Knowing You’re In

Knowing You’re In

Have you ever had that gut wrenching feeling that “I’m late” or “I missed my flight?” How about as a kid, standing in line, hoping to be picked to play with the rest of the kids in a game of pick up basketball, “please don’t be last,” but as they get closer to the end you are thinking, “please just pick me, this will be horrible if I don’t get picked?”

When I was in 5th grade on the first day of school, something like this happened to me. My family had just moved from a small town to the suburbs and I didn’t know anybody. In the small town, I had lots of friends and was accepted as “cool” for the most part, but making new friends wasn’t easy for me and I had a lot of confidence issues because of my upbringing and personal health problems. On that first day, I was late walking into class and had that sinking feeling in my chest. As I walked into the room it felt like the whole room was looking at me… because they were. I scanned the room from the left to the right, making eye contact with each of the students. I didn’t get one inviting gesture, and it seemed like things were in slow motion. Like the scene in Forest Gump – where Forest was getting on the school bus and all the kids were saying “seat taken” and scooting over so he couldn’t sit down – I started to feel so rejected. As I got to the very end of the room, a kid (who that day became my best friend for life) waved and said “come over here man.” That feeling of relief is pretty great, right? Being accepted is probably one of the most important moments in our lives; I know it is for me anyway.

With this in mind, there are two things that I believe are very crucial for us to understand as followers of Jesus. Point number one: we need each other to feel accepted into the family of God in order for us to thrive and accomplish all that Jesus said to accomplish (1 Corinthians 12:12-21). We are the hands and feet of Jesus and He accepted us and continues to accept us at our absolute worst (Romans 5:8). From personal experience, many believers came to know the Lord because they were hurting, because they needed hope, and they wanted acceptance (Matthew 11:28-30). My entire life it was as if I was on the outside looking in. No matter where I went, how many friends I had, how good at sports I was, I was always looking for acceptance. Years later, I now know that this feeling was a desire to know God. A desire to understand my purpose and to know that I was loved.

As members of His church, we certainly aren’t the only people in the world who have the capacity to love, but we know where this love comes from and we have the fruit of the spirit, which gives us the capacity to love like He loves. In the Old Covenant, Jesus explains that we are commanded to love our God and love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). But we are in the New Covenant, and we have a higher call. Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

When we accept people just as they are, and love them as if they are our friend or brother, no matter where they are, they will see the love of Jesus in us (Romans 2:4). This is absolutely foreign to the natural man in our world. Look at the comment of any news article that involves gross injustice and perversion and see some Christians say things like, “I hope he burns in hell.”  Religion says to “clean up” so we can love you, fall in line and obey God, otherwise you might not belong to us. I am not saying that people shouldn’t obey their conscience; I am not saying that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions; I am not saying to turn a blind eye to injustice; I am saying, however, to love people no matter what they do. I believe people need to know how loved they are, and to see that God adores them. And that even though they might not be making the best decisions, even though they have hurt people and have done things they are ashamed of, feel guilty because of, and they might suffer consequences for their choices, they still deserve the love of God. Jesus says, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). And even though we could always do more to love, this isn’t to make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. The point is to start now. To love now. To forgive now. To release your fear and start loving people now. Life is short.

The second point, and this is pretty straight forward: how do you know you are in? First off, Jesus died for the sins of the world, and He tells us to believe (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:29; Romans 10:9-10). Early in my walk with God I was so happy and blessed and full of joy to know God loved me. I was hearing from Him regularly and amazing supernatural things were going on in and around me for several months. One day I woke up and I didn’t “feel” his presence. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I begged and begged him to come back and I started to fear. I thought to myself, “Maybe I wasn’t saved, oh my goodness what do I do?” I started listening to my New Testament on my phone, and  when I heard the verse where Jesus says “those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven…” (Luke 12:10), I freaked out! “Oh no, what do I do!” I started searching frantically online. I had that sinking feeling in my chest and anxiety started to rise up within me. I read a few things online that made some sense, but I came upon one page that said something that provided a ton of relief. It said, “If you have found this page, you have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit. The fact that you cared so much to find this out shows that you love God so much that it kills you to think that you aren’t forgiven by Him.” This isn’t exactly what it said, but it was very close. A peace and calmness came upon me and I called my mentor. He told me basically the same thing and then gave me a great verse that has helped me to this day, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2). Another brilliant thought is that God wants us to live by faith, and that requires that we learn to trust whether we feel him or not. We live by faith and not by sight, and up to that point in my short walk with God He was giving me an encounter that I needed in order to know Him, but in order for me to grow in faith I had to learn how to trust Him.

I know a great woman of God who went to a new church in the past couple of years with her husband. Her husband has always struggled with this, knowing if he was saved or if he was “going to hell.” Through a very hard past and theology from churches that had made him question his faith by taking verses out of context like “I never knew you, depart from me….” (Matthew 7:21-23). He walked up to the pastor of the church, which was quite hard for him to ask him a question about his faith, and he said, “Pastor, how do I know I am saved?” The pastor replied, “maybe you are not.” With no love or explanation, he just dropped that on him. Devastated, fearful and heartbroken this man now doesn’t go to church. This man who is hurting refuses to go to church because of a theology that much of the church has that uses the Bible in a way to make people perform better, and even then God might not let them in. To that man, “God loves you. He has always loved you. And He will always love you. At your very worst, God was willing to lay his life down for you. He knows your struggle. He knows the pain you have and He isn’t happy it happened to you. He didn’t cause these things to you, He is for you. He wants you to give him your burdens, your troubles, the things you hold onto that you think you can’t be forgiven of. Jesus loves you because He loves you and you are created to know Him. Give him your burdens and you won’t regret it. The very fact that you care if you are saved, the fact that you care if you know Him, the fact that you don’t want to go to hell, the fact that you want to know if you are forgiven is evidence that you are. You are enough. Right now. Give him your life, and you won’t be sorry.”

I hope this post blesses you and gives somebody the piece of mind to know that they are loved by God right where they are. I hope this helps you learn the importance of loving people in this same way, that you grow in love and the goodness of God flows from your heart as you shine brightly to a world that desperately needs to know the love of our Father.

Written by: Andrew Strobel

Out With The Old, In With The New

Out With The Old, In With The New

I’ll never forget the moment I first encountered the Lord and surrendered my life to Him. It was the spring of 2010. I was 21 years old at the time, and for the first time in my life I felt an almost euphoric sense of peace and joy. In the blink of an eye, I went from depressed and confused to overflowing with hope and clarity. What a beautiful thing salvation is. For the next six months of my life, I felt like I was on a spiritual high. I lived from a place of total freedom and acceptance in the Lord. However, as time went on and I spent more time in church and learned from other believers, I became more confused in a lot of ways and the freedom that I first walked in seemed to be slipping away.

As I tried to put together the pieces of what it looked like to be a “good Christian,” questions started to flood my mind: Am I allowed to drink alcohol? Should I be watching this movie? How often should I be praying? Do I need to read my Bible more? What is expected of me?

Every Christian seemed to have their own opinions on these topics. As a new believer genuinely trying to walk out my faith the best I could, I wanted some real answers. Couldn’t someone just give me a list of rules or a set of guidelines that I could follow to know how I’m measuring up in my Christian walk?

Sadly, this is how so many Christians live their lives today. Having once tasted of the sweet salvation and freedom in Christ, they then subject themselves to rules and regulations, essentially putting themselves under “law.” They’re mixing the law with faith.

This is not a new issue within the church. In fact, this was something that Paul was constantly rebuking the early church for. In the 1st century church, there was a group of people called the Judaizers. This word stems from a Greek verb meaning, “to live according to Jewish customs.” Judaizers taught that for Christians to be right with God, they still needed to follow the Mosaic Law. For example, they promoted the idea that circumcision was a requirement for salvation. In the book of Galatians, we see Paul addressing Peter about this very issue.

“If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews? We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we have also believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:14-16.

Paul was reminding Peter that we are not justified by works, but through faith in Jesus and his completed work on the cross. By trying to abide by Jewish laws, we are only subjecting ourselves back into bondage.

Enter the new covenant.

When Jesus died on the cross, it instituted a new covenant between Him and the Father. This is great news for us, because there is nothing we can do on our end to mess up this covenant. All we have to do is simply receive Christ, and as His bride, we get to partake in all the benefits of this covenant deal. As new creations in Christ, we have been given a robe of righteousness and God says He will remember our sin no more.

During the time period between Jesus’s crucifixion (30 AD) and the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), the old (Mosaic) covenant still lingered. God only recognized the new covenant between Him and Jesus, but many still operated under the old covenant system. We read in Hebrews though that God had plans to soon make the old covenant obsolete once and for all. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” – Hebrews 8:13.

In 70 AD, God brought judgment upon the old covenant system through the destruction of Jerusalem and completely put an end to the old covenant way of life. The temple was burned to the ground and the genealogical records were destroyed.

So, why is this important to us today? Well, because the old covenant is no longer in place today, the only covenant that we partake in is the new covenant. And the good news is, this new covenant is infinitely better than the old. Hebrews 8:6 says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises”

Throughout Hebrews, we also read that the new covenant has a better sanctuary (Heb. 9:1-10), a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-28), and better results (Heb. 10:1-18). Now, knowing this about the new covenant, how does it apply to the predicament I was in years ago – wondering what is required of me to be a “good Christian” and what I can and can’t do?

To put it simply, there is only one requirement of Christians today. That requirement is to love others as Christ loves us. The new covenant “law” is a law of love. In John 15:16, Jesus says, “This is my command: love each other.” Throughout the rest of the New Testament, Paul and the other writers give some other more specific “commands” to give practicality to what love looks like, but it always points back to this one charge from Jesus himself: love one another.

How freeing is that! We are not bound to a list of dos and don’ts, but rather we are called to walk in step with the Holy Spirit in intimate relationship and to abide in Christ’s love for us and each other. We have been released from the law and now serve in the way of the spirit, not the written code, which is what God always wanted from the beginning. As partakers in this beautiful new and better covenant, performance does not determine our value, but the fact that we’re sons and daughters does!

I encourage you to seek intimacy with the Holy Spirit in your life, because as you grow in relationship with Him, you will naturally walk in the law of love. You will no longer think in terms of dos and don’ts, but you will naturally flow in your identity as a son or daughter of God and your actions will be rooted in love. You will be free to experience life as God intended for you to experience it, abundantly (John 10:10).

Written by: Nate Ebel

Is God As Bad As He Seems In The Old Testament?

Is God As Bad As He Seems In The Old Testament?

A while back, I met a young woman through a community of believers who I’m in connection with here in Australia. We chatted for a while about all sorts of things, including who we both knew, what we did for a living and other general chit chat. At some point, our conversation naturally moved onto the subject of God – as it usually does with me. I asked her how long ago it was that she got saved. She said she met Jesus only a few months ago, and to my question about how strong her relationship with Him was, she replied that having come out of a terrible past-relationship and moving over a thousand miles away from her home town, yeah! – her relationship with Jesus was awesome. Just by looking at her, I could tell she was truly saved – her countenance proved that, with a smile that could make any human being feel amazing.

After the big reveal of her amazing shift from a life of darkness to a life of pure joy, where she’d also found many passionate Christians to do life with, I felt the need to ask her about the bible. I wanted to know if she was a brand new reader, or if she’d already been introduced to this book we Christians hold in high regard. I suppose I just wanted to know, either way, how she saw the bible now that she’d experienced the nature of God in a way that wasn’t through biblical teaching or religious argument. I wanted to know if the words on the pages leaped out with new understanding, or if she found the God of the bible was different to the God of her experience.

When I brought up the subject the bible, I asked her which book of the bible was her favorite to read. I was expecting her to say the book of John or the book of Acts, so it wasn’t surprising to me when she told me she loved reading the book of Matthew. Why? Well, because the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all about Jesus and they contain the exciting stories of His travels, the people He met, the miracles He performed, the desperate people He touched with His compassion, and of course, the moment He asked God, His Father, to forgive the people murdering Him because they didn’t know what they were doing. When she met Jesus for real, reading the gospel of Matthew revealed the man who saved her, which further validated her experience and also gave her written truth about what He did to restore her from a destroyed life.

Now that she’d me told that she was brand new to reading the bible and that she loved reading the New Testament gospels, I had to ask her about what she thought of the Old Testament. Did she find the Old Testament confusing, bloody, graphic, scary or just plain exciting with all the epic stories that have made it onto the silver screen dozens of times? Did she find the God of the Old Testament to be similar to God, revealed in the New Testament? To tell you the truth, it wasn’t surprising to find that she didn’t read the Old Testament at all, and not for a lack of trying. She told me that she had a crack at reading the prophets of old and the chronicles of the kings, but she just couldn’t fathom it. As I suspected, she didn’t like God in the Old Testament, so yeah! – she was confused. Therefore, rather than getting a bad taste for God, she played it safe and left the Old Testament to collect dust in the corner.

Is this what new Christians should have to do? Should they avoid reading the Old because God is too gruesome and judgmental, and only read the New because Jesus in His loving ways is more relevant? Not in my opinion, and I’d like to tell you why, just like I told this young lady whom I believe I met for just this reason – to give her the amazing truth about why God seems so crazy in the bible and how wonderful He is for sticking it out through over a millennia so that we could have the gift of His Son. You see, God not’s delicate about how He’s portrayed in the Old Testament, in fact, He’s happy to reveal His-story; the history of Him and His people – the Israelites – so that we can understand His Character and His faithfulness to His word.

Through the eyes of a famous Atheist, Richard Dawkins – he writes, “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”. Does God appear this way because He is that way, or are we missing something? In Psalms 138:2, David the Psalmist prophesies that God has exalted His word above His name, in other words, God wants you to know that you can count on Him being true to His word despite having the name above all names. He will keep His word, even if by keeping it, His name gets dragged through the dirt. And that’s what we see in the Old Testament – His name tarnished by the recourse He had to take on an adulterous generation, simply because He remained true to a promise He made long ago to a man He called a friend.

So, I asked the young woman if I could help her understand why God appears ugly in the Old Testament – to give her a new lens to look through so she can appreciate God and the first part of the bible in a fresh light. With gladness she welcomed what I had come to learn. She was excited to be able to read the entire bible in context to a God of love – a God of faithfulness to His word and to His relationships with us. I began by telling her about a guy mentioned in Genesis named Abraham. When God met him thousands of years ago, He immediately loved this man for His faith. All God had to do was ask him to pack up shop and leave everything he knew, everyone he’d known, all his family and friends, to go to a land somewhere in the world he’d never been – and at the request of a God he never knew existed, Abraham listened and obeyed. This faith must have been super attractive to God, because before Abe knew it, God was cutting a covenant with him, and he didn’t have to do a thing to earn it – he didn’t even have to do anything to keep covenant with God, all he had to do was receive the promises God made to him like a present from Mom and Dad on Christmas. It was a gift-covenant.

One of the major keys in understanding God in the Old Testament is to understand the promises God made with Abraham. Despite Abe’s faults, which were many – I mean, he was only human like us – God promised to have his back as long as he was alive, and also as long as his family bloodline was alive. Yep, Abraham was the forefather of the entire nation of Israel. The major promise God made to Abraham was that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed – in other words, Abraham’s descendants would be the source of blessing to all the other nations in the world. Abraham’s descendants would later be named Israel and some seven hundred years later, they would be recognized as a nation in and of themselves.

About six hundred years after Abraham started his covenant journey with God, his family had multiplied exponentially and for many reasons that I’ll not go into here, the entire family – which by then numbered into the millions – had found themselves in slavery to Egypt. That’s right, God’s people who were still the recipients of God’s promises were in bondage to a pagan nation. Because of God’s faithfulness to His promises, He broke them out of slavery and brought them into a land of freedom. But before He would walk them into the inheritance of His covenant with Abraham, God wanted to make a new covenant with them as a nation of people – He wanted to propose to them and bring them into a marriage covenant where He would give them all direct access to His presence and make them all priests, representing the one true God and blessing all the nations of the earth.

Remember how I said that the key to understanding God in the Old Testament is to understand the covenant He made with Abraham – well, it’s at this point in Israel’s history that everything changes. You see, God wanted to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation who would exercise authority in the earth on behalf of God, but that generation had only know slavery – they only knew how to think as slaves, not priests. When God presented Himself to them on Mount Sinai, He didn’t descend from heaven in a rainbow, or with a soft serenade of angels singing and playing harps, instead He covered the mountain in dark clouds with thunders and lightning and loud trumpets blasting throughout the earth.

What attracted God to Abraham was his faith, to move when asked despite the abnormality of the request. This is called faith, and Israel had none when God requested them to enter into His presence. It was because of Israel’s slave mindset that they unanimously voted not to receive the gift-covenant God was proposing, instead they counter-proposed a covenant that allowed them remain in the comfortability of their slave ways and asked Him for a deal that was like what the other pagan nations of the land had between each other. If they were going into an agreement with God, they wanted to be able to control their end of the bargain – they wanted a covenant with rules to follow because they only knew how to value themselves based on how well they performed the tasks Pharaoh gave them back in Egypt. They couldn’t fathom a God who would value them based on who their father was, by simply being the children of Abraham.

So, this blog is all about coming to understand the Old Testament and learning how to view the God of love despite how He appears during the time of the Old Covenant, and it’s at this point in Israel’s history where this becomes abundantly clear. Israel rejected God’s proposal of a gift-based covenant, and asked for a rules-based covenant. God didn’t want to give them this kind of covenant, as it would require Him to punish them if they failed to uphold the rules. A rules-based covenant, like the ones the other pagan nations had with each other, had consequences included in it for behavior meriting either blessing, or cursing. In other words, in a rules-based covenant, God would have the pleasure of blessing them if they behaved well, but He would have the displeasure of having to curse them if they performed poorly. God knew they would fail constantly, and He knew ahead of time that He’d have to constantly curse them for breaking the rules.

So, why did God agree to this kind of covenant that Israel asked for? It wasn’t like He could go against His nature and force them through controlling methods to agree to a gift-based covenant. Why did God make this covenant with them that would force Him to operate in a way that would essentially drag His beautiful name through the mud of religion and atheistic contempt? Simply, because God exults His word above His name and is faithful to His covenants to the end. God’s covenant with Abraham promised that through him and his descendants, God would bless every nation of the earth. God’s intention was to bring forth His Son, Jesus, from the family line of Abraham, and through Jesus, the anointed One from above, we all would be blessed through the gospel message of union with God.

When I told the young woman about the covenant God made with Abraham, and because of His faithful nature of love and His enduring faithfulness to His word, this is why God in the Old Testament seems rough and hard-handed – it was all done in order to keep the family of Israel alive so that God could give us the greatest gift of all – Jesus. It was Jesus who saved her. It was Jesus who saved us all. He saved us from death, but He also saved us from religion. God endured being in a rules-based covenant of religion so that He could give you the life of freedom Jesus died and paid for. So the next time you read the Old Testament, and you come across passages that describe God in a way that fits the atheistic description Richard Dawkins gave, you’ll now see Him with new eyes.

Biblically, Jesus is the perfect representative of the entire family of Israel. Prophetically speaking, Jesus is Israel. When the bible prophesied that God would make a new covenant with Israel, it referred the New Covenant God the Father made with His Son when Jesus shed His blood at Calvary. This New Covenant is a better covenant than the Old. It’s better, because it has better promises – promises that were given to Abraham – promises that pertain to you and you being blessed with every spiritual blessing of freedom and life. You are the object of God’s desire, and His faithfulness to His word has proven His great love for you. May I suggest that when you start reading the Old Testament, start with the Psalms of David, and see who he saw in the midst of the Old religious Covenant – a God of love and a God of faithfulness to the end.

Written by: Drew Fraser