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Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

29 Mar

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

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This is the last in the series of 2015 Lenten reflections.  This is where I admit that growing in holiness to become the person God wants me to be is a challenge.  Is it a full time job?  It can be, it is best when it is.  Is it hard?  Often.  Do I consistently make living my beliefs – 100% of every day?  Not at all.  Consistently, yes.  100%, no.   [To see how I deal with that, Go back to Part 1 of this series]  Is it worth it?  Totally.

I’m human, there are times I question and doubt, I fear and I fail my Lord.  I’m so glad my God is big enough to handle my questions, and so gentle and loving that he doesn’t immediately strike me dead for daring to question Him.  If He wasn’t like that, He wouldn’t be much of a God now would He?   God does not EVER turn away any sincerely seeking humble soul.   God is always faithful, He loves me no matter what.

I cannot hide from his love, it infinitely surrounds me. God promises He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.  That perfect love and true promises are what keeps me seeking God.  After all, we are in a love relationship.  I want to meet with God.  I want to obey God and follow His desires.  I want to fulfill the highest potential He has planned for my life.  And in turn, God always wants what is best for me.  He can take the bad stuff that just happens to anyone walking on this earth and He turns it around for my good. (When I let Him).

In reflection this season, I am also reminded that we are called “to live at peace with everyone – so far as it depends upon us”.  (Romans 12:18)  Here too we are challenged to draw upon our faith in God – for to live in peace often times means setting aside our personal comforts – our fears and our prejudices.  We need to go outside our comfort zones to grow, leave the past behind in order to avoid harming others – all the while standing firm in our core faith.  Not because we are faithful, but because GOD is faithful.  Not because we are better or think we are better than anyone else – for we are not.  We are simply forgiven sinners, striving to live in love.

That – the “live at peace” verse – God really means that.  It includes some extraordinarily difficult choices and actions.  Things such as: not compromising truth, not looking the other way at evil, not being silence in the presence of wickedness, and not being prejudice.  Instead, we are called to help the weakest among us, to help those who cannot help themselves, and to put into action plans that honor and glorify God.  We are called to be the very hands and feet of Christ on this earth – in the now, in the here, in our spheres of influence.  We are called to be a visible presence of God’s Kingdom on earth through our lives, our actions, our choices, and if absolutely necessary – our words.   Sometimes, I am greatly saddened when I think that Christians are more often know for what they are “against” than for whom they stand for.  Personally, I think it is a fabulous prayer to ask God to be more visible in my life actions than in my words.  Personally, I think if we can season our lives with more love and acceptance for people and share what God has done for us, we would be a much more attractive people of God, than we oft times are now.

I believe that God has the best ability to convict of sin and convince in love.  I believe that God – through the Holy Spirit – points all hearts to Christ.  Everyone on this earth will make a choice before they die.   (Rom 14:7-10)

When asked about my faith or current issues, will I speak answers, give my position and offer my reasoning.  I can share my testimony of what God means to me and what He has done in the past, and what He is doing in my life now.  But I am not called to judge your life.

For me, at least, I think the cliche to “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is trite.  I believe it is impossible to live out without hypocrisy.  Maybe someone else could do it, but not me.  When I love someone I love them.  I accept them where they are now, just as Christ accepted me where I was then and where I am now.  God accepts me fully – just as I am.  He requests only honesty from us, from me.  It doesn’t mean God will leave me there.  For He wants to see me grow in knowledge and grace.  Over time – that growth can include: changes in lifestyle, reading and mentoring in the Bible, the very Word of God.

Here is how it works for me:  unless a person has given me permission to help you see your blind-spots, and only when I know you very well indeed  – and vice versa – I have been given you permission to point out my blind spots – only then do I think that it is helpful to share areas where another person cannot or does not have the ability to see how you (or me) can improve.  Only then, do I think it is acceptable for others to point out areas where anyone needs improvement and growth.  Mutual accountability.  Mutual accountability means mutual love, guaranteed acceptance and forgiveness. *I do have one exception*

Living out my faith, or as James (Jesus brother said) – “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling…” can mean being in accountability relationships, in love sharing our lives with others, not to put down, criticize or critique, but to share honestly our lives and “bleeding edges” in confidentiality with one another.  It can, and hopeful also does,  include corporate as well as private worship time.  It can mean meditation and study in the Bible to learn what God expects from us and of us.

God nurtures us to “ever grow”.   Kind of like an “evergreen” in nature.  Some periods have greater growth, some have lessor growth.  Unless there is a draught or uprooting, there should be growth. We, (I’m including me too) should not be the same people today that we were a year ago.  Along that time, we would be growing, budding, blooming and becoming more like Christ.

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So how are we to show one another the love of Christ?  Jesus told His disciples flat out – rule #1 – LOVE ONE ANOTHER. How can we do that?  Live in alignment with God, and fulfill His purpose for our lives?  One method I have been a part of in the past was being within a prayer community for several years that encouraged small accountability groups of 3 to 5 people to meet every week and answer the following 3 questions:

1.  What have you done to nourish your relationship with Christ this week?  (One of the reasons I included the mp3 song above is because I use music in my private worship to nourish my relationship with God – I have not tried this before, but I believe if you click on the notes, the track will play for you to enjoy.)

2.  How have you studied to improve your knowledge of God and of His creation?  (Including your fellowman)

3.  What actions have you taken to share Christ in your spheres of influence?

Let me tell you, participating in those groups (3 over the course of 20 years), was one of the best tools I have honestly ever been introduced to as a method for encouraging personal spiritual growth.  What was said in the group meeting – stayed confidential between only the participants.   This time was growing, fun, and fantastic fellowship.  It was gaining a foothold in a tough place with friends to help you along the way if you fell.  It was great.  I hope to find new prayer partners to meet with regularly very soon.  (Pray with me if you will for this to happen soon)

We are commanded to seek out and spend time with others of same faith.  The purpose is to help our spiritual growth.  God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers and be a “Lone Ranger” Christian.  Trust me, we don’t have all the answers.  Again, if we did, I would think God is too small.  I trust him and have faith – even when I don’t understand all that is happening in my life or the lives of those I love.

Instead, we are encouraged to learn from one another and to keep each other accountable to hold onto integrity, to avoid hypocrisy.  The Bible says:  “steel sharpens steel”…Reflections on this truth, also keep me seeking God as part of a local community of believers.  It is in fellowship with like minded people that we can gain wisdom to have others help us see our own blind spots and to gain strength from each other as we seek to serve the Lord together.

This is part of the beauty of Easter.  Living a resurrection life.  Jesus appeared after His resurrection to over 500 of His disciples (The book of Acts).  Why do you think He did this?  I think He did it to encourage them to stay together, to stand firm, to keep the faith, and to help them realize His resurrection was a REAL HISTORICAL EVENT.  An event that continues to this day.  Now that, my friends, THAT, is worth celebrating.

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Please leave a comment if you want more information or have questions.  Thank you for reading.

What Happens When a Person Choses to Believe Christ? (a partial list answer)

9 Nov
You call it religion, I call it a relationship.

You call it religion, I call it a relationship.

Ever wonder what happens when a person choses to believe Christ? When a person choses to believe and accept that Jesus died to reconcile them to God. For this post, I will be using 2 Corinthians 5 as a starting point for some of the many things that happen or begin to happen the instant one choses to believe personally in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. The only way to gain new life.

2Corinthians 5:17+18 in the ESV says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

First, the entire direction of one’s life changes. We were facing death and separation. We were setting (settling really) for what we believed to be the best purpose for our life, yet it was prioritized according to our limited human perspective. The direction of our life, did not consider what was best for us in the larger view of eternity.

Second, Once one choses Christ, we have not only a new direction in life but a new life purpose. Now, through prayer we have full access to God’s wisdom and direction. Now, we are free to seek God’s purpose for our personal lives. Now, our purposes become God-motivated and God-driven. Now, seeking God’s purpose for our lives is one reason to learn and study His Word the Bible. Now, we grow and put down roots and become disciples of Christ.

I don’t know about you, but knowing my life has a deeper meaning, an eternal purpose, gives me a hope beyond all the earthly hope I could muster up within my own limited human perspective. The NEW hope we gain as a gift of God is far beyond the scope of this earthly life. It is eternal. Our lives are now to be lived within an eternal perspective and purpose.

Third, another change is that we now have a new desire to leave behind the things in our lives that hold us down, pull us back, and tempt or cause us to revel in sinful things. We have a new desire to please God and to obey His Word. Jesus tells us in John that those who are His disciples show their love by obeying His commandments. The NEW self, is not interested in old things.

Yes, we are still human, so yes we fail. But when we do, 1 John 1:9 promises us that when we become aware that we have sinned again, we confess (agree with God), He is faithful and just to forgive us ALL our sins. Not just the ones we are aware of, not just the sins and failings of commission but also the failings of omission. And yes, even the sins of which we are unaware. One thing to remember is that as we make this spiritual journey and seek God, in our relationship of love toward God and His love toward us, we are intended to grow more and more like Christ and therefore overtime will fail and fall into sin less and less.

Personally, I have found that for me what has changed is how I fail God, and how I see it. For me, it’s been rather like cleaning house. I clean the living room first because that’s what visitors would see. Then I clean the kitchen because that is where much of family life revolves and is seen. Then I clean the bedrooms because relationships are grown there. Then I clean the bathrooms. Yep, it’s the dirty spots I don’t relish and don’t really want someone to see, but the cleaning must be often and thorough or both I and those I love can become ill. Lastly, I clean the closets. My point is this: There are the parts of our lives we don’t show to others. The thoughts we think, the inner life of quiet rebellion and sin. The places of ugliness where we can have dark thoughts of envy, jealousy, rivalry and gossip. When I picture God walking through the thoughts of my mind like rooms in a house, including my thought “closet”, I quickly realize I am far from perfect and need to confess my shortcomings. But I am grateful to God that I am not who I used to be. God has and continues to change me.

When we chose to believe in Christ and become Christ followers – disciples – sometimes we will need to change where we hangout, sometimes we will need to change friends. Sometimes we will need to change our language and learn to use of our tongue to lift up others rather than tear down. Sometimes jokes and filthy language must change.

This may sound hard and when we look at this idea through our “old non-spiritual” eyes – our “natural” way of looking at things – we are constrained. We cannot see God-empowered possibilities. Our old self finds it hard to believe it is truly possible to walk away from things that displease God, to walk away from evil. YET – in fact with the new life in us, the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, changing these things IS possible. Yes, requires discipline and love – but will not be as hard as satan wants us to think it is.

One thing I can say, from both my personal point of view and from things friends have shared with me over the years, is that God will chose an area of your life and ASK you to change. God will ask us in obedience to choose to change even if we don’t understand. Said another way, God asks us to abandon bad habits and failings in our past life and embrace the promises of God and all the potential of our NEW life in Christ. Few are courageous enough to take God at His word and fully believe the promises God offers His children.

Fourth, once saved from the penalty of death and sin (Rom 5:1+2), we begin instead to look more and more — at all of life — through NEW spiritual eyes. We find that our desires change and the desire to do the things that God wants of us will grow stronger and stronger in us and we will truly want to make changes.

Fifth, As we embrace more and more of our new life, we set down roots into our new life by joining into friendships with those who are like-minded to our NEW life. Find a place where learning in community is possible. In a larger group of believers, a place where one can worship God. Give God glory, receive from God and God’s Word. Learn from others that are further along on their spiritual journey. Find a place where you feel you can belong and become. Belong as you are now, where you are now. And hopefully in the same place, a place where you can become a fully functioning follower of Jesus Christ.

Sixth, As we dig deeper into the Bible, the Word of God, as we seek to become a disciple, God strengthens and enables us to be able to change as He asks. For more information on how to do this read the Book of John in the New Testament. Seek help from a Christian pastor or someone else that you know is a believer in Jesus Christ.

Another great place to begin is in a newer translation of the Bible, read Romans 12. Study it section by section. Find a Christian friend to study it with you. Find a local church sponsored Bible Study group or a church small group to learn and study more about God. Find resources on the internet; for example: check out “Living on the Edge” from Chip Ingram and his study on Romans 12. Start reading and studying how God wants us to live up to our faith in God. How to live up to a higher calling on our lives. Read from those strong in the faith who went before us. Read A.W. Tozer on Desiring God. Read Christian blogs, biographies, study guides, but most of all – READ THE BIBLE. It is a “Believer’s Instructions Before Leaving Earth”.

I have discovered in my own personal journey and believe, that God does not call us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians. Even as Jesus chose and sent out His disciples, He sent them out two by two. We are stronger and better enabled to follow Christ as we help one another.

Seventh, one may find that inwardly, there is a deep desire (an almost overwhelming desire) to share the joy and good news of Jesus Christ with others. That is entirely normal. Often we want our old friends to make the same decision to follow Christ that we have made. I will offer only 1 caution: while you want to share the best thing that has ever happened to you, be prepared for others to reject what you want to share. Your old friends may instead want you to give up Christ, and return to the old you. So I will offer you want was recommended to me. Never speak to your friend about Christ, until you have spoken to Christ about your friend. According to James, if we need wisdom, we are to ask God and He will help us. I take that to mean when we’re not sure how to do something that we believe God wants us to do – such as share our decision and new life with old friends — ask God and He will help us know what to do.

In closing, I just want to encourage anyone reading this to ask questions in the comments section. If you have also believed in Jesus as your Savior and can offer helpful suggestions and add items to the list of what we gain when we believe, add a comment. If you need help finding resources to help you grow, leave a comment. I probably can’t answer all questions, but hopefully, with God’s help, there will be ways we can support one another.

As always your comments and feedback are welcome.  It is my prayer that this blog is helpful to those that read it.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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