Monday, 18 August 2014

How are all religions the same?

Religions are all the same in one way: they have rules.  Law.  Commandments you must follow.

The assumption is: This is what makes a religion true (or good).

But this assumption is wrong.  We make this assumption because we actually think we can follow the rules.  We are so self-righteous that we think we are able to keep the Law.  Self-righteousness says all religions are the same.

Because the truth is, these commandments are impossible for us.  In fact, they were not given to us to show us how to gain life.  They were given to us to show us how we deserve death.  How the sentence of death against mankind - every human dies - is just.  It is true.

This Law in which all religions are the same is merely preparing the way for the true religion.  The only religion with something OTHER than rules.  And His Name is Jesus.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

The true religion has Law and Gospel.  Law and Good News.  Law and Mercy.  Free, unconditional mercy that is revealed outside and without the constraints of the Law.  What God has done for you in Christ, He did because of Himself - not because of you.  He offers and gives you freedom from the Law, because He is a merciful God.  Because He is the only true God.

All religions are the same because they have rules.  All false religions have only rules.  Only Christianity has the Good News of grace in Jesus Christ.  And here's the truth:  This is what makes a religion good. (and true)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Why is life so hard?

So I just got back from the splash pad with my kids and I went to wash my daughter's hands. 

Now she was having a hard time because she is only 18 months old, so in order to do it I had to take her feet and put them on the counter.  Of course, she realized she had to push up on her feet.  So she began to push - but in order for her not to fly off the counter, I had to push back against her so she could wash her hands.

And I got to thinking, the Christian life is just like this - where a little bit of pressure in the right places actually help us to recognize our need to be cleaned, and also to prepare us to be washed. 

God is working these things out as our heavenly Father.  He is pushing down on us, bringing trials or struggles into our lives at the right time so we can "wash our hands" and if He didn't do it, we would just fall off the counter.  This He does not want.

So, if you are having some sort of pressure or trial that you cannot understand or you fail to see the good in - wait on the Lord, knowing that He works everything together for good for those who put their trust in Him.

What is the price of my salvation?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sin and death, and from the power of the devil...

Not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

God has bought you back from sin and death.  He has paid the price.  But what is it?  Not gold, not silver.  His own God blood and His innocence - put into suffering and death for you.

When we think on this great price, it is utterly baffling.  We cannot even understand this price.  It is beyond all measurements, beyond numbers, beyond humanity itself.  How could a holy, pure God give His holiness away - waste it, be cursed and become sin, to those who torture and crucify Him?  This is the Gospel - the Good News - News that is so remarkable - so incredibly compelling that it goes beyond telling.  It is simply believed.  No human has thought this up - it is too lofty and its depths are too great.

A cherished Lenten hymn - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - captures this sentiment in its final stanza.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Nothing can give enough thanks for what He has done - but certainly, your soul, your life, your all is a start.  The final "cherry on top" in the justification of the ungodly is that even your missing thanksgiving - even the lack of praise and worship, prayer and gratitude that should come as a response to His sacrifice - He makes up for with His blood.

He is saving us through and through.  Our sin has truly been washed away in His blood.

How to Read the Bible

Yes I know.

The Bible is the Word of God. 
It is unlike any other book - religious or otherwise.
There are no contradictions in it.
It is truth.  It is light.

But how do I read it?

How do I begin to understand what it means, especially when there are so many different Christian denominations with so many different interpretations?

Here's where to start.  The Bible.  What does Christ Himself teach us about the way to understand His Word? 

Luke 24:45-47 - Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."

Principle #1) All the Scriptures are about Christ.  This is what is written Jesus says.  The first thing you should be looking for in any verse you read should be Jesus and Him preached.

He says this in other places too.  John 5:39 - "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about Me."

Jesus. Jesus.  Jesus.  That is what you are looking to see in the words of the Bible.

Ok, what else does God say about how to understand His Word?

Ex. 34:6-7 - The LORD passed before Moses and proclaimed, "The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love... for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

Principle #2) Law and Gospel.  God works in two ways.  Two basic teachings.  You may also call them the commands and promises.  But regardless of their name - God speaks a Word of Command (Law) and He speaks a Word of Promise (Gospel).  And unless you properly distinguish between them, you will get very mixed up reading the Bible.

A Word of Command (Law) is one that concerns your actions, thoughts or words.  It is something man does, thinks or says.  I.E. You shall not commit adultery.  In this word, God expresses the way things ought to be - His justice. 

A Word of Promise (Gospel) is one that concerns God's actions - those done for you.  It is something God does, promises or reveals for you.  I.E. At Jesus' baptism, heaven was opened.  In this word, God expresses the way things are on account of what He has done - His justification - something that benefits those with that believe Him.

Immediately you can see that the way of the Law is a matter of works, while the way of the Gospel is a matter of faith.  The Law condemns.  The Gospel frees.  The Law kills.  The Gospel gives life.  The problem is that when we read the Bible we are more inclined to be reading it to find out what we should do.  We are more likely to look for the Law.  In fact, we tend to try and see if we are doing the Law - if we are righteous on our own.

This is actually the reason WHY there is the Gospel.  To free us from our sin which would have us only look at ourselves and what we need to tell ourselves "I'm good".  God uses His Law and Gospel to kill our self-righteousness and bring us to life again in Christ.  Death and Resurrection.  We are not good.  Christ is.  This is God's salvation, and the only reason He speaks.  We are declared to be good in Christ alone through faith in what He has done - through faith in His Gospel. 

Why does God work this way?

St. Paul tells us. "It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26)

Just and the Justifier.  God alone is Just - yet He has by sheer grace and mercy determined to Justify those who have faith in Jesus and all that He has done for us on the cross.

When you read the Bible look for Christ (#1), and be sure to distinguish what you ought to do (Law) which you have failed, and what Christ did/does (Gospel) which forgives and saves you from your failure (#2).  You'll want to see Christ in both Law and Gospel.

This is a good start in learning how to read the Bible.  This is the revelation.  God says you are a sinner worthy of punishment and death.  But God also says you are righteous for the sake of Christ, and that by trusting in His declaration of innocence, you are free from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  Thanks be to God.  May His Word be ever opened to us.