Exploring the Magnificent, Yet Often Misunderstood, Mercy of God

Mercy = Lovingkindness, Steadfast Love, Goodness, Loyalty

It is very clear in scripture and in life, that God is merciful. Over half the Psalms proclaim God’s mercy. God’s mercy is seen from Old Testament stories to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Your life and mine are filled with evidence of God’s mercy. That you are alive: seeing, breathing, reading, thinking, and being show God’s mercy in action. 

The Lord loves mercy and justice; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord…Behold the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, that He may deliver their soul from death, and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our helper and defender. Our heart shall rejoice in Him, and we have hoped in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have set our hope on You.

(Psalm 33.5, 18-22)

O God, You have rejected and destroyed us; You have been angry; yet You showed us mercy!

(Psalm 60.1) 

No matter what God does (even the occasional angry act), He always does it in mercy. Whatever your life situation, God will strengthen you in it or guide you through it by His mercy. 

How God Characterizes Himself

God describes Himself as one who “shows mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20.6). In another conversation with Moses, He says of Himself: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… (Exodus 34.6-7).

How do you perceive God? 

Many Christians believe God sees Himself as: The Lord, the Lord God, angry and impatient, eager to punish, and abounding in wrath and displeasure, keeping fury for thousands, outraged by iniquity and transgression and sin. 

If that describes your perception of God, then you don’t believe God Himself.

Does God ever describe Himself as wrathful? The closest I’ve found is Psalm 95.11, “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest'” referring to His dealings with disobedient Israel who refused to trust God in conquering Canaan. Moses uses the word “anger” (Numbers 32.6-15) to describe God’s dealings with Israel at this time. However, in an earlier conversation with God (Numbers 14.13-19), Moses says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [mercy].” It seems that God’s wrath is not so much an emotion God “feels” but an action of judgment or justice towards those who disobey in unbelief. 

God’s mercy is all over this particular event and certainly is seen in His dealings with Israel in the wilderness. 

Does God judge sin? Of course; yet in a manner permeated by lovingkindness. Though hard for us to understand, He has the ability to be merciful as He deals justly with those who disobey and reject Him

There is a place for God’s wrath in His dealing with humanity. Yet, again, it is wrath permeated by mercy. It may not make sense to us humans. But that’s one of many ways God is beyond our understanding. 

My point is that He never characterizes Himself as angry, outraged, eager to punish, or wrathful; only as merciful, gracious, long-suffering, good, truthful, and forgiving. His words, not mine. 

For more on God’s mercy along with some modern-day examples, click here.

A Gospel of Mercy 

A misunderstanding of God’s mercy creates a misunderstanding of the gospel. Modern Calvinists and many others who see God primary as an arbitrator and punisher of sin, belittle God’s mercy and settle for a truncated, crude gospel. It looks like this: God protects us from Himself and His wrath by punishing His Son, pouring down His wrath on Him for sins He did not commit, so that we are spared from His punishment ourselves. What a God! And then we wonder why we struggle to accept God’s love for us.  

The contrast of these two approaches to the gospel are clearly and uniquely presented by my friend Brad Jersak here. He delivers the “Gospel in Chairs” to highlight the truth that God has always dealt with humanity in mercy.

It’s only a merciful God who rescues us from ourselves and a corrupt world that we might enjoy communion with Him. 

Please give the time to look at this video. It could change your life…just like God’s mercy does. 

But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation (Psalm 13.5).

Dr. K 

15 Dangerous Teachings of Jesus You Better Ignore

If You Seriously Try To Practice Them They'll Mess Up Your Life

Leave it to Jesus to mess up your comfortable life. He’s only supposed to get you into paradise when you die. That’s all, folks! No to hell; yes to heaven. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and give you a home in heaven. Everything else he did or said, you can ignore, right? What He teaches doesn’t matter as long as you’re headed for the streets of gold and your (10,000 sq. ft.) mansion in the sky. 

So, just ignore what He said: 

1. Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Matthew 19.15, Mark 10.15, Luke 18.17).

This is a regular theme of Jesus – it’s children who enter the kingdom. Unruly, curious, simple, and unlearned children are the example of those who enter the kingdom of heaven. Young children are the standard of faith by which adults receive the kingdom of heaven not the other way around.

2. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.35)and this bread, which I give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6.62).

Even some of Jesus’ disciples rejected him and this “hard saying” and “walked with him no more.” The same is happening today. Many try to rationally explain the nature of this mystery or explain it away. These disciples didn’t walk away from Jesus over a metaphor or symbol. Jesus meant literally what he said here (as always!). 

3. Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also (Mathew 5.39).

We often do not know what is good for us or harmful (evil). We think we know what’s harmful, label it as such, and resist it. But, God may have other reasons for us to experience this “evil” of which we are unaware, thus, making it “good.” Real evil is to be overcome with good (Romans 12.21). Learn to resist nothing since all things are for our good. 

4. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom God (Luke 6.20).

In Hebrew, the “poor” means both a) the materially poor and b) the faithful among God’s people. These folks are totally dependent on God for their existence and life. Total dependence on God is a foreign reality to most modern, Western Christians, you and me included. 

5. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5.9).

Don’t you become a child of God by faith alone? To be given the title “child of God” you must be a peacemaker, that is, you participate in God’s peace by grace through faith (but not faith alone). Participating in the peace of the Father, Jesus the Prince of Peace, and Holy Spirit (giver of peace), enables you to share God’s peace with others; become a peacemaker. 

6. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while there is still a beam in your eye? You hypocrite. first take the beam out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.1-5).

You won’t have time to remove the tiny fault in someone else when you really see the huge mess that you are. Truth is, you’ll never see clearly. So, give up trying to correct the faults of others and deal with your own crap. 

7. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6.33).

Do you see God, HIs kingdom and righteousness, as the most important reality in your life? A starving person craves food. A drowning person gasps for air. A true Christian is intense and unstoppable in his/her desire to know God. All else – food, clothing, shelter – find their rightful place only as one craves after God. 

8. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will wear (Matthew 6.34).

How much time, money, thought, and effort is put into providing for our physical needs? We can easily worry about these things indicating a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide. Are you consumed by earthly things or God? 

9. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7.21-23)

Only the doers of the Father’s will enter the kingdom. Those who heal, give words of knowledge, prophesy, drive out demons, see visions, and “perform miracles” – even in Lord’s name! – better wise up. So should those who have learned to say the right words. Simply and consistently doing the will of the Father trumps all performances. Do you know the Father well enough that when He wills something you automatically do it?  

10. Be careful not to practice your charitable deeds in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6.1).

Giving of ourselves or our possessions is always good unless our motive is to look good to others. No one has pure motives. Have you ever congratulated yourself or looked for the “Thank you” from others for doing something charitable? This is a subtle attitude we need to struggle with because it affects our relationship with God. 

11. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6.6).

Prayer is primarily an intimate, communion with the Triune God. This kind of meeting with God is it’s own reward. Unfortunately, prayer has become a way to display one’s “piety” before others whether in a small group or a larger church meeting. Use of right-sounding words, voice inflection, and remembering the requests become priority. All that disappears when you’re in solitude, honest and open with God. He becomes your reward.  

12. You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5.43-45).

Doesn’t the mercy of God irritate you at times? Why doesn’t He destroy the wicked? Instead, he treats then with the same grace he treats you and asks you to do the same. Love, pray for, act like God towards those who hurt and try to destroy me? It’s difficult enough to love those we love. This is really too much. Love and pray for everyone? Ugh! 

13. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48).

Perfection, God-likeness, is our destiny. It is also our journey. You are on earth, in Christ, to be perfect. Being of good character, spiritually-minded or mature, a good church member, and servant-leader are all good yet incomplete. St. Paul prayed for us to be filled with the fullness of God. St. Peter writes that we are partakers of the divine nature. What are you doing to journey in and towards God-likeness?  

14. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11.12).

According to St. John Chrysostom, the violent who take the kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faithfully living in Him. Is that how you approach the kingdom of God? 

15. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17.3).

Eternal life is not a “thing” given to one who believes. It is the life of God available to enter and live into in an ongoing, loving experience of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Eternal life is a participation in His divine life and in communion with the Trinity. Knowledge here is not merely an intellectual or confident assertion of faith. Since eternal life is the life of God, you must learn to live in it not just believe it.

There’s no getting around it. Jesus upsets your comfortable little Christian world if you take His words seriously and if they matter to you. Or, you can ignore them as most Christians do, and live as you please.  

But if they matter then the struggle to practice these weighty sayings becomes real in your daily living. In the struggle comes great joy and anguish. It’s supposed to be like that. 

Let’s join together in the struggle. It’ll be a beautiful mess. 

Dr. K 

**Some of the comments on Jesus’ teachings were informed by the study notes in the Orthodox Study Bible, 2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Today Is The Perfect Day To Be With Jesus

Seek First His Kingdom & Righteousness

What’s on your schedule today? Get kids to school? Meet with your company’s CEO? Go grocery shopping? Take your dog to the vet? Make 5 sales calls? Have lunch with a friend? Attend your son’s soccer game? Prepare your Bible study lesson? Study for tomorrow’s exam? Drop off clothes at Goodwill? Fix dinner for the family? Mow the yard? Get a hair cut? Stop yelling at the kids? Help a neighbor? Pray? Today is the perfect day to do all of this with Jesus. 

How about, spend time with Jesus? Is that on your schedule? Today is the perfect day to be with Jesus. The good news is that you can accomplish what’s on your schedule while spending time with Jesus. It’s not “either/or but “both/and” – you can BOTH accomplish what’s on your agenda AND be with Jesus. 

While you are driving, meeting, calling, eating, preparing, watching, fixing, or mowing you can be with Jesus. That’s good news. 

Even greater news is that Jesus is already with you and in you. You just have to pay attention…something that’s challenging to do since there is so much in a day that preoccupies your attention and distracts your heart and mind from God. 

Jesus invites you to live like this when He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). The priority of each day you live is God – His governance/authority/rule and His goodness/reality – in all things. When you live with God’s governance and goodness already present and active in and around you, you are assured of all other responsibilities being realized.

Schedules are best accomplished as you participate in God’s rule in union with Him. 

Actually devoting your every moment to Jesus Christ while doing everything else will take some concerted effort. Prayer is the key. 

You’re probably already connecting with God in prayer before your meals – three times a day. 

You can increase prayer times to the traditional “hours” of 6 AM & 9 AM, Noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM. Say the Lord’s prayer at these times drawing your heart to God. Set alerts on your phone for these hours as reminders to pray. You can pray silently wherever you are or whatever you’re doing at these times. 

You can “pray without ceasing” using the Jesus Prayer as the instrument played all throughout the day. Commune with God continually as you repeat the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

As you drive, don’t turn on the radio or CD player but use the time to pray the Jesus Prayer and commune with God…yes, even with children present. 

Do this same thing as you fix meals, mow the lawn, sit in meetings, watch games, or eat your food. 

You will discover joy, peace, goodness and love like never before. Anxiety and fear will lessen. You’ll see beauty everywhere. You’ll become more like Jesus.

It’s simply the best way to live each day. 

How will you commune with God throughout the day today? 

Dr. K

P.S. Here’s a little cliche to practice: Commune as you commute. 

A Second-Look At A Popular “Doctrine” That Clouds Spiritual Reality

Positional Righteousness Re-Examined

Does this make sense to you? Why do I need to make any effort to move forward spiritually when God sees me as perfectly righteous in Jesus Christ? Since I’m perfect in Christ, why would I struggle to pray, fast, love my neighbor, or give to the poor? This highlights another de-motivating idea (along with “faith alone”) that has entrenched itself into the belief systems of many evangelicals. It goes something like this: Since the Christian is declared and seen by God as perfectly righteous in Christ, it is not necessary to exercise any effort or engage any means to become like Christ. Here is another example of a theological idea interfering with actual spiritual reality. 

Here are some common phrases to describe what I’m talking about: 

“Imputed righteousness” – Protestant Christian doctrine that a sinner is accounted righteous by God purely by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and thus all depends on Christ’s merit and worthiness, rather that on one’s own merit and worthiness. It is a concept in Christian theology that proposes that the “righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers – that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith.” It is on the basis of this “alien” (i.e. from the outside) righteousness that God accepts humans. 

“Positional righteousness” – A Christian is in perfect standing before God in Christ. The believer is just as perfect as Christ in the Father’s sight. 

“Positional sanctification” – God declares a Christian to be absolutely holy the moment he/she believes in Jesus Christ. When God looks at a Christian, He sees the righteousness and holiness of Christ. 

Nowhere in scripture are Christians actually told to identify themselves as righteous because God sees them that way.  A few scripture passages (Philippians 3.8-9, Romans 5.17, 1 Corinthians 1.30, Ephesians 1.6) are interpreted with this notion in mind. However, this direct teaching is absent from scripture.

Why Is This Popular? 

Many cling to this teaching in order to convince themselves that, despite their unrighteous thoughts, behavior, and attitudes, they are actually righteous.

Many cling to this teaching because it seems logical. I am in Christ and He is righteous so that makes me righteous. Yet, Jesus is also love, kindness, peace, humble, wise, patient, gentle, meek, wonder-working, prayerful, and rightfully authoritative. Are you automatically all of those since you’re in Christ? No one speaks of “positional humility” (I am humble because Christ is humble) because we know better. Why then, positional righteousness? 

Key Passage 

2 Corinthians 5.21: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (Unfortunately, the KJV mis-translates the Greek word genometha (might become) as “be made” – “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”)

Reasons to believe this verse does NOT support “positional righteousness:”

  1. The verse, in context, is speaking of the apostles not Christians in general.
  2. There is no mention of faith here as the hinge that makes us righteous.
  3. Imputation is not mentioned. Yet, the verse is often interpreted that our sin is laid on Him and by faith His righteousness is imputed to us. 
  4. When God took on flesh, He was made “to be sin for us.” This is not just a reference to the cross but to all of his earthly life from birth to death. 
  5. The phrase “that we might become” seems to speak of an ongoing process not a past, accomplished fact. 

In other words, if taken at face value, the verse is teaching that because Christ took sin upon himself, humans may become righteous. 

Remove a theological agenda and the verse reads:

For us, sinless Christ became like sinful man, so that sinful man might become like sinless God.

This is in agreement with Gregory of Nazianzen (329-390) who wrote: “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” Jesus assumed human flesh, soul, and mind so that all that makes us human might be redeemed and healed.

He also wrote:

Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us: to become gods through him since he himself, through us, became a man. He took the worst upon himself to make us a gift of the best.

Jesus became like you so that you might become like Him. 

Does that reality light a fire of desire in your heart? Does who Jesus is and what He did give you hope and drive to become like Him? 

Believing in positional righteousness does not inspire or give hope. But, Jesus does. 

Why is this so difficult to grasp? I’ll touch on that in my next post. 

Dr. K 

What Every Christian Should Know About Prayer

It's Not What You Think

You only truly know what you experience. So when a disciple made the request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus did not give his disciples a book to read, a program to follow, or a video to watch. He didn’t form a small group to study prayer. He didn’t give them words to study, exegete, or preach. He gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them. That, according to Jesus, is what it means to pray. That’s how you learn to know how to pray. You learn to pray by praying. There is no theory here, no theoretical ideas at all.

 

You don’t understand Jesus’ words in order to say them. You say them in order to understand them. 

Jesus made prayer accessible and good. We’ve made prayer complicated and intimidating. Let me save you hours of frustration and help prayer become simple again. 

Learn to Pray By Praying 

Learning to pray is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?

However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this. When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them.

We have much to learn from this brief exchange. But first let’s see that…

Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer.

Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy, a prayer liturgy – a form or order to follow with meaningful words expressing the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him. It’s that simple. 

Here it is simple and plain. Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night. 

Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, 

Give us today our bread 

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors 

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Don’t listen to the ignorant naysayers who believe that repeating a set of words becomes boring, methodical, nonsensical, and rote. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Real liturgical prayer is filled with meaning, struggle, surprises, depth, and wonder. Follow Jesus. He knows what he’s talking about. 

I have been saying these words almost daily (and now multiple times during the day) for over 5 years now. After all these years, I’ve not tapped into the depth of their meaning though new experiences of prayer sometimes happen. This prayer, in particular, is an inexhaustible treasure of God’s life, love, and light. 

Say it consistently with a humble heart and you’ll discover its treasure. 

How will you implement Jesus’ prayer to his disciples in your own daily life? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order for this to happen? When will you start? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Is “Faith Alone” Biblical? Let’s Take A Look

Salvation Is Always By Faith

One of the most frustrating “push backs” to the necessity of spiritual practices, liturgy, and “disciplines” in Christian living comes from anti-“works-righteousness” individuals. They think since salvation is by faith alone, there is no need for spiritual efforts. Believing is enough. However, is that understanding true to scripture and real life? 

Since the Protestant Reformation, a new doctrine has become a part of most evangelicals’ thinking. It is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Though the bible nowhere mentions that salvation is by faith alone, 500+ years of saying it is so makes it very difficult to refute. There is no doubt scripture teaches that salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation is initiated by God’s gracious, loving mercy and responded to by human beings in faith. What I’m addressing here is the notion that salvation is by faith alone

Why Important?

Among many reasons, believing that salvation is by faith alone surprisingly diminishes one’s motivation and ability to live as a Christian. If I am saved by faith alone I need not put forth any effort related to being a Christian. I only need to believe. When someone challenges me to “work” at my salvation, I immediately respond that “I am saved by faith alone and what you’re proposing is “works-righteousness” which I whole-heartedly reject.” 

This is a perilous doctrine. It throws the serious follower of Christ into a quandary. Faith itself is misunderstood. Salvation is made out to be something it is not. It belies scriptural teaching. It’s effects are so stealthily embedded in minds that many “Christians” can’t truly live as their heart begs them to live. This is one example of one’s theology impeding one’s authentic Christian living.

No wonder so many Christians are frustrated with Christianity as they know it. Truth is, they’ve not known the real thing due to doctrines such as “faith alone.” 

One Reality – James

Though the relationship of faith and works has been debated for over 500 years, there is no doubt about one reality. You cannot find “faith alone” taught in the bible. The only place it is mentioned is James 2.24 where St. James presents faith alone as something NOT to believe. “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only [alone].” I am not misquoting the verse. It’s as plain as it gets.

Earlier, St. James writes, “faith by itself [alone], if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2.17). No wonder Martin Luther described the book of James as “the epistle of straw.” For him it lacked theological substance and significance. He couldn’t get his mind around the reality that faith and works were somehow in synthesis or union for real justification to take place. On a mission to destroy the Roman Catholic doctrine of works-righteousness he “discovered” something in scripture no one had ever seen before. He invented a new doctrine – in essence, making all scriptural references about faith into scriptural references about faith alone.    

So a firestorm of debate has spread for centuries over a teaching not present in the Church for 1500 years. “Professional” and amateur theologians make arguments that don’t solve much. How God saves, justifies, and sanctifies seems absolutely clear to many. The rest of us come to this mystery in wonder and naivete’, allowing God to enlighten or veil as He sees fit.

One reality is certain. Nowhere in scripture is “faith alone” mentioned.  

Other Scriptures

What about Ephesians 2.8-9? “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Look closely. Salvation is said to come by faith. However, no mention is made that salvation comes by faith alone

How about Abraham? “He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4.3). “For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4.9). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). See it? Justification and the imputation of righteousness is always by faith. But not once does St. Paul say these occur through faith alone.  

Romans 3.28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Galatians 3.2, 6, 8: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?…just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’…And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham…” 

Always by faith. Never by faith alone

My Purpose

I bring this up today to challenge the notion that Christians need not put forth effort to experience the fullness of salvation because “salvation is by faith alone.” As you can see, this is not a biblical teaching. 

You are not saved by faith alone. If you are saved, you have not been saved by faith alone. You are not being saved by faith alone. You will not be saved by faith alone

You are saved by faith. If you are saved, you have been saved by faith. You are being saved by faith. You will be saved by faith.

Salvation/justification is always by faith. Salvation/justification is never by faith alone

As far as my finite mind can tell, that’s the truth.

Luther got it wrong it seems. Experiencing salvation fully involves more than faith alone

“Faith alone” is no excuse for lack of effort related to all salvation has to offer. 

I hope you’ll think about this for a while. 

Dr. K 

Here Are Some Ways To Benefit From and Practice Waiting On God

It's Well Worth it

What’s the point of the waiting on God? Why do scripture writers tell us to “wait on the Lord?” Is it really that important? When you experience what it means to “wait on the Lord,” you discover how significant this action is to your spiritual life. So significant, that you can’t live without it. 

In the midst of instructions on how to navigate our way through a messed-up world, the Psalmist David writes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37.7). 

When dealing with rejection and adversaries, “Wait on the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait on the Lord!” (Psalm 27.14) 

After a rich description of God’s steadfastness and strength, we are told: “they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31). 

In describing a vibrant relationship with God, the Psalmist sings: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit. Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God; many will see it and fear. And will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40.1-3)

From these verses and the experiences of real life, learn:                                                            

1. In times of instability, weakness, or despair sit with God. Go to spot on the beach, a bench by a stream, a log in the forest, a rock by the lake, a chair in a garden, a swing at the park, a rocker on your porch – a place not often visited or a familiar place – and commune with God. Let Him fill you with His strength and courage to take your next step.

I have been trying to do this since an experience of this type with God in Montego Bay, Jamaica when 16 years old. Feeling isolated, disoriented, and empty, I sat on our veranda overlooking the sparkling blue Caribbean. There, God began altering and strengthening my heart profoundly. Over the last 41 years, God has continued this kind of work (I’m a really slow learner) in various settings. Taking time, beyond the normal, to be with God gives you what you need to journey forward.   

2. When making major decisions, slow down and walk with God as you discern what to do. Commune with God as you seek wise counsel, listening quietly for His guidance. Wait patiently until you know the direction you are to take. 

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with people in transition. In every case, they want to know “God’s will” quickly so they can move on with their life. In every case however, God has other ideas. These transitions are more about shaping their heart in relationship to God than in finding their next “job” or ministry. This always requires patient waiting. So hard. So necessary. 

3. Every day seek God in solitude and stillness developing a quiet heart, controlled emotions, and sober thoughts. Learn to live in that kind of quietness in the chaos of the day. Engage whatever comes your way in the quiet confidence which God instills by His presence in you. 

You who are journeying with me on this “UnCommon Journey” know that this is a constant theme of my writings. It’s constant because it is the DNA of life with God according to scripture and the experiences of saintly men and women from the beginning of time.

Real life is about living in union with God. Waiting on God is learning to live in union with Him. 

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him.” 

 

Do you struggle with waiting on the Lord? How will you apply to your life what you read in this post today? Share below.

Dr. K 

What Does A “Successful” Relationship With God Look Like? The Answers May Surprise You.

Three Relationship Markers From Jesus

Success can be a nebulous concept when connected to our relationship with God. How can you determine if your relationship with God is actually successful? What measurement can be used? Is it a feeling of satisfaction that comes over you affirming that all is good with God? Can you say you relate to God successfully because you are at peace, experience joy, believe you’re going to heaven, know your sins are forgiven, are fully convinced that you’re His child, or feel love for Him? 

I’m not advanced enough spiritually to set out a standard of what a successful relationship with God looks like. I struggle daily to even experience Him at a beginner’s level. I am no expert. But there is one expert who knows exactly what it is to have a successful relationship with God. He can help us on the journey…if we can handle it. 

So, here’s what Jesus, God in the flesh who is in perfect relationship with the Father, has to say about relating to God successfully: 

1. A Successful Relationship with God is Costly 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it.”  Matthew 16.24, Mark 8.34, Luke 9.23

To have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ means ongoing denial, death (to ego/self), leaving everything to follow Jesus, and losing your life for Jesus’ sake. This is why godly martyrs are venerated and monastics admired. They have taken Jesus seriously while the rest of us struggle to relate with God because we enjoy ease and comfort. We’d rather have a lovey-dovey relationship, redefining the relationship in psychological and emotional terms. Jesus did not do this. If your relationship with God is not costing you something everyday, it cannot be “successful.” 

2. A Successful Relationship with God is Person to Person 

“Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart. and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11.28-29

To have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ means a constant coming to Jesus involving entry into His union with the Father and learning gentle humility. The outcome of rest is not ours to control but Jesus’ to give. Our role in the relationship is a never ending coming, taking, and learning from Jesus. This is a perpetual relationship established with the One Person in terms that are real. Is this one-on-one relationship with Jesus an ongoing reality for you everyday? 

3. A Successful Relationship with God Involves a Meal 

Then there is the most offensive means to a successful relationship with God…

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven – not as your fathers ate the manna and are dead, He who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6.53-58

Many of Jesus’ disciples left Him never to return when they heard these words. Their communion with Jesus ended because they were unable to accept this teaching and reality. To abide in Christ – have an dynamic, intimate relationship with – means to eat His flesh and drink His blood. This is a difficult reality for many to swallow (sorry about the pun!?!). Yet, it is something that needs to be seriously considered when talking about a successful relationship with God. Communion with God comes in the form of bread and drink. The meal is Jesus Christ. 

So, how “successful” is your relationship with God? After dealing with these truths for a while today, I can see that my relationship is in need of some serious attention.

How about you? How is your relationship with God looking? Take some time right now to examine what it looks like. Does it include these three elements? 

Dr. K 

Finding Motivation To Live A Real-Life, Simple Faith

Enoch Walked With God

40 years ago I “met” Enoch. Today, I was reintroduced. It brought laughter to my mouth and tears to my eyes. I didn’t know it then but I know it now…I desperately want to be Enoch. Enoch personifies in concrete and simple terms what it means to know God. To seek God in a real-life, simple faith-relationship is what life is about. There’s an insatiable hunger to see God alive in the nitty-gritty stuff of life. Screw mysticism. Forget tingly feelings. God talk be damned. “Blah… blah…blah…God…blah…blah…Jesus…blah…Bible…blah…blah…theology…blah…blah…blah.” You want to experience a real God who acts in real life helping you deal with real issues. 

Become a friend of Enoch. His life with God was real simple.

From Genesis 5, we know this about Enoch –

1. He walked with God and pleased Him – Enoch gives us an example of one who lived in simple communion with God. Amazingly, he had no Bible, no “on-fire” church, no “correct” doctrinal statement, no vibrant small group, no clever slogans, no relevant books, no praise music, and no formal theological education. Yet, he communed with God in everyday life – even in the midst of having lots of children while making a living somehow. In this, he and God walked together. 

2. He lived 365 years – Is “365” significant? Since this is the number of days in a year, are we being taught that a day-by-day, 365 days a year relationship with God can be lived? 

3. He had many children – He was the great-grandfather of righteous Noah. In Genesis 5, Enoch is listed as the seventh generation from Adam. He stands out from the rest due to his walk with God and translation from this earth without dying. That kind of life had to be a huge influence on Methuselah, then Lamech, then Noah.  

4. He was taken by God – He did not die. Can you imagine? He was out in the work shop tinkering with some projects. Then he disappeared, never to be seen again. No one could find him. “God took him.” What kind of intimate relationship would there have to be for God Himself to easily escort Enoch from this earth? I can imagine him taking one terrestrial step towards his work bench and the next onto the heavenly stratosphere of eternity. Only his location changed. All else remained the same. 

From Hebrews 11.5 you learn of Enoch’s faith. As an example of faith, he knew two simple realities: 

1. God exists. This was not just an intellectual idea he had about God. There was no way to know God like that in his time. There were no philosophical or scientific arguments for the existence of God he could read about. He knew God existed because he was experiencing the reality of God in his everyday life. God’s existence was not a theory or concept. He knew God as he experienced the birth of his children, as he lived in nature, as he saw the sun rise and set, as he ate with his family, as he interacted with people or as he quietly observed the stars.

Truth is, this is how you and I know God exists, as well. Conventionally, modern Christianity wants you to primarily find God through books and arguments that appeal to your intellect. But, classical Christianity teaches that God is known experientially. It’s always been this way. 

2. God rewards those who seek Him. Enoch’s reward was that he had the pleasure of God’s company 24/7. Is there any greater reward? He was also rewarded by not succumbing to death. We are not sure where he was “taken” but we know he did not die. Fascinating.

Enoch’s example is motivation to seek God with all you have. The potential for great reward is there. Do you hold back?

Faith means seeking God whom you cannot see physically (though Jesus shows God) though you know He exists.  

Your reward could be summarized as:

1. Communion with God on earth

2. Communion with God without the fear of death

3. Communion with God for eternity 

How are you seeking God in simple faith? How does the reward of “walking with God” affect you? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Helping You Be Able To Judge More Clearly

For The Humble, Discerning, and Honest Person

I often get upset at myself whenever I pass judgment on another person. Should I get just as upset whenever I pass judgment on myself? I remember a tennis instructor pointing this out to me. He said, “You shouldn’t yell at your opponent or partner when they mess up. So, why do you yell at yourself when you mess up?” I’d never thought about that before. Is there a place for self-examination without self-condemnation in all this “judgment” talk? 

When you “judge” yourself, you need to understand this as “self-audit” not self-condemnation. It is the ability to assess your own “junk” for what it really is. It’s more like discernment. Whether sin, unwise action, false belief, or a dominating passion, you see clearly your own issue. And, seeing it clearly, you deal with it in a manner appropriate to the issue.

Paul, John & Jesus on Judging 

1. St. Paul does not “judge” (condemn) himself leaving any kind of  “judgment” to God (1 Corinthians 4.1-5). To pass this kind of self-condemning judgment is to assume God’s authority. Paul will have no part in that.

2. It is best and wise to “judge” (discern) yourself now or face God’s judgment (discipline) later (1 Corinthians 11.29-31). This is to be done as one prepares to receive the body and blood of Christ. However, it is a good practice always.   

St. John Chrysostom (349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople and important Early Church Father, writes:     

Instead of passing idly by what are considered slight sins, let us daily require an account of ourselves, for words and glances, and execute sentence upon ourselves so as to be free from punishment later. This is the reason Paul said, “If we judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” Thus, if we judge ourselves for our sins everyday here, we shall preclude the severity of the judgment in that other place. But if we should be remiss, we shall be judged and chastised by the Lord. So, let us take the initiative in passing sentence upon ourselves with all good will, holding the court of conscience unbeknown to anyone. Let us examine our own thoughts and determine a proper verdict so that through fear of imminent punishment our mind may forebear to be dragged down and instead may check its impulses and by keeping in view that unsleeping eye, may ward off the devil’s advances. 

Who wants to know the reality of their own sins and faults? The person who’d rather face them now than face them at judgment time. Now or later. It’s really up to you. 

3. Jesus instructs us to discern and remove the plank (log) in our own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in another’s eye (Matthew 7.3-5, Luke 6.41-42). Our efforts of discernment need to focus on our own hearts not on the hearts of others. (Wow! Did I just write that? That is contrary to almost everything I’ve done in ministry.) 

That’s why this Orthodox prayer used during Great Lent is so beneficial to the soul:

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, love of power, and useless chatter. Rather, accord to me Your servant a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. Yes, Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not condemn my brother, for blessed are You forever and ever. AMEN. 

So, a good place to start in discerning your own sins and weaknesses, is to ask God to reveal them to you. Yikes! Crazy, huh?!?

Are You One of These? 

From this we learn who will learn to discern their own “junk“ — 

  1. The humble person who doesn’t play God. 
  2. The discerning person who is open and unafraid to see themselves for who they really are. 
  3. The honest person who doesn’t want anything (including his/her own self-delusions) to hinder any relationship. 

You and I are invited into the “non-judgmental” zone on the journey.

I hear it’s a beautiful place. 

Dr. K