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BRASS TACKS Christianity and Beyond!
By Roger L. Bradley
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2011 Roger L. Bradley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBRASS TACKS CHRISTIANITY
Of all the questions one might be asked in his or her lifetime, the most important question of all is this: "Are you a Christian?" I can remember the first time this question was asked of me. A total stranger approached me one day and simply asked, "Are you a Christian?" I was surprised at the directness of his question because it seemed to come out of nowhere and I was placed on the spot to give an answer for something I had considered to be quite a private matter. Nevertheless, I replied, "Yes, I am." The young man smiled broadly, said he was happy about that, and quickly moved on. I could not escape processing this brief encounter in my mind and I concluded two things about this young man. In the first place, I thought he was a courageous person to approach a stranger and ask a question that could easily have led into an argument of sorts. My reply might have been, "That is my business, and I am not going to give you an answer." I am assuming he was prepared for almost any answer I might have given or he would not have had the boldness to approach me with the question. The second thing I concluded about the young man is he must have cared about me to have asked me a question which has profound implications regarding my eternal destiny after my time in this life is finished! He got right to the point and simply asked a question which made me think of my relationship with God. I thought it quite amazing what that man accomplished in a few seconds of time.
Personally, I like it when people get to the nub of things instead of beating around the bush. This is one reason I don't like to listen to politicians being interviewed. It seems you hardly ever hear an answer to the question that is asked of them. The politician simply takes over and says what he or she wants to say that sounds acceptable and safe to the public ear. You could talk to some political figures for hours and never get a straight answer to a direct question! I would rather hear an honest answer with which I disagree than to be lied to by a politician who thinks his answer is satisfying John Q. Public, as if Mr. Public could not discern his true colors.
Before retirement from my former job as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at the Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California, I can remember some staff meetings in which we were tasked to formulate our mission statement. All ideas were out on the table as each person tried to identify the major reason for our existence as an organization on the military base. The Fleet and Family Support Center was the name of our organization and we provided many functions for the military members and their families—both active duty and retired. Boiling all we did down to a succinct and brief mission statement was a lot more daunting a task than one might imagine. The exercise forces one to get down to the core of what we are all about. This is very important, because it translates into all we do every day on our jobs. It gives us a vision as to where we fit into the scheme of things in assisting the military base and its squadrons to accomplish their missions. The same holds true of any other organization or business that is geared for success. It needs to know in clear terms the purpose of its existence.
By the same token, why should not our life on earth pass through the same scrutiny? Have you ever asked yourself what the core purpose of your life is? Perhaps the best mission statement for a human life is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The very first point made in the Shorter Catechism is this: "What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." There is a world of meaning in those words. Just think about it! Think of how your life would be lived should you envision that mission statement every day of your life: "My chief aim today is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."
Return with me to the young man who approached me out of the blue and asked, "Are you a Christian?" That surely is an important question because the answer to that question determines our eternal destiny. Only people, who have received the Lord Jesus Christ into their lives by faith, repenting and renouncing their sins, are saved from the wrath to come by the grace of God. Salvation is never achieved by the doing of good works or by obeying the Ten Commandments. Neither does salvation come by membership in any church, nor by subscribing to any creed or any set of religious doctrines. The fact is that we could never become good enough to merit God's heaven by our achievements nor even by our acts of charity or deeds of kindness to other people. Were this at all possible, there would have been no need whatsoever for Jesus to come into this world and to suffer and die upon the cross of Calvary. His shed blood would have been wasted blood; His suffering would have been pointless masochism. Salvation was purchased by Jesus when he laid down His life on the cross. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)."
Jesus died for our sins. He became our substitute to take the penalty of our sins upon Him, nailing our sins to His cross. Once our salvation from sin was purchased by Jesus, He offers forgiveness and eternal life to any who would believe in Him and would receive Him by faith as their God-provided sin-bearer. Jesus Himself stated this clearly in His discourse to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night to enquire of Him. Among other truths, Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:14-18)." Salvation cannot be earned by any man. It comes only as a gift from God in response to faith in God's own son, Jesus Christ. A gift stems from the goodness of the giver, not in the worthiness of the recipient. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)."
The sum of this is plain: the man or woman, boy or girl, who places faith in Jesus alone for their eventual entrance into heaven, will be saved and becomes a child of God. The child of God is called a "Christian," which I like to think of meaning, "Christ inside." Such a person could happily answer the question "Are you a Christian?" in the affirmative.
There is a vital second question, however, which will be much more difficult to answer. The question is: "Are you living the Christian life?" Being a Christian means you belong to Christ and He belongs to you. You are a part of God's family. This speaks to your status. No one can take you away from God once you are His. Jesus affirmed this truth in His discourse of the Shepherd saving His sheep. He said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30)."
Why then, is it so important to ask the second question? Why does it matter to determine if one is living the Christian life? It is the point of this chapter to answer that question. Simply put, accepting Christ by faith establishes your place in God's family and seals your eternal destiny. When you leave this world, you will enter the presence of God and will enjoy eternal bliss. Living the Christian life while here on earth will not affect your destiny but it will affect the quality of your life on earth and it will determine the reward you will receive when you get to heaven.
Let me suggest an example. I could board an airplane in Atlanta, Georgia that is scheduled to fly to Salt Lake City, Utah. En route to Utah the plane could encounter bad weather patterns and experience severe air turbulence. Passengers could be jostled and tossed around in their seats and could become extremely uncomfortable—possibly even get sick from such a rough and choppy flight. The plane may eventually arrive at Salt Lake City and may land safely on the runway. Few passengers, if any, however, would have considered it an enjoyable flight, even though they had reached their destination.
This analogy can be applied to our life on earth. Living a Christian life assures us of a good flight. Not living a Christian life can bode for a rough ride and a lot of misery and suffering on the way to the final destination. In fact, by one not living the Christian life, one invites into the course of life hardship, physical and emotional suffering, personal losses and miseries of almost any kind. Even though prayers may be offered up out of desperation, they may go unheard and may not bring favorable responses. One might hear someone quote the adage, "He made his own bed, now he must lay in it." In other words, one could be a Christian—a child of God—and be living a miserable and painful life. The reason is because that person is not aligning the decisions and choices of daily living with the will of God. Not considering God's will as it is expressed for us in the Bible—God's blueprint for Christian living—a person may get stuck in an ill-suited job or career, get paired off with the wrong person as a marital partner, or suffer the tortuous ordeal of dealing with wayward and rebellious children. They may even become trapped in a succession of their own vices and experience poverty, addictions, failures, shame and yes, may even suffer imprisonment, as part of the journey of life en route to heaven! The question is really "How do you choose to travel?"
The Apostle Paul sought to help young Timothy, his son in the faith, in his journey through life. He wrote to him and outlined a course for Christian living and Christian service that would assure success and guarantee the blessings of God. In the passage, 2 Timothy, Chapter 2, the Apostle cuts through the fluff that characterizes a lot of modern day preaching and gets down to the brass tacks. The expression, "get down to the brass tacks," usually means clearing out confusing details or extraneous verbosity and finding out the real basic facts about something. It was the brass tacks separated by exactly 36 inches on the wooden counter of fabric stores by which yards of material were quickly measured for the customers. It was brass tacks that furniture makers and upholsterers of the 17th and 18th centuries used to secure the initial layers of tightly-stretched cloth which formed the foundation of the padded seats in fine furniture. Therefore, "getting down to the brass tacks" implied stripping away the many layers of covering and padding atop the foundational layer to expose this first layer of construction. Another possibility for the use of the term can be found in the 1860s when the United States government issued boots for its soldiers that were constructed using brass tacks to hold the leather soles on to the bottoms of their boots. As the boots wore down, the tacks would protrude through the sole and in to the bottom of the soldier's feet. "Getting to the brass tacks" could then mean to get to the bottom of things.
Getting down to the brass tacks, then, what exactly does God expect of us after we have made a commitment to receive Him as our Savior and Lord and decided to live the Christian life? The very first step for walking the Christian walk is to acquire a strong awareness of who we are. We are no longer the same as before we came to Christ by faith. The Apostle Paul writes to Christians at Corinth: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)." What the Apostle refers to as "the old" was the natural man. It is the unsaved man. It is a person who, by human nature, is a sinner and though living with the elements of body, mind and soul, is spiritually dead. Spiritual death is separation from God –just as physical death is separation of the soul from the body. What brought spiritual death to man is sin. It was like the title to a famous movie: "it started with Eve." God spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave instructions that they could eat of any tree except from the tree in the midst of the Garden. When God gave the prohibition to them, the first couple were innocent and had never known sin. God forewarned them: "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:17)." Eventually, through Satan's prompting, Eve ate from that forbidden tree and she invited Adam to do the same, which he did. They both became sinners by the act of disobeying God. The consequence of sin, among other things, was that they were banished from the Garden and were cut off from fellowship with God. This truncation from God was the beginning of spiritual death. At a later time, Adam and Eve would also die physically. The natural course for them and for everyone born after them would be to live in the natural environment on earth with no spiritual connection with God—man, the sinner, would live and die without ever knowing spiritual life. Their capacity for spiritual life would lie dormant unless and until such spiritual life would be awakened in them by an act of God. The Apostle Paul wrote in great detail in Romans, chapter 5, about this phenomenon that Adam's sin brought on spiritual death and Christ, the second Adam, died that sinners might be saved from their spiritual death and be given life in Him. Being given spiritual life is being saved from sin.
I like to think of it this way: before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was the natural me. After accepting Christ, I am the spiritually-activated me. This speaks to the principle of the driving force inside every person; the force that governs the choices we make as to how we are going to behave in any given situation. From birth onward, we are a growing person with a developing mind that will give us the capacity to deal with the environment in which we live. From birth to age 5, one is learning the rudiments of life, a major portion of which is provided by interaction with our primary care-givers and play-time peers. By age five, one's personality is roughly 85% determined—the personality that will unfold and manifest for the balance of one's life! We learn how to judge people's vulnerabilities and how to manipulate them to get what we want. We learn both compliance with rules and instructions from the authority figures in our life and how to disobey to advance our selfish interests and pursuits. We learn how to assess what it will take to get what we need and to be what we choose to be. Constantly we are stuffing our brains with ever increasing knowledge of every imaginable sort and developing myriads of skills for the living of life. Part of our learning is the development of a moral compass and a conscience that acts as a governor over internal impulses to gratify and express purely selfish desires. That moral compass is to a great extent developed in accordance with the behaviors and the examples for living set by the key role models in our lives—usually our parents and siblings. All this is the development of the natural me.
The natural I will continue functioning along the same plane of learning and acting from hour to hour, day to day, year to year, through all the stages of life until from sudden causes or physical illness, we reach our final moment and die. Natural life and natural death is what is in store for every person born under the sun. There is no way of changing it; it is like the coursing of a mighty river that will not be stopped until it reaches its final destination. We live and die being bound by the laws of nature. That is why it is the natural me and the natural you. The only way a basic change in our nature can be made is by the interposing of Divine power, the intersection of the natural man with supernatural He—God almighty. God is the author of nature and the only source capable of changing nature. At such moments, when God chooses to change nature, a miracle takes place. That's what a miracle is—it is the abrogation of natural law to serve God's purposes.
Excerpted from BRASS TACKS Christianity and Beyond! by Roger L. Bradley Copyright © 2011 by Roger L. Bradley. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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