The Wrong One?

Have you ever grabbed an item off the store shelf, thinking you had one thing, but only to discover after you arrived back home you had some entirely different? I have. Once I grabbed a jar of pickles from the store, only to get home and realize what I bought wasn’t dill pickles, but dill pickles with jalapeno pieces that were very spicy. The jars looked the same, but in small print were the words “with jalapenos”.

Yesterday, a similar thing happened when I stumbled into my kitchen to make my breakfast, I opened the cupboard and surveyed the boxes of cereal. Hmmm. Pumpkin Spice Special K, sounds good, and without thinking much about it, I grabbed the box and a bowl from the cupboard. I began to pour out the cereal into the bowl and in my morning foggy brain, realized that someone had switched the cereal in the box, because what I was pouring into the bowl was not flakes; it was little ring shaped cheerios. “Who would do that?” But, wait… no, I turned the box around to face me and discovered nope, no cereal substitution, just the box of honey nut cheerios. I had grabbed the wrong one. From the side, both boxes had a brownish color. Both boxes were of the same size. Both were side by side on the shelf. I grabbed for what I thought was Special K, but my hand actually picked up the cheerios.

I only realized my mistake when I tried to use the cereal, that is poured it out. I thought I knew what I had in my grasp. Appearances can be deceiving as they say. It made me think about my faith and about my faith journey. Is it possible to grab at faith, thinking we have the “right” one? Is there really any difference? Without getting into a full blown apologetic discussion about other religions today, let’s consider: Are there really different faiths within the Christian faith? Sadly, there are a few, just as there were in the early days of Christianity. Its not just about what music styles or versions of the Bible are used, but real differences in the Gospels presented.

Peter warned early Christians about false teachers in his second letter (2Peter 2:1), and in his letter to the Galatia church, Paul suggested that many spies had infiltrated the church, trying to disrupt the faith (Galatians 2:4). In his second letter to the Corinthian church he warned of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13). Even Jesus warned His disciples that many false prophets would arise (Matthew 24:11). These are just a few examples, there are many more, so they should be expected.

So, are there different gospels too? You may have heard of a few, such as the prosperity gospel that promises blessing for asking God for it and if you expect it you can have it all- sports cars, health, wealth, mansions, fame, etc. And most people can see through all the false claims made by this gospel, but are there others? How do you know if you have heard and chosen the right gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

The easiest answer I have is this;

1.) Does it line up with what the Bible has to say? Does it line up with the entire bigger picture of the Bible, that is both the Old and New Testaments? Some churches have eliminated the Old Testament in favor of just the New. Is it an addition to the original accepted canon of Scripture or is it something written later on by a self- proclaimed prophet or writer who added their own personal thoughts without proper scholarly research? Watch out for what is presented as a gospel not found in a scholarly version of the Bible. Compare verses of the Bible from “word for word” translations with “thought for thought” translations of the Bible, which while easier to read, often fall short of the actual meaning of a verse and can confuse the reader- leading to a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2.) Does it add any requirements of what must be done to be in right standing with God? Such a gospel might look the same, like my boxes of cereal, but no one can earn or keep a spot in Heaven. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) and “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”(Romans 3:28).

3.) Does it require a personal commitment? Many people have been mislead that joining a church, being confirmed, or because their parents attended a church, that they are in right standing with God. That is, they are automatically considered a Christian. But, the Bible says we are all sinners in need of a savior and we must recognize it is our personal standing before God that will be judged when we die, not on whether we were sprinkled as an infant, confirmed as a child, or because we gave money or volunteered with the nursery. “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God“, (Romans 3:22-23)We must recognize and admit we are not able to have fellowship with God, that we are the ones who have broken His commandments, and must admit it. We need to realize we cannot fix it in ourselves. We need Jesus as our savior. Our personal savior. For our sins. To die for us. To justify us before God.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

Have you grabbed the right one? -God Bless Nancy

Amazed

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.

– Paul in his letter to the Christians at Thessaloniki (Thessalonians 2:2)

What amazes you? It might seem at times that there is nothing that is amazing. Nothing that just encourages you to the point of feeling overwhelming joy and contentment. You see, I think that is a result of being amazed. We are filled with both joy and contentment. It’s difficult right now to find this joy and contentment. Or to be amazed. If you are following along with this blog, than you will recall last week’s topic of weariness. If you don’t follow, I encourage you to do so, in order for you to not miss any of the blogs. And you can join me in this journey of walking out my Christian faith through difficulties, and changes that we all face in one form or another. I try to encourage you from my own life, that while life is a challenge and is constantly moving forward, we do not have to lose heart. God is with us.

In Paul’s letter, quoted briefly above, Paul is writing to a church located in Thessolonica. He, along with Silas and Timothy, had shared the Gospel of Jesus there over the course of a three week time period, with several people responding positively to the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah, had been crucified and rose on the third day. He was their hope and salvation. However, there was a group of Jewish leaders who tried to have him thrown out of town He narrowly escaped. You can read more about this in Acts chapter 17. The message had been accepted by some, and a group of Christian believers began to meet. After a time, he sent Timothy back to encourage these new believers in their faith. He himself was not going back to avoid a riot. The believers there had also been subject to persecution for their faith and yet remained hopeful and looked forward to the return of Christ. This news brought joy to Paul and it was the reason he wrote back to them in this letter.

So, what does this have to do with being amazed? Well, like the Thessalonians, we all face struggles, difficulties and have the option to lose faith and hope. We are all the same. Human nature has not changed. But, they remained faithful.

There have been times, when I have struggled and felt like the whole world was falling apart, or at least my world. In those times, what I needed was a reminder of just how awesome God is; how amazing He is, and how this life, despite its struggles, is not falling apart, but is growing me and deepening my faith.

I can recall several times, when God has shown up in a time I was struggling. It is something small, and what others would overlook or consider a coincidence. But to me it was the greatest sign that God was with me and encouraging me to hold onto hope. To focus on His goodness, despite the bad circumstances in my life.

I remember one time, as I had left a Christian conference, not uplifted, but to be honest, I was rather discouraged. The conference had the right intentions, but the wrong motives. I had been given an insiders look into this ministry and was looking forward to someday serving in a leadership role, only to find myself very disillusioned and discouraged by what I saw behind the scenes. Though the conference was to last the entire day, I asked my husband(who was attending with me) if we could leave early, before the last session. He didn’t like the idea of leaving early, but reluctantly did for me. I recall it caused a bit of a heated discussion between us.

If you have been around churches or Christian ministries for awhile, disappointment is bound to happen. When we get more involved, we will find the flaws and truths. Sadly, this turns many away from Christianity and at least in my case, discouraged me, because I had really thought this was a legit group. Just like in Paul’s day, there are many who claim to be in ministry to serve others, but they are not, and need to be avoided. It is not just that they are people who are not perfect and sin, there are some people who are intentional defrauding others for their own benefit.

My husband and I drove away from the conference early and stopped at a nearby dollar store. If you are not familiar with these stores, in the United States we have stores that sell basic household needs for one dollar per item. The quality is not great, but if you just need something quick, it is the place to go. I cannot even remember what we were stopping to purchase, but I DO remember feeling so discouraged, hurt, angry and sad. And mostly confused. My thoughts began to rattle around in my head as my husband went off down a different aisle. I recall standing near the glasses and fighting back the tears. I did the only thing I knew to do:pray. So as I walked by those glasses, I began to pray silently, asking God to help me, to understand He was still there, to help me forgive those who had hurt me, and to ask forgiveness for myself, if I had acted wrongly towards my husband or others, by leaving the conference early. I barely notice as someone passed by me with a cart loaded with items, and handed me a piece of paper. It was a Gospel tract with the photo of a rose on the front with the words “You’re Special” printed just above the rose.

I’ll be honest I was scared to look up, or turn around. I knew it had been from God, and frankly I expected to see an angel in disguise, pushing that cart. When I did gather my wits about me and turn around, they were gone. No one in the store with a loaded down cart, ANYWHERE. Yeah, God showed up. and amazed me with His care and concern. I still can’t believe it, except for the fact that I have that little Gospel tract to this day. Oh, I’m sure there are some who would doubt the identity of my fellow shopper, but it doesn’t matter, I believe God uses whatever means to deliver messages of hope.

I think He continues to do this, but we are the ones who don’t notice. I had another amazing incident recently, but not so dramatic. It required me to do some research, but once I had, I was once again amazed by God. He answered my prayers, but not in the large demonstrations, but in small ways. I had almost overlooked it, it appeared so insignificant. I wonder how many times God has answered our prayers, but we fail to notice, because we are not seeing what He has done. We need to look for the amazing. Looking for God’s handiwork in our lives.

Paul was filled with joy as he wrote, not because he recalled his own difficulty there, but that there had been fruit form his preaching, “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.” verse 1 chapter two. He was amazed by what God had done there through the Holy Spirit. He could have focused on his own life threatening experience, but chose instead to see God’s hand at work.

Struggles and difficult times do not last forever, but sometimes we must go through them. Yet God is with us. God bless and look for the amazing this week.- Nancy

Beautiful People

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”- Paul, Romans 10:15

Have you ever met any beautiful people? No, I’m not talking about the good looks of some people, or of “the beautiful people” of privilege, or status, or of wealth, fame and education- but, the really beautiful people. Those whose heart’s are open, kind, loving and beautiful.

My grandmother was a beautiful person, full of kindness and of love. I remember her as always smiling. She seemed genuinely glad to see me when I visited. She would come sit beside me on my grandparents over sized couch and talk with me. She also made the most delicious meals and made it look so easy. She was giving and generous towards others and shared her love of painting and art with others as she taught me how to paint and other how to create their own works of art from clay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that she was perfect. She and my grandfather fought sometimes and she never liked to visit my mom- her daughter- at her home. But, despite her imperfections, she was beautiful. See, its not being perfect all the time or looking perfect all the time that makes a person beautiful; it is something from within that makes us beautiful or ugly.

If someone would have seen my grandmother arguing with my grandad, they would have probably judged her as unkind and even mean. But they would have been wrong. Too often we judge from the outside and miss the beauty within. The beauty of a diamond is the result of intense pressure and of cutting to reveal the sparkling facets. Beauty is often only revealed after the pain suffered. I’m not sure of the reason for my grandmother’s beauty or if she had experienced pain or suffering- I never thought about it much until now to be honest, but I’m sure there was a story. We all have pain in this life that can leave us bitter or better. Beautiful or ugly.

Last time I shared the need to embrace our pain and move forward anyway. Our pain can help others in providing hope of getting through some of the same things we have experienced. I recently watched another beautiful person who had gone through so much share her incredible story of hope. She calls herself nightbirde, in case you’d like to read her story. She did not sugar coat her life, but laid it out for all to hear and to read. She could be bitter, but she chose to be better- to question God about what she was dealt, but realized she discovered the beauty of God in the midst of pain and suffering. The story she told through music was of good news, of hope, despite the odds stacked against her.

It is this message of hope, of Good News, that is so beautiful. We are lowly instruments that get bruised, battered and torn apart because of this life, yet we carry this message of hope; of life; of the beauty and goodness of God. We can share this message, or choose to keep it to ourselves. We can look at the world around us with contempt, or we can embrace it and share God’s love. We have this choice to be beautiful on the inside and reflect God, or remain bitter at life’s unfairness; it is a choice. Our choice. -God Bless Nancy