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Religious Lifestyle or Living Relationship?

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.

“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to  share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.

This is my personal testimony.

I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.

Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.

We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.

My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.

When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.

When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.

At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.

Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.

For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.

  1. I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
  2. I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
  3. I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
  4. I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
  5. I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.

My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.

Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.

If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.

 

St. Patrick’s Day: The True Story Behind the Annual Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17th, is about more than shamrocks and leprechauns. St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of an early Christian missionary.

In the fifth century, Ireland was a beautiful island enshrouded in violence and spiritual darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But one man would be used by God to break through the darkness and introduce the light of Christ to this heathen land.

The man we now know as St. Patrick was born in Roman ruled Britain to a middle-class Christian family around A.D. 390. The grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, Patrick was exposed early to the truth of the Gospel, yet by the time he was a teenager he had rebelled against his Christian upbringing to the point that he was pratically an atheist.

Then his life took a drastic change for the worse. Irish raiders attacked his home and he was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland. At 16 years of age he found himself a slave in a foreign land, separated from everything he’d ever known. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Milchu, who put him to work as a shepherd.

Patrick saw this difficult situation in his life as God’s chastising him, believing he deserved what had happened because of his rejection of the faith of his fathers. And while a slave in Ireland, his life began to change. Instead of becoming bitter, he turned to the God he knew about but had previously refused to acknowledge as his God.

Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland, says of young Patrick,

“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”

Patrick’s hard years of slavery came to an end six years later, when during a time of prayer and fasting God spoke to him that he would soon return to his own country and gave him clear direction when it was time to leave. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to the west coast, where he found a ship – the ship God had shown him in prayer – ready to sail. Though at first refused passage, after desperate prayer Patrick was allowed aboard. He returned to his home and family, where he began to study for the ministry.

Patrick had no desire to return to Ireland, but that was exactly what God asked of him. Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland, says:

“One night, he had a dream. There was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, ‘Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'”

Patrick struggled in his soul, not convinced this dream was from God and having no desire to return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him. Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream. God truly was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary, and he stepped out in obedience to God’s leading.

Patrick gave 29 years of his life to ministry and established the first Christian church in all of Ireland. During that time, he preached the Gospel, baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and planted 300 churches. Freeman declares, “What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity.” Because of Patrick’s willingness to die to his own will and return to Ireland, the land of his suffering, in obedience to the Lord’s call, that nation was forever changed. Reflect on this truth as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.

“Walking and Leaping and Praising God”

For the last couple months, I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s monthly Bible Reading Challenges to put together a weekly blog post, daily adding a brief reflection and graphic on that day’s passage. I still plan to continue doing this, but as I was reading today’s passage from the Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Challenge, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths and I felt compelled to go beyond my short entry for the weekly post and do a separate blog post.

Today’s Everything Beautiful passage is found in Acts 3:1-10 and tells of one of the miracles during the early years of the church. It took place at the gate of the temple that was called the Beautiful Gate, probably so named because of it’s ornate decorations, but commentators are divided about the actual location of the gate. It was apparently one of the gates or doors through which the Jewish men who came to worship entered, but it’s exact identity is of little importance. The emphasis in this passage is on what happened here.

It was the hour of prayer, and Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they saw a man who was lame from birth being carried to the entrance where he habitually spent his days asking alms of those who were entering the holy place.

Doubtless, Peter and John had seen him many times before, but this day was different. At the man’s request for alms, Peter stopped and spoke with him. The man was hoping for silver or gold to meet his material needs, and he probably had a sense of disappointment at Peter’s first words, “I have no silver and gold.” But Peter’s next words changed his life. “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, this is probably a familiar passage. But the Holy Spirit loves to give us new insights as we spend time daily in God’s Word. This morning, the words following the actual miracle stood out to me, “and (he) entered the temple with them (Peter and John).”

As I read these words, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that this was of great significance to this newly-healed lame man. So I did some research to confirm what I was sensing. If the lame man had never before been allowed to enter the temple, was this somehow a case of looking down on those who had less than perfect bodies? As a woman with a long list of chronic illnesses and disability as a result of an automobile accident and actively involved in ministry to others with chronic illness, this definitely had my attention.

Were the blind and lame restricted by God from entering the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities? Scripture does tell us (in Leviticus 21:16-23) that the blind and lame were excluded from serving as altar priests, presenting sacrifices and food offerings to God. But there are no specific verses that teach the physically disabled were to be banned from the tabernacle or temple. So we know this was not God’s plan.

Yet there are extra-biblical sources that seem to indicate this was common practice by the time of Jesus. The fact that the man was at the gate, which Peter and John were about to enter, and not inside the temple, seems to confirm this. If so, it came about either through Jewish tradition or the misreading of Scriptures such as Leviticus 21 and 2 Samuel 5:8, where David is quoted as saying on the day he was anointed as king, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house.” But this could not refer to the temple, since it had not been built at that time, and in context doesn’t even appear to refer to the physically blind and lame.

We do know, according to Matthew 21:14 and other passages, that Jesus healed the lame and blind in the temple. This shows they were at least able to go into the court of the Gentiles, and it along with the many healings during His earthly ministry show us Jesus’ heart was to include those who were afflicted or disabled.

If the lame and otherwise afflicted were actually banned from the temple, as many believe, when the previously lame man who had been healed entered the temple with Peter and John he was probably as excited about this as he was about being able to walk. No wonder he was “walking and leaping and praising God!

Today, regardless of what was true at the time this miracle took place, we can be confident that chronic illness neither separates us from God’s presence not makes us unqualified for ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new way of life, a life described in Hebrews 10:19-20 as “the new and living way.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,”

We are no longer under the law. We now live by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Romans 6:14 clearly states that we are not under the law but under grace. Why is this true? Because one of the things Jesus came to do was to fulfill the law (see Matthew 5:17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ESV)‬‬

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

And that’s such good news that we, like the once-lame man of Acts 3, should be “walking and leaping and praising God!”

Jesus Christ, Risen Lord

During the Advent season, our focus as Christians is usually on the birth of Jesus Christ. But the Good News of Christmas is about more than His birth. Jesus came for a purpose, and that purpose can’t be separated from His coming. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of His sacrificial death on the Cross, we can be forgiven.

But if we stop here when sharing the Gospel, we are missing the equally important second fact that is also a part of the Good News. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not still on the Cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, but His body is not still in the tomb. He arose from the dead. He is alive forevermore!

So why is it so important that we believe Jesus is the Risen Lord? The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to accomplish. ‬‬

Some reasons why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is important:

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, as He claimed to be.

“(Jesus Christ) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,”  Romans‬ ‭1:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that we are justified or declared righteous before God.

It will be counted (as righteousness) to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans‬ ‭4:24-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our assurance that our sins have been forgiven.

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” ‭‭I Corinthians‬ ‭15:16-17‬ ‭NKJV

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof that He defeated death.

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” Romans‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our promise that those who know Him as Savior and Lord will also be raised from the dead.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:20-22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our assurance that we who have placed our faith in Him will one day stand in His presence.

knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I am eternally grateful thank Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sins through His sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross. But I am also grateful that He is no longer dead. He is my RISEN LORD, and I hope He is your RISEN LORD also.

Jesus, Our Redeemer

Since becoming a Christian as a young adult, I’ve heard Jesus called our Redeemer. And He is. But I was surprised when I began researching this name of Jesus that it is an Old Testament name for Jesus. While the New Testament speaks of the redemption that comes through Jesus Christ…

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans‬ ‭3:23-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

… I could not find the actual name Redeemer used anywhere in the New Testament as a name of Jesus. Yet it obviously is an important aspect of Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth.

So what is a Redeemer? The Hebrew word translated Redeemer in the Old Testament (ga-al) conveys several ideas, depending on where it is used. In Ruth, it is used of Boaz, who is qualified to be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer. It is used of redemption from slavery (such as of God setting Israel free from Egyptian bondage), of redeeming land by payment, and in a variety of other ways. But whenever it is used the key understanding is that a payment has been made and something or someone is has been bought back.

As our Redeemer, Jesus redeemed us from slavery to sin and death. He paid the price or ransom for our release and freedom, not with money but with His own life.

Titus 2:11 makes it clear that this redemption is by grace and has been offered to all people. But not everyone will receive the benefit of Christ Jesus being our Redeemer.

“‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the LORD.” Isaiah 59:20 NIV

The New Testament makes it clear that this redemption is now offered to people of every tribe and nation, Jews and Gentiles alike. But the requirement to take advantage of it has not changed. Repentance of sins is the necessary response to the good news that Jesus came as Redeemer.

Redemption is ours by grace through faith, but once we have been redeemed, our lives will be different. Titus 2:12-14 shows what happens in our lives as a result of being redeemed.

It (the grace of God that brings us salvation) teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus‬ ‭2:12-14‬ ‭NIV‬

Jesus Christ Our Savior

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines Savior as “one who saves from any form or degree of evil.” In the sense we are using Savior as a name of Jesus, it refers to the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sin available to us by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. Easton explains, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ secures to the sinner a personal interest in the work of redemption. Salvation is redemption made effectual to the individual by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The idea of a Savior isn’t unique to the New Testament. From the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin, God has spoken of Himself being our Savior. One of many verses from the Old Testament calling God our Savior is Isaiah 43:3, which begins with these word, “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”  

Throughout the Old Testament, God delivered His people from perils when they walked in obedience to Him. But the promise of theSavior, of the One who would come to bring salvation from sin and restoration of relationship with God was still future.

From His birth, Jesus was identified as this promised Savior. When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the field watching their sheep, this announcement was made.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke‬ ‭2:11-12‬ ‭ESV

After His resurrection and ascension to heaven, Jesus was recognized by the early church as the ONLY source of salvation.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Both Paul and Peter acknowledged Him as Savior.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus‬ ‭3:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” 2 Peter‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While the price for our salvation has been paid, a response is required from us for Him to be our personal Savior.

It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John‬ ‭4:42‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I made the decision to accept Jesus as my personal Savior in 1971, when my eyes were opened to the truth that growing up in the church didn’t mean I knew Jesus as my personal Savior. If you haven’t made this decision, today can be your day of salvation. Listen to the following song, and then make wherever you are your altar of surrender to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Jesus: The Lamb of God

The whole idea behind the complex sacrificial system of the Old Testament is foreign to our modern western society, but at least a general understanding of its significance is essential if we want to understand what Scripture means when Jesus is identified by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God.

In Genesis 4, we learn of the first offerings mentioned in Scripture, those of Cain and Abel. By the time of Abraham, the people God had set aside as His own were very familiar with the idea of sacrifice. When God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Passover celebration included the sacrifice of a lamb.

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats…” Exodus‬ ‭12:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬

Once the tabernacle was made according to God’s detailed instructions and the priests were consecrated, a daily system of sacrifices began.

“”Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” Exodus‬ ‭29:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬

Hebrews 10:11 tells us that these daily sacrifices lacked the power to take away sins. So why did God give such detailed instructions concerning the sacrificial system? I believe there were two reasons: First, God wanted His people to understand that sin separates us from God and that the penalty of sin needed to be paid. And second, the symbolic offering of lambs was a picture of the single sacrifice for all sins that would be offered by Christ.

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews‬ ‭10:11-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Christ Jesus as the Lamb of God is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. He also is our Passover Lamb, sacrificed during the time of the Passover memorial. By shedding His blood on the Cross, Jesus once of all time made atonement for our sin and restored us to relationship with God. 1 Peter 1 tells us this was God’s plan all along. And the following verses remind us of the difference these truths are to make in how we live our lives.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV

Lord Jesus, I am eternally grateful that You are the Lamb of God, an acceptable sacrifice because You are without blemish or spot. Thank You for paying the penalty for my sins and making a way for my relationship with God to be restored.