Friday, August 31, 2012

A New Creation

Chuckle:  The worst analogy ever written in a high school essay was . . . "Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze!"
Good Quote:   "All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson
NEW CREATION                  
    "So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons (new creations). They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NLT).
This passage contains one of the most miraculous truths in Scripture.  When a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a new creation -- a brand-new person on the inside.  By the working of the Holy Spirit, he or she is not the same anymore.  Rather, we think differently, speak differently, and act differently.  We have a new nature.  In the first creation, God brought people into physical existence from nothingness; but in this new creation, he brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Christians are not reformed, rehabilitated, or reeducated, but are transformed human beings living in an eternal union with Christ.  This new relationship with Christ becomes the controlling factor in one's life.  When we are converted/saved, it is not the equivalent of turning over a new leave and promising to do better.  It is the beginning of a new life under the control of a new Master.  As a new creation in Christ, we receive a new nature with a new attitude toward God and life itself.  We are no longer driven by the standards of the world, but by the standards of God's Word.
    "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). The Message Bible puts it this way: "He (God) creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."
Notice that our salvation is not the result of doing good deeds.  No, our salvation is by grace through faith -- resulting in our recreation.  Then, as a natural progression from our rebirth, God expects us to do the work which he has arranged in advance for us to do.  As a new creation, we do the work (ministry) of God while empowered by, and under the direction of, his Spirit. "When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory, it will never lack God's supply.  God is not obligated to pay for our selfish schemes.  He is obligated to support his ministry."  --Hudson Taylor 
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ashamed of the Gospel?

Chuckle:  "The emergency brake on my car is really not an "emergency brake." I never use it in an emergency. It should be called a 'makes your car smell really funny' lever."   
Good Quote:  "It's not our choice as to whether or not we believers wish to be epistles of Christ. We just are! What is the message others read in you?" --Unknown Author
    "For I am not ashamed of this Good News (gospel) about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes -- Jews first and also Gentiles" (Romans 1:16 NLT).
Paul described three elements of his life that resulted in power for his evangelistic efforts: a deep sense of obligation to his Lord; an eagerness to spread the gospel message; and pride in the gospel for what it could do.  When he reflected on the sacrifice Christ made for him on the cross, he saw himself as being deeply in debt, with an accompanying obligation to repay that debt by being a faithful witness.  This sense of obligation made him eager to share the message with all people.  Thus he received great satisfaction from what he was doing and saw no reason, whatsoever, to be ashamed of the gospel message.
When you stop and think about it, God did nothing for the apostle Paul that he hasn't done for each of us.  His sacrificial and atoning death on the cross was for all people, equally.  Why is it that most of us are so timid and unsure of ourselves when it comes to sharing the Good News with others?  People give various reasons for not witnessing for their Lord.  But I suppose it boils down to depending on our own strength rather than the limitless strength and power of the One who commanded us to "go and make disciples of all nations."   When we depend upon our inadequate human strength, fear, anxiety, timidity, and ineffectiveness as a witness becomes the norm.  Depending upon God's strength will make us bold and eager to share what Christ has done for us.
In reality, each of us is a witness of one sort or another.  If you profess to be a Christian, you are a living testimony of your faith -- either positive or negative. Someone has put it this way:
You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By deeds you do,
By words you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say! What is the gospel
According to you?
God has entrusted to us the priceless message of Jesus Christ, the gospel.  It is the power of God which will save anyone, and everyone who, places their faith and trust (believes) in Christ.  What an awesome responsibility God has given us; but what a joy it can be when we are faithful in sharing the Good News, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and seeing lives changed.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Faith and Works

Chuckle:  Can it be a mistake that "stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards?
Good Quote:  "If we have faith without works, or works without faith, we have washed the window on one side only."   --William Arthur Ward 
    "The gentiles have been made right with God by faith, even though they were not seeking him. But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law and being good instead of depending on faith" (Romans 9:30-32 NLT).
What a difference it would make in our world if everyone understood the letter, the spirit, and the implications of this passage.  There is a deep-seated conviction in the minds of many that goodness (righteousness) is measured by what we do -- the good things we accomplish in this life. 
We continue to think we must impress God by our good deeds/ works to earn his acceptance and approval so we can be assured a place in his heavenly presence.  This salvation by works idea blinds people to the blessed truth that it is the righteousness of Jesus, not ours, that reconciles us to God.  Believing that we must earn God's approval serves as a stumbling block to attaining true righteousness through faith.
The only righteousness that makes us acceptable in God's sight is the righteousness imputed to us by Jesus Christ, and this righteousness only becomes our own through faith in Him.  We may think that attending church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice to people will be enough to earn God's favor.  Paul tells us the approach will never succeed. 
We can only be saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross at Calvary. "God saved you by his special favor (grace) when you believed. And you can't take credit for this: it is a gift of God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
If salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ, what place does good deeds have in our lives?  It's really quite simple.  Good deeds that please God are those done for his glory as a result of our relationship to Him through Christ, not to earn that relationship.  "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things (works) he planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).
Our salvation is something only God can do through his creative power at work in us.  We become Christians through God's grace (unmerited favor), not as the result of our own efforts, abilities, or acts of service.  God's intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.  We work for him out of love and gratitude because we have been saved, not to be saved.
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Darkness of Depression

Chuckle:  "If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments!!"
Beautiful Prayer:  "I believe in Your everlasting love, dear Father, and I accept it. I trust in Your sovereign control over the circumstances of my life, and I will rest in the knowledge that Your character is trustworthy and unchanging. Amen."  --Kay Arthur. 
     "Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don't turn away from me, or I will die" (Psalm 143:7 NLT). "Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again. . ."  (Psalm 5:5 NLT).
Are you suffering from depression, or do you know someone who is?  If so, you realize full well the sense of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness depression can bring.  If you watch television, you are aware of the many commercials advertising drugs to help people overcome the devastating effects of depression.  Depression seems to be an epidemic in our society and there are many  approaches to treating this disorder. 
I recognize that some suffer depression brought on by physical problems -- chemical imbalances, etc.  Those may require professional help.  Obviously, I can't offer you help in this area, except to encourage you to seek the help you need.  However, I am convinced that many suffer feelings of depression brought on by a spiritual vacuum in their lives.  Claiming to be a Christian will not necessarily fill that vacuum.  Often we see depressed Christians. Why?
A while back, I read a short sermon in the Religion section of our local newspaper.  It was entitled, "When Your Roots Don't Hit the Water."  The message dealt with depression and the title was derived from John 7:38 NLT: "If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within."  Here, Jesus uses the term "living water" to refer to the Holy Spirit who is always available to believers because he lives within us.  It is the Holy Spirit who stands ready to fill every spiritual need we have if we are willing for Him to do so -- not trying to solve our problems on our own.
We can become discouraged, depressed, and worried about what the future may hold. Maybe you are not well and are fearful that death may not be far away.  Maybe you are feeling guilty because you are not living the way you know God would desire.  Maybe you are feeling deep disappointment and hurt because of a rebellious child or a wayward spouse.  Maybe one of your children is suffering from a physical or mental disorder and you feel helpless to change the situation.  Maybe you have recently lost a loved one.  Any of these circumstances can bring on feelings of depression and despair.  But your Heavenly Father is faithful and will sustain you.  All too often we find ourselves doubting that God is really in control in our lives and are reluctant to trust him completely to take care of us.
When God is given first place at the center-court of your life, you can be content and sleep in peace.  This is because the roots of your being are being nourished in the never-ending living water of life -- the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, when we realize that not every situation will turn out the way we wish, the best we can hope for is a sense of God's peace. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5-7 NIV). When you feel depressed, read the Bible's accounts of God's goodness, and meditate on them. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Does Jesus Care

Chuckle:  Church Sign: "God does not believe in atheists; therefore atheists do not exist!" 
Ponder This:  "The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God."  --Unknown  
    "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through the years"  (Isaiah 63:9 NLT).
Does our Lord really care what happens to me?  Does he feel the pain that I feel?  Can he understand what I'm going through?  Yes, he does!  Because of his great love, God made provision to rescue us from the pain, sorrow, and eternal consequences of our sin.  To do this, Jesus, the God man, came to earth as human and as a result He can empathize with us in every way. 
Jesus fully understands our weaknesses and our fears.  As our High Priest, He made himself human, "And because he is human, he is able to deal gently with the people, though they are ignorant and wayward. For he is subject to the same weaknesses we have"  (Hebrews 5:2 NLT).  Since Jesus understands your pain, he pleads with you that you would be free from the suffering that sin causes and he desires you to experience the peace, joy, and freedom that comes from a personal love relationship with Him.
Jesus is like us because he experienced a full range of temptations as a human being while here on earth. He faced temptations as we do, only more so.  He is both sympathetic and empathetic toward us.  We should be encouraged from knowing that Jesus faced temptation without giving in to sin.  Through his example, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can have the strength to resist sin and deal with hardships and suffering.
Jesus assures us of forgiveness and salvation.  As humanity's representative, he is now at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. "He lives forever to plead (intercede) with God on our behalf"  (Hebrews 7:25 NLT).  He is always available to hear us when we pray. "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words"  (Romans 8:26 NLT).
As we pray, the Holy Spirit penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being to help us root out those sinful thoughts and urges that we so carefully keep hidden from those around us.  Aren't we foolish to think that there are some sins that we can hide from God?  In the final analysis, our Lord really does understand what you are going through and is ready to help you through it.
It is not always easy to live the Christian life.  It is a mixture of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and pain and comfort.  Through it all, our Lord remains our faithful companion and encourager because he identifies with us and understands what we are feeling.  This old hymn puts it this way: "Just when I need Him, Jesus is near, Just when I falter, just when I fear; Ready to help me, ready to cheer. . . . Just when I need Him most."
Love, Jerry & Dotse