ” The WORD OF THE LORD came to me…”

* But God’s fullest revelation came in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by HIS SON.”

So in past millennia God has taken the initiative to reveal Himself in many ways. But what about people like you and me who were not present in years long gone and did not see God’s involvement in history or the events surrounding Christ’s life, death, and resurrection? To reveal Himself to all people something more was required — a WRITTEN RECORD was needed. And so, God has given us this in the Bible… He has revealed Himself to us on the pages of this book.So our beliefs about this book are important because these pages are the written story of God pursuing a relationship with humanity. Suffice it to say that this book is unique. There is no other book like it and never will be.

And today, as we look at the unique characteristics of the Bible you will see why it is so important for us to give it the authority in our lives that it demands.

So the Bible is not just another book…..it is different….in several ways….

1. First of all it is different from any other book — in that it is the WORD OF GOD and not man.

As the verses in our text for today put it, “All scripture is GOD-BREATHED….none of it originated in the will of man….” And the entire Bible beginning with the Old Testament makes this claim. If you were to sit down and read from Genesis to Malachi you would count over 3800 times in which phrases such as “Thus says the Lord” or “This is the word of the Lord” are used. The writers of the New Testament repeatedly recorded their belief that the Old Testament was God’s word by directly quoting the Old Testament over 300 times as being the “Word of God”.

Jesus affirmed the authority of the Old Testament, when He said in John 10:35 — “for we know that the scripture is true forever” In fact every tenth recorded saying of Jesus is a direct quote of the Old Testament. In Luke 16:17 Jesus says, “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest detail of the Law to be done away with.”

2. The Bible is also unique in that, unlike any other book it is a book that is alive.

Remember the words of Hebrews 4:12 that we read earlier, “The word of God is living and active”? Well, it is living and active. And so, when we read its words, they reach out and touch the needs of our lives in an almost tangible way. Isaiah 55:11 describes scripture as being a living agent or messenger that God sends to touch our lives. Listen to what God says in this passage: ” ….My word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

So, unlike any other book, the Bible is living and powerful.

3. The Bible is also unique in that by reading its words a person can come to know God personally.

Remember the words of II Timothy 3:15-17 “….from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. “ Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the WORD OF GOD.” Remember the words of John 20:31. “…these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in Him.”

You know…. perhaps the best way to summarize the make-up of this book is to say that it is an invitation from Creator to creation. It is God’s written invitation to all of us. In this book God invites you and me to live our lives according to His wisdom. He invites us to give this book authority in our lives–to adopt it as our guidebook–our instruction manual for life.

In these pages God has issued a written invitation to us–to know Him personally, to walk with Him daily. Like all invitations this book calls for us to respond.

What will your’s be?

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The charges were false, even ludicrous. Those who couldn’t refute his arguments or silence him by threats drummed up false accusations. Stephen took control of the room with his voice, unexpectedly holding his audience spellbound. His words resonated with the kind of passion that flows form a simple man who has grasped a great idea, or has been grasped by a vision larger than himself. He told an old familiar story once again, highlighting parts of it that had been curiously overlooked and even forgotten over the years. He traced God’s amazing ways down through the centuries until, like the weaver’s final pass of threads in a seamless garment, Stephen confronted his audience with the truth about their condition.

Stephen presented his case, beginning with Abraham, the father of Israel and Israel’s faith (Acts 7:2-53). Then he unfolded an extended history lesson highlighted by God’s faithfulness despite the faithlessness of his people. Because the accusations had focused on Stephen’s alleged words against the Temple, his case demonstrated that even God had words of warning about the Temple. That was not, after all, a place on which God had staked His reputation. Having dismantled the accusers’ sham case against him, Stephen swiftly stated God’s case against them. Despite all God’s gifts and blessings to His people, they had ultimately rejected Him and His Son. Then Stephen’s closing thunder had to provoke either a storm of resistance or an outpouring of repentance. He said, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it” (Acts 52-53).

The crowd had gathered to judge Stephen, but history and truth passed judgment on them. They rose in rejection of the truth and killed the messenger. Stoning is perhaps one of the most effective ad hominum arguments (an attack against a person rather than an idea), but it doesn’t stop or silence the truth.

Stephen must have seen the murder in their eyes. But he also saw something better when he looked up. “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56), he declared. The mob dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. He didn’t expect to escape, so he asked God to receive his spirit. Then, with his last breath, he prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60).

Luke, the writer of this account, was not present at Stephen’s martyrdom, but he knew well a man who had been there. That man would have remembered details like the last words Stephen uttered. That man was the apostle Paul, at that time known as Saul, a fierce persecutor of Jesus’ followers. But Saul didn’t know he would have an appointment on the road to Damascus with the same Jesus whom Stephen had seen just before he died.

I found interesting the other day, while discussing Life after Death, the repeated theme inherent in most of the stories you hear on this topic. The theme usually involves some sort of trauma (medical or physical) that causes the person to realize that they may be dying. At that point the theme introduces a “vision” of the “other side”. Some report “talking to a long lost relative” or “seeing a light at the end of a dark tunnel”, while others say they “see Jesus”.

In these times such people are regarded as kooks, their visions are “mere hallucinations”. I beg to differ. Not only is the very same theme reported here – Stephen is being stoned to death, and sees a vision of Christ standing at the right hand of the Father. Even given this glorious vision, having the faith to remain true to his beliefs in the middle of a Sanhedren execution, Stephen has the faith to do two things that I dare say not many of us would be able to do at that point. He: 1) Prays to his Lord. Too many in this world would be too hurt, in pain, scared, angry, betrayed to begin to pray at that moment. This fact is sad in and of itself.

The sadder fact is what (if we were able to pray at that point) would we pray for? Most of us would pray “Lord, get me out of this!” or some other variation on that sentiment. It’s the “Why Me?” syndrome. We are very much like the young man in this Simple Plan video titled “Untitled (How Could This Happen To Me?) – we would ask how this could happen to us, oblivious to the others affected by what has happened.


Not Stephen. He not only has the strength to pray, but to ask his Lord for His forgiveness for those committing this crime against him. At the deepest, most despairing moment in anyone else’s life, Stephen asks the Lord to forgive, and in doing so indicates that he has already forgiven them even as they crushed his body with rocks.

THAT is the kind of faith that I pray that I can have.

How about you?

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