Walking Into Relationship with Christ
Introduction to a series of messages on my journey from religious tradition into an ongoing relationship with Christ.
Seeing The Lord in Changing Times
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others – Jonathan Swift
Current events call for us to feed our faith and not fear. One way to do this is by calling to mind and remembering the promises of God. All believers have a testimony. We have seen the promises of God fulfilled in our lives and the lives of others around us. Look closely, and you may even find you have overlooked His hand manifesting itself on a daily basis.
When we dwell upon the negativity and despair that dominates the media airwaves, we feed fear not faith, and we enable anxiety instead of strengthening hope.
There are real concerns as we are living in rapidly changing times. One only has to reflect upon how life was 12 months ago, and compare it to today to understand. Our lives and daily routines have been significantly altered. Weddings, funerals, celebrations, work schedules, school schedules, large gatherings, family visits, dining out, vacations and so many other activities have been forever changed.
This is why our vision and focus is even more important. Where you look determines your outcome. This is literally true for the race car driver and the pilot landing the plane. Each must look ahead to where they are going and not be distracted by the environment around them.
Worshipers of God have always been a people of vision. The vision was always based on the presence and promises of God. These provided the foundation of faith.
When Jesus invited his disciples to get into the boat and cross the sea, they trusted and followed Him. (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-23) In the course of that trip a raging storm popped up that caused them to give way to fear. Jesus was sleeping. They looked at the storm and imagined that they were about to die. If we are familiar with the account, we know that Jesus woke up and with a word, He rebuked the storm. His words to the disciples afterward were telling, as he questioned their faith. The proper response was faith, not fear. For a few moments they lost the vision. For if they had remained focused on their Lord, they would not have given way to fear.
Again our faith is based on an understanding of God’s relationship to His people. He is true to His covenant promises. In Joshua 23:14, the aged Joshua reminded the people that ‘not one word’ of all that God had promised the people failed. Not one word! Can that be said of any of the individuals, organizations, institutions, or movements which are vying for your support?
I will end with these words taken from When the World Stops. Words of Hope, Faith, and Wisdom in the Midst of the Crisis by Michael L. Brown, PhD.
- Fear paralyzes; faith liberates.
- Fear brings death; faith brings life.
- Fear brings torment; faith brings peace.
- Fear listens to the devil’s lies; faith listens to God’s truth.
- While fear is irrational, faith is rational.
- While fear is natural, faith is supernatural.
- Fear looks at earthly circumstances and anticipates worst-case scenarios; faith looks at God’s promises and anticipates ultimate victories.
- Fear is fundamentally a denial of the existence of the God of the Bible; faith is founded on who He is and what He does.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
I live in North Carolina and one of our most famous landmarks is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. It’s an amazing drive, but along the 489-mile route there are 200 overlooks which offer up an array of incredible views. Sadly, most travelers don’t take the time to stop. They reach their destination, but the trip is less spectacular than it could have been.
Today’s verse has always reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the sad reality that many Christians, while making it to heaven (Praise God), settle for a less-than-spectacular trip along the way. They travel the Parkway but miss the overlooks. God has prepared “good works” in advance of our journey that we should “walk in them” as they present themselves. They occur on a daily basis, if not hourly, and they give us the opportunity to glorify God while showing His love to the people in our lives. Are you taking the time to stop?
Salvation is an amazing miracle that none of us should ever get over…but it’s just the start of the journey! God has planted beautiful overlooks of good works all along the Heavenly Parkway and He wants us to experience every single one of them…but we have to be willing to take the time to stop. Stop to listen. Stop to encourage. Stop to give. Stop to help shoulder the load. Stop to seek forgiveness or to forgive. Stop to mourn. Stop to praise. Stop to use your spiritual gifts. Stop to share your testimony. Stop to hold the door open or give up you’re parking place or share a meal or cut someone’s lawn.
God has planned some incredible overlooks for you to enjoy on your trip to Heaven so be sure to STOP…or you will miss the best views!
No Need to Doubt or Fear
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7) Those who fear the Lord have no reason to be paralyzed by fear or shackled with doubt. God is able to deliver from any situation, no matter how hopeless it appears from our point of view.
This week we considered Peter’s deliverance from the schemes of Herod as recounted in Acts chapter 12. Herod saw an opportunity to gain favor with the Jews and had Peter thrown into prison. Herod’s intention was to execute him as he had done with James. He was held in chains, each arm shackled to the arm of a soldier. At the door was another set of guards. From all appearances his situation seemed hopeless.
But then the night before his likely execution, a light shone in the prison and an angel awakened him from his sleep. This was no vision, for the angel of the Lord touched him to awaken him, instructed him to dress himself and follow. The soldiers, the guards, the prison doors, and the gate to the city were no match. (Acts 12:6-10) When he realized he was indeed freed and this was no vision, Peter was amazed at his miraculous deliverance, stating “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod.” (Acts 12:11) He located the church gathered in the home of Mary and related what happened. They were carrying on prayer in his behalf. How amazed they were to see their prayers answered in such a miraculous way.
Really, nothing our God does should be too amazing. Surprising, yes. Miraculous, indeed. Amazing, never!
Sometimes we may find ourselves shackled by fear or doubt. Culture and popular media have a way of constantly keeping tragedy and danger in front of our face. Fear has a way of over-exaggerating our perception of a situation. Negative images and emotions are highlighted and can drown out the gospel good news if we allow it. We can begin to doubt if we can carry on.
We must hold onto and remember divine promises of deliverance. Hebrews 1:14 tells us that God sends his mighty angels to minster to ‘those who are to inherit salvation.’ This is not a promise of a trouble free existence. It is an assurance though, that we are never out of reach of his strong hand.
And as the church was occupied with prayer in behalf of the apostle, we should always be burdened with prayer, entrusting all things in our life to God. The bible reminds us that we have a boldness in approaching God, and he gives wisdom to those who approach him. And we are to ask him without doubting. (James 1:6) Doubt has sometimes been described as a small faith. We know our God hears us and will answer us. Cry out for the faith which assures us that God is near. He will not leave us in the lurch. He is an ever present help at all times. Keep asking God to release you from any fear or doubt which may be lingering in your life. May you walk in his will, fearlessly and with confidence.
The Cure for What Ails Us
A recent experience with my medical health reminded me of our need for a Savior and continued dependence upon our heavenly Father. During my annual check-up, I was informed that my total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad guys) numbers were high. Generally this is an indication of an increased risk of heart disease. The initial recommendation was to begin a regimen of medication to reduce the numbers. I did not like the idea of taking medication and felt that I could improve this condition by adjusting my diet and getting more exercise. In the meantime, I also learned that additional lab tests might give some more meaningful information. When the results of those tests came back, the doctor informed me they revealed an inherited genetic defect which negatively affects the way my body manages cholesterol. This defect causes my body to absorb more cholesterol than it should. And, here’s the key point, although under normal circumstances adjusting one’s diet and getting exercise is beneficial, in my situation there would only be a minimal benefit. So the doctor recommended a medication which would give my body the assistance it needs to manage the level of cholesterol.
So what does this have to do with our need for a Savior and dependence upon God? Man’s problem, our defect, is our enslavement and propensity to sin, and death. We need a Savior to cure this problem. We cannot combat or reverse this on our own. Christ Jesus has been given as the cure. Faith in this arrangement brings us into fellowship with God. Our fellowship with God is designed to be a relationship of dependence upon Him for all things. Jesus spoke many times of the importance of hearing his words and doing them, of Himself as the bread of life, of abiding in Him, of being branches connected to Him as the true vine. The apostle Paul spoke of our salvation as a transition from the dominion of the world to the kingdom of God, and how our manner of living and our desires are changed to align with God’s will. It is God’s desire that we trust Him not only for salvation but also for continued living.
When I think of these things, it reminds me that each of us faces a ‘Garden of Eden’ decision in a manner of speaking. The serpent put before the first man and woman the temptation to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They seized for themselves the choosing of good and evil independent of fellowship with God and His guidance. Due to their choice, sin and death entered into the world. Ironically in choosing what they believed was freedom, Adam and Eve became enslaved.
God created each of us to live with Him, not apart from Him. Our dependence upon Him is true freedom. When we try to make sense of life according to our own wisdom and understanding, we believe the lying implication that we can be like God knowing good and evil. We experience the truth of the proverb, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12) Depending upon Him leads to life even now. Life in our relationships, life in our goals, life in our desires, life in our worship, life in our praise, life in our soul and spirit.
We can choose to live life independent of fellowship with God and His guidance, or we can choose the saving power of God’s cure. There is no middle ground. Our culture is filled with examples of choices made independent of fellowship with God. While human efforts struggle to address the external symptoms, God has already made provision for the total cure. Humans produce remedies with side effects, God transforms us to wholeness. Human societies and institutions are monuments to this failed experiment. While some good has been accomplished, there are always unintended and unforeseen consequences which leave much to be desired. Man’s efforts independent of God will never be able to bring complete and total relief from injustice, suffering, and evil. And they will never cure our sin problem.
Contact us to learn more about how you can enjoy this relationship with God.
A consideration of the book of Job provides an opportunity to personally contemplate how you view suffering, tragedy, and evil. The questions of why God allows these or, why God does not intervene are brought up for us to examine closely.
In the opening of the narrative, Job is described as a righteous and God-fearing man. (Job 1:1-5) This good man suddenly has a change in circumstances when tragedy enters his life. He experiences the disastrous loss of his material wealth, the tragic death of his children, and is stricken with a horrific physical affliction. (Job 1:13-19; 2:7, 8, 11) His afflictions are so severe that Job laments being born and wishes to die. (Job 3:1-3, 11, 12; 14:1)
Job chapters 3-37 follow a series of conversations where Job wrestles with the difficulty of his circumstances while his friends assert that he is suffering because of some sin or wickedness in his life. The conversations alternate between Job asserting his righteousness and his friends insisting that God must be punishing him. They claim that he is reaping just punishment for his life choices. These exchanges progress to the point where Job even demands that God explain himself. (Job 31:35-37)
God does answer Job. In chapters 38-41 God questions Job, taking him on a grand tour of the created universe, asking Job if he can begin to explain or even control anything which God has made. In the end Job has to take back his words as he recognizes his insignificance in the face of the Almighty. (Job 42:1-6; Ps. 8:3)
A deep reading of the book will help us come closer to a better grasp of the issues and questions which arise as we attempt to process the existence of suffering and evil in the world.
We can remain confident that God is in control and sustains the universe.
We can be assured that God cares for us and is aware of our devotion to him. As God was confident in Job’s devotion Job 1:8), so He has confidence in us and will sustain us through suffering.
We should look at our circumstances through the eyes of God instead of evaluating God through our eyes. Our wisdom is limited and pales in relation to the Almighty.
Yet our problems are more real to Him, than they are to us. Just as he did not condemn Job for his exasperation, He recognizes the burden we carry in this life. We are not God, but God has walked among us and thus is aware of our weaknesses and is able to aid us in times of tragedy.
We also learn how not to treat those who are suffering. Job’s friends offered false comfort accusing him of sin and being responsible for his suffering. In doing so they spoke wrongly about God.
Although Job was not aware of the universal events at work in his circumstances (Job 1:6-12), today we are aware of the enemy seeking to devour the faithful. We are equipped to withstand and conquer his schemes.
Every problem we face in some way is rooted in human sin and imperfection. Christ is the cure and the solution. In Him and available now is the answer to the penalty and power of sin, along with the complete triumph over all suffering and evil.
Intimacy vs Success
Luke 10:38-42 contains a valuable lesson on the importance of intimacy and relationships. In our success-oriented culture, the tendency to evaluate ourselves based on what we have accomplished is common. To-do lists, planners, goal sheets and other tools are enlisted to make sure we get things done. When we take a close look at what took place during Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary, we will learn a few important truths.
In the scene, Jesus takes time to visit the home, spending time in intimate fellowship with two women. That itself is striking for the culture of the time. He is teaching. Martha is distracted with preparations. She is busy, doing a good thing. Trying to get something done. And she calls out her sister for not helping. It’s as if she wants the teacher to acknowledge her activity. Hey, see I am busy at work. When Jesus responds that Martha is “worried and upset about many things” we learn an important first truth: success is not the ultimate.
Mary, however, has chosen intimacy over success. She is seated at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching. She is wisely making the most of Jesus’ visit. When Jesus says, “… one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her,” we learn a second important truth: intimacy is better than success.
God is seeking an intimate relationship with each us. Have you considered, that Christ died for us? For me? For you? It is a personal overture made to bring each of us into a relationship.
Here are three applications from the message. First, carve out time with God. Don’t fall prey to "crowded loneliness." This happens when your life is full of people but your cup is empty because you haven’t spent time alone with God.
Second, spend time with people who love Jesus. Consider getting together with another church member besides Sundays. Remember this quote: “You will be the exact same person five years from now as you are today except for these two factors—the books you read and the people you put in your life!"
Third, let the love of Jesus be your ultimate motivation. He died on the cross out of love for you! And He calls us to be compelled by His love (2 Cor. 5:14).
Our latest message was delivered by a guest speaker, Chris Mucci, who serves the student athletes at Meredith College, North Carolina State University, and Shaw University through Athletes in Action. You can read more about Chris and his wife, Wendy, and AIA at http://www.give.cru.org/0783735/.