Getting Out of Our Own Way

Assurance of salvation is a rather dicey topic for some. Many Christians, including myself, struggle with the security of being in Christ. It’s like a roller coaster. One minute we are certain and the next minute we doubt. When a New Testament Christian is asked the question, “Are you saved?” They often respond with the words, “Absolutely. I followed the steps just like the Bible says.” But ask them if they are going to heaven when they die and the typical response is, “I hope so.” Why aren’t more Christians living with confidence that this life will end in heaven?

One of the major hindrances to assurance is ourselves. We cannot seem to get out of our own way. We overthink things. We put too much stock in our feelings. We fixate on our own ineptitudes rather than the grace of God. We allow self-imposed burdens to crowd out our confidence. We are really good trash collectors, but we are not very good garbage men. We are good at piling it up, but we are terrible at throwing it out. One of the biggest obstacles to assurance is getting past the mindset of our culture. We live in a performance-based society, and this mentality often influences our thinking when it comes to salvation. We tend to believe, on some level, that if we could just perform better that we could somehow earn our spot in heaven. Many feel they need to be good enough in order to be saved. We know that’s not the case, but we have such a hard time grasping the immense love and grace of our Heavenly Father.

Our fixation needs to change. Our focus needs to shift. If you are your own Savior then you are in a world of trouble. So, stop trying to save yourself. And please remember a few things: 

  • The cross was for you! As Paul so eloquently and profoundly stated, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
  • Salvation comes from one source and one source only. Acts 4:12“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • No one is beyond the scope of God’s grace. 2 Peter 3:9“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
  • You can be forgiven! In Luke Chapter 15 we find a wayward son who, after taking his Father’s inheritance and spending it on loose living, comes to his senses. He returns home with a repentant heart and says, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk. 15:21). And notice the father’s response, “[L]et us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again” (Lk. 15:23 24). The prodigal son had been unfaithful. Being separated from the father’s household meant that he was dead; not physically but spiritually. He had cut ties with the father. He had left the family. But upon his return, he found life again. He found acceptance. He found the security he had disowned. He found forgiveness.

So the next time Satan whispers in your ear, “Are you really sure you are saved?” Or, the next time you are tempted to doubt your salvation. The next time you feel that, perhaps, God no longer wants you, read the following verses from Romans Chapter 8:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 3Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vs. 35-39). 

My friends, that is assurance! Do you believe these words? Do you trust what is being said? Would God lie to you?  Focus on the cross. Follow Jesus. And when you fall, seek forgiveness. Keep moving forward unhindered by the weight of unnecessary baggage. Trust in the God who made salvation possible. Don’t just hope for heaven. Live with the confidence that it is a reality for you.

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GOD CELEBRATES DEATH!

You’re going to die. Whoever is around at that moment will take you to the funeral home where someone will prepare your body for burial. You’ll be dressed up and cleaned up and made to look somewhat natural. There will be a funeral service where the preacher will say some kind words. People will cry and remark about how much they miss you. Songs will be sung. Prayers will be said. The casket will be closed and you’ll be placed in the ground. I don’t mean to be crude. It’s just a simple fact that we’re all going to spend some time in a box eventually. Unless of course the Lord comes back before we die, we’re all going to do some “Box Time.” Everyone who has ever lived has died. That’s the report from the cemetery. However, while death seems so permanent, it’s not. We’re not going from the land of the living to the land of the dying. It’s just the opposite. Death does not have the last word. Death is not the end of our story.

Do you realize that God celebrates death? Psalm 116:15 reads: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Also consider Revelation 14:13, which reads: “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” God celebrates death! The physical death of one of His children is not heart-rending to Him. It is precious in His sight. Death, which is so traumatic and so heart-breaking to us, is considered a blessing from God’s perspective. Hopefully, through our mourning and through our grief we can smile with confidence knowing that our loved one is at home with the Lord. We always want what’s best for those closest to us. Well, death is better for the one who dies in Christ.

The next time you visit the grave of your dear loved one. As you’re standing there or kneeling there and talking to them, read this passage out loud:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).”

Be reminded of the fact that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. The emotional scars that you bear right now are scars of hope. A glorious future awaits. In no way can it compare with the despair you’re experiencing at this moment. There is beauty from the ashes. I know it’s difficult, but we shouldn’t feel sorry for the child of God who has gone home. And the sorrow we feel should never override the hope that is found in Christ. Reflect on all of this, and then say to your loved one, “I miss you, but I’ll see you again.”

 

 

 

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Be Careful Giving God ALL the Credit

Many well-intended Christians struggle to find the right words to say to one who is hurting. They see their brother or sister-in-Christ dealing with grief and they feel compelled to reach out. However, in an effort to provide comfort and encouragement they sometimes create more heartache and confusion. In the midst of a trial, they will say things like:

  • You should feel blessed that God chose you to suffer.
  • Hang on! God must be up to something!
  • This is all part of God’s wonderful plan.
  • And, everything happens for a reason.

So let me see if I understand this: cancer is somehow a blessing from God? A young girl being raped is somehow a good thing in God’s eyes? The school shooting in Newtown, CT, is all a part of God’s wonderful plan? A son or a daughter killed in a car accident by a drunk driver is really a blessing in disguise?

God is good. He is the supreme ruler of the universe. He is in control. And no matter what happens, our God can help us through it. However, this does not mean that He is the direct cause of everything that happens. Not everything that happens is something that God wants to happen. And, not everything He allows to happen is good. God did not cause Satan to rebel. He did not force Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. He did not make David commit adultery with Bathsheba. He didn’t sanction what was done in Newtown, CT. He didn’t sign off on those terrorists flying into the Twin Towers, killing thousands. He doesn’t give people cancer. And he doesn’t kill small children because He needed them in heaven.

When one says, “Everything happens for a reason,” what they often mean is that no matter what happens to us, it was God’s will. Even unexplainable tragedy and horrendous suffering that stems from evil can be attributed to God and His divine plan for your life. The “proof-text” for this doctrine comes from Romans 8:28 where Paul writes:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” 

This oft-quoted verse has come to mean that everything is really a good thing, no matter how bad it may seem. However, that is not the message of Romans 8:28. God does not cause all afflictions to occur. He is not the source of all the earth’s ills. Does He permit them? Yes. Does He prefer them? No, not always. There were times in the Old Testament when God brought hardships upon His people as a consequence for their sin (cf. Jdgs. 6:1), but even in those instances the intent was benevolent in nature. To pin every disease, disaster, or death on God is to tread on some very shaky soil.

There is no denying that God can take adverse circumstances and work them out for the good of His people. Joseph is a prime example of this. Was God responsible for the actions of his brothers who, in their jealousy, sold him into slavery? No. Did God force Potiphar to throw Joseph into prison? No. Because “God was with him (gen. 39:21)” Joseph eventually rose to a position of great authority in Egypt. He saved the Israelites and the surrounding nations from a severe famine. Joseph endured extrme hardship and  heartache. Was God directly responsible for all of it? No. Yet, God was able to work in the midst of it. Notice what Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 50:20:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about His present result, to preserve many people alive.”

As Wayne Jackson has said, “God can and will accomplish His good purposes no matter what the situation or circumstance. But that doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is somehow good or necessary.”*

So let’s stop giving God the credit for the devil’s best efforts. Everything may have a cause, but it’s not always God. God never promised that this life would be fair, or that everything would always work out in our favor. However, He does promise that no matter what life or the devil throws at us His good and eternal purposes can never be hindered.

*Jackson, Wayne. All Things Work Together for Good: Controversy or Comfort?www.chrsitiancourier.com/articles/363-all-things-work-together-for-good-controversy-or-comfort.

* I highly recommend the book 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe by Larry Osborne. He offers great insight on this topic.

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EMBRACING JUDGMENT DAY

We often view the Day of Judgment as anything but pleasant. The thought of standing before the Lord with the Book of Life opened is nothing short of terrifying. Will He let us into heaven? Will He scold us before pulling a lever that releases a trap door to hell? Judgment scares us, and for good reason. Most of the sermons we’ve heard concerning the judgment have focused on the negative. Everything associated with the Day of Judgment seems to be painted with a brush of doom and gloom. A lot of sermons have been preached on the Day of Judgment in an effort to scare people into submission. Oftentimes, when we talk about the judgment, we go to scriptures like Revelation 20:12-15 or Hebrews 10:26-27; scary scriptures for sure. I’m certainly not suggesting that we should avoid these scriptures for fear of being too negative. Rather than avoiding them, maybe we need to look at the differently.

What I think happens, all too often, is we assume that Jesus is talking to me–the Christian. And He is, but I think these words are scary for us because we’re reading them as if we stand condemned. Why? You’re a child of God. You don’t practice lawlessness. You’ve been washed in the blood of Christ. You’re a new creature in Christ. If you are outside of Christ, if you are lost, then you should be scared and you have every reason to be concerned, but there is still hope. You haven’t been thrown out into the outer darkness; not yet. As long as you’re alive, you have the opportunity to become a disciple. Still, many Christians remain terrified at the prospect of the Judgment because they assume that they are the object of God’s wrath. As a result, the Day of Judgment is not something they anticipate. They don’t get all that excited about it. But what if? What if the Day of Judgment wasn’t thought of as doom and gloom? What if we could be more confident? What if we actually looked forward to Judgment Day?

God doesn’t want us to be afraid. All those scary passages about the Day of Judgment don’t have to be scary for us. Notice what is written in 1 John 4, beginning in verse 15:

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 Jn. 4:15-18).

Fear is an emotion that is born out of an expectation of punishment. You fear because you’re afraid of being punished. But why would you, a Christian, be punished? Are you not forgiven? The difference-maker in all of this is LOVE. I know that sounds a little too warm and fuzzy, especially when we’re talking about the Day of Judgment, but notice again what John writes:

17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment;

Perfect love casts out fear. John even says that, if you fear, then you’re not perfected in love. You can have confidence on the Day of Judgment because God loves you. Believe it or not, it’s as simple as that. When love comes in, fear departs (vs. 17-18). God and His wrath may seem scary to us, but we can take solace in the fact that He loves us so immensely; that love swallows up fear. The only fear we should have is letting Him down, but we don’t dread punishment. We look forward to eternal fellowship with the Father. We face the day of Jesus’ return with confidence, knowing that there will be no surprises, because we abide in God’s love.

It should be noted that John is not suggesting a Beatles-type of salvation. You may remember that The Beatles sang the song All You Need is Love. John isn’t saying that love is all you need when it comes to facing the Day of Judgment with confidence. John’s words here in Chapter 4 were, obviously, meant to build on his previous writings.

  • John 14:15—“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
  • John Chapter 3 when Jesus told Nicodemus that He must be born again of the water and the Spirit. Just loving Jesus and others was, obviously, not enough.
  • 1 John 1:7—“But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

John isn’t advocating love with no responsibility. Love is an action word. It does something. In reference to our salvation, it was love that brought Jesus to the cross, and it’s love that motivates our desire to live faithfully.

I find it interesting that John’s focus on the Day of Judgment is love. We might expect him to talk about Bible study, prayer, worship, service, etc., when talking about confidence on the Day of Judgment. Notice that John doesn’t tie confidence to the particulars that we often think of. He doesn’t mention spiritual disciplines. He doesn’t talk about what Bible version you use, or what you wear to worship. He doesn’t make any mention of being at church every time the doors are open. John says that the confidence factor comes down to one thing—LOVE. Does that mean that church attendance, Bible study, prayer, etc., are unimportant? Of course not. In fact, it’s through these things that we learn who God is and what Christian love is all about. If the love of God abides in you, then those are things you do willingly and naturally. When you abide in the love of God, it changes everything. It changes how you think, how you speak, how you act, and how you interact with other people. It dominates your life and sets your priorities. This is life-changing love.

You want confidence on the Day of Judgment? Dwell in the love of God and let the love of God dwell in you. Let the love of God reign in your heart, and let the love of God rule your life. Be confident as you look forward to the Day of Judgment.

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The Most Misinterpreted Verse in the Bible?

We see it on bumper stickers, inspirational posters, and graduation cards. We see it embroidered on pillows or tattooed on a person’s body. It’s the words of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah and it reads, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).’” Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and other “prosperity preachers” use this verse to cater to our culture’s selfish and individualistic mindset. IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU! YOUR BEST LIFE NOW! GOD JUST WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY! HE WANTS YOU TO HAVE IT ALL! Even in the realm of religion, I am still the focal point. And many have bought in to this sentiment. As a result, Jeremiah 29:11 becomes a signature verse for the “Name It and Claim It” theologians. But Jeremiah 29:11 is not about you. The dead give away is found in the heading of this chapter. It reads: “MESSAGE TO THE EXILES”

It’s easy to read a verse like this and individualize it. Here’s what we would like it to say, “I know the plans I have for you Chris McCurley.” But not even the original hearers of this message could not have individualized these words. Jeremiah’s message was meant for the elders, the priests, the prophets, and the people, many of which would not be around in 70 years to see this promise come to fruition. This was a promise of future welfare for the nation at large, not a promise of prosperity for any one particular person. I feel quite certain that the people hearing this message for the first time would not have responded as we often do today. We read this verse and we zero in on the prosper part. We focus in on how God is going to bless us in amazing ways. However, the message to God’s people is that everything’s going to be alright…eventually. After years and years of suffering they’re going to come back home and be restored; not them, per se, but their kinfolk. The grim reality surrounding Jeremiah 29:11 is that hard times were in store for God’s people. Someday there would be restoration. There was hope on the horizon, but only after decades of harshness.

So, is there a take away from this verse for us? Can we still claim Jeremiah 29:11 even though it has nothing to do with God personally prospering us? The answer is, “Of course.” All scripture is beneficial to us, and all scripture can be claimed by us, just not always in the way we would like to claim it. Does God have a plan for you and me? Absolutely! Does He plan for our welfare and not our calamity? Certainly! Does He give us a future and a hope? Without question! But we are dead wrong to assume that the plan involves a long life of comfort and convenience with perfect health and mountains of money.

What about the gentleman whose mother, wife, and three children are all killed in a car accident? What about the young mother of four small kids who is diagnosed with Stage Four cancer? What about the man who works hard but gets laid off from his job and his wife leaves him for another man? What about the family who must deal with the horror of having their child abducted and murdered? Is this God’s plan? Do you see the danger in grabbing hold of certain “Life Verses” and assuming that they represent the totality of God and Christianity? What happens when the miracle you prayed for doesn’t come? What happens when God doesn’t heal your loved one? What happens when the man of your dreams finds someone else? Is God not good? Does He not care?

The apostle Paul stated, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).” Thousands of years from now, it won’t matter how much wealth and status you had. It won’t matter how much pain and suffering you had to endure. This is not about how good one can have it while alive here on planet earth. This world is not our home. This is our temporary residence. We don’t belong here. We are exiles in a foreign land (1 Pet. 2:11). Therefore, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if I am healthy and wealthy in a physical sense. It doesn’t matter how good I have it in the here and now. All that truly matters is that I have the hope found in the abundant life Jesus Christ came to give (Jn. 10:10).

My friends, God has been honest enough to tell us that there will be trouble in this life. This life is hard, but God has also made us a promise. There is hope on the horizon. There is a glorious future awaiting us. Though we are exiles on this planet, some day we get to go home. Let’s not get things twisted. This life is all about kingdom living, not earthly pursuits. If we don’t have a penny to our name, we are among the wealthiest to have ever lived because of WHO we belong to. A life lived in Christ is the most prosperous life of all. So let’s get busy living it!

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Our Church is Not for Everyone

I know. The title sounds harsh and, perhaps, un-Christ like. But please hear me out. The Oldham Lane Church of Christ, where I am blessed to serve, has experienced tremendous growth since it was planted in the mid-90’s. What started with 73 members from the Baker Heights congregation has blossomed into approximately 600. It’s exciting for sure, however with growth comes challenges. Where you have people you have problems, and where you have more people you have potentially more problems. The staff and elders at Oldham Lane have made a concerted effort to be engaged and to be ready to handle issues when they arise. But we have also made a conscious effort to be proactive, not just reactive. Some problems and issues arise rather spontaneously. You weren’t prepared for them; they were just laid at your feet one day. Others can often be thwarted before they reach the level of severity. With this in mind, the elders and staff at the Oldham Lane church have come to understand that our congregation may not be for every one. While we welcome everyone and while we invite anyone and everyone to come and see what we’re all about, there are some boundaries we have set and some lines we have drawn to protect the body that belongs to the Lord. Here are a few of those boundaries.

Our church is not for soreheads! If you are someone who is constantly complaining about something, yet never doing anything then maybe our church is not for you. Understand we love you. We are deeply concerned about your soul. And we will patiently love you. However, we will not allow you to threaten the unity of the Lord’s church. Jesus prayed for unity (Jn. 17:21). Paul constantly stressed unity in his letters. Are you a threat to unity? If so, you must be disciplined. There are valid concerns and criticisms that some may have. The eldership should seriously consider these, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the man or woman who has made a sport out of griping; the one who has become a professional nagger. Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be heard. Elders are shepherds of the soreheads as much as they are shepherds of the meek and the sweet. But leadership demands that the shepherds lovingly correct those who do nothing yet gripe about everything. The church is not a forum for your scrupulous ranting.

Our church is not for spectators! We won’t boot you out the door. And, we believe, there is a period of time that new members need to survey the landscape and get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. However, we do have expectations for you. We expect you to be a participator, not a spectator. We expect this because God expects it. God doesn’t need more pew-fillers within the church. He needs more laborers in the vineyard. He needs brothers and sisters who are active participants, not passive recipients. We live in a culture of entitlement and that mindset has infiltrated the church to some degree. Some members feel as though it is the responsibility of the church to serve them when, in truth, we were all saved to serve. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s about the body. Every one has a role. As Paul so eloquently pointed out in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31 we all have a role. Each one of us makes up a part of the body. Whether you are an eye, a foot, a hand, etc., you have a role. If you are not a working part of the body then your part of the body is dead. The body becomes deformed. And someone else has to pull your weight. There are times when a member is wounded and needs the rest of the body to help bear their burden (Gal. 6:2). However, there is no good reason for a fully capable member not to fulfill their role. We are not a consumer-driven church. We are a Christ-driven church.

Our church is not for those who wish to teach, preach or practice falsehood. There is no room in our church for those who wish to preach a different gospel. There is no place for false teachers. We will not give you a platform to proclaim or practice things that are in opposition to scripture. Don’t come to our church thinking you are going to change the message. When it comes to methods we are always willing to try new things. But we will not be moved from where we stand Biblically. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t claim to be perfect, and we are not above studying and learning. Like the noble-minded Bereans, we are always eager to receive the word and are diligent to examine the scriptures (Acts 17:11). We are also very deliberate in our approach to the Bible as we seek to faithfully follow God’s word.

To say, “Our church is not for everyone,” is not meant to be a statement of exclusivity. Quite the contrary, we want every one to obey the gospel and be a part of the body of Christ. However, we also want them to understand what it means to treasure church membership. We don’t want them to merely come to church; we want them to be the church. We don’t want church to be a part of their lives; we want church to be their life. Christ died for the church. He purchased it, member by member, with His own precious blood, which means we have no right to treat His bride in a self-directed manner. This is not about kicking people to the curb. This is about helping God’s children understand what church is and what it is supposed to be about. So don’t come into a congregation of the Lord’s church with an agenda. Don’t assume that because you contribute a lot monetarily or because you’ve been there the longest that you should have more power. Don’t expect the church to cater to you. The church belongs to our Lord and it functions best when each and every Christian seeks God’s will above all else.

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