The New Life

I was pretty shocked when I began to hear the Lord speak quietly to my heart that it was time to quit church.  “Not so, Lord,” I said, in the spirit of Peter from Acts 10 and 11.

 

But I finally relented.  . . . Although it seemed as though I was having an inner temper tantrum in my “obedience” to my Lord and Master, Jesus the Messiah.  (Good job, Lisa.)

 

The following Sunday, it was a huge surprise to me when Jesus made Himself known.  His presence was manifested to me. “Oh!!  Jesus!”  I said.  “Well, hello there!  It’s been so long!”  And His glorious joy was poured out to my spirit.

 

Of course He had never left me nor forsaken me.  But I had forsaken Him.  For 15 years.  Why?  Well, heck, I was trying to be a “good Christian.”

 

Before quitting church, the Lord had been stripping me of a belief system that was based on rules and regulations.  I was all about, “you have to do this, and you shouldn’t do that.”

 

He led me to quit church in 2004, and by 2006 the only ‘law’ I was still holding on to tenaciously was that we  “have to ask forgiveness for our sins.”  Finally, the Lord gently removed that one last requirement through learning the proper meaning of 1 John 1:8&9.  Simply put, John was speaking to unbelievers (most likely the Gnostics in his audience) in verses 8 and 9 of chapter 1.

 

So, I came to understand that I did not have to ask for forgiveness; that His death on the cross had already accomplished my forgiveness, and I simply had to believe that “it is finished.”

 

Realizing that I no longer had a Christian To-Do List, there was simply nothing left for me to do.  Except to love Him back.  To trust Him.  To rely on Him.  To depend on Him.  I began to live my life in a totally different way.  I trusted Him to lead me and guide me.

 

The way I parented our three kids became completely different; the way I viewed God began to line up with reality; I began to give my husband grace, and stopped trying to change him into a repentant and obedient ‘godly man.’  The TREE OF LIFE became my daily food; I had left behind the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  I now live every day with Jesus, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.  It’s a glorious life.

 

And if you’re wondering, no, I don’t go to “church.”  Well, I never went back to “formalized” church.  Yet to this day, I do gather together with believers on a regular basis, and there is more true fellowship in my life now than there ever was in the days when I went to church four times a week

What goes on in most churches is heartbreaking.

The sheep are being beaten.  And, bottom line, THAT is what is heartbreaking.  But what is perhaps even worse, is that the sheep are allowing themselves to be beaten.  They sit idly in their chairs or pews as the guy up front tells them all of the things they are doing wrong.  Forgetting that Jesus Christ paid a tremendous price to take away the sins of the entire world.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (John 1:29)

The last time I was in an actual “real” church — as opposed to the outside-of-the-box Bible Studies I’ve been attending the past decade — I witnessed one of these public beatings.  I went to hear their guest speaker, a famous author of “Christian books” (How did his books become a Christian?  I guess the books got saved?).

He gave an end-times message which ended by telling the humongous audience (1,000 or more) that since Jesus was coming back soon they had better shape up.  They were reading the wrong novels and magazines, watching the wrong movies, and doing all sorts of other things wrong, and “When Jesus comes back, people, do you really want to feel ashamed when you stand before Him!?”

By this time in my life, I had only recently surrendered to the fact that I am a completely forgiven person, so my own welts and bruises were still raw; the lashes on my own back from 12 years of such beatings were not yet healed.  So when the guest speaker finished his message and asked the packed-out crowd to bow our heads in a prayer of repentance, I wanted to scream out, “No!”  Instead of bowing my head during his prayer, I kept my head lifted high and searched the room for the pastor of this church; why wasn’t he running up to the podium to interfere and apologize to everyone for letting this happen!?  Why wasn’t the pastor reminding the crowd that Jesus is NOT ashamed of us!! (Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 11:16).

But it wasn’t only his fault . . .

The sheep accepted their beating; they took their lashing without complaint.

Once it was all over, I walked among the huge crowd looking for anyone who might be as upset as I was.

Nope.  They were all fine.

Some were visibly giddy.  They were busy chatting to friends, and perhaps making plans to watch “Fireproof” for their next movie night.

Meanwhile, I felt as if I were about to burst into hysterical sobbing.  (Which I later did, once home, and after holding back the storm of tears during the 20-minute drive home.)

My experience that night was not unique.  I have been to an enormous number of churches in my life, and these beatings are taking place everywhere.

Yet, He is not ashamed of you if you have believed in Him and believed in the gospel.  If you have done that, then you have done all the work that He requires of you.  Now it is time for you to rest.

“Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.””  (John 6:28) 

 

May 19, 2017

 

Faith Introduces Us To His Grace

Is faith some sort of magical power that we can wield in order to change our circumstances for the better? Does faith allow us to overcome all of our problems? Of course not.

Is the Christian life one where we use our great faith to ‘stand’ on the Scriptures, or we exercise our faith to ‘claim’ some sort of victory?  No. That is babyish.

Faith is not a mystical force that allows us to live a victorious life of health, wealth and prosperity. Beware of preachers who tell you so, who teach that your faith can bring you great material and physical success. In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul calls such false teachers, “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”

Don’t believe the liars who claim that faith should be used as a way OUT of tribulations. Listen to the apostle Paul, who tells us to rejoice IN THE MIDST of our tribulations!

What is faith? Faith is responding to God with a heart of trust. Faith becomes trust, or belief, when we respond to what the Lord Jesus reveals to us. In other words, the abstract noun ‘faith’ becomes the active verb ‘to believe’.

My relationship today with the Lord God is more real and fulfilling than any other relationship I have on this earth. That is only possible through faith. Every day I trust Him; every day I respond with faith to His presence in my life.

If you are drifting away from God, you can reverse that path by having more faith, which means deciding to trust Him more.

For example, if you think God is ashamed of you, you must exercise faith that God is NOT ashamed of you. (The fact that we still think and do things that ‘are’ shameful is not part of the equation.) We must believe what He has said in Hebrews 2:11.  He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters.

If you think He needs your money, your works, or your service, then you must exercise faith by believing that we have nothing to offer Him.  The apostle Paul speaks the truth when he says this about God:  “He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).

If you think that He still holds your sins against you, then you must exercise faith in the truths He gave us in 1 John 4:8 & 16 and 1 Corinthians 13:5:  God is love, and love keeps no records of wrongs.

When God tries to teach you something new, when He reveals a new truth to you, you will have faith in Him if you believe Him.  Cast out the lie, and accept the truth.  If you do, you will have demonstrated “faith that pleases God” (Hebrews 11:6).

It seems that the trials and tribulations of life provide God with the greatest opportunity to teach us and to guide us.

Church attendance had always been very important to me, so after my husband quit church in 2002, at least I could say that we continued to go on Easter and Christmas Eve. But one year, he did not want to go. He wanted to go out and buy whiskey instead.

This was a potentially terrifying dilemma for me, the final blow to my dream of raising my kids in a Christian home.  But I was prepared.

God had been teaching me that He is looking for real faith that comes from the heart, as opposed to outward acts of religion that come from the flesh.(1 Samuel 16:7, John 7:24, Romans 2:28, 2 Corinthians 5:12, 2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Timothy 3:5)

That evening I chose to trust God by not insisting that my family go to the Christmas Eve service.  Instead I gave my husband permission to go out and buy whiskey.

Let me reassure you by saying that my husband is not a drunk; he drinks very modestly and infrequently. The point of the story is that God led me to give my husband grace, to give up my efforts at trying to change him, to decide to accept him just the way he is, to show my husband the kindness of God.

It was the beginning of a new way of life for me: a life of faith.

God revealed a new truth to me — that church attendance is not important — and I responded by believing Him.  It’s that simple. God shows us truth and we respond by trusting Him.  That is faith.

Faith can not be observed; it can not be faked. God looks at a person’s heart, not at what can be seen or observed.  Church attendance can be both seen and observed. It doesn’t take any faith to go to church; it doesn’t take any faith to sing worship songs, or pay tithes.

Walking by faith means that you live according to the Tree of Life. You cannot live a life of faith if you are living according to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

If I had trusted in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you can be sure I would have insisted that we go to church (good), and that Christopher NOT buy whisky (evil).

God would eventually lead me to quit church entirely, and to stay home with my husband.  This is an example of the “obedience of faith,” that Paul speaks of in Romans 1:5. (By the way, I was thrilled that God allowed me to return to a tiny church two years later, in 2007.)

But that particular Christmas Eve night, all He was asking for was my faith:  to simply believe that He is trustworthy.

We are saved through faith by grace, and from then on our continual faith in Jesus leads us to a deeper knowledge of grace.  Every day, faith leads to more grace.

So faith introduces us to His grace.

“Through our Lord Jesus Christ…we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).

The obedience of faith is the missing puzzle piece that many Christians are looking for; they need to add faith to their daily lives, which leads to an understanding of the grace of God.  Our faith in Him leads us to a deeper knowledge of Him who is gracious, and kind. Grace belongs to Him; HE is gracious.

Being a Christian is all about growing in grace and in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We are not told to grow in faith, we are told to grow in grace (2 Peter).

Allow faith to be your introduction into the grace in which we stand.

 

June 18, 2016