Best kept secret

Do you have secrets? I do. There are a lot of things that only I know. A few of them I’ve shared with others, but there are still some things that I haven’t told anyone. Some secrets are very deep and important. Others are less important, like the name of a character in a manuscript I haven’t written yet. In either case, no on else knows these secret things.

Whether it’s wise or not to keep something secret probably depends on the motivation for hiding the truth. I know as an author keeping a ending of a manuscript secret is a good idea; otherwise, no one will want to read your book. Conversely, keeping a secret about breaking the law or doing something that is morally wrong for fear of getting caught isn’t a good idea.

Although secrets are good and find in some cases, keeping secrets isn’t the best option, generally speaking. People aren’t meant to live secret lives. We’re always better off if we live in the open, being real, being genuine.

The verse this morning got me thinking about secrets but not in the context you might think.

Colossians 1:27-28

27For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.

These verses come right after a verse where Paul is explaining that for many generations past, the entire message of God, the whole story of God’s plan, was kept a secret from different people groups other than the Israelites. Now, I can think of a few examples in the Old Testament where the Israelites reached out to different cultures and one or two people would respond and become God Followers. But it was rare. The Old Testament is all about Israel, its history, its failures, God’s triumphs, its kings, its children, the mistakes they made.

All Israelites all the time.

Is that because of Abraham and God’s promise to him? Is it becuase God knew non-Israelites at the time wouldn’t be receptive as a whole to Him? I don’t know. All I know is that when the New Testament starts, the entire culture of Israel has changed. And when Christ arrives on the scene, He doesn’t just reach out to Jews, He reaches out to non-Jews. The Bible calls them Gentiles. And they follow Him.

And at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, after Christ has raised from the dead and is ascending into heaven, He gives what people call, the Great Commission, ordering His disciples into the world to preach the truth to people who don’t believe. Jesus sends them out into the world to all people.

This is what Paul is talking about in Colossians. The riches and glory of Christ are for the Gentiles too. It doesn’t matter if we’re not Jewish, Christ died for all people. And everyone can be saved.

Christianity isn’t a club where only the super important are allowed entrance. That’s the way a lot of churches treat it, but that was never how Jesus lived it. He loved everyone. He healed everyone. He accepted everyone . . . well, everyone except the arrogant religious elite. But even among the religious elite, a man named Nicodemus showed humility and came to Christ with questions, and Jesus never turned Him away.

There are more stories than I can count in the New Testament about Jesus interacting with Gentiles. Some of the Books of the New Testament were even written to Gentile churches.

The truth of God’s Word was once kept secret from anyone who wasn’t a Jew. But that was in the past. The message of Scripture and the truth of what God has done shouldn’t stay secret anymore. But we are always tempted to keep it that way, because we have bought into the lie that faith is better kept as a secret.

It’s hard, though, because you want to be treated normally by your coworkers and your friends, and I know I get scared because I don’t want people to think I’m a freak. So most times I back off and bite my tongue. But Christ isn’t supposed to be the best kept secret in the world; He’s supposed to be the Person everyone wants to know, the Friend everyone wants to talk about.

Christianity isn’t exclusive. Neither is God. And I’m glad for that, otherwise I wouldn’t know Him. The Jews are God’s chosen people, but right now we’re in the Age of the Church, focusing totally on Gentiles. But the Age of the Church won’t last forever. So we need to do what we can to reveal the secret of Christ to the rest of the world before we run out of time.

Live for Christ while you can because the day is coming soon when there won’t be anyone left to tell Christ about. If He’s a secret now, the day is coming where His secret will be out and you won’t be able to tell anyone about Him anymore.

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Marching to the beat of a different . . . faith?

Do you ever stop to think how different Christianity is from every other faith out there? It’s really interesting, actually. Maybe I should clairfy what I mean when I say “Christianity,” though, because a lot of times people don’t actually know what it is.

Christianity isn’t a religion. When I talk about Christianity in this post, I’m talking about the faith explained in the Bible. I’m not adding anything to it. I’m not taking anything away from it. Biblical Christianity is different than any other religious system in the world. And if you don’t believe me, just study them.

I’m not a world religion expert by any means so I’m not going to launch into an explanation of every one of them, because for every religious leader in the world you’ll find a different religion — even if they supposedly belong to the same type of faith system.

But what I’ve experienced or studied about other religions usually is something like this:

  • There’s a God but He’s distant and doesn’t care about us.
  • Or there’s no God, no heaven, no hell and everything ends when we die.
  • Or there is a God and He has a plan but we have to cower before Him and sacrifice (our lives, children’s lives, unbelievers’ lives) to please Him.
  • There is no God. Just nature. And we live the best we can and die and come back again to try once more until we reach perfection.
  • Or God exists and Jesus was a prophet who did a lot of good things, and we have to do good things too to get to heaven.
  • Or God just loves everyone so much that He can’t stand to be separated from anyone, so everybody goes to heaven.
  • Or (here’s the real kicker) God exists, Jesus is His Son, the Bible is true but you must follow church ritual and tradition to be saved.

I know there are a lot more. But it seems to me that these sum up the vast majority of religious systems out there. None of them are biblical. Some come close, but if you add or subtract anything away from Scripture, it’s no longer viable. This is biblical Christianity:

Romans 6:23

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 We’re not perfect. Our world is fallen, and our spirits are evil, separated from God through our rebellion. And although I have spoken to a number of people who think God is unfair for letting the whole human race take the blame for Adam and Even’s mistake, I don’t think anyone else would have done better. We’ve all fallen. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all let our pride get in the way of our relationship with God. And that’s no different than what Adam and Eve did. They were our best shot, and they blew it. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

We sin. We die. BUT. God gives us eternal life. And it’s free.

Free means free. You don’t have to pay for it. How could you? What do you own? What do you possess that God hasn’t given to you? How can you have anything worth trading for eternal life?

But it’s not just free — it’s a FREE gift.

Gifts are supposed to be free. Gifts don’t have strings attached.  If someone gives you a gift and expects you to pay for it, it’s not a gift; it’s a joke.

But the other thing about a gift is that you have to accept it. Anybody can give you a gift, but it doesn’t do you any good until you take it. It would be like someone giving me an Amazon Gift Card (yay, Kindle!) and me leaving it sit. What’s the point of that? That’s books someone’s given me, and I just leave it sitting on a table or under a Christmas tree? Why would I do that? Is it going to add itself to my account sitting there? Is it going to pay for the books I want just sitting there? No. It doesn’t do a thing until I take it, claim it, and use it.

The most important part of this verse, though, is how we are given this free gift of eternal life. Through Jesus Christ.

Jesus paid the price for our gift. He’s the one who offers it to us freely. He could charge us if He wanted to. He could demand that we reach a certain standard in our lives before we are worthy to accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be free. And He could expect us to pay Him back after we accept His gift, but then it wouldn’t be a gift.

Don’t you see how different this kind of faith is?

God loves us but He’s perfect, and we’re not. So the only way to make us perfect so we can talk to Him was to send Jesus to pay for our sins with His death, so He could offer us the opportunity to have a relationship with God and with Him (and with the Holy Spirit, but it’s way too early in the a.m. for pheumatology). Everyone can believe it. There’s nothing we can do to earn it. There’s nothing we can do to lose it. And the only requirement of us is to accept it.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.

The simple life

I love the Bible. It’s truly the most amazing book I’ve ever read, full of every sort of story you can imagine. Every story that’s ever been written has roots in the Bible, whether people believe it or not. Today’s verse is so clear, so simple, so wonderful — I’m not even sure what to say about it. . . . .

The verse of the day was actually a single verse, but I went ahead and included the whole paragraph where it’s found. And if you want a truly awesome read, you should look at the whole chapter.

1 Peter 3:13-17

 13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.[c] Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Don’t be afraid of threats. Worship God like He’s the only Person who matters to you, and if someone asks you why you are always full of hope, make sure you tell them why. Make sure you tell them that you have hope because of what Christ did for you. But . . . don’t beat them over the head with your salvation. Salvation isn’t a club to bludgeon people into submission. And the Word is a sword, but it’s not to stab unbelievers with. People who don’t believe in Christ aren’t our enemies. They’re just people God made who haven’t come back to Him yet, and usually the reason they left God and won’t come back to Him is because of Christians.

Live your life with a clear conscience. Always do what is right, even if it means that you will suffer for it. Live in a way that you have no regrets. Live a life looking forward and not mulling over things you’ve done that you can’t change. Live the way you’re supposed to — live the way Christ did — and don’t do anything to compromise your witness, and if you do compromise your witness, apologize. Do what you can to make it right.

And then, if people speak out against you, they won’t have any basis for it. Everyone who matters will know why you live the way you live, and everyone who matters will see the kind of life you live, and the people who say mean things about you will simply be branded as people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

We are called to be an unusual, peculiar people. People who love others in spite of what they do to us. People who help others less blessed than us even if we barely have enough to sustain ourselves. And, because of human nature, even if we live the way we’re supposed to, there will always be someone who hates us. The Bible says somewhere else that Christ was hated; so why do we expect to be loved if we live like He did?

I love verse 17. If we do wrong, we’ll suffer. That’s pretty obvious. So is it smart to do wrong and suffer for it when it’s not what God would have us do anyway? If doing wrong ultimately hurts us and hurts the people around us, why do it? Isn’t it better to do what is right, even if we’ll suffer for it? If we do what’s wrong, we have no defense. But if we do what’s right, God will back us up. And even though we might endure a little bit of suffering from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, in the end, we will have maintained our witness. Our consciences will be clear. And the people who are watching us (there are always people watching us) will see that we’re different, that we’re full of hope, and they’ll wonder why. And maybe, if we’re fortunate, they’ll ask us and we can tell them that we live for Christ and Christ alone.

Don’t be afraid. Live like Christ. Worship God. Know what you believe and why. And stick to it. 

It’s simple. It may not feel simple somedays, but it is.

Golden

I don’t like tests.

I always enjoyed going to class (unless it was math or math-related), and I have always loved to learn. But taking tests to prove that I learned it? Not my favorite thing in the world.

Most of the time I would do all right on any test I was given, but usually I would miss silly little things. Easy questions that I really did know the answer to but that I just neglected to really think about in the middle of the test.

I never really thought about this, but that’s kind of like life. When I run into tests in life, I usually do all right. I know quite a few right answers, so I guess I usually score pretty high. But the answers I miss — the problems in life that really trip me up — are simple. They’re easy things. Like not worrying. Like not getting stressed out. Like not getting impatient with people. And I know how to handle those situations. But in the heat of the moment, in the middle of the test, I don’t think a situation through and I choose the wrong answer — like letting my impatience get the better of me or worrying myself into a pit of depression.

Tests will always come out better if you think about the answers you think are right.

The verse this morning truly encouraged me about this.

Job 23:10-11

 10 “But he knows where I am going.
      And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
 11 For I have stayed on God’s paths;
      I have followed his ways and not turned aside.

 God knows where we’re going. I can’t even begin to explain how encouraging that is by itself. He knows where we’re going because He knows the future, and because He knows where we’re going, He knows how to help us get ready for what’s coming.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve wondered why God allows certain things to happen in my life. And then (usually about ten years later) after I’ve grown up a bit and gotten a little deeper into life, I can look back and see His hand leading me all they way. I can see the reasons why He let me experience things that at the time felt negative or stressful or overwhelming. He was testing me, getting me ready for something bigger and better that He had for me.

God has given us every resource we need to pass any test we face.

We have the Bible, which tells us how to live. We have the Holy Spirit in us, who prays for us and gives us direct access to God. We have God Himself who is on our side and who wants to help us every chance we let Him. If you’ve in a situation today that you don’t know what to do, pray about it. Read the Bible. Ask God to reveal the answers to you. The answers are in there. Maybe it’s cliched, but–seriously–what would Jesus do? Love God. Love people. I know that’s a general statement, but it’s true.

Do the right thing. Do what God says to do. Honor your parents. Don’t frustrate your children. Respect your husband. Love your wife. Obey your bosses. Pay your taxes. Live a life above reproach. Work as though you’re working for God and not for people. Do everything in your life like you’re doing it for God. Keep your perspective straight. There’s so much about how to live in the Bible, and many times people don’t even look for it.

God has set out a path for us to follow. He’s given us directions. He’s not only told us how to live but when Jesus was here, He showed us how to live too. He set down a path for us. So we should get on that path and stay on it. We need to follow Christ and not deviate. That’s what it means to be a Christian. Not being baptized or taking Communion or singing hymns or wearing special clothes or belonging to a church.

Stay on God’s path. Follow His ways. Don’t deviate. Then, when God allows life to test you, you’ll have the answers you need.

Then, you’ll be golden.