RSS

Tag Archives: my testimony

the sinner’s prayer PART II

Okay, finally the long awaited sequel to my last post…okay, there is probably no one waiting on pins and needles, but here it is.  It has taken me much longer to find the time to write than I hoped.  If you haven’t read the original post, go read the sinner’s prayer and then come back.

Parenthood has taught me that trust is the key.  My son does not want to trust that my wife and I actually care and are out for his better good.  He can only see what he wants or thinks that he needs.  This leads to a lot of headaches.  However, if I remember that trust is the key to his heart, it makes the conversations and decisions that need to be had and made so much easier.

The stuggles with this combined with a personal soapbox of mine a month or so ago…and God used this to start a little revolution in my heart.

A friend on Facebook shared about an event at church or a camp (I don’t remember which), during which a large group of people “accepted” Christ and “prayed the sinner’s prayer.”  I don’t put these in quotes to belittle these two things, but I do it to emphasize what my issue is that has become a soapbox.

I grew up in a chruch tradition where getting people to “accept Christ” and “pray the prayer” was the ultimate goal.  There was acknowlegement of the need to disciple people, but the practice was that “coming to faith” was the greater goal.  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  But, I have come to having a growing uneasiness about the concentration on the “moment” of becoming a Christian that his leads to.

There are two by-products that can come from this, that I know can cause some major issues.  One is that some people think that if they go through the action of praying the sinner’s prayer, and even follow it up with a short time of religious zeal, that this is enough evidence that they are right with God and have secured their ticket to Heaven.  What is done the rest of their lives does not matter as long as they can look back to that one moment or short span of time.    They can live the rest of their lives however they want, as long as they know that at one point they “accepted Christ into their heart.”  They can go on living or thinking how they did before, as long as they have their Heaven pass and maybe go to church ever once in a while.   There are a lot of people that think that this is okay, and even people who really are Christians that look to this for comfort about loved ones that may not truly be.

I know I am asking for backlash as I get into this, but hear me out…please.

I do not think the Bible supports this.  There is eobviously going to be a moment in time when someone truly believes and the Spirit comes to live in his or her heart.  This is clear.  I just don’t think that the emphasis needs to be on that moment in time, but on the evidence that this change brings.  Jesus, in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), talked about the idea that not every heart that hears his message and accepts it will truly take hold of it.  There is the group of people that will hear it and not accept it and three groups that will accept it, but there was only one group that held on to it and changed.  The evidence was in the growth.

Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.  The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.  The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.  The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!

The last sentence sums it all up…those who truly believe are those that produce a harvest.  The harvest, I believe, is the heart change that proves a new life in Christ…and when someone is truly changed, it will spread to others…and this spreading is when there is a harvest bigger than the seed that was planted.  One heart changed, and I mean really changed, will lead to the heart change of others.

Now, let me just do a quick side note.  I am not saying that what we do (good or bad) can change our standing with God.  We can never be good enough.  So when a person continues living the way they did before they “prayed the prayer”…what they are doing is not what keeps them from Heaven.  Going to church every time the doors are open and living a “Christian lifesyle” does not guarantee a right standing with God.  Only Jesus sacrafice on the cross can do this.  Jesus lived the life that we couldn’t…never breaking God’s law and living out of total trust in the Father…and then he died on the cross.  Jesus did not have to die.  He was not under the curse of death because he never broke the law that death is the penalty for…so dying at all was not in the cards for him.  This freed him up to die in our place.  To take our punishment…our curse on himself.

More than that, he died a gruesome death.  A torturous death.  He did this because he not only took our curse, but he also took the wrath of God in our place.  This was because we, as humans, have come up with a lot of ways to pervert God’s creation and the life he has given us.  This has led to God’s anger on top of separating us from him.  Jesus dying the way that he did, on the cross, took on the wrath of God for even the vilest of offenses.  There is nothing that we can do that is so bad that Jesus sacrafice can not covered.  He took the wrath and scorn for even the worst of things that humans can come up with.

And God accepted this sacrafice.  Jesus’s death was accepted as our.  His tortured murder fulfilled the wrath we deserve.  We know this because three days later, he came back from death.  The price was paid.  The jail time was served.  Once jail time is served, the prisoners are set free.  Jesus walked out of the prison, and it crumbled behind him.  For more on this, read Action Hero Jesus.

I said all of this to bold face the point that it is not what we do that saves us…but if we are brought back from the dead through what Jesus did, we will not be the same.  Our heart will change.  If we truly believe, the Holy Spirit…the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead…lives in our heart.  If the one whose power raises from the dead lives inside of us, we will not be the same.  We will love more, put others needs before ours, and start to live life differently.  This change is the first hint at the harvest.  It is the first few apples on the tree.  Then as you change, this will cause others to want to change.  They will want what you have.  They will want to go to Christ and be changed…which will lead to them having a harvest, causing Jesus’s harvest in you to grow and grow.

There has to be a change.  The change is the evidence.  Not the prayer you prayed.  Not the pastor’s hand that you shook.  Not the moment you came to faith.  It is the change that others can see.  You do not cause this change.  It is organic.  It happens because you can not be the same when you truly trust Jesus as your savior.

The second major problem with the focus on the moment and prayer is that those who grow up in church and a Christian family can confuse the values they grow up with is the change that being a true believer brings.  You prayed the prayer and live a Christian lifestyle, so you assume you are right with God.  BUT, again, it is about what you do.  This is my story.  I was not a Christian for most of my life, but I thought I was.  I never truly looked to Christ’s sacrafice as my saving grace.  My only evidence was the things that I did.  I did not have heart change.  Because I have gone long again, if you want to read about my story of life change go check out My Time Travel Testimony.

Once again, it is not about the prayer.  It is about the change in your heart, mind, and life.

Here I go again…never got to the lesson about the sinner’s prayer.  So I have to do a part three.  I promise.  The lesson is good.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please continue to teach me and help me trust in you alone.  your son, joe

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , ,

The Prodigal Toddler and the Sad Daddy

Usually on Friday, I like to share stories about lessons I learned from my son.  I did not get a good chance to do this yesterday, but I today I am going to share a story FROM yesterday.

In earlier posts I have talked about getting to spend the summer with my son, NB (see the post, The Monitor and the Incredible Yelling Boy for the daddy-son summer and NB initials explanation).  Over the last two weeks the dynamic has been different.  Last week my wife’s mom was here.  She left on Sunday morning, and that afternoon he was passed off to my parents.  He was with them in the lower part of the state until last night.  His attention for the last couple of days has come from sources outside of Mommy and Daddy.  Okay, there are two better words for it.  He has been SPOILED ROTTEN.

It is probably needless to say that when he is gone for a week, LA and I really start to miss him and can’t wait for him to come back.  I start looking forward to the reunion about halfway into the week.  A part of my longing for being reunited is how he acts.  He is always so happy to see us.  And, because of the daddy-son bonding time over the summer, he usually runs to me first and then wants to be by my side most of the evening.  I love this!  What father wouldn’t?  This is a special time for me, even more so after this summer because he and I had so much fun and our bond is much deeper now.

Last night, the plan was to meet at Texas Roadhouse.  My parents drove up here and went to my brother and sister-in-law’s house, and then we all met there to eat and celebrate LA’s birthday.  I could not wait to get there and get the running-and-jumping-into-my-arms son treatment.  I was excited.  I picked LA up from work and we headed over there.

We went in, with me full of expectations.  We find my family waiting for a table.  I look for NB.  My parents say, “Look who it is!” to him.  He was hanging out with my brother.  He looks at us, gets down from his lap, walks over, and says, “Hi.”  Then he started to walk away.

There went to the wind from my daddy sails!

We both called him back and he gave LA a hug.  I picked him up and held him.  After about a minute he says, “I get down please?”

“NB, we haven’t seen each other in a week!”

“I want Uncle Tommm (he really holds out that M).”

I let him down.  Completely deflated now.

After two weeks of more than adequate spoiling from grandparents, I guess Mommy and Daddy weren’t that big of deal anymore.

It did get better throughout dinner.  Towards the end, he wanted to come sit between LA and I.  Once he did he kept wanting to put his arm around me and then he wanted LA to hold him (which was difficult in a booth and her being pregnant).  His wanting to be a part of Mommy and Daddy’s life returned…though he did cry when we left when he figured out that Grandma and Grampa were not coming with us and he was not going with them.

Needless to say, I was let down by the situation in the beginning.  His love for me and wanting to be near me is awesome.  I look forward to that when he was away.  It wasn’t fun to see that I wasn’t his “all” anymore.  I know that will come and go.  My feelings weren’t hurt, I was just let down from my expectations.

This whole thing, as most things do, brings me back to my relationship with God and reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Sons.  Yes, I know I pluralized it.  I have a new understanding of the parable, thanks to my church and a sermon I was asked to listen to by Timothy (Tim) Keller.  It is called, you guessed it, The Prodigal Sons.  I am going to BRIEFLY summarize it, but I highly recommend listening to the sermon.  He also has a book on it, which I haven’t read but have heard awesome things about, call The Prodigal God.

I almost wrote out the whole set of verses for the parable in Luke, but then I looked down at the word count.  Here is a link if you want to read it for yourself (which I always advise doing): Luke 15:11-32.

Basically, the story goes that there are two sons.  One decides he doesn’t want to live with the family and work the land.  He cashes in his inheritance and goes off and lives “wildly”…basically parties and “hangs out” with prostitutes.  The other brother stays home and works the land which will all be his one day, since the other brother is “out”.  Eventually, the younger bro runs out of cash and options.  He decides that working at home is not so bad and that he would try to go back and enlist as a servant.  He does.  Before he can get there, Daddy sees him, runs to him, clothes him, and throws a party…remember, all of this is now at the expense of the older brother’s future inheritance–whatever Dad spends now are things that he won’t get later.  While the party is going on, the father then goes out to meet the older son (who, like the younger was not at home at the time, but it was because he was out working and being the “good son”.  Daddy asks him why he doesn’t want to come in and enjoy the feast for his brother’s return.  All that “good boy” can do is complain that it isn’t fair.  He is doing all the right things and he doesn’t get a feast.  And then comes my favorite part.  I am going to quote this part.

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

The older brother missed the point.  It was about enjoying the father’s company.  That is what was important.  A part of enjoying the father is celebrating and rejoicing in what makes him happy.  Both sons were lost.  The father sought them both out.  Only one came back to enjoy the father.

I lived the life of the older son.  It was to the point that I was not a Christian for most of my life, and I did not even know it.  God has done A LOT to cause many, many changes in my life and relationship to him, especially this year.  I am not going to get into my story now, but if you have not read My Time Travel Testimony, please do.  I love to share how Christ has changed my life.  In that post I tell my story about being the older brother and how God helped me learn how to “join the party” and to “enjoy the Father.”

Back to NB.  How beautiful it is for me when my son just wants to enjoy time with me.  I love it.  As a father, I need that.  Parenting is not easy.  “Raising up a child in the way he should go” drains all the life and energy you have.  But it is for a purpose.  I want NB to learn to enjoy his True Father one day.  I want him to go into the “party” and not let the world or his own goodness hold him back.

God has a secondary purpose for parenting, to point us to him.  To reveal his longing for us to enjoy him.  Everything here is a picture to point us to him.  Even if you are not a parent, think about your relationship to your parents.  What can that teach you about your relationship to God?

What do you think about this?  Are you a younger brother or an older brother?  What is holding you back from joining the party and enjoying the Father?  Can you relate to what this means?  Please leave comments.  If you have any questions about what I mean by enjoying God the Father or if that is a foreign idea to you, please comment with your email.  I won’t share the comment on here (I have to approve them all), but I will contact you.

If you haven’t, please think about becoming an email subscriber.  It is free, and you will get instant updates sent to your inbox.

Performancing Metrics

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Time Travel Testimony

No, this isn’t my latest theory on what the LOST island was.  No, not about my slight obsession with quantum physics ideas on time travel.  And no, not my fan-fiction screenplay for Back to the Future 4.  No, no.  This is the story about how this January God broke through the walls I had built between him and I over the last few years, and how he completely changed my view of my life.

To do this justice, let me tell you what I thought was my testimony…then I will tell you how God flipped that on its head in my own words from the morning that he did.

I was born in a Christian home.  I have two older brothers, a brother that is only 356 day younger, and a sister that is three years younger.  My parents were great at really trying to raise us the best they new how and really tried to seek God and his will for our family.  I like to quote a Rick Mullins song and say, “They worked to give faith hands and feet and somehow gave it wings.”

When I was six, I went to vacation Bible school at our church.  I remember two things from that week.  I remember earning enough “points” to get a stuffed animal camp, and I remember being scared about going to hell.  We were all in the sanctuary of the church.  They asked if we knew where we would go if we died tonight, and if not we needed to raise our hand.  I was real afraid that my destination would be hell, so my hand went up.  I was wisked away to the pastor’s study with several other kids, who I am guessing were hell-ophobic too.

Someone, the pastor I think, told us about Jesus dying for our sins.  He led us through a prayer.  He said we were going to heaven.  I got a Snickers bar…I remember that because I could not eat it.  I was allergic to chocolate when until second grade.  That’s okay.  It was the hell thing that I was worried about.  Whew!  I was glad that was taken care of.

The next thing I remember on this issue was a few weeks later.  I remember asking my mom why I did not feel different.  Why didn’t I feel nicer?  Peaceful?  Joyful?  She said that would come with time and not to worry about.  Okay.  I’ll wait.

I tried really hard to be good.  I tried really hard to do what I thought God wanted me to do…a theme that carried on for the rest of my life (even now).  I tried to be the best Joe for God that I could be.

When I was nine I decided the I needed to be baptized.  I felt a tug on my heart.  I walked forward at church.  Talked with the pastor, and since I prayed the prayer already I thought it was time for the next step of commitment.  My Uncle David is a pastor, we decided to do it at his church.  He walked me through it all again, and then I took the plunge (yes, pun intended).

From that point on, my life revolved around pleasing God.  Living for God.  I went through A LOT of struggles that I won’t get into right now, I “rededicated” my life a few times, but my focus was usually on trying to make God happy with my life.

That led to feeling a calling into ministry.  I went back and forth between missions and youth ministry.  When the time came, I wound up at a Southern Baptist college studing “Christian Studies”…or for those who don’t know what this means, it is like a Pre-Pastor degree before seminary (like pre-law or pre-med).  During college I worked my first two summers at a Christian Camp called Look-Up Lodge, the next summer I did missions in New Mexico, and then, through a long series of events, wound up back at Look-Up for my post-college summer.

That summer I really felt was a turning point in my relationship with God.  From that point on, my life was no longer about “making him happy” but about growing in relationship with him and serving him because of love for him and for others.  I still had many struggles, but there was a change.  I could talk to him.  I could vent to him.  And he would speak to me.  He would comfort me.

Now in the last few year, I grew a little lazy.  Paul was right in the Bible when he said that once you are married it is hard to devote yourself to God.  You are divided.  Once I got married, I started to have less and less of a reliance on God and our relationship cooled a bit.  Even more so once my son was born.  I think my relationship with him staled a good bit.

This January I was challenged by this.  I knew something had to give.  Something my community group leader from church said made me want to do something.  I don’t remember what it was, and I don’t know if he knows he spurred a change in me, but the next day I knew I needed to get up and read the Bible.  I did.  I started in Romans because I know God usually uses it to speak to me.  That was Monday.  Thursday of the same week was when God took a sledgehammer to my heart and started moving furniture.

These our my words from January 21, 2011:

“I was shown this morning that I did not really accept Christ until my summer after college working at Look-Up Lodge. I just did not really understand my need for Christ until then. I knew about Christ and lived my life trying to serve him, but I did not truly understand his sacrafice for my sins until that summer.

It has been hard for me to realize this because I have been a “Christian” since I was six.  I know now that I really did not understand enough for this to be true.  I lived most of my life trying to “please God” and earn his favor.  But that is not Christianity!  Reading through Romans 5-7 showed me that this morning.

That summer at camp, we were working through the holiness of God and learning about the impossibility of us living up to that holiness.  Our sinfulness can not even be in the presence of his holiness.  We need our sin to be covered.  Only Jesus’ sacrafice on the cross taking the wrath for our sins covers them.  That summer I really started to understand this and find much needed freedom in this.  I am free from having to earn my favor in God’s sight.  It was already won for me.

I even had a vision one night during worship where I was in the throneroom of God…and I felt the total weight of my sinfulness.  I really felt like I should be dead compared to his holiness.  I fell down in the vision.  Jesus picked me up and presented me to God.  The weight of my sin was lifted.

I always thought that was just God reminding me of my salvation.  This morning he showed me (after humbling me) that WAS my salvation experience.  Thank you, Jesus!

Such a weight has been lifted this morning, because I have really struggled with understanding my salvation.  I know I am saved by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I just have been confused about the changes I have seen in my thought processes over the years and having security in my salvation.  God cleared that up for me, and freedom abounds in that.

Now I need to get baptized and symbolically die to sin.  This is something I know I have needed to do (I did not understand really what I was doing when baptized as a kid), but I just needed clarity on it all.  I have that.  I am going to get baptized the next time they do it at my church (not at the end of this month, I am too late to sign up).

It has taken a lot of my pride to be broken down to come to this. But it is awesome, because it shows that God worked through me even before I truly was a Christian! Anyway, I just had to share.”

God has done a ton in my life since then.  He has brought people, books, and lessons that I needed to grow.  I was baptized on Easter this year (AWESOME to indentify with Jesus’ death and resurrection on that day!).  It has been hard to review my life through this lens, but now so much makes sense.

I will probably write more on this another time (the stuff from my past that makes sense now), so I won’t get into it now.  This post is long enough!

I just listened to an awesome sermon by Timothy Keller called The Prodigal Sons, and this totally summed up my life before I became a Christian.  I was the elder brother.  Please check this sermon out.  It is so good.  So different than most teaching on this passage.  Jesus is the true elder brother!

What do you think?  What is your story?  Have you ever had the change over where it no longer is about “pleasing God” to being about “loving God”?

Performancing Metrics

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,