Friday, 29 April 2011
Real Faith Is Work
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“Faith and Works” are a topic that can, at times, be confusing to people and maybe even seem to be contradictory. Most people have an opinion about it, while others find themselves going around in a circle trying to make sense out of it.

It’s no wonder, because our culture today considers work in a different way than we do spiritually. When you talk about successful people, you hear stories about how they worked their way to the top and how they have paid their dues. Their individual effort and commitment got them where they are today. We tell our children they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough. Most people understand that unless you win the lottery or are born into wealth, you will have to work to earn your living. Within the blue collar industries, we especially see the sweat and energy that is poured into making a living. The reward for hard work is promotion and pay, and hopefully a retirement account. There is no free lunch – everything you have, you work to get it.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The idea of working hard to get what you want is deeply ingrained in our culture. Because of that, many unsaved people may walk around thinking that they surely will go to heaven. They think, “I am a good person. I pay my taxes, am a law-abiding, productive citizen and I help others.” There was a time in my life, before I knew Christ, that I thought I was okay because I was a “good” person (well, most of the time anyway). But then we are presented with the gospel and we are told that our works will not save us. No matter how many good deeds we do or how many years we spend doing them or how hard we try, our works will not make the way for us to enter eternal life with Christ. We are saved by our faith in Christ only. We must repent of our sins and accept Him as our Savior. His blood must be applied to our lives to cleanse our sins. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So you cannot earn your way into heaven. It is a gift from God bestowed on those who have faith.

James 2:26
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

This is where it can get confusing. My works will not save me, but without them, my faith is dead; and it is my faith that saves me, so if my faith is dead then how can I be saved? See where your thinking can start going into a circle, much like the dog chasing his tail? Works do play an important role in your Christian life, but you can’t put the cart before the horse. Your works follow your faith.

Matthew 7:21
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

Matthew 7:16 says, “You will know them by their fruits.” That means you should be able to recognize a Christian based on their actions. A person cannot say they accept Christ and then continue in their same old ways. A conversion results in change. There should be evidence of a change – in behavior and attitude. If there isn’t, then perhaps they really haven’t made a true conversion or commitment to Christ and need to reevaluate. He said that if we loved Him, we would keep His commandments. We are to love God and to love others. That means showing our love through our actions. Think about it this way. You can’t just tell your spouse that you love him or her. You also have to show him or her – through affection, through doing helpful things, showing kindness, spending time together, fidelity to the relationship, etc.

In James 2, the author gives us another example. In verses 15-16: If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? In other words, you go around saying you’re a Christian, but when presented with someone who has a need, do you just say, “Well God bless you, I’ll be praying for you”? Or do you try to really help that person? Now, I know that you can’t help everybody with everything, but there are lots of times when we could and we don’t. James goes on to say in chapter 4 that if we know to do good, but we don’t do it, it is a sin.

Hebrews 6:10
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

Our works that we do once we have been saved are important and do matter. We will be rewarded accordingly. When we do the work of and for the Lord, we are storing up our treasures in heaven. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul tells that “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” In Isaiah 3:10-11, we read, “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them!” John cautions us in 2 John 8-9: “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.”

Revelation 22:12
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.

Faith without some demonstrative action is not really faith. If you say you trust someone, but refuse to lean on them, do you really have faith in them? If you say you love someone, but never give that person affection or a kind word, is it really love? Real faith trusts. Real faith reaches out to others. Real faith doesn’t sit in a corner and wait to die. It lives and breathes and grows through our everyday lives and actions. Real faith is work. And if you can’t see it, then maybe you never had it to begin with. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Philippians 1:6 says: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ . . . .” So, maybe we need to quit trying to be a “good” person, and instead focus on being a Godly one. Then only good can follow.
 

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Posted on 04/29/2011 5:34 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 22 April 2011
A Safe Exodus
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Tall chocolate bunnies wrapped in colorful foil – the bigger the better. Little chocolate eggs, likewise wrapped. Jelly beans were okay, but were usually eaten last when all the good stuff was gone. Robin eggs, with the chocolate hidden beneath a pastel layer of sugar. These were standard items in our Easter baskets each year, along with some small toy that we had longed for. It was all about the chocolate for me. Easter was the last “candy” holiday until Trick or Treat rolled around again. That’s a long time for a kid.

Easter was a lot of fun growing up. Typically we would spend it with my mom’s family. The five cousins (me, my brother Tom and my sister Jennifer, my cousins Brian and Melissa) would have thrilling egg hunts. The plastic eggs were filled with change, and the person who got the most money “won”. We would have so much fun that we would have the grown ups hide the empty eggs and let us do it all over again. The day also included a delicious dinner with ham and mashed potatoes and all the fixings. Later that evening, we might hide the eggs again in the house and hunt tirelessly for them.

I can remember a few times when I was very small that we went to church on Easter Sunday. My daughter and I were recently looking at some old family photos and there were some from Easter. My brother and I were all dressed up -- me with a little hat and him with his bow tie. There was a classic photo of our Aunt Glenda with a beehive hairdo. (It was the late 1960s.) I remember us all being together, but I don’t remember much about the church service.

Easter is a lot like Christmas, in that it is a religious holiday that has been hijacked by worldly traditions that have tended to overshadow its significance. How much time do we spend during Christmas telling people to remember the Reason for the Season? Shouldn’t we do the same for Easter? I am not saying get rid of your Christmas tree or Easter baskets. Let’s just put them in their proper place. Honestly, even as an adult, I never understood the significance of Easter until I accepted Christ. It wasn’t until I understood the sacrifice He made. I had always heard that Easter was about when Jesus died on the cross, but that is only part of the story. Easter is about the Resurrection – His victory over death, which is our victory when we accept Him in our lives. Easter is about everything it means to be a Christian.

Exodus 12:12-13
For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

Christ’s crucifixion occurred during the Passover feast in Jerusalem. This feast celebrated the first Passover, which made the way for the children of Israel to make their exodus from Egypt, set free from their slavery under Pharaoh. With the blood of a lamb applied to the door frames of their homes, they were safe from the final plague on the firstborn. The blood from the lamb shielded them from the judgment, which left Egypt overwhelmed with grief. (. . . there was a loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. Ex. 12:30b).

John 1:29
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

It was no coincidence that Jesus’ crucifixion came during Passover week. He is the Lamb of God, and when His blood is applied to our lives, we too are shielded from judgment. When we accept Christ as our Savior, He saves us – that’s what a savior does. We can make a safe exodus from our sinful life, where we were slaves to sin, to eternal life with Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

So while you are enjoying your chocolate bunny and watching kids hunt for colored eggs, remember the reason for the season. Remember that Christ sacrificed His life for you and shed His blood to cleanse your sin and to save you. Remember that though He died and was buried in a tomb, on the third day He rose in victory over death. He did it once, and for all. He is alive today, sitting at the right hand of the Father, waiting for the day when He will return. He is coming back and only those who have His blood applied to their lives will be saved. Have you accepted Christ as your Savior? Are you covered by His blood? Will you make it in this final exodus? That’s what Easter is about – it’s about remembering what He did for us and checking ourselves to make sure we are ready. Though we celebrate it once a year, it’s something we should do every day.
 

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Posted on 04/22/2011 7:56 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 15 April 2011
A Good Testimony
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This is a challenge for all believers in Christ: Why do you believe in Him? How did you come to know Him as your Lord and Savior? Why should others believe?

In other words, are you ready to testify?

Acts 1:8
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In a courtroom, a witness is called to the stand to testify. The witness shares with the court what he saw and heard. Credible eyewitness testimony is among the strongest evidence that can be presented and will likely be the deciding factor, unless the opposing side can find a way to discredit the witness or undermine his testimony.

As Christians, we are to be witnesses for Christ. We are to tell people who Jesus is and about the saving work of the Cross. We can be even more effective when we share with others what Jesus has done in our lives. Do you remember what lead you to Christ? For some it was a traumatic experience that shook them. The Apostle Paul had such an experience on the road to Damascus, when Jesus appeared to him. For others, it may have been seeing the joy and faith of another Christian and wanting what they have that lead us to Christ. Each of us has a story – a testimony that we can share with others about Christ and what He has done for us.

Acts 5:32
And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit is also a witness that Jesus is Christ. That means that anyone who reads or hears the Word of God, but who doesn’t have another person around to testify about Him, can still be reached through the witness of the Holy Spirit. Many of us are content to let it happen that way. We think that if we live Godly lives and set a good example, we can just let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work. But in this scripture from Acts, Peter says that we are His witnesses and so also is the Holy Spirit. We are also required to give our testimony. Isaiah 43:10 says, “You are My witnesses,” says the LORD. John 15:26-27 says: “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”

For some reason, testifying to others about Christ is a scary proposition for most believers. What are we afraid of? Mostly we fear rejection. But we have to remember that Christ said that when others reject the truth we tell them, they are really rejecting Him and the one who sent Him. We may be afraid that we won’t say the right thing. Jesus assures us that we need not worry about what to say. When the time comes, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. Others may challenge us and try to discredit our testimony. That’s all the more reason to know what you believe and how you came to believe it. Jesus makes in very clear in Matthew 10 that we should not fear men, but fear God instead. If we deny Christ before men, then He will deny knowing us before the Father. Which is worse: to undergo some awkward moments and personal embarrassment or to lose your salvation because of pride and fear? We shouldn’t be ashamed to tell others about Christ.

1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

No witness comes to the courtroom unprepared. The attorneys meet with that person and go over his testimony. They talk about questions that may come up in the cross examination. They rehearse what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. We can do the same with our testimony for Christ. First, we must have the Word of God inside us. Reading, studying and listening to the Word are so important. Peter says that we are to sanctify the Lord in our hearts. Our hearts must be reserved for Him alone. He tells us to be ready to give a defense for why we believe. Think about what you would say if asked why you believe. Don’t just wait to be asked. Be prepared to speak up when you have an opportunity to testify to someone. You could keep a diary or list of things that God has done for you and prayers that have been answered. Perhaps it even would be helpful to write down your testimony and then read it aloud to yourself. When you read Paul’s testimonies before councils and kings in Acts, the wording is very similar. Paul had a story to tell and he told it consistently and passionately. If you find you are at a loss for words, pray and the Holy Spirit will help you and give you what you need to speak.

Revelation 12:11
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

Your testimony is extremely powerful. That is why the Enemy spends so much time either trying to scare you out of sharing it or trying to discredit your character. We all have people in our lives who “knew us when.” They know our sins and secrets of the past and may not accept our testimony . . . but some may. This verse from Revelation is the secret to overcoming Satan. The blood of the Lamb – the blood Christ shed for our sins on the cross – is more powerful. There is nothing Satan can do about it – he cannot undo the work that Jesus has done. Once we are covered by that blood we are saved. The word of our testimony brings others to the knowledge of Christ, so that they, too, may be saved. And when we do not love our lives more – when we are not afraid to speak and live our testimony, we are effective witnesses for Christ.

Psalm 66:16
Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul.

As Christians, we have an obligation to share Christ with others. We cannot just keep Him to ourselves – His light cannot be hidden. Jesus told his apostles, “Freely you have received, freely give.” It is His will that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. If we truly have the love of God in our lives, then we must love others. And if we love others, we want to see them saved. When a witness is in the courtroom, he takes the stand to give his testimony. When you testify for Christ, you are also taking a stand for what you believe. You have to step out of your comfort zone and start telling others what God has done for you. Your testimony can change a life by saving it.

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I read a very powerful testimony last week when our power was off. Our house may not have had any electricity, but I sure felt the power of God when I was reading it. The book is called “Heaven Is for Real,” by Todd Burpo, with Lynn Vincent. Todd’s son was four years old when he suffered a burst appendix. He shouldn’t have survived, but he did. And in the months and years following this, Colton talked about his visit to Heaven. He was able to tell his parents where they were and what they were doing when he was in surgery, because he said he had been sitting in Jesus’ lap watching them. He tells of the people he met and describes Heaven. He describes things that, while scriptural in detail, are things a four-year old could not know. I could go on and on and tell you all about it, but it would better to read it for yourself. It really stirred up my faith. That’s what a good testimony should do – stir up faith.
 

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Posted on 04/15/2011 7:12 AM by Susan Nelson
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Friday, 1 April 2011
Fooled
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Most of the movies I have seen at the theater over the last 10 years or so have been mostly animated features with “G” ratings. They were not my first choice for a night out at the movies, but you go with your child because she wants to see it. Some were quite good – like the “Toy Story” series. Others, like “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl”, were terrible (as in bad script and bad acting). So when the opportunity presented itself for my husband and me to take in a movie while our daughter was away for the night, I was excited.

The last movie we had seen together at the theater was, I think, the new version of “Star Trek.” We like the sci-fi genre, though he probably likes it more. We always try to find a movie we’ll both enjoy – I don’t make him sit through chick flicks and he doesn’t put me through gory and scary ones. When I looked through the movie listing, I found a movie called “Paul.” I had seen the trailers on television and it looked like a sci-fi comedy, which appealed to both of us. I checked out the web site for the movie and checked the ratings. It advised that it had some bad language, which I would expect from any movie involving the actor Seth Rogen. Though I am not thrilled with profanity, I can put up with a few words now and then if the movie is good.

Here’s the storyline: Paul is an alien who came to earth more than 60 years ago when his spacecraft crashes on a farm. When he crashes, he kills the family dog, whose name was Paul and he adopts the name. A young girl (home alone at night for whatever reason) takes care of him until the Men in Black arrive to take him to a secure government location. Fast forward to present day, and two chums from England are vacationing in the states. They are self-proclaimed geeks who take in Comic-Con and rent an RV to visit all the touristy UFO sites in New Mexico. One evening as they are driving along, a car speeds pass them and crashes. The driver turns out to be Paul, the alien, and he is not the cute Spielberg E.T. Paul smokes and curses and has a smart-aleck attitude. After their initial shock passes, the two men agree to help Paul, who is running away from the government to meet up with a rescue ship from his home planet. Seems the government has learned everything they can from him and now they want to cut out his brain and study it. Hilarity ensues as they dodge the Men in Black and make their way to the rendezvous site.

Psalm 14:1
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

If that’s all there were to it, I would have loved the movie. But they just couldn’t leave it at that. Apparently the writers, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, who also star as the traveling friends, have issues – religious issues. Looking for a place to rest for the night and not be spotted, they find an RV park where they can blend in. The park is run by a religious fanatic and his daughter, Ruth, who is blind in one eye. One of the men is smitten when he meets Ruth, and she seems to like him, as well. That evening she notices that there are three voices and three sets of legs around the campfire, but doesn’t get to see the third person. The next morning she stops by to collect the rent. Paul hides in the bathroom, but comes bursting out after a debate on Creationism. He turns Ruth’s world upside down, basically saying that he is proof that God doesn’t exist.

Ruth faints and the gang decides to take her with them because she has seen Paul. When she awakes, she is again frightened by Paul’s appearance and calls him a demon. Paul’s response is something like, “These people, what can you do with them?” referring to Christians. His eyes roll when he says it and he and the men have a laugh. That hurt. What was really hard, though, was the laughter the line evoked from the audience. I looked around and suddenly felt like a lone minority. Paul finally gets tired of listening to Ruth and lays his alien hands on her forehead and she receives all of his knowledge and experience of the universe. She comes out of it with her faith in God gone. She is almost giddy as she says that now she can curse and drink and fornicate all she wants because it isn’t a sin if there is no God. For the rest of the movie, every other word that comes out her mouth is a curse word. There were some words and expressions she used that I hadn’t heard before.

About that time my husband leaned over and said, “I can’t believe you picked this movie.” I told him I couldn’t either. None of the trailers I watched and nothing I read even hinted at this being a theme in the movie. I thought about getting up and leaving, and probably should have. But I kept thinking that down the road something would happen and Ruth would have her faith renewed and Paul would also be changed. And my husband and I rarely get the chance to go out. So I decided to stick it out and see what happened. Unfortunately it didn’t get any better, though the latter part of the movie got away from Christian bashing and back to the story of Paul’s escape.

I did find it interesting that even though the writers were definitely pushing Darwinism over Creationism, the story carried some very Christian like themes and influences. First of all, the names Paul and Ruth are from the Bible. Paul apparently has the ability to heal and raise the dead. He heals a dead bird – and then promptly eats it. (“I’m not going to eat a dead bird,” he quips.) When asked if he can do it for people, he says yes, but it is dangerous for him to do. (Hello, foreshadowing – you know it’s coming.) On the trip, he lays hands on Ruth’s eye, which is just a mass of white, and restores it. At the end of the movie, Ruth’s religious fanatic father shoots the man she likes in the chest. The wound is fatal. Despite the danger, Paul feels he has to try to bring back the man who has protected him and helped him. He lays hands on the man and slowly the chest wound heals and he begins to breathe again. At the same time, Paul begins to fade and weaken, apparently giving his life to help his friend. After a few moments, though, Paul comes back to life and after a few rounds with the bad guys, he is back with his people on a starship home. Another thing I noticed was that whenever the action became intense, the characters cried out, “Oh God!” Like I said, I think the writers have issues, and I will be praying for them.

Proverbs 29:11
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

I was not happy when I left the movie. I felt like I needed to do something or say something, but I wasn’t really sure what. I chastised myself for not walking out when the thought first occurred to me. Later I thought about how Jesus had cleared the temple of the merchants and money changers (John 2). His was a righteous anger, and He had the authority to do what He did. I was angry and indignant at the portrayal of Christians as ignorant, backward and gullible. I was angry that God had been dismissed as an urban myth. I was angry that a theater full of people found this funny. I was angry that I didn’t say or do anything. I didn’t stand up and interrupt the movie or make a whip and run people out of there – that would have only gotten me arrested and labeled a crazy religious fanatic (not that I mind really, lol).

James 1:19-20
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

What I can do is tell people about it. I can remind myself and everyone else that we must always guard our minds and our hearts. The old saying is “garbage in, garbage out.” You are affected by what you read, watch and listen to. I thought I had done the due diligence in checking out the movie and knowing what I would be watching, but I was surprised. I wonder how many other unsuspecting Christians paid $9 to watch their faith be bashed and undermined. I wonder how they reacted.

God always manages to turn all things around for good, though. The one good thing that came from seeing the movie is that on the way home, it opened the door for a conversation with my husband about God and salvation. Seeds were planted. That made sitting through the movie worth it. However, I don’t recommend anyone else see this movie. In fact, I hope that anyone who reads this will warn others not to give this movie any of their time or money.

Now more than ever, we need to stand up for what we believe and for the One we believe in. Christianity is under attack on many fronts. The world is trying to limit our ability to worship, pushing the limits of our freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If that isn’t successful, it tries to demean us and make us look like fools. But the real fools are the ones who say there is no God. In the end, they will have to stand before Him, as will we all. Jesus said that if we deny Him before men, He would deny us before the Father (Matthew 10:33). “Paul” is just a fictional character in a movie. But the men who wrote this and the people who acted it out will be held accountable for their words and their portrayal. Even worse are those who watch and condone it. We need to be aware of what we let into our lives and what we condone, because we will have to answer for it.

I was fooled by the humorous ads about this movie, but I was not fooled by the movie’s message. My faith was not shaken, but only reinforced. If anything, the anger I felt has fueled my passion for sharing the Word of God.
 

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Posted on 04/01/2011 11:23 AM by Susan Nelson
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