Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A lifestyle, not a ticket to heaven

I've been thinking a lot recently about what a Christian is. What it means to be a Christian. What it means to believe.

A lot of people would say someone who believes in Jesus. Fair enough.

But the problem is that some people think Christianity is a ticket to Heaven.

People who believe that say that once you've confessed and believed, that's it, you're in.

The rest of the time is spent trying to convert, going to church, getting religious and going about your life as you always did.

Hold on though. The Greek for believing means "to put your total and complete trust in something".

Being a Christian is being something. Its not just about having faith in something.

When Jesus talks about how we get to God He is clear."I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me" John 14 v6. Jesus words, and they are, on face value, simple to understand. Jesus is the only way to God. The original Greek translation says "no one comes in the father apart from via with me"

Jesus makes this point again in other pieces of scripture. In John 10 v 9 he says "I am the door, if anyone enters through me, He shall be saved".

Basically the truth we see here is that only through faith in and living our lives with Jesus can we be saved, and I affirm that and agree with it completely. There is no generalisation.

But I do think there is an added interpretation which people don't talk about. If we are saved through and with Christ, as the Greek translation says, it means we have to go through Him to get to God. It also means we need to walk alongside, with Him. We need to be where He would be, do what He asks us to do. Almost walk in His shoes. Live like Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew that we must enter through the narrow gate and that few people find that gate. That means its not easy, its not simple. It involves commitment, sacrifice, making tough choices about our lifestyle and attitudes which may not be easy, but will be right.

That all means not just accepting the Bible and Jesus and thinking we've done it and have our ticket to Heaven.

Going through and with Jesus, going through the narrow gate means going His way, His path, His values. If He is the way, then being like Him is the only way to God. Only through truly believing in Jesus - that is, putting our trust in Him - and trying to become like Jesus - following His way through His door - can we be saved.

Jesus says it Himself.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' (Matthew 25 v 35-36).

He goes on to say "I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25 v 40-43)

Does that scare anyone else? Do we not feel the fear of the Lord reading those verses?

If we don't then I would humbly say that we're don't understand what being a Christian is.

Being a Christian is about believing in the truest sense. Putting your complete hope and trust in Jesus. But its more than that even. Its about living like Jesus. Its about being Jesus to people. Doing and living what he did.

If we are real followers of Christ we need to be serving, giving, forgiving, blessing, and be actively involved in our communities and in the world standing up for Jesus' values and living like Him - as a church and as individuals.

If we don't, we could end up being told "I never knew you" by Jesus. And that's not something I ever want to hear. We in the West have so much, we have so many opportunities, we have so much privilege. We have the opportunity to really make a difference for Jesus.

So what are doing with those resources? With our money? Our time? Our gifts and abilities? We need to answer those questions honestly. Then if something isn't right, do something about it. Do you really want Jesus to say to you "You had all these opportunities to be me to people, and you wasted them. I never knew you. Leave me"?

No. Neither do I.

And its such a challenge to us all and it should make us feel uncomfortable. It scares me. Live like Jesus, follow His example, serve Him by serving others and standing up for the things He stood up for. By taking action.

I'm not saying we are saved by works. Far from it. The Bible makes clear we can't receive salvation merely through works.(Ephesians 2 v 8-9). Its by God's grace that we have the opportunity to be saved. God chooses to save us - He does this through the cross. The ultimate expression of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. The ultimate example for us. Jesus chose the cross and that's the key to salvation.

However, if we have true faith in Jesus, if we truly believe in Him then that has to effect everything we do. It has to be the root of everything we do.

If we understand that believing in Jesus isn't just about a ticket into heaven but is a lifestyle, an attitude, a way of living - like Jesus lived - and is totally putting our trust in Him then we understand that truly confessing Jesus is Lord, truly calling on the name of God, true faith and the only way to see God at work in us, is to become like Jesus and live like Him.

His values, his standards, standing up for justice, truth, peace, love and for those who have no-one else to stand up for them. The least, the lost and the abandoned. Practising grace, mercy and forgiveness when others wouldn't. Not judging others. If we are truly wanting to get to God then we must not only believe in, but try to become like Jesus through our actions, not just in our words.

Living like Jesus is the only way to become a true follower of Jesus and the only way to truly see God. If we're living like Jesus, then people will see Jesus in us.

Then they will see God. It is only through Jesus we can be saved. We can't be saved by our works. But believing and going through Jesus, and being a Christian is a lot more than just saying the words. Its living His way. Its a lifestyle, a culture, an attitude.

The best thing is that Jesus doesn't expect us to be perfect and get it right all the time.He calls us to try, to do our best, to make the effort with all we have, fully relying on Him. If we do that, we can get there.

Then we'll be right where God wants us, living for His glory, in His will, totally trusting in God. Being Jesus to people around us and showing people who He is.

Christianity is a lifestyle, not a ticket to Heaven.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Live like Jesus

A couple of days ago I talked about Pharisees. I said that we as individuals and a church need to avoid the religiosity, hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Pharisees.

But there's more.

If Jesus didn't like the Pharisees, if he actively opposed them, then what does that say?

Jesus preached living a life of servant hood, obedience, peace, love, grace, forgiveness and putting God at the centre. He lived His life serving. His message wasn't one of fear, of condemnation. He made no threats to people.

Some people who call themselves Christians today do exactly that. The religious right in the US. Those who turn up with placards at a gay rally and say 'You're going to burn in hell, God hates you'. Those who stand on street corners with foghorns warning people that unless they repent they are doomed to eternal punishment.

Forgive me for asking, but when did Jesus do any of this?

I don't see Him ever doing anything like that.

Who did he meet with? Who did He hang out with? Who wanted to know Him?

It wasn't religious people. It wasn't the self-righteous who talked down to people.

It was the poor, the needy, those whom society and even the religious authorities have ignored or rejected. Those whom people have prejudice against. The marginalised.

He hung out with them. He talked to them. He listened to them. He showed them how God felt about them.

Not only that, but He showed us how we should be treating them and how we should be spreading the message of Jesus.

Its not with billboards. Its not with foghorns. Its not with condemnation. Its not even necessarily with words.

Its loving someone who doesn't love you. Who everyone else has forgotten or written off.

I heard a true story of a Christian couple who moved into a new house, and a man lived across them who was a Satanist.

What did they do? Go to him and tell him how evil and bad he was, that he need to stop what he was doing and follow Jesus?

No. They served. They helped him. They did his gardening, they helped him find a job. They helped him out at home and made him feel loved and welcomed. They showed that they valued him, and not only that, but that God did too. They did the equivalent of washing his feet.

Four months after they first met him, he gave his life to Christ.

Why? Not because they had preached at him, but because they had modelled what Jesus did. They showed him who Jesus was and what his message means. They lived it out.

You see, we can preach all we like. But to spread the gospel we need to live it out. Then it will speak for itself.

We need to stand against religious people who preach from the sidelines and look down on people who don't know Jesus. People who judge and condemn because somebody is a drug addict, or someone of another sexual orientation or religious belief.

There are Christians who do that.

They judge them, the talk about them as lesser people. They condemn them. They preach at them. They patronise them with comments about how much they need Jesus as if they are little children. They condemn them for what they believe and put themselves on a pedestal.

You and I know that there are sections of the Christian faith and even Christian leaders who do this.

Personally, that's not Christianity to me.

That's not a faith I want to be a part of.

Or, I dare say, that Jesus wants to be a part of.

Jesus calls us to live His way, according to His values and standards, and love our neighbour. To serve our neighbour. To love our enemies. To serve and bless them. To wash their feet.

He didn't come to condemn the world but save the world. He modelled a Godly life and set the example for us about how to live, and how to spread the gospel.

Not with judgement, self-righteousness and condemnation.

With love.

If we want to be followers of Jesus, we must do as He did. Not as a token gesture, but as part of our everyday lives. Part of our lifestyle.

Its not an optional extra. If we call ourselves Christians its what we should be doing.

People talk about why the church is declining. Its not hard to see why.

Its because not enough Christians publicly and openly live out our faith practically. If people see us living out our faith then they see who Jesus is. They see Christians doing living out what they constantly preach about.

When people see that, they see Jesus. When they see Jesus, then there is usually a response. Jesus changes lives.

Lets not be hypocrites like the Pharisees. Saying one thing and not living it. I know for myself, this is big challenge. I know I don't do enough. We all need to do more. Jesus calls us to live His way, and He lived out perfectly how God wants us to live.

Lets live like Jesus. It's the only way to go.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I'm about to sell my house, and so today I cut my grass to make it look better. As I cut the grass, the new grass underneath was exposed. It was new, clean, fresh and untouched. It had that fresh smell you associate with freshly cut grass.

I was thinking that this is just like us.

We are all like the grass. There are times in our lives when things are difficult. When we get so caught up in our own lives that things get in the way. When God becomes marginalised. When we start doing things that separate us from God. Things get dirty, tangled and bad things start to grow, like weeds in a garden or long grass.

We let things get in the way.

The long grass looks messy, dirty, uncared for, abandoned. Our hearts and our lives can start to appear or feel like that if we distance ourselves too much from God.

But God doesn't give up on us.

When I was cutting the grass, the grass was so long that it needed trimming before it could properly be cut. I needed to use a trimmer first. There are some weeds that have such a strong root that it takes a long time to get to the root of them

When we invite Jesus back into our lives, we need Him to deal with all the surface stuff first, before He can really get to work on our hearts and make us into that flat cut grass. That's what He does.

He goes to work on all the superficial things that have separated us from God, that have clouded our vision of Him. He gives us a glimpse of Him. Then He really gets to work on the roots and works and works at them. He bit by bit cuts away all the things blocking us from Him and starts to transform us into the beautiful people He originally meant us to be.

Its a long job. It takes time. Every so often we allow things to get in the way. But the more we go back to God, the less long the grass will get. If we put Jesus at the centre every day, and every day depend on Him and go to Him, and allow Him to deal with every circumstance and situation, the less weeds will take root and the shorter the work it will take for Him to cut those things away.

Put Jesus in the centre of your life and receive the new life and transformation He can bring you. Allow Him to cut the long grass out of your life, and then with His help do your best to make sure that the long grass doesn't come back.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Don't be a Pharisee

Today I want to talk about Pharisees.

These guys were people trained and disciplined in the teachings of the Old Testament. They knew the scriptures inside out, better than most people. They studied them religiously, they preached to the people in the synagogues.

These guys were the experts, the ones everyone trusted to set the example of how to live godly lives according to the Old Testament. The ones the general public, even the non-religious, looked to for guidance. If we were living in those times they'd be the men we went to if you wanted forgiveness or spiritual guidance. The experts.

Yet how does Jesus treat them? With contempt, that's how. He calls them 'blind guides', 'hypocrites' and challenges their knowledge of scripture.

Why does He do this?

The answer is, because they had become religious. They had become legalistic. As Jesus said, they forgot the heart of the law and stuck religiously to the doctrine. They had become so blinded by their religious practices and their status they had lost what the message of God was all about, they had become arrogant. They thought they were righteous and it was everyone else who was blind and needed knowledge of God. Tradition, religion and pride had come between them and God.

Jesus said "If you were blind, you would be without sin. But since you say 'we see', your sin remains" (John 9 v41). By that, he meant that we as His people need to recognise our need for Jesus and how our sin has blinded us to Him, we need to humble ourselves before Him.

We often think of ourselves as 'the enlightened ones' don't we? Be honest. Nowadays, we have the internet, tv, dvd, cd, mp3 all telling us all the information we need to know. You can find all you need on google. There's nothing that's inaccessible to us.

In a Christian context, we are finding out more and more about the original Greek meanings of Biblical texts, more about the culture and history of the Bible. Even as Christians, we can think that now we know as much as we can ever know, academically at least, about the Bible and Jesus.

There's a real danger that we can start to think that all the knowledge we have makes us the experts. To think we know everything there is to know. That as Christians in today's society we have it sorted.

When I look at the 'established church' today I see this more and more. Now the term 'the church' is associated with the Anglican or Catholic church by the general public.

Now what is happening is people look at those things and call them hypocrites, old-fashioned, traditional, conservative and dogmatic when it comes to the Catholics and Protestants. They see them as 'the established church' and so linked with the past that they seem out of date.

The result of that a lot of vicars, even at the highest level of the Anglican church in particular is watering down its message, becoming more liberal, and forgetting the heart of the gospel. A lot of the the Catholic church still, to my mind, sits on a pedestal and allows the public to have a perception of it which sets it above and beyond all other institutions and the final authority on all things to do with the church.

Now that's not to say that these denominations don't have a lot to offer the church. This certainly doesn't apply in all cases, and there are many churches and church leaders within these denominations that are really standing up for God and making a big difference for Him in this world. I don't discount that whatsoever. These traditions both have their own blessings and their own strengths.

The point I am making is that the perception of these two groups is of the 'established church', stuck in the past and not relevant today. And it doesn't appear they are doing too much to make themselves relevant - apart from moving towards a more liberal, non-Biblical agenda.

They are becoming more and more religious. More like the pharisees.

We in the West are becoming more and more like the Pharisees. If we're not careful, as individuals and as a church, we could start to think that there's no more for us to learn. That we have all we need. That going to church is enough.

There's a danger that Christianity can become a routine, a hobby and that as individuals and a church we can start to get stuck in tradition, habit, routine and start to think that we have all the knowledge and wisdom we can get. That we have the final and definitive answer on things.

This could not be further removed from what Jesus wants.

We need to get away from these things. More than that, we need to run away from this. We need to stop being religious. We need to start living out our faith, and not allow ourselves to become like the Pharisees.

We need to recognise that we have still so much to learn, that in comparison with God what we know is nothing. We need to be open to what God is doing and what God has to say to us. We need to be open to change. We need to get back to the heart of the gospel, and not become like the pharisees.

Being a Christian is not being religious. It is not just going to church and house group.

It is a lifestyle. It is something that must affect how you live you life. You values, your attitudes, your perspectives. Every day, everywhere you go, everything you do. In private and in public.

The term to believe in something has been distorted. The way its described in scripture is as something that you put your complete trust in, something that affects your whole way of life.

To truly live as a Christian, we need to put our total trust in Jesus and put Him and His values at the centre of everything we do. We need to get to the heart of His message and make that the key thing that defines and forms the bedrock of all our values and our lifestyle. We need to be alive, living as Jesus wants us to live every day.

The two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind and all your strength' and the second is 'Love your neighbour as yourself'.

These two cover all of the other commandments, they are at the root of our faith. These two commandments should form the foundation stone for our lives.

Loving our neighbour means not just those close to us, but those in our church and our community in the world. And we do that by serving, by giving and by buying ethically - amongst other things. It means treating people with grace, mercy and forgiveness, putting others before ourselves.

Loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means everything we do puts God at the centre. Every choice, every life decision, everything we do with ourselves, must aim to please God. In whatever we do seek to be like Jesus, put Him first. It means giving up our own lives and agendas and putting Him in charge. It doesn't mean we all have to be church leaders, pastors or worship leaders. It means wherever we live and work putting God at the centre. It means be obedient to whatever He calls us to. Devoting our lives to becoming more like Him and following Jesus' example.

We need to make sure we don't get so stuck, so conformed and integrated into the way of life we have in the West that Christianity is something we only do at church or in church-related things. That Christianity doesn't become a hobby, or a routine.

It has to be our way of life.

I apply this equally to myself, I constantly find myself falling into this trap and have done in the past. Its not easy to put into practice.

But its one of the most important things we can do. Maybe even the most important. We make mistakes, of course we do. None of us get it right all the time. Sometimes its very hard to find God in our lives at all.

But our goal is to fulfill these two greatest commandments and become like Jesus. That has to be the key to our life, and if we are aiming and working and committed to doing that, then Jesus will help us to achieve it more and more.

Whether we're in a good time or a bad time, the most important thing, the one thing we need to hold on to, is our desire to become like Jesus and live according to His values.

Whatever else happens, however we do at that, that should be our goal. Get away from religion, get away from legalism. Get to the heart of the gospel and make that the heart of everything we do.

And the church needs to do this too. Be counter-cultural, be humble, make a difference. Not be afraid to be controversial if it means sticking to the truth of the gospel. To communicate its message and be a church not stuck in tradition or political correctness, but rooted in truth and presenting the message in a way that shows it as it really is - living and relevant and never needed more than it is at the moment.

This change all starts with us. If we all start to put Jesus at the centre and the heart of what we do, if He is at the root of all we do, if we are open to what He has to say to us and willing to change, then together we can make a difference. We can come together as a church and show the world what our faith is all about, and what the church really is.

Jesus didn't tell us to be religous. He showed us the example of how to live life the way God intended. He is our marker, our example. He came to 'bring life in all its fullness'. If Jesus means that much to us, then it will come out in every area of our lives.

To be honest, I'm sick of people saying Christianity and Christians are all about rules and religion. Its not at all, and the church and Christians need to stop giving that impression.

Jesus is about bringing freedom. The cross liberates us from the poison in our beings called sin, which pollutes us and brings us down.

Christ sets us free from this through the cross to live the life He called us to.

His values. His standards.

When we muck up, He has the love, grace, mercy and power, through the cross, to forgive us, forget the past and get us back on track. We are not bound by sin anymore if we're Christians, we're free of sin, and we have forgiveness. The teachings of the Bible aren't there to restrict us, but set us free.

Our goal is to become like Jesus and we do this as our way of life. If we make mistakes along the way, Jesus brings us back every time. We have that security and that should give us confidence that we are not alone and can reach that goal.

Its not easy, its never easy. But if we want to be like Jesus and build a church the way He intended it, its the only way we can be.

Free of religion and restriction. Free of sin. Freedom from our past and our pain.

True freedom.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Now, forever and the days inbetween

It's hard being a Christian. It really is.

Life is hard. Every day we are attacked by forces not of this world, by spiritual forces fighting against us. Even if we're not Christians, these attacks happen. We just don't know it.

This world is full of sin. Its full of pain. Its full of suffering. Its full of injustice. Life sucks sometimes. We all have bad days where everything seems to go against us. That's the enemy.

Becoming a Christian doesn't make your life easier. It just makes you aware of the reality of what's going on in the world and why its happening.

Then you remember the truth. Not the lies the world feeds you. And it helps you fight back.

Yes, fight back. You heard me right.

God helps us to fight back. To take a stand. To reject those feelings of uselessness, of not being worth anything, of being a failure, of having no hope.

The truth, as Jesus said, sets us free. Emotionally, mentally it may seem otherwise, but we must hold on to the truth. Its all we have sometimes.

Because knowing Jesus isn't just about a feeling or an emotion. Its not all about feeling and acting right all the time. Sometimes we feel nothing at all.

When my mother died, that's how I felt. I felt numb. I felt nothing. Until it kicked in, when anger, fear and sheer grief overwhelmed me. But even then, I didn't feel God emotionally or have any sort of feeling. But I didn't have to - I knew He was there.

He was with me.

I wasn't alone.

I knew it.

God is always with us. He is in our corner, He's on our side. He's behind us and in front of us. He protects us.

Above all, He loves us and believes in us more than anyone on this earth ever can. He really does. No matter what we think of ourselves, our lives or our circumstances, He loves us and believes us. He's there for us.

Sometimes we don't understand why things happen if there's a God who loves us. The young boy shot in Liverpool, the Asian Tsunami. Innocent lives lost. Why?

We don't know. All we know is that its a fallen world, a fallen planet. The earth itself and its people have all been tarnished by it.

But we have a hope. Its real and its true. In our most desperate hour, that is often all we have to hang on to.

God loves us. Fact.

Jesus died for you and me whether you love Him or not. Fact.

God believes in us. Fact.

God is always with us, each individually and corporately. Fact.

The enemy cannot ultimately stand against God. Fact.

God is on our side. Fact.

Whenever things are bad, whenever God seems distant, whenever we're in pain - hold on to those truths if you can. Don't give up. God won't. I know its hard, from my own experience. It's so difficult to beleive these things sometimes.

But they are facts, they don't ever change. They are real. Hold on to them, never let them go.

The truth is He loves you and is there for you now and forever - and all the days inbetween.