Monday, January 30, 2012

Influence or Influenced?

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will." -Romans 12:2.

God calls us not to conform to the standards of this world, but to live by the example Jesus set for us. We are to always lead holy lives. "Holiness" is one of those Christian words you hear over and over, and I've realized that people don't often teach what it actually means in ways that are easy to understand. I got to a point in my spiritual walk where I had to start questioning the beliefs I've taken for granted my whole life, and during this time, I had to redefine everything. 

Within the realm of Christianity, I see a set certain range of characteristics:

1. On one end of the scale, we have the group of Christians that try to set themselves apart for God by completely isolating themselves from the world and from anything and everything that can do them harm. 

The good thing about this attitude is that you're constantly in good Christian fellowship.

The problem with this is that by separating ourselves from the world to that degree, we can no longer relate to the people of the world. We turn ourselves into "bubble Christians," obsessed with achieving only the end goal of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and not concerning ourselves with the relationships that are needed to make this change in people. You can't make a change in someone's life if they can't relate to you. You create relationships when people can relate to you. We just live in our own religious bubble, and thats how non-Christians see it. God wants us to live an attractive life that catches others attention. He gave us this world to enjoy. We shouldn't be so careful that we close off all pleasures. Think about it, Jesus Christ himself began to manifest His glory and power for the first time at a party. We all go to parties to have fun. So it looks like that Jesus went to this wedding to have a good time. And He turned water into wine, which means that everyone probably had a better time after that ;) And if anyone should have had a sense of urgency, it would have been Jesus.

2. On the other end of the scale, we have the group of Christians that actively immerse themselves in the world, and try to reach as many unbelievers as quickly as possible. 

The good thing about this is that you can reach a large number of people that need Jesus, and since you are familiar with the world, you can relate to them well. 

The problem with this is that we can lose ourselves in the temptations of the world. Over-immersion can lead to very negative results. You always run the risk of turning into the people you hangout with. And without consistent, edifying Christian fellowship, this will be a very real danger. You can turn into the very people you are trying to be a light for.  

And I've found through personal experiences, trying to save someone and prevent suffering in their lives can turn into a big obstruction between you and God. We oftentimes isolate one person in our lives, and make it a priority to influence them and hopefully change them. And it can sometimes turn into an obsession where we try to do everything within our power to change them. But this may not be God's plan. We have to accept the fact that God may only use us to sow the seed, and be at peace with the fact that we may not ever see that person grow in Christ. And we need to learn how to discern when it is time to let go of that relationship, and let God work inside of that person through other means. God speaks to us through our circumstances, and when we feel the pressure of those circumstances, that's when we have to ask for God's will. We have to rejoice in the fact that God is in control, and whether it's through us or some other means, He will always continue to work in those relationships that matter most to us. 

So now we know both ends of the spiritual spectrum. We have to figure out where we need to be on that scale. To do this, we need to redefine "holiness." I believe that we are to be holy as it was expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. He was perfectly set apart for God from birth to death. Yet we always read about how he was always hanging out with the lowest people of society. He ate dinner with tax collectors, he healed lepers, he talked and ministered to prostitutes, to adulterers, to murderers, etc... The healthy didn't need to be healed, and He made this a point during His lifetime. But during all of this, he was always surrounded by His Christian brothers, and never stopped spreading the gospel. 

We are to strive to live like Jesus. He set the example for us to follow. The easy part is understanding this, the hard part is living it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

By the Grace of God, I Am What I Am.

A fact of life is that we will always be reminded of our faults and downfalls. We will always be reminded of our sins and the wrongs we've committed. The enemy uses this to get us down. The enemy tells us that we are unforgivable, that we are unworthy of God's love, and that we've already dug ourselves too deep into a hole, and it's too late and too impossibly difficult to get out and back on our feet.

The thing is, is that God made you exactly the way He intended to. He didn't mess up, He made you into the exact person He thought you should be. He made you 100% unique in every way, there is no one in the UNIVERSE that is like you.

You see, it's easy to tell yourself what you're not going to do in the future, but it can oftentimes be much more difficult to forgive yourself for what you've already done in the past. The enemy knows this, and uses this against us. But here's a little Christian secret... God doesn't look at our past! The ethic of the Christian faith is love, repentance, and forgiveness. When we ask for God's forgiveness, he gives us His gift of salvation. This means that he only looks at our present and our future. From this moment on, you can be absolutely pure in God's eyes! Cool, huh? :)

And if that's not enough, God won't let your past just sit there forgotten... Our past is what shapes the person we are today! He will use it for His glory! All the things of our past, no matter how shameful or awful, can be used to further God's kingdom. As a Christian, our past is one of our most powerful assets.

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am..." 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

Paul wrote this in his letter to Corinth. This quick chunk of scripture was about how he was "abnormally born." He had once brutally persecuted Christians. He was even present when Stephen was martyred, giving his approval of the stoning (Acts 7:54-60). God changed Paul, loved him and forgave Him. And Paul went on to do great influential things in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul has been an enormous source of inspiration for me in my spiritual walk. And he was a human being, just like you and I. God can take anyone and use them to spread the Gospel. Once we truly feel God's forgiveness and we can forgive ourselves, our true potential can be unleashed! Those skeletons in our closets aren't doing anyone any good. They're dragging us down, and they're stories that could be used to influence and change others if they were put out in the open. Once we verbally share our sins with another trusted human, and we pray for our forgiveness, those sins become our testimony. And once we are forgiven and get our sins out in the open, the enemy can no longer use those sins against us. We can use it against the enemy!

For me personally, I had sins that I never wanted to share with anyone. I had no desire to ever let them leave my head. But over the years, they started to drag me down and constantly ate away at my conscience. As soon as I verbally shared my burden and prayed for forgiveness, I felt so free. Now I earnestly hope and pray that people ask me about my struggles so I can share my testimony.

Since then my spiritual growth has grown like I would have never imagined. I have been able to experience God's grace and His power in whole new ways. I pray that all my brothers and sisters are able to continue growing in these ways. I pray that we never feel like we have arrived, and that we are always hungry for more, and falling more and more in love with Jesus.

One of my best friends told me, "Imagine how different our world would be if we [Christians] all knew what we were really capable of."

Skeletons In the Closet

When you're in Christ-
1. Your "I try" turns into "I trust."
2. Your performance doesn't change your position in Christ.
3. Your history does NOT disqualify your destiny.

These 3 points were the main outline for a sermon that changed my life. This was the beginning of the end of my own self-sufficiency. We all have a past. We have all sinned and done things we've wished we could take back. We all have a history, and that's true for every human being on this earth.

Oftentimes, when we commit a sin that we feel ashamed of, we naturally want to bottle it up. Our human nature wants to hide it away so no one can ever find it. The problem is that now,  the sin is inside of you and it won't go away. And you will protect that secret at all costs. We naturally want to depend only on ourselves to take care of this problem we've created. Our human nature tells us that the less people that know about this secret, the better. Doing this will never allow that wound to heal. It will take control of your thoughts, your emotions, and your whole life.

The key to healing is confession. Confessing your sins gives you release. It can release you from shame, from the grip the sin has on you, and can allow you to start along the path of recovery that was previously hidden.

In my personal life, verbally repenting of a sin to another trusted person in my life has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Now, there is light in my life where there once was darkness. I have no secrets left from the people I love, and that is such a liberating feeling. Liberate- To set someone free from a situation, especially imprisonment or slavery, in which their liberty is severely restricted. What a perfect word...

When you truly repent and get these sins out in the open, the enemy can no longer hold these transgressions against you. My dad told me something that will always stick with me. "The ethic of the Christian faith is love, repentance, and forgiveness." God loves us so much, He will never hold His forgiveness from us. And once you seek forgiveness, he will guide you along the path of recovery, where he will take away the shame, and take away the burden that this sin has created. Someone very special to me told me a quote that has always stuck with me. "God loves you right where you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there." Our history does not define our destiny. Our oneness with Jesus Christ starts now!