My son, Gabe won student of the month at his school. The theme was “courage”, which I thought was extremely fitting!
His school had an awards ceremony this morning at 8 am so we had to wake Gabe up way earlier than usual to get him there. We couldn’t tell him why, since it was supposed to be a surprise. We usually let him sleep until 9 and get him to school around 10:15 after a bath and various treatments…se we all had to get up pretty early to get him there on time.
As we were about to head out the door we saw the most beautiful sunrise. Because of his sleep issues, Gabe hasn’t seen a sunrise in a long time. He stood at the window and marveled for a good ten minutes. Something about the sunrise inspires praise. It’s a little bit of glory breaking through the bleakness. It’s the light cutting through the darkness.
The ceremony was pretty brief and there were a lot of proud parents there but I’d doubt that there were any more proud than we were. For me, this moment represents so much. At one point I told Gabe that he was so brave. He said, “but Mom, I’m scared a lot.” I said facing hard things and not quitting makes you brave. If we never felt afraid we wouldn’t need courage.
God is faithful. He promised to never leave or abandon us.
“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5
Yesterday I took just Gabe out shopping. I don’t often get to spend alone time with him and I was reminded what an amazing kid he is. He has such a tender soul. He wants to run an orphanage when he grows up… but he also wants to drive a Ferrari, so… 😉
We had a fun time, just the two of us. On the way home he kept asking me about Heaven and what it’ll be like when Jesus comes back.
I explained to him that Jesus will appear in the sky with great glory, riding the clouds. That every eye will see him, even those that pierced him. That we will rise to meet him and be changed, to be like him. That there will be no more sickness, death, pain…
I got choked up and so did he. He said, “Mom, I can see him coming.” I said, “honey that’s the Holy Spirit showing you that it’s true.”
You see, just the day before he had been in a lot of pain. In between tears and sobs he had asked, “if God loves me, why am I suffering so much?”
The conversation, and the sweet presence of God, was something we both desperately needed. Something that I need more of.
In my own suffering I tend to turn away. I feel like I can’t take anymore disappointment at times, without losing hold of my faith. But yesterday, it was like He peeled back the curtain obscuring eternity and gave us both a glimpse of our future and the end of suffering. I felt a glimpse of the eternity and wonder awaiting us, and looking over at Gabe’s tear-filled eyes, I know he did too.
I know that Gabriel is being molded in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. I know he has a huge call on his life. Even at the age of 8, there is a level of tenderness, empathy and hunger for knowledge of God that is amazing…. probably as the result of all the suffering he’s had to endure.
We can got lost in the hardships we face but we need to remember that life here is short and eternity is long. We can’t choose the trials but we can choose how we face them. Our God loves us.
My first run in with alternative *christian* religion was as a brand new believer. I was hanging out with my soon to be husband; Tim and my sister. The door rang and a couple young men introduced themselves as members of a church, something to do with saints and Jesus Christ. I excitedly let them in. Tim was motioning ‘no’ to me but I didn’t understand why.
I had really no clue that they were mormons- or even what mormons believed. We sat down and I was hearing them out. Tim, of course, knew a lot that I didn’t and started grilling them with tough questions. I was just wondering why he was being rude to these nice young christian guys.
After they left Tim explained that they went door to door and present themelves as a form of christianity but what they really believe is completely contrary to biblical christian doctrine. When you get to the higher levels you find out about the planets to be populated, becoming a God yourself, and of course- the special underwear that you need to wear.
That event and many other run-ins peaked my interest in cults, especially those that are based off of a false Christ- like the J.W.’s and Mormons. In case you think I am being narrow minded or whatever- consider this. Both of these two religions reject the inherit diety of Jesus Christ. Mormons say Jesus attained godhood through obeying his own gospel. J.W.’s reject that Jesus was God at all.
One young J.W. women I talked to extensively revealed to me that her hope was basically to survive the apocalypse without sinning and then she might be admitted into heaven. She wasn’t one of the supposed 144,000 special chosen ones who get a pass. It sounded desperately sad to me. Sad and dead wrong. “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11
I honestly could go on and on about the horribly false teachings within just these two groups but I won’t. The point is- there are many false teachers, religions, and dangerous cults out there and we need to have a basic knowledge of them. These false religions are so dangerous because they aggresively recruit. They prey on people’s inherent need to belong and find answers. Then once you are in they exercise a growing level of control over every aspect of your life. And finally and worst of all- they are leading people to hell with their false promise of exclusive salvation.
Salvation isn’t complicated. It goes something like this- the Holy Spirit starts to stir your heart and woo you. You realize you need forgiveness and saving. You believe and repent of your sins. Boom. Saved. If it sounds too simple- well check out the thief on the cross. Luke 23 records this un-named thief crying out, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” All the thief had done was to cry out, as an act of faith, and he was saved. No time for penence. No religious affiliation. No tithing. Just a desperate plea and simple faith. And that was enough.
We get problems when people don’t accept that salvation is truly grace working through our faith; God’s provision meeting our desperate need. When people add in hoops to jump through, ‘special extra-biblical revelations’, or even/especially the law. Throw in a charismatic (nutjob) leader and his *exclusively correct* interpretation of scripture and you have all the makings of a cult.
The first church Tim and I went to was a non-demoninational church that had gotten caught up in the ‘prosperity’ gospel. When the congregation was encouraged to ‘sow generous seeds’ with credit cards we realized it was time to switch churches.
There are no perfect churches, because they are filled with imperfect people, of course. But a church should be a safe place to grow in your faith with other believers. Churches should be like a family. And the leadership should be approachable and open to criticism. Most importantly, the scripture needs to be taught by a Holy Spirit led Pastor who genuinely cares for those under his care.
It angers me that people seeking God would be so twarthed, hurt, manipulated or used. So many have been wounded, brainwashed, isolated, and even killed- such as in the Jonestown massacre.
Our best defense is certainly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Jesus promised to send him to help, comfort, teach, advocate, and guide us into the truth always. John 14:16 The Holy Spirit actually indwells every believer and is the down payment, the promise of our salvation. Jesus told us that we don’t need anyone to tell us how to think or feel or make our decisions. We can have direct access to the Heaveny Father and be enabled to understand scripture for ourselves because we are indwelt with the Spirit of God himself. ““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” John 16:13 That promise is for ALL believers. Not a select few who want to gain power over others.
People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
They hide what they teach.
Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
Experiential rather than logical.
Asking for money for the next level.
Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
They do not allow their teachings or practices to be questioned. If you question, then automatically the group assumes that something is wrong with you. It can never be the case that anything is wrong with the group’s practices or teachings. Often they will try to shut you down by accusing you of having a “bad attitude”.
They will push you to obey by using guilt. They will demand complete “submission” to the group, its leaders and its teachings. They will do this by making you feel absolutely rotten about yourself. They will ridicule you and attack any weakness you might have (or invent weaknesses you might have if they can’t find any). Their goal is to break your will by causing you mental anguish.
Interestingly, a lot of pyramind MLM companies have a lot of the same charactersitics. Not all cults are religions. But most are, because people do have a driving need to find truth, answers, connection and God. Even if a church doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria to be a cult, there can still be spiritual abuse going on. If there is coercion of any kind, run the other way. If your church is becoming more legalist and less about grace, run the other way. If you feel major warning tugs in your spirirt, run the other way. Abuse could also come in the form of an unhealthy, predatory relationship between a mentor and impressionable believer.
Christianity is primarily a personal religion. You can’t be saved by belonging to a group. Your pastor can’t save you. It is that personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ that saves you. Church is just a wonderful added bonus (or should be!) to help you find that sense of community and grow in your faith.
I think ultimately the goal of a cult is to steal that. To steal the joy and freedom that is available in Jesus Christ. To ensnare people to a counterfeit faith that destroys their lives and ultimately leads them to hell.
I am so sorry if you have been hurt by a religious group. But please don’t give up on seeking God. Many people, claiming to speak for Him, have horribly represented Him. The Bible says that God is love and that Jesus is the way. People let us down, but God does not.
Mainstream media is eating up the moral failure of another big-time Christian leader, Tullian Tchividjian. Made even juicier because he is the grandson of revered man of God, Billy Graham.
Tullian was also criticized as leading a ‘hyper grace’ movement, which has become popular. The movement seeks to set people free from legalism and guilt and to be released in to freedom in the walk with Christ. Sounds good, right?
The problem comes when we focus on grace to the exclusion of truth. Jesus himself came full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Yes, at times the road to holiness is hard, steep and lonely. If it wasn’t, everyone would be headed there. “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14
Our inner man, or spirit, rejoices in the things of God. Romans 7:22 But we all have a sin nature, or ‘flesh’ that is hostile towards God. Romans 8:7
So we daily face a choice- sanctification or rebellion?
We are all saved 100% by grace. Yes, we all continue to ‘stumble in many ways’. But….. salvation is just the beginning. God has a plan for the life of every believer. If we cooperate with the ongoing process of sanctification, God can and will do amazing things with our lives.
Pastor James MacDonald often says, “when God says, “Don’t,” He really means, “Don’t hurt yourselves.” God hates sin because it kills us. Romans 6:23 It separates us from him. It keeps us under an umbrella of spiritual death and from fulfilling our true destiny.
There is so much at stake.
Jesus’ obedience led him to a cross. We are all called to follow him to that cross. To die to self. To live for him. It isn’t legalism. It is the gospel.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13
Let’s be children who bear an increasing resemblance to our Heavenly Father in this dark world.
I haven’t blogged much lately. My kids were on spring break last week and this previous week I’ve felt honestly like I was doing more stumbling than following after Jesus. So, amidst the feelings of unworthiness and self-condemnation I felt God leading me back to grace.
The very definition of grace is un-merited favor.
The image I got was like this- imagine you are a young dumb kid and your dad borrowed you the family car. Through a stream of bad decisions and coincidence the car ends up wrapped around a tree and you end up in a cell. You know you need to call your dad. He is probably worried sick and you need someone to bail you out. Your dad seems calm on the phone but you dread the drive home. You walk out of the cell with your stomach in knots. But as soon as you see your dad he quickly embraces you. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow son, but for now I am just glad that you are alright. I love you.”
Every day we are that kid in some way. It may be our offense is a parking ticket or a full-on felony. We need rescue. We need ‘bail-money’. We need grace.
Perhaps the biggest trap for heartfelt Christians is the performance track. We desperately love God and want to please him and somewhere along the line we get hyper focused on our performance, the ‘do’ and start to lose our way.
“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:4
There is something scary and vulnerable about resting in the saving grace provided at the cross. Virtually all religion is man’s solution to the sin problem, trying to get good through works. The Gospel is radically different. It is more of a resting, a trusting, a following… if you are feeling more ‘driven’ than ‘led’ or hopeless at your inability to be a ‘good’ Christian, you may have gotten on a performance track and left grace behind.
Just resting in grace doesn’t feel right to our flesh. We want to add our good works to the mix. Our best righteousness. In reality it is like tossing mud into a pristine pool. We either end up with a Pharisee mindset or feeling like a lesser-than worm of a Christian. Neither is healthy.
Grace keeps pride at bay and joy high. When we realize we aren’t saving no-body- let alone our own sorry necks; and that Heaven is going to be FULL of people who don’t deserve to be there….we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. God saves us. Period. At our best. At our worst. Every day. His love and grace conquers the huge gap between perfect him and hopelessly sinful us. Even if we could inch and scoot closer we would still be infinitely far; light years, from the holiness of God. It was so hopeless only a miracle could be done. And it was.
I know, as a deeply flawed human being- some days there will be more stumbling than overcoming. Some days I’ll need more than my fair share of grace and forgiveness. It is difficult to wrap our minds around the Gospel fact that ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…’ (Romans 5:20)
The love of God doesn’t just rescue us once, at salvation. No, it rescues us day in and day out every day of our lives. It is that loving Father, showing up at the jail, bail money in hand.
That kind of love captures our human hearts like nothing else. Grace changes us like nothing else.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21
My prayer, for myself and everyone reading this- that we would let the love and grace of God wash over us afresh. In the face of hardships and our personal failures, he loves us…with an everlasting love. He is our Father and he will never leave nor forsake us.
As an American Christian I don’t face real persecution to speak of. But being a Christian to me means that I won’t partake in 90% of the entertainment out there. I gave up secular music, most movies, cable t.v., etc. I try to live in a way that pleases God- being quick to forgive and apologize, taking my thoughts captive, embracing humility, being self-controlled, etc. Just battling your own ‘flesh’ junk can be exhausting. Never mind the constant downward pull of living life under the curse in a fallen body with a sinful culture. Oh, and the crafty spiritual attacks from the forces of darkness.
Jesus; speaking of those who make great sacrifices for the Kingdom said, “who will not receive a hundred times as much here in this world—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields, along with persecution—as well as eternal life in the age to come.” Mark 10:30
There are many, many blessings to following Christ…but there is a very real cost too. Jesus said we are to count the cost. Luke 14 We must be willing to give up everything else. Luke 14:33 We must carry our own cross and follow him. Luke 14:27 Following him can be very tough. The way is narrow. Matthew 7:13 “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22 We are sanctified through sufferings. Hebrews 5:8
So following Jesus is counter-cultural, it means a life of self-denial, and at times lonely up-hill climb…when most people are moving downhill.
So…what is the point?
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Cor. 13:12
For me; I have decided that he is worth it. Jesus died for me, won’t I be willing to live for him? Guys, I have seen glimpses- like through a mirror dimly- but glimpses none the less; of who he is. Usually when I have needed it most. He appears and my troubles vanish. I get so overwhelmed in his presence. Nothing compares.
I am living for the day when I will see him face to face, and know him as fully as I am known. I imagine I will probably collapse into a sobbing mess in his presence. He will bend down, gently wipe my tears away and say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Guys there will be tears. Not tears of sorrow. There is no sorrow in Heaven. Tears of joy. For us who have willingly bent our knees on Earth we will be completely overcome with joy. I believe in that moment everything will be clear. Everything will make sense. We will see that Jesus was so worth every sacrifice and every hardship.
There are so many blessings to following Christ here in the present. But I think if we only knew what awaits us… we would be completely wrecked for anything but Jesus for the rest of our lives.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Cor. 2:9
I really don’t think we yet even have the capacity to understand. Just have faith that the moment we step into eternity- and into his presence- we will get it.
In this short, temporal life; anything and everything we do for Christ matters and carries over into eternity. Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Revelation 22:12
What I have seen through that dim glass has been so awesome, I am going to spend the rest of my life in pursuit of HIM. He is worth it and so much more.
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11