You have to be a sinner before you can be forgiven

Jesus isn’t looking for the good people, the perfect people, the people who have it all together.  If we could be perfect then He didn’t need to die.  No, Jesus said through David in the Psalms:

Psalm 34:17-18  (NKJV)

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,    And delivers them out of all their troubles.The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,    And saves such as have a contrite [to repent, to turn around] spirit.

(Brackets mine)

Psalm 51:16-17  (NKJV)

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
    You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
    A broken and a contrite heart—
    These, O God, You will not despise. 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3-4) and “those who mourn” over their sinful condition.  “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “they shall be comforted”.  Not the haughty, not the proud.  Not those who claim to have it altogether, and say they have no sin.  Jesus said God accepts those who recognize who they are and cry out to God to clothe them with His righteousness, with Jesus.

Jesus loves us sinners!

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Whatever situation I find myself in, the preceding verse promises me victory.  The problem is that at first I didn’t want the victory… I wanted to sin.  Then when I tried to resist sin, the temptation was too great, or so I thought, and I gave in.  It wasn’t until I thought through the consequences of sin that I decided I wanted victory over it.  And I truly had to want victory over sin, more than I wanted the pleasure of sin for a season.

Then, I asked God to show me the way of escape and to give me the wisdom to take it.  This puts God in the lead and and me dependent on Him, which is the best place to be.  God says to resist the devil and he will flee from you:

James 4:7 – 10 (NKJV)

7Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  9Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  10Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

This is for most sin.  One of the surprises I found from reading Dr. Chuck Swindoll, was that concerning sexual sin, God did not want me to stand and fight temptation.  No, He wanted me to RUN, to flee, to get out of Dodge.  This is what Joseph did when his master’s wife tried to seduce him.  He ran.

Genesis 39:11 – 12 (NKJV) 

11But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside,  12that she [his master’s wife] caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.

Joseph had no choice, but for us, many times the way of escape doesn’t have to be that dramatic or at the last minute.  When traveling you can ask when you check in to the hotel to have the objectionable TV channels turned off.  Also, if you can, don’t travel alone but with a trusted friend.  Do a phone check in with your spouse or accountability partner at night.  Plan ahead and do whatever it takes to stop sin before it stops you.  Jesus said that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!  (Matthew 5:30).  Of course this was exaggeration, Jesus doesn’t want you to be without a hand, but what Jesus meant was to deal decisively with sin.

God loves people.  God hates sin, not people.  God hates sin because it hurts Him and it hurts people.  The penalty was death for King David when he committed adultery.  But God pardoned him.  When a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus to have her stoned Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”.

John 8 (NKVJ)

3Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.7So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”11She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”12Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

John the Apostle said that if a man claims to have no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him.  

1 John 1:8 (NKJV)

8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Therefore, we all deal with sin.  Those who brought the woman caught in adultery found this out, and so they all left.  But by what power are we delivered from sin?  The apostle Paul said:

Romans 7:13 – 25 (NKJV)

13Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.  14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.  15For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.  19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.  20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.  24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Romans 8:1 – 11 (NKJV)

1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,£ who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.  3For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,  4that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  6For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.  8So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.  10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

 Jesus is the friend of sinners, not so we can continue in sin, but so that Jesus can forgive our sin, cleanse us of sin and give us His righteousness and His Life.  Call on Him today, He is waiting to forgive you and give you new life!

Jesus can make satan’s lies tell the truth

2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV84

 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

My mental illness doesn’t present itself as voices, either inside or outside my head.  What I contend with are feelings and thoughts.  Painful, hopeless, anxious feelings that sometimes leave me thinking that I should give up.  I call them satan’s fiery darts.  And I used to give in to them.  Then I battled them unsuccessfully.  Now, after thinking about the preceding verse, I ask Jesus to take these thoughts captive and make them tell the truth.

The truth is that Jesus loves us.  He has taken care of everything.  We do not have to perform up to standards for Him to accept us.  He accepts us just as we are.  When we trust Him to save us from the punishment we deserve, we become His children.  Two thousand years ago He took our shame and blame and suffered the punishment for it.  There is nothing else to pay.  He freely gives us His righteousness, Spirit, and life.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

The evil one, satan, attacks us when we are weakest, and attacks the weakest part of ourselves.  That’s different for each one of us.  What is a constant though, is that satan’s attacks are lies.  They may contain some parts that are true, but the message that he conveys is always a lie.

Before I had a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, I thought I was “pretty good”.  I thought I was a Christian, which was a lie of satan (I liked Jesus’ philosophy but I did not know Him personally).  I thought the few sins I had were no big deal, which was a lie of satan (they were not few and they were a huge deal).  Satan had me completely deceived and so satan just kept telling me I was “pretty good”, I kept believing him, and so he didn’t need to do anymore to insure I was going to hell.

But once I surrendered to Jesus satan went on the attack.  I was now a threat to him.  He couldn’t change my new eternal destination (heaven with Jesus) but he could try and stop me from taking anyone with me.  My experience has been that the more closely I follow Jesus, the more I notice satan’s attacks.  And it seems like most of the time those attacks are thoughts and feelings, that is, satan’s fiery darts.

Jesus dealt with satan by appropriately quoting the Word of God, the Bible.  We can too.  Next time, I’ll post some verses that I’ve found helpful.

From nothing to everything

God, the Father of Jesus, respects us, His creation, made in His image, so much, that He does not force us to love Him.  In fact, He has created this world in such a way that we can go through our whole life denying His existence and His rightful claim on our life.  God does not demand worship.  He is love, and love does not force others to love.  In fact, love cannot be forced.  He simply loves us continuously from before we are conceived until we die; and He orchestrates circumstances and relationships in hopes that at some point we will see that He loves us and that as a response we will freely choose to love Him in return and others as ourselves.

But, why would God send good people to hell?  What if no one ever told them about God?  God would be unfair to reject someone who was never told about Him, wouldn’t He?

Romans 1:18-20, NIV:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Before I knew Jesus and surrendered my life to Him I was scared to death of dying.  Occasionally, I thought the rapture (Jesus taking all of His people from the earth) had occurred and that I was left behind.  When I thought I was going to die, or I thought I was left behind, I had a brief moment of clarity.  I knew God was holy, I knew I was sinful, and I knew He was just to reject me.  And after those brief moments I rejected what I knew to be true and “closed my eyes” and went back to my life as usual.

I knew God was real but I didn’t care.  I had no love for Him.

But God had love for me.

He gave me mental illness, which might seem like hate, but it was really love.  The mental illness struck at my biggest source of pride and self-sufficiency: my brain.  I was paranoid and could not think logically and I could not emotionally relate to others.  Because of my mental illness I was rejected and alone, even in a crowd of friends and family.  After ten years of this “hell” I was still rebellious toward God and still did not respect or love Him.

But He loved me.

And, when I had absolutely nothing left to lose, God offered me a relationship with Him.  And it was only when God had taken away everything the world had to offer: intellect, money, jobs, cars, friends, family, that I grudgingly accepted Him; specifically because I had absolutely nothing left to lose.

Thinking that I was naturally “pretty good” I could not have been any more disrespectful to God.  And He humbled Himself and endured me until I accepted Him and His love.  He has transformed me from someone who hated love to someone who rejoices in love.  I have been forever changed by Jesus’ love and all the credit goes to Him.

If you want to know Jesus the way I do all you have to do is to reach out for Him with all that you are.  He said He will be found by you.  Tell Him that you have sinned against Him and that you are sorry and that you accept that His death on the cross paid for your sin debt in full.  Then tell Him that you believe He rose from the dead on the third day to make you just, forgiven, and holy.  And tell Him that He is now your Lord and Master and that you will follow Him for the rest of your life when at last you will meet Him face to face.

Next, tell someone what Jesus has done for you.  And find a church that believes and preaches the Bible.  Find someone who is farther along in their walk with Jesus and who’s life is worthy of imitating and ask them to mentor you.  And always read the Bible and pray, because God loves you most of all and He can help you most of all.

Putting God to the test?

Malachi 3 NIV

6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.
9 You are under a curse —the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit, ” says the LORD Almighty.  

12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Until you experience the blessing God gives in response to tithing you may be reluctant to give God back His ten percent of what He gives you.  At least that’s what I think my sons are experiencing.

Several years ago I challenged my older son when he was about 12 years old, to test God and see what God would do if my son tithed. My son tithed seven dollars and we watched what God would do.  God said to test Him in this and so we did.  Within a few days I was given four free tickets to a first run major kids’ movie.  God blessed not only my son, but his brother and mom and dad.

I didn’t stick with teaching this to my son and now, ten years later,  my son is not interested in tithing.  I don’t plan on giving up on teaching him and his younger brother though.  My wife and I are going to double tithe and ask God to bless my wife and I doubly (so that we doubly don’t have enough room for it) so that my sons will see that God can be tested and also see that God comes through on His promises.  This test will be for the month of September 2013.  I will report back with developments.

Let’s change the world

 Deuteronomy 8  (NIV)

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  
11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,
13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied,
14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God,
who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
15 He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.
16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.
17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  
18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.
20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

Though my university selectively showed me facts that imply otherwise, I believe our nation was founded on Jesus and the Gospel.  (Other faiths enjoyed freedom of expression, and that is attributable to the characteristic of being a predominately Christian country).  Because Jesus permeated the new culture, God blessed this nation just as He blessed Israel when Israel obeyed God.  However, God did not spare Israel, His “treasured possession”, when they did not obey Him.  He sent droughts, floods. storms, and lastly, invading armies, to get their attention.

The parallels to what has been happening to the USA is striking.  America has suffered droughts, floods and storms in increasingly greater severity.  Why?  I believe because America has gone far from God and God is trying to get our attention.

God has a great heart for justice for the oppressed, for the helpless.

Racism causes great injustice: educationally, socially and economically.

Abortion literally chops up helpless living babies and sends them to the garbage.

And our money driven culture doesn’t care.

For a few brief moments American’s priorities were exposed by 9/11.  We suddenly saw that ball players were not the heroes that the commercial culture makes them out to be.  The real heroes were firefighters, police officers, and military personnel; and the countless ordinary citizens who have also sacrificed themselves by helping others.  Churches saw many new faces…briefly.  President George W. Bush said that the rest of America moved on from 9/11 but that he stayed there.  I wish all of America would have stayed there long enough to pay attention to God.

God said to Israel that if they obeyed Him they would be the head and foreigners would be the tail.  And if they did not obey Him foreigners would be the head and Israel would be the tail.  Similarly, hasn’t our own economic health paralleled our moral decline since the 1960’s?  We used to lend to other nations.  Now we are in massive debt to other nations.  And the debtor is servant to the lender.

What is next for God to use to get our attention?  As terrible as 9/11 was, it only woke up America for a few weeks, a few months at best.  Since then it has been no different than before.  When Israel refused to acknowledge the One that won their wars and gave them freedom from their enemies, God stopped helping them.  In time of war after 9/11 our nation prayed.  And we saw God help us using technology.  If we do not acknowledge the One who loves us and protects us, all our technology will be useless.

You may be asking, what can we do, the problems are so big and I am just one person?  God says one person praying is like a thousand and two like ten thousand.  Let’s ask God to first change us and offer ourselves to Him each day to do whatever He asks.  Then let Him lead us.  Margaret Mead is attributed as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Practice what I preach?

The Pharisees, religious and political leaders of Jesus time, failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah their beloved Moses talked about.  This was because they did not believe or obey the Scripture they had memorized and talked about each Sabbath.  They were, as Jesus pointed out to them, hypocrites.

What does that mean for me?  It is easier to write about Jesus than it is to actually follow Him.  I get convicted while I type the words to some of these posts.  How much time do I spend in meaningful conversation each day with my wife? with each of my sons?  Do I give my best at church? at work?

I realize that I need to let Jesus order my world, let Him set the priorities and manage my schedule.  And I do that by obeying Him when He nudges me to set the computer aside and listen to my family.  Jesus will give me the time to write, that is not the problem.  The problem is that I not use my family’s time as writing time and crowd out what is more important.  My family, my church, and my work come first.  In that order.

I believe this struggle of priorities will be ongoing.  I also believe that by putting into practice what I already know to be true from the Bible, the way will get clearer, if not easier.  And by relying on the Holy Spirit, to guide and empower me, the end result will be the balance that God is looking for from me.

Please feel free to hold me accountable to this.