Christianity 201

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 19, 2017

Building from the Materials God Provides

Psalm 104:14 NRSV:

 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website, Theology of Work. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; feel free to click back and forth. (Suggestion: With most PCs, right-click and select “Open in New Tab.” This allows you to go back and forth more easily.)

Human creativity with God (Psalm 104)

From the beginning, God intended human work as a form of creativity under or alongside God’s own creativity (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:5, 15-18). Human work is meant to fulfill God’s creative intent, bring each person into relationship with other people and with God, and glorify God. Psalm 104 gives a delightful depiction of this creative partnership. It begins with a broad canvas of the glory of God’s creation (Psalms 104:1-9). This leads naturally to God’s active work in sustaining the world of animals, birds and sea creatures (Ps.104:10-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 25). God provides richly for human beings as well (Ps. 104:13-15, 23). God’s work makes possible the fruitfulness of nature and humanity. “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Ps. 104:13).

The work of humans is to build further, using what God gives. We have to gather and use the plants. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to cultivate” (Ps. 104: 14, alternate reading from NRSV footnote f). We make the wine and bread and extract the oil from the plants God causes to grow (Ps. 104:15). God provides so richly, in part, by populating his creation with people who labor six days a week. Thus, while this psalm speaks of all creatures looking to God for food, and God opening his hand to supply it (Ps. 104:27-28), people still have to work hard to process and use God’s good gifts. Psalm 104 goes so far as to name some of the tools used for the work of God’s world—tents, garments, beams, fire, ships (Ps. 104:1, 2, 3, 4, 26, respectively). Intriguingly, the Psalm happily ascribes use of such tools to God himself, as well as to human beings. We work with God, and God’s ample provision comes in part through human effort.

Even so, remember that we are the junior partners in creation with God. In keeping with Genesis, human beings are the last creatures mentioned in Psalm 104. But in distinction from Genesis, we come on the scene here with little fanfare. We are just one more of God’s creatures, going about their business alongside the cattle, birds, wild goats, coneys, and lions (Ps. 104:14-23). Each has its proper activity—for humans it is work and labor until the evening—but underneath every activity, it is God who provides all that is needed (Ps. 104:21). Psalm 104 reminds us that God has done his work supremely well. In him our work may be done supremely well also, if only we work humbly in the strength his Spirit supplies, cultivating the beautiful world in which he has placed us by his grace.


© 2014 by the Theology of Work Project, Inc.; used by permission
Unless otherwise noted, the Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.


Read another devotion from the same source: God’s Guidance in Our Work: Psalm 25


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!


Introducing EMU Music. “Emu is a collaborative ministry focused on contemporary, Biblical, Christ-centered music in church. Founded in Sydney, Australia, and now operating throughout the world…” This is the 2nd most-viewed (in the last year) video on their YouTube channel:

This is their highest viewed song in the same period:

 

 

April 10, 2017

Christianity 201: Quotations

For those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Christianity 201 started on April 1st, 2010. So we had a birthday a few days ago that we didn’t mention. The early days were rather rough and haphazard. To give you an idea, one post the first month contained the above verse, but not the reference. (For the record, it’s a shortened version of Hebrews 11:6.)  It took a year or so for us to find our rhythm.

Over the years we’ve done a quotations series from various authors, but today, in a sense, we’re quoting ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are some very random things that were posted in those early day from our very first month:

Watchman Nee:

Nothing is so hurtful to the life of a Christian as acting; nothing so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitudes become natural — when our words, our prayers, our very life become a spontaneous and unforced expression of the life within.

Bruxy Cavey:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant

E. Stanley Jones:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

Oswald J. Smith:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

Chuck Swindoll:

At Catalyst ’09  Chuck Swindoll shared some wisdom that he’d compiled over the course of his fifty years in ministry. One of his many points was that “God’s way is better than my way.”

He says that “our problem is that we are too capable.” We are too talented, too skilled, too knowledgeable, and too busy doing it all. No room for God. No need.

Swindoll says that “God can’t pour His riches into hands that are already full… Empty your hands… [We must] empty our hands” of our own clippings, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Tim Keller:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

J.D. Greear:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

Unknown:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.

A. W. Tozer:

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Ghandi:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“

Steven & Brooksyne Weber (on the scribe in Matthew 8: 19-20)

Our Lord tests the sincerity of the scribe’s loyalty by warning him that He was so poor that beasts of the fields and birds of the air have nicer accommodations than He Himself had. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” If the popular leader fared so badly, what was the follower to expect? 

Ottawa area pastor Paul Kern provided us with our first ever graphic element, borrowed from his church website:

Finally, here, in its entirety is the first of what would turn out to be many posts from Kevin Rogers. If you click the link and then look around, you’ll find that Kevin is faithfully writing and that the title of this devotional is still the tag line for his website.

Loners Learning About Community

God’s eyes are watching loners. He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.

He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows. The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging. The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity. Where will the widow and orphan belong? Who will provide for them? Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family. He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin.

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots. The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren. But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential.

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

During the week of March 13th, Andy Elmes from the UK Ministry Great Big Life ran a series of five devotionals that he called “Characteristics of a Blueprint Church.” Space doesn’t permit us to run all five here, but I wanted to include some highlights from each day. See the bottom of today’s piece for information on how you can get material like this in your inbox each weekday.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

Acts 2:41-43, NIV
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

They devoted themselves

Here we find the first ingredient to their effectiveness. There was within the church, not just the leadership, a spirit of self devotion. People daily “devoted themselves”. They had great preachers, but they were not spoon fed; they were self feeders taking responsibility to get the spiritual nourishment they needed. They had great meetings and fellowship but did not need to be constantly phoned or dragged there or reminded with constant bulletins like they had memory problems; they got themselves were they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

So much of modern church is sadly about motivating people to do what they should naturally want to do, encouraging people to do things that really should be their spiritual lifestyle. Imagine if we could get even more self devotion into the DNA of the modern western Church – how much more effective would our local churches be if each member took personal responsibility for even the little things, like getting to Church on time so church services could start as strong as they could do, serving on the teams that needed them and turning up when it was their turn without a text, being faithful in honouring God with their finances and time without subtle reminders and encouragements from the stage?

I am always amazed at how people can downgrade the “God bit” of their life and sentence it to a lesser devotion than the other bits; one great example again being time keeping. In every other area of life they are on time: meetings with the dentist, bank manager, work – but why not church? What is that switch that needs to be fixed? Surely the greatest of our devotion belongs to God, right? Surely the place we manifest the greatest personal self devotion should be in His House? Imagine what we could achieve if just this one thing was to change – suddenly no challenge would be too great. Hey we might even see 3000 people get saved on our Sunday morning: 3000 people moved by His message but also moved by a group of people so sold out and devoted to what and who they believed in.

Apostles Doctrine

…The Dictionary says that Doctrine is, “Teaching, instruction, the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Basically, the Apostles’ doctrine was the teaching of the first Church Leaders (apostles). The foundational teaching for the new testament church was based on their teaching, especially Paul’s. Their teaching formed the “branch of belief” for what we still believe, live by and hold to as true today in regard to everything including God, His Church and how we are to live.

I suppose the challenge today is, do we teach and personally live by the truths found in the Apostles’ doctrine (teaching)? Does it still form the margins of what we believe today to be truth or do we attempt to mix it with other doctrines (teachings)? Notice that it does not say they devoted themselves to the doctrine of Moses or the doctrine of religion; no, it clearly says they devoted themselves to the doctrine of the Apostles (leaders of the early church).

The doctrine of Moses was not wrong for its time or dispensation, but as Paul stood up to preach daily everything had indeed changed. Christ had now died for the sins of the world, the old covenant was no longer effective or relevant because a new covenant had been established and had replaced it – a covenant (agreement) cut with the very blood of God’s only Son, not of bulls and goats that could only provide a mere covering for sin that would last a moment. Full punishment for sin had now been placed on Christ as He hung on the cross as our substitute; full forgiveness had now been given and God’s wrath towards us settled because of His one-time redemptive work. So much had now changed. It wasn’t that Paul could not or did not refer to Moses, the law or the previous covenant, but now what he taught, and the doctrine he was establishing, was based on the grace of God and the perfect finished work of the cross, and nothing else. The doctrine he now preached and established would leave a person redeemed and free outside of their own performance or merit; it would give the offer of a new beginning to all who would believe based on faith not works; it would reveal God’s eternal plan to get His life inside the life of the believer, to empower a person to overcome and live the new life they had been freely given…

…[A]re you living and building by the Apostles’ teaching or are you trying to add a bit of Moses, or maybe a bit of law, maybe a dash of your reasoning?

…When I started to think about “the Apostles Doctrine” I was intrigued to find out exactly what it was, to make sure I was not guilty of mixing covenants in a wrong way, or of believing partial or diluted truth. I studied a bit deeper than normal and found out what the epicenter of the Apostles Doctrine was. I was not surprised but certainly encouraged as I discovered the Apostles Doctrine orbited and found its strength in a couple of basic truths or realities. Firstly the finished redemptive work of Christ and secondly the reality of the new creation.

Think about that: everything that Paul taught and established was based and rooted in the simple yet profound truth that when anyone believes in Jesus as Saviour they become a “new creation” – they are born again, and it is as if they had never lived before or ever sinned in the sight of God.

One of Paul’s foundational truths for all he taught in regard to this reality was of course this one found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. The NIV translation puts it like this: “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. Paul had a deep set revelation that the new creation was God’s master plan – not a patch up job of the old man, behaviour modification or a rust maintenance program, rather a brand new beginning for a person based on God’s unfailing grace.

The truth is when a person believes in Christ they identify with His death, burial and resurrection and come in by faith to a brand new existence based on Christ alone (Romans 6:3-6). As God’s word says in Romans 6, the old man is crucified with Christ and, as Paul said so well, our only boast is in the cross where we were separated from the world and who we were to be who God has called us to be (Galatians 6:14). As you read on in that verse you actually see Paul defy or replace the doctrine of Moses with this new creation reality.

Galatians 6:15, NIV
Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

…Are you attending meetings or doing life with the church?

We have been looking at what the first church devoted themselves to. We saw that the Apostles’ teaching was a very high priority and that each person who called that first church home had a personal devotion to it. Next on the list comes the word fellowship, this was another high priority to them and needs to be to us. So what does it mean by fellowship? I love the way The Message translation puts this verse:

“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”

I love that statement and the image it creates: they devoted themselves to “the life together”. The early church put great emphasis on simply “doing life together”, they never defined their church experience as two hours on Sunday but rather committed to live more community-minded in their relationship with the Church…

Acts 2:42-44, AMP
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.

We have looked at how the original blueprint church devoted itself to doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (doing life together); next on the list comes the breaking of bread. Did this mean that they spent all day doing communion? I don’t think it did. I like the way that the Amplified version puts it: “to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper]”. Personally I think this fits well with the culture of Israel at that time and links well with previous value and priority of doing life together. Remember, when Jesus instituted the original communion, or breaking of bread as we know it today, where was He? In a synagogue? No, He was at a meal with His friends, hanging out with them, eating and breaking bread with them, then He takes the bread and wine and talked His friends through what has become a significant ordinance still in His Church today.

Is God saying in this verse that we are to devote ourselves to the act or ordinance of communion? That we are to do it all day and everyday? Or, like the Amplified version says, that we are to be taking time to eat and fellowship together and, in the midst of that ongoing fellowship, we are to make time to take bread and wine to specifically remember what He has done like He instructed us to do). This feels more natural and ‘lifestyle’ to me than just making the bread and wine something we do in certain meetings we hold together?

Again, I don’t think it is an issue of “either, or”, rather “both”. I think we should still have significant Bread and Wine (communion) times together when we meet corporately, but also as we build the community side of the church. As we meet together not just to pray but to fellowship and eat, in the midst of us doing that we take time to give thanks and remember what He did for us when He gave His Body (represented by the bread) and shed His Blood (represented by the wine or grape juice)…


I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. Click the link to have it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

 

March 27, 2017

New Creation? Or “Pretty much who I have always been?”

NLT 2 Cor. 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Today we’re introducing a new writer, Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click to look around, I love her writing style and how she wrestles with the text. Click the title below to read today’s thoughts with photo images.

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funeral yet though, that would just be weird.

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

by Russell Young

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.  Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful. They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths. Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer. Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


Russell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

January 20, 2017

The Tension between God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

Today we’re paying another return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below. This subject may be familiar to many of you, but possibly new to others. This article provides a good window into both sides of an ongoing discussion.

“Can I Lose My Salvation?”

A common question for many is, “Can I lose my salvation?” I’ve heard both sides of the argument, and only God truly knows a person’s heart, but I can share a few thoughts. The reason there is a debate is because the Scriptures teach that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned, but they also offer warnings about falling away. There should be a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. This issue should not create a spirit of division, elitism, or theological superiority.

One school of thought suggests that salvation cannot be lost, as in losing your car keys, but that it can be left, as in walking away from it. This may be why Jesus spoke of the man who said in his heart “my master delays His coming; therefore, I will turn from living a godly life”. When the master returned unexpectedly, the servant was banished because he chose to turn from what he knew to be right.

In another passage, Jesus said, “You have left your first love,” when speaking to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). James 5:19-20 adds, if anyone wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, a soul is saved from death. If anything, these Scriptures, and many more, reinforce the fact that we have certain responsibilities.

1. We must look at the context of such verses. For example, in James 5 the context is a believer who is sick because he or she wandered from God (a pattern of sin) – from alcohol and drugs to lying and slander, and from sexual sin to the sin of pride – the warnings, convictions, and rebukes were all ignored. The elders become involved in hope that confession and repentance take place, and that faith-filled prayer releases the person from God’s chastisement (cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). The believer is heading toward physical death as the result of wandering from God, but if repentance takes place, they will be restored – the soul is saved and his ongoing pattern of sin (multitude) is covered, concealed, and dealt with. This verse is not about salvation, but disobedience.

We should never turn from what we know to be right. Jesus encouraged His followers to be watchful, prepared, and ready for His return. Are we watchful? Are we prepared? Are we ready? (Read Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34.) The Scriptures offer a healthy tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

The other school of thought suggests that some passages are dealing with people who never fully surrendered to Christ. As a result, they fell away. They heard the gospel, but never fully embraced it and turned from their sins; they only had “intellectual” knowledge of salvation. According to this view, the real question isn’t, “Can a person lose their salvation?” but, “Was the person really saved to begin with?”

Titus 1:16 and James 2:14 both conclude that many people “say” that they know God, but deny Him by their lifestyle. I John 2:19 suggests that those who acknowledge Christ initially, but deny Him later, are not saved to begin with: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

2. Who holds us together? If we must maintain our salvation, what happens if Alzheimers or some other mind-debilitating disease sets in and begins to twist, corrupt, and pollute our thinking? Is all lost, or are we held together because we are a child of God? I am convinced, like Paul, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can separate us from God, but we should never ignore the strong warnings about turning from Him.

When it comes to salvation, we all agree that God gets all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control: “It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:21).

Our salvation is guaranteed based on the assurances found in Scripture, but we also must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (cf. Philippians 2:12). My goal is to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.

3. At the heart of the division is Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Sadly, brother is shooting brother and sister is wounding sister. Have we forgotten how to show grace to those in the Body who we disagree with? Those who believe you can lose your salvation should not chide those who believe in eternal security – “once saved always saved” is by no means a license to sin – it’s a belief in God’s guarantee. But on the flip side, those who embrace eternal security should not mock those who disagree.

I can hear it now, “But what about Hebrews 6:4-6.” It says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Based on my understanding of terms such as “enlightened,” “tasted,” and “shared,” they are not necessarily words linked to salvation. Judas Iscariot was enlightened—he knew a great deal. He also tasted and shared in the ministry of Christ, but we all know his fate. When he fell away, repentance was elusive. His fate was sealed. However, this verse should force all Christians to take inventory.

We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart—have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? This may be why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

Our actions reveal a great deal about our relationship with Christ. A.W. Tozer said: “When people find that after being in the church for years they are not making much progress, they ought to examine themselves and wonder whether they have been truly converted.”

Has your heart become so hard as to reject Jesus Christ? If so, you can change that today. I’m aware that I’m driving this point home, but I’d rather err on the side of speaking too much about a committed relationship with Jesus than too little. It’s never too late to get back on track: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord (Micah 3:7). God is sovereign but man has a responsibility to repent and return.

 

 

November 5, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount’s Impossible Demands

When we go back to a source we’ve used previously, I often look at the most recent article, decide it’s suitable and then format it for use here. But on returning to Barenuckle Bible, the website of John Myer, I read most of a 4-part series of articles on the lordship of Christ, published October 12, 19, 26 and November 2nd of this year.

For today however, I chose this article which I hope you will appreciate as much as I did. Click the title below to read at source.

Glad I Didn’t Dumb Down the “Impossible” Commands of Jesus

After many months and gallons of coffee, my Tuesday morning men’s group finished a study of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Those chapters have to be among the  most challenging in the entire Bible.  During our reading, I frequently had urges to tweak them just because it seems so patently impossible for mere mortals to turn the other cheek, love enemies, and not look at women with lust.

As the oldest man in that group, I felt obligated to be the voice of reason.  I didn’t want the younger guys spooked by a standard so far beyond them that being a Keebler Elf would appear more realistic than being a faithful Christian.

I’m glad I resisted the urge to dumb-down the Sermon verses.  After all, I’m not here to save people from Jesus.

These chapters weren’t meant to be immediately accessible, anyway.  We enter them in phases, like a kid growing into his dad’s shoes.  The standard described and commanded in Matthew 5-7 basically corresponds to the inner life of Christ.  You’re not supposed to read it and feel like, “I got this.”

In fact, Watchman Nee once wrote in his landmark book, The Normal Christian Life,

“A consideration of the written word of God—the Sermon on the Mount for example—should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth save only by the Son of God Himself.”

Maybe then, the most reasonable instant reaction to this part of the Word is one of incredulity.  How on earth is someone like me ever going to live like that?

Ironically, after the Sermon was over, a leper approached Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” (Matt. 8:2).  That’s about all anybody can feel after hearing those words—“I’m not clean.  I need serious help.”

Personally, any time I’ve ever started thinking I had the Christian life down cold—because I don’t use porn or drugs or run around on my wife—these dramatic verses reminded me all was still not well in Johnnyville.

At best I’m always a bit out of alignment, a good-hearted, inconsistent Christian, with plenty of blind spots. And frequently I’m a lot worse when compared to verses like this one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Again, how will this ever come to pass?

I don’t think the answer is in the Sermon at all.  You’ll hunt those chapters in vain for special techniques, or spiritual hacks.

The key probably lies a few verses outside the Sermon in the conversation between Jesus and that leper.  He had asked for cleansing, and Jesus told him, “I am willing.”

That’s music to any leper’s ears.  No need for pretending to be clean, much less redefining the concept of cleanness into something less challenging.

It would be ridiculous to hope God would lower His standard to mine, when He’s willing to cleanse and lift me up to His.

 

October 19, 2016

Companionship

Today we’re at Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason which came recommended. Click here to read her story, and then click the title below to read today’s thoughts at their source.

Friendly

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT) Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Companionship is important. Relationship is key in life. With the popularity of social media, there is the perception of these two vital accomplishments when in reality there is really no connection between people anymore. Facebook is one of the many social sites that allow us to “friend” one another, “unfriend” those who are no longer wanted in our life and to conveniently “unfollow” those who post things that are not interesting or inappropriate. Relationship in a box if you will how wonderful. So clean and safe, people can manage “friendships” without the messiness of companionship. It satisfies our need to connect with the imposition or discomfort of true involvement. However, is it enough? Is it the kind of relationship that Jesus Christ called us to when He said to “love one another”? Probably not.

Love is a commitment. It is the call of every Christian, believer, and true follower of Jesus Christ. In a world that has made “relationships” computerized, how does the church reconnect according to the Word of God and develop the friendships that the Lord ordained for us to have with one another. The Body of Christ cannot become the Bride of Christ without companionship and relationships that extend from lip service to life commitment. Ecclesiastes touches on this in Chapter 4 when companionship is addressed in detail with its benefits. Two people are much better than one. You may think you do not need or want other people but we all do. We were created to be relational but hurt and betrayal builds tall walls that must be overcome by love and grace to produce trust once again. We need one another to succeed in life. People will always need someone to offer hands to help up and shoulders to cry on. We need to remain close. A person standing alone is more likely to be overcome in an attack physically and spiritually. There is a reason why God created more than one person. God is all about relationships. To be like the Lord, we must build relationships, become companions and learn to be friends all over again.

John 16:31-33 (NLT) Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus is awesome! He tried diligently to send of clues and messages into the future of what to expect as His Return grew eminent. One of those things is the assault on friendship and relationships that is happening today. First, the family began to fall apart as one generation gave way to another with a staggering divorce rate. Suddenly, relationships became soluble and what God has joined together can be legally torn apart. The time is coming. Well, I believe it is here now. You will be scattered. Each one going his own way. Jesus told us all of this so that we could have peace in us. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. There is no question that there will be hurts and heartaches on this earth trials and sorrows just as the Jesus said. Take heart. I have overcome the world. Jesus overcame the world. I believe that while the latter of these verses are heeded with caution that there is missed significance in the beginning…you will be scattered. A kingdom is a gathering not a scattering. We must come together as the Body of Christ and Kingdom of God again. The Kingdom is built on relationship. Our relationship with the Father through the Son as adopted Children of God. This should not and cannot stop here or the Kingdom is only a partnership. The Spirit of God is the connection that ordinary people have as Christ lives in us. This connection must be distributed among other people to form the allegiance that we are to have with the family of God as His Children.

Hebrews 13:14-16 (NLT) For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

This world is not our permanent home. Everything should be building for the future. The future given to us through Jesus Christ. Why? It lasts forever. We are to look forever to this home yet to come. Preparations for family reunions and even high school reunions often include self-preparation as it is important to us to show others the significance and success of our past years spent apart. Many opt not to attend based on situations and circumstances they were unable to overcome. Reunions are about relationships and reconnecting but in our minds it can be made it to something else completely. We must prepare for our reunion with Jesus Christ. Repentance is the first step. Relationship is the next. It is fun to attend a reunion when the relationships have remained active. It becomes uncomfortable if it is the first contact in a long time. Each day celebrating Jesus Christ and actively engaged in a relationship with Jesus creates confidence in His Acceptance when we are finally reunited. However, the Kingdom is not just one person and a triune God. It is a Body of Believers. It is time to reconnect.

Allegiance to Christ is a commitment to His Kingdom that is demonstrated in our willingness to do “good” and share our lives with those in need. Recently, our ladies ministry had a meeting at church. Newly reorganized, it was the first time in a long time. Forming a large circle, everyone began to express their needs as women. Every response and comment went back to relationship. Women feel isolated and alone in rooms full of people and homes full of family. Why? There is no connection or companionship so therefore there is no confidence in others. We must sacrifice to please God. Sacrifice our pride. Sacrifice our self. Sacrifice our insecurity and yes, even our pride sometimes. Allegiance to God’s Kingdom is demonstrated by loving and living relationships among all of God’s People.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT) “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We are to love our enemies. How is the possible if I am unable to love my friends? Loving my friends is not commenting on their posts, putting little heart “likes” on their pictures, or following them on social media. Love is a relationship. Love is a connection. It is to reach out and pull together. It is conversation. Communication is important. Listening is loving. Being present is not enough, it is presence that creates strong unity and bonds. Our allegiance to Jesus Christ is exemplified by our commitment and willingness to bond with others in relationship. This empowers the Kingdom and our relationships draw those who were scattered back together again. I challenge each of you today as I am myself to look at my “friends” list on social media and choose some people to call and talk to. Have lunch with or make an effort to connect with. Rather than texting learn to call and talk more. When the Holy Spirit moves on my heart to contact someone, to be sensitive enough to do it right then. Relationships are not maintained passively and must to be promoted passionately. They are one of the things that the enemy wants to “steal, kill and destroy” every single relationship and bond in the Body of Christ as it is an attack against His Kingdom. When we connect with others, it creates unity and harmony in the Body and that is the desire of our Father’s Heart!

Romans 12:16 (NLT) Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Psalm 133:1-3 (NLT) How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.

September 16, 2016

Our Faith Should Be More Than Just a Coping Mechanism

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I remember was hearing this preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel

 

August 7, 2016

The Signs of Eternal Salvation

•••by Russell Young

Each of us wants assurance of an eternal hope.  The apostle John has provided clarification concerning this matter, but did not let assurance rest on a confession of faith once made.  Near the end of his first epistle he has recorded: “I wrote these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13, NIV) The things that he wrote were contained in his first letter. From his epistle fifteen characteristics have been identified that expose knowledge of the believer’s hope. A person may know that he or she has eternal life if they:

  1. img 080716enjoy fellowship with Christ and the Father. (1:3, 2:24)
  2. do not keep on sinning. (2:29, 3:6,9)
  3. obey God’s commands (2:3, 3:24, 5:3)
  4. do not love this world or the things in it (2:15, 16, 5:4)
  5. purify themselves. (3:3)
  6. see a decreasing pattern of sin in his or her life. (3:3, 6, 9, 5:18)
  7. love other Christians. (2:9, 10, 3:10, 14, 4: 7, 11, 12, 4:19-20)
  8. experience answered prayer. (3:22)
  9. experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (2:27, 3:20, 24, 4:13)
  10. know the truth; can discern between spiritual truth and error. (2:21, 3:6)
  11. suffer rejection (hated) because of their faith. (3:13)
  12. love others. (4:7)
  13. have concern about the material needs of others. (3:17)
  14. are like Christ in this world. (4:17)
  15. have a clear conscience. (3:21)

No one can “work” to achieve what is required for eternal life and a single confession of faith will not accomplish it.  Without the Spirit the believer does not have the capacity to accomplish that which is needed, but would be left with his or her own sinful nature and a demanding body.  The life that manifests these characteristics is being worked in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in order that the Lord might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters in his likeness.  A person’s work is to believe and to believe to the extent that he or she is willing to submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4).  The transformed believer will display the identified characteristics.

A person’s eternal salvation is not accomplished by adhering to the practices of an institution, nor living by a list of rules.  It does not take place through a specific religious experience or by engaging in a certain type of service.  Neither is it superficial “belief” that lacks trust and obedience.  Eternal salvation comes through Christ and the believer’s personal relationship with him.  The hopeful person must practice obedience so that Christ might live in and through the person who claims his name. (Col 1:27) A relationship must develop that leads the believer in a righteous walk because that is the only walk engaged by the Lord.

The apostle Paul said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I might be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27, NLT) He did not rest in the belief that he had mastered the life of faith.

God does not want his people to walk in fear but in love for him and in obedience to his will. Perfect love (which is obedience) casts out all fear and like the Israelites of old, his people have been told of his expectations. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37, NIV)

The love that God expects is revealed in a close relationship with him.  It requires reading his Word so that the Spirit might use it for any cleansing that is necessary to accomplish the believer’s transformation and develop holiness. And, it is based on an active prayer life through which sin is confessed and forgiveness sought so that a clean conscience can be maintained.  The importance of being made holy, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word (Eph 5:26), was made clear by Paul.  Righteous thoughts and actions lead to holiness (Rom 6:19, 22) and without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

All of God’s creation was fashioned for his good pleasure.  Humankind is part of that creation.  When all is said and done, God will be eternally satisfied with his work and the transformed believer.  Those who have listened to his voice, who possess the characteristics of his Son and those revealed by John, will be part of his eternal joy.

June 16, 2016

Losing It

No, I didn’t lose it with somebody, but I heard a story today that got me thinking...

But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.  (Galatians 5: 22-23)

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless…not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:7)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  (James 1:19)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool. (Ecc. 7:9)

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  (Matthew 5:22a)

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26)

Some of you reading this are fairly even-tempered people. You don’t have a problem with controlling your temper. But for some of us, all types of situations can trigger a rise in blood pressure which results from an undercurrent of anger.

Your trigger might be handling long line-ups. Dealing with bureaucracies. Interacting with service-industry staff. Frustration over your own incompetence in a particular situation.

What gets you riled? Can you avoid those situations? Do other people or family members see you at your worst?

Today’s thoughts continue with an article by Lisa Harper at Christian Bible Studies on a similar topic, righteous anger:

What is “Righteous Anger”?

How can I know whether I’m feeling that or just being a hothead?

I grew up believing anger was a “bad” emotion. So I’ve needed several years of Christian counseling even to admit I get angry, much less to learn I can express those feelings righteously! Thankfully, God’s Word sets clear parameters for getting peeved.

What does God say about this? The bad news for hotheads is that Scripture contains many more verses warning believers against blowing their cool than verses advocating such behavior. The writer of Proverbs connects anger with foolishness: “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults” (Proverbs 12:16, NCV). And the apostle Paul recommends letting our heavenly Father fight our battles: “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NCV).

Sometimes, however, God allows his people to fuss and remain faithful. Such is the case when King David furrows his brow and huffs:

God, I wish you would kill the wicked!
Get away from me, you murderers!
They say evil things about you.
Your enemies use your name thoughtlessly.
Lord, I hate those who hate you;
I hate those who rise up against you.
I feel only hate for them;
they are my enemies (Psalm 139:19–22, NCV).

Or when Nehemiah gets upset after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor: “Then I was very angry when I had heard … these words” (Nehemiah 5:6, NASB).

What’s noteworthy in these situations is that David called down curses on sworn enemies of God, and Nehemiah directed his irritation at the “haves” repressing the “have-nots.” Both men were angry because of ungodly people or activities.

And Jesus expressed anger—at the Pharisees who exhibited such hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5) and at the crass commercialism that sullied the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)—to convey extreme displeasure over sin. Those reasons are the key to righteous anger.

How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we’re totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us.

But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we’re condemning, we still aren’t justified to sin in our responses…

…continue reading the entire article at this link


Going deeper:

 

 

April 19, 2016

Sacrifice: When the Cause is Too Important

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well…

So begins an article by Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch, who we have featured here twice before. This is a longer piece, and we’re going to join it about halfway through so you are encouraged to click the title below to read it all.

Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

…The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

Spiritual WarfareBut otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?

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