Christianity 201

November 26, 2016

2-For-1 Devotional Special: It’s War/Hearing the Truth

Regular readers here are accustomed to this paragraph containing something like, “Today we return to the blog of _________…” It’s easy to work with writers we’ve worked with before, but I try to spend about 30 minutes each week seeing who else is writing good material that we can steal would be a good fit here. That often takes me to the #devotional tag on Twitter where sadly, most of the activity consists of people trying to sell their devotional book. (I have other avenues for blind searches which usually turn out to be more effective: Using the devotional or Jesus or Bible tags on WordPress, for example.)

So today’s new writer is Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him. His writings are shorter — hence the reason you’re getting two today — but thankfully more substantive than many other things you encounter online. (Besides, I really enjoyed reading his personal story.) So click each of the individual titles to read these at source and then look around the rest of his site.

todd-sepulvedaIt’s War!

Scripture

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
2 Corinthians 10:3 NASB

Observation
There is a war going on, but most don’t realize it! I know that sounds like a line from a sci-fi movie, but it is true.

We live in two realms, the flesh, the things we see, touch, smell, etc…,and the spiritual, the things we don’t see.

The evil forces of the devil will do anything to keep you away from spiritual things and the things of God. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in debate, arguments, hate, worry, instead of walking in the Spirit and the things of God.

Application
Can you identify with the above paragraph? Do you find yourself focusing on the things of this world, when they will pass away, vs the things of God, which are eternal?

If so, you need to wage war! This is a purposeful, focused, disciplined way to live. Press into the things of God. Don’t let anything pull you away. Know that when things come against you, they very may be the work of Satan trying to derail your relationship with God!

Fight back! God is more powerful! You are His child! What Father wouldn’t come to the rescue and help of their own child?

Remember, this war is for eternal lives!

Prayer
Lord, help us to realize that we are in a spiritual war. You have given us everything we need to fight and stand firm. Give us strength and insight so that we don’t allow the ploys of the evil one to distract us from living for You.

Hearing the Truth is Tough

Scripture

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
2 Samuel 19:5-6 NASB

Observation
David had to flee Jerusalem because His Son wanted to kill him and take the throne for himself. After David’s men defeated and killed Absalom, the only thing that David could do was weep. A day of great victory turned into a day of great mourning.

It would have been bad for David if Joab wouldn’t have given him some much needed advice.

David was heartbroken, understandably. But he should have also been grateful for everyone who put their life on the line to protect him and the rest of his family.

Application
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are off course. It is good to have people in your life that will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t like it at the time.

Be grateful for those people. Choose to listen with an open mind and be led by the Holy Spirit to see if what they are saying is from God. If it is, make the change, change your course.

The other side of this is that there might be someone in your life that needs to hear something that might upset them. Pray and ask God if it is something you should say. Then pray that the Lord gives you the right words to say.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for bringing people in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth. Help us to prayerfully consider what they say and help us to not be so into ourselves that we can’t identify You speaking. Also, help us to be that person for others. Give us insight and the words to say, that we would be a blessing and help someone get back on track with You.


Todd attended Houston Baptist University with a dual-major in religion/Christianity and Communications/Mass Media with an emphasis in TV production and journalism. He and his wife Belinda ran a group home for kids in Children’s Protective Custody for 11 1/2 years. They were the youngest group home parents the agency ever had, and he had to get an insurance waiver to drive the van. At the same time they planted a church which ran for 14 years.

 

November 13, 2016

Relish Meat in Your Spiritual Life

by Russell Young

Teachings about spiritual maturity are of more importance than might be appreciated at first glance.  The Word speaks of the necessity of being “born again,” but a new birth is the production of a baby, or in a spiritual sense, of a spiritual infant.  An infant is incapable of doing anything; he or she is there in body, soul, and spirit but needs constant attention and cannot function as a contributor to the kingdom.  This is not the permanent state to which the believer has been called.

The believer has been delivered from the law and from his or her sinful state so that they might be useful to the kingdom of God. (Ep 2:10; 1 Cor 11─15) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:13─14 NIV) Spiritual maturity comes from training about righteousness and it is something that every believer needs to pursue if he or she is to grow to spiritual adulthood. The teachings that are often presented as being of greatest importance have been referenced in Hebrews as being elementary or “milk.”  “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1─3 NIV)

As important as the foundational teachings are, they do not provide the understandings that develop spiritual maturity.  In fact, the writer has revealed that if a person falls away through lack of righteous practices after having “tasted” the presence and the power of the Spirit—enjoying milk–, it is impossible to bring him or her back to repentance.  They are not to become “lazy” or indifferent concerning issues of righteousness. Paul stated that, “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Rom 6:19 NIV) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)

Spiritual maturity is a matter of applying the knowledge that the believer has that compels him or her to live righteously before the Lord.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6 NIV) To hunger after and to thirst for demands an earnest seeking for righteousness so that their thirst and hunger might be quenched. The Lord is eager to assist in this matter. Righteousness is not given at the time of confession of faith; Paul said that it is being “awaited” through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), but those seeking it must deliberately train themselves to distinguish good from bad. Spiritual maturity comes through training and practice, from seeking and following, from crucifying one’s interests and through suffering in order to defeat temptations. Its development often requires the Lord’s discipline and the acceptance of punishment. Paul taught that we must “offer [ourselves] to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13 NIV) If a person is to live he or she must “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13 NIV) Spiritual maturity demands the development of a special kind of living where a person’s natural spirit with its interests is put to death and the life of Christ is lived. It is obedience that brings righteousness and life. (Rom 6:16)

Spiritual maturity comes from dedication to obeying the Spirit; it is not freely given.  Those who rest in the nourishment of milk as their spiritual food will remain unskilled in in achieving spiritual maturity and even risk dwelling apart from the Lord. (Mt 13:41; 1 Jn 3:10; 2 Pet 2:21) And, those who teach that milk is sufficient food for life will produce spiritual babies and are even deceptive in their teachings. (1 Jn 3:6; Gal 6:7─8)

Spiritual maturity is to be sought; it is to be pursed with all a person’s heart, soul, mind, and body so that the believer can gain victory over the flesh, the evil one, and the world.  It is those who “overcome” who will dwell with the Lord in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

July 24, 2016

Sanctification by the Blood and Sanctification by the Spirit

•••by Russell Young

A person’s understanding of sanctification and its application is significant when it comes to his or her knowing the truths of the Word of God and in understanding the doctrine of salvation.  Sanctification is revealed as coming by the Spirit, by the blood of the covenant, by the truth, and by the Word.

sanctificationThe Greek word hagiazo which has been translated as sanctification means “to sanctify, to consecrate, or devote a person or thing to a particular, especially to a sacred, use in service to God.”  The Greek hagiasmos, also translated as sanctification, is “intended to express a state or attitude of voluntary consecration to God, a continued act of consecration; or a state of choice as distinct from a mere act of choice, an abiding act or state of choice, a standing and controlling preference of mind, a continuous committal of the will to the highest well-being of God and of the universe.” (Charles Finney, Lecture LVIII) Accordingly, a person is sanctified or consecrated to God by the blood of Christ when he makes a confession of faith and proclaims the Lordship of Christ.  However, continued consecration must be realized through a person’s abiding attitude to God as revealed through his or her practices.

The believer cannot be sanctified or consecrated to God and seek his or her own interests.  Sanctification following confession of faith necessitates death to self, a voluntary state of devotion to the Lord’s purposes.  “Sanctification is nothing more nor less than entire obedience, for the time being, to the moral law.” (Finney) It is the attitude or abiding in a sanctified state of consecration to God that requires the Spirit and his ministry.  Although a person might be set aside in part for building the kingdom, he may yet not be cleansed (transformed) in heart and mind for that purpose or to dwell in the kingdom.

Paul taught that he had been chosen “to be a minister of Christ Jesus so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16, NIV) He was not addressing sanctification by the blood of Christ, although that is essential. Accordingly, his teaching addressed the need for a person to have the attitude or the will to walk righteously so that he or she would become an offering acceptable to God “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  To Titus and to the Thessalonians Paul revealed that salvation came through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13, NIV) To Titus he wrote: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) The Holy Spirit provides renewal (transformation) through the indwelling presence (Col 1:27) of the Spirit of Christ as he washes away the darkness that pervades the believer’s heart and mind.

Vessels that are unclean, including people, cannot be used for noble kingdom purposes.  It is necessary for the believer to live righteously and to be transformed through the sanctifying work of the Spirit if he or she is to be used for noble purposes by God.  Paul wrote to Timothy: “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim 2:20-21, NIV)

Neither is sanctification a singular event as by the blood of Christ as some accept.  Its state must be maintained or kept. (1 Thess 5:23) The writer of Hebrews recorded that those who deliberately keep on sinning are treating “as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them.” (Heb 10:29, NIV) The “blood of the covenant” is the shed blood of Christ that brought the Old Covenant to a close and allowed the believer right to the New Covenant.  It purified him or her and set them aside for use in God’s service. (Eph 2:10) The blood of the covenant sanctified the believer concerning the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) The sinner had been dead in his trespasses and sins and has been given new life for service to God. This is sanctification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, through his willingness to take on himself all of the sins of the world.  The believer’s sins were washed away and he was left pure. Sanctification by the Spirit is to follow.

The Lord spoke to His disciples concerning the need for continued cleaning.  Before His crucifixion, He washed His disciples’ feet.  Peter had objected to act of what he perceived as being humiliating to his Lord and told Him, “You shall never wash my feet.”  The Lord responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  Peter then wanted to be washed all over.  The Lord again addressed him: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10, NIV) Although many take this as representing a person’s need to be humble in service, the issue is really one of spiritual cleansing or of sanctification.  The disciples had been sanctified or as He has stated, have had a “bath.”  However, throughout the day their feet had become dirty.  In a spiritual sense, throughout the day they had been dirtied by sin.  He needed to cleanse them of this if they were to have any part of Him.  The “bath” is “the sanctification of the blood” while the washing of the feet (one’s daily sins- sanctification by the Spirit) still needed to be done.

When the writer of Hebrews related, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”, he is stating those who deliberately continue to sin are showing disregard for Christ and His sanctifying ministry for the believer, both on the cross and following.  The Spirit of grace is insulted when a person has failed to honor the Lord’s ministry in his or her life.

Sanctification by the Word and by the truth refer to the same issue. (Jn 17:17) God has revealed his gospel and the truths that he expects to be honored concerning his law and through his covenants.

The Spirit, if followed (“obeyed”-Heb 5:9) will accomplish the righteous requirements of God’s moral law (Rom 8:4) and leave the one who is believing sanctified, holy in his sight, and suitable for his Kingdom.

 

March 20, 2016

A Monumental Error

•••by Russell Young

There is a monumental error being taught and accepted that equates one’s redemption with his eternal salvation. Unless the fullness of the gospel is presented, many may end up to be eternally disappointed. Paul wrote: He redeemed us in order that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14, NIV) The purpose of the redemption provided by Christ is so that we might receive the Spirit. It is the Spirit who brings eternal salvation! (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) The blood offering of Christ does NOT. The sacrifice of Christ has prepared the believer for the gifting of the Holy Spirit, “Christ in you,” (Colossians 1:27) so that he might enjoy Christ’s indwelling presence and on-going ministry.

One’s redemption is the first step in achieving an eternal hope. The blood of Christ cleanses the believer of his “past sins” and allows him the jurisdiction and power of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6). Paul wrote that the justification provided by the blood of Christ was not sufficient to avoid the wrath of God. Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:9-10, NIV) The Spirit gives life.” (John 6:63) Christ is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18) More is required than the believer’s redemption or reconciliation; the life of Christ must be lived in the believer following that point if he is to have life.

There is much rejoicing for the gift of eternal life that presenters think the redeemed possess. Following one’s redemption the one who professed the lordship of Christ (Romans 10:9-10) may yet abandon his pledge. John chapter 15 makes clear the possible impermanence of one’s position in Christ. If the believer does not produce fruit, he may be cut out of Christ (v.1), and Christ said that if he [the believer] remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit (v.5) and if one remains in Him, his prayer requests will be answered. (v.7) These “if” statements put a condition on one’s place in Christ.

In another place the Lord Himself proclaimed, I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35.) Paul has written that a son is one who is led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14) and that we have an obligation to put to death the misdeeds of the body because if we live according to the sinful nature we will die. (Romans 8:12-13)

Although redeemed, Paul was not confident of his own resurrection. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings [Hebrews 2:18] becoming like him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all of this. (Philippians 3:10-12) If Paul lacked confidence, how is it that believers today can rest their confidence in a pledge once made and in their redemption. One’s redemption is a form of salvation (deliverance) but it is NOT eternal salvation.

One’s redemption at the time of his confession frees him from the law and brings him near to God so that he might be given the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that brings about one’s “eternal salvation.” This truth needs to be appreciated and believers need to be taught and need to learn how to be led by the Spirit. They need to love the Lord with ALL of their mind, soul and heart. Nothing less is satisfactory. Because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16, NIV)

The monumental error that many have accepted is that their redemption means their eternal salvation, whereas it is only the first step to gaining that eternal hope. The life of Christ must be lived in them yet. He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

Paul has made it clear, 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. (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV) One’s doing following his redemption is important and it is his obedience (Hebrews 5:9) to the Spirit that will allow him eternal life.

August 30, 2015

Keeping Your Thought Life Pure

This weekend at Thinking Out Loud we’ve been running two articles which deal with your thought life. (They are each double articles, so really we’ve run four over Saturday and Sunday.) You can connect with those articles here and here. In going through my files I discovered I also covered something similar at C201 — perhaps it’s a different type of purity of thoughts — and while we rarely repeat a devotional here…

Purity of Thought = Purity of Heart

Love Believes The Best

James 3:17 (NIV) But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

James 3:17(Message)Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.

I Cor. 13:7(Amplified) Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

I Cor.13:7 (CEB)Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful, and trusting.

I Cor 13:7(TLB) If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

Matt. 5:8(KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

We live in a time where when we think of purity we think in terms of moral purity. Surrounded as we are by images and ideas that are sexually licentious, we tend to characterize purity as the absence of those influences.

Surely no one would argue the importance of this, and I have written many times here and at Thinking Out Loud on the importance of controlling our thought life and endeavoring to cultivate a healthy mind.

But purity in scripture can mean so much more than abstinence from thoughts about sex or not engaging in immoral behavior. It can also mean a wholesome outlook, and a wholesome attitude.

When we look at the character of Christ, Philippians 2:5-7 does not say

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,who did not think lustful thoughts or look covetously at women.

Yes, the scriptures are careful to tell us he did not sin:

Heb.4:15(NASB)For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Rather, the Philippians passage talks about his servant heart. His life is characterized by the things he did do, he humbled himself, he took a servant role, he submitted himself to death.

From our opening scriptures, we see that purity of thought, or purity of heart will involve things like:

  • working for peace
  • consideration of others
  • a submissive (teachable) spirit
  • acts of mercy
  • impartiality
  • sincerity
  • getting along with others
  • gentleness
  • consistent character
  • possessing an enduring hope
  • supportive and loyal
  • trusting
  • always expecting the best

It is the last characteristic (and the verse in James) that launched this study today in my own heart. The pure in heart have a positive, non-critical spirit. Love may critique, but it doesn’t criticize. Murphy’s Law may suggest that things are going to go wrong. The Peter Principle may suggest you’re going to get reassigned to a job you can’t do well. But the Christ-follower is buoyed not by a blind optimism, but by an attitude that believes the best and expects the best.

Their outworking of spiritual wisdom begins in holiness and righteousness; that’s what makes their advice, their counsel, their entire comportment pure.

Image: WalkGood (click image to source)


The second link in the introductory paragraph is to an article which ends with this story…

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

July 22, 2015

Ushered into The New

Today’s thoughts mark a second time appearance from Harvest House author Bob Christopher at the blog Basic Gospel. Click the title below to read at source.

Where Freedom Rings

Spiritual birth ushers us into the new. Paul made this point clearly:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Ready or not, the new is here.

• A new life – Romans 6:4.
• A new identity – John 1:12.
• A new self – Ephesians 4:24.
• A new heart – Ezekiel 36:26.
• A new covenant – Hebrews 9:15.
• A new command – John 13:34.
• A new way – Romans 7:6.

You might not know what this new life in Christ will look or feel like. And at first, it may feel a little awkward or strange. Like the Israelites, you may look back to your old life, especially when you feel down or blue, or when you are going through a tough circumstance. At those times, Satan will do his best to make you think your old life was pretty good. “Remember all the fun you had when you…?”

But as Peter wrote, “you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do, living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3). It is time to let go of the old, to stop looking back, and to embrace the new.

There is nothing to fear. Jesus Christ is with you. He will never leave you. This means freedom for you, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The “new” that Christ has for you is better than anything you could ever dream or imagine. And besides, you can’t go back. Once you are in the light, you can’t go back to darkness. Once you have been set free, you will never be a slave to sin and death again. Once you cross over from death to life, the only way is forward in the newness of life.

This is where freedom rings.

Excerpted from Simple Gospel, Simply Grace; Harvest House Publishers

March 29, 2015

Don’t Get Pushed Around

galatians5_1

Devotional ideas come by a variety of means. Today I found a scrap of paper in something my father owned, on which was written the name Richard L. Strauss (a Christian writer, not the music composer). I looked into his writings and much of what is available online would be too lengthy to use here, but this one met the size parameters, and I felt I was meant to use it today. The scripture verses are in King James, but you can update them at BibleGateway.com or similar sites. The late Dr. Richard L. Strauss was pastor of Emmanuel Faith Community in Escondido, California.

Why Get Pushed Around?

NOBODY LIKES to get pushed around. We don’t like to get stepped on, taken advantage of, treated unfairly, or denied our rights. True, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. But we still find it demeaning and degrading to get pushed around.

When it comes to spiritual issues, however, all of a sudden most of us get very weak-kneed. All of a sudden, we’re ready to back down, to give in, to roll over and play dead. And yet, this is where the Bible tells us to hold fast.

No wonder, therefore, the New Testament has so much to say about standing firm. I would like to explore some of the Scriptures in which the Greek word steko, meaning “to stand firm”, is used. Let’s find out the specific issues on which we are to stand firm, the specific areas where we must refuse to let Satan push us around.

1. In the faith.

Spiritual warfare is stamped all over the four commands the Bible gives in I Corinthians 16:13. It reads: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”

First, “Watch.” Like armies in battle, we Christians should always be watchful of enemy movements; we must be constantly on the lookout for potential attack by Satan. Secondly, “stand fast in the faith.” When we see an attack coming, we may be most tempted to retreat, or even desert. But when our faith is threatened, God wants us to stand firm, to hang tough.

The last two commands involve combat itself. “Quit you like men” is a quaint King James rendering that means “Act like men”. In other words, be brave, be courageous, whatever dangers you face. And finally, “Be strong.” Use all the power that God has made available to you through His Spirit.

AWOLs. The ranks of professing Christians has had many deserters. Most Christian young people know, for example, that the Bible’s explanation of life, the universe, man and history is the only truth. Yet, when they are confronted with the anti-Christian bias in the secular school, they wilt.

Christian adults are no stronger. All too often, believers subordinate their Christian commitments to worldly demands; people who profess to be Christians typically allow their work or even hobbies to keep them from studying the Bible or serving their Savior.

In Daniel, we have an outstanding Biblical model of one who is truly standing firm in the faith. Daniel’s commitment to his God was tested from the moment he arrived captive in Babylon as a young man. But when he was forbidden to pray on pain of death, he prayed anyway, trusting God to care for him as He chose.

Let’s dare to be the Daniels in our world. Let us stand firm in the faith whatever the cost.

2. In our freedom.

Freedom from the law is the theme of Galatians. God does not accept us because we’ve kept His laws. We are saved only because He has forgiven us and has granted us the gift of life in His Son.

But there are always people who would like to get you back under the law. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The trouble with the legalists is that they don’t understand God’s grace. They think it’s dangerous to let people out from under the law. Actually, legalism is the more dangerous teaching. For one thing, the legalists tend to compare their “obedience” with others; and pride, of course, goes before a fall.

For another, they tend to rely upon their own strength to keep the rules. And the inevitable result of self-reliance is a spiritual nose dive. Worn out from trying in vain to keep the law in the energy of the flesh, some of them just give up in despair. Others, thinking that God owes them something for their efforts, get disillusioned when they don’t get what they expect.

Paul vs. Peter. Standing firm against the legalists is not easy, to be sure. Strong, seemingly-spiritual personalities will sometimes put heavy pressure on you. Paul had that experience. It was none other than the great Apostle Peter, who got himself trapped in the legalistic rule that Jewish believers should not eat at the same table with Gentile believers, and Peter was influencing others to think the same way.

But Paul stood up to Peter. He wrote in Galatians 2:14: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”

The pitfalls of legalism are endless. Satan would love to get you bogged down in one of them. So, watch out for him. Don’t get tangled up in that web of bondage. Like Paul, we must stand firm in our Christian liberty, as well as in the Christian faith.

3. In one accord.

Paul says in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Instead of maintaining unity and harmony, we Christians have been fighting one another all over the place. Churches are splitting over trivial issues, para-church organizations are feuding against one another, Christian husbands and wives can’t get along, parents and children are at war.

This was a problem at Philippi. After the above exhortation, Paul went right on to settle a church fight between two wrangling women. They were probably fighting over their own views, their own rights, their own ways of doing things. But Paul says, “No, no, no. The most important issue in the church is unity, harmony and love; not your views, your rights, and your ways. Our love for each other is that which distinguishes us from the world. Stand firm in that.”

This often requires our giving in to others, letting them take advantage of us, forgiving them when they wrong us. Isn’t that interesting? Letting others push us around may be the very thing we need to stand firm against Satan, who seeks to sow discord among us. Don’t let Satan push us around in this matter anymore. Stand firm in the faith, in your freedom, and in one accord.

4. In the Apostles’ doctrine.

We read in II Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

What have they been taught? Our King James translation says “traditions”, but the idea in the Greek word paradosis is the authoritative teaching that has been handed down. It emphasizes the authority outside the immediate teacherin this case, the authority of God. He gave this truth to the apostles, and they passed it on, sometimes by spoken word and sometimes by letter. But we have it today recorded and preserved in our Bibles.

To stand fast and hold firm onto the Word of God, we need to get familiar with it. Learn what it means and how it applies to life. Some people will try to move you away from it. They will tell you that it’s old fashioned; they’ll laugh at you for still following it in this day and age.

It would be so easy to get caught in the tide of social or cultural changes. But we must hang on to the time-tested truths of God’s Word. Stand firm. Don’t back down. Don’t let anybody push you around when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture. It doesn’t matter who else believes it or who doesn’t. When you live by the old adage, “If God says it, I believe it, and that settles it”, you will have clear direction and purpose.

Yes, we must stand firm in the faith, in the freedom we have in Christ, in unity and harmony with other believers, and in the doctrine of the Holy Scripture. We can do it because we have Christ who strengthens us. Having now seen what the Word of God commands, may all of us have a little more spiritual grit and gumption in standing up for Christ whenever Satan tries to push us around.


The book title by Richard L. Strauss that was written on the piece of paper is The Joy of Knowing God. It has been posted online and can be read in its entirety without any additional software or apps by clicking this link.  Another book by the same author is also available in full, How To Really Know The Will of God at this link.

February 20, 2015

Building on an Existing Foundation

CEB* Luke 1:1  Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.

When most people start reading the gospel of Luke, any subsequent discussion usually revolves around two things:

  • the painstaking thoroughness of Luke’s account; his attention to detail; his desire for accuracy
  • speculation as to the identity of Theophilus; who he might have been or if the term is a generic to describe God-seekers everywhere, or perhaps a coincidental combination of this with an actual name (such as we get with Barabbas, a sort of Everyman name.)

For that reason, it’s easy to miss what is taking place in verse four.

so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible points out that the word used for taught here is the word from which we get our “catechism” and Michael Card points out in his commentary on Luke that Theophilus is wanting to know more of the background behind the things he has already been catechized in.

In other words, Theophilus is not sitting on the fence here, he’s crossed the line of faith but wants to go deep. He wants to move from Christianity 101 to Christianity 201. And beyond.

Michael Card writes,

…Theophilus is entrusted with one of the greatest pieces of literature on the planet, all for the purpose of being sure of his original catechism.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 33

The IVP New Testament Commentary notes that,

There is a geographic flow to the order: Galilee through Samaria to Jerusalem. But above all, the order seems to be redemptive-historical. Luke is concerned to trace the progress of God’s redeeming work in Jesus, especially by highlighting his teaching and the rise of opposition to him. The emphasis on promise-fulfillment also suggests this sort of order. The Gospel is roughly chronological, but not precisely so. More important to Luke is revealing how God worked through Jesus. This is “sacred history” revealing the order of God’s plan. (emphasis added)

Michael Card also notes that in the verse that follows, “ In the time of Herod king of Judea…” the reference to Herod is intended to send chills up the spines of Luke’s readers. In other words, Luke is doing more than just accurately pinpointing years and months, he is painting a picture for his readers as to the mood of the times in the story. This is the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and the opposition that the IVP commentary references.

Matthew Henry writes,

Theophilus was a person of quality, perhaps of noble birth; and so much the more pains should be taken with such when they are young, to teach them the principles of the oracles of God, that they may be fortified against temptations, and furnished for the opportunities, of a high condition in the world… It was intended that he should know the certainty of those things, should understand them more clearly and believe more firmly. There is a certainty in the gospel of Christ, there is that therein which we may build upon; and those who have been well instructed in the things of God when they were young should afterwards give diligence to know the certainty of those things, to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it, that we may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in us.

While we haven’t used the word so far here, we’re clearly talking about apologetics; of being able to say with certainty, “I know who I have believed…”  (II Timothy 1:12)

We know from the first verse that Theophilus commissioned this writing by Luke. He wanted to know more or perhaps with some of the narrative, he simply wanted to hear it again.  While Luke’s introduction assures us of his attempt to get the story right — to be an exemplary journalist — it also speaks to our need as Christ followers to study, review and even immerse ourselves in the story that changed the world.

So, finally, we can never be sure of the identity of the mysterious Theophilus. But that is not, strictly speaking, true either. He is you. He is me. For we have received some initial instruction on Jesus’ life and ministry. We need to know with more certainty the truth of what we have heard.

~Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, page 34


* Common English Bible

 

 

February 10, 2015

Examine Yourselves

We’re going to do something a little different today and give the writer credit at the end of the piece!

 II Cor. 13:5 NLT Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.

Five Tests of Genuine Faith

  1. What place does my faith in Christ hold in my heart?

It is not enough that your beliefs are merely in your head and expressed by your words or feelings.   If your faith is real, it must possess your heart. That is, your faith will dramatically affect your desires, your interests, and the decisions you make.  Genuine faith will satisfy the deepest desires of your soul.

  1.  How do I really view sin?

If your faith is genuine, you will be repulsed by the sinfulness of sin.  You will view sin as something that God truly hates, and something which renders people guilty and condemned before Him because He is holy.

You will view all sin, even the seemingly small sins, as something deserving of God’s judgment. You will see sin as the root cause of all sorrow and unhappiness, strife and wars,  quarrels and fighting, and sickness and death.

Above all, you will understand that sin is the thing which ruins people eternally, holds us captive, and destroys our happiness —unless we can find someone  outside of ourselves to rescue us from it.

  1. What are my true feelings about Jesus Christ? 

Many professing Christians believe that Christ existed as a great person and teacher and may even view Him as the savior.  They may  belong to and be active in  church, but their intellectual belief never radically transforms their daily life in a deeply personal way.

True faith causes a person to fully embrace Christ as their personal Redeemer, Deliverer, Priest, and Friend — without whom they would have no hope at all.

The true believer trusts, loves, and delights in the Lord Jesus Christ. They view Christ as their only mediator, and means of forgiveness and spiritual happiness.  Genuine believers  find that Jesus Christ is the only source of true peace and comfort  for their soul.

  1. Has my faith produced fruit in my heart and life?

True faith in Christ will produce a turning away from sin (repentance) faith, hope, love, humility, a spiritual outlook on life, gentleness, self-denial, self-control, unselfishness, forgivingness, honesty, love for other Christians, patience, and forbearance.

The manifestation of these virtues will vary and will continue to grow over time, but the seeds of their beginning will be found in every true child of God. By their fruits they may be known. (Matt. 7:20)

  1. What are my feelings and habits regarding the “means of grace”? i.e.  church attendance, fellowship,  private devotional life.

Do you find worshipping with other Christians on Sunday to be a mere duty and drudgery or is it a true delight and refreshment to your soul? Do you look forward to partaking in the Lord’s Supper? Are these things you couldn’t stand to live without or do you have an attitude that you could take it or leave it?

How do you feel about your own personal Bible study and prayer life? Even though you may sometimes struggle to maintain it, do you know in your heart it essential to your well being?  Do you love the Bible and  does it come “alive” for you?  When you pray do you sense that you are really communing with God?

If the means of grace, whether public or private, are not as necessary to your soul as food and drink are to your body — you may well doubt whether your faith  is real.

In conclusion, if you want to know  whether your faith in Christ is genuine and true,   examine it carefully and honestly. If your heart is right in the sight of God you have no cause to fear by doing so. However, if it is wrong, the sooner you find it out the better.


The original author is  J.C. Ryle from the book Practical Religion, published in 1878. (That’s 127 years ago.) This adaptation by Diane Bucknell was found at a website called Theology for Girls (yes, really) which is where the link at the top of the piece will take you.

February 8, 2015

Churches Contain People Who are Good Examples, and Bad Examples

NIV 3 John:9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

Christians and hospitalityFor Sundays in February, we’re highlighting the website Christian Fellowship Devotions. Today we looked at the writing of Pastor Geoff, who has number of articles which together form commentaries on Daniel, Nahum, Ruth, the Ten Commandments and the Bible itself. We were drawn to the section on John’s Epistles, and particularly to the little book of 3 John which is easily overlooked.

We gave today’s item a headline that reflects the central teaching in these verses, but 3 John is also overlaid with the theme of hospitality, hence the graphic at right. To read at source click the titles of the two articles combined below.

Diotrephes

A Negative Example in the Church

I suspect that John was most concerned about the behavior of Diotrephes, as it related to the potential danger to the Christian community. And it is to this he spoke when he wrote the second part of his third letter. He knew the church must remain true to that which advances the kingdom. It could not follow a pattern or a man that was bringing dissension and disruption.

As we have seen in the previous session, there was much going on in this local church that was a positive testimony for the Lord. John had commended Gaius because he, and by inference, the church, where providing the gift of hospitality to servants of the Lord who came through the community.

A Negative Example: But as is frequently the case, there was a fly in the ointment. This fly went by the name of Diotrephes. It appears he had a formal position within the local church. He certainly exercised considerable power. And he certainly was creating major problems through the misuse of that power.

Diotrephes wanted to hold the place of honor, or authority, within the church. He was obviously impressed with himself. He may have recognized though, that authority – and for that matter respect – actually rested in John, and possibility as a result, resented him. Diotrephes had no interest in anything that John might have to say. What are some disruptive examples that you have observed within the church community?

Letters of warning about Diotrephes’ behavior were being ignored. So John spelled out what he would do if he came to visit the church. He believed that it would be necessary to confront Diotrephes face-to-face. He spells out the specific behaviors that were unacceptable. Diotrephes was guilty of gossiping with the intent of creating problems, and undermining John’s authority. Gossip is contrary to Christian behavior. Paul warned about this when he said:

“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).

In Diotrephes’ case, he was using gossip to intentionally create trouble.

Second, unlike Gaius, Diotrephes was preventing the exercise of hospitality to Christians coming through the community. He refused to accept or provide for them. Additionally, if that wasn’t enough, he wouldn’t allow others to offer hospitality. He took action to expel those who endeavored to go counter to his directions.

Good Example, Bad Example

Verse 11-12

Once again, John doesn’t mince words. Immediately following his comments on Diotrephes, he notes that believers are to model themselves after that which is good, not that which is evil. Clearly the behavior of Diotrephes is presented as evil.

John reiterates that good behavior (what Scripture defines as good) can only occur when obedience to God is the motivator. In contrast, those who do evil are functioning outside God’s will. Most likely, he is suggesting that Diotrephes’ behavior demonstrates his lack of godliness. And this being the case, Diotrephes is not to be a model of Christian behavior, nor to be allowed to exercise a leadership position.

A third person in the local body is mentioned. This is Demetrius. He is presented in contrast to Diotrephes. This individual had a good reputation. Everyone spoke well of him. John emphasized that truth itself validated those things said about Demetrius. This means that Demetrius was functioning in the truth of the apostles’ teachings and God’s Word. John knew Demetrius personally, and was able to give endorsement of the godliness of this person. What is the source of a good reputation within the church?

Demetrius is presented as an example of someone who abides in Christ, while Diotrephes is offered as an illustration of someone who is outside the veil of the church. When a person is within the church, but not part of the body, he often chooses the role of disrupter, and can be used by Satan to undermine the efforts to serve the Lord.

John warns this church about the importance of doing all in truth. In the second epistle, truth was the basis for withholding support for people claiming to represent Christ. Here, truth is the criteria by which service is performed.

February 7, 2015

Whatsoever Things are Not ______________

NLT Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

KJV Phil 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I’m currently reading a forthcoming book by David Murray titled The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Christian in a Gloomy World. In the second chapter he takes the familiar scripture above, and turns it on his head by looking at the opposite of the things named in the verse…

Happy Christian…our educational, political, and business culture rewards negativity experts, those who can pick out a single negative in a sea of positives.

We ask our children, “What’s wrong with this picture?” We set class assignments, “Critique this passage,” or “Find the flaws in this article.” We mark mistakes with red ink but don’t waste blue ink on the correct answers. We scan our garden for weeds. We admire politicians and debaters who can punch holes in their opponents’ arguments. We promote lawyers who can detect a loophole from a hundred miles away. We love journalists exposés. We are drawn to watchdogs and discernment ministries. We honor theologians who can destroy a heretic with one devastating put down.” (p. 25)

It’s into that environment that Murray offers a response. To do justice to this would mean excerpting the entire chapter, but I want to share his outline in this chapter. The first section that he calls “Media Diet” simply looks at the opposite of each of the things named in Phil. 4:8. (Eugene Peterson is on the same track with the translation of this verse in The Message.) The second section, he calls “Ministry Diet” and follows the same pattern.

Media Diet

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report”

Ministry Diet

  • More Salvation Than Sin
  • More Truth Than Falsehood
  • More Wooing Than Warning
  • More Victory Than Struggle
  • More Celebration Than Lamentation
  • More Life Than Death
  • More Strengths Than Weaknesses

I hope that outline leaves you wanting to read the book, which releases February 24th in paperback from Thomas Nelson. You can do a similar study by looking at I Cor 13, what we call the love chapter, and from each of the things listed, you can compose a picture of “love’s opposite.” If I were to combine these together and incorporate it into your character not to manifest each of these negative traits, I would certainly be a much better person; and so would you.

 

January 17, 2015

On Being Worthy To Take Communion

Today we return to the website GreatBibleTeaching.com to look at a subject on which people might see it differently depending on their interpretation or their tradition. It’s a longer article today, but the author’s points are easy to follow. You can copy/paste the references into BibleGatway.com to read the texts in your preferred translation. Click the title below to read at source.

Taking Communion and Judgment

One of the beliefs that I disagree with in many churches today, is their understanding of being worthy to take communion. They believe that you have to be right with God, and not have sin in your life, in order to be worthy to take communion. Let’s take a look at the scripture they use to justify this position:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 KJV

At face value, it appears they are right, doesn’t it? It is important to remember that just because the Bible says something, does not mean that the way we interpret it is correct.

What was Paul talking about then?

If you read the full context of the passage, it is talking about the unworthy manner which they were partaking. Most newer translations actually use the words “unworthy manner” (including the NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and RSV). If you read the passage within its proper context, it becomes very clear what it was Paul was referring to. Let’s quote the entire passage:

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

1 Corinthians 11:20-34 KJV

First underlining above speaks of what was actually going on – they were eating and drinking the communion elements to satisfy their physical hunger! It was so bad that they were getting drunk on the wine! Are you kidding me?! Paul was outraged, asking them if they had not homes to eat and drink in. If you study your Bible, those Corinthians were quite a handful. Most of us today wouldn’t dare think of mocking of work of Christ by consuming the elements of communion in such an unworthy manner.

CommunionSecond underlining tells us why they fell under condemnation and drank judgment unto themselves – it was because they weren’t discerning the Lord’s body! Biblically speaking, that is the reason for the condemnation that they came under. It had nothing to do with their hearts not being right in some area of their life.

Third underlining confirms the reason for the condemnation, and it all has to do with eating and drinking the elements to satisfy physical hunger rather than for the purpose to which it was truly intended. Paul tells us to eat at home so that when we partake in the elements, we are not doing so for the wrong reasons. Or in Paul’s exact words, “…if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation.”

Can it be any more clear what it was Paul was referring to in this passage? It’s written in black and white on the pages of God’s Word, but it’s up to us to choose whether we’re going to accept what the Bible really says, or if we’re going to hold on to a religious teaching because of our filters and preferences. You can continue to believe what you feel in your spirit, due to your religious tendencies, but I choose to believe what the Word of God is really telling us in this passage.

Partaking in a worthy manner vs being worthy to partake

Can we partake in a worthy manner? Yes, absolutely! Can even the best of us be truly worthy to eat of the Lord’s body and drink of His blood? No, absolutely not! And to claim that we are worthy is putting an awfully lot of confidence in the flesh and our ability to rid ourselves of sin. To claim that we are worthy to take of the Lord’s body and blood, is very prideful and self-righteous. None of us are worthy to partake in the blood and body of the Lord, and if we are to be worthy, it would only be through the body and blood of Christ making us worthy. If we don’t partake in it, then how are we supposed to become worthy then? That is like telling somebody to wash themselves before they are worthy to take a bath. (more…)

January 9, 2015

On Being Christlike

This is one of those articles that somewhat shocks or jolts you into thinking. For me, that means I have to go back and re-read it all slowly to get what the author is saying. This is from the articles (or “deviations”) page at Pathways International. To read at source, click the title below.

Maybe Christlikeness Isn’t What I’m Supposed to be After

For me, It’s enough of a challenge to do what Christ said to do, better yet to obey, or observe, all he commanded. (Matthew 28:19,20) (John 14:15) (1 John 5:3)  If I were to further pressure myself, at the urging of my own conscience or that of others to ‘become Christlike,’ or to ‘try to be more Christlike,’ then aren’t I trying to attain something different than Jesus intended?

Where do we get the idea that we’re supposed to ‘Christlike’ anyway?

Maybe it’s from one of these biblical passages:

1 John 2:6“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

Ephesians 5:1-2“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

All of these passages involve walking as if the journey to becoming Christlike was exactly that, a journey.  To me, these passages and many others like them are not calling us to become Christlike, but to in every way, as much as we are able in the moment to take advantage of the opportunities to obey Christ’s commands that he has already given us and not create another set of sorcerous and unattainable requisites.

Perhaps the most commonly referred to set of verses that people use to call others to ‘be more Christlike,’ are these:

1 Corinthians 11:1“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:1“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” (NLT)

1 Thessalonians 1:6“So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.”

Again, ‘becoming Christlike’ does not seem to be the import of these passages. Rather, it seems that in our obedience and with Christ as our perfect example, that our actions or conduct in accordance with Christ’s revealed will in the Scriptures, should be followed as much as they are like His.

This can get a bit complicated with many speaking of being incarnational (Being Jesus in our contexts), but again, If pressed, I think many of those in the missional-incarnational conversation would say that the most common understanding of becoming ‘Christlike’ is not what they mean when they use the term.

A few questions;

1.  If you were tasked to defend ‘becoming Christlike’ from scripture, what texts would you use?

2.  Do you get the sense that urging others to ‘become more Christlike’ borders on being Pharisaical or overly religious?

3.  For you, has ‘becoming more Christlike’ been a fruitful endeavor or a weighty impediment? 

December 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part Two

Yesterday and today, we’re running back-to-back expositions from Jesus’ teaching in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Fruit that Remains

rudesheim

Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

December 27, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part One

Vine and BranchesToday and tomorrow we’re running back-to-back expositions of a familiar passage in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Welcome The Vinedresser

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4

Years ago when we lived in Germany, one of our favorite things to do was to go spend time at the vineyards on the Rhine. Watching the vines change and grow as the seasons came and went was fascinating. Barren branches of winter gave way to leafy shoots in the spring. The summer brought ever growing fruit, which lead into the harvest of the fall. The whole process was amazing. We always joked that in some other life we’d own a beautiful vineyard and just hang out with the grapes all day.

This passage in John is a favorite of mine. Although most of my life I didn’t really understand it. After spending time in the vineyards and reading up on how good wine is made, I realized there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The process and science behind the scenes is fascinating. As I learned more, this passage became more personal and more meaningful.

Before anything else, Jesus establishes the relationship in the vineyard. Christ the Vine points us to God the Husbandman. We must remember we are branches – planted by Him in a specific place, cared for by Him and protected by Him.

He then addresses branches that aren’t bearing fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (v.2). This verse has been taken totally out of context by most believers because of the wording. We think if we aren’t bearing fruit or performing, we’ve struck out. God is going to toss us out of His vineyard. But God the Vinedresser does not just throw out His branches! Jesus is speaking here to believers. We don’t get tossed aside. Where our translations say “takes away”, the real meaning of the words is “lifts up”. When vines trail on the ground and get covered in dirt, they can’t bear fruit. He doesn’t throw us out, He lifts us up out of the dirt!

Now for the branches that are bearing fruit: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” If we read this out of context, it seems like either way we are in trouble! We assume pruning/purging to be a painful, punishing process. We are bearing fruit, doing all right when all of the sudden we get whacked and lose half our leaves. We think when tragedy strikes we must be under God’s pruning knife. But here again, we have the meaning wrong. The word “prune/purge” doesn’t imply our Vinedresser runs around willy-nilly whacking at us poor branches. It actually means “to clean or cleanse us”. In a real vineyard, this is an important thing. Leaves and branches must be kept clean from insects and parasites that would kill it. That changes everything! It makes even more sense when you read the next verse:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (v.3) The WORD has made us clean! We see in 2 Timothy chapter 3 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16-17). So it is through God’s WORD that we are corrected, lifted up, and instructed.

God’s type of pruning, like in a real vineyard, leads to mature vines. There is a process to it and thought put into it. The Word is His pruning knife. His Word is clear that He doesn’t need to use affliction to get us to bear fruit. Too often we embrace afflictions as His work in our lives when they are not. Those things can and should drive us to Him and they can teach us. But He has a BETTER way. Through His Word. He lifts us up, shakes us off and cleanses us so we may bear fruit.

As branches, our only job is to rely on the Vinedresser to do His work so we may bear fruit.  Before anything else, Jesus assures us that we are taken care of. He assures us that we are loved and made clean. When we understand that “taking away and pruning” are actually “lifting up and cleansing”, it changes everything! It should make us welcome the Vinedresser into our lives. We can be open to His work because He knows exactly what He is doing!

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