Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Born Again - faith in Christ alone!

The question is often raised, "What does it mean to be born again"? This question arises from different understandings concerning the passage from John where Jesus and Nicodemus are talking and Jesus tells him, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:5-6 NIV) And add to the mix the whole gifts of the Spirit thing and you get a real confusing situation. What does it mean to be born again? Does it mean that a person must have something beyond faith in Jesus Christ? Is not faith in Him enough to save? Or must you do something to be sure that you are saved?

Put bluntly, does a person have to speak in tongues in order to be born again? Does a person have to have certain date and time when he can say that he was "born again" in order to be saved? I often ran into this when I was in prison ministry. The "marks" of a true Christian included being able to speak in tongue. (We will deal with that in another blog.) And those who didn't speak in tongues was looked down upon as though you were a "second class" Christian.

So do you need to be born again? Yes. But before you gnash your teeth or jump up in joy or anger, hear me out. You do need to born again just as Jesus told Nicodemus. But this isn't an action on your part. It is the work of the Holy Spirit when He brings you to faith in Jesus. This happen through those precious Means of Grace (the means or things that the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to faith and keep us in faith, Word, Baptism and Lord's Supper). The Holy Spirit works to bring us to faith in Jesus through the Word, which is a common way an adult comes to faith as he is able to hear the Word, study it and the Spirit works through that Word. Then there is Baptism, often the means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring an infant or a child into a faith-filled relationship with Jesus. Either way, through Word or Baptism, a person is born again. (Baptism gives you both water and Spirit.)

Why do we need to be born again? Because we are born sinful (Psalm 51:5). Lost, sinners that we are, we cannot save ourselves. We cannot make that decision for Christ because "every inclination of the heart is evil all the time." (Genesis 6:5) The only decision we can make of ourselves is to sin, to turn away from Christ, to have nothing to do with God. The Spirit works in our hearts to change us, to make us new, to give us a new life. Paul writes, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) He writes of being made new in various other places as well. So we are made new, born again, through the Spirit, when we are brought into faith in Jesus Christ.

That begs the question, do you need to be "born again" in the sense of how it is used for those who have an "extra measure" of the Spirit, making them "true" Christians and others who aren't "born again" aren't true Christians? The answer is no you do not need that to be saved.

Jesus says, "Whoever believes in Him (the Son of God, Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever doe snot believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:18 NIV) It is faith in Jesus that saves, not being "born again" so that you can speak in tongues or have other gifts of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are never meant to tear someone down or make a believer doubt his/her salvation. That would not be the work of the Holy Spirit (remember we are told to test the spirits to see where they are from).

Do in answer to the question, "Can I be saved without being 'born again'?" The answer is a definite yes. For if I understand the question correct, you are asking if you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. And that is the only way we are saved - through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Don't let anyone make you feel as though you are not a "true" Christian just because you cannot point to a day or time when you were brought to faith or make you doubt your faith because you haven't had one of the "special" gifts of the Spirit. Those gifts are from the Spirit as He desires to give them not as we desire to receive them.

Faith in Jesus Christ, and faith alone saves. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 for more help in understanding this. God bless!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I was preparing for the sermon for this week and part of the Gospel (Mark 10:23-31) stuck in my mind. I won't be preaching on this part of the text so I thought I would add my thoughts here.
Jesus says, "No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundreds times as much in this present age and in the age to come - eternal life." (Mk. 10:29-30 NIV) As I thought of this, I realized that is what is taking place in family after family. The Gospel comes to the person, they are saved, they begin to live as a child of God and the family turns against them. They are treated differently because of trying to follow the Lord. They are scorned by family because they don't give in to the thinking of the world. And it is difficult on them.

It is hard to not have family with you. It is difficult to stand firm on your belief when your brother or sisters makes fun of you, looks down their nose at you or treats you differently because of your faith in Jesus. They want to party, you don't, so they don't invite you to spend time with them. Ouch. They like to be involved in sexual relationships outside of their marriage or with someone that they are not married to, so they don't want you around them. Sigh. They prefer to be backhanded in their dealings with others, lie to people, sneak around and then, when you speak the truth in love, they tear you down for being honest and open. It hurts.

Satan uses that to try to get the Christian to change their stand. He doesn't use it to try to get the non-Christian or non-practicing Christian (which almost is a misnomer since how can you be a Christian and not practice your faith?) to change and do what is right. The pressure is on the Christian. Are you going to stand strong? Are you going to continue to live your faith? Or will you give it up for the family? That, my dear ones, is a hard choice, almost unfair to the Christian. But it isn't unfair. It is what Christ lays before us time and again. How are you going to live? For Christ or for the world?

All I can say to you if you are facing this situation is, "Stay firm in faith." Remember not to take your eyes off the real goal - eternal life. I know that you aren't thinking eternal life when your family is pressuring you, but that is part of the package. Don't give up your walk of faith for a few moments of peace with the family. They will not give up their life for you, why are they asking you to give up yours for them? It is a struggle.

I am not going to tell you that it will be all right. It won't be. You will hurt. You will feel alone. You will think that maybe you are wrong in your beliefs and your walk. All those things will take place. At those times remember the promise of Christ, "I am with you always." (Matthew 28:20 NIV) That promise transcends all that you are facing right now in your life. The Lord promises help and strength. You are not alone. I know, you will feel like it. But the Lord will bring someone into your life to give you encouragement and strength.

It is a hard walk - the life of faith. But the outcome, the end is worth every step. Remember that. That is what Jesus is telling you in this reading. (OK, so there is more to it than that, but there needs to be something left for the sermon.) Hang in there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I am amazed at how self-centered people can be. (Is that a self-centered statement? Am I assuming too much in that I am able to make the decision that someone else is self-centered? If so, then I am wrong too.) I mean that most people are all about themselves. It seems that the thought goes like this, "If I want it, think it or focus on it, then is it is what is right. No one can tell me that I am wrong."

But they are wrong. It isn't about me. It isn't about what I want. It is about what God wants. Perhaps therein lies the problem - too many people do not focus on what God wants. In fact, many people today, though they might say they are Christians, don't even think about what God wants. It is what they want. I want this - so it must happen. I want that - so it must happen. I think thus - therefore all must agree with me and if you don't, you are wrong. God is not part of the picture. (That must be what Jesus meant when He said, "Not everyone that says 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven. Your heart must be right - set upon Him in faith.)

God needs to be placed back at the center of life, not relegated to the corner of life, used only when needed, thought about only in hard time, spoken of only in curse words. Too many are not committed to a life of following the Lord. That, too, is self-centered. that too is all about me not about Him.

Am I cynical? No I am not. I am being honest. Yes there are times when He is not the center of my thoughts. For that, I am sorry. I was wrong. Our world today is becoming less and less about Christian faith and more about secular, self-centered, all "about me" life. And in doing so, we are raising a generation of people who feel they don't need or even know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

That is scary - not for me, for I do believe in Jesus and try to follow Him daily. It is scary for all those that are not going to know Jesus and therefore are going to be lost for an eternity. Christians, we need to wake up and begin to focus again. Not on feelings but on need - the need for Jesus Christ, the need for faith, the need for His love to guide life.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Noah's Ark

It has rained buckets today. There were times when I was in the Ministry Center of St. Paul's, and you could hear the rain pounding down upon the roof of the building. Most rains we don't hear. But today we heard the rain. Water. Pouring. Pounding. Lightning. Thunder. It was quite the day. From what they say, it will be quite the night too. More rain coming. More storms.

Did anyone see Noah's ark today? All right. I will cut you some slack if you don't live in Troy. I will also cut you some slack if you have nothing to do with St. Paul's during the school day. But, if you were observant, you would have seen Noah's ark. How? On a tie, that was being worn, by yours truly.

I wore it because of the forecast. Thought it might be a good teaching tool. But we missed the opportunity. No one noticed Noah or his ark. It slipped by, silently, like a ship passing in the night. (All right, so I am getting carried away with the boat imagery.)

When you see the rain, think of the promise of God. Think of the rainbow. Think of His love. Then thank Him that He won't destroy the world by a flood ever again. And then, think about how He will bring about the end. And when you think about that - set your mind on things above. Think of Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Confess Jesus. Share Jesus. And be ready - the end is coming.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stretching through the fence

South of Troy on the Troy-Scott Road, is a farm that has sheep. I love to watch sheep. Little lambs are so cuddly and fun. They run and jump and enjoy life. The older sheep stand back and watch the little ones. I often think that it looks like a playground. The kids playing. The adults watching. And most of the time, the adults just watch. They don't join in. Why not? Why don't we join the children in sliding down the slide or climbing up the ladder? Why don't we play tag around the big old tree? Adults just don't. Neither do the adult sheep.

But that isn't what I was thinking about as I drove by the sheep. It was early in the day, mid-morning, on the way to teacher's conference. (The committee did a great job with the conference. Thanks! Carol Aebel was on the committee. We are proud of you Carol.)
So there I was driving to the conference, past the sheep farm, and saw something that made me think.

There were the sheep, standing at the fence, stretching their necks through the fence, reaching as far as they could to get that tasty piece of grass on the other side of the fence. It wasn't just one sheep, but several of them. And they were pushing against the fence, stretching their necks, reaching as far as they could. (And I remembered the Lueking farm in Hoffman, and the way their sheep always seemed to find a way out of the fence. How many mornings was it that we drove past only to see one or more sheep wandering outside the fence?)

And I thought, "Those sheep must curse that fence." They must think to themselves, "If only we didn't have this fence, we could get that grass out there that looks so green, fresh and tender. Why did this stupid farmer have to put up this fence? He is limiting our lives. He is not letting us have the good things in life." If only the fence wasn't there, they could have the grass they wanted without the pains of stretching their necks, getting their fleece caught on the fence and pulled out. What a terrible farmer he really must be.

Really? Is he that bad of a farmer? The sheep were safe inside their fence. There was plenty of grass. Plenty of water (a pond). They were safe from the coyote and the fox. They were kept safe from wandering out on the busy road. He watched out for them. The problem wasn't the fence, it was the desire of the sheep to have that which they couldn't have. The farmer was doing that which was best for them. While they cursed the fence, it was that very fence that kept them from many more problems in their lives - many of which were life threatening.

How often have you stretched your neck your the fence to get that which is on the other side? When was the last time that you desired that which was just out of your reach? And you did whatever you could to get it? The coveting, the desire to have something that wasn't yours, that you really shouldn't have at all. Stretching through the fence - the man begins to lust after a woman who is not his wife, the woman begins to desire the younger man that isn't hers to have, the worker desires more money and takes what is not his, the tax person hedges the tax return a little to get a little more money, and the list of stretching is limited only by the number of people who are reading this blog.

God puts a fence up and we curse it. That dreaded Law. It stops us from having what we desire, from getting that succulent piece of something on the other side. Why did God stop us? He is mean. He is unloving. I want and can't have it. Wait, I will find a way to slip through the fence. I will find a way to escape His unloving restriction on my life. And so, the coveting leads us to action.

And action leads to - pain and suffering. Maybe not immediately but in the long term. The wife is destroyed to find her husband looking at porn on the computer. The young man is crushed as he spends the night in jail after drinking too much, getting pulled over and arrested. The woman is fired from her job that she desperately needs to pay the bills, only because she is caught doing that which she shouldn't be. The list goes on. Sheep stretching through the fence, tearing a hole in it, to fulfill the desires of the heart, sure that God is keeping them from something wonderful.

The outcome is always not what we expect. The divorce tears apart lives, man, woman and children. Counseling, anger, hatred, lack of trust, fear of commitment, a life alone and a future that is empty. Why? Because of that piece of grass outside the fence that we just had to have. bills unpaid, house foreclosed, no food on table, care breaking down, unable to go on. Why? Loss of job because of that one piece of grass that was on the other side of the fence that we think that we just have to have.

What are you stretching through the fence for? Is it really worth it? Where will it lead you? Are you cursing God for the fence? Or are you praising His name for that wonderful fence that protects you from the myriad of painful events that could happen because of that one piece of grass? Stretching through the fence? Why?