Category: The Christian Life

Dirty Magazine

 I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

I heard a story in a sermon a couple of years ago that had an eerie parallel to my own past.

The sermon story: Success
My own story: Failure (but not permanent!)

(Do note: the following incidents happened before the days of all this stuff being readily available on the internet!)

Our pastor told a dirty magazine story.

At the end of the semester, cleaning up in the dorm, he found a dirty magazine under a mattress and threw it away. He had a conviction against keeping the mag, even if no one would see or know that he took it. He threw it away, thinking how it would be a wrong against his fiancée and God.

At first, I felt discouraged after hearing our pastor’s dirty magazine story, remembering I had done the exact opposite back then! At the end of a semester, as the dorms were emptying, I found dirty magazines in the trash bin for the building, and I kept them.

Without making an excuse for what I did back then, I do see how my weak understanding of how Jesus works let me do it so casually. Back then, I viewed it as OK to take the magazines. It’s only a magazine, I thought. I’m not actually doing any of the stuff that is shown there. If someone from church had seen me taking the magazines, I would have felt embarrassed that I was caught, but my discomfort would be from being caught and exposed, and not because I viewed taking the magazines as wrong.

What kept me from remaining discouraged for being so far below the level of maturity and obedience during college that my pastor described, was to admit that I was wrong back then, and to be thankful that I am forgiven for it.

So, the big question is how am I handling it now? Jesus has been after my heart. It’s taken a long, long time to shift to a deeper level of obedience where my most private actions and thoughts are brought more into conformity with what Jesus wants. And I am driven not by fear of punishment as much as seeking something better in life.

I am glad when I do pass a similar test today…. yet I am warned to not get overconfident. I cannot blithely guarantee that I will pass every test for the rest of my life. But I do know that I really am quicker to turn from crummy thoughts and attitudes than I used to be, because Jesus really does provide forgiveness and abundant life.

My Spiritual Birthday

November 30 is my spiritual birthday. That’s when I was first touched by amazing grace! Back then, I experienced a day and night difference. My world was turned upside down with feelings of happiness. I was a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As John Newton said, “How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed”

This meant (I thought at the time) that I would enjoy my best life now with no major obstacles. I’d complete my doctoral dissertation with no sweat, and I’d quickly be married to an excellent Christian wife.

Wasn’t that what it meant to be a child of God? Nope, it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

Why?

Because without realizing it, I was focused more on what I could get from God than on who he was. Indeed, what my attitude really amounted to was “Lord, if you won’t quickly meet my needs, don’t expect me to go out of my way to change my way of doing things or bother too much with learning what it means to please you.” 

With that attitude, God allowed me to enter a very dry time. (While at the same time continually protecting and preserving me much more than I realized!)  

God used many ways to change my attitude, but today I want to focus on just one. He brought me into fellowship with some strong Christian helpers. Amazingly, I first met them on April Fool’s Day! (I love how it says in 1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ) 


Even with a renewed attitude, it still is taking much time for God’s beautiful truths to better percolate through more of my life. I knew the Bible was doctrinally true but was pretty poor at connecting it to the life changes God was calling for in a stubborn, independent man. 

So, it’s been helpful to have Christian friends who connect the truths of God and scripture to daily real life and who lovingly let me know when I am full of baloney. 

I never did complete my doctoral dissertation. And it took nine years until I married the love of my life. And another 10 years after that before I finally found my true vocational calling from God (Not a professor but a computer geek!)  

My story shows how we have a patient and longsuffering God who cares enough to spend decades molding and shaping us to be more like what he wants. And the more I grow, the more I see I still need to grow. Wherever you are on your journey, be encouraged that God ain’t done with you yet!

This I Believe (The Creed)

We sang “This I Believe” in our men’s group. The song is based on the Apostle’s Creed and the linked version is from Hillsong.1

Both the Apostles’ creed and “This I Believe say I believe many times.

Is that just a list of facts to believe? You may have heard the statements in the Apostle’s Creed as cold intellectual truths. I know I used to. But there’s quite a difference between assenting to cold facts and saying “Yes!” to a truth that our life depends on.

If someone says, “Atlantic City is the capital of New Jersey,” not much is at stake in whether that is true or not. 2 But what if I were driving a fully loaded 18-wheeler towards an old one lane bridge across a deep gorge. Can it support me and my load? To go across that bridge is to trust it with my life.

That second kind of belief, trusting with our lives, is the kind of belief sung about in “This I Believe.” Full-bodied genuine Christian belief is much deeper than simply saying “Yes” to some facts, and “This I Believe” takes what might only remain as head knowledge and transforms it into wonderful warm praise.

How do we get that kind of heartfelt belief? In certain circles you are ordered to believe each point in the Apostle’s Creed … or else. You must persuade yourself to believe and confess each of the points or you are in trouble.

But that attempt at self-persuasion is futile because we can only truly grasp these truths by faith. And that faith is itself a gift from God. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

We have been rescued from sin and death by faith in what Jesus accomplished in being crucified on the cross for our sin and then brought back to life. And as we follow Christ today, we continue by faith. By faith, we trust our lives to the God who gave us the creed’s truths:

I believe in God our Father. I believe in Christ the Son. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the resurrection, that we will rise again. I believe Jesus rose again. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The preceding truths all focus on our personal relationship with God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But now consider these truths:

I believe in the saint’s communion and in your holy church.

Here, we have union with Christ —– we join the faith and life of everyone who has ever loved Jesus —- in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God is invisible and we demonstrate our belief in this unseen God by loving real life people. Real life people whose flaws start to disgust us — until we look in the mirror! 

That’s when the great theological truths of the apostles’ creed stop being only abstract and cerebral. God is the God who changes us. The creed comes alive as we live out the Lord’s command to Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32.)

 

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDeA-SAlklU
  2. Atlantic City is not the capital, Trenton is

 

Weird or Welcoming?

 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:18-19)

Are we feasters or fasters?

John is John the Baptist. He exercised a strict self-control and people mocked him. And Jesus (the Son of Man) enjoyed a good party and was falsely accused of being a drunk who liked to pig out.

In what ways are today’s Christians like John the Baptist? There are several ways we seem to be weird and strict in today’s culture. First, as we rely on guidelines from the Bible, we’re falsely accused of being puritanical, tyrannical, and narrow-minded.

Another way we seem a little weird…. who ever heard of fasting nowadays? (Especially when it’s not even part of a health food craze!) One day a bunch of us were fasting because we wanted to pray for God’s blessing on the church as we entered the fall activities for 2021.

And finally, we have a cross in our church sanctuary. Yes, it is weird to rely on the sacrifice of a Jewish carpenter on a cross two thousand years ago. But life today too often leads to people being angry, depressed, alienated and lonely. The weirdness of the cross propels us into a love that ends up in feasting.

This Christmas week our church1 had our second outdoor Christmas Village with joyous music and delicious goodies…. as representatives of Jesus, we were joyfully eating the best German bratwurst, drinking hot cider, and crunching fresh-made kettle corn. We welcomed anyone from town who wanted to join in. So, in answer to today’s title question: Both these things are true — we are both weird and welcoming!

  1. https://www.thechapel.org