Friday, July 6, 2012

What IS the gospel anyway?

Can you state what ‘the gospel’ actually is?  Take a minute and think about it.  It’s not as easy as you thought is it?  It wasn’t for me anyway.  But it could be.  It should be.  I think the reason it’s so difficult is because we don’t hear it, think about it or speak it enough to be able to articulate it.  

The gospel is good news.  It’s life changing.  It’s glorious.  The reason we don’t see it as such is because we haven’t heard it.  Or we don’t understand it.  Or we simply don’t take the time to think about what it means.

For me, I just didn’t/don’t think about it enough to actually understand what it actually is.  We add things to the gospel and it becomes anything but good news.  The best news in the universe can be shared in under a minute....

There is a God.  He did create you and He created you for a purpose.  He loves you.  But He is perfect and you are not.  Your imperfection ruins your relationship with God.  No matter what you do, you cannot restore that relationship.  But God restores it for you!  Jesus died on the cross for your sin.  He gave you his perfectness.  He took your punishment.  Done.  Once and for all.  If you trust Him, you are reconciled to God.  The relationship is cured.  He sees you as perfect, even though you are not.

That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The good news.  The problem is other people will tell you it’s more.  You have to do more.  You have to change your life.  And if others aren’t telling you that, you will tell yourself that.  I do.  We start out believing that our salvation is a free gift from God, but then we slowly go back to trying to earn it.  In Galatians Paul wrote “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3).  There is change in your life.  But it’s not because God requires it for salvation.  But we start thinking now that we’re Christians we have to start acting like it and living ‘good’ lives.  We start feeling proud of the change in our life.  We start feeling like we deserve salvation.  Then every mistake we make, we feel condemned because of it.  We, who began with grace, end up being slaves to the law every time.  And we start to require of others the same change we saw in our own life.  Just as we are not saved by the law, we also are not perfected by the law.  We are perfected by the Spirit.

Paul also states that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore,and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(5:1).  Why do we do this?  Why is it so hard for us to accept the gospel?  Why do we continuously try to earn that which we cannot earn and was given to us freely?

The gospel is simple, it’s up there in the fourth paragraph.  It’s not where you begin your walk with God.  It’s where you begin, where you live and where you end.  Don’t let anyone add anything to it.  Don’t let them burden you with a yoke that you don’t have to carry.  Paul said do not turn to another gospel, ‘if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (1:8).  If anyone tries to add something you have to do, reading your bible regularly, going to church, getting in a life group, stop cussing, stop drinking etc., it’s not the gospel according to the scriptures.  There are no requirements, no list of actions you must do, or not do.  That wouldn’t be good news at all.  He accepts you like you are and He doesn’t require anything of you, not only in the beginning, but throughout.  You just accept the gift.  And as you ponder the fact that He loves you, as you are, you fall in love with Him.   Anything else will take care of itself.

Bonus commentary:  People love to see a Christian caught up in a scandal.  They see it as validating their belief that Christians are no better than unbelievers.  That we think we are better people, but these scandals prove that we are not.  If we understood the gospel, this would be obliterated.  No one would be surprised when a Christian is caught in a sex scandal.  The world wouldn’t be looking for mistakes Christians make.  Christians wouldn’t be so afraid of ‘not living up to the moral person’ they portray themselves as.  We need to stop perverting the gospel.  The important difference between a believer and an unbeliever?  It’s not a moral lifestyle.  One’s not a better person than the other.  The difference is the believer has accepted a gift and is reconciled to God, seen as perfect by God though they are from from it and the unbeliever has not.  If we understand and articulate the true gospel, Christian scandals are no longer newsworthy.  They are simply evidence validating the whole point behind why the gospel is good news and why it is so essential.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Faith in Jesus as Messiah: An Intellectual Decision?

This question has intrigued me for a few weeks now (I actually typed this out a month or so ago, and I am just now posting it).  I am convinced that faith in Christ and belief in God is not an intellectual decision.  If you read, talk to or listen to an agnostic or atheist it is evident that they believe they hold the high ground when it comes to logic or intelligence.  That to believe in God would require them to ignore the ‘facts’ or to turn their mind off and to stop asking questions and ‘just believe’.  To me, that statement implies that they think all of those who do believe have done such a thing: turned their minds off.  But, don’t think that the non-believers have a monopoly here.  Many believers also think that all evidence points to there being a creator and that you’d have to be crazy to not come to that conclusion.  Both believe that their position is obvious.  And I would argue, both are wrong.

I think that 2 people can come to 2 different conclusions and both conclusions be logical; even given the same information.  Just because one conclusion is logical, doesn’t mean the other has to be illogical.  One may be wrong, but it doesn’t have to be illogical even if it is wrong.

One of the best pieces of evidence that I see is the fact that there are extremely intelligent individuals who hold that Jesus is God and did what the Bible claims He did.  And there are extremely intelligent people who believe that He didn’t, and/or that there is no God at all and that the big bang and evolution are how we got here.  If the dilemma were an intellectual one, wouldn’t all the intelligent people be on one side of the answer?  But they aren’t, unless you want to take the position (a very arrogant one) that all the intelligent people are on one side (i.e. yours).  But I personally believe that is an impossible position to take.  So if you admit that there are intelligent people who believe there is a God and intelligent people who believe there isn’t, then what is the difference between the two?

Faith in Jesus as the Messiah is not an intellectual decision, it’s a heart issue.  A rational, educated, logical person can believe there is a God and a rational, educated, logical person can believe there is not.  So it has to be a heart issue.

While it is perfectly reasonable and logical and there is much evidence that Jesus is the Christ, I do not think you will ever reach that belief through intellectual pursuit alone.  And if you’re trying to convince someone else through intellectual debate and arguing, you might as well stop.  And start praying for God to do a work in their heart that only He can do.  You don't have to turn your brain off, or ignore intellectual pursuit. In fact, you must not. There is enough evidence, but they have to be able to accept it.  And that is a heart issue.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pondering Scripture

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

This passage is about two disciples who were returning to Jerusalem and Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection.  At the time, they did not know it was Jesus.  

What a day!  Taking a 7 mile walk back home and the Messiah himself interprets to you all the scriptures concerning himself.  You may have a favorite pastor (I have several), but I can guarantee their interpretations are not as on point as Jesus's are.

I don't know if when we are in Paradise with our Lord if we will just know things we don't know here or if we will be taught them.  But this passage made me think of a day when our Savior himself teaches us all things concerning himself.  Like a giant lecture hall, reminiscent of my days at NC State.

What seminary student wouldn't sign up for that class:

Old & New Testament Interpretations 501
Teacher: Jesus

Isaiah 1:2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
                           for the Lord has spoken:

Man, this verse just hit me the other day.  I've read it before, but it stuck out to me this time and so I paused and just thought about it for a while.  It made me think of believers and non-believers alike.  Listen, the Lord has spoken.  So if you don't believe in a Creator or God, let's for a second just assume you do.  Now that we're all on the same page that there is a being that created us and sustains us. Imagine him speaking.  We should probably listen.  We line up and pay extreme prices to hear speakers today and yet it costs us a few bucks to purchase the words of our creator (or free online).  

Listen... the LORD has spoken!  Not your favorite actor.  Not your favorite President.  Not your favorite athlete.  
The freakin' creator of all that exists--> has spoken.  Wow.

you had me at hello.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Then I Shall Know Fully

1 Corinthians 13: Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I'll keep this short and let the verse and pictures say most of it.  We don't see things clearly now.  So many applications for this.  I will use life as a whole.  There are so many questions our heavenly Father has not answered for us.  So many times we don't know how He's doing something, or why He's doing it or even if He is doing anything at all.  But it's helpful to remember that we don't see everything now.  And without a clear view, we don't understand everything now either.  We're left with the choice of rejecting Him in anger or trusting Him because of this.

Most of life is probably spent like this first picture.  We simply don't know as much as we'd like (or as much as we think we do) about life and reality.
If we are lucky, and in varying degrees, as we age we get a little bit more focus.  As we understand more about our selves, our Creator and the Word that He has given us we get more of the picture, but we never get full clarity here.

What we all long for is clarity and understanding.  FULL knowledge of what truth is and what reality is and who we are.  We long for something we will never obtain until we see Jesus face to face.  It makes life frustrating.  But our Father has given us enough.  And so we wait, long, hope for more.  We won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making a Baby: Take 2 (Part 5 - Final Part)

The wrap - up:  I know I told you this would be shorter than Zac’s story... I’ve lied to you again, but not on purpose... sorry.  Though technically, if I can finish in this post, it will be one post shorter than Zac’s.  

Everything I had hoped for came to pass with Eli’s birth.  I am very thankful for that.  There were 0 interventions and though Tiffany’s contractions were much stronger and harder, the labor itself I think went much smoother.  

We moved rooms around 7:30 am on the 9th.  Tiff was able to get up and use the restroom on her own the very first time!  After I ate lunch around noon I got back to the room to find Tiffany back in street clothes and climbing into bed!  She was trying hard to convince the doctors she was ready to go home (8 hours after giving birth).  And she most likely was.  As was Eli.  But hospital policy wouldn’t allow us to leave before the 24 hour mark.  Greenville’s policy is apparently 48 hours, but for non first time parents and people who are having 0 complications or help from the nurses they let you go after 24 hours.  And that was mostly to do the heel prick test on Eli and the jaundice test that you have to wait 24 hours to do I think.

On the 10th around 11am Tiff and Eli were discharged and waited around until 1pm for the nurses to do their thing and get the papers to her to sign.  Then they were on the way home!

One other thing that was little strange... the head nurse got a little snippy with us when we declined the vitamin K shot, the eye goop stuff and the Hep B Vaccination.  She, very irritably, asked if we had done that with our first.  We assured her we had.  Then from that moment forward she asked our permission, in a very annoyed tone of voice, to do anything to Eli.  When she would check his vitals she would ask permission.  She asked permission to weigh him.  She would state that they had to do these things and if it was okay she was going to do them now.  I’m not sure what the deal was.  They asked if we wanted those three things, we said no, we signed the waiver and we moved on.  Apparently she didn’t.  I tried to be super nice to her and when she asked about weighing him I said sure, whatever you need to do is fine with us.  And even let them know they could go ahead and do the tests they needed, the post birth exam and the bath whenever they wanted to.  She was pretty sweet and nice when she left.  Not sure what the hangup in the middle was.

And now the little man is here!  Zac loves him.  He hasn’t had a problem with there being a little one around, yet anyway.  A large part of that is due to Tiffany being so good at not ignoring him in order to tend to Eli.  She is very good at giving them both plenty of attention.  Zac is pretty laid back too, always has been, hopefully always will be!  In the hospital, when they pricked Eli's feet he didn’t flinch!  He didn’t cry when they took his temperature, rectally.  He fussed some when they weighed him.  He currently appears to be more laid back than Zac was.  I hope so!  That would be awesome.  

Another thing I found interesting: both Zac and Eli were born at 40 weeks and 3 days.

Once again, Tiffany labored amazingly!  She is so strong physically and mentally.  She never asked for anything during labor, or complained about anything.  She just pushed through and labored very well!  She never ceases to amaze me.  

I had only 1 recommendation 
in my posts about Zac's birth for people who are pregnant.  It’s still the same one after a second birth:  Take a birthing class!  I have no clue how people go into labor without being taught ahead of time what is normal, what is not, what to expect, what to do.  When we got pregnant with Zac, Tiffany and I had NO CLUE what to expect or how to labor. We knew nothing, and we didn't pretend like we did. Our Bradley Method birthing class was amazing!  It taught us everything we needed to know going into labor (and much more). And without it, I would  have never made it through either labor.  I know Tiffany feels the same way.  

I mentioned before that God graciously answered each of the prayers I listed in an earlier post. With Zac's birth, the Lord taught me ALOT! Well, He did the same thing again with Eli's. He just taught me different stuff. To keep it brief, He's been answering lots of prayers lately. I know He was there in the silence with Zac and I know He was there in the answered prayers leading up to and with Eli's birth. I certainly haven't figured out the whole prayer thing and how the Lord answers yet, and doubt anyone ever will. But I've been learning how to ask my heavenly father for good things, to trust that He hears me and wants to give me good things. Good things may not be what I initially think they are, but He knows exactly what's best for me. He's been teaching me how to pray boldly, like the apostles did, and to pray for good things, expecting Christ to come through and not just accepting, but trusting his sovereign will in all outcomes. So I thank God and praise God for everything that happened with both births, the easy and the difficult things we went through with both.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Making a Baby: Take 2 (Part 4)

The doula arrived at the hotel around 3- 3.15 am.  We let her know contractions had gotten down to 2.5 minutes apart and were still pretty strong.  The doula was able to help Tiffany with different positions and applying pressure to her back to help with pain as I coached her through each contraction and help her relax and work with the contractions.  

We talked with the doula and let her know how different, and inconsistent, this labor was than Zac’s.  We weren’t sure when exactly to head to the hospital, but felt it was almost that time.  I would have headed over at this moment if we hadn’t had the doula there with us.  She explained to us why she thought we should wait it out a little longer and wait for Tiffany to ‘make a turn’.  I knew in my mind, as did Tiffany, that the turn was going to be her entering transition.  We didn’t particularly want to move during transition, but we didn’t say anything.  

It was about 30 minutes later when we knew that turn had come.  Tiff’s pressure had increased significantly, she was uncomfortable even in between contractions, and she was now moaning pretty good with contractions.  We all knew it was time to move.  

I pulled the car around and packed up what we needed.  Tiff had a contraction on the way to the car, 2 in the car, 1 on the way into the hospital, 2 at the reception desk during check in.  She walked into the hospital and to the room.  I think the guard was a little worried, he wanted me to put her in a wheel chair, but she said no, and he gave me a funny look when I came back in with her walking.  The front desk check in went much faster than last time around.  I think that is because the guy at the front desk saw two of Tiffany’s contractions.  The mid-wife met us at the front desk.  I called her on the way to the hospital and luckily, even though she had no other patients there, she had come to the hospital after my first call.  Good thing too!  After we checked in, the doula, Tiffany and the mid-wife went to the room while I moved the car to a proper parking space.  I knew enough to run...

When I got back to the room it was game time.  Clothes were gone and I could tell that with the first contraction I saw - Tiffany was uncontrollably pushing.  (I later found out that Tiff had a contraction on the way to the room that she pushed with and when the mid-wife saw that she got the nurses and everyone in motion and ready to catch a baby).  We checked in at the front desk around 3.50 or 4.00 am.  (Eli came at 4.39am).  

It was about 4-5 more contractions after I got to the room and Eli made his appearance.  Tiff was standing/squatting and leaning into my arms when Eli was born.  The mid-wife was on the floor and caught him.  She handed him to Tiff and we posed for a picture.  Tiff then moved to the bed and held Eli and let him nurse.  After about 5-10 minutes the mid-wife got everything ready and let me cut the chord.  We then rested and relaxed with him while the mid-wife stitched up Tiffany and finished up.  

The nurses then proceeded to gather all the admittance information they didn’t have time to collect before.  

Oh- Also during Tiff’s pushing a nurse was trying to get Eli’s heart beat with the doppler... I’m not sure why.  It was pretty evident he was coming within 5 minutes.  Ummm... hello, you can put that thing directly on him in about 2 minutes, why are trying to make Tiffany move around so you can check his heart rate?  Even if something is wrong - He’s crowning!  You’re not exactly going to do anything about it at this point.  

Eli came at 4:39 am on February 9th.  Weighing in at barely 5lbs 12.8 ounces and only 18 inches long.  The first thing we noticed - he’s much whiter than Zac, and smaller.  But his features are very similar.  He breathes/snores the exact same when sleeping.

Me and Eli, approx. 2 hrs old (Around 6.30 am 2/9/2012)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making a Baby: Take 2 (Part 3)

I have to say, I would not change anything about Zac’s birth.  It was certainly much better than many births, but for me and Tiffany it was difficult enough and a real challenge.  You can read about it on my blog.  But as difficult as I found it to be, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I learned a lot about us and a lot about Christ through Zac’s birth.  I grew closer to Tiffany and my heavenly Father by that experience.  It was joyful and difficult and exhausting and painful and amazing all in one.  So again, I can honestly say I wouldn’t go back and change a thing.  At the same time, I prayed persistently for this birth to go differently.  I prayed for a smoother labor and delivery.  For less intervention from the medical staff.  For less stress on Tiffany and her body.  For a quicker labor.  And because of his gracious nature, God answered every one of those prayers.

I was leaving for work around 6.45 am on February 8th when Tiffany poked her head out of our bedroom door (I was downstairs reading on the couch).  Tiffany never gets out of bed before I leave for work, so I knew something was about to go down.  She told me she thought her water had just broken.  I went back upstairs and we talked for a few minutes and she told me it was actually just leaking.  She thinks.  She doesn’t know for sure.  Last time that happened well into labor and no one really even remembers it.  She called the doula and let her know it was leaking.  We decided not to call the mid-wife yet.  I went to work thinking at any moment Tiff would call and let me know labor was underway.  That didn’t happen, ALL DAY!  That was a long day.

I went home for dinner and nothing had begun yet, the water had stopped leaking, which was a good thing if contractions weren’t going to also start.  I got back to work around 6pm and around 6.30 Tiffany called and told me her water had broken.  It was certain this time, once you experience it you know the difference between breaking and leaking pretty clearly I’m told.  Contractions still weren’t really time able so Tiff called the doula again and I finished up at work- getting home around 8pm.  I was really praying a lot for contractions to start since the doctors and mid-wives don’t want you going past 24 hrs once your water breaks.  Contractions started around 9pm.  They were very far apart, anywhere from 9-14 minutes and inconsistent at that.  But they did keep coming until 11pm.  That is when we decided to make the move to the hotel in Greenville.  They weren’t going to stop and we’d rather head over now than have to make the drive at 2 am if that became necessary.  Another call to the doula to let her know the plan.  

We got to the hotel around 12.30 am and checked into the last available room!  Tiff had a few manageable contractions and we both decided to get some sleep.  I woke up around 2.15 am and asked Tiff how things were going.  She had slept some too, but contractions were getting a lot stronger.  She didn’t know how much longer she could make it in the bed.  We called the doula and asked her to come to the hotel.  Contractions were still about 8 minutes apart but were much stronger and lasting a lot longer (up to a minute and a half long now).  We decided to go ahead and call the mid-wife as well.  We told her about the water breaking earlier that night and where the contractions were.  She told us to call back when we were ready to head to the hospital.

Tiffany got on the floor on her hands and knees for the next few contractions.  It was immediate, contractions went to 2.5-3 minutes apart and very strong still.  They did get shorter, 45-60 seconds long.  They stayed 2.5-3 minutes apart for the next 40 minutes while we waited for the doula.  Finally!  The real deal had arrived...

Making a Baby: Take 2 (Part 2)

The main reason I think this series is much shorter than Zac’s posts is because the labor was much, much shorter.  

As with Zac, the 40+ weeks leading up to birth were pretty non-eventful (for me, Tiffany may disagree).  Once again, I was lucky enough to never have to make a midnight run to McDonald’s or Harris Teeter due to any weird cravings.  I really didn’t have to change my routine at all if I am remembering correctly.  

There were only two blips that worried me a little and they didn’t last long.  One was one day when Tiff told me about some contractions she was having and it was way early for Eli to come.  Something in the way she worded it made me worry and think they could be more than just typical braxton hicks contractions.  But, they weren’t and that passed quickly.  

The second was when Tiffany texted me and said Eli was measuring smaller than he had the week before (Around 37 weeks).  This could mean that his fluid in the womb was dropping or something, and they don’t like that.  Within minutes the second text let me know that Eli had probably just dropped and everything was fine.  

We also decided to hire a doula (thanks to a recommendation from a friend) to assist us this time around, which turned out to be a great idea b/c she was awesome!  We were still a little nervous, even after reviewing our birthing class materials, that we would not be as comfortable and confident as were the first time around since we hadn’t had the full 12 weeks of coaching and reassurance we had the first time.

What we hoped for - Tiffany to go into labor similar to last time.  Nice, easy, time-able contractions that steadily grew closer and stronger until it was time to head to the hotel in Greenville, where the doula would meet us.  We would labor in the hotel until contractions were close and strong enough to move to the hospital where we would then labor an hour or two and Eli would make a very easy entrance into the world.  

What we got was slightly different.

Making a Baby: Take 2

Eli Bryant Wooten

Well... At the end of my posts detailing Zac’s birth I mentioned having to write 6 blog posts for any other children I had so they wouldn’t feel less loved (Zac’s birth, part2, part3, part4, part5, part6).  I don’t think this one will get as long as that one.  I’m not lying to get you sucked in, I promise.  So if you’re up for it, here we go... again:  (Also, it’s a great way to process everything and a fun way to share it with friends).

The plan:  It was almost time for another baby in the Wooten household.  Almost.  Zac had just turned 1 in April and we knew we wanted them to be about 2 years apart.  “Let’s shoot for summer/fall 2012 for the next one” (to the extent we have control over it).  May 2011 rolls around, some stuff goes down, and baby #2 is in the oven, a few months ahead of schedule.  What’s that make the due date... February 6.  Wups, let me check... yes, that is still tax season.

I admit, it was a little nerve racking for both of us at first.  We were a little worried.  But it didn’t take long for the excitement to take over.  Even though we had already decided we were ‘ready’ for baby #2, there were moments of doubt.  After Tiffany was pregnant there were definitely nights, at least for me, of lying in bed and wondering if we were really ready.  Another baby?  Zac will be 22 months old.  We’ve gotten used to 1, can I really do 2?  Do I really want to go through that whole part that involves the hospital, and the laboring and all the mess?  Serious doubt of being able to handle 2 kids enters your mind, no matter how well you think you’ve adjusted to having 1.  But lucky for me, I have a natural ability to accept things I know I cannot change, and so the doubt quickly moved to determination.  

I also was very excited about Eli coming in February after the initial day or two.  I like my birthday being in February and told Tiffany that if it weren’t for tax season I wouldn’t have minded planning a baby in the early months of the year.  So it worked out nicely.  

Also, around January Tiff and I were discussing the difficulties of having a child during tax season.  Then it hit me... we haven’t had a normal tax season yet.  2009 - first tax season in New Bern doing taxes.  The first one takes a lot of adjusting.  2010 - Tiffany was very pregnant.  Would she be able to get out and do everything she needed to do without my help?  2011- Zac was 9-12 months old and not exactly sleeping all that well (not as well as adults sleep anyway).  Plus Tiffany needed to adjust to doing more and having less help from me at night and at bed time.  2012 - Eli is born in February... What will 2013 hold?  Our first truly normal tax season I hope!  Although, I hope it’s not our normal...  

The first few months I really don’t remember a whole lot about.  We had Zac and vacations keeping us busy.  I very much wanted to take the birthing class we took for Zac again, but the couple that lead it the first time wasn’t teaching anymore and Tiffany said we could just review the materials we had.  She did a great job at re-preparing for labor.  I on the other hand did what I do... waited until the last minute and then got done what I needed to get done.  I reviewed most of the chapters and material in late January.  

After we found out we were having another boy (which is what we were both hoping for) most of our thoughts were about how similar or different he would look from Zac.  And of course choosing a name.  We had settled on a name.  Locked it in.  And then we took a trip to New Jersey.  Well, that’s a long drive and somewhere in Maryland Zac and Tiffany were both napping and so I was alone with my thoughts driving down the interstate.  By the time Tiffany woke up I told her I had accidentally liked a different name better than the one we chose.  She was not on board with the new name.  We discussed it for about 2 minutes.  2 days later, out of the blue, Tiffany told me she liked Eli better as well and the little guy was named Eli Bryant Wooten in Cape May, NJ.  (The original name is still in the running for future boys if there are any).

I removed the label of “Part 1” in the title to this post so it wouldn’t scare you away.   :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Blessing or Wrath?

(these ideas were also refined and helped by a Matt Chandler sermon)
Romans 1:
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Ask anyone (or at least almost anyone) and they will say America is blessed.  We are such a blessed country because of the freedoms we have here.  We are such a blessed country because of the wealth we have here.  We are such a blessed country because of the health we experience here.  Compared to the majority of the rest of the world we far exceed them all in everyone of these areas.  But are these things blessings?  What is a blessing?  I’m not sure myself sometimes... I believe all of those things can be blessings.  But I am starting to believe that in America, not in all individual cases, but as a whole they are indeed curses; the wrath of God Almighty.

Romans says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.  That we know things about God because He has shown it to us clearly.  And that although we know this, we do not honor Him or give thanks to Him.  We ignore Him, suppress the truth about what we know of Him, or outright mock Him.  Verse 24 is the scary verse - therefore, God gives us up to the lusts of our hearts... wait what?  That’s not what I was taught...  You mean He curses us with poor health right?  He punishes us by killing our business income?  No, He gives us the desire of our hearts - namely whatever it is we are pursuing that is not Him.  So if your love for money and prosperity is an idol in your heart that you desire more than Christ, God does not take away your money to pour out His wrath... He gives up on you and let’s you pursue money, quite possibly to the result of becoming exceedingly wealthy.  Then we make it even worse by believing that this is a blessing when in reality it is God’s wrath and we continue in ignorance thinking we are close to God while we are in fact very far from Him.

For those who are seeking Christ and have struggles with loving other things more than Him, sometimes God’s mercy is suffering.  Sometimes what we perceive here as God’s wrath and judgement is in fact his mercy, loving us to turn us to him and sometimes what we perceive as His blessing is in fact His wrath as He has given us up to the lesser things we desire.

Verse 21 says that we become futile (trifling; frivolous; unimportant) in our thinking.  What are the things we think about?  As embarrassing as it may be, I’ll tell you that I often day dream about campers, boats and cars.  I love camping and I like some of the campers that are out there and I want them.  I love boating and there are lots of boats I would like to have.  I also wouldn’t mind having a suburban... None of which is a bad thing.  But I find myself day dreaming about these things.  Wasting blocks of my life thinking about obtaining those possessions.  What futile thinking.  Things that in 100 years will be wasting away in a junk yard.  Spending too much time thinking about and pursuing ownership of these things is the very definition of verse 23 - exchanging the glory of God for images resembling mortal man.  And I do it alot!

I pray that God does not turn me over to my hearts desire.  Because my heart does not desire what it should!  I pray that He would mercifully change my heart to desire what is worthy.  

I think this also kind of goes along with this post... These are two are the scariest verses in the bible to me.  

Luke 8:
13And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

I do not want to be someone who receives the word with joy, but falls away in times of testing.  To believe in Christ when I’m making my monthly bills, saving for retirement and getting good checkups at the Doctor’s only to fall away when my plans go awry.  There are lots of people, I pray I am not one, who are professing Christians who do not have salvation in Jesus Christ (note: I am not the judge, don’t want to be the judge, and do not try to figure out who they are, but they do exist).  Very similar to that is the one in 14 who hears, possibly accepts with joy as well, but is then choked out by the cares of this world.  That one is very real and dangerous as well.  We all deal with that risk on a daily, hourly, constant basis.  I’m not sure exactly the details and how it lines up with a few other verses, but I hope with everything I have in me that I will not in the end be one of those described in Matthew:

21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

I think the scariest thing in here is that these people described appear to think they were genuine followers of Christ.  When combined with the Luke 8 verses, we aren’t always talking about people who rejected Christ, or who accepted and then knowingly changed their minds.  We are talking about people who thought they followed Christ and did not.  How does that happen?  I think it happens in part because we have plenty of teaching that is not biblical.  Preachers who don’t preach truth but preach what we want to hear and deceive us into believing we have salvation when we do not.  When we believe in a god who is not the God described in the bible but don’t know it.  If that doesn’t motivate me to search the scripture and humbly plead with God to have mercy on me, to give me wisdom, then I don’t know what will...