Centered

The longer I walk with God, the more I want to emphasize the basics of the Christian faith. Today, if we want to, we can attend all kinds of special conferences that emphasize particular areas – prophecy, apostolic ministry, spiritual gifts, intercession – all of which are valid expressions. But the more I hear about such things, the more I want to focus my attention on the essence of the basic Gospel.

I keep coming back to the most basic elements of our faith: the message of God’s grace, salvation, what makes life, life, why we should have joy.

Jesus is the center of our faith. I keep returning to the center because I want to be centered! Here, clinging close to Jesus, we are safe, protected, shielded from the storms of life. The storms will still come. We will still be challenged, stretched, wrung out. But we will be anchored in Him. Secure, unshaken.

Racing car drivers are trained to focus their attention on where they want to go (as opposed to where they don’t want to go). The premise is simple: they are traveling so fast that if something catches their attention and they look at it, they’ll hit it! So they learn to tune out the peripheral and focus on the road ahead.

We find ourselves moving in the right direction when we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, our gaze fixed on Him. I don’t want to pay too much attention to the peripheral. I don’t want to be drawn away to focus on specialty areas on the side. I want to keep my attention on Jesus.

If I take my eyes off Him, I can’t follow where He is going. I am less in tune with Him. Less aware of what’s on His heart. When I keep my eyes fixed on Him, I stay connected to the simplicity and power of the Gospel. My priorities are the same as His priorities. My heartbeat is in tune with His heartbeat.

I believe when others respond to Jesus, they respond because of the simple Gospel message: from darkness to light, from death to life, from hopelessness to hope, from unbelief to faith.

Let’s keep it simple, and let’s keep centered.

Living As “Aliens and Strangers”

What’s the first word you think of when you hear the word “stranger?”

For many, the answer is “danger.” Of course, there are good reasons that we warn small children not to trust those unknown to them, but sometimes even as adults—perhaps even as a society—our first reaction to those who are different than us is to suspect they could be a potential threat.

The Bible calls for a different approach to strangers. The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, literally means “the love of strangers.” We tend to think about hospitality as having our friends over for a meal—but so long as it is our friends whom we are entertaining, it is not genuine hospitality, at least in the original sense of the word.

The Bible never promises that all strangers are safe, but nevertheless we are commanded repeatedly to love them. When we do so, the book of Hebrews suggests, we may just be welcoming an angel without realizing it. Those whom some in our society presume to be a threat could actually be a blessing.

Another key biblical teaching about “strangers” is that, if we profess to follow Jesus, we are strangers. Paul, Peter, and the author of Hebrews all use the idea of immigration as a metaphor for what it means to be a Christian. Our primary identity—superseding our allegiance to our country, our city, our family, or any other entity—is as citizens of heaven, and that means that we ought never to fully “fit in” on earth.

While it is appropriate to be grateful for and loyal to our country, we must be careful never to conform fully to the culture around us, because our ultimate home is elsewhere. Refugees—who, even as they integrate into a new country, often carry in their hearts a longing for the country they were forced to leave behind—have much to teach us about what it means to follow Jesus, living and seeking the good of this land while always conscious of our true homeland.

Reflection Questions:

1. How might the biblical command to hospitality—to love strangers—inform how you respond to refugees who arrive in your community?

2. If your first allegiance is to God’s kingdom above any country on earth, how might your views toward foreigners be different than those who are not Christians?

How to UNCOVER God’s Word:

ASK – God to connect with you here. In prayer, start by slowing down, inviting God to be present. Begin with focus and openness to see what God has for you.

READ – the selected section of Scripture slowly. Take note of the words and phrases that intrigue you, reading them a second time if necessary.

REFLECT – on what grabs you. What connections do you see at this point in your life? How might God be speaking to you through these words? Stop long enough to let this take root and thank God for engaging you.

RESPOND – to the Scripture. Speak directly to God about what’s on your mind and heart. Look for ways to live out what you’ve uncovered – individually and with your church. And look for ways to bring what you have discovered to others.

HOW WE SHOULD LIVE – PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

If you are a father, you have likely tried multiple ways to motivate your kids: threats of punishment, promises of rewards, wielding your authority, and reminding them of all you have done for them. In many ways, pastoring a group of people is a lot like parenting. When the apostles wrote letters to the churches, they cared deeply for the people receiving them and viewed themselves as their fathers in the faith.

How did the apostles strive to motivate people to live in response to God’s greatness and grace? How did they encourage them to live the reality of their new identity? The apostles often rooted the imperatives (the commands) God gave in the indicative (what Christ has done). To understand their letters, it is helpful to understand the difference between imperatives and the indicative.

Imperative = Commands or “Do”

Indicative = What Christ accomplished or “Done”

You will find that the apostles’ letters are filled with imperatives, but these imperatives are grounded in what Christ has done (indicative). That’s because if our hearts are not refreshed and renewed with what Christ has done for us, our hearts are unable to obey Him. We need to be in awe of His grace to be motivated to live out the commands (the imperatives).

Let’s look at some passages written to the churches. Note if they are imperative or indicative.

EPHESIANS 5:25: Husbands, love your wives (imperative), just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. (indicative)
ROMANS 6:1-2
EPHESIANS 4:32
ROMANS 15:7
2 CORINTHIANS 8:7,9

Do you see the common theme? The imperatives are there—Do this, but they are always rooted in the indicative—because Christ has done that. As your heart is constantly refreshed with what Christ has done, you want to obey Him. You want to follow Him. His commands don’t feel like a burden because this world is less and less attractive to you as you view Him as greater and greater.

Let’s close with this example: We are to think of others first (imperative) because Christ put our salvation ahead of His comfort (indicative). Ponder this as you read PHILIPPIANS 2:3-11.

What’s the difference in an imperative and an indicative?

What are some examples of indicatives that motivate you? Why do they motivate you?

What happens if we get the imperative before the indicative?

THERE IS NOW NO CONDEMNATION – ROMANS 8:1-4

Romans 8 is filled with great news about what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Read Romans 8:1-4.

Condemnation is a legal term that speaks to both the declaration of guilt and the punishment associated with that guilt. While we deserve condemnation from God because we are sinners, there now exists no condemnation. All of God’s wrath and condemnation has been replaced with His love and mercy toward you. And it is not as if His wrath is on you when you have a bad day or struggle with sin. His wrath, His condemnation, is no more. It has been replaced with His righteousness.

The opposite legal term of condemnation is justification. A judge either declares a person to be condemned or declares a person to be justified. There is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ because Christ justified us. So why is there no condemnation? Because the Holy Spirit grabbed our hearts and changed us, setting us free from “the law of sin and death” (v. 2). This phrase refers to the general principle that sin has corrupted all of us and that our sin leads to death. We were imprisoned by sin and death. But the Holy Spirit changed us.

The law God gave His people in the Old Testament was not bad, it was just powerless to change anyone. It can’t save us from our sins; it can only point to our need for a Savior. That’s why God sent His own Son in the flesh to be a sin offering. Just as sacrifices in the Old Testament were offered to God so He would be merciful to the people, Christ is our sin offering. Instead of condemning you, God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus. Your sin was removed from you and placed on Jesus who took your condemned sin.

And there is more. Because Jesus perfectly obeyed the law, His obedience is given to you in place of your sin. You have fulfilled the law’s requirements because Christ’s obedience is now yours.

How do we know if we are His? As verse 4 says, those who are His are those who walk with Him, who become more like Him, who walk with the Spirit and don’t spend their lives living in the flesh for the things of this world. For men like that, there is absolutely no condemnation!

Finding God Part Ten

Have you received God’s gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus? Here is what God has done for you:

* You have been declared “”not guilty” by God. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for the all the things you have ever done wrong, setting you free to be forgiven by God.

* You have been saved from hell, both from an eternity without God as well as from the darkness we feel now from fear, despair, guilt, addiction, bitterness, etc.

* You have been born again. God has changed your life forever because God now lives in you. You are a brand new creation.

Finding God Part Nine

Will you turn your life over to your Creator?
Will you believe Jesus Christ is that one Person, that one relationship, you need?
Will you admit you need him and confess your wrongdoing?

Here’s how you can turn to God:
1. Admit your spiritual need. Admit you are a sinner.
2. Believe Jesus died for YOU on the cross.
3. Receive him into your life by trusting him to forgive you forever.
4. Repent, and be willing to turn from your sin.

Here is a sample of what you might say to God:
“Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I was made for you, but I’ve been living for me. I want to begin a relationship with you now. I believe that you died in my place, to pay the penalty for my sin, and rose again for my salvation. I need your forgiveness. I now invite you to come into my life as my Lord and Savior.”