Welcome back, fellow followers of Jesus Christ and seekers of truth. I hope this issue finds you well on this beautiful autumn day. I hope everyone had a safe and fulfilling summer. I took a break from writing for the hotter months. Let's jump right in and explore today's topic, shall we? I'm excited to get this out!
I have recently become aware that I have a very bad habit, one that many of us have, I fear, if we are followers of Jesus. That habit is the smooth sliding into indifference and self-reliance. It's an easy habit to form, and a difficult one to break. As humans, it is our nature (in the West, anyway) to become easily bored with things when they cease to be new and constantly under improvement. The latest dance craze, video game, software, TV show, website, or music sensation only has a limited half-life before we tuck it away in favour of something newer and more exciting, only to re-visit it in the name of nostalgia when there's nothing else to do.
Sadly, the same seems to be true of faith and obedience to our Lord. I know some of you are having a fit right now that I've dared to say so. But someone had to say it. Yes, you go to a particularly moving service, or worship event, or read a really exciting article in a Christian magazine, or a great book detailing a new revelation the author has experienced and you're all aglow for a week or two, maybe longer. But it fades, doesn't it? And if we aren't excited about something, we put it aside. We vow to look at it again later, but when we don't we justify it by saying that it was a chapter in our life and we've moved on. Sadly, some do this with God.
In the realm of self-reliance, we use all of the skills and motivation we have been given (they really are a gift, you know) to carve out a life that is either meaningful or pure drudgery depending on how much effort we put into it. We get an exciting professional career, or a boring min-wage job. We buy a big house, or a trailer. We buy a Lexus, or a Civic. We get married, or just float from partner to partner. We pick up a Bible, or a copy of some new half-baked, Oprah-endorsed self-help book. And we are bent and determined that we are the ones in control of our destiny, and no one can take that from us. My brothers and sisters, I am just as guilty. And the question preying on my thoughts these days is this: How will I take it?
How will you take it? How will you react when the day finally comes and Jesus returns? We Christians like to think we'll all just wink out and wake up in heaven, or be borne up by some mysterious force or perhaps an angel or maybe even Jesus himself into the clouds, accompanied by the rest of the faithful. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Most atheists obviously aren't worried. Or are they? Could that be why they're so angry? Anger is usually born out of fear of some kind. (To my atheist readers, I can only say that I was one of you once, and am speaking from my own experience. If you have anything to say on the subject, please do!) But I stray from the point.
When the day comes, and the faithful are taken to Heaven, how will you take it if it should somehow happen that you aren't counted among them? That for all the prayer and mission work and Sunday service attendance and soup kitchen ministry and hours upon hours of street witnessing, our Lord and Saviour somehow feels you've missed the mark and need a bit more time to repent and strengthen your faith during the chaos that promises to be the Great Tribulation? Now, I don't want to scare anybody. Certainly fear is not a thing our God intends for us to bear in our hearts. I feel however that just hearing it on Sunday morning and then walking straight out into the world feeling empowered to control our own destiny instead of really confessing our underlying evils and our arrogance in thinking that we know better than God how to conduct our own affairs in this world is not only a non-biblical doctrine, but it's absolutely sinful. Great, another sin to repent of...
Let's turn our attention to Job 28:28 for a second: "And he said to man, 'the fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.' " (NIV) By 'fear of the Lord,' what is meant is not that God is worthy only of our cowering in terror before him. Fear of the Lord is wisdom because it gives us the incentive we need to overcome our sinful choices and behaviour. As we begin to truly understand that God is so terrifyingly powerful and so gloriously holy and so ever-present in our daily lives, we begin even subconsciously to shun evil, to make better choices and enter a state of true repentance.
Once engaged, this repentance really lifts a weight off your shoulders, believe you me. If you put it in its true perspective, repentance is actually a God-gifted freedom from any sinful behaviour that practically guarantees that we won't engage in that behaviour again. Prayer, supplication to the Lord and a sincere desire to serve him will continue upon that guarantee. This is not to say that, as some atheists and pagans love to spout, that Christian spiritual freedom is actually a form of slavery with an omnipotent, merciless tyrant as the master, demanding selfless joyful obedience with one hand and whipping his supplicants savagely with flails fashioned from their own guilt and shame. From an impatient, intolerant antichrist point of view, that may be what it looks like, especially when some church leaders and elders misrepresent the Gospel and God's grace and rave on about how bad we all are.
The truth of the matter is, as evil as our carnal minds, proud hearts and the sins of the flesh are, they are no match for the grace of the Lord Almighty, who recognized even before the universe began that we were slaves to evil and sent his one and only Son to take sin into himself and die a horrible, bloody death at the hands of those who claimed to know God in order that we could be made right in his sight once and for all! So you see, we obey joyfully because we are already free! As Christians, we must not have guilt or fear, but joy and thankfulness for every breath we take. And this defines faith, my people. The recognition and acceptance of our freedom because of the love of our creator for his children. To love him back with every fiber of our being, and love each other as we love ourselves are the cornerstone of our Christian lives. Upon these two concepts hang every single other command the Lord ever issued, because if we remain true to these two, every other one will follow. We will see the hungry, and give them food out of love for the Lord as much as out of love for his hungry child, who is our brother because we too are God's children. We will see the naked shivering and cold and we will give them clothes or a blanket out of the same two loves. We will see the stranger, and give him a place to stay for the night because we, as God's children, love all of God's other children and we love God himself who made us as we are and loves us all the same. If the love in our hearts for God and each other is true, then we will have true faith, and simultaneously with true faith comes our ability to receive the free gift of salvation. It's ours for the taking.
So I ask again. How will you take it?
I'll take mine on my knees, thank you.
See you next time.