Sunday, January 22, 2017

God: The Maker of Heaven and Earth

Here are four fascinating facts about God the Creator that you need to know. 

“1. God created everything out of nothing.”
If we really want to understand God’s work in creation, then we should first read Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Simply put, God created everything that isn’t God.  At first, God alone existed, then He created things that were not Him. 

We really can’t get our minds around this. We can’t imagine a universe where only God exists. But God exists independently of all that is, and that blows our mind. It was only when God created the principles of the universe our world becomes in any way recognizable. 

God is capable of creating all things without any help. He is infinitely intelligent, infinitely strong, and infinitely powerful. It makes no difference whether God created all things in six twenty-four hour days or over eons of time—there are no limits on what He can do.

In the beginning, God created everything that isn’t God. He is outside of everything created. He spoke it all into being, and made it all from scratch.

Nevertheless, the Bible reveals something else that is fascinating about God. 
2.  God didn’t create all things by himself.  He used co-creators. 
God created everything out of nothing, but He didn’t created everything all at once. Whether we believe He did it in six days or six billion years, once He began to create, He made use of what He created to make more creation.

In the Genesis creation account, there’s a repeated phrase during each of the six days of creation—“let there be.” Grammatically, this phrase is a command, but it is a particular kind of command—in the “jussive” mood. It isn’t a command of direct creation, but a command for others to make it so. He doesn’t simply say, “I will make animals now,” but tells the earth “bring forth some animals”--like a captain ordering sailors to lower the main sails. It is not a creative command, but an order demanding action. 

In verse 11, He says, “Let the land produce vegetation.”  In verse 20, “Let the water team with life.” Verse 22 to the animals, “Be fruitful and fill the earth.” Verse 24, “Let the land produce living creatures.” Verse 28 to the people, “Be fruitful, fill the earth and subdue it.” 

Another repeated phrase in Genesis 1 is “after their kind.” God did not specifically create every animal, but made them to reproduce. One mark of biological life is reproduction. God expected creatures making other creatures, living and thriving to enrich the whole of creation.

Now, here’s where it gets deep! Why did God use animals to make other animals and life to make more life? He could have made all the elephants or zebras he wanted just by waving His hand. He could have made the whole world at once. But instead, He got the whole creation busy making more creation!  He created a world rolling and boiling with life, every piece of it creating more growing and thriving for its own sake as well as bringing glory to Himself.

There can only be one answer why He did it--God loves life! He doesn’t just respect, admire or appreciate life--He actually must loves it!

Let me illustrate. Let’s say two women enjoy flowers. One woman has pictures of flowers on her wall, on her dishtowels, and on all her dresses. She even has artificial flowers around her house. But the flowers themselves are messy and hard to manage, so she just has pictures of them. She really doesn’t love flowers—she just likes them. 

But the other woman has a garden. Every day she digs in the dirt and tends that garden. She doesn’t want dead images of flowers, she loves the life in flowers. She loves the smell of them, the wildness of them, the craziness of flowers, how they sometimes grow in weird directions, and how no two of them never look the same.

God enjoys the craziness of creation, as each living things takes its own direction. Creation is constantly changing, and He loves it. It is the endless diversity of the life force He has created that God loves, the diversity of each bloom on the tree of life gives pleasure to God. God didn’t create creation to be tame and compliant, but to express its individuality and joy. Every part of God’s creation expresses some new glory to God. 

Which brings us to our third fascinating fact about creation:

3.  God will uncreate everything He Creates.
Creation has an expiration date, known only to Him. Everything alive will one day end.
He did not create this current creation to exist forever, but to fade and die. The same is true of you. You will cease to be. All you have collected will be scattered.
 Here are some places where the Bible says this. 

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8.

 “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” Psalm 103: 14-17 

Our days may come to seventy years or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

“The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind.” I Peter 4: 7.

Nothing last forever. The earth will one day spin into the sun. The sun will die out, or explode, scattering its bits into the galaxy. The galaxy will wind down and fade out, until not a single ember of a single sun will burn.

But cheer up! Like Jesus said, we should not lay up our value in things that will die. Don’t hold on to what doesn’t last. Value the eternal, not the temporary. The only thing that really lasts is our connection to our Creator.
Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14 reminds us; Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Which brings us to our fourth fascinating fact about creation:

4.  After He uncreates creation, He will recreate it.
This truth was hidden in the Old Testament, but it is revealed in the New. 
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” Revelation 21: 21. Heaven and earth will be destroyed. Then God will recreate them. 

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8: 20-23.

Many people think that their soul is an immortal thing inside a mortal body—a ghost in a jar of clay. But that is a Greek concept, not a Christian one. Christian’s believe in the resurrection of body and soul together. Our bodies will be recreated. Not only our bodies, but all of creation will be remade by God—a creation that is immortal and glorious. 

This is a very deep mystery. After the end of all things, God will remake creation. We will be resurrected into indestructible and incorruptible bodies. We won’t age or fall apart, but will enjoy Christ forever.

The Bible teaches this, but we may only dimly understand it. God makes the world, breaks it, and then remakes it. Our world is only Earth 1.0, but version 2.0 will soon be released. As Christ was resurrected bodily, so our bodies will be recreated and will enjoy the glories of a physical existence as well as a heavenly relationship with God. In creation, and the glories of being heaven with Christ all at the same time.

God’s isn’t done with the rest of creation. It will be restored, too, when we are recreated. All of creation groans for the manifestation of the sons of God—us—which is a prerequisite for the new creation. God loves creation so much that He creates it—not once, but twice.

If God so loved His creation that He will create it twice, then how much should we love it? We have been placed here to care for it. Shouldn’t we love creation too? 

If God cares enough to create us twice, how much should we love one another? We are not just caretakers of creation, but caretakers of each other.  Christ loved creation enough to die for it. Should we not love it enough to live responsibly within it?

One day creation will be finished, and it will be wonderful. All flesh will see it together, and He shall reign forever and ever.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who is God? - Isaiah 42: 5-9

If we want to know the basics of being a Christian, where better to look than at the Apostles’ Creed?
Actually, the name “Apostles’ Creed” is a misnomer. It only appears in its modern form in the fourth century after the disciples. Nevertheless, it expresses what the church has universally believed since the time of the apostles. 

“Creed” comes from the Latin “credo”--which means “I believe.” We each have a creed, whether we ever say it or not. If we take our faith seriously, then we need to know what we believe. A creed is a kind of fence that surrounds and defines God’s people. Outside is another flock. The creed helps us define what a truly Christian church is, so we can distinguish truth from error. Inside that fence we can disagree, but we all live within the boundaries of that fence. To exist within the church and not hold to the doctrines of the creed is to be an illegal immigrant. That’s what makes us Christian. It is Christianity at its simplest.

It begins with this statement--“I believe in God, the Father, Almighty.”

 What’s most astounding about God is that it’s not about what we know of Him, but what we don’t know. We know very little about the nature and will of God. The Bible tells us some things about God, but not really that much. We don’t know where he came from, where He lives, or exactly what His nature might be. He just is and always has been. Everything else is beyond our comprehension.  

Whenever we try to speculate about His nature and purpose in life, apart from the few scraps of information we have about Him, we step out of knowledge and into the realm of speculative fiction. 

The creed reminds us of what we know and leaves out what we don’t know. Most theological arguments are pointless, since we, who are small and finite, can somehow grasp in our minds the nature of One who is limitless and infinite. We can’t grasp the nature of God from our short stay on earth than we can tell what a foreign country is like from a one-hour layover in the airport. 

We can’t know God—but He can and does know us. He doesn’t just know us, He also loves us.  In His love, He has revealed a few things we need to know about Himself. He is our Father. He is Almighty, and He created everything. Next week, we will talk about God as creator. Today, we will talk about the first two statements, and how they concern the way we live.

When I was a toddler, I knew practically nothing about my earthly father. I knew him, but nothing about him, except how to recognize him. I couldn’t tell you what he did for a living, the kind of car he drove, or where he went to college. Truthfully, I didn’t care about any of that. If my father had been a truck driver or a gangster, it would have made no difference to me. All I knew was that he had an enormous pair of legs that towered over me, great strong arms that held me, eyes that watched me all the time, and a smile or frown that told me when he was pleased or displeased. 

 Nothing else matters to small children than knowing their fathers love them, and that their fathers are strong enough to protect them. Nothing else is important.

Compared to God, we all are like toddlers. Theological issues are really just relational issues. All that matters is that He is with us, and is big enough to protect us.

Theologians have fancy terms for everything. The idea that God is with us, they call the immanence of God. It means that God is with us and in our lives. Is God really in our lives? Is He really with us?
In Isaiah 42: 6-7 we read this:

 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness!

What a beautiful picture of God. God walks with us, like a man walking with his toddler, holding his hand and gently leading the child in us. This is the gentle Shepherd God of Psalm 23, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the caring God who walked with Abraham and Moses.

We easily forget that God is our Father. In hard times we think he has abandoned us, because things are not going our way and He doesn’t magically make our problems disappear. In good times we abandon Him, and would rather congratulate ourselves for our own good fortune than give thanks to the God who made it possible. When He doesn’t solve our problems we blame Him. When He does solve our problems, we take the credit. Neither good nor bad fortune leads us to understand the immanence of God.

Many people reject God entirely. The number of atheists in America is growing rapidly.  Twenty years ago, more than 95% of Americans believed in God, but today only 88% do. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A far larger group of people reject His immanence. This is called Deism—the acceptance of God’s existence, but rejecting His Presence. Deists believe God created the universe, but He doesn’t care about it now. To them God is their Father, but He abandoned His children. He is not with us.

The other statement the creed makes is this—He is Almighty. Theologians have another fancy word for this—transcendence. He is with us, but He is bigger than we are, stronger than we are, and smarter than we are. He is not like us and we can never fully understand Him. He is far greater and more powerful than anything we can ever think or imagine.

Isaiah 42: 8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  

“Lord” means master, boss, king, leader, ruler, president, commander, and ultimate authority. When we call Jesus our Lord, we acknowledge His transcendent place in our lives. 

God is more than just our playmate. God may enjoy being with us, but sometimes He has to say “no” to us. He makes the rules and sets the standards. We—His children—must acknowledge and respect this. If we think we can boss God around, we have not understood Him. God is not just loving. He is also awesome.    

So God reveals His two great roles in our existence—Father and Almighty. What does any of this have to do with us? 

Plenty. It means we must learn to depend on Him in every portion of our lives, and not on ourselves. We must not simply say, “Okay, God, I’ve got this.” We must instead learn to seek His will and His power in and through everything. 

In a modern war, what is the most important and effective weapon a soldier possesses? It’s not his rifle, knife, grenade or pistol—it’s his radio. If he is attacked, he uses his weapons, but if that attack is too great, he calls for reinforcements.

Prayer is our radio. When we are in constant communication with the Father, He can come rescue us. If we think we are strong enough where we never need to call for help, then we can easily be overcome. Sometimes we all feel this way. There are times when we all feel that God has abandoned us.

We know this, but we are stupid, at least compared to God. We need to keep reminding ourselves both of the immanence and transcendence of God. The Bible is one long reminder of both these ideas. They are the central theme of the whole book. When the people of Israel forgot either the immanence or transcendence of God, they started moving away from Him. It is only when we see God as with us and above us, as both caring Father and a Holy Other, did we remember to obey him and call upon Him in trouble. 
 That is why worship is so important in a modern Christian’s life. It is not just important on Sundays, but on every day. Worship is how we remind ourselves of God’s presence and place in our lives. That daily and weekly reminder of God must be both immanent and transcendent. 

Worship is transcendent when it focuses on God’s power, might, eternal nature, and majesty. In songs like “Immortal,” Invisible,” God only Wise,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Our God is an awesome God” we express our knowledge of his majesty, power, and glory, and we respond with respect and Godly fear.

Much of our modern worship lacks a sense of transcendent. It doesn’t focus on Who God is, but on how we relate to Him. It focuses on our personal experience, not on eternal truth. There is a place in worship for songs such as, “I just came to praise the Lord” and “Come, now is the time to Worship,” but if you notice in them they focus on how we react to God, not on God Himself. 

Imagine you want to express love to your wife, but you keep saying, “I really should love you.” Instead of “I love you,” or “I really should tell you that you are wonderful,” instead of “You are wonderful.” Every sentence begins with “I” instead of “you.” After a while, she noticed that you seem to talk more about yourself than her. You are focusing on your feelings, not her attributes.
Transcendent worship puts God first, and us second. It’s not about how well we do it, or how eloquent we talk of God. It’s about how great God is, and how glorious He is. It’s not personality driven. It’s God driven. 

But worship is more than just transcendent. It’s also immanent and intimate. It acknowledges that God really does care for us. Sometime worship feels like watching a parade, where dignitaries ride by in cars, waving at the crowd. We see them, but they don’t see us. Immanent worship reminds us that He sees us and knows us. Worship needs to be personal, too.

God went to great lengths to be immanent in our lives. He took on human form, and was born in a virgin’s womb. He lived and died on the earth, and became a man in Jesus. Jesus is almighty God’s personal expression of care and concern. No earthly father could ever love us the way Christ loves us. 

Keep God personal in your life. Study the Bible, pray, and thank Him daily. Confess your sins to Him, and acknowledge your forgiveness. Take the time on a daily basis not just to read about God, but to talk to Him as well. Don’t let a day go by without seeking the presence of God. When we are broken turn to God. 

What is Faith?

This season we will focus on the basics of Christianity. Let’s begin with the subject of what faith is.
Everyone has faith, whether they believe in God or not. It is a necessary part of human existence. 

Tillich defined faith as the ultimate concern of life. It is our life goal, but it is also what we use to make sense of the world around us. It motivates us, grounds us, and gives our lives meaning. Opponents of religion say that faith is a crutch for the weak.  It isn’t—it’s more like a skeleton. Without something to believe in, we become weak, spineless, and vulnerable.  It gives us strength, perseverance, direction, and hope.

Suppose we were to ask a hundred people what their ultimate concern was. What kind of answers do you think we would get?

A large number would probably say they didn’t have an ultimate concern, and they didn’t need one.  “I’m too busy to think about it.  I just live one day to the next.”  These people remind me of a man driving on a lonely highway who misses his turn. He just keeps going, never looking at directions, every mile getting farther and farther away from his destination. He even denies that there is a destination. Imagine him saying, “It doesn’t matter which way I go, as long as I keep driving?”  Yet that’s what we do when we live without intentionality. We eventually find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, without any idea of how we got so lost. 

That describes the life of many people who live from day to day enjoying the ride but going nowhere. They deny that life has meaning or purpose, until it’s too late to turn around. They wake up one morning and discover they have never really lived. In the words of Ecclesiastes, they discover that all they have done in life is vanity.  

Another large group of people couldn’t name their ultimate concern in life. They have many concerns, but no ultimate one. They want God in their lives, but they also want self-fulfillment, fun, loyalty to family and friends, and material possessions. One isn’t more important to them than another. As a result, their lives are full of conflict and confusion.  They have no way of deciding what is most important in their lives. 

Having a faith is better than having no faith. A person is better off in this world to be fully committed to something than partially committed to many things. God can help you order the other interests in your life. But if serving Him is only one of many equal values, then He can’t help you much.

A third group are just wrong about what their ultimate concern really is. They think they know what their true faith is, but they are wrong.

Belief and faith are not the same thing. I can believe in a lot of things--telepathy, UFO’s, ghosts, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster, but how much difference does it make in our lives? These are mere beliefs, but they are not faiths.   Many people believe in God the same way. We may believe that God created the world, but that He left it alone to run itself. Practically speaking, we might as well be atheists. Such people feel no obligation to worship or acknowledge God, but live their lives as they wish. They do not pray to Him except in emergencies, do not worship, and never adjust their lives based upon His principles. They acknowledge God without obedience. Such people cannot be said to have faith, since they are not concerned about it. 

A man believes in having an annual physical by a doctor. He goes regularly once a year. Every year the doctor tells him to lose weight and quit smoking. Every year the man ignores what the doctor says. Then he develops diabetes, heart problems, and lung cancer. So he blames the doctor, “That doctor is useless!”  How can a doctor make us well if we ignore what he tells us to do? In the same way, how can we say we have faith in God, yet ignore everything He tells us?  We may have belief in God, but do we have faith?

Paul and Habakkuk say, “The just shall live by faith.” Living by faith is not just believing. It is believing + doing + feeling + obeying. Faith is basing our life upon what God says is true. We aren’t just traveling aimlessly through life. We are standing upon what God says. 

Religion and faith are not the same thing, either. I know of at least one elder in our denomination who was an atheist, but was ashamed to admit it. I know of others who were thieves and adulterers. They practiced religion. They may have even believed, but they lacked a true faith.

You may be religious but do you live by faith?  Here are a few questions to help you discern where our real faith lies.

1.  What do you take for evidence? Hebrews says that faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” You can make no decisions in life without facts, but facts must be taken on faith. If we say, “I heard it on the news,” then we then must ask why we believe the news! Our faith determines which source we trust. Just so, if we believe the Bible to be God’s word, then the Bible is all the evidence we need. If we trust in science, then everything in the Bible must be weighed by the scientific method. Whichever way we look both sides must determine our evidence. 

2. What do you obey? Do you believe the Ten Commandments? If you do, then why don’t you keep them? Do you believe the Sermon on the Mount? Then live by them. Whatever you live by is your true faith.

3.  What comes first? Imagine you got a new scheduler. What do you put on your schedule first? In the weekly planner, where does worship fit in? In your daily page, where do devotions go? Do you recognize time set aside for the worship of God? In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to set aside one day in seven for His use. Yet we often find it hard to spare five minutes a day for prayer. 

4.  For what would we sacrifice? In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. God did not allow Abraham to carry through with this sacrifice, but He was giving Him a test of faith. What God did with Abraham is what we need to do for ourselves. What would you be willing to sacrifice everything for?  What is worth more to you than your family friends, country, and life itself?  If you think this is simply a theoretical choice you are wrong. Every soldier who commits to fighting in war, every woman who chooses to have a baby rather than get an abortion, every person who devotes themselves to the care of an elderly relative makes a similar choice. What do we love more than life, success, or happiness?  Whatever we choose is our real ultimate concern.

 “The just shall live by faith.”  Not just any faith, but faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus gives room for everything else, but only if He is on top. This is the greatest lesson we will ever learn.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

“This is a Football”-- Finding the Fundamentals of Faith: 2 Peter 2

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In July of 1961 the 38 members of the Green Bay Packers were gathered together for the first day of training camp. Their previous season was disappointing. They had ended with a defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL Championship.
That morning, their new coach, Vince Lombardi, strode into the locker room. In his hand he held a football. Suddenly he declared, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”

He stood before thirty-eight pro athletes who had just come inches from being the NFL champions, yet he started by introducing them to a football. Of course they knew what a football was! 

But this was Lombardi’s method--to go back to the basics and review the fundamentals of the game—blocking, tackling, passing, kicking, and so on. Throughout practice and on through the season, he continued obsessively to have the practice and drill the basics. Whenever they had a bad practice or lost a game, he would always begin the same way “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Let everyone else worry about fancy plays and tricky gambits, he was determined that his team would be the best team in the league on the stuff that everyone else took for granted. Six months later, they beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship. They went on to win the next three championships in a row, and five of the next seven. The Packers became legendary, and Lombardi earned recognition as the best professional football coach of all time.

Lombardi’s method was the same as winning coaches in all sports. It has proven over the years to be the key to greatness. Focus on the fundamentals.  It’s not the big ideas, big choices, and big plans which matter, but the small choices and daily habits.  It’s not complicated ideas, but the basics deeply understood and practiced until they make the difference.

What’s true in sports is also true in your spiritual life. Christian living is a struggle, a kind of competition. But it is not a competition between each other. It doesn’t matter whether or not our church is more successful than others, or whether we are holier than thou. Looking at this as a competition between people does more harm than good. 
No, our competition is against Satan and with our own sinful flesh. It is as serious a competition as any ball game, political campaign, or battle ever was. Paul says in Ephesians 612,

 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

In this struggle, we must grasp the fundamentals. They are what Paul calls the “Armor of God.”  The people who most succeed in reflecting Christ are those who have the best grasp of the fundamentals, and who have trained and practiced in them. The people who practice Christian doctrine, prayer, Bible study, and personal interaction are the ones who understand grace, love, and forgiveness. Those who best reflect Jesus are those who have trained themselves in Bible study and quiet times of prayer, who know how to worship and who can witness for Christ in the world. They know what to do, and have practiced what to do. 

To live like Jesus is the object of our Christian life. To do this, we must defeat the Devil and our own flesh. Peter describes what that victory looks like in verses 5-7,

 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

A Christian should have faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. It’s interesting that this is not just a list, rather he lists each one of these as coming out of the other. Knowledge grows out of faith; self-control out of knowledge; perseverance out of self-control, and so forth. Having these traits are the product of something much more fundamental and basic. If we have all these things, then we can still lose the battle if we don’t have the foundations correct.

Love is good, but love without grounding in the fundamentals can produce evil results. It’s not just love that changes the world, but its love that grows out of godliness which grows out of mutual affection, which grows out of perseverance, which grows out of self-control, which eventually grows out of faith. Where it all begins makes a difference.

So where does it start? What’s the “football?”  Peter tells us in verses 8 and 9,

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

It begins with being cleansed from sin. We call that grace—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  If we start anywhere else, we will get in trouble. Without grace, we will be unproductive and unfruitful, but with grace, we may make many mistakes, but will ultimately come out at the right place.

The great theologian Karl Barth once took a trip to the United States. A reporter asked him what the most profound lesson he had learned in his decades of writing and study was. His answer was immediate, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

The basic teaching of the Christian faith is like that. God became a man, and died for our sins. Our sins are taken away from us, because Jesus paid the price on the cross for them. If God ever spoke to people, it would have be so simple that everyone could understand it, and so profound that you could study it all your life and never reach the bottom of it.  The doctrine of God’s forgiveness through Jesus is all that. It’s simple and profound at the same time.

Christianity is far, far more than a religion. It is a profound historical fact—that God became man and died for us. For that reason those who believe in Him will have everlasting life.

Christianity is simple to grasp, and simple to understand. Here is the basics in a nutshell.

First, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you. 
John 10:10: “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Romans 5:8: “God commended His love to us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Second, Sin has separated us from God. 
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of God’s Glory. “
Romans 6:23:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”

Third, Jesus paid the price for all our sins on the Cross. 
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Fourth, we must individually accept this gift, and make and look to Jesus as our leader and rescuer.
 Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not from you, so no one can boast about it.” 

All we have to do is ask that our sins are forgiven, and Christ will cleanse us.

From that time on, we enter a new relationship with God. That relationship is not based on our being good, but on Christ’s goodness to us. It is His work, not ours, that sanctifies us. It doesn’t matter what you have done, or what you will ever do, but what Christ has done for you. This is the fundamental truth of the faith.

Next week, we will continue talking about fundamentals—the most basic things about being a Christian. Before we do anything else, we have to get the fundamentals correct.

This is our “football”—the reality of God’s grace. Without it, we will never succeed. But when we fully grasp the power of His love, Jesus will work inside us to grow us into His image.