The Easy Part
One of the most effortless things a person can do is become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Nothing is magical or mystical about the process of becoming a believer. It all starts with you by simply saying, "Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner, I trust that Your death on the cross was sufficient to pay for my sins, and I'm asking You to come into my heart and save me."
Becoming a Christian in name only is truly very easy. The hard part comes when you try to live the life of a believer. I've learned from my own struggles that, at times, it is difficult to stay on the straight and narrow path. If the world isn't working to entice me back into a sinful lifestyle, my own flesh is doing its best to corrupt my morals.
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).
Many times, resisting sin seems as difficult as walking on water. I'm sure many people would be happy to just keep their heads above the water line. The best way to improve your Christian walk is to first admit you have problems in certain areas. Two of the greatest impediments found throughout Christianity are the lack of sincerity and the inability to confess personal faults.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16 KJV).
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (Gal. 6:2-3).
Christian Leaders on Drugs
When it comes to fulfilling our role in society, much of our guidance comes from the people we highly regard. Our birth parents are normally the first role models we encounter. They teach us how to walk, talk, and interact in our social environment.
Christianity has role models too. Some very good heroes of the faith are found in the Bible. But when I try to think of living examples of people I'd want to emulate, I must say, I come up short-handed.
From my many years of observation, I have found that many Christian leaders seem at times like they're high on drugs. They display poor judgment, they talk in the same manner as someone whose mind is impaired, and they often seem numb to the trials the average Christian encounters in daily life. For some reason, they just simply don't act like normal people.
When I lived in my home town of Storm Lake, Iowa, I attended an Assembly of God church that had a very down-to-earth pastor who taught me a lot about the Bible. During Sunday night service, the whole congregation would engage in a continuous study of the Bible, and it was one of the most spiritually productive times I have ever experienced in a church setting.
This same pastor had a Sunday program on the local radio station, and I was always amazed at how differently he addressed the radio audience. Instead of using his normal way of speaking, he would use an almost unidentifiable, sweet, syrupy tone of voice. I never understood why he was putting on a facade of holy talk. Was he taking drugs before he went on the air, or was he pretending to be someone he was not?
One night, I was listening to an AM radio station, and I heard a fired-up minister begin quoting a passage from the New Testament. Because he kept interrupting himself, I could hardly follow the man. "Then Jesus - Praise God - said to his disciples - Amen - Let us - Hallelujah - pass over - Glory to the Lamb - to the other side."
I doubt this gentleman used this mode of speaking in his everyday life. I hardly think he rolls up to the drive-through window at McDonald's and says, "I'll have - Amen - a Big Mac - Glory hallelujah - a large fry - Praise God - and a chocolate shake - Thank you Jesus."
Many of the women I see on Christian television seem to talk with pitiful, small voices. Maybe these women are overworked in their ministry, and they desperately need to catch up on their sleep. I would hate to think that some Christians are just naturally that gloomy.
I never have understood why so many preachers like to wear $3,000 suits, drive BMWs and live in multi-million dollar homes. I've always believed the word "minister" implies modest living. I'm not saying all ministers should be required to take a vow of poverty; however, I do think they should be required to take a vow against extravagance.
During the Bakker/PTL scandal, Tammy Bakker became a poster child for gaudy make-up. It surprises me greatly to see women following in Tammy's footsteps. Right now I have in mind one individual who currently reigns as the queen of charismatic television. As much make-up as she wears, you would think she buys it by the pound.
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works"
(1 Tim. 2:9-10).
I almost wish these people were on drugs. Then we could check them into the Betty Ford Center and solve their problems with a twelve-step program. Barring the possible use of illegal substances, the general idea at work here seems to be if you look, talk, and act spiritual, you will appear to be spiritual.
We're All Equally Mortal
Whenever a prominent leader falls prey to a major sin, the public tends to highlight his moral failing. When people point to him and say, "He's just like us," they are 100 percent correct. Even the most seemingly righteous person has to constantly guard against some of the most basic temptations.
Every day, countless people who have tried to follow the Christian way of life give up because they don't think they can measure up to the standards found in the Bible. Some folks believe God endows a select number of people with the power to live sin free. Because sin is still present in their lives, they feel they're not members of that special group.
A number of guidelines are in the Bible, and God demands that we follow them. The problem is that no one is able to adequately adhere to these rules. No matter how hard we try, eventually we'll slip up in an area. In the Book of Romans, Paul candidly spoke about his own inability to achieve perfection:
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do...
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
(Rom. 7:19 and 24).
I'm not trying to say sin doesn't matter. The Bible plainly says we need to meet certain, minimal requirements in order to qualify for God's grace. The contradiction of our inability to meet those standards is resolved by the fact we are, with God's help, striving to reach the state of perfection.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Mat. 7:21).
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
God Loves Me; God Hates Me
Quite often our relationship with God is directly affected by how the world treats us. It would be so wonderful if life was one, long continuation of a Frank Capra movie, but unfortunately, none of us lives in the land of "happily-ever-after." When things are going well, we think God loves us. When things turn sour, we conclude that God doesn't love us anymore.
My own mother would ride this roller coaster up and down all the time. During cheerful times, she'd be singing hymns of praise, telling me how the Lord had blessed our family. During times of stress, she seemed to assume God and the devil had joined forces to make her life miserable.
I'm not going to just hang dear, old mom out to dry. I, too, have found myself on this cycle of loving God when things are going my way, and getting discouraged with Him when trouble comes. My fault has always been that I see God as the one pulling the strings in all situations.
Unless we're able to deify fictional characters like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, we're not going to have a supreme being who only doles out the goodies. What kind of relationship would we have with God if our love is solely based on things going our way?
"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23).
What helps me the most is to take note of the trivial nature of some of the stuff I have allowed to bug me. If I can only recall a few of the negative events that have happened to me, then I guess my original complaint to God was
Another way to chase away the thoughts of doubt and discouragement is to focus on the blessings we have in the world to come. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that he was praying:
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:17-18).
You Show Me Your Sin, and I'll Show You Mine
The Bible's inclusion of sinful acts and their consequences is the method the Lord has chosen to instruct people in righteous living throughout the centuries. The Good Book is full of detailed accounts of saints of God falling on their faces and then getting back up.
When it comes to instruction on about sin today, church leaders rarely present personal examples. When you hear people talk about sin, they always use general terms or cite sins they committed before they came to Jesus. You never hear someone say, "Oh boy, I fell off the wagon last night and went drinking with the guys in the shop, and I ended up getting blasted out of my mind."
Because professing Christians are held to unrealistically high standards, people are unwilling to highlight their own misdeeds. The Bible says no man is perfect, but yet, we seem to always gravitate towards this need to present an outward image of sinless perfection.
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6)
The most common confession you'll hear the average pastor make is the deep, dark sin of not loving God enough. Oh boy, my middle name is guilty when it comes to not giving God my all. Of course, in my case you'd also have to add a little bit of all of the seven deadly sins: wrath, gluttony, sloth, pride, lust, greed, and envy. The odd thing about me is that I'm generally a moral hermit. I'm always at home working on my computer, so I don't normally experience the same types of trials most people face each day.
I have been in some challenging situations. A few years back when I was over in Saudi Arabia helping keep Saddam Hussein at bay, I found myself in a horrid environment that briefly brought me to the point of contemplating doing physical harm to someone.
I was working in a dusty, grimy warehouse with a woman who must have been the biggest whiner on the planet. I was living day after day in 110-degree heat, constantly watching for poisonous spiders and scorpions while working with a woman known as Psycho Sylvia. She drove me up the wall with her constant complaining about the conditions we were forced to endure.
Because of the intense heat, we drank gallon after gallon of bottled water. On top of the refrigerator was a big butcher knife that we used to open the cardboard boxes the water came in. To this very day, I remember looking at Sylvia's head and that butcher knife and thinking, "That knife would look really good sticking out of her noggin." Somehow, I survived Silvia and somehow she unknowingly survived me.
I always cringe when people say they've reached the point at which they never feel tempted. A common term describes this type of person: "liar." Everyone with a pulse has to deal with temptation. It doesn't matter whether you're the president, the pope, or a pauper; we all daily battle with the flesh.
What Is Your Foundation?
Every year, Rapture Ready receives around 10,000 email messages. A number of these messages are from folks who tell me about the great difficulty they have in maintaining their Christian faith. I find it aggravating to watch people struggle to hold on to their faith. The majority of these people lack a solid foundation to their faith.
"I have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20).
One time I was going downtown, and as I started the car, I noticed a common housefly on the windshield. I thought as soon as the car began to move the fly would be gone. To my surprise, the fly remained motionless as I backed out of the driveway. Even after I had driven several blocks at about 25 mph, the fly was holding fast. I knew that it would eventually lose its grip on the smooth surface of my windshield. It wasn't until the car accelerated to 30 mph that the onrushing air was too much for the fly to manage.
Many people are like that housefly on a windshield. They try to hold on under their own power, but eventually they lose their grip and fall away. At first they may seem to be doing quite well. The fly that was on my windshield surpassed all of my expectations; it held for about six blocks before being brushed away by the breeze.
People are swept away because they're not clinging to anything sturdy. I love maintaining Rapture Ready, at times the process can become taxing. Because I know Jesus can come at any moment, I keep on keeping on. The imminence of Christ's return is my foundation.
Every now and then I go through my link page to clean out all the dead links. Once I found five inactive links in a row. Some of those dead links were probably the result of the web sites being moved to a different internet provider, but most were due to the operators just getting tired of updating their sites.
Because I want to be a benefit to the Kingdom of God, I continue to push ahead. Another motivation for me is the realization that we will someday be judged for the works we perform in this life. Jesus repeatedly warned that all believers will have to give an account of their lives. This statement conflicts with the popular belief that spiritual laziness has no consequence.
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:10-11).
I've always envisioned the race for Heaven as being just that--a race. I strongly believe that everyone who runs vigorously for the prize will win handily; everyone walking briskly will also easily win; and everyone heading in the right general direction will likely win. I believe many people who are crawling towards the finish line will also receive a blue ribbon.
Spiritual maturity is best described as people realizing they have more wealth in Heaven than they do here on earth. If a person realizes he has a mansion awaiting in glory, he would be less likely to fret about a leaky roof in his earthly home. If your sickly, 98-year-old grandfather were planning on leaving you his $10-million fortune, I doubt you'd be discouraged if you didn't get that 25-cents-an-hour raise.
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2-3).
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).