Just As I Am?

    just-as-i-am  The song says: “Just as I am, without one plea, Thou blood was shed for me. And Thou that biddest me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!” Traditionally, the song has served as a testimony of God’s grace toward the repentant sinner. However as of late, the phrase: “Just as I am” is erroneously being used by people who have no intentions to change or repent to come to God. Let me explain. There really is no need to “clean up” before coming to God. In fact, if we could “clean ourselves up” there would be no need to come to God! The Bible declares in Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (KJV) It is of interest to note that the word translated as “filthy” in the Hebrew text was the same word used to denote a woman’s menstrual rag! The prophet was saying that all of our so-called righteous deeds are like a woman’s used tampon or Kotex pad in God’s sight! Ugh!!! The point I am trying to make is this: There is nothing we can do to make ourselves “presentable” or “worthy” of God’s acceptance and grace. In fact, if we could, then grace wouldn’t be grace!

So then, it is because of our inability to clean ourselves up and the power of God’s grace that we can come to God “just as we are.” However, although we can come to God just as we are, once we come to God, we cannot remain as we are! One of the aspects of salvation that is not being talked about much these days is the concept of repentance. We read of John the Baptizer’s stance concerning repentance in Luke 3:7-14: He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (ESV) Note that for each individual or group that came to John to be baptized, a change of attitude and behavior was required to serve as “proof” or evidence of conversion.  Biblical repentance (the repentance that God requires for salvation) is not simply being sorry or remorseful for sin, but rather it is a change in attitude and behavior! It is not just a matter of turning to God, it also involves turning away from sin! In other words, the drunk can come to God just as he is; a drunkard, but he cannot continue to be a drunkard and expect God to be OK with it! The Bible demand repentance; a change in attitude and behavior!

Now this change of attitude and behavior is completely beyond the capacity of the sinner to do on his own! When a person truly repents and comes to God, that person is “born again!” God places His nature or His Spirit within that person; a change instantaneously occurs and a spiritual transformation begins to take place. The instant change is called “being born again” and the transformation is called sanctification: It is the process whereby the truly repentant and saved individual is gradually conformed to the image of Christ. In the “old church” the emphasis was mostly on being “born again.” But being “born again” is not the end-goal, but rather being born again (made a new creation in Christ [John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17]) is just the beginning of the process whereby the individual is transformed into the person God called and created them to be! (See Romans 12:1-2) Just as a baby is born in a moment and we are happy, we would stop rejoicing and start being concerned if the baby didn’t grow and develop from infant to adulthood through the process of growth and human development within the framework of time.

We can accept and understand this in the natural course of life, but when it comes to the spiritual realm, there are many today who are expecting some completely unnatural and even freakish developments! For instance, it is unnatural to expect God to accept and be OK with sinners who keep on sinning after they claim to have been saved! I’m sorry, I know this statement is not “politically correct” in our day and time, but there really is no such thing as a “saved sinner!” For instance, the idea of a “saved liar!” is absurd! A saved person doesn’t consistently, habitually as a lifestyle trait and action, tell lies! Now this is not to say that saved people never lie! No! I am not saying that! But I am saying: Saved people do not consistently, habitually, practice lying as a lifestyle trait! I use lying as an example, but anything the Bible designates as sin can be substituted and the principle remains the same: The truly “saved” person does not make the practice of sinning a consistent, habitual, lifestyle trait! The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (ESV) Listen! I don’t care how much they might speak in tongues or how much anointing they might claim to have; according to the Bible, people who consistently practice a lifestyle that the Bible calls sin are not saved! The fact that they consistently practice a sinful lifestyle is the proof! Now, the issue today is that people want to “redefine” what sin is! But it really doesn’t matter how “natural” it might feel, if the Bible calls it sin; it is sin! And no matter how we might try to justify our sinful behavior, by our “redefinition” on sin, that doesn’t change the fact that our behavior is sinful!

Who are we to call what God has called wrong; right? In fact, the Bible pronounces doom upon those who do this! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 KJV) One of the things I learned early in life is that when you’re in living in someone else’s house, you must abide and live by their rules, whether you like them or not! The last time I checked; God was still in control! This is God’s world, not ours! We are living in His house! No matter how we might not agree with Him, that does not change the fact that the LORD, He is God! It is He that has made us! Contrary to what many might like to believe; God is NOT a creation of man; man IS a creation of God! And since God is the Creator, the creature is subject to the rules of the Creator! And if the Creator calls it wrong, it’s wrong! If the Creator calls it sin; it’s sin! It doesn’t matter how “good” or “natural” it might feel! It is His world that we are living in! It is He that made us; we didn’t make Him! And it’s not a valid excuse to say that it’s OK because that is the way the Creator made us! He made us perfect, but when sin entered into the world, His creation was marred! (See Genesis 3) Therefore, we were all born a certain way that wasn’t the way God originally made us! We were all born “wrong,” that’s why we all need to be “born again!” And since we were all born wrong and we all need to be born again, when He invites us to come to Him “just as we are,” it is foolish and absurd on our part to think He would be satisfied to leave us in the same broken and helpless condition in which we were born!

The Un-Invited Guest of Honor (A Christmas Sermon)

happy-birthday

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”   John 1:11 KJV

“He came to what was his own, yet his own folk did not welcome him.”  John 1:11 James Moffatt Translation

“He came to that which belonged to Him [to His own-His domain, creation, things, world], and they who were His own did not receive Him and did not welcome Him.”        John 1:11 The Amplified Bible

Imagine, if you will, that you have been invited to a party; a birthday party.  All of your friends, loved-ones, acquaintances and some of your enemies are in attendance.  The place is all decorated and adorned with the trimmings for the gala affair.  The gifts are in abundance and everyone seems to be having a good time!  But, wait a minute, something is wrong!  It suddenly occurs to you that everybody is at this party except the birthday person; the guest of honor!  You inquire to the host as to the whereabouts of the honoree, and much to your dismay, you discover that the guest of honor was not even invited to his own birthday celebration!  Furthermore, you discover that not only was he not invited, should he happen to show up, he would not be welcomed!  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  But, is this not the case with many of our Christmas celebrations today?  It seems as if this world is determined to celebrate a Christ-less Christmas!  Although he is the reason for the season, in many homes he is not welcome.  Many have X-ed him out and replaced the babe in a manger with a fat man in a red suit!  Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, but I think we ought to be more mindful of the real reason for this season.

 Some commentators have said that the verse of our text is perhaps one of the saddest in the Bible.  “He came unto his own, and his own received him not!” Let’s take a few minutes now to take a closer look at this text and see what application it has for us today.  First of all, notice that the text says, “He came!” Oh!  What a wonderful statement! He came!  He came! God breaking into the plane of human existence!  He came!  Because we were unable to go to Him; He came to us!  He came! The Word of God manifested in the flesh!  He came! God intervening into human history to give us HIS-Story!  For ages, God had been telling men the way, with the advent of Jesus, He provided a living illustration to show us the Way!  He came!  God’s idea manifested in the flesh; the embodiment of the faith. He came!  Immanuel; “God with us!” Oh, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that He came.  Because He came, I can have life and have it more abundantly!  Because He came, I can face tomorrow! Because He came, life is worth the living!  Oh!  I’m so glad that He came!

 Yes!  He came!  He came unto His own!  He came unto His own world.  John wrote: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” It was His own because He was active in creation!  He was there when the statement was made, “Let us make man!” Hebrews says that the world is upheld by the word of His power!  Yes!  He came unto His own world; His own creation, and His own creation did not receive Him!  The Creator was rejected by the creature!

 He came unto His own people!  He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  In Matthew’s gospel, it is reported that Jesus sent out the disciples with instructions to go not the way of the Gentiles, but rather to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  One day a Syrophenician woman came to Jesus seeking his help, to whom Jesus replied, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He came unto His own people, but overall, He was rejected by them.  Even his own family had doubts about him, John 7: 5 says that even his own brothers did not believe in him.

 But not only was he not welcomed by his own creation and his own people, he was not welcomed by his own religion.  The scriptures that the Pharisees and scribes studied testified of Jesus, yet the religious authorities refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah!  Yes!  He came unto His own!

 He came unto his own and his own received him not!  Yes!  His own rejected the Christ and crucified him upon a Roman cross.  His own refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah!  His own refused to accept him as Lord.  But why?  Why was it that he came unto his own and his own received him not?

 Well, His creation refused to receive him because of the same reason that they were in rebellion against God!  Jesus said that men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  When John wrote that Jesus was the light and that  the light was shining in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not, there was a dual meaning.  One of the distinctive characteristics of John’s gospel is that it is full of dualism.  By dualism, we refer to those words and concepts within this gospel writing that has more than one meaning.  For instance, in John chapter three, Jesus told Nicodemus that a man must be born “anon.” The Greek word has two meanings which are both equally applicable in this context.  The word means, “again”: Ye must be born again!  But it also means “from above”: Ye must be born from above! Both concepts are equally valid.  In order to see (perceive or understand) the Kingdom, one must experience a second birth and that birth must be of a spiritual nature: from above!  So, when John wrote, what the King James Version interprets as “comprehend,” the Greek word is “katalambano,” which has the dual meaning of “understanding” or “comprehension” and “overcoming.” Hence the darkness did not understand the light neither did the darkness overcome, defeat, or extinguish the light.  The world did not accept or receive Jesus because the world was in darkness!

 His family according to the flesh and the Jews in general did not receive him because he came as a suffering servant and they were expecting a reigning king!  That’s the way it is you know, when you don’t measure up to other folk’s expectation of you, they will reject you!  Jesus came preaching a spiritual gospel, proclaiming deliverance from sin, but what the Jews wanted was a political manifesto declaring their independence from Rome!  Tradition has it that Barrabas was also named Jesus and that he was a political insurrectionist.  Hence the Jews wanted Jesus, the insurrectionist rather than Jesus the Christ. There are many people today who claim to be followers of Jesus.  But the question is, which Jesus?  The Jesus of the Bible; the Son of God or a Jesus of our own making?  Yes, he came unto his own and his own received him not!

 But thank God today!  The rejection was not total!  There were some who welcomed his arrival, And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. 

 No, the rejection was not total!  The record states, But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Yes!  I’m glad today that the rejection was not total!  For there were those who were willing to receive him as their Lord and Savior! No!  The rejection was not total!  For there are those even today, who realize that without Christ there would be no Christmas!  So, as I leave you alone to decide how you will celebrate this Christmas!  Just remember that it’s not about presents wrapped under a tree, but rather a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger!  It’s not so much about the presents you give to others, but the gift that God has given to you!  As you celebrate Christmas this year, don’t forget about the guest of honor!  You see, if you don’t invite him to the party, then he will not show up!  He’s too intelligent to be a party-crasher!  But if you invite him; he will come!  For I heard him saying, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.  Yes!  If you let him, Jesus will come into your Christmas celebration! Well!  How should we celebrate Christmas?  I submit to you that if you are lost you cannot truly celebrate this season!  You cannot really celebrate a party if you’re not on speaking terms with the guest of honor!  You cannot celebrate a holy season in an unholy manner!  It’s on the verge of blasphemy to celebrate the birthday of Jesus by getting drunk at Christmas parties!  The best way to celebrate this season is by inviting the guest of honor to take his rightful place in your life!  The best way to celebrate is by letting him into your heart and life: 

 Oh!  Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King!  Let every heart prepare him room, And Heaven and nature sing!  Oh!  Joy to the earth!  The Savior reigns!  Let men their songs employ!  While fields and floods, rock, hills and plains, Repeat the sounding joy!  Yes!  You ought to go tell it on the mountain!  Over the hills and everywhere!  Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born!

 

The Jericho Road Situation

jericho-road-travelling-partners-2I have a confession to make! I was on my way home today and I passed a man, walking down the road, who upon my approach, tried to flag me down to catch a ride. But instead of stopping to help him, I passed him by! I did not stop! As I passed him by, something within me wanted to help him, but I just could not bring myself to do it! I said to myself out loud: “Sorry brother, I would really like to help you, but I don’t know you!” It was after I said those words, that I began to have an inner dialogue with myself. What if he really needed help? Would it be held against me because I didn’t stop? After all, there is a passage in Hebrews 13:2 that says: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (KJV) Then I remembered the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matt. 25:42-45 ESV) Why didn’t I stop to help that man? It was not because I am a cold and heartless person! It was not because I did not care! I did not stop because, quite frankly, I was afraid to stop! Out of the abundance of caution; I passed him by and I kept on going!

When I got home, I felt compelled to write about what happened because I realized exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24:12. In speaking about how things would be prior to his return, Jesus said: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Isn’t that just about where we are today? I really wanted to help that young man, but I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard and read about people who stopped to help strangers, but they were assaulted, robbed, and even killed! Because this type of activity (Jesus called it iniquity!) is so pervasive and common these days, it is hard to trust people! It works both ways: It’s hard to trust people who look like they need help and if you’re in trouble; it’s hard to trust people who might offer you help! The love of many has indeed grown cold! Why? Because iniquity abounds!

And so, with that in mind, coupled with my own experience, I think we need to take another look at the story of the Good Samaritan. Now, I know Jesus told the story to illustrate who a neighbor is. But I want us to look at it again from the risk standpoint! It’s easy for us to be “Monday-morning-quarterbacks” and praise the Good Samaritan while at the same time condemning those who passed by on the other side. But when we look at the context of the Jericho road, I think we will have a new sense of appreciation for the Good Samaritan’s courage and the others’ caution!  

The Jericho Road was a winding, steep, narrow road that ran from Jerusalem to Jericho. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was only about eighteen (18) miles, but in that short distance, the road descended from about 25,000 feet above sea level at Jerusalem to about 800 feet below sea level at Jericho!  So, it was more than just a random choice of words when Jesus said in Luke 10:30: “A certain man went ‘down’ from Jerusalem to Jericho.” And with such a steep drop in such a short distance, he most likely literally “fell” among thieves! At any rate, with so many winding turns and steep inclines through the rocky terrain, the road afforded plenty of locations for thieves and robbers to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting travelers. The road was such a notorious haunt for thieves and robbers, that most people would only travel the road in groups or in caravans.

Taking this into consideration, there are two factors I want to bring into focus. First of all, traditionally, we have been so hard on the ones who passed over to the other side. But if we were in their shoes, most of us would have done exactly what they did! The man was obviously hurt, but who’s to say that the ones who had ambushed him were not still nearby, lurking and waiting to ambush anyone who would come to his aid? Doesn’t that happen today? How many times have we heard news stories of a person, even a pretty female, used as bait? When someone stops to help, accomplices jump out of the bushes or other hiding places to attack, rob, and sometimes kill the “Good Samaritan.” Who’s to say that the man was really hurt? Perhaps they feared that he himself was a robber, faking his injuries to lure them close enough so that he might rob them. When we considered the circumstances in the context of text and even in our own times, I think we are remiss to be so quick to pass judgment on the ones who passed him by! I mean, after all, how many times do we do it, everyday? I did it just today! 

Also, when we consider all of the facts and the extenuating circumstances, the Good Samaritan was even more of a hero than what we first thought! Jesus told the story to primarily call attention to the racial and religious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans of his day. Today’s equivalent wound be that of a Black Panther from New Jersey stopping to help a Klansman from Mississippi who got “jacked” on the south-side of Chicago! But aside from the obvious and primary application, we should also praise the courage and bravery of the Good Samaritan! No doubt, some passed by the man because they were racially bias, did not want to get involved, didn’t have time, or just didn’t care, but perhaps some passed him by because they were afraid! Some perhaps, really wanted to help him but were simply afraid to take the risk! You see, it’s costly to be a Good Samaritan! Aside from the money the Good Samaritan paid for lodging and medical care in the parable, he also paid in accepting the risk to help a fellow traveler!

Oh, my friend, it has gotten to the point that it’s difficult for people who really need help to get help because of all the people who fake distress in order to take the advantage. Because iniquity abounds, not only has the love of many grown cold, but even those whose love is still warm are hesitant and afraid to provide the help they know they should!

To the brother I passed by today; I am truly sorry! I really wanted to stop and give you a ride, but I was simply afraid! I did pray that you would make it safely to your destination. I prayed that someone would not stop and take advantage of you! I prayed that if you weren’t truly in need that you would not take advantage of someone who might stop to help you. I prayed that if you were really in need, that the Lord would forgive me for passing you by! I prayed for wisdom, because chances are, even if I saw you again, I would pass you by. . . again! What has this world come to? It is so hard to trust people these days, not just the strangers, but even the ones you think you know! Oh God! Help us to respond in a manner that is pleasing to you when we are confronted with the Jericho Road Situation!