Too Many Christians Are Still Climbing

This photo captures the attitude of too many people in the church.

Just labeling something “wheelchair accessible” doesn’t make it so. Sure, the right set of stairs has fewer steps, and it is certainly an easier climb for those in good health. But for those who can’t navigate steps, a few steps can be just as insurmountable as many.

So what does that have to do with the church?

We in the evangelical church do well in saying salvation is all by faith in Christ. You can’t earn or work your way into heaven; just trust Christ.

So far, so good.

We’re not like those other groups with all their rituals and rules: Jews with their strict adherence to the law … Muslims with their rigid prayer five times a day and other requirements … cults with their requirements of giving, mission work, deeds that move you higher up the path. Instead, the Christian church is all about grace.

But Christians have a lot of unwritten rules.  These “rules” vary from congregation to congregation. Staunch fundamentalist groups preach grace while expecting church members not to listen to certain styles of music … put their kids in public schools … play the lottery … smoke.

Other churches can be more subtle in their expectations. To make a difference in the church and community you don’t drink (in public) … support liberal causes … hold to reformed theology … speak in tongues. The unwritten list varies as you drive down the street from church to church.

It’s a safe assessment that no pastor promotes this. (Well … most don’t.) But we have something ingrained in our old nature that says we still play a part in our salvation. That means after we come to Christ—after we’re saved and part of His church—we still have certain things we have to do to make the cut. Thirty-six percent of evangelicals believe their actions partly contribute to earning a place in heaven [State of Theology Research].

If there are twelve people on your pew next Sunday or in your Bible study group, odds are that four of them believe to some degree they’ve got to do their part to make it to heaven. That’s like saying, thanks to Jesus, Christians don’t have as many steps to climb. But to those of us disabled by our own faulty efforts, one step to climb is one too many steps.

Let me be clear: In Christ, there are no steps to climb. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Jesus climbed those steps for us and now He reaches back, holds out His hand, and says, “Trust Me.” And He lifts us up to be with Him.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7).

Stop climbing—just walk with Jesus. And stop expecting others to climb by your set of rules.

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What Would Your Friends Say You Smell Like?

Please don’t be offended, but I am about to compare you to whale vomit.

One of the nastiest odors known to the human nose is called ambergris. It is a secretion that comes from the intestines of a sperm whale. Apparently, when the sperm whale swallows something it can’t digest (I’m thinking Pinocchio’s raft), it secrets this stuff to cover the object and help it pass. If the object is too big, the whale pukes it up. Either way the ambergris comes out of the whale.

Ambergris

I know it sounds like I’ve reverted back to being a 12-year-old boy who likes grossing out his sisters by taking about stuff like whale poop and vomit, but I’ve found something fascinating about ambergris. As nasty and disgusting as it smells, as it ages  it changes to an incredibly pleasant smell. How pleasant? For years, it was highly valued for use in perfume.

That’s right. Men, the perfume that once drew you to your wife may have included eau de whale puke.


A foul odor becomes pleasant. What was once disgusting is transformed into something pleasing.

A life of sin stinks. We put off the stench of death. But when we come to Christ, we are transformed. A life that was once repulsive has been transformed by the grace of God into something sweet and pleasant. People can  look at us—even knowing the harsh and foul environment we came from—and be attracted by the aroma of Christ.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2: 14-15).

We are the aroma of Christ!

During the first century, a victorious army would march through the city with a parade of the prisoners of war.  The celebration included sweet fragrances that filled the air. To the victors, the sweet smell reminded them of what they had gained, but to the defeated—who were often being marched to their execution—that sweet aroma underscored their impending death.

Christ is the victor, and we—the aroma of Christ—cause different reactions in people. Those who choose to follow Christ are drawn to the sweet fragrance.  Those who reject Christ are repelled, and that sweet smell is the smell of death to them.

I haven’t worn cologne in years, but I do want people to pick up a scent from me: the aroma of Christ. Join me, and let’s fill the air with something wonderful—the sweet smell of grace.

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Lies Masquerading as Truth

What we think is true can be just as powerful as what really is true.

Just ask Hitler.

The First US Army Group played a pivotal role in the D-Day Invasion—and it wasn’t even real.

The Nazis knew the Allied forces would eventually try to step onto the continent, but where? The Allies had their sights on landing at Normandy, but they didn’t want the Germans to know that. So they created a fictitious army group, placed it in a British coastal area far from where the Allies were actually stationed, and gave the impression they were going to invade France at Pas de Calais, a good 200 miles up the coast.

  • They created tent cities, fake mess halls, hospitals, and even a sewage treatment facility.
  • They filled the area with rubber inflatable tanks and a massive inventory of jeeps and ambulances constructed of wood.
  • The British film industry stepped in and made dummy landing craft out of fabric, plywood, old pipe, and bailing wire.
  • At night, men would move this equipment around, giving the illusion of activity.
  • They transmitted fake reports of camp activity, preparation, and troop movements.

To German radio operators and reconnaissance planes, the enemy was gearing up for invasion at Pas de Calais. As a result, when the allied invasion occurred on June 6, 1944, the Germans military was not as fortified at Normandy as they could’ve been. Their units were spread thin with a large contingency waiting 200 miles north for an invasion that never happened.

Even three days after the invasion, Hitler ordered the units to stay at Calais instead of joining the others in Normandy. This allowed the Allies to gain the ground needed.

A ghost army won a real battle.


Don’t let a ghost army win any battles in your life.

Has anyone ever said one of these to you? Ever said them to yourself?

  • You failed—again. You will always be a failure.
  • You are inadequate. You’ll never measure up.
  • Sure, God loves you, but He can’t use you—not after what you’ve done.
  • You are who you are. You will never change.
  • You’re hopeless.

Stop listening to these. They are nothing but lies. Jesus Christ changes everything.

  • He removes your sin—no matter how bad it is.
  • His forgiveness and love sees no failure.
  • He comes into your life through His Holy Spirit. God Himself empowers you and overcomes any past or inadequacies.
  • He gives you hope and a future.

Lies rule our lives when we believe them. But if we see the truth of who Christ is and who we are in Him, those lies are nothing more than a pretend, ghost army. They might look threatening, but they have no real power.

So how can we recognize the lies? Focus on the truth. Focus on Christ and what He has done for you. The gospel—the salvation that comes through the death and resurrection of Christ—is not simply to secure your future in heaven; it is for now. The good news is that Christ has set you free now. You rest securely in Him.

  • I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him” (Col. 1:22).
  • “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Live in the truth of who you are in Christ.

 

A Different Type of Memorial Day

I love the Memorial Day weekend. A long weekend usually infused with the perfect weather. The kickoff to summer.

We’ve given Memorial Day a celebratory feel with our long weekends, outdoor grilling, and sales, sales, sales. But that was not the original intent. It was first called Decoration Day. Immediately after the Civil War, mourners would gather at the graves of the fallen solders and decorate their graves with flowers. It was a truly somber event.

We should take time to remember those who died in service to our country, even if we don’t treat it like the somber occasion our great-grandparents did. We have the freedoms we have because of the thousands of men and women who fought to defend those freedoms—and we should especially remember those who died in the process.

I do not want to take away from the memory of those who died in battle, but I would like to propose another type of Memorial Day. It’s not one everyone would observe, but for those who are followers of Christ, we should not forget those who died in their service for the kingdom of God.

Some soldiers go to war unwillingly or die without ever knowing what hit them. Christian martyrs, however, died willingly for Christ. Many were given the option to recant and live. They died willingly, because they knew there is something far greater that awaits them.

Even in death, a martyr advances the kingdom of God. They bring glory to  Christ, because they prove there is something far greater than anything this earthly life offers. They stand in the truth of a relationship with  Christ that is not altered by physical suffering and death.

  • Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian worker in Jordan, was killed in 2015 by ISIS for her faith in Christ.

    Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

  • Paul said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
  • About the martyrs: “They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11).

I don’t know if such martyrdom is headed to America or if it something I will encounter. If it does, I will stand with Christ. I can truly say I do not fear death, but if that moment comes, I would seek strength and boldness from God to face death with grace and love.

Let’s honor those who gave their lives for Christ.

Everyone Should Get This Vaccination

Vaccinations remain one of the hot topics of debate, but regardless of which side of the needle you fall on this issue, there is one vaccination you need.

But first, read this fascinating story.


Before ebola, AIDS, and other serious infectious diseases, there was smallpox. Smallbox spread by human contact, and about 1/3 of those who caught it died. Those that lived were often severely scarred over their faces and bodies, and many were left blind.

All that changed with Edward Jenner (whose birthday—May 17—is remembered this week).  It was 1796 in England, and Dr. Jenner noticed that the local milkmaids were not concerned about getting smallpox. Their work with cattle gave them cowpox, which turns out to be similar to smallpox, but extremely mild by comparison. Consequently, they acquired an immunity that also worked against smallpox.

Hmmm. Jenner began to wonder about the connection between the two infections. So when a local milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes, showed up for treatment for cowpox, Jenner took the opportunity to test an idea.

Today’s American Medical Association would severely frown on his methods, bar him from practicing medicine, and reduce him to playing doctors in commercials rattling off the 300 side effects of this week’s newest drug, But things were different in 1796. Jenner took the young son of his gardener and cut him, creating a small open wound. He then had Sarah Nelmes rub the cowpox lesions on her hand against the boy’s open wound. No surprise: the kid got sick with cowpox.

In another act that would’ve gotten today’s medical profession cheesed, Jenner intentionally exposed the boy to the dreaded smallpox a few weeks later.

Nothing happened.

Dr. Jenner’s unorthodox methods showed that a mild case of cowpox served as a vaccination against smallpox. And within 200 years, the dreaded, deadly smallpox disease was eradicated from the world. (The last known case was in 1977.)


Cowpox provided the needed immunity, and by mixing a small amount of someone else’s infected blood with your own, you gained both the infection and the immunity.

Christ offers us His blood. He took our sin—our deadly infection—upon Himself. He shed His own blood on our behalf, and His blood offers us immunity from the death we deserve.

  • Christ is identified as the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5).
  • Consequently, His followers are identified as those who are “sprinkled with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2).
  • And every time we observe communion, we are to remember this blood transference. As Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).

Since Edward Jenner’s day, science has made great strides and improvements in the process of vaccination. But we cannot improve on the ultimate vaccination we need: freedom from sin and death.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus Christ is still the only way.

 

A Word to the One Who Has Failed as a Mother

This is a personal note to a woman I know who feels she has been a lousy mother.

For those times when you feel you blew it with your kids—yelled at them, didn’t listen, accidentally played favorites, was too controlling or too lenient—you’re not alone.  I wonder if the following women ever felt that way. Consider their background.

  1. Tamar was married to a wicked man, so wicked that, well, let’s just say God “took him out of the picture.” Tamar was angry with her father-in-law, so  she tricked him into having sex. So Tamar raised twin boys in a dyfunctional family setting (Gen. 38).
  2. Rahab was a prostitute in a seriously evil city, Jericho. Now she did a good thing when she protected the Israelite men who had come to spy on Jericho before they attacked (Josh. 2), and she is remembered for her faith and trust (Heb. 11:31). Yet I wonder if guilt of her past affected her parenting or if her children were laughed at because their mother had turned tricks.
  3. Ruth had a story we love to tell. She was not Jewish, but she embraced the faith of her mother-in-law Naomi. But one part of her story usually gets glossed over. Boaz was a man related to Ruth’s deceased husband, and in their culture, he was a candidate to step in and marry her. But instead of just informing Boaz, she went to where he was sleeping and lay down. Scholars disagree on how much of a sexual advance we should read into this—and if that was Ruth’s intent, Boaz was righteous enough that he did not take advantage of the situation. And that may not have been Ruth’s intention, but she sure made it easy for the whole scene to take a bad turn.
  4. Bathsheba had an affair with King David, which resulted in a pregnancy.  After her husband was killed, she married the king and her child died. She had at least one other child, Solomon, but her entrance into motherhood was marred with sin.

There you have it. Four women whose background would make them suspect in the local parent-teacher association. Were they good mothers or bad? We don’t know, but I can assure you of one thing:

God used them.

All four of these women are mentioned by Matthew in his account of the genealogy of Jesus. He didn’t mention Eve, Sarah, or other women who surely had better pasts. He mentioned these four women by name.

Yes, they were not perfect women—and by extension, we can assume they were not perfect mothers—but God used them to ultimately bring us the Messiah.

God uses us in spite of our mistakes. If there are things you can correct, do so. If you need to ask for forgiveness, ask. But rest also in God’s grace and ability to work in the lives of your children—even your wayward children.

God is not through with your kids. And He is not through with you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

2 Trees You’ll Want

I like trees—just don’t ask me to take care of one or even identify it.

When I was a Boy Scout, part of earning my second class rank was being able to identify a variety of trees. My patrol leader finally passed me by letting me identify live trees from dead trees.

I love trees, though, and I am concerned that we are cutting down this renewable resource faster than it can renew itself. But I am not a tree-hugger; after all, I am a woodworker and I need a regular supply of lumber to feed my addiction.

Since this Friday is Arbor Day—the day we are encouraged to plant trees—let me mention some trees that are important in your life.

1. The tree of life. This tree in the garden of Eden symbolized eternal life. Adam and Eve had access to all the trees in the garden, including this one, meaning they had eternal life.

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9).

2. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was the one tree Adam and Eve could not eat from. I believe there was nothing unique about this tree—except that God designated it as the tree not to eat from. He could’ve chosen any tree for this purpose. What made this the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was simply the fact that God said it was off limits. Eating from this tree would be direct disobedience to God—sin—and a loss of their innocence. By their disobedience, Adam and Eve now knew the difference between good and evil.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (vv. 16-17).

And this meant we no longer had access to the tree of life—and eternal life.

“After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).

3. The cross of Christ. The wooden cross Jesus died on was a tree of death for Him—but it was a tree that brought life to us.

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Jesus’ death on the cross—and subsequent resurrection—means a new life for us, an eternal life, which brings us right back to …

4. The tree of life. Christ will bring His children into a heavenly home—the new heaven and the new earth—and we will have access to the tree of life. The tree of life represents eternal life, and we will be with Christ forever.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 22:1-3).

God brings us right back to where He wanted us to be in the first place. So embrace the cross—and you’ll find yourself embracing the tree of life.