Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Don’t I Feel Like a New Creation?

By Allen White

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

I always wished that this verse was a little more automatic. “You are a new creation. Poof, the old is gone. Flip the tassel on your mortarboard. You have graduated to sainthood.” Then, we would all throw our caps into the air, and we would move on into our new lives. But, in reality, when I read this verse and look at my life, I think “not so much.”

Paul is describing a spiritual transaction. What once bound us to an eternity of punishment has been exchanged for an eternity in Heaven with God. Our destination has been changed. Now, our path must be re-routed.

Just like programming new coordinates into your GPS, your route is recalculated, often with the instruction to make a U-turn. If you depend on the GPS, you often find that the route is unfamiliar. Sure, it might be a shorter way, but it makes us uneasy. We’re not entirely convinced that the GPS is right. It’s just a machine. Even though it speaks, it doesn’t listen. The GPS doesn’t always get it right, but God does.

Some of us changed our destination many years ago. Often we get the feeling that maybe we should be a little further along than we are. Part of spiritual growth has to do with our availability and attention. The other part is being patient with the process.

You are a New Creation. God did that work in your life when you came to faith in Him. But, it’s also a work that God continues to work out in your life (Philippians 2:12-13). In the process, it’s easy to grow impatient with yourself and with others. God is at work. He’s guiding you in the right direction. Trust His guidance.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Misunderstanding God’s Creative Process

By Allen White

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

I was driving down Cicero Avenue in Chicago a few years ago. For some reason, I thought that this would save a little time driving from I-90 to Midway Airport. The route was far from expedient, but it was educational.

The light turned red. I stopped and looked to my left. At that moment, I saw a man with ratty looking clothes and an unshaven face, lifting a bottle cloaked in a paper bag and taking a swig. This is not an unfamiliar scene. What was unfamiliar to me was my response. I didn’t think “That dirty old bum. I can’t believe people live like that.” The thought that instantly popped into my head was “This is not who God made you to be.” I surprised myself in that moment.

The light changed. I began to drive, but I also began to think about that man. Years ago, he was a precious baby cuddled his mother’s arms. Every person who looked at his little face couldn’t help but smile. I doubt that he receives many smiles his direction these days.

Most of us will never be a bum on skid row. But, in our thoughts, our attitudes, our actions, our priorities – are we who God created us to be? We are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece. We are not our own workmanship. Believers are not “self-made.” We are designed by God to do what God created us to do. The problem is that we often misunderstand God’s creative process.

Sure, we want to see how everything will come together. We all want to feel that we are living a life that’s worth living. We want what Joseph had. “He succeeded in everything that he did.” (Genesis 39:3) But, none of us want to be thrown down a well (Genesis 37:23-24), sold into slavery (Genesis 37:36), falsely accused (Genesis 39:17), and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:20-21). If we could skip the process and just get to the final product, that would be awesome.

I’ve always been fascinated by sculpture. The thought of taking a block of granite or marble, envisioning the sculpture, then carefully removing everything that is not part of the masterpiece is mind-boggling to me. But, this is the perfect picture of God’s work in our lives. When we go through trials and hard times, God is chipping away at the parts of us that don’t belong on His masterpiece. It’s not pleasant. Sometimes we wonder if God cares about us at all. But, as we trust His hand, we come to learn that His intent for us is for our good.

How is God chiseling away at your life these days? Do you feel like you are living the life God intended for you or is something getting in the way? Are you resisting the work that God needs to do? Are you resenting it?

God has a plan for you. You must learn to trust His hand.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oxymoron: Self-made Christian

By Allen White

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Galatians 3:3

There is a tension in the Christian life between what we do and what God does. While the Bible tells us that “without Him we can do nothing” (John 15:5) we argue back that “if we do nothing, it’s without Him.” Our Christian walk requires both our effort and God’s grace. It’s a lopsided balanced that depends on God much more than us. It’s not up to us. But, it does involve us.

If we fully depend on Christ for our salvation (as we should), but live however we want, then we have to wonder if we’re saved at all. Salvation should make a radical difference in our lives. If we say that we follow God, but we don’t have any desire for Him, then we should question whether we belong to God at all.

But, on the other side, if we feel that rule-following is the guarantee of our salvation, then we’ve got it wrong. The guarantee of our salvation is the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22), not rule-keeping.

When the people of God live as if they don’t need God, then we’ve got a problem. I’m not talking about believers that are so caught up in the things of the world that they ignore God. I’m speaking of those of us who attempt to live our lives so perfectly that we don’t need grace and forgiveness. In our minds, we’ve done nothing wrong. If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you don’t need God.

The problem is that those who don’t feel the need for a daily dose of grace are living well according to a list, but it’s not God’s list. They put a heavy burden on themselves and attempt to live a life that God hasn’t called them to.

The Bible addresses the tension between God’s work and our work this way: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13). Who’s working? Is God working? Yes, God is working. Are we working? Yes, we are working. It’s not a competition. Believers and God work together to fulfill His good purpose.

Where are you tempted to depend on yourself for your spiritual well-being? What do you do or intentionally avoid to maintain your salvation? Are you fully trusting God or are you trusting your own efforts? There are no self-made believers.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Can You Pass the Jesus Test?

By Allen White

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?
2 Corinthians 13:5

When I was 16-years-old, I became a member of my home church in Topeka, Kansas. The membership application asked the expected questions about my salvation experience and whether I had been baptized. Then, it asked about whether I participated in the following:

1. Do you smoke or drink alcohol?
2. Do you go to movies?
3. Do you play cards or dice?

There might have been some other questions along those lines, but those are the ones that stand out to me. I happily responded that I did not participate in any of these evil activities. Fortunately, they didn’t ask about spiritual pride or self-righteousness. I wouldn’t have qualified for membership.

Most religious institutions are harder to join than God’s family. God isn’t so concerned with quality control. God is not worried about being embarrassed by us. God just loves us. His ace in the hole is grace. Grace keeps us. Grace helps us. Grace grows us. If salvation depended on human effort, then God would have plenty to worry about. Fortunately, He’s taken much of that out of the equation.

So, here’s the question: why did Paul challenge the Corinthians to examine themselves and determine whether they were in the faith? What is that test?

Here’s a possible test:

1. Am I depending on Christ for my salvation? (Ephesians 2:8-9)

2. Is the faith I profess based on the Word of God, the Bible? (Romans 10:17)

3. What evidence does my life give for my faith in Christ? (James 2:17-18)

If we feel that we pass that short test, then we should celebrate what we’ve received in Christ. We should embrace the fact that “Christ is in us.” The power that created the universe in a spoke word, the power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in you and me. What could stand in our way? What couldn’t be accomplished? What is God calling you to? Don’t be intimidated. Ask God to reveal His power in your life to fulfill His calling.

If you’re not sure that you passed the test, but you want to follow Christ, the solution is simple: ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and surrender the control of your life to Him. If you’re not sure how, then just pray the words from the last sentence: “Jesus, forgive me of my sins and take control of my life.” It’s as easy as that, yet profoundly radical.


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

We Should Worry If We’re Not Suffering

By Allen White

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

“We should be worried if we’re not suffering,” according to Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God. If we fit into our culture so well that there is no friction between the way we live and the way the world lives, this is cause for concern. Have we been squeezed into the world’s mold? (Romans 12:2)

In my single days, I watched a lot of television…a lot. I didn’t realize how much television influenced me until after I got married and stopped watching as much television. Suddenly, television didn’t have the same appeal. After time passed, I went back and watched a few shows that I hadn’t seen for years. I was surprised by the language they used and the things they poked fun at. I was disturbed by what these programs portrayed. But, I was even more disturbed by the fact that I used to watch these programs and think nothing of it. I was the frog in the kettle. I was sliding down the slippery slope. Unaware.

Now this is not an effort to become some sort of goodie two shoes, holier-than-thou jerk. We don’t need any more of those. The point is that we were made for another place far from this world (Philippians 3:18-20). If we work hard to fit in with the world, then we have lost our reason for being.

The prophets of old followed God’s calling for their lives, and they suffered for it. Most of us would say, “Great. I thought that living in obedience to God would make our lives easier.” Here’s the news: following Christ is a harder path, but it’s a better path. It’s the path of salvation. At times, it’s not comfortable. At times, we suffer because of it. But, in the end, we become more like Christ.

Peter told us, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13). This is the part that we’d rather skip. These are the pages of our Bibles that we would prefer to have left stuck together. But, it’s also a bit of a relief, because some of us are going through some stuff, and it’s good to know that God hasn’t forgotten us and that our pain has a purpose.

No one’s life is easy. My life isn’t easy. Neither is yours. Our purpose on earth is not to have an easy and comfortable life. But, finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose is more satisfying than comfort or ease.

As I was walking over the Liberty Bridge this morning on my way to write, I spotted a plant growing in a difficult circumstance over the Reedy River Falls. It’s a non-native plant. A gardener didn’t plant it here. It just began to fulfill its purpose: to grow roots for nourishment and to reach out to the sun. There would be much easier places to grow, but this was the spot where this plant grew. It didn’t really have a choice.

We are not called to live someone else’s life. We are not given a life that is problem-free. We are blessed.

How is your life blessed despite your circumstances? How has God given you joy and peace in the middle of trouble? Thank God for His blessings in your life.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Persecuted for Being a Jerk

By Allen White

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11

I knew a woman years ago who was a chronic complainer. She didn’t feel like anything in her life ever went right. Even her tone of voice betrayed this attitude.

If you’ve ever watched the movie Monsters, Inc. (you’ve either never seen it or you’ve seen it 5,000 times), there is a character named Roz, who was the clerk of the company. She would say in a drowl tone, “You didn’t turn in your paperwork.” This chronic complainer that I’m talking about sounded just like Roz. For the sake of this devotional, we’ll call her “Roz.” I wouldn’t want to give her something else to complain about.

Roz complained about her kids, her church, her life, her health and her job (substitute teacher) – things were going nowhere good. She didn’t seem to ever have a good day.

One day in a class at church, she launched into complaining about the school district and how they were against her because she was a Christian. They didn’t call her to sub as much as she would like. They treated her poorly. They acted like they didn’t even like her. She felt that she was being persecuted because of Christ. She asked if the class would please pray for the spiritual battle she was facing.

Then, someone in the class suggested that maybe she was being “persecuted” for being a jerk. The amazing thing was that she took those words to heart and immediately changed her ways. She saw herself as the source of many of her problems and accepted responsibility for her actions. Roz suddenly became a delight to be around. People couldn’t get enough of her. Okay, that didn’t happen.

So now, she was being “persecuted” by her own church. Roz eventually left the church and joined another church where she could celebrate her glass being half-full with other persecuted jerks.

Who are you? Is there spiritual warfare happening around you because of Christ (Ephesians 6:12)? Or are you in a tough spot because your actions and attitudes have created a tough spot? I must admit that I have been Roz more than I’ve been like Christ.

The blessing doesn’t come from receiving the consequences that we deserve. Blessing comes from belonging to Christ.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The High Cost of Being Normal

By Allen White

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10

Most of us are very comfortable living in the norm. Granted, we would all consider ourselves to be slightly better than the average Joe, but we prefer to not be extremely ahead or extremely behind. Slightly ahead of the middle is where we like to live.
No one wants to be considered extreme.

But, then we pick up a book like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and we wonder, “Am I even a Christian at all?” Then, we put that book down and go back to reading something that feels a little more average. Now, we feel much better…a little Chicken Soup for our Souls. We’ll just keep a safe distance from the Tabasco for our souls.

But, here’s where we make the mistake. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted because of righteousness, not self-righteousness. I believe that the self-righteous should be persecuted, but they aren’t blessed. That system needs to break down. Self-righteousness stands in the way of God’s grace, His blessing, and His presence in our lives.

Now, in this age of tolerance, Christians are to be tolerated for their faith as long as they keep it to themselves. Once your deal begins to interfere with my deal, the gloves come off. Don’t go trying to help people. Get back in the middle. It’s safer. It’s cozy in here. Don’t get all “Francis Chan” on us. That line could make us laugh, but what if the sentence was “Don’t get all ‘Jesus Christ’ on us”? Ouch. This is why the middle is safer.

No one wants to be persecuted. We don’t. In America, there’s not much persecution going on anyway. I know that there have been lawsuits over displaying the Ten Commandments. But, what if instead of displaying the tablets on our lawns, we displayed them in our lives? Organized prayer has been removed from schools. I prayed in school all of the time. And, it wasn’t lead by a non-Christian faculty member. But, these are merely token things.

Is anyone in prison because of their faith like Paul was? Not that I know of. I’m not saying that I want to go to prison like Paul. If I did, I would not be like Joseph, that’s for sure.
The reward for persecution because of righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The reward for living in the middle of the pack is mediocrity.

Now, please don’t take this as a license to be a jerk. You’re on your own with the persecution that comes from that. But, where do you need to take a stand? When do you need to redirect a conversation, even among God’s people?

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