II Corinthians 5:10 and I Cor 3:10-15 describes a future date when all Christians shall give an account of what we have done with God’s forgiveness and grace. Accountability is not about fear but about responsibility. Too many of us who are Christ followers don’t look deep enough into the motives and assumptions that drive our actions and those will be completely obvious when we stand before Christ. In essence we will be naked, stripped of our excuses, rationalizations etc.. and the question, “what shall we then say” is a challenge for us to understand our hearts better now instead of waiting until that moment. These blog posts are the thoughts and observations from my own journey to understand my heart before God so that when I am naked (spiritually speaking) before him on that day, I will be unashamed. Thanks for coming by. I hope you will find that getting naked before God is a journey worth taking.
Last week I came across an article on what appeared to the author as a contradiction between the words and deeds of those who view themselves as Pro-life. Which in most cases, but not all, is those of us with a Christian orientation.
The article pointed out the amount of money spent on fighting abortion through rallies and politics. The writers comments raised the question of how much help and support those same dollars could provide if utilized a different way. The disturbing aspect of this article to me was not the hard truths being raised by the author but the comments by many “Christians” following the article.
Why is so hard to look at ourselves when someone raises a concern or points a finger? To enter into the soul search and ask, “is this correct?” Sadly, it is the ever lingering aroma of sin – our pride and self-centeredness. Just yesterday I had a conversation with someone after they expressed that my communication had been hurtful. After initially responding defensively, I then tried to listen and explained my perspective as I saw it and eventually we ended the conversation. Then the Holy Spirit began working on me and showed me that it really wasn’t as clean as I had painted it. Yes, some of what I explained to the person was accurate, but not completely accurate. The edge in my voice which they had picked up and which had been hurtful did indeed come from the hardness of my own heart. Now I must wrestle with my pride and confess this to the person I was talking with. My own nature is alive and well and I once again I must turn to Jeus for His loving grace.
In the case of this article, they have a valid point and we should think about it. Let me explain further. Let’s pick a time where Christian political activism really exploded, say 1979 when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority. If we then step back and sincerely look at the level of cultural change, toward a more Christian ethos, that has been achieved since that time, we would have to say, virtually none. In fact surveys and research by Gallup, Barna and others tells us the opposite; we are actually less Christian culturally than we were in 1979. We are losing the cultural war. Now, if we calculated the dollars that were spent in all of this time on the political and cultural fight, it would be staggering. Perhaps a billion or billions of dollars.
What could have been done with that money instead? That is the whole point of the article. When people challenge us with facts, and we write inflammatory responses and comments, we just magnify their skepticism and ridicule. Could we as Christian’s and pro-lifers, be doing a better job with stewarding our resources? When Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan. the Samaritan didn’t run to the local officials and start complaining about lawlessness and their lack of effort to catch the bad guys. They didn’t start organizations to change the government and political structures of their day. The Samaritan simply took upon himself the burden of the lost and broken man. Just as our Savior has taken on Himself the brokenness of us all, so he has told to do as He did. To walk as He walked and love as He loved.
Just as the Holy Spirit exposed my own pride and heart issues yesterday, these issues will be laid completely bare when we stand before Jesus. Yes, those who have trusted him will have our salvation, but our works, what we have done as a result of this great salvation, will be exposed as well. I Cor. 3:10-15 and II Cor. 5:9-10 makes this very clear. When we stand before Jesus and give an account for the “deeds done in the body” will He applaud our political and organizational efforts. The millions spend on buildings and programs that make us as believers, “feel” like we are doing His work. Or will the Holy Spirit simply remind us of the Good Samaritan and whisper the words,,,”but did you this”.
What Shall We Then Say…
Over a year ago, I left a good job, with good people, with good perks and took a step of faith toward an unknown future. It didn’t work out like I had hoped or believed it could. So what does that mean? Was I stupid? Was I naive’? Was I blinded by my own ego? If you look at the fact that I ended up unemployed and seriously in debt as a result you would say yes, all of the above, perhaps rightly so. I hear Christians all the time so clear on their belief that God is guiding them to do something and it just backfires, or doesn’t happen like they hope. Here are a few things I have learned in my journey of the last two years.
1. God is more concerned about His work “in me” than “through me”.
I know this, but He has reminded me again. “God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose”. No matter what happens in my journey God has faithfully fulfilled this promise over and over in my life. If I have allowed His work in my character I have always gotten to the point of being thankful for even the hardships and losses. I am still working on some, but having been to the other side on others, my faith (faith = beliefs trusted in to the point of action) is stronger than ever. He is faithful.
2. God knows me
After two years I now find myself in the Midwest serving once again in the Christian Camping industry. Such a move was nowhere on my radar. I would have never chosen to apply for this position so far away from all I know. But God moved into Christian Camping after a period of unemployment in the beginning and here again he has used an almost desperate state of mind and financial hardship to get me across the country. Sure He could have just sent a letter or something, but He knows me, and during the waiting and trusting and grinding year of unemployment, both my wife and I grew individually and together in our marriage. We are more prepared for this new challenge than we were before and perhaps that is just they way I grow. Maybe its because I am hard headed, maybe it’s because of the phrase I use in my teaching. “God grows the “fruits of the Spirit” in us and grants the “gifts of the Spirit” to us, AND “While mountain tops make for great views – fruit is usually grown in valleys”
3. I am God’s toolbox.
As individuals we love to control and tell God how things are suppose to work out. We think we know ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, hurts and fears, passions and desires, better than God. Our pride “owns” all of these things. When our Pride “owns” these things that are part of our lives, we can get frustrated, hurt or angry, when things don’t work out like we believe they are suppose to. But the Lord showed me in my first camp experience that I am just a tool box, and where He decides to use the tools, my job is to faithfully serve the organization and people where He has placed me, using the tools He has built into my life for His kingdom, not mine.
When I fail to accept the ways in which my pride and selfishness are at work in my own heart, I do and say things that don’t reflect the grace of Christ in my life. We all fail, because we are not free from our sin nature, but if the Holy Spirit is at work in us, then we will respond at some point with responsibility and humility. If we don’t….
What shall we then say?
I wrote in this blog almost a year ago, about leaving my job and launching into an unknown future. It has been a challenge. Currently, we are in debt worse than we were, living with kind friends, and still looking for appropriate work. We knew this could happen, but of course we did not expect it to. Were we foolish? That is a good question.
In hindsight, we left for the right reasons and at a good time for the organization. The only reason we shouldn’t have left was due to the unknown of starting a business. However, we put a transition plan in place and we could not have known that the transition plan would be wiped out due to corporate decisions we had no control over and could not have anticipated.
Could I have done some things differently? Yes! That is always the case with hindsight. You know more.
Regardless of the emotions and challenges we have gone through, God has shown his faithfulness in many ways. And that faithfulness never ceases.
Faith is trusting what you believe to the point of action. When circumstances seem to contradict what you believe then you have to step back and make sure that you are centered and not blindly believing something untrue or based on faulty assumptions. If you discover that you are, then you clean out the closet, so to speak, and keep the truth while throwing away the lies and faulty assumptions.
In every challenge we face our emotions, fears and pain, force the question-does God care? When we go through hard times, our emotions and fears challenge us, but many of those emotions and fears come from the faulty beliefs and assumptions. God’s love for all of us, is a fact. This fact has been demonstrated once and for all in Jesus Christ and that will not change, regardless of our circumstances.
The Bible says that, to the unbelieving, the cross of Christ is a stumbling block, but to those who believe, hope and eternal life.
Whatever your circumstances are, step back and gaze upon the love of Jesus upon the cross. Only then will you see clearly.
This past August I decided to leave my current position at a Camp. Last April while at a national conference, I sensed God making it very clear to me that my time here was over, but I am not sure what the future holds since He has not given me clarity on the next step. The nice thing about this is that because I know the Allknowing One, I don’t need to know. His love assures me that He will lead me. Otherwise, in this economy and my age, I would be a fool. I do no presume there might not be a testing of my faith in the months ahead. God is always working on me. I do know that He is good and will lead me forward to His next work. Amen
The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians that we are not our own, but we have been bought with a price. He is referring to the price of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. A price of immeasurable value which God the Father paid for our freedom from the slavery of a rebellious heart. It was a price we could not pay ourselves, for we were slaves, but God demonstrated His love in that while we were bound in slavery, Jesus died in our place and paid the price for our freedom. (Romans 5:8)
When we come to Jesus as Lord and Savior we are suppose to give him our lives,which are dead in sin and seperated from God for eternity, and in exchange He gives us His life. He gives us abundant life and a life with wholeness – if we will pursue it. He gives us life with a future, life with hope, life with purpose and life for eternity and that eternity isn’t to simply to sing in a choir, but to fully birth the universe and new earth that God intended in the beginning. With our entry into faith in Christ we become part of an unfolding eternal plan.
What an exchange this is. We give up a dead life and hopeless future for a immeasurable life and eternal future. The question is created, why doesn’t everybody choose it if it’s so great? The answer goes back to the heart of the problem. (see my previous post) We have become infatuated with this life and what it offers. Jesus said that the world loves the darkness more than the light. The Apostle John calls us to not love the world or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, because they will all end. But people do love the things of this world and they don’t want to accept God’s assesment of their condition and eternal future. Even those of us who choose to follow Christ find ourselves pulled, torn and tempted by the things of this world.
So, as followers of Christ we must answer the question of ownership. Are we going to continue as slaves of the world or be slaves to God’s gracious love? Our pride and selfishness resists this question. This is why the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the power of God to those being saved. If we open our mind to the reality of our heart condition, we see the love of God in the cross of Christ, but if we resist God’s pronouncement on our condition we resist the message of the cross, even despise it.
Jesus gave His life so we could have life. What shall we then say when we are before Him and confronted with the reality of how much of our lives we have held back and we realize how unwilling we were to trust a love that included the ultimate sacrifice of life itself. When we fully understand the price that he paid and the resistance we showed in giving him our lives, what shall we then say.
In my last blog post I shared about how the heart expresses itself in the form of pride and lust. Using a personal example I talked about one of the major ways that pride twists itself into the form we call self-righteousness. This form of pride is when we place some knowledge, belief or practice we have above another person and look down on them, think of them as less or even condemn them for not holding the same knowledge, belief or practice.
Self-righteousness is particularly deceptive because it can hide behind conviction, which everyone should have about many things. Conviction is a good thing and motivates everything from sacrifice to activism to acts of heroism. The difference is that conviction motivates me on a personal level, while self-righteousness makes me view others who don’t hold these convictions in a negative manner. Conviction should motivate me to action and communication about my convictions, but in my action and communication if I demonstrate anger, hatred, judgment or condemnation then I have crossed the line and am being motivated by prideful self-righteousness instead of conviction. Among Christians this is no more detrimental than when we scream the truth.
Screaming Truth refers to our efforts to convince others of the truth of Jesus Christ with methods or attitudes that lack the Fruit of the Spirit and the Grace of Christ. I think we Christians are falling into this trap more and more over the last twenty years as our western and specifically American culture has become post-modern and post-Christian. Some sociologists believe that the pace of change is creating a new generation every 3-5 years. This pace of change makes it increasingly difficult simple communication to take place. Instead of being a nation that speaks English, we are a nation that speaks a variety of English dialects, which are not only shaped by geographic region, but literally by age. As this linguistic deterioration has occurred, Christians in America just seem to scream louder, march more, work harder on getting the right people in office, spend more money on t.v and radio etc… I think we are failing to accept the fact that our culture has changed so much that we must communicate as though we are in a different country. We must understand what language they speak and what background they come from before we can help them understand who Jesus is and that He is indeed the Son of God, living and reigning forever.
Often when we scream our truth, there are usually still a few people around who can understand it and will join our efforts under the guise of conviction without ever grasping the deceptive nature of their self-righteousness. So those who don’t understand the truth we are screaming, but see self-righteousness in our screaming methods and tactics, are only turned farther away from the truth they need.
When this happens, we who are screaming must justify our efforts and avoid facing our pride so we just blame them for having stubborn hearts and being unwilling to hear the truth. This becomes sadly ludicrous when you think of a person going to a town that is going to be flooded in 24 hours and standing on a street corner yelling at the top of their lungs about the coming flood in a language nobody understands. Then after getting out of town right before the flood they tell the news media that everyone in the town was too stubborn to leave and pat each other on the back for trying to save the town. This is all to similar to much of our evangelical efforts to impact the world and especially in American culture.
What shall we then say when Jesus reminds us how the Father communicated truth to a fallen world: John 3:16-18 or Romans 5:18? What shall we then say when our self-righteousness is exposed for the pride that it really is?
What shall we then say?
It is often said that a person has a “good heart” and yet the scripture that we looked at in my previous post clearly describes the heart as anything but good. I would suggest that what good we see coming from any human is actually a reflection of the image of God which I also discussed in my previous post. Jesus said to a questioner, “why do you call me good, only God is good.” The Apostle James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights.” Therefore, the good that comes from all mankind is expressions of the image of God and the darkness that comes from all mankind are rooted in a heart condition that is leading us to death.
My father has congestive heart failure. It’s a matter of time before his heart fails. It will just give out. In his case he has lived a very full life. He may die from something else first, but if not his heart is leading him toward death. We all have an eternal heart condition that will lead toward death in eternity. Only God can treat it and Jesus was the cure.
How do we understand this condition? I believe Christian’s take it too lightly or philosophically because they know that it is only treatable through the blood of Christ and his atonement. So once treated through faith they like to act as though it is no longer an issue, but it is. We understand this condition when we look at several passages together. We must compare the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis; the temptation of Jesus in the Gospels and a passage in I John in which the Apostle exhorts us to not love the world or things of the world, for the things of the world, “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life” are passing away.
These passages when taken together help us see that sin is essentially two things, pride and lust. These two aspects of our nature twist reality in hundreds of different ways to hide and distort our daily lives and trip up our spiritual growth. And we allow a great deal of self-deception by our own accord. Writer Dennis Peacock says it this way, “the mind justifies what the heart has chosen”. They are the Trojan Horse of Satan existing with in every believer, waiting to twist, distort or damage the renewal that God is doing in each of our lives. Satan knows how to pull the strings from outside so pride and lust on the inside corrode God’s redemptive and restorative work.
Let me share an example of how I found my pride at work in a subtle and ugly way this week. I was invited to someone’s house for a gathering and was told ahead of time a little about the people that would be in attendance. At one point I joked with one of the individuals there about their favorite T.V. show. Afterward, as people left I thought I sensed a cold shoulder from this person and began to think about my interaction with them. As I prayed about it, God opened my eyes to see that I prejudged this person before ever meeting them. I had already formed a negative opinion of them for feeling so strongly about a TV show and during our discussion, my joking carried an edge of sarcasm and criticism. I did this because my pride produced a sense of self-righteousness and I looked down on this Christian Brother. My pride is always at work and I need to face that.
Lust is also at work all the time but we hate to admit it. Lust is generally associated with sex, but the Apostle John associates it with all types of physical things calling it the “lust of the flesh”. In this case lust is craving anything from drugs to sweets to caffeine or yes sex. John also associates lust with the eyes. In this manner lust is the longing for something we see but do not have or are wanting more of. It could be a possession, piece of clothing, a car or a person. All of us struggle with lust everyday but we resist calling it that. We want to attach lust to severe things like addictions or abhorrent behavior that we would never do. This of course is our pride at work, avoiding responsibility for our lust. I think Adam and Eve did this very well too, first Eve blamed the serpent and then Adam blamed Eve. Nothing has changed since then. Avoid responsibility whenever possible. That is normative behavior in our culture.
My reason for explaining this, is that as I write more about some of the issues that we as believers must come to grips with, pride and lust are constantly at the root of them. And it is obvious to those on the outside looking upon us.
When Christian’s avoid responsibility or deny actions of pride or lust that others can see, then our testimony of life in Christ is tarnished. The action itself often does less damage to our witness than the denial that follows. What shall we then say when we stand before Christ and our pride and lust are exposed for what they are. We will then see how much of our life was truly about God’s kingdom, other people, being a steward of his resources or about us-appeasing our wants, our desires and or our emotions. What shall we then say?
Why do we Christians often act so unlike the Savior we attest to follow? It seems to come so natural. So easy that we really don’t even recognize it most of the time. But those who observe us or interact with us in these times only see hypocrisy and broken integrity. “How can they say they love Jesus, when they act like that? And of course Satan loves this scenario, because he adds to the background. “If that is who Jesus is, there is no Jesus.” Sadly, the response of many of us when we fail to walk as Jesus walked is often as shallow as the bumper sticker I’ve seen put on cars, ” Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
The answer to our life problems is in a reality that I know but that I wrestle with to accept. The book of Genesis says, “God created man and women in His image, in His image he created them. The book of Jeremiah says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” These two passages tell me a story that I face everyday. Within me is the full potential that God created me for and the full potential of every form of evil descended from the sin of Adam.
This is where I have found a major misunderstanding among Christians. I myself wrestle everyday with this internal war. I have constantly looked into the scriptures and prayed asking God what is this battle going on, what is my role and what is His. What does this look like in my daily life? What does this look like in an unbeliever’s life? What responsibility do I have for that which is in me? What happens to these things in the salvation experience? The answer to these questions explains both, why people who believe in Jesus can be so unlike Him, and why very nice and wonderful people will spend eternity separated from Him.
I think the Apostle Paul was describing this in Romans 7 when he talked about his mind wanting to do right and yet his actions not following. Jesus probably was referring to this as He told the disciples to keep watch and pray because the sprit was willing but the flesh was weak. The answer to why I and other believers often act in such unChristlike ways is that we have a sick heart, every heart, especially mine, is deceitful and desperately sick and only God understands it.
Christians come into their faith experience through a variety of pictures. Pastor Jan Hettinga, in his book on the Kingdom, talked about the way people come to Christ as pictures with different frames. While all the pictures might be of Jesus the way the picture is painted and the way it is framed has a lot do with how it is embraced and experienced. These different pictures invite people to believe in Jesus, trust in Jesus, receive Jesus, confess Jesus but in very few situations do people deal with this heart issue. Pastor’s do not often preach about the heart issues in ways that make sense to the rest of us. I believe this is mostly because our culture, and Satan through our culture, has diminished and warped the mental context for it to be understood. As I stated before we can all look at the world and acknowledge the reality of evil, but to accept that that evil is also rooted in me personally is another matter. But if I do not face the fact that in me is the potential for darkness of every form then I will never cry out, “Oh God save me, save me from myself”? Therein lies the truth of the Gospel. Jesus came and died for my deceitful and desperately sick heart because God did understand it, and He knew the only way to set me free from my destiny with death.
This is often why it is hard for good people to come to faith. If they have made choices in their lives, or lived in a family that nurtured the image of God in them, they can be incredibly nice, wonderful people who do amazingly good things in the world. Yet I have found when I talk with them, they all wind down to the same point, they don’t want to yield control or surrender to a God of the universe. They don’t experience any need to be saved. In the very words they speak, they are acknowledging this darkness within. This independence, do it on my terms nature that the Apostle John calls “the pride of life” and that Satan sparked when he told Eve, “you will be like God.” If we can be like God, then we don’t need God. From that moment on, we have continued on this path and every form of darkness in the earth has its root in this heart condition.
This is why repentance and allegiance are so important. Repentance is turning away from living for ourselves and by our own terms and allegiance is choosing to yield to Jesus as Lord and Master. I always find myself thinking of the old movies of warriors and kings. If a warrior from an enemy camp was allowed to live he would have to bow before the king and swear to guard his kingdom and serve him unto death. This image represents the heart change that needs to take place. We are of the enemy camp, but we have been given life instead of death and we must respond with living for a new king and learning the ways of the new kingdom.
I am grateful every day that the battle I fight has a victor. It does not depend on me to win, but I seek God’s mercy and grace to win in me. Jesus died and each day I choose his ways over mine, my darkness dies some more, His image is birthed in me and I move that much closer to my destiny. Often I fail and still listen to the darkness. Then I must yield before my king, seek His forgiveness and mercy and pray that He gives me more grace for tomorrow.
What shall we then say? Those of us who know of Jesus but have not truly faced the reality of our deceitful hearts. I believe when we stand before Him all of us will see the fullness of our self deception. We shall see how our pride and selfishness, which is the manifestation of this sickness, has worked in us in ways we did not want to face. What shall we then say? Will have been living humbly and conscious of this battle, or prideful and selfishly while all the time attesting to know Him. What shall we then say?
WHAT SHALL WE THEN SAY?
II Corinthians 5:10 states, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad”. It is usually interpreted, among Christians, that the judgement described in this passage is only for people who are followers of Jesus, and not the unbelieving. Since this future date with our Lord awaits all of us who believe the simple question should be asked, “what shall we then say”.
I am personally challenged by this question and its implications. My prayer is that this blog will move all who read it to think deeply about some of the common attitudes, actions, issues and practices of Christians and the church today. In the moment we are before Christ all true motives, assumptions, lies, pride, selfishness, etc… will become open and obvious. (Hebrews 4:13, I Cor. 4:5) When our hearts are laid bare before Him, what shall we then say?
The goal is not to judge or condemn, because that is not what the II Corinthians passage is about. For those who believe in Christ judgement has passed from us. This is because we have accepted God’s judgement that we do indeed require the grace of his forgiveness in Jesus Christ. However, each of us will still give an account of our life as described in this passage. Standing before Christ will be about stewardship instead of eternity. What have we done with the grace given to us and the fullness of our resources, whatever they may be? (Matt. 25:14-30) Among the body of Christ stewardship is usually relegated to tithes and offerings, but it is actually about the totality of everything we are and do, for we have been bought with a price (I Cor. 6:19).
This blog is entirely focused on those who consider themselves followers of Jesus. After each blog I simply ask the question – “what shall we then say”? It will ask questions about the various contradictions between how we as the church of Jesus Christ are living in comparison to what God’s word teaches. What shall we then say? … to our stewardship of His grace, our use of his resources, our lack of unity, our picking and choosing of sin, our lack of humility, our glorification of traditions, our judgemental spirit towards those who do not believe, our lack of accountability toward one another and the list goes on. This blog is not a bashing of the church nor judgement by one who sees himself as better. I am a seeker and searcher and find myself asking the question-”what then shall I say”?
No matter what level of self-awareness, humility, or inner evaluation I achieve, I will still find myself having given into self-deception, pride and selfishness in ways I cannot see now. What shall I say when my heart is laid bare before the living Lord? By God’s grace I do not fear that time or my inability to achieve His holiness, but it is presumption and pride to ignore the scriptures call to walk as Jesus walked, pursue holiness, put off the old life and not love the world. Instead of ignoring God’s call to pursue Him, we are to have the attitude that the Apostle Paul states in II Corinthians 5:9, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him”. For the Apostle Paul, this accountability was not a point to be feared, but rather sober us in our freedom.
I hope those of you who read this will walk with me as I search my own soul and answer the question, “what shall I then say”.