Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Exciting NEW series!

In this series, week by week I will be posting helpful information for new Christians.

In over 30 years of ministry I have had the joy of seeing lots of people – old and young – find new life in Jesus. I have also had the heartache of seeing many succumb to spiritual “illnesses” and spiritual fraudsters and lose their way (I learned the hard way how to protect young believes from these perils!). I have also had the pleasure of seeing new and older Christians grow into maturity in Christ.

I make no claim to being a theologian – but I am pretty good at spiritual infant welfare, and an effective spiritual kindergarten teacher!

So what I will be posting week by week will be sharing my very hard won practical experience. I pray you find it helpful.

Post 1

Are you a Christian?

If you don’t think you are a Christian, please find someone who can tell you about the Good News of Jesus Christ right away. Your eternal destiny – whether you end up in heaven with God or receive the default choice: hell, is at stake!

If you do think you are a Christian here is a little self-test test you can make.

The questions (I am using the wording from the 1662 Anglican service here but the gist is pretty universal I think) which candidates for baptism had to answer are:
DOST thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?
    Answer. I renounce them all.
DOST thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?
    And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord? And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost; born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead?
    And dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholick Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death?
    Answer. All this I stedfastly believe.

WILT thou be baptized in this faith?
    Answer. That is my desire.
WILT thou then obediently keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?
    Answer. I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.

Permit me to make some explanatory remarks.

Question one is basically asking you to change sides in the war of the universe. It assumes you have at least in the role of a citizen of an occupied country (think maybe of a French person during the Nazi occupation) been on the Devil’s turf. Now you are being asked to disavow that and take up active allegiance to God instead.

In the world under the rule of the Devil, our lives are largely governed by a false (but very clever and appealing) world view maintained by the Devil – here called “ the vain pomp and glory of the world” and “the covetous desires of the same” and the flawed promptings and yearnings of our human nature called here “the carnal desires of the flesh” We have to decide to turn our back on these illusions and learn to say “No!” to our old human nature if we want to come over to God’s side.

Question two is “do you believe what all Christians through all history all over the world have said was their essential belief”, summed up here in what we call the Apostle’s Creed.

The phrase “holy catholick Church” can cause some confusion, so please let me explain: “catholic” just means “universal” and “church” in the New Testament is the Koine Greek word “ekklesia” which means “a gathering, assembly or crowd” so we are here affirming, not any denominational church (Roman Catholic or otherwise!) but something spine tinglingly wonderful - membership of “God’s Crowd” composed not only of people we can see now but of all the people who ever have or ever will belong to Jesus, from every tribe and nation, (and every “church”) – which will have its first full meeting when Jesus returns – that will be some meeting: some party!

Question three involves a declaration of obedience to God.

So what about you? Right here right now. Do you answer all those questions in the affirmative?

If you say “No” then this series is not designed to meet your present needs - but please do read the rest of this post because that may excite your interest in finding out more about Jesus.

Choosing God takes effort. Choosing God goes against our pride, because we have to admit to yourself that we can’t do it on our own – we need God.

Choosing God seems silly whilst we are caught up in the Devil’s lies and the world view he manages to hoodwink most people into believing is reality.

Choosing God means committing to a way of life going “against the tide” of what most people think. A way of life that the rest of the world may try to make uncomfortable and sometimes short!

Choosing God means committing a minute by minute, day by day struggle living God’s way not the way of our warped human nature. It is choosing a lifestyle that takes all the power and resources that God provides and at times all our strength and willpower to maintain.

Only after choosing God can we appreciate the benefits. We are now reconciled to God: no longer afraid of his judgement, but as a beloved child being in rapt wonder at his greatness and love.

No longer following human religion with its rules and rituals: but having in your innermost being the presence of God the Holy Spirit.

No longer afraid to the terrors life can throw up: but knowing that Jesus is standing shoulder to shoulder with us facing them and that the trials of this life will seem nothing compared to the rewards of heaven.

No longer living a life either in fear of death or hiding that fear only by myths of immortality: but with the real certainty of resurrection to eternal life in heaven with Christ.

There is a “default” choice: it is not (yet) choosing to take up God’s offer on amnesty in Christ.

This choice is really easy to make: you don’t have to think about it at all. That is why I called it the “default” choice.

Most people stick with the default choice. While you stick with it God will honour your choice and limit his involvement in your life (but he will still be there because he wants you to choose him after all) so you will probably make a series of bad choices in your life with bad consequences for you and others. You will maybe feel a nagging “God shaped hole” in your life which you will try to plug with other things – religion, money, drugs, sex, power and so on.

If you stick with the default choice till you die you will get the eternal consequences of your choice – total exclusion from God, heaven and all the people who chose God while they could and from everything that is good, lovely and desirable because all these things come from God – what you will be left with, forever, is called “hell”.

Your future: your choice!

Re-reading this section I can see that some of my fellow believers will think I have over-emphasised the “your choice” aspect. They are in theory right: Without the sheer abundance of God’s kindness, goodness and love that we call “grace” we would have no choice at all. We are all sinners, the bible makes that plain. God as judge of the entire world should send every last one of us to hell. God as a being who hates evil with a passion should have nothing to do with us humans who are as covered in evil as kids playing in a mud patch are covered with dirt.

That is part of the wonder of God. We can never plumb the depths of it. He hates sin but he loves us sinners. He went so far as to come to earth, born as a human baby, to deal with sin.

Jesus was simultaneously both God and human – in fact THE representative of the human race. When he suffered and died on the cross evil was disarmed.

Theologians have down the centuries have tried to make up some illustration for the people of their time. These illustrations have generally seemed a bit lame to the people of the next generation. So maybe it is safer to say: “It just IS”. Or to stick with the words of the bible, like these;
John 3.16 :
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Matthew 20.28
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Romans 3
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

This concise statement in Romans is so important that I will paste in the “New Living Bible” translation of it as well:
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

1 Peter 2.24
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

That of course is only a tiny selection of bible verses, but enough for the present to make the point that Jesus dying on the cross was essential to God forgiving our sins.

The really vital news is that Jesus did die for us and God does forgive us and adopts us as his sons & daughters when we turn away from our sins and come back to him.

NEXT WEEK : Why we need spiritual immunizations

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