26 September 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll

As our love for Jesus grows, so will our obedience. - Ray Kelley

When I was an adolescent, I believed that to follow Jesus, to join God’s Kingdom today, was a kind of death sentence.

If I gave up everything the world had to offer: sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and all the other fun stuff, in the end I could go to Heaven, or at least avoid that place where Barry Manilow songs are played in perpetual loop for all eternity, Hell.

I tried the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. It was fun for a while, but in the end there was just pain.

If I have learned anything, a life without our Father is a life empty. When we look for our own answers, and when we consult the world to do the same, the outcome is never, ever, good. If you don't believe me, pick up the newspaper.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. Jesus of Nazareth

To obey that world revolutionary Jesus is to embrace love. To follow Jesus is to practice forgiveness. To accept His assurances and to repent is to turn away from the empty promises of the world and to rap your arms around peace.

To follow Jesus is in fact a death sentence … it is the death of yesterday’s lies, and the birth of a new day.

... Father, thank You for being a God of grace and love. Father thank You for Your son Jesus. Father we ask that You open our eyes to the lies of the world, and we pray that You cover us in the forgiving blood of Your son. In Jesus name we pray ...

24 September 2010

Question of the Week:
How to Forgive Self?

by Anne Lang Bundy

"What does the Bible say about forgiving yourself?
What does it say about our faith
when we still experience guilt after being forgiven?"
~ Anonymous

Last year I spoke to a group of ladies gathered for a church rummage swap. I compared sin and guilt to the trash discovered during spring cleaning. The drastically condensed version below is a bit longer than my usual answer, but it makes the point "cleanly." ;D

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There are three kinds of trash in our lives.

The FIRST is trash that has always been trash and always will be trash. Until we clean it out, it will sit around and make the house dirty.

The ugly little critter above is trash.

Let us lay aside every weight,
and the sin which so easily ensnares us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV)

Until we go looking for dust bunnies in all the places they like to hide, they just keep getting bigger.

Sin is like a hidden dust bunny. We need God's Spirit to show us what sin is hiding in our hearts. Until we clean sin out of our lives, it will make our souls sick and dirty and just plain ugly.

The SECOND kind of trash is stuff that used to be good and useful, but isn't anymore.

Guilt is good when it makes us feel bad for sin so that we'll want to ask forgiveness.

If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (NKJV)

The first Person we need forgiveness from is God. God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we could say to God (in our own words), "Father God, since Your Son Jesus took my punishment for sin, would You please forgive me and give me peace with You and be Lord of my life?"

When we say we’re “saved,” we mean that because we have God’s forgiveness, we’re saved from any punishment for sin after we die.

But even if we’re saved, there are at least three reasons we might experience guilt:

1) we still sin, and we still need to confess that sin to God so He can clean it out of our lives;
2) if we haven't done it yet and if it's possible, we have guilt until we ask forgiveness from the people who have been hurt by our sin;
3) if we've asked forgiveness from God and others, (even if they refuse forgiveness), and we still have guilt, then we're allowing someone to remind us of our sin in a way that steals the joy and the peace of forgiveness.

There is therefore now no condemnation
to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 (NKJV)

When guilt compels us to confess sin and ask forgiveness, it's from God’s Spirit and is a good thing called conviction. But when guilt stops being conviction from God and it starts being condemnation—whether from the devil, from others, or from ourselves—it has become trash which must be thrown away and replaced with the truth of Scriptures like the one above.

The LAST kind of trash started out as trash, but is no longer trash.

These tiny cheeses each come wrapped in wax to stay fresh.

You peel open and eat the cheese, then throw away the wax—unless you're my daughter Elizabeth, who found a way to make treasure out of trash.

Elizabeth shaped this rose using only her fingers.

God can do the same thing.

The story of Joseph and the brothers who sold him into slavery 22 years earlier comes to a climax when they voice fear that he will now retaliate. Joseph responds:

"Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:19-20)

God used something as ugly as his brothers’ hatred to put Joseph where God could use him to save the lives of his family during a famine.

Every person here has been hurt by sin, and sin is always trash. But we have a God so good and so powerful that He can shape the leftovers of sin and hurt into something good, whether it is our own sin or someone else sinned against us.

God wants to heal our hearts from the hurt that sin causes. The first step is obtaining forgiveness from God, and then asking it of others. It’s just as important for us to forgive, even if we haven't been asked for forgiveness.

If Joseph hadn’t forgiven his brothers before they even knew who he was, he would have killed them or put them in prison instead of saving their lives. But because he forgave them, something bad became something good.

When we forgive the sins of others, we begin to turn evil into good. We begin to be free in our own hearts from the hurt they've caused us.

And in the practice of forgiving others, we also learn to forgive ourselves.

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What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below or here, with your name or as Anonymous.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

17 September 2010

Question of the Week:
Religion or Spirituality?

by Anne Lang Bundy

What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
~ Renatta, Michigan

Good question! Especially because when being religious is compared to having relationship with God, religion is worthless. But when placed next to spirituality, religion is absolutely necessary.

Worthless religion is religion narrowly defined by law or doctrine. It puts emphasis on good works or obedience to law to make a person righteous. People who pride themselves on how well their actions conform to the standards of their religion—especially when they look down on those who they feel do not conform—are also called pharisaical, after the Pharisees of Jesus' time.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls people everywhere to give up any attempt at being made righteous by any religion. Every person is guilty of sin and condemned to eternal death. The payment required for sin is death, not good works. (A death row inmate cannot compensate for his crime with community service.) As the only Man to never sin, Jesus is the only Person Who did not need to pay the death penalty for Himself. He was therefore able to pay the death penalty for us, and He did so by dying on the cross. (He stepped into our place before the Executioner.)

The blood of Jesus Christ is the only acceptable compensation for our sin, no matter how much good we do.

If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified [made righteous], and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
~ Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

To believe God raised Jesus is to believe in His death. To declare Jesus as Lord is to be purchased with His blood and belong to Him, to then be made righteous and repent of the sin which once condemned us, and to receive His Holy Spirit. Salvation includes the whole package.

Once saved, good works can't make us more righteous, and failure to do good works won't make us less righteous. Religion is no longer the law which condemns us, but the truth which defines our righteousness and faith.

Spirituality is uniting our will to the Holy Spirit of God so He might work into our lives His fruit: love, joy, peace, patient longsuffering, active and merciful kindness, goodness (godliness), faith-filled faithfulness, meek and humble gentleness, and temperate self-control. Again, it is an entire package, not pick and choose. Spirituality includes expressing such fruit with good works.

For those who belong to Jesus, religion might be called the foundation and framing, and spirituality the roof, floor and walls. The former is necessary for support, but will soon prove of little purpose unless covered with the latter. And the latter doesn't hold up well without the support of the former.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
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10 September 2010

Question of the Week:
Relationship Priorities?

by Anne Lang Bundy

“Should you go to the person who needs you more or the person you love?”
~ Renatta Szukhent, Michigan

We are to love everyone. Everyone has needs we can meet. And the Bible's directions on how we respond to others is usually put in the context of relationship. So let’s look at priorities with one another based on relationship.

The greatest commandment gives God primary priority. Only when we first love Him with all heart, soul, mind, and strength are we able to truly love others or effectively minister to them.

The second commandment says love neighbor as self. Like the airline directive to don your own oxygen mask before assisting others, nurturing our own souls in God’s Word, Spirit and love enables us to love others equally.

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
~ Philippians 2:4 (NKJV)

Here are priorities set by the Bible:

First: Spouse (with whom we’re one flesh, part of “self”) –
So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
(Ephesians 5:28-29 NKJV;
also see Matthew 19:4-6 & 1 Corinthians 6:18)

Second: Immediate Household (parents and children) –
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
(1 Timothy 5:8 NKJV;
also see Ephesians 6:1-3 & 2 Corinthians 12:14)

Third: Household of Faith (Christians; called “brother” or “brethren”) –
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
(Galatians 6:10 NKJV;
also see Ephesians 4:1-6 & Romans 12:4-5)

Last: All Unbelievers (as the Lord brings them into our lives) –
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all ...
(1 Thessalonians 3:12 NKJV;
also see 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 & Luke 10:29-37)

[LATE ADDENDUM TO POST: – There is actually one more category of people the Bible places after this: the person who claims to be a Christian but lives in flagrant and continuing immorality, committing serious sin without repentance, bringing disgrace to the name of Christ.
See Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.]

The unbeliever might seem to have greater need for love and ministry than the believer, but the Bible gives preference to other Christians, with whom we are to be united.

We might seem judgmental to categorize others as "Christian" or "unbeliever," but the Bible makes that distinction, and also between "judgment" which condemns and "discernment" which protects.

No one is able to meet all the needs of others, no matter how close their relationship. The Lord alone is able to meet all human need. Maintaining a close relationship with the Lord enables us to discern how He desires to meet their needs through us.

And incidently, even God needs us—He needs the praise, worship, and fellowship which flow naturally out of our love for Him.

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When she posed the above question, Renatta also asked about the difference between religion and spirituality. Next week's Q&A will tackle this.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
Image source: 21stcenturystrategiesinc.com

03 September 2010

Question of the Week:
What is Marriage?

by Anne Lang Bundy

In God's eyes, what is marriage? What is divorce?

~ Jodi, Michigan

The short answer I'd offer is that marriage is God making two people one flesh and divorce is humans ripping flesh apart:

[Jesus] said to them, "... 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh' ... they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
Matthew 19:4-6 (NKJV)

Marriage is the lifelong covenant relationship between a man and woman, instituted by God for our temporal time on earth, officially established by formal vows made before witnesses. Among the purposes of marriage are:

• Supportive human companionship (Genesis 2:18)
• Procreation of godly offspring (Genesis 1:28)
• To clarify God's relationship with His people (Ephesians 5:22-33)

Marriage is the most significant human relationship, but it is only a model of a bigger, spiritual relationship between God and His people. We are to love the Lord and be united to Him physically (yielding our bodies to His Holy Spirit), in mind (conforming our way of thinking to His), in heart (loving who and what He loves), and in soul (our identity is attached to Jesus Christ).

"The goal in marriage is not to think alike,
but to think together."
~ Robert Anderson

"One flesh" signifies that two people are joined not just physically, but also by thinking together from different perspectives, by sharing desires and aspirations, and uniting their identities as part of each other.

Through His relationship with us, God also indicates how we respond to an imperfect spouse. God loves us despite our neglect, shortcomings, misplaced priorities, and indifference. He asks us to do the same.

The Old Testament permitted a man to divorce his wife for sexual "uncleanness" (or "shamefulness"), though the Jews came to divorce for other kinds of disfavor. Jesus made clear that while Moses permitted divorce because of hardened hearts, only sexuality immorality provided legitimate grounds for divorce. Paul went on to explain that a Christian shouldn't divorce an unbelieving spouse, but was released from the marriage only if the unbelieving spouse abandons the Christian.

God calls divorce "violence." Its effect upon our souls is no less than if we ripped an arm off a person, separating flesh from flesh. An arm would only be amputated when it contains disease which has already separated it from life in the body.

It might be said that when all other means of recovery have failed to restore the member diseased with sexual immorality or abandonment, divorce cuts off what is already dead. To use divorce for lesser reason is to commit unnecessary violence to ourselves and to the model of God's enduring covenant.

A final note: The sanctity of the marriage covenant never demands self-sacrifice which allows oppressive abuse. Jesus says, "... learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' "

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
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