Obedience Matters Part 1

When I attended a house church, I remember a gentleman asserting once that he did not agree with the term ‘believer.’ He’d rather not use it. I did not get it then. I think I may get it now.

Yesterday morning I experienced one of those amazing times in the Old Testament scriptures when God breaks into what I assumed would be a drag reading and opens my eyes even more to the wonders of who He is and what it means to be His. In other words, He got my attention.

I was reading the account of Jericho’s walls coming down, a story I am very familiar with, and the following verse jumped out at me:

And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. (Joshua 6:17 ESV)

Joshua had received these instructions from the Lord. After the walls came down, the men of war were to devote everything in the city to destruction. Everything and everyone except Rehab and her family. Rahab, the prostitute. Rahab, the woman who made a profession out of sinning against the Lord. And not only Rahab but also everyone in her house. (I plan to write more about that little detail later.)

Why?

Scroll back to Chapter 2. When Rahab hid the spies, she shed light on why she did it. She believed that their Lord was the God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. She had heard, along with the rest of her people, all God had done for Israel and while her people were afraid and were ready to stand their ground against Israel, she believed in their God (Joshua 2:8-11).

Did God save her merely because she believed?

Yes and no.

Look back at Joshua 6:17. He says that Rahab and the people with her can live because she hid the messengers. That’s action, folks.

She was delivered from destruction she well deserved because she not only believed, she acted. Now, one could argue that he saved her because of her faith and that it was her faith that caused the spies to enter her house in the first place. Sure. That may be the case, but that is not what the Lord emphasizes here.

As someone who tends to make light of disobedience at times, this hit me hard. I remember when I was in middle school, my grandmother took us to her friend’s house one weekend for a cook out. After getting my food, I decided to eat on the deck outside. I looked ahead and could see the beautiful day through the open patio door. I walked quickly right into the closed patio door. They cleaned those sliding doors well. It hit me kind of like that. Except no one was around. No one was laughing. Or embarrassed.

God delivered Rahab because of what she did as a result of her faith. Faith is necessary, for without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must believe that he exists. We must believe that he rewards those who seek him. But here’s the key. That belief must lead to action.

Without action, our faith is dead (James 2:26). Our God is alive, not dead. So if our faith is dead, that means we are not with God. Get the picture. Faith must be foundation of how we live our lives.

Faith apart from works doesn’t save. And works alone will not do help you anymore than the next man. They are two sides of the same coin. And without God’s saving work in our hearts, neither will happen anyway.

If you are bristling at this, just recall James asserting that even demons believe (James 2:19). Thus, belief alone is not what saves people. I feel extremely comfortable writing this right now, because it’s straight scripture. God is consistent throughout the Bible. He is moved by the faith that compels action. People like to argue that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament. Nope.

But you are right to note that there is a difference. It’s not God. It’s the way he relates with his people. His covenant with the people changed. But he has always been a God who requires faith and obedience that springs from faith.

This is why it is so important that we understand that belief in Jesus Christ is transformative. We become new creations as a result of believing in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are new creations who not only think differently but live differently. And it is our transformed lives that separate us from those devoted to destruction.

Yes, Jericho was devoted to destruction, and so is everyone who does not submit to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But the kingdom of God is advancing. People’s lives are changing and Mark Seiford put it this way: “The kingdom advances here on the earth where faith and obedience are found.”

Faith is necessary, for by grace we are saved through faith. And this faith produces a godly life.

Obedience matters.

We are not perfect. I am sure Rahab wasn’t either. She was, after all, a prostitute. I’m sure she was still working through some things.

Hebrews 11:31 states:

By faith, Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies [emphasis added].

Those who are disobedient will perish. How am I counted among the obedient when I mess up every single day?

Because Jesus took the penalty of death that I deserve upon himself. That’s the awesomeness of the new covenant. God promises that if I truly trust in Jesus, relying upon his life, death, and resurrection for my salvation, he’ll give me everything that I need for life and godliness. He gives me everything I need to obey him. He’s given me his spirit. I have a renewed mined. I am able to understand and apply his word. I have love in my heart for him and his people. This is all because of Jesus.

I am without excuse.

And if I start to think that I am excused from obedience, from a heart that delights in the holiness of God more and more, then I am a fool. Faith without works is dead. It is all too easy and too common to live a Christian lifestyle and still be counted among those who are perishing.

I think this is why Paul instructs the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. But he does not leave them with that. He says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  There’s grace. There is strong help on our side.

So, my dear brothers and sisters in the faith, we are not only believers. We are Obeyers. A believer can believe and still perish. We follow Christ. We aim to keep his word because we belong to him. We are His. And we will not die. Because we are hid in Christ, we will live. Forever. With God.

 

We Can Sharpen with Our Struggles

iron sharpens

Sometimes I need to be shaken.

If we are all honest about our walks with God, there are times when we simply check out. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am one of the few who covets time to simply “do me.” I want to binge on my favorite shows. I want to pursue my favorite pastimes. And the more I do that, avoiding other responsibilities and avoiding spending time with God, the more I DO NOT WANT to spend time with God, nor do I want to obey Him. I ignore his gentle urgings. I tune them out and I do what feels good.

I do not think I am alone here.

These are the times when I need to be shaken, when I need a gracious reminder of what is truly important and of what I truly desire in my inner being.

Today, God graciously used a conversation with a friend that I had over text to shake me out this “doing me” state. This was unexpected, because my friend is struggling today. We were texting back and forth as I attempted to appeal to her, reminding her of her identity in Christ and what I believe she truly wants in her inner being.

But I wasn’t shaken until I reminded her that our decisions today do not simply affect us today; they affect our tomorrow, and they affect our families, and they can even affect future children. My decisions today can have great impact on not just me, but the people around me, and people in the future I do not yet know. This is incredible. As I wrote this to her, it dawned on me that I can’t just “do me” as if there is no consequence. Sure, there is a grace. And, sure, as a pregnant woman, I need to rest. But I know the difference between resting and checking out. Trust.

Friend, you know who you are. I know you will read this. And I just want to thank you for sharing your struggles with me. For even as we struggle, we sharpen one another. And because of your struggle, you shook me out of a dreadful state. God was in the midst of our conversation, working as He always does. And because of you, I am now going to open my Bible and be still before him.

We are not meant to walk this Christian walk out on our own. God created us to do life in community, interdependent and thriving off the various strengths he’s given us.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

–Proverbs 27:17

 

Wine Mixed With Myrrh

My former senior pastor once taught an excellent sermon on savoring the word of God. He offered many ways to savor Scripture, one of them being through art. Poetry. Paint. Music. Storytelling. An old friend from college created a beautiful work of art after beholding our great Lord on the cross and noting how He refused a drink of wine mixed with myrrh. Her poetic insight will stir your soul. Slow down and consider the love of Jesus, how he gave himself up for you. See the video below and be sure to read her explanation. You will not regret it!

Thank you Quina Aragon! I love seeing how the Lord is using you and your husband to spread the good news in Tampa, FL and beyond.

Fighting Tears as I Consider Our Living Hope

After completing “The Incident with Percy,” the story of how I came to know and believe the love God has for me, a story of Grace and Truth, I began to look through my Gmail inbox for old e-mails that I may have sent around the time I left the prosperity church. I found the letter that I sent to all my friends at the time. I also found e-mails between me and my new friends and was able to see how the Lord was rapidly renewing my mind through his word.

I had started going to a Holy Trinity, a presbyterian church (PCA) in downtown Tampa, where I could focus on biblical teaching. I was able to get over the fact that people did not raise their hands or shout or speak in tongues. I did not agree with all their doctrine on the Holy Spirit, but I was able to recognize that they were brothers and sisters and that they taught the true Gospel. I found these notes from Steven Casselli’s teaching on Hebrews 11:23-40 today, and I think they relate a lot to what I was learning at the time. Enjoy.

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The Incident with Percy: The Finale – Grace Life (Two-in-One)

If this is your first term reading, check out the first installment of this series here. If you missed the last entry, click here.

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I had no compassion. I was just plain angry. I do not know what I hoped to accomplish with my letter, but I sent it to everyone I knew at the church. Regardless of how upset I was, the Lord helped me write with grace and love*. I wrote with tears dripping on the keyboard about why I could not remain in the community. I explained exactly what I found lacking in their theology. I used Scripture. And I made it clear that I love them all. No one tried to argue with me. I believe I got one response, and it was from Tony, the guy I thought I would marry one day.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

I never went back. I think it was more painful to break the news to my friend Talisha than to anyone else. But she did not grieve. She said she had already mourned the loss of our friendship when I went home for a semester. She was over it. She had already accepted that we were no longer dear friends. Cutting words.

I distanced myself from everyone and settled into a new community. I made new friends. And since this was the first time that I was not trying to prove my worth, these new brothers and sisters got to know the real me.

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The Incident with Percy: The Place of No Return

If this is your first term reading, check out the first installment of this series here.  If you missed the last entry, click here.

13

At first their freedom was refreshing, but then it started to get to me. I remember sittting in meetings where people were discussing the Gospel. A major part of their presentation was Ephesians 2:8-9. Salvation by faith not by works.

I just couldn’t believe it.

I felt like people were going to use that to get away with not really living for God. I argued with my new friends in the campus ministry I found, called The Navigators. I pointed to Bible verses that said that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling or that we must examine ourselves to make sure we are truly God’s people. But they had verses too…

“All have fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5).

They emphasized that no one could ever be good enough to enter the kingdom of Heaven. It was only through trusting in Jesus Christ, our Savior, who paid the penalty for our sins, that we could stand before God as an accepted child of God.

I understood that Jesus died for my sins. I understood that in order to be saved I had to believe in Him. But for some reason, I felt like that was enough. I had to prove myself by my works. I probably felt this way because at my church it felt like you had to prove yourself to truly be blessed by God.

I think I also felt this way because “believing in Jesus for salvation” meant confessing that Jesus is Lord and that I believed he was raised from the dead. Yes, I had faith for that, but I never truly considered the biblical implication of this truth for my soul. In short, I had a shallow faith.

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The Incident with Percy: What Freedom Smells Like

If this is your first time reading, check out the first installment of this series here.  If you missed the last entry, click here.

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I saw their sign while walking home from the Marshall Center. I lived in Castor Hall, back on campus. It never felt so good to be a student and live among students.  I was in school full time, working about 20 hours per week, and happy.

I was happy but I was not content. I still went to my old church, but their messages did not sit well with me. I knew I needed more.

I must have misread their sign, because when I went to their meeting, I found no one. But I did not give up. I tried again next week. It was hard to go alone. It had been a long time since I went to a Christian event and did not know anyone. I turned back 5 times before I resolved to attend this meeting no matter what.

When I got there, I saw only white people. A nice girl greeted me and introduced herself as Cherilyn. When the music started and everyone was seated, she sat next to me. Because I had been listening to Hillsong and was familiar with family Christian radio, the music did not rub me the wrong way. I did find it strange that everyone just stood there and sung. No hands were raised (yet) and no one clapped at the end of the song. I was ready to run at the end of the meeting, but a sweet middle aged woman came up to meet me. She introduced herself to me as “Debbie” and said that she I had to speak up because she suffered hearing loss. I do not remember much about what we talked about, but I remember sensing the love of God as she spoke. She knew what God wanted to show me about Jesus. And I wanted what she had.

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The Incident with Percy: A Long Road

AIf this is your first time reading, check out the first installment of this series here.  If you missed the last entry, click here.

Anne Worner The Long Road Home

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The path home was a long one.

I am not referring to the journey to my parents’ house in Kissimmee. That was about an hour and 45 minutes.

I once heard a woman describe a lesson she learned through a hard season as “Home is in the will of the Father.”

For weeks, I had been running away from God. I avoided prayer. I avoided the Bible. It was not that I did not believe in Him anymore. It was not that I loved his word any less. I simply did not trust Him or his promises as I understood them. I was confused. I was scared. I was lost. I did not feel safe or secure in God anymore. I did not understand his will for my life.

I had been taught that yes, the will of God is for me to accept Jesus as my savior, but also that the Christian life was more than acquiring spiritual riches. I was taught that salvation was in fact a wholeness that include both eternal and temporal security. I was taught that God wanted every believer to be Super humans, to walk in the authority of God, speaking and creating life with their words, increasing in material wealth, walking in complete health. I was taught that in order to tap into this amazing prosperous life I had to believe these promises (often identified  in the Old Testament or implied in the New Testament by the pastor) and I had to show my faith by sowing seed. There was the grand principle of sowing and reaping, that if believers would only trust and do it, they would see an abundance of fruit in their lives.

The above paragraph was the foundation of my walk with Christ for four years. But now the ground was breaking under my feet. The rocks were breaking apart. It was like the night that Jesus died on the cross, and an earthquake caused the temple to crumble and all went dark. I had lost my footing. I had lost my home in Christ. I did not know what to believe or how to think about God. But I knew that I needed him and that he was leading me back to my parents’ place. I knew this would be time of healing.

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The Incident with Percy: A Way of Escape, Please!

If this is your first time reading, check out the first installment of this series here.  If you missed the last entry, click here.

8

Something changed after that argument. I still wanted him around but it was like Laura was fighting to be heard. It was like God was trying to pull me out and I was pulling away. Tug-a-war. As if I could ever stand a chance.

This is where things get blurry. Everything happened so fast. It started with a conversation with my step-father. I was in Target when I saw his name flash across the screen of my mobile phone. I had talked to my mom a bit about what was going on. She knew some stranger was staying in my apartment, but she did not know the details. I thought he was calling to try to put some sense into me. I braced myself for yelling and cutting words.

To my surprise, he just talked to me about life. He asked me questions like, “Who do you want to be in five, ten years? What is your purpose?” He talked to me about my dreams. He talked to Laura without me realizing it. He got to my heart. I shared the impossibility of me ever doing what I wanted to do. For the first time, I told him why I wasn’t in school, that I had an overdue balance preventing registration. But he kept talking. He could be a great inspirational speaker. After about thirty to forty minutes of me walking back and forth down the same few aisles, picking up items and then putting them back down, he ended the conversation with a suggestion that I come home for the weekend.

As I think about it, I realize what he did. It meant so much to me that knowing my situation he chose not to say anything about it. I felt loved. And I felt that all hope was not lost. I started to care again.

But all I had to do was go home to see the reality of my situation. Continue reading