Being a Biblical Christian (Casual Christian Part 5)

Life is filled with persecution:

  • At the very least you’ve got the Devil harassing you with temptations . . .
  • You’ve got people who are against Christians.  They want you stopped (to be quieted, to shut you up) by bullying you, and by taking you to court (Examples: Christmas and Easter displays; Christian objects on your desk at work; etc.), and even by legislation against you.

Because of these persecutions, we should understand then some of the distress that is written about in the book of Psalms.  A lot of the Psalms deal with the trouble that is brought on by the enemies of Israel, enemies of the king, and enemies of God.  It is no wonder that the Psalms mean so much to modern Christians and speaks to the struggles we encounter, whether persecution, doubt, fear, physical ailments, attacks from unlikely sources, weaknesses, grief, and even personal sin.

Among the Psalms we can reference that would apply in our lives in many ways, Psalm 119 should speak to us today.  “I Don’t Want to be a Casual Christian!  I want to be a Committed Christian!”  Here’s why, there is passion, zeal for God’s Word.

I’m going to start the invitation right now.  You have got to consider this and evaluate your life and your standing with God!  Is this your conviction?  That you do not want to be a casual Christian?  That you WILL be a Christian of zeal and faithfulness and obedience?

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What life does to the Christian depends on the characteristic of each Christian’s faith.  What life does to you depends on the characteristic of your faith.

  • The cares of life are capable of pushing against you and if your faith is weak or struggling, that can push you into the realm of inactivity or even unbelief.  Doubts about who God is, what Christ’s life and death means, what the church is about, doubts about communion and baptism, about other Christian’s and their motives and even what Christianity is.

And so we encounter three types of Christians who struggle in their faith

  1. The Christian Atheist who lives like they don’t belong to Christ
  2. The Cultural Christian who lets the world guide their thinking
  3. The Lukewarm Christian who has no desire as a Christian

The pressures we encounter come from outside and from inside the church, weaknesses in some Christian’s faith can discourage other Christians.  Legalistic attitudes and unmerciful Christians can undermine or wipe out other Christian’s faithfulness.  Hypocritical Christians run other Christians off.

How do we move from being a “Casual Christian” to being a “Committed Christian” in whom God’s strength is manifest, where we stand firm on the Rock of salvation?

It begins by becoming a Committed Follower of Jesus Christ as we began with Sunday.  And, we become committed Christians by being “Biblical Christians.”  That is where we are today, and Psalm 119 comes into our view-finders.

Psalm 119 the longest of all the Psalms, and is one of the most unique pieces of Hebrew poetry and it is full of wisdom.  Why?  Because it is about the wisdom that comes from commitment to God’s Word.

Let me fill you in on this Psalm a little bit.

  • The Hebrew language has 22 letters and Psalm 119 has 22 stanzas (strophes) of 8 verses each and each verse of each stanza begins with each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
  • The Psalm is considered a part of the “wisdom literature” along with Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.  You learn Godly, Biblical, spiritual wisdom from it.  But there are several other literature types evident in the Psalm; There is the individual lament (v. 107), a song of trust (v. 42), a song of thanksgiving (v. 7), and of course a hymn (vv. 71-72).  It strikes at several aspects in the mind, heart, and soul.  And it is practical.  There is valid, up-to-date application to your life.
  • The key word in the Psalm is torah.  Usually translated “law.”  But there are seven synonyms to the word law that are found in the Psalm: Promise . . . Word . . . Decrees . . . Commands . . . Ordinances . . . Statutes . . . Precepts
  • The essence of the Psalm contains a couple of characteristics that we should highlight in view of the characteristics of God’s Law:
  1. The capability of God’s Law is a lot farther reaching than even we can go in our life.  It covers all of life and the glorious life of the one who live according to God’s Law.
  2. The torah, God’s Law is the only way toward a personal relationship with God.

I recognize that the common element that makes a person a Christian atheist, or a cultural Christian, or even a lukewarm Christian, that is, “Casual Christians,” is that they lack a personal relationship God.

It is revealed to us then that the key to possessing this relationship with God is knowing His Word, loving His Law, and Living His Way in our life and to do so we must put God’s Word into our lives knowing it is God’s living Word.  It is not dead letters but God’s life input into us through faith and obeying God’s Word.  Paul encourages you to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).  Let’s go there!

There are two stanzas in Psalm 119 that we want to access today.  The first one begins in verse 57 and the second in verse 105.

  1. 1.     I Promise to Obey @PSALM 119:57-64

The greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37-38 tells us to “love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds.  Jesus is telling us that this is the way it is to be in our lives.

Love is a relationship word.  It is about relationships where commitment and devotion are supreme, the most important aspect of who we are in relation to who God is.

This is how I became a Christian.  I was laying in my bed on a Saturday night and was thinking and had questions, so, I went upstairs to Dad who was at the dining room table studying the Sunday School lesson for the next day.  I walked up to Dad and asked, “What do I need to do to be saved?”

Dad had me to sit down next to him; he pushed the books he was studying aside and moved his Bible over so I could see it and opened the Scripture to teach me what I needed to do to be saved.  The next morning, I made a public commitment to Christ and was baptized for the forgiveness of my sins.

The Word of God!  Dad showed it to me.  Mom and Grandma told me about the stories in the Bible.  Brother Kenny, our preacher, preached and taught the word of God to me.  My SS teachers, Dorothy Barlow, Opal Harvey, Jack Hight, Ed Burndt, Mr. Bugg and others taught God’s word to me.  God reached my heart and soul with his word.

Think about the moment you became a Christian and what led you to believe in Jesus and accept his salvation by faith.  Wasn’t the Word of God the underlying element in leading you to faith?  God’s word was brought to you by a person or several people.  Your parents, or a preacher or Sunday School teachers, maybe a friend, or possibly you heard a Bible preacher on the radio or TV, or maybe you just picked up a Bible and the Scripture touched your heart and you heard God’s call to you to come be saved through Jesus Christ.

When you accepted Jesus, your belief, your repentance, your confession, and your baptism were commitments to God . . . to love and obey him with all of your being, inside and out.

This particular stanza of Psalm 119 (vss. 57-64) is referring to your promise to obey God in spite of anything else, in spite of everything else.

The writer of this Psalm has been through the ringer of persecution.  He has experienced adversity as well as the joys of life.  We all have to some extent so we can relate to him.  Look at this:

1st – V. 57, God is his portion.  All of his hope and inheritance is found in God.  That is the source of his hope, his life, all that he is about and he has invested his whole life and hope in God.  Therefore he promises to God that he will obey God’s Word.  “Where your treasure is, that is where your heart will be” @Matthew 6:21.

I think that if you really looked closely at God’s Word you will find that it is much more than a source of information and knowledge (If it is only knowledge, then we’re not better off than anyone else).  It is the source through which God not only gives you life, but he continues to live through you by your obedience.  Obey is a hard word, a word people do not like to hear . . . however . . . it is a matter of doing, of action.  Everything has a right and wrong way.  When we try to live life as Christians without God’s word to guide our life, than we will certainly do it wrong!

Are you 100% committed to God, to living his Word?  That is what your commitment was about when you gave your life to God, when you became a Christian!

2nd – VV. 58-60, because he has committed himself to God (“I have sought your face”) he asks God to fulfill his promises to His faithful one, which is God’s grace continuing to be active in his life.  He has taken account of his life and directed it to follow God’s way, obeying his statutes and commands.

There is the need of constant examination in your life.  You ask, “Am I totally obeying God?  How do I know when I am?  How do I know when I’m not?  He has been gracious to me, am I honoring that with thanksgiving and joy?”

So if I take a misstep in following God, because of my commitment, I will redirect it according to God’s word.

3rd – V. 61, and if the wicked, his enemies and God’s enemies that are against him were to tie him up with ropes even, he will not forget God’s law, he will not forget God’s direction for his life.

To many have given up hope and despaired or they have fought back in ways contrary to God’s teaching when people come against them because of their faith.  Can you honestly say, that if you were bound and imprisoned for your faith, that you would remain constantly faithful to God’s word, to the direction he has set for your life as a follower of God?  Sometimes that seems to be the most extreme case of following Jesus, but I think there are harder ways.  Yet this kind of trial can lead to fear and doubt.

4th – VV. 62-63, because of his devotion to God, his dedication is found even when he gets out of bed at night, praying and giving thanks for God’s law which guides him as well as his close association with those who love and follow God’s law.

Your relationship to God and to God’s faithful people is evidence of your devotion to God.  Not just devotion to God, but devotion to God’s Word and to God’s people.  Let us see this in you.  Let us see your commitment to God’s word by your commitment to God and his Word.

  1. 2.      I Am Determined to Obey à 119:105-112

Ancient Israel’s memory was short.  Not that they forgot, they just wouldn’t remember.  When they were in difficult circumstances they doubted God and his servant Moses, even if it was just days before that God had done some super-impressive, miraculous thing to save the Children of Israel.

We get that way too, short-sighted and short-memoried.  God has done wonderful things in our lives, through the lives of other Christians, even through the church, and the first crisis that comes up, we can forget God and complain, or we can look for a solution that doesn’t include God’s word and will.

Making our way through life requires vision.  Understanding what is right and what is not.  Realizing what is of God and what is not.  Sometimes there are possible solutions that seem good or may even seem Godly, but are not.  How do we see the way that makes sense from God’s perspective, according to our commitment to Him?  It is by God’s Word given to us, the BIBLE!

The writer of Psalm 119 brings his difficulty before God.

  • V. 107, I have suffered much (they’re against me, they continue to try and stop me)
  • V. 109, I constantly take my life in my own hands (I am constantly threatened)
  • V. 110, the wicked set a snare for me (they are trying me to stop me).

The constant in all of this is his reliance upon God’s Word and his commitment to God’s word.

  • Though I have suffered much, I simply ask that you preserve my life according to your law.
  • Though I take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law
  • Though the wicked set the trap for me, I haven’t strayed from your precepts

Do you see trust in God’s Word?  A faith that relies on what God’s Word says and the way it guides through the snares and troubles of life.  That’s the character of the writer of this Psalm.  He is trusting in God’s Word of guidance.  And so he begins this stanza:

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path.”

Don Dewelt paraphrased this sentence using the word “flashlight.”  A lot of people use the same metaphor.  It is a good analogy because the words “lamp” and “light” in verse 105 refer to the little clay bowl containing oil and a wick they burned in that day that put out a just little light like a flashlight only puts out so much light.  The little clay lamp makes me think of a candle.  I think it is the same sort of thing.

God’s word illuminates each step we take.  It’s as if, we come to this moment of crisis, or the time of decision even if it isn’t trouble and we ask “what do we do?  What step do we take?”  That is when we remember God’s precepts, do this or don’t do that.  That is when if we don’t know the answer already, we search and study the Bible and pray to determine what God says.

V. 106, reminds us of the commitment to God’s Word from back in V. 58.  I have taken an oath, I have promised; does it sound familiar?  I will follow your “righteous” laws.

Here is the voice of commitment.  Verse 112: “My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.”

That is the Biblical Christian.  The one who commits to God’s Word and lives His word in all of their life.  God’s word answers every question, it guides every step, and directs us to trust and worship God in everything and every way.

So how does becoming a “Biblical Christian” convert the Christian Atheist?  A Biblical Christian lives life like they belong to Christ, because they do.  They found life in the Son of God and the Word of God taught them that, taught us that.

How does becoming a “Biblical Christian” convert the Cultural Christian?  A Biblical Christian lets the Bible teach, guide, and command our lives.  We then reflect the glory of God as imitators of Christ.

How does becoming a “Biblical Christian” convert the Lukewarm Christian?  A Biblical Christian lets the Bible fuel their life and inspire them to faithfulness and good works.

Maybe the thought from this passage should be your devotion this week…1 Peter 1:22-25

Will you say with me, I am NOT a casual Christian; I am a Committed Christian?

I am NOT a casual Christian; I am a Committed Christian

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The Lukewarm Christian (Casual Christian Part 4)

There is no form of Casual Christianity which we want to have any part of.  Here is what we have looked at so far.

1st – We considered what it means to be a Christian – Acknowledging Jesus; Believing in who he really is; and Committing ourselves completely to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus.

2nd – the Christian Atheist – Christians who live as if there is no God

3rd – the Cultural Christian – Christians whose faith is guided by what the world thinks

Now we are examining a third form of casual Christianity – the Lukewarm Christian!  Some have called this the Comfortable Christian

@Revelation 3:14-22

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The book of Revelation gives us seven letters to seven churches located in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.  These cities are in the very middle of the first century world which are New Testament times.  The churches in these seven cities were suffering persecution and tribulation from the Roman government, or they would very soon (as history reports they did).  There would be pressure to conform to the times.  To worship just like everyone else.  To set Christianity aside, at least for a moment or two to so they would fit in with the rest of society!

Laodicea is the seventh church that Jesus talks too, the last church he addressed in Revelation.  Just like the other six churches, Jesus knows all about what they are experiencing.  His vision is not blinded to the struggles the church goes through.  He knows how the church is reacting to the pressures they are experiencing.  Jesus is with the churches and gives them solutions to their problems.  And with Laodicea we find the solution to the problem of being lukewarm Christians – Christians without zeal for the Lord.

Jesus who is the Amen and the Faithful and True Witness has nothing at all good or positive to say about them.  His words are words of discipline.  These people are not as they should be and Jesus’ words, his promises, and his judgments will happen for sure.  They are God’s values, they are God’s judgments, and of course that is exactly who Jesus is, he is God.

Jesus is also the “firstborn of creation” or rather the “originator” of it all.  Implying that he rules it, he is the ruler of all.

So we’ve got a church that is lukewarm!  They are not cold like the water in Colossae which comes to them from about 10 miles away, nor are they hot like the springs that come from Hierapolis that comes from about 6 miles the other way.  The water from these two spots were piped into Laodicea because it did not have a water supply of its own.  So once you got the cold water from Colossae to Laodicea, it wasn’t cold, it was lukewarm.   And once you got the water from the hot springs at Hierapolis to town, it was lukewarm.  In fact, the water that came into Laodicea didn’t taste very good.  It was disgusting.

The hot water, when it was hot was good for medicinal purposes and the cold water as long as it was cold was refreshing to drink.  But lukewarm water was blah.

The point of describing lukewarm water is that it is disgusting.  Jesus finds the lukewarm church to be other than what HE, their Lord desires.

The reason for their self-satisfied, uncommitted manner is that they think that since they are rich, that they were wealthy people, that they really didn’t need anything. They thought they were fine, they were set for good.  They were coasting as Christians and here’s why they had this attitude.

Laodicea was a banking center.  Because of the wealth, there were leisure and cultural aspects, such as gladiatorial games (think modern day sports) and theatre (our movies and celebrity worship); comfort (time off, freedom to do whatever we please), diversions of all kinds and all sorts of things to relax with and take your mind off of things.  It was an important city because it also had a major textile industry.  Clothing was made there and they had a very unique product, black wool.  Since it was a rare and exotic fabric, it was expensive, very valuable.  Oh, and, there was a medical school there and the city was famous for its eye salve among other medical breakthroughs.

So their attitude was, “We are doing great!  We don’t need anything.”

Jesus is telling the self-satisfied church, “I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water that you are always complaining about.  You’re lack of zeal makes me want to vomit.”

Their wealth was a problem.  It had made them too comfortable and blinded them to what their faith was about.

What are the dangers of material wealth which can lead us to Spiritual poverty?

  • Self-sufficiency, trusting in what you have acquired, it is enough, I don’t need anything else.  So I don’t pray, I don’t rely on other Christians, I don’t pay attention to the preaching and teaching (it really doesn’t matter), I don’t even have to go to church.  I’m alright!
  • Pride, look at what I have done, at how much I have accomplished by myself, for myself.  One church I was with was raising $20,000 extra dollars to add to the building, purchase a van, and accomplish a couple of other things for the church’s ministry.  In less than 3 months time, all the money had been pledged and more than half of it had been received.  One of the elders, while leading songs one Sunday said to the congregation, “Give yourselves a hand for what you’ve done.”  Pride goes before a fall and I can tell you about that another time.
  • Thinking you don’t need or you don’t want any outside help including help from the Lord.  Prosperity causes blindness to reality.

Bible commentator Craig Keene says “I fear that the problems of Laodicean Christians are most like our own.”  We’re just like them in many ways.  American Christians are very self-satisfied and many individuals and some churches have no energy and zeal for doing anything, loving and trusting God and Christ and sit back with the attitude, “We’ve got it made!”

Richard Sterns of World Vision (he was formerly CEO of Lenox Inc. makers of fine China), “If the book of Revelation were written today and there was a letter to the church in America, I think it would decry the fact that our materialism and wealth have deafened our ears and blinded our eyes to the cause of the poor.”

Every American is rich.  Even those that are considered poor by our standards in America are wealthier than a majority of the rest of the world. Wealthier even than the wealthiest of kings from the past up until the last 500 years or so!  And many Christians cannot see their spiritual need, how poor and blind they are because they have so much.  They are comfortable and settled and trust in what they have and ignore what God says about things and the needs of others.

What is “true religion”?  James tells us.  It is to look after widows and orphans, or to apply it to our times, those who are poor, helpless, and oppressed and to keep yourself unstained by the world, to be pure in heart, to be holy, to be free from sin @James 1:27.

What Richard Sterns was getting at is that we can hear about suffering elsewhere and often we will find theological or even sociological reasons that it won’t happen to us, and we even avoid actually spending our wealth, even in the church on those needs.  Our walk . . . can make us spiritually poor.

There is a church that a friend of mine used to preach for.  He was their minister for many years, but resigned after challenging them and they balked and refused to act.  They had accumulated an excessive amount of savings, in the tens of thousands of dollars and wouldn’t touch it for any reason whatsoever.  There were missions in need and they wouldn’t help.  The camp they supported could have used extra funds and they refused.  There were people struggling with rent and utilities that they could help but they would not touch this money that they had been saving for decades.  It had been ten years since I last heard about this church, but I just learned that they are still the holding the money, they still haven’t touched it.  They are rich in wealth, but where is their spiritual sense of purpose and action.

The lukewarm church and lukewarm Christians are people who possess the name Christian, but do so without the power of God because they think what they have makes them ok.

Jesus has a solution to lukewarmness.  Here’s what he says in the text.

1st – Though you possess what makes you feel comfortable, Jesus advises that you buy true wealth from him.  Trust in him not in your material riches.  Material riches are not for making us comfortable, that is an American doctrine not a Biblical doctrine.  Riches are for you to help spread the good news and provide for the needy.  Besides, your riches will be destroyed sooner or later.

2nd – Though you think you are clothed, you are naked before God, so buy clothes from Jesus that will cover your nakedness.  The true clothing of Christianity is not self-sufficiency but humble trust in Christ.  One of my favorite series of sermons is looking at what the scriptures tell us to wear.

3rd – “Repent and become totally committed to me,” Christ says.  “Let me build a fire of zeal for true faith and true religion in you and free you from what makes you taste horrible to me.  Then you will be like refreshing water.”

4th – Open the door and let Jesus come in and eat with you.  The last meal of the day is the meal of intimate fellowship.  That is where the relationship grows and bonds are enlivened.  Let Jesus come in and let him develop the relationship of faith and hope and trust and joy with you.  He wants to be your life.

John is helping the church see their behavior as Jesus sees it.  Their vision has been cut off due to their complacency.  They have relied upon themselves and not God.  By their own self-sufficiency they have shut Jesus out.

Jesus is calling them on it.  He loves them, so he will discipline them inviting them to repent and become committed again.  He promises them that if they will come alive, they will rule with him.  That does not mean we will be kings like Christ is king, but that as his people, we are the ruler’s people, we belong to him, we are his people, the King’s people.

You trusted in your riches and wealth and thought you were good.  But you are actually wretched and poor, blind and naked.  You are not as you think you are.  You have not examined and evaluated your life.  Because it is distasteful to me, if you remain this way, if you do not change, you do not let me in, then your eternity that you once trusted in is at stake.

Let’s examine the characteristics of the lives of those who are NOT lukewarm Christians (taken from Voice of the Martyr’s book, _________________________ with my comments added).

1. They have an eternal perspective and are energized by what the rest of the world cannot see or even perceive.  They see beyond this world to the eternal realities.  Rather than live for the moment, which is a worldly characteristic, they look to the next knowing this life is not all there is.

In the fall of 1982, the Michigan State Spartans came to Madison, Wisconsin to play the Wisconsin Badgers.  During the game, when the Michigan State would make a play or score, the crowd would cheer.  Though their team was being trounced, the home crowd responded as if they were winning.

As it happened on that very day, eighty miles away the Milwaukee Brewers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the World Series.  Football fans at Badger stadium were listening on portable radios as the Brewers soundly defeated the Cardinals.  The cheers had nothing to do with the action in the football game the cheers were related to a reality no one could see.

2. They have committed, trusting faith in God which is usually bracketed with prayer and the Bible.  Their faith is out of this world because they have complete dependence on God and when they pray they KNOW God hears and answers their prayer and that His Word, the Bible will guide them into truth, understanding, and wisdom.

When we think about someone whose total dependence is in God, we will think of missionaries who have no one to rely on than God, or martyrs who have lost their lives for their faith.  People like Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

When they wouldn’t bow to the idol, and were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace, they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” Daniel 3:17-18

Total dependence on God!

3. They take obedience seriously.  Obedience to God has powerful implications for every aspect of our lives.  God revealed his will for us in his moral law, epitomized in the Ten Commandments, and Jesus summarized the law and highlighted its importance with this statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” @Matthew 33:37-40.  Then, just before returning to heaven Jesus left his disciples with this admonition: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the age” @Matthew 28:18-19.

So if we are determined to obey God, we must continually ask, “Do my actions express love for God and my neighbor?” and “What can I do to bring the Good News of Christ to others, to make disciples?”  And then do it!

Why does this work?  How does this inspire zeal and devotion to Christ?  Because once a person has become a Christian, they continue to allow Christ into their lives.

Let me show you from another passage and a different lens eternal perspective about committed Christians.

@Hebrews 11:13-16; 32-40; 12:1-3

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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The Cultural Christian (Casual Christian Part 3)

Jennifer Hua identifies herself as a Christian. A 35-year-old former attorney studying Christian counseling at the Wheaton College Graduate School, she has gone to church all her life and is a lay leader in her suburban Chicago congregation. She furthers her spiritual development by daily Bible reading, prayer, listening to and singing worship songs, and interacting with other Christians. And every few months, she carves out time for a silent retreat.  She says, “I do all of these things because I know from past experience I need to recalibrate my mind and my heart to be in tune with God.”

James Smith also identifies himself as a Christian. He attended church as a child, but his attendance was minimal as a young adult. He believes in God, he occasionally attends church (Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) when his time-consuming job in the finance district allows, but he doesn’t participate very often in other activities to further his spiritual life. He has a Bible but he rarely opens it and what leisure time he has he spends with friends, most of whom are of different faiths, and he doesn’t necessarily believe that his God is any different from the one his Muslim friend worships.  He says, “I don’t think that God would be a God who would shut others out of heaven because they don’t use the word ‘Christian’ to describe themselves.”

The United States is described in the mainstream media as largely Christian (between 70 and 80 percent, identify themselves as “Christian”) and compared to the rest of the world, this is certainly the case, but, not everyone within this vast group of Christians are alike.

To understand the range and differences among American Christians, Christianity Today International partnered with Zondervan Publishers to have Knowledge Networks conduct attitudinal and behavioral research of U.S. Christians. In September 2006, more than 1,000 self-identified Christians 18 years of age and older were surveyed on their religious beliefs and practices. The results reveal a number of significant differences, illustrated by the examples of Jennifer and James. In fact, portraits of five distinct segments emerged from the study. They are called . . .

  • Active Christians,
  • Professing Christians,
  • Liturgical Christians,
  • Private Christians, and
  • Cultural Christians.

Each group represents about one-fifth of those identifying themselves as Christian, with Active Christians (such as Miss Hua) most likely to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that affects their beliefs and inspires an active church life.  Cultural Christians (such as Mr. Smith) are least likely to align their beliefs or practices with biblical teachings, or even attend church. And between the two is a range of beliefs, different commitment levels, and varying public practice of the faith.

Simply put, there are those who let the culture determine what Christian values are.  Those people are in the world and they are of the world.  Are they participating in sin?  Maybe; maybe not!  But, their values are guided by what is popular, or what is politically correct, or what is considered valid at the time, or by what makes them feel good.

Romans 12:2

1)    The “Cultural Christian” is one who is conformed to the world.

There are four key words in this verse.  Look at them.

  1. Conformed
  2. The World or the Age
  3. Transformed
  4. Renewing

Conform means “to make like.”  When I pour Jell-o into a Jell-o mold and it forms to the shape of the mold, it is conforming.  When I wear a hat, I get a hat hair.  My hair conforms to the shape of the hat.  In this world and the age I live in, I make myself just like it and I have conformed myself to it.

  • My values will be guided by the thinking of the age I live in (which is constantly changing)
  • My purpose and goals will be formed according to the way of thinking I follow
  • My thoughts and actions will be determined by conforming to the modern age

I may get my way of thinking from CNN or MSN, or the NY Times, or from Oprah or Montel, and the movies, or friends, or books, or the Internet, or any number of sources that are worldly and conformed to the world themselves.

The World/the age in which you live, the popular or current values of the rest of the world press every person to conform to the values that the world holds.

  • The past 40-50 years the world’s values have been about tolerance, self-reliance, humanism, evolutionary thinking, and political correctness.
  • The world is trying to force its values on us through media, through legislations, and through education and at every level, especially higher education.

I used to be on the board of a Campus Christian Fellowship at Truman State University.  The campus minister, Joe Belzer informed us one time that the prevailing philosophies and teachings in the universities, within ten years become the mainstream beliefs and practices in America

I have noticed a broader application to the principle Joe shared with us 15 years ago.  It really begins in the universities on the east and west coasts where America is more liberal politically and religiously.  That becomes mainstream in public life in about ten years time.  The universities in middle America grasp the teachings and philosophies in the following years and that becomes mainstream in the middle America about ten years later, so we see what is happening in universities on the coasts and 15-25 years later, it is a part of the life patterns of America.

Conforming to the ways of the world is how that looks.

But the apostle Paul indicates we are to not to conform to the world, don’t conform to this age.

This is where being transformed comes in. Transformation is changing from one thing to another.  The actor on the stage transforms as they change costumes for each part they play.  Mixing cake ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, chocolate and whatever other ingredients are required together and then when it is baked it transforms and becomes a cake.  The caterpillar balls up into a cocoon and eventually becomes a butterfly.

We are to change away from the ways of the world; the values that guide people away from God, the worldly philosophies and worldly religions and worldly values.  We are to be renewed in our mind, transformed, changed from what we were which was worldly, sinful, and far away from God.

Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to the world.  We belong to God and the things of the world, the ways of the world are not our ways; they are not to be a part of our lives.

@John 15:19

And John warns us not to love the world or the things of the world.  If we do God’s love doesn’t live in us.

@1 John 2:15

The Bible warns us, Christian leaders warn us.  They even teach this to us.

Biblical Christianity versus Cultural Christianity

Biblical Christianity means being joined to Jesus Christ through faith in what he did for us at the cross then allowing him to live through us so that others might know him and see his love.

 Cultural Christianity follows the changes from culture to culture.  They imagine their god fits their new cultural wants and values.

Some of the differences between Biblical faith and today’s cultural deviations. Follow the link to this chart prepared by Dennis Monroe for a comparison of Biblical and Cultural Christianity: http://www.crossroad.to/charts/cultural-Christianity.html

Cultural Christianity is why the church has had little impact on our society.

2)    We should think in terms of Biblical Christians and Cultural Christians should be Transformed

Biblical Christians are those who seek to live by believing, obeying, understanding and applying Biblical teachings and principles, with God’s Spirit in our lives.

Cultural Christians are defeated, they’ve given up and they’ve been drawn into the secular mold and live a form of counterfeit Christianity.  Their Christianity is a matter of convenience rather than of conscience or obedience.

Which world-view is yours?  Is it guided by the Bible?  Many cultural Christians think they are guided by the Bible but if they accurately study and apply scripture, they’ll find they have a form of Christianity without the reality of Christianity.

Therefore transformation begins with a total and accurate Biblical viewpoint and obedience to the God’s word and this is much more than simply asking “What Would Jesus Do?”

  • Do you have a point of view about something?  Examine the scripture to see where it stands in relation to God’s point of view.
  • If you are honest about it, humble toward God, and obedient to Christ, when your view differs with God’s, even if it is close but not quite right, then you will accept God’s view and change your heart, your mind, and your actions to match it.

A second means by which transformation takes place is that we become spiritual people, true spiritual people and that means that we have the mind of Christ.  @1 Corinthians 2:15-16

  • We all have the Word of God
  • Christians have the Spirit of God
  • But do we have the mind of Christ?

There was a book published about 20 years ago in tribute to Seth Wilson, long-time professor at Ozark Christian College (Joplin, MO) who died last year.  It was called “The Mind of Christ.”  His focus was having the mind of Christ.  That is why he spent hours every day pouring over the Bible, studying, learning and investing years teaching the Bible to willing minds who were seeking to serve God as ministers and missionaries and servants in the church.

The mind of Christ comes from the Spirit of God who makes it possible for us to understand spiritual things.  The worldly mind cannot understand spiritual things.  The world can’t even accept the things of Christ.

The mind of Christ as Paul applies it here in Corinthians has to do with correcting the sin and division in the church.  Because they were mixing the ways of the world with their faith in Christ!  It sounds like a lot of the modern church.  Living by means of the world, but belieiving and claiming to be Christian.

I want to use the term “the mind of Christ” to make us think about who Christ was on earth and what his focus was on.

  • Pleasing God, obeying God, honoring God
  • Drawing people to God for salvation
  • He did this in a number of ways: Preaching, teaching, caring, helping, obeying God’s commands, staying true to God’s word.

The Cultural Christian varies from the mind of Christ.  They have accepted Christ.  They are professing to be Christian.  But their values differ from the churches values, from what the Bible says.  It could be:

  • Church attendance is an optional thing
  • Or that we should tolerate other religions as if they were true or equal to Christianity
  • Or the homosexuality is ok with God
  • Sex is ok in any situation
  • Or any number of Biblical things that have been interpreted through the lens of worldliness or even rejected because it is different than the world.

We need to continue to be transformed by letting God’s Spirit renew our minds through our faith in God and our reliance upon the Bible, developing the mind of Christ and become Biblical Christians.

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The Christian Atheist (Casual Christian Part 2)

The chorus of Casual Christian:  “I don’t wanna be, don’t wanna be a casual Christian.  I don’t wanna live don’t wanna live a lukewarm life.  But I want to light up the night, with an everlasting light.  I don’t wanna live a casual Christian life.”

That song ought to be one of the themes for Christians.  It needs to be our theme because too many Christians have become just that, casual in their Christianity, casual to point that many Christians have failed in what it means to be a Christian.  The song can help remind us of our commitment and the level of our commitment to Christ.

I asked by Facebook friends “What do you think it means to be a casual Christian?”

I received several responses:

  • There are the jokes, like, getting to dress casually at church
  • Others responded with things like lukewarm, lazy, informal in their faith, lacking intensity or zeal for their faith
  • But Robin Sigars, formerly with CIY, now senior minister with the Carterville Christian Church (Carterville, MO) responded that casual Christians are Christian Atheists.

So what exactly is a Christian-Atheist?

That term is an oxymoron.  It just seems like you are putting opposites together.  Like Democratic-Republican, or Socialist-Democracy, or Kansas-Missourian.

What is a Christian-Atheist?

  • Well, a Christian is one who has faith in God.  Someone who through conviction has put their faith in God and Christ.
  • And an Atheist is one who doesn’t believe there is a God.  They have no faith in God, no belief in Christ as Savior.

They are opposites, but the term Christian-Atheist is a descriptive term.  What does it describe?

Wipedia, an online dictionary defines Christian-Atheist as “one who doesn’t believe in God but attempts to live by Biblical morality.”

In other words, they are atheists whose values are Christian-like in character.  But that’s what the world’s definition is.  We are Christians.  We are believers so that doesn’t even begin to make sense to us; Not from a Biblical point of view, but that is what the rest of the world thinks a Christian-Atheist is.

Here is what a Christian-Atheist is and I hope that you’re not one; “Putting your faith in God, but still living as if everything is up to you, as if everything depends on you!”  “Believing in God but living as if he doesn’t exist.”

Old Testament Israel is living in much the same way and Jeremiah is praying to God about their faithlessness.  He says to God in Jeremiah 12:2 – “You are near to their lips but far from their mind”

What does that line “(God) You are near to their lips but their mind is far from you” (NASB) Mean?

[Excerpted from The Christian Atheist, beginning on page 17]

Hi, my name is Craig Groeschel, and I’m a Christian Atheist.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed in God, but I haven’t always lived like he exists. Today my Christian Atheism isn’t as large of a problem as it once was, but I still struggle with it. Like a recovering alcoholic careful never to take sobriety for granted, I have to take  life one day at a time.

You might think it’s odd for a pastor to struggle with living like there is no God. However, in my corner of the world, Christian Atheism is a fast-spreading spiritual pandemic which can poison, sicken, and even kill eternally. Yet Christian atheism is extremely difficult to recognize — especially by those who are infected.

My story illustrates the symptoms. I was born into a “Christian” family. We believed in God and attended church when convenient — and always on Christmas or Easter. And when we did attend, it was always boring. Some older man wearing what looked like a dress would stand at the pulpit for what seemed like forever, talking about stuff that didn’t make any sense to me. I remember counting how many times the preacher raised one hand in the air — fifty-three in one sermon may still be the world record. Even though I never carried a Bible to church, we did own a yellowish-gold Bible that was the size of a small U-haul truck and sat prominently on our living room coffee table. The pictures gave me warm, tingly, spiritual feelings, but the words were an impenetrable web of thees and thous. Two of my friends’ parents always made us pray before meals: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food.” It always bothered me that this prayer didn’t rhyme, even though it seemed like it   should, and wondered if it bothered God too. At my grandparent’s house, we prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.”  Neither prayer mattered to me, but at least the second one actually rhymed.

He goes on to describe how he learned at age 8 in a VBS that he was going to hell and supposedly accepted Christ at that time.

  • In High School he was a hypocrite, going to church by himself, listening to messages and encouragements to be holy, but when Friday night rolled around, well…you know how it is.
  • In college, a Christian school, he had a great spiritual awakening, starting a Bible study in his dorm, passionate about leading people to Christ, and it was in those years that he for the first time believed in God and began to live like he is real.

Does any part of Craig Groeschel’s story resonate with you?  If it does, you might be a Christian-Atheist.

You’ve confessed Jesus as Lord, you’ve been baptized, you might have been full of energy and zeal for Christ and the church, but now it’s just religious ceremony and boring ritual, it’s obligation with little feeling and virtually no meaning for you anymore.  You’re just Christian in name but not in action?

That’s what it means to be a Christian Atheist.  You believe, but you don’t live like you believe.

Maybe Paul’s words help us understand better – Titus 1:16: They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny him.” NASB

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he does not exist.  Here’s why a person is a Christian-atheist.

 1)    They Don’t Know God

We know that roughly as many as 90-some percent of Americans say they believe in God.  But do that 90-some percent know God?

You can tell when someone who claims to believe in God, that they don’t know him when they call him the “Big Guy in the Sky,” or the “Man Upstairs.”  They believe in God, I guess, they know about God, some, I suppose, but they don’t KNOW God.  There is no closeness to God. No relationship with God.

Maybe you were closer to God than you are today?  You started out full of zeal and desire, pleasing God, serving him with excitement, learning God’s ways with every sermon and Bible study, but, your Christian life is like a slow leak in your car tire.  It takes a while, but eventually, your tire goes flat.  As it leaks and flattens, driving becomes more difficult, your gas mileage suffers, and your car drives squirrelly on the highway.

Slowly but surely over time your spiritual passion has quietly slipped away.  You pray less.  You barely read your Bible.  You are disinterested when people bring up spiritual things.  Church becomes a bore and a bother.  You just go to church and that’s all, if you go to church at all.  In fact, if you live with Biblical morals and values you do so out of habit, not out of faith.

We have got to face believing AND knowing God.  We have got to cross the line where we KNOW God and are close to him.  Right away, we want to look at three levels of closeness with God.

The 1st level, only knowing God by Reputation

You’ve heard stories from friends or your parents and you can tell a little about Noah and an Ark, or Moses crossing the Red Sea, or maybe Jonah and a big fish or a whale, or something, and of course Jesus birth and death but the details are a bit sketchy and maybe that’s about all.

You only know God by Bible stories that don’t really mean anything to you, but you don’t know God personally.  He is not your Father in heaven.  He is not even just a god out there.  He really means very little to you.  And so you gage and judge God by his reputation according to the stories you have heard.

The 2nd level, only knowing God by Memory

You have memories of church.  I can visit with you about church and you can tell me the day you were baptized, and about attending camps and revivals, maybe you’re an elder’s kid, or you were a deacon, or your grandma was a Sunday School teacher, or you taught SS, or the preacher’s kids were your best friends, but these are all just memories of the past.

And something upset you so you dropped out or even quit.  Someone said something, or did something and you left the church.  There was a church split and your parents took you somewhere else and you haven’t been back to church since you were 15 and that was 30 years ago and you just lost touch.

You say, “Oh yeah, I have good memories of church.”  But see, they are just memories of the past and you don’t know God today.

The 3rd level, Intimately Knowing God

The Bible talks about intimacy, especially the old KJV.  Adam knew Eve and she conceived and gave birth to a couple of babies, Cain and Abel.  The idea of intimacy is being one in marriage.  It’s more than I know about you, but I am now joined with you and you become one with the each other and you KNOW each other.

God wants us to know him with our whole life with that level of intimacy.

2)    They  Don’t Know God, but God is Near

Look at Deuteronomy 4:29

At the time when this passage was written, there is going to be a time when Israel will be going through great difficulty.  They will not be in their own land, they will be captives to other nations, having been taken away from their homes and their land and separated from the Temple and from God and in that day of captivity God says that when you look for me, you will find me.

God wants you to search for him wholeheartedly; as Jesus said, “with all your heart and soul and mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Look at Jeremiah 29:12-13

Israel is in captivity now and the Israelites are supposed to do what it takes to get along with their Babylonian neighbors and God wants them to know that he is there, he is with them.  “I am there.  I want a relationship with you.”

He wants to be close to you.

Go to Acts 17:27

Here is a sermon that is relevant today, right now.  God wants the nations to come to him.  But the nations have problems with Christians.

But you say to me; “I believe!  I believe Jeff. Isn’t that good enough?”  That is a fair question and it deserves an honest answer.

Turn with me in your Bibles, James chapter 2

Let’s hear the context.  There are scattered Christians that are saying all you have to do is believe.  Belief is all there is.  You’ve heard that, there are those who make the same claims today.  James has learned this and James is addressing their mistaken belief.

@James 2:17-19

What are we getting at here?  If you think you’ve got to have just an intellectual faith, you know, just possessing knowledge, God is saying to you today, you’ve got to show me your faith.

The demons believe in God and they’re scared.  They shake in fear of God and his judgment.  They are afraid.  They know their fate and they should be afraid.

Let me be totally up front with you right now.  If you only believe and that’s all, you don’t believe you have to be baptized, you don’t carry out acts of mercy, and you don’t and won’t reach out to others with the Gospel of Christ, if you have friends that are like this too, the demons are better off then you.

Let me tell you there are no atheists in hell (literal atheists or Christian-atheists).  Philippians 2 tells us that the day that Jesus comes back EVERY person will bow down and worship him and EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and that means that those who are not saved, even those who were atheist in this life will believe in who Jesus is.  But, it will too late for them.

If all you do today is say I believe, my friend, you’re in trouble.

If you are a Christian, are you who you say you?  You believe, James says you do well, so do the demons.  But that’s not good enough.  What have you done more than the demons?

CONCLUSION – THE SOLUTION

I’m not trying to condemn you, but you may be feeling guilt and shame at this point.  Let me help you here because you are wondering “how do you get out of this, out of being a Christian-Atheist?”

The answer is simple, but following through may be difficult.  Here it is: Show your faith, live the life of faith God has given you.  Here is how your faith is seen.

Show mercy

  • James says it’s about mercy.  @James 1:27.  True religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.
  • Micah told us what the Lord God said (6:8), the Lord REQUIRES that you act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

Be holy

  • Peter emphasized we are to be holy as the Lord our God is holy @1 Pet. 1:15.
  • Purity, righteousness, being sanctified, consecration, and being separate (from the world) are words that describe holiness.

Be evangelistic, reaching out with Jesus to make disciples of all people

  • Jesus commanded the apostles to teach us to obey what he had commanded them @Matt. 28:19, and he commanded them to go, make disciples and those who were scattered with the persecution preached the word wherever they went @Acts 8:4.

Are you obedient?

  • John says we know we have come to know God if we keep his commandments @1 John 2:3.

If the fruit of faith and obedience are not evident in your life, you are living a Christian Atheist! You can claim “I’m a Christian” all day long, but if you live as if there is no God and in fact you live as if everything depends on you, you are a Christian Atheist!  I should be able to see your faith by your actions and so should everyone else!

Being a Christian-Atheist is as if you are living in captivity.  You are a Christian, but for whatever reason you have settled into a faith without action, you are captive to a Godless way of living and doing.  God was with the Israelites in their captivity, and when they were ready to seek God with all their hearts, God would hear them and they would find him.

If you are living in the modern captivity without obedience, without the fruit that shows you are a follower of Christ, a child of God, God is still there.  He is waiting for your total surrender to him and his commands, to live the way Christ showed.

And that is the invitation.  To commit yourself to Christ and get busy being Christ-like.

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One Religion or Many

Religious pluralism has determined that God reveals himself through all religions and Christianity has the most thorough revelation of God. Religious pluralists believe that God can be found in all religions, Buddhism, Bai’ hai’, Islam, Hindu, etc. The revelation of God in one religion may be about peace and contentment as one exists in this world. It could be about love for mankind. It might be any number of values that resemble teachings and characteristics of God.

There may be discovery of some of these aspects about God’s way in other religions, but that does not mean that God provided a revelation about himself in that religion. There can be similarities. There are similarities among the species but that does not necessarily  make one specie a form of the other. Discovering some of these aspects in other religions form a common ground however by which the Christian can show them God for real.

God’s plan did not and still does not involve revelation through other religions. “”Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” @Romans 10:17. “How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” @Romans 10:14

God’s revelation of himself to the world involves the preaching of his word. And his word is contained, not in a multitude of religious traditions, but in the Bible that Christians preach from. History has proven the Bible to be the final revelation of that God has given and the that it is totally true and reliable.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the way to God will be preached as much or more this weekend as we remember the anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the word, preached from the Bible which reveals God to mankind. That’s God’s choice. That is God’s way!

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Christianity

Christianity does not exist in a vacuum. That’s not to say it couldn’t exist in a vacuum, it most likely can.  God is capable of that.  But we live in a world in which religious pluralism is prominent. It has been that way since people have occupied the earth (sometime after Adam and Eve’s children had children). There are many religions and many of those religions possess some good and beneficial characteristics and qualities. Yet, without the differences, a vacuum would exist. The differences however, are the points when sense awakens to the variance that exists between the religions.

Christian colleges and schools of religion have studied comparative religions for generations. Comparing religions, honestly and fairly, can bring a wealth of knowledge and certainly understanding, and hopefully wisdom.

Some religions value peace, while others promote love. Some religions emphasize mankind’s role while others are more concerned with god’s position. Some religions are focused solely on this life and others are concerned with the future life in another sphere of existence. And yet, though most religions have a thing or two in common with Christianity, Christianity offers a few unique perspectives that are not found in any other religion whatsoever.

First, Jesus who is the Christ (Messiah) is the only source of salvation for mankind, for every person. The Hebrew people of the Old Testament times were looking for salvation from God through the Messiah he would send. Jesus fulfilled all 300 plus prophecies that foretold who the coming Messiah would be. Things like where he would be born @Micah 5:2; that he would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey @Zechariah 9:9; that he would suffer and die @Isaiah 53:5, and more.

Jesus arrives on the scene in the first half of the first century and fulfills all the prophecies, revealing himself gradually over a period of roughly three years. Toward the end, a few days before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” @John 14:6.

Peter with John the apostle beside him, having been arrested for telling people that Jesus is the Messiah told the court “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” @Acts 4:12.

Paul encouraging Timothy, a pastor of the Ephesian church reminded him “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given at the proper time” @1 Timothy 2:5-6.

Second, mankind’s need is God himself. Pascal, centuries ago noted that every man has a God-shaped vacuum that can only be filled by God. Yet, since sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, humans have tried to fill that vacuum or hole as some have interpreted it according to his own will and means coming up with all sorts of things that remove God from the equation, even by some who believe in God and his Messiah, Jesus. It’s sort of the spiritual form of trying to put a round peg in a square hole. It won’t fit. It won’t fill the void.

Mankind’s need is God. As people try to fill the void in their lives, they try any one of a number of religions that do not include God or vary from God’s revealed word, the Bible. Some people try to fill the void through addictions, drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships, food, money, work, objects, etc. But, it is God that fills the void. He does so through our faith in Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.

With Easter 2012 upon us, Good Friday being tomorrow, when Jesus died, it wasn’t that some really great man died who brought wonderful teachings to the world. Jesus wouldn’t be any better than Ghandi, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson or any others. He wouldn’t be greater than any prophet like Elijah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. But he is the Son of God and God has proved that he is through Jesus deeds and miracles and teachings (cf., John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22), he died and rose from the dead.

There is such a wealth of religions and religious teaching that confusion about what is real and true and what isn’t. How do we sort through it all? Look at the similarities? Compare the differences? If I am talking with someone from other religions I will find the similarities and some them the truth from what we have in common, deconstructing their argument and disproving the untrue by means of truth and reality.

There are many religions, but there is only one that leads to God and salvation. It is Christianity and that was God’s plan all along. Those who believe in Christ through faith and obedience would possess the name of Christ and be called Christians.

They are people who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God as well as believe in the fact and are completely committed to Christ @Luke 9:18-27 (cf., Romans 10:9-10; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:1-7). They believe and live by faith.

No other religion makes the same claims, no other religion makes such bold claims and no other religion can back their teaching with actual truth. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

Larry Norman who was Christianity’s first rock musician popularized the term “One Way” with the forefinger pointing to heaven. Why? Because Jesus is the only way! It is a bold claim, but it is truth. And because Christians receive grace, there is no arrogance to the claim that Christianity has the only answer to life’s questions and is the only way to God.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because if he had not raised to life, Christianity, no matter how nice, or how good it is, has no value. Jesus has raised to life and he lives and sets at the right hand of God in heaven waiting for the day that God will send him back to judge the world.

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What It Means to be a Christian (Casual Christian Part 1)

This is the first message in the series, “I Don’t Want to be a Casual Christian.”  Certain pieces of information have been changed for the sake of certain individual’s confidentiality. May the Lord bless your life!

Working with residential facility teens has challenged my Christianity as nothing has (explain).

I wrote this in February. Now I don’t journal.  It’s just not something I am disciplined enough to do.   I just wrote this note: “I am not challenged by believers.  I am continually challenged by unbelievers and seekers.  It is people who are wondering, not who have got it that challenges my thinking and ability, my Christianity and faith.”

  • It’s not that I have to be on top of my game (which of course I do)
  • It’s that my Christianity has to be real and valid.

I DON’T WANT TO BE A CASUAL CHRISTIAN

June 6, 2010, Dana Key died suddenly at age 56.  A blues guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee and one of Christian music’s most formidable artists, Dana was sold out to God. His life and ministry were purely about Jesus Christ. The few last years that D&K toured together, Josh McDowell (Evidence that Demands a Verdict) toured with them and they gave away NIV Teen Bibles. They were worked together to encourage young people to get into the word of God.

Dana wrote a song which they recorded in the early 80’s entitled Casual Christian.  In my estimation, that song epitomizes Dana Key’s life and ministry. He lived it.  He didn’t want to be a Casual Christian.   He wanted to be alive, valid, true, and real.

The chorus of the song goes like this: I don’t wanna be, don’t wanna be a casual Christian.  I don’t wanna live; don’t wanna live a lukewarm life.  Cause I want to light up the night, with an everlasting light.  I don’t wanna live a casual Christian life.

Contemplating Dana Key’s life, his ministry, and his message prompted this series of messages called “I Don’t Want to be a Casual Christian.”  I’d like to share them with you and encourage you through them.  Let me give you just a glimpse.

We will look at the three major forms of casual Christianity…

  • The Christian Atheist
  • The Cultural Christian
  • The Lukewarm Christian
  • And we will conclude with the all-encompassing answer to all of this.

But first, what does it mean to be a casual Christian?  Let me help you with that by giving you examples of how that may look in a Christian’s life.

The casual Christian takes the things of God for granted!

  • The casual Christian takes the Bible for granted and doesn’tspend time in the Bible reading, studying, or meditating on it. So . . . they have not knowledge of God’s word nor do they experience it, and they allow others, usually preachers, pastors, teachers, and the internet to tell them what it says and means, and they choose to believe and follow what they like and want and feel instead of the whole word of God.
  • The casual Christian takes Church fellowship for granted.  They see Church membership and church attendance as optional and so they are usually disconnected from the church and are easy prey for the devil by means of the ways of the world.
  • The casual Christian takes prayer for granted. They rarely pray.  They may say prayers at church, they possibly pray before meals, and they will pray when something horrible is happening in their life, they pray as if it doesn’t mean anything. It is not communication with God, and when they do pray, it is a request form submitted to the catalog operator in the sky. “God I want this, give me that.”
  • The casual Christian takes Christianity for granted.  And they easily compromise their values because their Christianity is not set on a firm foundation.  Their choices are not based on Scripture or by Christian thinking, or even by a simplistic form of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).  Whatever they think, whatever they want, they do.  So it is easy to be trapped in sinful thinking and activity.
  • They haven’t given themselves completely to Christ.

I hope this is not how you are, because if you are, you are a casual Christian and that’s bad.

Recently, there have been a number of troubling trends in our society among Christians.  The scripture tells us to be aware of what is going on around us.  Understanding the times we live in, is crucial!

The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life took a U.S. knowledge survey which was published September 28, 2010.  Let me quote some pertinent evidence to you of how causal Christians are now.

First paragraph.  “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest scoring group on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history, and leading figures of major world religions.”

The last line of the second paragraph.  “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.”

Later in the study they note: “Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible.”

And atheists and agnostics, the group least likely to know much about religion and the Bible, know more than Catholics and Protestant Christians.

How embarrassing.  What is wrong with us?  The poll only asked about 15 questions.  And Christians in Protestant churches, which is the category we (“we” referring here to the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ) would fit in according to the Pew Forum designation, scored very low.  We don’t know our stuff!

The Barna research group found in 2010 and 2011 that most Americans call themselves spiritual people, but there is little spiritual transformation.  It does not happen or it does not last.  The study noted that the barriers to transformation included lack of commitment, unwillingness to repent, confusing activity for growth and failure to engage in genuine accountable community (being a regular, active part of a church).

Most of the religious beliefs and behaviors and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed AND embraced by age 13.  By the time they are 8, their worldview has been established.  So by the time they are 13 their view about religion is already set in place and rarely does it change.  In fact, less than 1% of people, once they become adults ever change their religious way of thinking, their religious views, or their religious beliefs.

Whoa!  Where are we at as Christians?  WE DON’T WANT TO BE CASUAL CHRISTIANS!  Where the power of God is not alive in our lives and our church!  Where we sit back and do nothing.  Where when judgment day comes, God’s judgment against us is not what we expected.

I can’t count the number of times someone has said this about a family member or friend who didn’t attend church, who didn’t live by faith, who by their actions showed they were not a follower of Jesus Christ; “at least they’ve been baptized.”  Baptism means nothing without faith and repentance and transformation.

I can’t count the number of times I have visited people that have missed church and they give excuse after excuse for not being in church.  They forget I’m not the judge.  God is.  I am God’s servant trying to discern where their faith is so I can encourage them on to faith and good deeds.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?

That is the question we must begin with.  It is where we start and continue.  We start in the book of Luke.

LUKE 9:18-27; 18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them,“Who do the crowds say I am?”  “19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”    Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.    27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the the kingdom of God.”

To help us remember we have A B & C.

A)   ACKNOWLEDGE CHRIST @Luke 9:18-19

“Man, this person Jesus is a hard person to get to know and understand.  Who is he really?”

That’s what was happening in Jesus’ day.  People were trying to wrap their minds about who he really is.  Is he from God?  Is he God’s Messiah?  And if so, what does that mean?

Up to this point so far in Jesus’ life and ministry, the consensus has been that he is one of the prophets, or embodies the spirit and nature of one of the prophets.   Even Herod the tetrarch, hearing about Jesus’ activity thought that John the Baptist, who was regarded as a prophet, that he had beheaded had returned from the dead (Lk. 9:7-9).

So when Jesus asked his disciples, they told him what people were thinking.  He is one of the prophets like Elijah, or John the Baptist.

The question of who Jesus is, is crucial to all things.  We can ask that question now and get a lot of different responses than the even disciples had encountered.

  • He was a great man, a good person, a moral teacher, a devote Jew, a holy man, but, he was just a man.
  • If he was real, he seems to be ok.  A lot of people like his teaching on love and not judging others (though their understanding of Jesus’ teaching is wrong).
  • Some believe he is a myth, but that’s ok if we wish to personify a myth.  Other religions do the same sort of things.
  • Some think he was a prophet, just like the people in Jesus’ day.
  • The Jews still don’t believe he is the Messiah.  Some recognize his prophetic ministry and teaching, but he wasn’t the Messiah
  • There are many more ways that Jesus is perceived.

I have to acknowledge Christ.  I have seen him for who he really is.  So many people believe that all religions have the same validity.  No single one has the only truth. There are many ways to salvation through this or that religion.  Jesus is just one of those ways.

Do you want me to go on?  When I as a Christian follower of Jesus Christ see him as less than he is, than my faith is going to be faulty.  I will slip into some form of casualness in my Christianity and become a lump on a log for Christ and the church.  And that’s not a good thing.  Because lumps are useless and troublesome and often times toxic.

I have to acknowledge Jesus’ true identity.  If I don’t it won’t matter.  No conversion and transformation will ever truly occur in my life.

B)    BELIEVE IN WHO JESUS (REALLY) IS @Luke 9:20

Nearly every time I have baptized someone, their statement of faith was similar to Peter’s response to Jesus. You likely said when you were baptized.  “I believe that Jesus is the Chris the Son of the Living God.”

But let me ask you.  What type of Christ is Jesus?  What were you confessing?

We all know about the Jewish belief in the Messiah.  They believed he would be militant, powerful, political, and bring them riches.

A very worldly view of the Messiah with no basis in OT history or OT prophecy.  A total misunderstanding of the Messiah.  Jesus could heal the injured, so in battle, he could keep the fighting troops in good shape.  He could raise the dead, so he would raise them back to life if they were killed in battle.  It would be an unconquerable situation.  He can control the weather and cause it to benefit whatever we need it to do.  With this type of Messiah, we can’t lose.

What are your conceptions about Jesus?  Where did you get your perception about Jesus Christ?  From a preacher?  From a friend?  Out of a book?  On the internet?  Or from the Bible?

Peter’s confession was accurate.  Jesus is the one God sent.  He is the Messiah.

I recommend that you pay attention to research done by Pew Research, Barna Research Group, and others who poll and study the beliefs and trends in our society today.  To understand what’s happening around us.  To be prepared to deconstruct their argument with facts and truth.

CNN, Fox News, ABC and NBC aren’t going to tell you anything, or not much and it will be tainted by whatever bias they hold.

Watch this video call “Who is Jesus? by Chip Ingram by clicking on the YouTube link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr9t9NOrg-I

This is the most important understanding in the world.  Jesus is the Christ.

C)    COMMIT YOURSELF COMPLETELY TO CHRIST @Luke 9:23

Let’s see here.  How many of you have a Jesus fish on the back of their car?  How many wear a cross on a chain around their neck?  How many wear Christians T-shirts and clothing?  How many wear a WWJD bracelet or a “True Love Waits” ring?

If you do, join the club.  And that’s pretty much what it is, a club.  It’s not the church and a lot of people who have these religious things aren’t even Christian or don’t live as Christians.

Look at all the rappers with their big huge crosses around their neck singing about sex as if any form is ok with God.  Or as one person I encountered, wearing a Christian T-shirt and I asked her about her faith and she was not a believer.  She bought the shirt at a thrift store.  It meant nothing more than clothing to her.

A lot of people actually acknowledge who Jesus is.  Fewer people believe in who Jesus is.  And still fewer people commit themselves to Jesus.  Total commitment, complete surrender.

We live in a non-committal society.  For the first time ever, and this statistic comes from a secular source  (if I remember correctly, I found this stat on MSN).  There are more single people than married people in our country.  51% of adults are unmarried.  One of the major reasons for this is that they are co-habiting, shacking up, living together, but not married.

People don’t want to commit too much of anything.  Yet we are called to commit everything to Christ.  And here’s how.

Deny Yourself – Hard to do.  Difficult to accomplish.  The world says fulfill yourself.  Anything goes.  Be your own person.  Take it, have it, enjoy it.  Life is too short to deny yourself what you want and can have.

Denying self means more than sacrificing this or that pleasure.  It means that in everything, in my heart, minds, and soul, in what I think, feel, and do, with what I have and the decisions I make, it is because I belong to Christ.  Not to me.  Remember, you were bought with a price, you are not your own @ 1 Corinthians 7:23.

Just like a slave, you were purchased, not with money, but with Jesus’ blood.  And slaves have no rights.  Nothing they do is for themselves, but for their lords.  Jesus is your Lord.  Give it all up to him and follow him.

Take up your Cross . . . daily.  This isn’t, I was baptized and so, well things will always be like this.  This is every day you submit yourself Christ.  The cross is not some difficulty, it is death.  I am dead to the world and I am dead to self, but I am alive in Christ.  It is not, “My wife’s a nag.  It’s my cross to bear.”  Or, “My boss is a jerk, that’s my cross to bear.”  It is, I have died to everything in the world and I am now alive in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. @Galatians 2:20

The cross was an object of shame, torture, and death.  You will be persecuted for Christ.  You are dead to the world.  Take up your cross like Jesus did and live for him.  You choose to remain dead to sin, dead to self.

Follow Jesus – What Jesus wants, I want.  What Jesus does, I will do.  What Jesus says, I will obey.  What Jesus thinks become my thoughts.

Be like the 144,000 in Revelation 14.   These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. @Revelation 14:4-5

They followed the Lamb.

A few years ago, Franklin Graham was in a cab when he asked the driver about his faith.  The driver said he was a Christian.  Graham asked the driver how he became a Christian.  The driver replied, “I was born a Christian.”

It is impossible to be born a Christian.  Because I was born to a Christian family does not make me a Christian.  Just because my family is Christian, I am not automatically a Christian.

I must be reborn.  Until I believed in Jesus and committed my life to him and was baptized, I was not a Christian and neither are you.

The invitation has two elements today.

First, for those who are not Christian, who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ and been baptized, Jesus is offering you life like no other.  To be free from sin and the guilt of sin and the condemnation of sin.  To be filled with God’s Spirit.  Given new life.  Abundant life now and eternal life when Jesus returns.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ?  Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for your sins?  Don’t wait another moment, when we sing our invitation, come and confess Jesus, repenting of your sin and you will be immersed for your salvation.

But for you Christians.  I have a challenge.  You may need to repent of being a casual Christian.  You may need to recommit, to rededicate yourself to the life you received when you were baptized.

Look deep in your life.  Pray for guidance right now.  Ask God for understanding and conviction.

The casual Christian will sluff it off.  I’m ok without thinking a thing about it.  But, are you truly committed to Christ?  What decision are you going to make?

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