Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When Christianity "Doesn't Work"

Doesn't God want me to have health and wealth?

When is Jesus going to solve my problems?

Why hasn't Christianity worked for me?

Most of the people reading this post are from the first world, who wouldn't think of themselves as rich. Rich people have multiple homes, hire servants, and dodge the paparazzi—right?

But how many of us have electricity, indoor plumbing, and fuel to operate mechanized servants such as washing machine, furnace, and motor vehicles? Do we travel freely, with a hotel room (or camper) to shelter us in any city we visit? Are we intimate with the paparazzi, feeding on media round the clock?

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"
~ Mark 10:23 (NKJV)

Jesus well understood that the kingdom of God, with its spiritual riches, would have more appeal to a poor man than a wealthy one. The more we own, the more difficult it is:
– to be satisfied with soul comforts when we've grown accustomed of flesh comforts;
– to appreciate access to divine power when we have so much other control at our disposal;
– to worship God and seek His interests when our lives are absorbed with caring for wealth.

Many preachers offer Christianity as an invitation to health and wealth. Jesus offers a completely different invitation—an invitation to death (Luke 9:23-24). His observation—that having riches is an obstacle to entering God's kingdom—is only the beginning of some difficult truths spoken by Jesus:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword."
~ Matthew 10:34 (NKJV)

"Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake."
~ Luke 6:22 (NKJV)

"In the world you will have tribulation."
~ John 16:33 (NKJV)

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
~ Revelation 3:19 (NKJV)

A common expectation is that Christianity will make our lives better—more like Heaven. The Bible says that following Christ instead makes us better—more like Jesus.

To be sure, following biblical principles puts us in a better position to have health, wealth, and harmony with others. Caring for our bodies as something that belongs to God helps maintain physical well-being. Conducting life's affairs with honor, under God's direction, definitely invites prosperity. Behaving with humility and demonstrating love for others makes for better relationships.

But.

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
~ 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NKJV)

The Christian life is no vacation from problems. It is more like boot camp—and battlefield. One expects neither coddling from a marine drill sergeant nor comfort in a war zone. Following Christ means training for spiritual warfare and fighting daily battles—and the true R & R of His rest. (See Hebrews 4:9-10; also see "Never Work Again.")

First world people generally observe war briefly from afar, via the media, and expect to live amid more pleasant circumstances. War and conflict are often more familiar to third world people, and therefore less unexpected among the world's poorest. Following Christ doesn't mean keeping conflict at a distance, but access to strength and peace in the face of inevitable conflict.

And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
~ 1 Timothy 6:8 (NKJV)

As far as I can tell, the desire for health, wealth, and conflict-free comfort is the biggest obstacle to Christian contentment—the biggest obstacle to believing that living for Jesus Christ "works." Such contentment appears to be more elusive for those with riches. The problem isn't as much in having riches as trusting in them (Mark 10:24), loving them (1 Timothy 6:9-10), and being burdened with their accompanying cares (Luke 8:14).

For the wealthy, there is a tendency to add Christianity to our existing life rather than embrace an entirely new way of life—Jesus is simply another of life's treasures. For the poor, and for the poor in spirit, Jesus is the only true treasure to be had, giving Him a bigger place in one's life.

Those caught up in this world's riches refuse bruised produce (transported across continents!) and a sirloin too pink or brown. Those caught up in the riches of God are able to thank Him for even the bread of affliction.

I ask of You …
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with my needed share of food—
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
~ Proverbs 30:7-9

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why Christians are Hypocrites

No one likes a hypocrite—someone who says one thing and does another. Among all hypocrites, the Christian hypocrite is perhaps most unlikable and most visible. Shouldn't those named as followers of Jesus Christ be, instead, most able to follow through on the beliefs they uphold?

No matter who you are, you have certainly been hurt or offended by a "Christian hypocrite." The blame belongs entirely to us, and not to Jesus. At least three reasons explain the problem.

1. The person claiming to follow Jesus Christ isn't a true Christian

There are two kinds of false Christians: those who are deceptive, and those who are ignorant.

"Beware of false prophets [preachers], who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit."
~ Jesus, Matthew 7:15-16 (NKJV)

The person is downright dangerous who uses God's name or words as leverage to advance personal agenda. Although cult leaders fall into this category, so do many other appealing religious personalities, whose message never actually exalts Jesus Christ as Lord and God.

Jesus taught that the way to discern between true and false teachers is to examine the fruit of their lives. Whatever their good deeds, however successful or persuasive, false teachers fail to produce the spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) of thankful joy, peace amid affliction or conflict, patience (with trying people and situations), active kindness, goodness in response to evil, faith to confront uncertainty, humble gentleness, self-control (rather than gratification of unhealthy desires), and, above all, selfless love.

Like the devil himself, false preachers are agents of darkness who masquerade as ministers of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Such people, and their message, are to be rejected.

Other false Christians, however, are trying to be right. But they are going about it the wrong way, according to their own definition of right and wrong, in ignorance of God's definitions.

For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
~ Romans 10:3 (NKJV)

Regrettably, true Christians can also display ignorance—a second reason for hypocrisy.

2. Christians are ignorant

Please note that doesn't say "some" Christians.

Every single Christian has knowledge of some incredible truths about Jesus Christ, which make possible the faith that creates an entirely new person. Those incredible truths get us Christians pretty excited. In fact, we can sometimes latch onto one truth at the expense of other truths, or even at the expense of the most important truths.

Without balance, any truth can become error.

Example: God is love. Love does good. God's love coexists with His allowance of suffering. Without understanding both truths, Christians either expect not to suffer, or see suffering as occasion to question God's love and goodness. A balanced knowledge of God's love sees that He allows pain for our benefit. (Hebrews 12:6-11; Romans 8:18,28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

No matter how much truth about God that we gain, we Christians remain ignorant of far more. And if we're also ignorant of our ignorance, we can start to think that the truth we do have makes us wise enough …

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion …
~ Romans 11:25 (NKJV)

… which is a third and probably most significant reason that Christians display hypocrisy.

3. Christians are incomplete

Human nature does things our own way. A Christian accepts God's ways as best. God puts in our hearts not only this understanding, but the desire and ability to do things His way.

Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do.
~ Romans 7:18-19 (NCV)

Though Christians want to do things God's way, we continue to battle against the sin that goes to the core of our hearts. The more Christians grow in knowledge and understanding and faith, the more complete we become in a new, spiritual nature—the more we become like Christ Himself.

This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.
~ Ephesians 4:13 (CEV)

When Christians think we've already become what we're supposed to be, we cannot deny the label of hypocrite. But when we transparently admit our ignorance and imperfection, our failings and sin; when we acknowledge that we simply aspire to be like Jesus Christ; when we put the emphasis on Him rather than ourselves (or—God forbid!—on the sin of others), then we grow less and less like hypocrites.

I rely upon this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 1:6

No matter who you are, please have patience with Christians, who are still becoming mature in producing that spiritual fruit mentioned above. And please, beware of listening to the false Christians, who have no such fruit.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What is the Holy Spirit

What does "filled with the Spirit" mean?

How do I get the Holy Spirit?

Just who is the Holy Spirit?

The words for "spirit" in both Old Testament Hebrew (rûach) and New Testament Greek (pne├║ma) mean "breath" (or sometimes "wind"). So a description of the Holy Spirit (or "Holy Ghost") begins by calling Him the "Breath of God." God's breath contains and conveys the very life and light and Person of God.

But God's Spirit is more than part of God's Person; the Holy Spirit is also His own Person, with His own unique personality, separate from God the Father or God the Son (Jesus Christ). The Holy Spirit is also called the "Spirit of Wisdom" (Isaiah 11:2, Ephesians 1:17-18), and He appears to be one and the same with God's Wisdom as personified in the book of Proverbs (compare Genesis 1:2 and Proverbs 8:25-31). And God's Wisdom is absolutely distinct from the "wisdom" generally recognized by the world (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 & 3:19).

"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence …
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, I have strength."
~ Proverbs 8:12,14 (NKJV)

When God expresses Himself, His purposes, and His glory (light), it might be compared to a movie. God the Father is Producer and Author. Jesus is onscreen as the visible and vocal representation of all the Father wishes to make known. The Holy Spirit might be likened to the director and those hundreds of behind-the-scenes roles—roles seen only in the credits, but without whom nothing significant would be accomplished.

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. / … / And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
~ Genesis 1:2 / 2:7 (NKJV)

The Spirit of God was known and recognized before the time of Jesus. (He is mentioned in the Old Testament about a hundred times, including the phrase "Holy Spirit" three times—Psalm 51:11, Isaiah 63:10-11.) Introduced in the second verse of the Bible, the breath (Spirit) of God imparts physical life to humans in a manner that sets us apart from animals (Isaiah 31:3). God's Spirit goes on to interact with humans on God's behalf throughout the Old Testament, often coming "upon" a person, occasionally being "in" a person, and in at least two instances the Holy Spirit "filled" people (Joshua and the tabernacle artisans).

The change found in the New Testament is that instead of His Holy Spirit being given by God to selective people or on specific occasions, God now gives the Holy Spirit to all people who have put faith in Jesus and made Him the Lord of their lives. (See "What is Born Again.") While the most visible and extraordinary display of the Holy Spirit was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus also gave His Spirit to His disciples in person:

So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
~ John 20:21-22 (NKJV)

When the New Testament mentions the Holy Spirit (about 250 times), it speaks of Him in terms such as wind (John 3:8, Acts 2:1-2), water (John 4:13-14 & 7:37-39), or fire (Luke 3:16, Acts 2:3). In nature, these elements have no specific shape, but take on the shape of the place they fill, each one moving as if with a life of its own. So it is with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is also called an anointing (as with oil—Matthew 25:3-4, 1 John 2:20), because He must be given from above, not called down from below. Whether He brings inspiration (like air), cleansing and revival (like water), purging (like fire), or healing (like oil), the Holy Spirit brings God's breath and life into the places given to Him.

"Being filled with the Spirit is not us getting more of God, but God getting more of us."
~ Dean Stewart

If we continue to use the above movie analogy (albeit imperfectly), then the role of the Holy Spirit has not changed. Jesus has exited the scene. His people have entered the stage, and we are now the expression of God, His glory (light), and His purposes. The Holy Spirit still directs, counsels, clothes, equips, and empowers us—from the inside, unseen except in the spiritual fruit we produce.

A final important note: the fruit of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are very distinct. The fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24) is evidence of His saving presence in a believer's life, and is distinct from the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), each of which is given to individuals differently—no specific gift being proof of salvation.

Proverbs 8
(4) "To you, O men, I call …
(6) Listen, for I will speak of excellent things …
(12) "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence …
(14) Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, I have strength.…
(22) "The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way …
(30) I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
(31) Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
(35) … whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the LORD;
(36) But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul;
All those who hate me love death."

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What is Born Again

How does someone "get saved"?

How do I know if I'm saved?

What does it mean to be "born again"?

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
~ John 3:16 (NKJV)

The Christian life involves many steps of believing—of faith. Exactly which step assures that a person has been eternally saved from sin's death penalty and been born again as a child of God, becoming an heir to everlasting life and all of God's spiritual gifts?

Consider skydiving, which requires faith in a parachute.

A first step of faith is skydiving lessons. Other necessary steps are putting on the parachute and getting in the airplane. Depending on the skydiving school and rules involved, a person may take other steps of faith such as being harnessed to an instructor (for a beginner's tandem jump), attaching a line to the airplane (for a static line jump), or walking out onto the wing.

None of these steps proves faith in the parachute. When the moment of truth arrives, a few people decide to make the trip back down in the plane rather than release the plane. A person may have claimed to believe in the parachute, and may have even taken some steps to demonstrate it, but they never actually put faith in the parachute.

The person who does jump out of the plane has no recourse in the airplane, nor in an ability to sprout wings and fly, nor in forgiveness from gravity. For better or for worse, for life or for death, all reliance—all faith—has been placed in the parachute.

Sometimes "rely" is a more active word than "believe" and a more tangible word than "faith."

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
~ 2 Corinthians 1:9 (ESV)

Believing in Jesus involves a number of steps of faith. Various denominations emphasize different steps. The Bible (God's Word) describes two defining steps of faith:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
~ Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)

God accepts neither "claim" or false confession. To confess "Jesus is Lord" is to truthfully testify that Jesus is Lord and God of my life. To believe Jesus is raised from the dead is to transfer my reliance upon things which are seen but dying and put my reliance upon the unseen yet living Jesus.

“The cross isn’t just something God did. The cross is the very essence of who God is.”
~ Robert Mulholland

Being born again acclaims not merely me and what I get, but most especially Jesus and what He gives.

For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
~ Romans 14:8-9 (NKJV)

When Jesus is Lord of my life, I receive His resurrection life. And I have assurance that I have been saved from sin and sin's penalty of Hell because I have the heart of a new creature.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

~ ~ ~

This is the first in a series on Christianity Basics, to include topics such as
"What is the Holy Spirit?"
"Why are Christians Hypocrites?"
"What is Holiness?"
"What Should a Christian Look Like?"
"Why Hasn't Christianity Worked for Me?"

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.