What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

There are many answers for what it means to be a Christian: following the teachings of Christ as taught in the Bible, following the Holy Spirit, or loving others. All these are true, but these can be simplified even further: being a Christian means experiencing God’s love for you.

God calls us to Him. All have fallen away from God and need to be saved by Jesus to return to Him. (Romans 3:23). For some of us, this is a new idea, but others have heard this their entire life. Whether you grew up in church and know all the answers to every Bible trivia question ever asked, or if you are hearing these ideas expressed this way for the first time, the truth is the same for each of us. We need to experience the love of God in our lives everyday.

We need to experience the forgiving love as we repent and turn our lives to Him, each and every time there is a need for repentance. We need to experience His redeeming love as we grow into an understanding of His purpose for our lives. We need to experience His bountiful love as we learn to trust that He provides for us.

As we learn to be more and more aware of His love for us, we can then experience an awareness of God on a deeper level, as God is love. This new awareness transforms our moments, and enlivens our lives as we learn to see things through His perspective. Being a Christian is about walking day in and day out in this awareness. We can fill our days with a fullness of life and the power of God based on knowing Him more.

Part of this process of growing more aware of His love is learning to believe what He says about us. God says we are loved, we are valuable, we are precious, and we are eternal. Not only do we believe this about ourselves, but when we look at others, we should believe in their value as well.

When we see God’s love and experience how it flows from Him to everyone, we see their value and we know that we are all children of God, equal before Him. He shows no favorites; He loves all of us.

An Open Heart and Mind - Part 4 - Proverbs 1:33

An Open Heart and Mind – Part 4

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:29-33 ESV

Yesterday, we talked about ignoring God’s counsel, and the day before that we talked about not choosing the fear of the Lord. The first day we talked about hating knowledge. Today, we continue on through Proverbs 1:30

Despised My Reproof

All of the topics that Proverbs 1:29-30 covers are important, but this one hits a little closer to home. While I can desire knowledge and keep the fear of the Lord in my heart and celebrate the salvation of Jesus, it is much harder for me not to despise reproof. Correction in all forms is hard to take as pride is constantly at war in my heart and mind. Even when it’s the Lord, it’s difficult to take it until I remember His love and embrace humility.

The warning in this verse is stronger than just struggling to accept reproof. The word used is despised. The idea is that it is disrespectful of the things that the Lord is bringing up. Synonyms for this word include: detest, hate, loathe, abhor, deplore. Every one of these words is a strong description of dislike. It’s beyond just a preference; it’s a passion to avoid correction.

The root of this is in all of us and it can be summed up in one word: pride. Pride makes us feel that we are good enough and that we are the ones who have achieved things to this point. When the foolish people that Proverbs 1 is talking about face the ugly truth that they aren’t as good as they thought and that what they do have is gifted and powered by God, they hate it and run away and despise it.

Humility is the idea of knowing who you are. It’s not about being less than what you are or more than that. We think that by putting ourselves down we’re being humble, but it’s not true. Humility means acknowledging everything about who we are and giving credit to the source. Humility means being open to seeing ourselves as God sees us and being able to accept who God made us to be.

Pride, while being the biggest block, isn’t the only thing holding us back. The second biggest block that keeps us from operating in humility is shame. Pride blocks it because it blinds us to seeing ourselves as God see us. Shame blocks it because we don’t feel we can accept or are good enough to accept who God made us to be.

Foolish people sit in their pride and shame and try to cover themselves with it. They justify their shame and they tout their pride. They have pulled both close as if it’s a protecting blanket. Then, they fight passionately to keep shame and pride covering them as much as possible.

We need to be aware of these tendencies and acknowledge when we’re letting pride shout at others or shame hide us. Letting ourselves be seen as we are, even if it’s just by us and God is a terrifying experience. Most of us have a negative talk track in our mind that reminds us of how we aren’t good enough or where we’ve failed. Stepping out against the negative talk takes a great deal of courage and a high level of trust in the person who sees you.

Trusting God is the best way to build up humility in our lives. It must be the deep kind of trust that comes from living life together, each day growing more and more. Shallow trust may make us feel like we can go to church and sing worship songs. Shallow trust makes us feel like we can pray over our food, when we remember. Shallow trust won’t get us free of the burdens of shame and pride that keep us from humility.

Humility is what we need, though, to be able to accept correction from the Lord. Humility lets us see ourselves and still believe that God can use us.

Proverbs 1:31 tells us the end of the foolish ones who hate knowledge, refuse to fear the Lord, reject His counsel, and despise His correction. It’s the worst possible outcome. Those who live this way are left to live out the consequences of their choices. The very traits that are developed by these selfish perspectives are their undoing. The end of all sin is death. The only question is how much damage can be done as we crash and burn, to ourselves and to others around us.

Instead, choose the way of life that leads to peace and life in the Lord. Choose obedience by loving knowledge, fearing the Lord, accepting and believing His counsel and respecting His correction. We can live powerfully when we live humbly and obediently.

Salvation to All Generations - Isaiah 51:7-8

Comforted by God’s Perspective

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.” – Isaiah 51:7-8 ESV

Sometimes the scriptures are so comforting and uplifting. Sometimes, however, that comforting and uplifting is wrapped up in a warning that is unsettling. Several verses in Isaiah 50 and 51 are full of this blended warning and comforting. Having these given at the same time gives us a huge advantage in dealing with troubles when they come.

Isaiah 50:5-7 is Isaiah speaking and he says, “The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”

There’s as a seeming contradiction here around shame. First, Isaiah says not only was he beaten, but his beard was plucked, he was disgraced and spit on. The beating, disgracing and spitting would be bad enough, but the beard plucking out is also culturally significant as men in Judaism wore beards. In other words, he was shamed. Or, more specifically, others tried to shame him. Yet here is Isaiah’s response, “The Lord God helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced.” Others have done everything in their power to bring him down, but he chooses to not be dragged down. In fact, he says, “… I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” He is absolutely determined not to be ashamed.

I don’t know about you, but I think that if I were in his place, it would be very hard to choose not to be ashamed. Someone spitting on me and beating me would bring a whole pile of temptation to hide my face and give up. In order to stand with Isaiah in this same way, we need to redefine our definition of shame to line up with God’s definition.

Shame is a deep emotion that can affect both immediate actions and long-term ones. Brene Brown, author and researcher on shame and vulnerability, defines shame as the sense of being unworthy. Immediate shame can turn into long-term shame where, for the rest of our lives, we never truly accept that we’re worthy. It can be worthy of respect or love or gifts, or many other things. Whatever it is, our beliefs keep us from accepting what’s being given to us. We feel unworthy because of who we think we are.

The comfort in this passage is that God is reassuring us that we will always be worthy in His eyes, no matter what any person on this earth can do to us. God will never push us away. Chapter 51 verses 8 and 9 reassure us of this. It is to the people who know righteousness and who have God’s law in their heart. We are told that we don’t need to worry about other’s telling us we’re not good enough. Here’s why: God’s salvation, His willingness to extend grace and mercy and love to his children is for all people for all time. The wicked and their views and their definitions of who’s in the cool club, all that will fade away, but God never will.

Verse 8 in chapter 50 goes on to say, “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.” It’s like Isaiah is saying, “You aren’t the boss of me! Only God is!” Isaiah knows whose opinion matters and he isn’t swayed by others even when they beat and embarrass him.

Isaiah also knows that God is with him, “He who vindicates me is near.” Isaiah understands that God is a loving Father who helps His children, even though Isaiah was physically hurt and mentally abused. Nothing swayed his belief in God or his understanding of his worth in God’s eyes.

I pray that we can begin to understand God on this level as well. When we have built up our confidence in who we are in God’s view, strength and confidence will pour out of us and we will be able to step up, and, like Isaiah, proclaim God with all our hearts.

He Is Faithful to Forgive - 1 John 1:9

Forgiven First

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37 ESV

Jesus uttered these words while looking over the city of Jerusalem while He was here on earth. In this one sentence, we can see how God’s forgiveness applies, not just to the city of Jerusalem, but to all of us.

The first things that Jesus brings up here is their rebellion and sin. He points out their sin and acknowledges their issues. Then what? He yells at them? Asks them, “How could you have done this after all the things I’ve done for you?” No! The very next thing is his heartbroken words about how much He wants to be with them. He would have gathered them close, and sheltered them under his loving, protecting wing. The people were not willing, but God was ready to run after them, love them and forgive them.

So often when we are thinking of our own sins and issues, we think that God needs to correct us or change us or demand more from us before he forgives us, but it’s just not true. God sees all our issues, more clearly even than we do. He isn’t a clueless parent who doesn’t know what we’re doing on the weekends with our friends. He can see the visible sins and the invisible ones. He knows everything about us. And it’s in this moment, the one where He’s looking into the darkest, nastiest corner of our hearts that He is longing with His whole self to forgive us. All He wants in that moment is for us to turn to Him and raise our arms to Him like a little child wanting to be gathered up.

We are the ones who need to choose to be willing to be forgiven. God is always willing; we are the ones whose pride and insecurities and selfishness get in the way of the work He wants to do in our heart. God loves us. Not just in a theoretical sense or in a disconnected sense or out of a sense of obligation. He’s in love with you. He finds joy in being in your presence, just like we find joy in being in the presence of those we love. He wants to be with you and be close to you. In addition to all this, He also knows how much more content and full of joy we’ll be when we accept His forgiveness and walk closely with Him.

God will work on our issues once we’re safe in His arms. He will talk to us about the changes that we need to make to become more helpful to others around us. All those things will be taken care of when we submit to walking with Him. But first, before all that, we must be willing to be forgiven and jump in to the loving arms of our father.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

New Creation In Christ - 2 Corinthians 5:17

Saved by God’s Reconciliation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV

2 Corinthians offers us a wonderful hope for the future. Not only our future, but the future of the whole world. This passage steps us through the hope of the resurrection of Christ and the responsibility that we have once we’ve accepted Christ’s message.

In Christ

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

If we claim to be a Christian, we are claiming to have an understanding of what His death and resurrection mean. We are saying that we know Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, came to this earth, lived a sin-free life, died on the cross and was raised from the dead, then He ascended off this earth to return to the Father where He waits to return to the earth again and judge us all. We are saying that we understand that we are sin filled creatures that are separated from Christ and this work He did on the cross is our only hope of coming home again. We are saying that we not only believe His words and believe in the knowledge of Him, but we also are saying that we are changed because of Him.

Old to New

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Once we have become a part of Christ, we have the hope of being new. 2 Corinthians says that the old has passed away and the new has come. They aren’t living simultaneously and we have to pick and choose between the pieces. The old is gone, completely and for good. The new is here and it is transforming us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is easy to forget this one and start to live in habits and echoes of the dead version of us. However, we aren’t bound to that life any more (Romans 6:6). We can walk away from those choice and those circumstances. We are free in Christ to live in the law of liberty (James 1:25).

God is the Author

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;”

We are so used to taking credit for any good thing that we do, that it’s a good reminder here that God is the one who is planning all this and doing all this. We aren’t saving ourselves and nothing of what we do (our works) can save us. Only the power and grace of God. He’s done this because of who He is and how much He loves us (John 3:16). Pride and arrogance try to step in and say that it’s something we’ve done, but it never is. God, through Christ, is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Open for All

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,”

Salvation is not an elite thing. There isn’t something that has to be done to earn it and there aren’t specially appointed people who will get it. God is offering this to all people the world over. He wants to be able to offer mercy to all His children that they can return home to Him. If any person, no matter their background or their past choices, learns to accept Christ and what He did on the cross, he is welcomed home by a loving and forgiving Father.

The Knowledge We Have

“Entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

The Spirit of God has revealed the truth of Christ to us and that knowledge leaves us with a certain responsibility. This message of reconciliation between a loving Father and His lost children is needing to go out to the whole world. Later in this passage, Apostle Paul says that he and his fellow ministers are “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” We are the mouth piece of God’s goodness. God wants us to show His strength through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and His uniting love through our relationship with Him (John 17:23).

God Rejoices Over You - Zephaniah 3:17

God Rejoices Over You

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. – Zephaniah 3:17

We’re discussing James in small group and part of what we talked about today included the part about God not being partial to anyone and the part of viewing ourselves through God’s perspective. It got me to thinking about God’s love for us, not just a little love, but extravagant love. Not only does He love me like that, but He loves absolutely everyone like that. It’s overwhelming to think about!

It’s so wonderful to breathe in the truth of how God views us and allow that to fill us up. I need this reminder so often!

He will rejoices over me with gladness

So often I feel like a burden to God, even though I don’t generally express it that way. I feel bad when I mess up or I feel like I’m constantly asking for things even when I know I shouldn’t. No matter how I’m feeling, I love to have the reminder that God rejoices over me. He’s glad about me!

He quiets me by his love

When my mind is swirling or when I’m really worried about things, going to God with my problems and concerns always makes me feel better. He helps to take worries away and return my perspective to His greatness instead of my own problems. And He does all this with His love, not rebukes or disappointment, but love!

He will exults over me with LOUD singing

I love this one! Exult isn’t a word that we often use, but Merriam-Webster defines it as: show or feel elation or jubilation. He is jubilantly singing over me. I soak this one up, because I don’t feel worthy of this for anyone to do, let alone a perfect and powerful God. But He does and He does it loudly!

I love how much my heavenly Father loves me and I love that he reminds me of it because of who He is. I hope this reminder can help you remember it as well. GOD LOVES YOU!!!!