THE REAL ISSUE

 What is the real issue that Christians need to concern themselves with?  This question arose from a conversation I had last week.  A close friend and I were discussing the changes in morality that we’ve seen in our life time.  As we talked, it dawned on me that, though I’m saddened by the moral decline in America, this is not the real issue.

Jesus didn’t charge us with fixing the sin in others, and he warned us not to judge others (See Matthew 7:1-5).  However, he did charge us with two things.  The first is to love one another, and the second is to make others disciples.  Our job is to love our fellow humans, and bring them to him.  He’ll take care of fixing the sin.

Sin and evil are all around us, and this has been true since the fall of Adam and Eve.  Jesus has the only cure for sin.  So the real issue is do you know Jesus?  As Christians, loving sinners and bringing them to Jesus is the issue that should occupy our time.

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In His Presence

In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no hindrance to being in the presence of the Lord.  After their disobedience, they entered a whole new perception.  They had gained self-awareness.  With self-awareness comes concern for self.  How do I look?  What are they thinking of me?  What should I do?  Concern for self hinders our ability to enter the presence of the Lord.

An internal battle commences each time I want to spend time with the Lord. There is always one more thing to do before I can start.  Everything I forgot to do somehow miraculously comes to mind.  (I should make a list.)  When I finally do get situated, my mind scatters to a thousand thoughts.  As I strive to get my mind settled, I realize I haven’t tuned my guitar in a while.  I like to start my time with the Lord singing a few songs of praise.  The guitar turns out to be in pretty good tune, but it’s always good to check.  Then it’s, what song to begin with, and what key is that in? 

Finally I begin to sing.  Boy, my voice is getting old.  That note used to be so clear.  Wow, this is a great worship song.  If I ever lead worship again, I’ll have to include this song.  Then I realize I’ve sung through the entire song without a conscious thought about who I’m singing to.  I cried out, “Help me Lord.”  I sang the song through a few more times trying to focus my mind.  Then the Lord spoke to me, “Write about this struggle.”

All along he knew what I was there for.  I wanted to hear from him about what to write this week.  In his humble way, he answered the question I didn’t ask.  A rush of gratefulness entered my heart.   My self-concern was put aside.  I then enter into his presence and worshipped.  God had made a way!

GOD IS WITH US

A few weeks ago I had to face a medical procedure that I knew would be painful.  The normal way I handle a difficulty like this is to draw into myself and face it in my own strength.  Of course there is considerable anxiety that comes with this method of facing a difficulty, and I am usually stressed out.  But by God’s mercy this time was different.

I am finding it difficult to explain what caused it to be different, so I’ll just tell you what happened.  I found myself aware of God’s presence.  The more I focused on his presence the more relaxed I became.  While the procedure was going on, I looked to God.  When my focus began to shift, I reminded myself to keep my focus on God.  For the first time in my life, I walked through a difficulty not thinking that I was alone but recognizing that God was with me.  I tell you it made the procedure almost pleasant.

I am not alone!  I know this, but now I’ve experienced it.  I am thankful for my family and friends who prayed diligently for me.  They helped me break through to this new awareness.

Later that day, my daughter Ruth gave me a greeting card, and in the text was this line, “You rush to help when in faith we draw near.”  Yes, that’s it.  God’s presence is always with me.  I experience him when in faith I draw near.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

A TRANSFORMED MIND

One of the difficulties followers of Jesus face in our current society is avoiding the consumer mentality.  “Let’s go shopping” is the call.  We get to buy things and spend money.  There is never an end to what we can buy, but unfortunately there is an end to the money we have to spend.  Running out of money is a definite downer.  We are then driven to figure out how we can get more money.  Living the consumer life never brings us satisfaction.

I have been reading through Matthew chapters 5-7, and as I read it occurred to me that Jesus is redirecting his disciples’ way of thinking.  Jesus taught his disciples to think differently.  He wanted them to put aside self-concerns and focus on the Kingdom of God.  Paul restates Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:1-2,

            So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (The Message).

If we allow him, Jesus will change our way of thinking.  He will transform our minds.  Let me recap what Paul is saying.  We should take everything about our lives and place it before God as an offering.  Then we should humbly accept what he has done for us.   Our way of thinking is not about what we can do for him, but what he has done for us.  So with a heart of gratitude, we fix our attention on him, and receive the new way of thinking that he works into us.  This allows us to do what he sets before us without distraction.  The result, “God brings the best out of us, develops well-formed maturity in us.”

A GOOD LIFE

Most people would say, “My overall goal is to have a good life”.  If you asked them what that means or what does that look like, you’d get a human answer.

Planning for a good life requires many assumptions because our lives are terminal and of an unknown number of years.  This is a precarious platform on which to plan.  We don’t know what is going to happen five minutes from now, or if we will be alive five minutes from now.  Statistically, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be living five minutes from now, but you know statistics aren’t that reliable.

We have only one sure way to plan a good life.  I found that way in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The longer I live, the more I appreciate the wisdom of this proverb.  Since we have no clue about the future, how can we plan for it?  The Lord alone knows what the future holds.  Trusting him provides a great life plan.  I’d like to add this amazing truth that comes with trusting the Lord, “in Christ Jesus death is no longer part of the equation.”

THE MOST IMPORTANT ACCOMPLISHMENT

I often talk about who I am and what I’ve done.  You might say I lay out my credentials.  I want to be distinctive in what I’ve done, or should I say I want to sound impressive.  The other day, I began reading in Philippians chapter 3 where the Apostle Paul talks about his credentials.  He presents a pretty impressive list.  When he referred to this as “putting confidence in the flesh”, I was a little concerned. The further I read, the more I was convicted.

  The Apostle Paul’s words get stronger. He says compared to knowing Christ Jesus his credentials are garbage.  About this time, I recognized how often I bring up my list of accomplishments, or my garbage.  I was beginning to understand that I was putting confidence in the flesh.

I pondered the Apostle Paul’s words, and I concluded that my human accomplishments are temporal.  They are like dust that will be blown away by the wind.  What I do in Christ has eternal significance.  Accordingly, the most important accomplishment is belonging to Jesus.  Knowing Jesus brings me into God’s eternal kingdom, and only the work of the kingdom has lasting significance.

It’s not about what I’ve done, but about who I am in Christ Jesus.   Instead of talking about what I’ve done, I’ll talk about what the Lord has done.  The fact that I belong to him is sufficient.  In 1Corinthians 1:31, the Apostle Paul reminds me, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  I see that this is great advice.

DO NOT WORRY

In the Bible the word “worry” is always preceded by “do not” or “why do you”.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry because it hinders our ability to live in the peace and freedom that He purchased for us.  He wants us to trust Him and not worry.  He speaks to this topic in Mathew 6:25-34.  Jesus explains that our focus should not be on what we will have to eat or what clothes we will wear but on the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness.  God is going to walk us through the problems of today, and He has already worked out what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Yes, there are difficulties and trials for today, but don’t miss the blessings of today by worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  As the word says, “… For tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own (Matthew 6:34).”

It is very difficult to give up worrying.  Worrying is a human coping mechanism.  Somehow by working things over and over in our minds, we feel like we have some control.  Yet as we work the process of worrying, we pay the high price of anxiety.  Anxiety does all kinds of damage to our physical and emotional well-being.  Jesus knows this.

How do we get beyond worry?  The Apostle Paul gives us solid directions.  In Philippians 4:4-7 (The Message) he writes:

Celebrate God all day, every day.  I mean revel in Him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them see that the Master is about to arrive.  He could show up any minute!  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.