Monday, February 24, 2014

Peaks and Valleys

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38.

Our lives have many peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows. Our highs can be as brilliant as the sun, while we can also fall into the utter darkness of our lows. No matter how hard we try, some things will always be out of reach. Even our greatest successes come with the realization that our journey is not complete. Reaching the mountain peak ends with the trip back down that is just as arduous, perhaps even more dangerous than our ascent. No matter what achievements we accomplish, there is another hurdle waiting for us to conquer. No measure of fame or fortune will ever fully satisfy our longing. We were carefully crafted by our Creator. There is a deliberate emptiness ingrained into our souls that can be filled with the one and only thing that truly completes us.

Problem is, we need to deny our very self in order to welcome this life saving thing into our lives. Our selfish nature fights against giving in to the very thing that can truly fill our empty hearts. Self-preservation is the natural state of humanity and giving up our autonomy grates against that fact. What is so special about this thing that saves us from ourselves? That one special thing that your heart longs for is the saving grace of Jesus Christ. How do we get it? Open your heart and allow Jesus Christ to enter your heart. What is the cost? The cost was already borne by a Savior that stood in for you. When we come to the realization that we are bound to sin and cannot free ourselves without His saving grace, we can finally let go. No matter what we do, we cannot earn our salvation. No matter what we say can free us from the condemnation that is the consequence for our actions and inactions.
But, when Jesus was nailed to that cross, He took with Him all of our sins. He freely substituted Himself for us and accepted the punishment we rightly deserve. Three days after His death His resurrection opened the door to eternity for each and every one of us. How can this be? Don’t we have to earn this grace? Don’t we have to obey all the rules? It is simply having faith in the Risen Savior. That’s all. Allow Christ into your heart and let Him fill you with the joy of your salvation.

So many in the secular world decry Christianity as simply a religion of rules that cannot be kept, a religion that is critical of non-believers, and a religion that excludes, rather than welcomes. Why would anyone choose to belong to an organization with people who cannot even remotely live up to the commandments they profess to believe and revere? Because it is not about us. Because we are every bit as sinful as those who do not know Christ. Because nothing we can do or say can earn even a portion of the grace granted those who believe in God’s one true Son. Yet, the only thing God asks in return for this gift is your heart. When you believe in the Risen Christ, all is granted to you. When you step away from the shackles of this life that constantly pull you down and accept the freedom that comes with giving your heart to Christ, a great weight is lifted. When you realize that God is in control, the emptiness fades. From Casting Crowns praise hymn, "All You’ve Ever Wanted", “All You've ever wanted, all You've ever wanted, all You've ever wanted was my heart. Freedom's arms are open, my chains have all been broken. Relentless love has called me from the start. And all You wanted was my heart. I was chasing healing when I'd been made well. I was fighting battles when You conquered hell. Living free but from a prison cell, Lord, I lay it down today. So I'll stop living off of how I feel and start standing on Your truth revealed. Jesus is my strength, my shield and He will never fail me. No more chains, I've been set free. No more fighting battles You've won for me. Now in Christ, I stand complete.”

Mainline Protestant churches fight to stem the loss of members by watering down the Truth, choosing to fight for social justice rather than proclaiming the Gospel, affirming sinful behavior rather than standing for the authority of Scripture and acquiescing to secular society rather than leading the lost to Christ. The leaders of the ELCA, UCC and Episcopal churches have lost their way. Far too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have put their trust in churches that are leading them away from the Truth. Pray for those adrift in the heresies promoted by these errant denominations, that they open their hearts, eyes and minds and return to the path that the Lord has set before them. “Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Everybody is Doing It!

Guest Post by Sandy Kriefall

I commute to 37th and Juneau Avenue to go to work. A part of that drive each day is down side streets of Milwaukee. One of the first things that caught my attention as I drove to and from work was the number of people who run red lights. I was shocked that when the light turned yellow, not one but two or more cars also went through the now very red light. I have watched countless cars, busses, and trucks fly through intersections after the light has clearly turned red. Everybody seems to be doing it. I was so conscious of it that for a while I actually made a game of counting the number of red light offenders per trip. As time went on, I no longer paid attention to cars pushing red lights; it became a common part of everyday life.

One of the characteristics of sin is that we know it is wrong. When we see it happening around us, initially we are amazed and pay attention to it. We can’t believe someone would actually do that! The Holy Spirit can communicate to our conscience and we heed the voice. But the danger of living in a sinful world is that eventually we become dulled to the sin around us. It is no longer shocking, if you see it enough it becomes a part of everyday life. That voice no longer whispers in our ear and we accept that sinful behavior as a common way of life.
One day I was running late and the light turned yellow. In a split second I had to make the choice to stop or to push the light like I see so many others do. Why shouldn’t I go through too, it would get me to my destination a minute or two earlier. There were no cars near the intersection and there were no officers in sight. I quickly looked in my rear view mirror to make sure no one was behind me, and I made the split second decision to stop. I was very tempted to go through the yellow light that would probably be red by the time I reached the crosswalk but something in my head said ”just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right”.

One of the hardest challenges in living a Christian life is to live with integrity in all situations. The problem is that if you do something once, it makes it easier to do it twice and soon that little voice in your ear fades away and the sinful behavior becomes a way of life you no longer notice. Another example is if we are frequently exposed to an environment where people commonly use foul language, it is easy to pick up words here and there and at some point we don’t even notice the swear words spewing out of our own mouth. It has become normal and by doing it we fit in. The devil enjoys it when Christians act worldly, because it blurs the lines between Christians and non-Christians and makes those who profess to be Christians look like hypocrites.

When we make a conscious effort to not follow the norm of this world but to do what we know is right, even when it is not popular to do so, it is not easy. But it is then that something inside you begins to change. Your sensitivity to sin becomes heightened and you become more capable of making a choice to do the right thing. If a police officer is in view, most of those people wouldn’t go through the red light like they do when no one of authority sees them. But when you make the choice to do what is right no matter if you are alone or in the view of others it transforms your character. When this happens, the Holy Spirit’s voice becomes more noticeable and can guide you when you are not sure of what choice to make and it will strengthen you to do avoid the patterns of this world even when everyone is doing it.

Do not conform 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