One of the major problems in our Christian society today is the assumption that once someone has been “set free”, saved or forgiven that that is the end of the story. A person can have a revelation about the truth of the gospel and the forgiving, loving nature of God but then leave it at that. We want to compartmentalize God into a dusty vial on a shelf we call our “beliefs” or pigeon-hole our relationship with God into institutionalized religion. This is a tragedy and one that needs to be corrected…and soon. Have we not figured out yet that the status quo is failing us? My premise is this: we are either moving forward or moving backward; we are either getting better or getting worse; we are either growing closer to God or moving further away from Him. There is no “happy medium”…half-measures have never and will never be good enough for a relationship with our Lord. Here is where I throw out a bunch of Bible verses to you about drawing near to Him and He will draw near to you, or love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, or he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy, etc., etc., etc. I am tired of us knowing “of” these verses but not taking them to heart and truly knowing them. I know the world and all of its worries can bog us down at times, but we must realize that we don’t fit God into our lives…we fit our lives into His.
A good example I can give you is from my own experience and observation. For reasons many will not understand (and I hope I don’t lose some readers here), I have to tell you that I’m an alcoholic. I have been down a very nasty and painful road. And although I do not drink any longer and have not had a drink in close to 4 years…I am still an alcoholic and will be until the day I pass on to the other side of eternity. The truth I have discovered is that everyone is an addict in one form or another. Anything that we put before God develops into an addiction. That is Satan’s plan! Just because my addiction is very ugly and obvious doesn’t mean it is any worse than anyone else’s! Money can be an addiction, sex is obviously one addiction that is starting to erode our personal lives (especially when it comes to internet pornography), needing attention is an addiction, need for control is an addiction, and even religion and service to others can be an addiction. Again, anything that you put before God will eventually become an addiction. So let me just make a blanket statement here: SIN is the enemy in all of its forms, regardless of how society views it! Cigarettes are legal but frowned upon. Alcohol is legal but marijuana isn’t. Does that mean that one is more sinful than the other? Jesus extrapolates out the true nature of sin when He tells us that if you are guilty of any part, however large or small, you are guilty of them all. I didn’t say it…don’t shoot the messenger! He also tells us that murder is a sin, but that having ill-will in your heart toward another is equally as sinful! That is astonishing isn’t it? What about parents that worship their children more than God and obsess about them? SIN. What about the faithful church-goer that really lives like everyone else outside of the church? SIN (hypocrisy). What about the person who secretly goes to a porn-site? SIN. You see, it doesn’t matter what you substitute for the number one spot in your life for God…it is sin. God is a jealous God. Addiction is what our heart clings to and will eventually lead to spiritual death, for the wages of sin is death. Our hearts are thirsty critters, and you can thirst for the eternal or you can thirst for the temporal. So what on earth is the solution to such a pervasive problem?
I’m sure some are sitting there reading this and trying to justify their beliefs and saying to themselves, “This doesn’t apply to me”. Well, I hate to go there…but here I go! Regardless of what you think your life looks like on the outside or what you see in the mirror makes no difference to God, for He looks into the heart, He looks into the inside. There was a time in my life where I was absolutely miserable, but others looked at my life and were fooled by what they perceived. Whatever is on the inside will eventually manifest itself on the outside…the key is eventually. It makes no difference whether the house (your life) you built is a gorgeous, multi-million dollar mansion with all the trimmings or whether the house you built is a shanty with a rusted car in the front lawn…if the house is built on sand then the destruction will be great! After a hurricane rolls through your life, no one will be able to tell what once stood there, whether it was a nice house or a shanty. It will simply be destruction. Everyone, and I mean everyone, will have a hurricane roll through their life…that’s life! I had a pretty house built many years ago, and everything looked great from the outside. But when life caught up with me, I was exposed. And thank God! What? That’s right…thank you Lord! Why would I be so excited about my life being crushed in front of God, my family and everyone else looking at the ridiculous, pitiful wreckage? I am blessed because now I know that I did not build on the rock. I was brought very low in order to look up. I knew the Bible, but didn’t live it. I got a real wake-up call. How many people I wonder will wander through life and never be exposed? How many will keep the status quo and never show any outward signs of trouble? Floating through life doing “the best they can”, considering themselves to be a good person, blinded by the lie that is a worldly and successful life, they have bought into the dream that is illusion. You see, at least the addict on the corner, the alcoholic sitting in jail, the prostitute turning the next trick, the sinner KNOWS darn well they are a sinner. However, the unexamined life is much, much worse. Everything will seem fine until one day, death comes knocking! That is why Jesus emphasizes how very difficult it is for the religious or the wealthy to enter the kingdom: they don’t really think anything is wrong or that they are a wretched sinner…true tragedy I tell you!
Have I made you feel like total crap yet? Aren’t we tired of people pointing out our faults? We want to complain about the problems but offer no solutions. I will not do this to you! I promise. But I have a couple of more points to make first. A lot of us Christians want to complain about a plethora of issues. For example: abortion, politics, the removal of God from our schools, the garbage presented to us on the television and on the big screen, what a horrific defilement the liberals are, the condition of the church today…on and on it goes. Do you realize that this is sin as well? According to the Bible that we believe in, we should not meditate on this darkness but rather meditate on all things beautiful, lovely, and from God! God tells us to be the light of the world, to be people of love and compassion, to be set apart, to be “not of this world”. But we can easily get trapped into the negativity…even if we feel we have the right to complain. Change has never and will never happen by people complaining about the evils of the world or pointing fingers. What do you expect? Does not the Bible tell us what to expect? Why do we think that the kingdom of God is something we can muster up ourselves? History proves my point time and time again: change comes from love, not from hate. Period. End of Story. If there were another way, don’t you think God would have let us know about it? We don’t live in the Old Testament…we live under a new covenant my friends…the covenant of love: “For God so loved the world…”, people will know you are a Christian by your love (not your ideology!), love your neighbor, love your enemy, but most importantly love your God with all you’ve got! That is the only answer. Paul tells us that the goodness of God brings us to repentance…not hell, fire, and brimstone! We shouldn’t point out obvious problems in the world; we should share the gospel of love as a verb. Jesus said that He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but rather to save it. Jesus is and always will be the only answer we need, and Jesus is all about love. The entire New Testament revolves around this principle. If you don’t believe me, then you need to re-examine the love-letter that God wrote to you! The real beauty in this message is that if you do this one thing that God asks and desires, He will empower you to right the wrongs! If you try to right the wrongs without love, then you are flailing at the wind.
(If you haven’t noticed, I am leaving Bible verses out of this article. I am doing it for a reason: I want you to discover them for yourself. If at some point, you want the actual verses, please leave me a note in the comments section below and I will be more than happy to reply with specific verses. The point being, the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit make their point a heck of a lot better than I.)
We want to accept salvation and forgiveness, but are we done after that? Sometimes we feel that we have “seen the light”, accepted Jesus, and just move on. Is the passage about living life “more abundantly” a misprint? Will God just follow us around wherever we go, regardless of our disposition toward Him and toward sin? I mean, I just stated above that it is all about love…right? But have we taken one or two verses in the Bible and taken them out of context to fit our world-view? Here is the answer: Jesus invites us into a RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. We can never really know what it means to be a Christian until we know God. Salvation is free to all who believe, but we are called to more than that. Let me give you an example in human terms. What if you had a child (hopefully you do have children and if not, then at least you were a child at one point) and you wanted the best for that child and loved that child unconditionally as most of us do. How would it make you feel if your beloved child ignored you? What if your child came to you once a week to tell you they loved you, and the rest of the week never spoke to you? Which speaks louder…actions or words? What if your child says one thing and then does another? What if your child said they loved you, but never spent any time with you? What if you had rules to help them mature and guidelines to keep them safe and they never heeded your rules? What if your child never came to you for anything except when they desperately needed help, or needed money, or they were simply lonely and needed a shoulder to cry on? Oh, we would accommodate them for sure, but wouldn’t it be sad if we knew that once their need had been met, that you wouldn’t be seeing much of them after that…until the next problem arose. Do you see the heart-wrenching situation here? What if that same child came to you and asked you for money and you knew you were just enabling them to waste that money on drugs or alcohol or whatever else keeps them occupied with “stuff” instead of you? Would you still give them the money? If you were a good parent, then the answer is “no”. That same child throws a temper-tantrum and cries and begs and screams at you, “I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME!”
Now imagine that the child is truly sorry and asks for forgiveness for their actions. Would you forgive them? If you were a good and loving parent, then of course you would forgive them. But wouldn’t you want them to take the necessary steps to avoid future trouble? The unbelievable beauty of God is that He always forgives us! But my friends, God gave us free will; He puts the ball in our court, so to speak. He won’t make you love Him! And didn’t Jesus say that if you love Him, you will keep His commandments? What are those commandments? Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got and love you neighbor as yourself…that is the starting point, not the finish line. Some of us can’t even get out of the starting gate! You can’t run a race if you never start or worse, running in the wrong direction. In the example above, I know at some point, most of us would become hopelessly bitter and feel that our children really didn’t love us but rather used us for getting what they want. God wants to bless us; God wants to really, really love on us; God desires us and desires a relationship with us more than anything else! But we treat Him like crap! I am still ashamed at how I have treated God in the past, but now I have a real relationship with Him. Hallelujah! Now things are different. There were times in my life when we were close, when I was “on fire” for Him. But after a while, when life got “too real” that my flame diminished, times in my life where I said, “I got this”, surely times of “growing among the thorns”. Oh my God, what a tragedy that was! There is nothing worse than a love lost. We try to fill that void with more fervor than ever but to no avail, and deep down inside we know that nothing will satiate our desire to be fulfilled…nothing but His love. But because God is light and love, He always takes us back…BUT…you don’t get to pick up where you left off. There was a break in trust. Hear me and hear me well people: seek the Lord and show Him you trust Him, love Him not in word but in deed; learn His love in your heart and not just in your head. He rewards those who DILIGENTLY seek Him. You don’t have to earn His love; but you do have to earn His trust! And the Scriptures are peppered with blessings that follow that trust or faith. It is impossible to please God without faith, and faith, my friends is earned. People who believe in a benevolent God sometimes slip into the “God loves me no matter what” syndrome (and it is true). But they forget that love is not the same as a true relationship, and everything about earthly relationships applies to our heavenly relationship! God wants us to know Him, not just trust Him for salvation. Oh, how foolish we are, do we not see the truth here? You have to move past forgiveness and into the healing process…key word: PROCESS. Yes, you heal…but God has to heal as well (speaking of the backslider here)…otherwise it wouldn’t be a real and meaningful relationship, now would it? Before you doubt me on this point of God needing to heal, look through the Scriptures and see God’s heart hurting (almost the entire book of Jeremiah!), see God’s remorse for the flood, read about “grieving the Spirit”, YES…GOD HAS FEELINGS TOO! People mistake God’s chastening for Him not loving us. Poppycock! God chastens us because he loves us. Don’t be so confused when he seems distant. He really isn’t distant at all, but we can’t have true fellowship with Him until we become “doers” of His words instead of “hearers” of His words. You can’t hear His voice until you spend some time in conversation…is that so hard to grasp? I’ll tell you this: if you seek Him with all that you have, you can speed the healing, if you “seek His face” like you never had a tomorrow, He will show up speedily, but if you think that by tossing up a prayer every now and again that He will be “Johnny on the spot” then you are foolish and immature! Sorry, just trying to help here. Some say, “Well, He knows my heart and knows I hurt. Why should I have to verbalize it out loud?” I don’t know the why; I only know that it matters to Him.
So the whole point here is this: we have to move past forgiveness and into a deep and personal relationship with our God. The Lord will resurrect you spiritually if you cling to Him. Thinking that you have to “clean up” first and put on your Sunday’s best before coming to Him, then you have the cart before the horse. By seeking God and His love, He will begin to become real and tangible to you; and when this happens, you don’t want to sin! You don’t want to sin because you will begin to feel His absence. Once you have truly tasted God and that He is good…you don’t want anything else. Everything else in life is a cheap imitation of the real deal. If you take God out of your life, your life will be in a downward spiral. Look around you. Ask yourself this question: Do I really know God or just know of Him?
There was a point when God was in our schools and part of our social fabric as a nation and that resulted in a world-leading educational system and prosperity for America. Take God out and you can see what happens. When God is blessing a nation, that nation is empowered to do astounding things! But when you take God out of something, nothing but miserable failures ensue (the devils plan)…and eventually the collapse of all man-made systems. I have also seen first-hand in a 12 step program just how awful the program can be without God in it. Most do not know that the 12 step programs are based right out of the Bible. Somewhere along the way, to be socially acceptable, we replaced God with a “higher power”. Time and time again, I have seen people fail because they got sober but were left wanting. They achieved sobriety but then looked around and said, “Now what?” Sobriety took the place of one addiction, but left the heart void of the proper replacement! The heart has to have the void filled or we are just going through the motions until the next storm in life hits. We want to heal addiction, we want to heal America, we want to heal our schools, we want to heal our government, we want to heal our social woes, and we want to heal our financial problems. We as Christians know the answer! But too often we go about it the wrong way. We want to spout off and point fingers and accuse, when we are the problem. Want to heal the country? Heal your church. Want to heal your church? Heal your personal relationship with God. Churches are awesome when they function as a conduit to discipleship and growth in the word, but then problems occur. Why? The answer is very simple: a maturing Christian should go to their church to give of themselves, not to get something! You can’t complain about your church because you are one of the contributors! So if you are complaining, then you are pointing the finger at yourself! You have effectively cut of your nose to spite your face. Paul is very clear about this: if part of the body is sick, then the whole body is sick. Don’t you see that the solution squarely sits on your and my shoulders? The healing begins with the person in the mirror…not accusing the world of being the world, not accusing the church but rather healing the church. Remember it is the GOODNESS of God that brings all to repentance…not judgment! It is love that attracts people…not condescending piety. If enough people had a loving relationship with God, then that love would spread like a disease…it is highly contagious! God can and will do miraculous things, but not from the top down…He works from the bottom up…just as Jesus gave us the model.
Do yourself a huge favor and study I Corinthians 13. I don’t mean read it and put it away. I mean read it, meditate on it, think of what it means in your life, think of what it means in your family, think of what it means in your church, think of what it means and how it applies to your community, think of what it means on a national level, think of what it means on a global scale, let it get into your blood, let it saturate your heart, stew in it a while, pray over it, and then go out into your world and live it. And just you watch what happens! I promise you, your view of the world will completely change. You can be the agent for change in a world that desperately needs change. Don’t try to resurrect anything, your church, your country, or your community until you are resurrected first. We have to be resurrected personally, then the rest follows…Jesus said that He is the way. Remember the key: you cannot love without being loved by God, for we really don’t know the true meaning of love without the fire of His love. I don’t mean an intellectual notion of His love…I’m talking about the real deal, the experiencing in your heart of His love, the spiritual awakening of a person renewed, the joy of grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding, the strengthening of belief into the gift of faith, I mean really, really getting to know the One that loves you in the most real way imaginable. If you don’t know this love, then the invitation is on the table. Christ Jesus our Lord paid the ultimate price for this reason and this reason only…to reconcile you back into the arms of your loving God. Can you feel it? Don’t you want it? I am telling you the truth…if you make it the most important thing in your life, then you can have it…it is amazing…it is worth the price of admission…and your life will forever be changed for the better….beyond better…beyond imagination. Find Him in His word, find Him in prayer, and please do not underestimate the power of meditation. If you have questions…there are plenty of loving Christians that have answers.
May the power of the Holy Spirit be your guide; may the outstretched, pierced hand of Christ invite you; and may the overwhelming magnitude of God’s love draw you to Him.