Tuesday, August 23, 2011


This is the Gospel - the Good News.

The story of salvation, the Gospel, has been told for hundreds of years all over the world. It is a simple and beautiful story, and one that when believed, has changed the lives of millions of people.
It is the central theme of the Bible from beginning to end.

The story begins with a simple but profound truth - God loves us!  (Jn. 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.) He loves every man, woman, and child on the planet. This simple verse has been written on billboards, banners at football games, and bumper stickers to the point that people who see it have become immune to it because without a context for what they are reading or hearing they dismiss it, and worse become desensitized to this life changing truth.

The truth really is that simple - "God loves us!" 
1John 4:8 "God is Love". 

     Love is the process of meeting needs, and God is committed to meeting my greatest need - redemption and salvation. The Bible is the story of God's commitment to redeem mankind from slavery to sin and death. The focus of the story is Jesus!

What is too often missing in the presentation of the Gospel is the lack of an explanation of Why?
     - Why did Jesus have to die?
     - Why did He have to die on a cross, and did He really rise again, and why is that important?
     - Why is it so important that we believe this?

If it is true that God loves us, then Why are we not experiencing His love? Why is the world so messed up? The answer is described in one word - SIN! Mankind in denying God would like to purge this word from our language. In choosing to deny God they look to outside influences to explain the corruption of man and all the things that are wrong in the world. Those who deny God would have us believe that we are not responsible. They will explain away sin in any way they can to avoid personal responsibility and accountability to their creator. But it is sin that is destroying man and the world we live in. God clearly states that we are all sinners, separated from His love. We were born in sin: 
  "... in sin my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5
              and we are all guilty of personal sin:
  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". Romans 3:23

We are all guilty before God. There are no exceptions. Every human that has ever lived or will live is guilty of sin before God.

What is SIN?
     Sin is not just the things we do - lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, murder, etc. Those are all sins, but they are merely symptoms of a greater problem called SIN. Sin is an attitude of the heart that each of us is born with. It's an attitude of selfishness that declares "It's my life and I will do what I want to. I don't want anyone else telling me how I should live. I will do what I want, when I want, and I will not answer to anyone else, especially God. (The truth is that you are answering to someone - the evil one who is the Father of lies and has deceived you into believing you are not responsible for your sin and have no need of God. You are a slave to Satan as long as you choose to deny God and His Son, the only one who can save you from sin and eternal destruction.) This mindset expresses itself in the things we do which we call sins (those listed above). Sometimes it is the arrogance of claiming we don't need Him. It is also expressed in our indifference and denying He exists. All of this is evidence and proof of the attitude of sin we are all born with and guilty of.

It is very important that we understand this next truth:
     God is a holy and righteous God!
          Psalm 11:7 "For the LORD is righteous; He loves righteousness..."
In His very essence He is perfect and pure. He cannot tolerate sin. It must be paid for. It can't be excused or overlooked. It must be dealt with. The Bible makes it very clear how God deals with sin.
         Rom. 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death..."
What our sin earns us is death. It is the natural result of the attitude of heart called sin. The death that is spoken of is more than just our physical death. It's so much more than that. It means being totally, completely, separated from God forever. This is HELL. It is total, eternal separation from the living God, your creator, who is the only hope for each of us as well as mankind which is hopelessly lost and broken without God.

In a very real way, sin is it's own punishment. The attitude of heart that says I don't want anything to do with God will render that very result - eternal separation from God. This is the answer to those who say they can't believe in a God who would send anyone to Hell. He doesn't. You choose it of your own free will and God will not violate your free will. He will give you what you want!
           If you want Him - you get Him.            
           If you want to live apart from Him - He will give you that.

But God is also a loving and a merciful God.
     Psalm 145:8 "The Lord is gracious and merciful".
     1John 4:8 "God is love".
He is determined to provide a way home for us so we don't have to suffer the consequences of our sin. He wants to give us the life we forfeited when, in the garden, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. His greatest desire is that we would know real life again and a relationship with Him that we were created to have unhindered by sin. That brings us to the first question:

- Why did Jesus have to die?
     God was faced with a dilemma because of our sin and unbelief:
His holiness and righteousness demands that sin be paid for. There is no other way. Payment must be made to satisfy His holiness and righteousness. Sin must be paid for. But God is also a loving and a merciful God and is determined to find a way to pay for sin, but set us free, redeem us, from it's power so we can once again have the relationship with Him that He designed us to have. This has been His plan from the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed Him in the garden and brought death into our reality.

God solves the dilemma in the way that only He could. God Himself (in the form of His Son Jesus) became a man and entered our world. The only begotten Son of God - JESUS. Jesus was fully man and fully God and He would pay for our sin in His death for us and satisfy God's holiness and righteousness. He could do this because He never sinned and so He didn't have to pay for His own sin. God the Father, could accept His Son's death for us because He was sinless and perfect. In paying for the sin of all mankind by His Son's voluntary death, God's holiness and righteousness were satisfied completely.

- Why did He have to die on a cross, and did He really rise again? And why is that important?
      The cross was the form of execution in the time. It was reserved for criminals and subversives. The Jewish leaders wanted Him killed because He claimed to be God, which to them was blasphemy. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified on the cross for all to see. He wanted His followers and all men to know the cost of their sin and also His willingness to lay down His life for us of His own free will. No one took His life from Him. John 10:18* “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” In dying on the cross He also changed the image of the cross from a horrible instrument of death into a symbol of life to all believe in Him and choose to follow Him. 

But the miracle of miracles was that Jesus didn't remain dead. HE REALLY DID RISE FROM THE DEAD three days later! He came back and in doing so - defeated death. No other religion can claim this. Jesus came back from the dead and was seen by many of His followers. God raised His Son from the dead and broke the power of death.

- Why is it so important that we believe this?
     Only as I, in faith, choose to trust in Jesus as the Son of God, my Savior, and God's sacrifice for my sin, can I experience salvation and redemption from my sin and all of it's consequences. When I choose to believe (TRUST) that He died for my sin and was raised from the dead, God applies Christ's sacrifice to my account and I am ushered into new life in Christ. In Him I am raised to a new life.

In Christ's substitutionary death - we are forgiven and God accepts Christ's payment for us. We can now be free of sin and it's consequences. But each of us much choose to trust Him as our Savior, and believe in His death on the cross and His resurrection for us, for the transaction to be made complete.

You can know Him right now by simply acknowledging in prayer to Him that you are a sinner separated from God and His love, and humbly accept His payment for your sin, and trust His work on the cross for your sin, and His resurrection to new life. His death paid for you and erased your debt if you choose to submit to Him, believe in Him, and trust His love for you. His resurrection is proof that you can have eternal life in Him. You can begin your life over right now, with all your sins forgiven. No more guilt, shame, and hopelessness. You can begin the greatest adventure you will ever know!
 NEW LIFE - ABUNDANT LIFE! Christ living in you!
    Isa 1:18 ..."Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be white as snow."
He does the rest! - This is the promise of the Gospel! 
This is the GOSPEL - the Good News!

Friday, August 12, 2011


In following Christ on this journey there is something else we need to think about:

What are the things that are weighing us down and have the potential of keeping us from finishing the journey?
I read this quote somewhere years ago 
"It isn't the mountain ahead of you that will wear you out, it's the rock in your shoe".

We all know the experience of starting a hike or walk and within minutes we become aware of something in our shoe that is irritating our foot and the longer we go without addressing it, the more irritating it becomes until it becomes all consuming. At some point we are forced to stop and clean out the shoe so we can proceed without the irritation. 

So, what is the rock in your shoe? What is it that is hindering you? What is weighing you down and consuming your attention? What do each of us need to be free of so we can focus on Jesus and the journey He has prepared for us?

A principle we teach at my church and at our marriage retreats is the power of 
"Unresolved Issues"
These are the sins done against us in the past and the ongoing power they continue to have in our lives because they never get resolved. "Someone hurt you. Someone lied to you. Trust has been broken by something some one did to you or said about you. The closer the person is to you and the more you trusted them or cared about them, the deeper the wound and the more powerful the betrayal".
       Left unresolved, the ongoing effects of the sin done against us can be far more destructive than the original sin. We stay captive to the sin and to the person who did it to us and we are unable to experience freedom and the abundant, uninhibited joyous life that Jesus paid so dearly to provide us. It clouds everything. We loose objectivity. We become sensitized to the sin in we see in others, but because we are still captive to the sin done to us, we can only judge others and are helpless to be used to free others from the sin that is enslaving them. Our captivity to the the sin done to us does some other very significant things:
- It robs us of the ability to believe who we really are in Christ.
- We see ourselves as unlovable, and unworthy of God's love and the gifts He wants to give us.
- We are robbed of our true identity in Christ, and can't see ourselves as God sees us and this  
         makes the captivity even worse.
- We live in shame.

It will lead us to even darker places if not resolved.  Alcoholism, drug addiction, food addictions, materialism, anger, bitterness, shame, etc. These are all in an attempt to avoid the pain. We pull away from the ones who love us most. Maybe the worst thing we do is hide our stuff, and Hiddenness allows the power of the sin to grow even more and keeps us captive. It's all a reaction to unresolved sin done to us that keeps us captive to the enemy and unable to experience the life Jesus has for us.

We isolate and become defensive when others try to address our issues because the shame has robbed us of the ability to see clearly and to trust anyone with us and our stuff because, we believe the lie that if they knew the worst about me they would abandon me.

So, what is the solution?
The most important thing to understand about forgiveness is this:
                                                                                                    it is first and foremost for me!
By choosing to forgive the one who sinned against me I am choosing to be free from the power of that person, and the sin they did against me and it's ongoing effects and influence. I am choosing to let God deal with them and what they did. He is the only one who can do that, and He does it very well. I am only responsible for me and my relationship with God, and no one else's relationship with Him. By forgiving I am trusting Him with me and my stuff, and He is fully trustworthy.
        By forgiving them in prayer to God, I am breaking the power of the hurt, anger, resentment, and bitterness that is only hurting and destroying me and sadly, those around me. Whether the person I am forgiving ever knows it or not isn't important. It is only important that I do it for me, to be free from the destructive effects of holding on to it.
       By forgiving I am choosing to live as I was meant to live in Christ, and Christ in me, and experience my walk with Christ with nothing distracting me. If I choose not to forgive I will remain captive and weighed down by this junk, and I will stay broken.
         Even Jesus, while taking His last breaths on the cross chose to forgive. Lu 23:34* But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
         ..."they do not know what they are doing". It is true. They thought they were crucifying a man who claimed to be God. That was blasphemy to them. They did not know that they were actually crucifying the Son of God - God in the flesh, and in doing so they were providing the final sacrifice for their sin and brokenness and their hopeless condition. Jesus was asking His Father to forgive us because that was the very reason he had come to earth and He was choosing to die for us because it was the only hope we had. His death would bring about forgiveness for all of us, and the chance for a new life if we choose to trust Jesus. He was doing this for the very ones crucifying Him.
        Understanding the truth that forgiveness is for me, I sometimes wondered if the other reason Jesus prayed this prayer was because Jesus understood this same truth. He knew that He was going to suffer Hell for us, and the abandonment of His Father so our sin could be atoned for, and He was not going to go through this carrying the weight of the sin done against Him. He forgave us so He could be free of the power of what was being done to Him. He would not carry this weight in addition to what He was about to endure for us.
This journey is too important and precious to let anything rob me of the beauty of the experience of walking with Jesus on this amazing adventure.
I don't need other voices in my head keeping me from hearing truth from the One who is the Truth. I only want to hear His voice as He continually tells me who I am in Him, and what awaits me around the next bend, and ultimately at the end of my journey as a citizen of His Kingdom and an alien in this foreign place called the world.
All I need to know is:
- He loves me!
- He knows me!
- He cherishes me just the way I am, and will always be with me no matter what!
- I am forgiven and I am a new creature in Christ!
- The work He began in me He will finish and I will be transformed!
          If I am sure of those things then nothing else matters. When I am secure in those truths then I am free to love and be loved and give myself away. I can live sacrificially because my needs are already provided for both here and forever. He has given me abundant life here and eternity with Him - my Glorious Savior. I can be free of guilt and shame, anger, hurt and all the other consequences of anything that was done to me in the past.
        So, as we set out on this journey with Christ, we must be honest and look at what we are still trying to carry that we don't need anymore. Then we must take those things to God in prayer and give them to Him once and for all, and forgive those who sinned against us, whoever they are and whatever they did. We may need to do this over and over until the power is broken and we stand free in the light of God's truth - JESUS! Then we can get on with the journey FREE from the burden and weight of the unresolved issues.
Christ's yoke is easy and His burden light. 
It's everything else we are trying to carry that will wear us out and keep us from finishing the Great Adventure Jesus has called us on.
        I have recently gone through some very painful and confusing things in my life, and I could easily have fallen into the trap of holding on to them and rehearsing them over and over in my head and heart. But I Won't! It is a fruitless and debilitating exercise. I will choose to believe what God says is true about me and live in the light of that truth. I will forgive and live free in the knowledge that Jesus lives in me and I can do all things through Him - the One who strengthens me. He knows my heart. I will leave Him to do in others what only He can do and I will keep my eyes on Him and following Him to my final goal. I will be transformed into the image of His Son and I will settle for nothing less, both here and in the forever that awaits me.
Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, but it is a wholly unnatural act in and of ourselves. Therefore we must depend on Him for the strength and humility to do it and the ability to trust Him with the results. It is the only way we can do it, and it was designed this way so that we would depend on God and not ourselves. God has designed us to be dependent on Him. When we try and operate any other way, we suffer in brokenness. We miss the wonder and the beauty of life in Christ.
So, I encourage you as I do myself!
Then keep your eyes on Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and keep trusting that He will get us home and we will be free from the power of sin, both now and forever in His glorious Kingdom - the goal of our journey with Him.