Christianity 201

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?

April 12, 2016

Settling for Less than God’s Best

Today we’re revisiting, for the third time, Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Click the link below to read this at source, and then take a minute to look around at other articles.

Time to Go to the Beach

Have you ever felt like there was more to life?

You fall into a routine and you get comfortable as you navigate the responsibilities, joys, and frustrations of every day life. Yet, even in the midst of the comfort, there is a gnawing in your heart causing you to wonder if you are missing out on something larger.

I know I have.

C. S. Lewis wrote;

“We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

I have settled for a life that is far less than the life God desires to give me. This isn’t about how successful my life is, but about how closely I am living out God’s purpose for my life. I am content to live a moral life and enjoy time with my family, but often I miss out on the life that God is calling me to live.

God's BestThis is true for many American Christians. Our lives are so easy and smooth most of the time that we are able to live life on cruise control and pay little attention to God. We have settled for a life of moral living (when it suits us), attending Sunday worship (when we have nothing better to do), and giving $10 (if we can spare it). We have made Christianity something we do rather than who we are. In the process we have settled for life in the slums, when God wants to take us to the beach.

The problem is that we don’t understand that God promised us a life that is greater than we can imagine. He intended for our lives to have a purpose, to be lived with joy, and to have a positive impact in this world. God created us to be part of something greater than ourselves.

This thought makes me excited. The reason I get excited is because this truth means I was created for a purpose. That purpose is not to sit in a pew once a week, to  live a nice and moral life, or to give a certain percentage of my income to Kingdom work.

I was not created for such a life, and neither were you. Don’t settle for life in the sandbox. Accept God’s invitation to the beach.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

(Ephesians 1:15-18; NLT)

The Apostle Paul prayed that the Ephesians would receive the wisdom and understanding they needed so they could have the knowledge of the life God created them to live. This prayer implies that the Ephesians did not understand the hope they had been given through Jesus. In the words of Lewis, they could not imagine what an offer of a vacation at the beach would be like.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our lives I think we fall into the same trap. We have settled for the emotional experiences of a worship service and the fellowship of a small group, but we don’t grasp all that God has for His people.

The full extent of our hope is difficult to describe. In fact, human words cannot do it just. That is why Paul prayed for the Ephesians to be filled with the knowledge of this hope. We need to make it our practice to ask God to fill us, and our church families, with wisdom and understanding, so we too can have the knowledge of the hope we have in Jesus.

I think it is time for us to leave the slum. Let’s ask God to take us to the beach.

March 8, 2016

A Personal Character Checklist

NLT I Cor 13:1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Many of us had I Corinthians 13, also known as ‘the love chapter’ read at our weddings and at many weddings we’ve attended. I don’t think there’s anything specifically wrong with this, but it’s important to remember

  1. This is a general overview of expected Christian character that should be lived out every day of every year; it’s application should not be limited to weddings.
  2. Both in terms of doctrine and in terms of writing style, it’s got a lot in common with Paul’s list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5: 22-23.
  3. Its own context is that the passage is sandwiched between two chapters on the exercise of spiritual gifts, chapter 12 and chapter 14.
  4. If you want to know what Paul has to say about marriage, Ephesians 5:22-33 is more direct.

That said, our pastor spoke from the love chapter last month as he was in the middle of a series on the Christian family, and Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday. Each person in the church was asked to complete this self-evaluation checklist as to where they stand in relationship to the standards set by Paul in that chapter. Some of the statements are expressed positively — Love is patient — while others are expressed in the negative — Love does not seek its own way. So he put all the positives on one side and all the negatives on the other:

Love - I Corinthians 13 - Personal Character Checklist

Where would you stand on this? (Use the contact page to request a black and white copy you can reprint.)

From the very first line, I think many will be challenged. Twice this weekend I read of Christian leaders confessing they have a problem with temper, which shows a lack of patience, among other things…

Scripture is filled with checklists we can use in self-evaluation. One I’ve often turned to is Colossians 1:9-12 which coincidentally was read in the same church two weeks later in another context:

NLT 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Paul is praying this for the Colossian church, but we can see where we stand in relation to these indicators. In bullet point form, it’s a test of being filled in terms of

  • knowing God’s will
  • having spiritual wisdom
  • having spiritual understanding *
  • living a life worthy of the Lord
  • pleasing him in every way
  • bearing fruit **
  • growing in the knowledge of God
  • growing in the strength of spiritual power
  • having endurance
  • having patience
  • being thankful

*What do you think is the difference here between wisdom and understanding? In another study, we might break that down in various translations.

**Fruit can refer to the fruit of the spirit, but it can also refer to multiplication; leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Have you ever had the humble privilege of doing that?

As Paul describes what we call communion, he says in 1 Cor. 11:28 “But let a man examine himself” (KJV) “Examine your motives, test your heart” (Message) “Look into your own hearts.” (NCV) These times of self-evaluation are important. We can immerse ourselves in the study of doctrine, but fail to study how the doctrine is impacting ourselves.

 

February 29, 2016

Do You Know the Gospel of Christ? (Part 2)

This is partly a continuation of where we left off yesterday, and partly a different perspective on the same subject.

•••by Russell Young

In Part 1 it was revealed that eternal salvation comes through the life of Christ being exercised in the believer.

Did Part 1 present what seems an unlikely gospel? Let’s consider it another way. The believer has available all of the attributes that Jesus had as he walked this earth excepting for His soul. Just as Jesus was body, soul, and spirit so is man. This reality must be appreciated by those who are prepared to excuse themselves from “walking as Jesus did.” (1 John 3:6)

All of mankind are composed of the trinity of body, soul, and spirit. The body of Christ was the same as that of all men; it was formed in the womb of Mary. “Since children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (Hebrews 2:14…17, NIV) Further, it is written “We have a high priest who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV) And to solidify the nature of His humanity the writer has also presented: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9) (This passage does not refer only to petition in the Garden of Gethsemane following which He suffered a cruel death.)

The body prepared for Christ by the Father in the womb of Mary is of the same nature as the one we possess. It is the body that brings death (Romans 7:24) and its appeasement subjects one to temptations and suffering. “Because he himself [the Lord] suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) It must be accepted that the “body” of Christ is of the same nature as our own.

But Jesus has a soul and a spirit also. Jesus was given the spirit that mankind had enjoyed at creation…it was in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) holy in purpose, just as were the spirits of Adam and Eve. However, the spirits we possess are far from the nature of the one first given. Adam and Eve had no knowledge of evil but allowed the lies of Satan to infect them with his lies and his spirit. They took on evil spirits…desiring to please the flesh rather than God. Jesus, however, maintained the spirit given Him and lived a sinless life. (Hebrews 4:15) “How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences [moral consciousness] from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14, NIV)

At the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. (Matthew 3:16) The believer is also given the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5, John 7:39) Therefore, not only did Christ have a body that suffered the same interests as do those of the rest of mankind, the believer, once reborn, has the same Spirit that brought victory to Christ. The believer possesses a body like that of Christ and the Holy Spirit…the very one that enabled Christ to overcome the flesh, the world and the Evil One. The believer has been reminded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of one’s will…his choices; as he denies his evil nature, his natural spirit will weaken and become ineffective. One’s eternal hope is availed when he is gifted with the Holy Spirit. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Galatians 5:5, NIV)

It is man’s soul that differs from that of Christ and it is his soul that Christ came to transform. Man’s soul distinguishes him from all others and houses his will. His soul offers the testimony of his faith to God and the world. One’s will reacts to one’s heart interests and determines his choices and practices. The will of Christ was to honour and obey His Father. (John 5:30) The one given entrance to God’s Eternal Kingdom must also honour and obey the Father. (Matthew 7:21) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37, NIV)

In Genesis it is recorded: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5-6, NIV) It is not a pardon that is required for eternal salvation, although that is essential, but a transformed heart. A pardon does not transform but relieves the sinner of the consequences of his rebellion. Those who cause God pain will not be found in His presence. Paul wrote: “For it is God [the Spirit] who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV) The Lord must subdue and convert/transform the soul of man as He is allowed on order to sanctify the evil heart and conform it to His likeness. (Romans 8:29)

Paul wrote, “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22, NIV)

The command to live as Christ lived in this world should not be considered an impossibility. The believer has all that Christ had in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary and he is expected to reveal Christ to the world as the Lord lives in his body. He has the same Spirit and the Spirit is to enlighten, lead, and empower for the development and display of the same soul. However, obedience is required…not to the law but to Christ, the Holy Spirit. He is truly to become a son of God and a brother of Christ.

Those who excuse the practice of sin will one day have to justify it to the Lord who provided them with all that is needed for life and godliness, who had lived with the same realities of body, soul, and Spirit, and who had made provision of Himself to live in the one who had professed Him as lord/Lord.

This is the gospel: Christ offered Himself a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem the believer from his past sins and from the Old Covenant so that He might live righteously through the repentant believer and fit him for the Kingdom of God.…“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

February 16, 2016

A Devotional About Devotion

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This is our 6th time with Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions. You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link) as I do by email each weekday morning. This is part one of a series, you need to sign up to see them all.

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church, part 1

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.

These verses show us a really good day in the life of the early Church. What a result: three thousand people added in one day by one message! How would you like a response to your personal evangelism like that?

The other great thing that these verses give us is a glimpse into the culture or DNA of that early “blueprint” church. In these verses we see a number of values that they chose to give great emphasis to. I personally think that when we hold these verses against the ones in Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) and Acts 1:8 (the promise of empowerment to a GOing people) we find the co-ordinates for the destination we are to still take as 21st century relevant churches, and indeed the ‘blueprint’ for building what God wants built. We need to still find our DNA for building effective Christian lives and churches in that which Jesus was passionate about and commissioned us to do and that which the first Church spent their time, energy and money doing. What He desired and what they dedicated their lives to transcends style or natural culture and still gives us a great and effective building plan for our lives and churches today.

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.

Andy Elmes DevotionSo 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.

Let’s be a devoted people.

 

 

February 4, 2016

Let Your Sins Be Strong…

Today we pay a return visit to Deb Wolf who writes at the devotional blog Counting My Blessings. The header we gave today’s post is meant to be provocative. Deb’s title, below clarifies it a little. Be sure to click through (on the title below) and look around the blog. (Her version of today’s post has some graphics!)

You are Free to Sin Boldly

You’ve heard the quote from Martin Luther, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

I woke up the other morning with the words “sin boldly” on my mind.

Not your typical opening thought for the day? Not mine either. I believe it was God’s nudge for me to write about this to start the discussion on—freedom to.

For two weeks I’ve looked at the freedom I have “from.” Now it’s time to look at the freedom I have “to.” Freedom to be who I am created to be. Freedom to plan my calendar. Freedom to love big. Freedom to live.

And part of living in this sinful world is well . . . sin.

So, when I woke up thinking “sin boldly” it seemed a good place to start. I am free to sin boldly.

You are too.

Wait a minute. What exactly does that mean?

I’ve read several articles from teachers whose students use Luther’s quote as an excuse to do as they please and disobey. Is that it?

Paul said, “Some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for Him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Romans 3:5

And

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1–2

But you and I do continue to live in sin. No matter how hard we try, we’re going to sin.

I have times when my motives are far less than honorable. When my attitude stinks. When I’m tired and cranky and selfish. Times when I do the right thing because I’m supposed to not because I want to. Okay, that’s enough. I’m starting to squirm here.

Let’s take a look at Luther’s actual quote found in – A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, written August 1, 1521

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides… It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him.” ~Martin Luther

“We will commit sins while we are here…”

Hmmm. Yes, we will.

I believe Luther’s point is this—we’re not going to get it right!

While we are here we will commit sins, but does that mean we should sit in a corner all day with our Bibles in our laps avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.

Absolutely not.

January 15, 2016

The Father’s Discipline

Today’s devotional writer, Art Toombs is new to us. Before we dig in, check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts, you never know when you might need it. His website is Art Toombs Ministries – Online Bible Commentary. To read today’s sample at source, and then look around the site, click the title below.

The Lord Disciplines those He Loves

Hebrews 12:5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is addressing Hebrew Christians, encouraging them in their walk with God. Of course, these words are meant for all Christians, because we all face hardships in life. God does not want the hardships of life to pull us away from Him. So, in this passage he gives us some insights into the nature of hardships and how we should respond to them.

The writer begins by reminding us of “that word of encouragement” (v. 5a) in verses 5b-6, which are taken from Proverbs 3:11-12. The literal Greek translation for these verses is as follows: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint while being corrected; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines; and whips every son whom He receives.” To us, this probably does not sound like encouragement. No one chooses to be disciplined, or whipped for that matter.

But this is a picture of God’s correction for his children. Our Creator knows us best and knows the discipline that will achieve the desired result. He is not politically correct. God cares little for the rules of man, when they do not align with His word. Here He endorses whipping as a correction for children. God’s age of accountability is about twelve years old, so this would seem to be the age that such discipline is no longer warranted.

Also, we should not despise the one who disciplines us because he only disciplines us because he loves us. Contrary to the thinking of the PC crowd, we show our love for our children by disciplining our children, not by refraining from discipline. Physical discipline should be a part of that discipline, but only until the age of accountability.

The Lord disciplines adults, as our Father in Heaven. But discipline of adults usually comes in other forms. Physical discipline gives way to discipline of consequences. Adults face hardship, which is a consequence of sin. Our hardship may be a result of our own sin or it may be a result of living in a sinful world.  God allows hardships in our lives in order to discipline us. He disciplines us in order to refine us, to make us better. Through hardship he shapes us into being a child of God.

We should “endure” this hardship “as discipline” (v. 7a). We should understand that God is disciplining us. He is refining us. He is making us better, stronger. He is treating us “as sons” (v. 7b). He is allowing discipline because he loves us, as His son, or daughter.

God loves everyone, and wants no one to be lost, separated from Him. Therefore, “everyone undergoes discipline” (v. 8). The rain falls on everyone. God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness” (Mt. 5:45). Everyone suffers hardships in their life. It is God’s way of correcting us, and showing His love for us.

Hopefully, we learn from our hardships. Hopefully, we are wise enough to know that we must fall in line with God’s ways of doing things if we want things to turn out right. Hopefully, we will reach a point in our lives when God does not allow hardship.

But nothing is guaranteed. We do not know the amount of refining that God wants for each of us. He may have different things in store for some, and choose to allow more refining of them. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isa 55:8).

Whatever the case, we should never resent God for His discipline. He allows it because He loves us. The alternative would be that He does not love us. None of us should want that. So we should rejoice in our hardships, knowing that God is working on us because he loves us. And no matter what, He is always there with us in the midst of our hardships. He has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us. And He always keeps His promises.

December 28, 2015

Hudson Taylor Quotations

Hudson Taylor

Phil 2:16 NIV holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.

Romans 12:1 The Voice Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.

As I’ve been watching the live stream of the Urbana 2015 Conference (continuing all week) I couldn’t help notice that the keynote speaker, Dr. Patrick Fung, is constantly quoting Hudson Taylor, and I realized we’ve never done a quotations piece from him here.

For those who don’t know him, Wikipedia supplies us with this:

James Hudson Taylor (Chinese: 戴德生; 21 May 1832 – 3 June 1905) was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM, now OMF International). Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.

Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the CIM was singularly non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class, and single women as well as multinational recruits. Primarily because of the CIM’s campaign against the Opium trade, Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century. Historian Ruth Tucker summarizes the theme of his life:

No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.

Take some time to dwell on these, and then leave a comment if one particularly impressed you.


Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.


The intense activities of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service.


I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.


I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.


I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.


Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence to be with them.


Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.


To me it seemed that the teaching of God’s Word was unmistakably clear: ‘Owe no man anything.’ To borrow money implied to my mind a contradiction of Scripture–a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and determination to get for ourselves what He had not given.


Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing.


Argument almost always leaves behind a sore feeling in the heart of the one who has been worsted. By loving teaching, by Christ-like living, we are to win this people for our Lord. They do not understand what disinterested love and unselfishness mean: you are to go and live it among them.


The good works of the unsaved may indeed benefit their fellow-creatures; but until life in Christ has been received, they cannot please God.


God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.


sources: Christian Quotes, GoodReads, BrainyQuote, SearchQuotes, LifeQuotes,   OMF.org

 

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