Deliberate

Deliberate – an adjective. Something done consciously and
intentionally. Other key descriptive words include intentional,
calculated, conscious, intended, planned, studied, knowing, willful,
purposeful, purposive, premeditated, and preplanned.
That’s a dictionary definition of the word deliberate. For me, this
definition begs the question: How deliberate are we about our
relationship to Jesus Christ? That is, as we live our lives, do we
live them in a deliberate way – bent on lives that describe and
demonstrate Jesus?
Faith has the opportunity to be lived out consciously and
intentionally – deliberately. What does God’s Word say to us about
this? Here are five things we need to remember – and do:
Love God above all else. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” God created us to be in fellowship with Him – it’s the basis for us, so when we are not in fellowship, we are out of sync – out of what and where He created us to be.

Love others as yourself. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Study God’s Word. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. These are all qualities of how we should live – we find them in God’s Word to us.

Pray. Life is much more than a simple prayer. Paul tells us to pray “without ceasing”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17). Praying helps keep our hearts in tune with God, and often brings our will in line with His.

Live out your faith. Be doers of the word, not hearers only (James 1:22). A belief that is not authentic enough to influence our actions is probably not a belief that is serious.

The challenge before us is to strive to live out these intentionally. Let’s consider the word deliberate as we, in faith, follow our Lord Jesus Christ in:
Worship – may we be deliberate in our pursuit of simply worshiping God.

Prayer – may our prayer time be deliberate, seeking and praying for God’s direction, His power in our lives, His motives sought and followed.

Stewardship – may our motives be that which seeks to glorify God, remembering all that we have is His, remembering the use of our time, our talent and our treasure for God’s glory is a privilege He gives us, a privilege that should be deliberately lived out each day of our lives.

Knowledge – may we be deliberate in our study and application of God’s Word, not just in the reading of, but also in the living out of God’s Word.

Love – may we be deliberate in our love – our love first of God, and second, of our neighbor.

Life – may our very lives be the deliberate intention to please God, not out of fear but of the joy that is ours from Him.

Join me in striving to be deliberate, not hap-hazard, in our pursuit of the One who pursued us and made us His through His Son Jesus – our Lord and our Savior. Amen.
Mark

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Who Needs God?

Easter is just around the corner – and it seems we just celebrated Christmas! These Christian events are the most celebrated during the calendar year, both by followers of Jesus, and by the community at large. For business, it’s increased income, what with presents purchased and cards sent. For the church, it’s increased activities and larger attendance.eastercrossandclouds

But what about us as individuals? What about you and what about me? What’s important to you and to me at these special times of the year? Do you draw nearer to God? Do I draw nearer to God?

Who Needs God?

We know the quick answer is everybody needs God. We know it for a variety of reasons. But does the world know the answer? How would they answer this question?

During this season of Lent (beginning with the 1st Sunday of March), we’ll be looking to God’s Word for the answers to this question, for you and for me, and for everyone. It’s how God’s Word answers this question and it’s also then what you and I do with God’s answer. When you and I know God’s answer it places so much more on what we do with both Christmas and Easter, for ourselves and for our church – to the marketplace, to our neighborhoods, anywhere we are, and everywhere we are.

The Apostle Paul explained it this way: For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Paul realized what mattered – and for us, whether it be Christmas or Easter (or any other time of the year), this is what matters – Jesus!

As people who follow Jesus, we know this – and we can make the most of our lives, living for Him. And for those who don’t know Him and therefore do not follow Him, they hopefully can see Him in us – in what we say and in what we do.

There are two main events happening at Orenco Church during Lent (beginning in March and running up until Easter Sunday) that I hope you’ll take advantage of – our new sermon series about Who Needs God? and our Wednesday night study series about the Last Week of Jesus’ Life (every Wednesday, from March 1st through April 5th). Not only do I hope you’ll be there for each of these, but that you’ll also bring others with you. That’s my hope – and that’s my prayer!

This Easter season – may Jesus Christ deepen His relationship with us – each of us. Amen!

Be Ready

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15-16

Giving an answer – telling someone about Jesus, and why I’m a Christian. This passage from 1 Peter always impacts me. It reminds me of Jesus’ last words to His disciples – Go and tell (see Matthew 28:19-20). And in giving an answer, this verse tells me to be prepared to do so – and to do it with gentleness and respect. So how do we do this? And why is the “how” so important?

We live in the age of reality TV. A New York Times article revealed that in a recent poll reality TV dominated the category of “most watched” shows. And among Millennials 15 of the top 20 most watched shows fell into that category. While some of those shows are “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent,” others are unscripted shows of dialogue and sometimes unsavory living. It seems we like to see others’ lives spiraling – maybe it makes us feel our own lives aren’t that bad.

So what I’m getting at is our response as disciples – as followers of Jesus Christ, not just to reality TV, but to the condition of life itself. More and more life today seems to be pointed at living apart from God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that’s not what God wants. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why Jesus lived among people just like us. That’s why He taught God’s Word as no one else, then and today, had ever taught. And that’s why He died and was raised to life – for us. The penalty for our sin, paid. Our relationship with God the Father, restored.

Always be prepared – that’s the motive. To give an answer – that’s the reason. To everyone who asks – that’s the “who.”

I was looking at some commentary on this 1 Peter passage – the writer asked, “If you saw your neighbor’s home on fire and thought your neighbor was asleep, would you see that as a private matter, or would you find a way to get your neighbor’s attention? If you had good news that could help change another person’s life in the most positive ways in this life and in eternity, wouldn’t you want to share it?”

That’s the motive. A house on fire – perhaps someone trapped inside. Again, that’s the motive – good news that can help change another’s life in the most positive way, for today and for eternity. One’s response is an answer to life’s circumstances. The Bible gives us the answer to those circumstances. It’s Jesus! And it’s only Jesus!

Here’s an example from the Bible: John the Baptist clearly told people that Jesus is the one. John was a witness to the light. With words and deeds he pointed people to Jesus. He never put the spotlight on himself; he always put the spotlight on Jesus.

That is what being a contagious Christian is about. Clearly, we aren’t John the Baptist. But we are followers of Jesus Christ. What we say and what we do (our words and our deeds) are examples of being ready to Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. In the Message version of the Bible we read, “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.”

Our faith is designed to be shared, to be lived out. As we begin a new year, may that very faith be what we are known by. May both our words and our deeds be such that they point to Jesus, our Savior and our Lord – the real reality of the world.

Sola Deo Gloria

I remember becoming a member of my home church and learning some of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – and distinctly remember the answer to this question: What is the chief end of man? The answer? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Over the last few months we’ve looked at the Five Solas – the five statements that stand alone by and of themselves. While we look at Scripture, while we compare it with other writings (which by the way, we can do but only with the understanding that God’s Word is the final authority), we find there are parts of Scripture that we can and must base our faith and practice upon – for upon these statements do we find our foundation for our relationship to God and from them, how we can strive to live our lives.

Here’s a quick review: first, we looked at Sola Fide – that we are justified in our relationship to God by faith alone. Second, we looked at Sola Scriptura – that God’s Word (the Bible) stands by itself, that it justifies itself, that no other part of literature compares to it. Next, we looked at Sola Christo – that Jesus Christ alone is Savior and Lord, that He alone is God’s Son, that He alone is our Savior and Redeemer. Last month we looked at Sola Gratia – that we are saved from our sin and its penalty only by God’s grace – it is His gift to us, and not of anything we might or could ever do. Finally, the last of the Five Solas – Sola Deo Gloria – glory only to God.

That answer to the catechism question, “What is the chief end of man?” While the language of that question is a bit dated, it is asking us, “Why am I here? What is the main reason for my life and the way I should live my life?”

The answer: the main reason for my life is to bring glory to God my Creator, and to enjoy the relationship I have with Him forever – all of my life. We read back in the creation story in Genesis that God created us – made us in His image, to have a relationship with Him that was better than any other part of His creation could ever have with Him. Sadly, our sin has severed that relationship – but God in His love and grace and mercy (Sola Gratia) has made it possible for that relationship to be, not only repaired, but made whole and complete – solely through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – His Son and our Savior – the only Savior for each and every one of us (Sola Christo). We accept God’s gift to us through faith – recognizing and claiming God’s gift of salvation solely as His gift to us (Sola Fide) by faith alone. We recognize all of this through the work of God’s Holy Spirit – and find it expressed to us in God’s Word and while based on expositions of that Word, it is founded only in God’s Word (Sola Scriptura).

Sola Deo Gloria – Latin, for to God alone be all glory. We get to live out what we have from God each and every day of our lives. What a privilege this is – each day a day to celebrate God the   Father, and to thank Him for all He has done.

Never forget these words from a favorite hymn, and then, together, let’s live them out each day:

How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me – Things so undeserved, yet You give to prove Your love for me? The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude – All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee. To God be the glory, To God be the glory; To God be the glory for the things he has done. With His blood He has saved me; With His power He has raised me; To God be the glory for the things he has done.

 

Sola Gratia

“Now God has us where He wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

This is what we read in the Message Translation of Ephesians 2:7-10. You may be more familiar with the NIV translation, which reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the past months, we’ve been looking at the 5 Solas – five statements of our faith that stand alone. Sola Gratia states that our salvation comes only through God’s favor. We do not earn it – in fact, we cannot earn it. It is a gift of God.

In our mind’s eye we see a picture of our Lord Jesus on the cross – it is there that our     salvation is secured – paid for by His death and resurrection. We read in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” We also read in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-11, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” We don’t look for God on our own – He seeks us, and in (and only in) His Son, God defeats sin and its penalty of separating us from God. Paul continues in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God comes looking for us – the Shepherd looking for His lost sheep. In Christ Jesus, He makes us His. It is all His work – and it is His Holy Spirit who persuades us to say “Yes” to Him. It is His Holy Spirit who brings us to say “yes” and enjoy the relationship with God for which we are created.

Today, take time to read Psalm 23 – it’s all spelled out in this beautiful psalm – the     Shepherd Psalm. Because of God’s gift of His Son, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Amen.

 

Sola Christo

The past couple months we’ve look at the Five Solas – the five statements that stand alone, as to our faith and relationship to God. We first looked at Sola Scriptura – that God’s Word stands alone, that it is God’s Word to us, that it tells us about our relationship to God our Creator, to Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and His Holy Spirit our Sustainer.

Last month we looked at Sola Fide – that we are saved only by our faith, not of our own effort. God provided the means for our sins, all on the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ. Sola Fide means we have our salvation, our victory over our sin and death, by the work of God through His Son, His death having paid the price for our sin. Sola Fide is the statement that we accept His grace for us only through faith.

This month we look at Sola Christo – that Jesus is the only means of our salvation. I remember a song many years ago that said, “There are so many roads up the mountain, but the view from the top is still the same.” There is a worldview that believes that our salvation and relationship with God can come through many different ways – living a good life, for instance. This worldview would also have us believe that all religions are ultimately the same, and that Christianity is one of many ways to have that relationship with God.

Sola Christo, instead, states that our salvation comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Read what God’s Word tells us about Jesus:

The angel’s announcement about Mary’s Son – “She will give birth to a Son; and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” – Matthew 1:21.

Jesus’ proclamation about Himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6.

Words from Peter’s sermon: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” – Acts 4:12.

Paul’s statement: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” – 1 Timothy 2:5.

Each of these Scriptures tell us that our relationship to God is only through His Son – that there is no other way, no other means, no other relationship that gives us this relationship to God. Our sin separated us from God, and only knowing and declaring Jesus as our Savior and Lord restores the relationship with God we were created to have.

Think of this in this way: you and I striving as best we can to have a relationship with God,  knowing He is perfect and knowing that we are imperfect. No matter how hard we try, we find ourselves falling short of that perfection necessary to have our relationship with God. In the Old Covenant with God, our relationship with God was made perfect by the sacrifice of a lamb – but that only covered previous sin, so that a lamb must be sacrificed again and again and again.

Now in God’s New Covenant with us, Jesus Christ, His only Son, endured the cross for us, a once-and-for-all sacrifice that paid the price for our sins. All of the scriptures listed above from God’s Word speaks to this unique truth for us, and for all of humankind.

Finally, the Apostle Paul gives us our part of the privilege we receive through Sola Christo – “for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Let us, each of us, live our lives for Jesus Christ, the One who alone restored us, for today and for forever.

 

Sola Fide

 

Last month we began to look at the 5 Solas – five   essential statements about our faith’s foundations – the “onlys” we stand on. Last month we began with Sola Scriptura – that God’s Word stands alone and unique, and that we look at God’s Word based on God’s Word – through its own lens, rather than through the lens of life and culture. Certainly life and culture affect us, but God’s Word stands alone.

This month we will look at Sola Fide, or faith alone. Sola Fide states that we are saved through faith alone, and not by our works. The Apostle Paul spoke to this in his letter to the church at Ephesus:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is this “grace” by which we are saved – God’s grace given to us through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are   justified – that is our relationship with God the Father is made right – through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from that death. Sola Fide states our works are our response to God’s grace given to us – and not that our works are what saves us (see Ephesians 2:8). Sola Fide, or “faith alone”, asserts that good works are not a means or requisite for salvation. Sola Fide teaches that justification, being in fellowship with God, is received by faith alone, without any need for good works on the part of the individual. Our good works are the evidence of saving faith, but the good works themselves do not give us our salvation – we are not saved by how we live, but rather, how we live declares what we believe and how we are going to live, because of all that God has done for us through His Son.

Another way to look at this begins in the Garden – we see that Adam and Eve are living in God’s presence and that it is perfect. But Satan tempts them to eat the fruit from the tree God had told them not to eat from. And they do eat, disobeying God. Their sin (and subsequently our sin) enters into the picture. It is that sin, theirs and ours, that separates us from the relationship with God that God created us to have.   Sola Fide states that only God can make right the relationship with Him that we were created to have, and that we are justified (made right with God) only through faith, only by accepting God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ.

A question that arises is then how do we interpret James’ writing, that faith without works is dead? Does this mean that we are saved by our works, and that there is disagreement in God’s Word about this?

No, James is writing to instruct and remind us that our works, our living out what and how God calls us to live, demonstrates our faith. It shows our faith, it declares our faith. And it is through our good works, our living out lives that follow God’s will for us, that others realize how God loves us and restores us for the relationship with God we are created to have.

Next month we will look at another of the Solas – Sola Gratia: Salvation by Grace Alone.

Together, let us live out the relationship with God that Jesus died for us to have. Amen.