Christianity 201

March 30, 2017

The DNA of the Very First Church

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

Characteristics of a Blueprint Church

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

They devoted themselves

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

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

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

Apostles Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

March 27, 2017

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

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

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

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

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

Allow me to explain…

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

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

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

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

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is freedom.

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 14, 2017

After Suffering for 12 Years, A Woman Encounters Jesus

Kelsey Lewis is currently a full time seminary student working on her MDiv at Emory University in Atlanta. She wrote what follows to be part of an oral presentation, but after reading it on her blog Faith(,) in Words I asked her for permission to share it here. Many of us are familiar with the first scripture portion, but it takes the second one to put it in context. Click the title below to read at source.

Within Reach

The following is a manuscript from a short sermon I preached in my Preaching class on February 23, 2017.

 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5: 24-34

I would like to read one more passage for you. From the book of Leviticus:

19 “ ‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “ ‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. … 25 “ ‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. … 29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “ ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’ ”

Leviticus 15:19-31

This is not a passage that you or I have likely heard read aloud in church. However, I wanted to lead with it as I introduced you all to our subject today because these laws followed her everywhere she went. In fact, the words in Mark used to describe her condition, “spring of her blood” were a direct reference to this Levitical passage. She—along with every woman of sexual maturity—but especially she, would have been very familiar with such laws. It was this passage that added insult to the injury of her suffering, keeping her in a perpetual state of uncleanness, unable to touch without contaminating.

All three synoptic gospels give an account of this woman’s story but Mark, usually the most succinct, gives us the most details into her background. The passage characterizes her as one who has suffered. And her suffering is threefold:

  1. She suffers bodily from what is a likely a painful condition, which persists for twelve years of her life. Despite having seen countless doctors, her condition continues to worsen.
  2. She suffers financially, having spent everything she has on failed medical treatment.
  3. She suffers socially.

As alluded to in the passage and as was customary, such a condition would have required her to live outside of the city wall, on the literal margins of society and everyone who came into contact with her would have had to go there too to offer a sacrifice in a purifying ritual, and wait until evening to be ritually clean again. The gospel writer would have us know this about her so that we understand the scandal and the audacity of what happens next.

In an act of desperation, she reaches out for Jesus, touching his robe. . . and it works! She feels herself healed inside. As Christ says, it is her faith that has healed her.

More amazing still is Jesus’ reaction to her touch. I can imagine her fear as Jesus looks around for her and she realizes she has been caught and cannot go unnoticed. But he shows no concern for her impurity. In fact, just after this passage—presumably within the same day in the narrative—he goes to Jairus’ home and grasps the hand of a dead Gentile girl, an act which may have set a record for most purity laws broken at once.

In a stunning reinterpretation of the law, Christ not only liberates her from her bodily physical suffering, he liberates the community around her from fear of her impurity. He shows us this: It is not her impurity which goes forth onto Jesus, but his power that goes out upon her touch. It is not her impurity that is the contagion, but Christ’s power which cannot be contained. Impurity which kept her ostracized for 12 years has no power in the presence of God’s holiness.

No matter how far on the margins you are, no matter how unclean or unfit you or others perceive you to be, Jesus is not beyond your reach. In fact he may be closer than you can imagine. You see, a study of this word “suffering” which in this passage is associated with the pain this woman has endured for twelve years reveals that every other use in the book of Mark and 11 times out of 12 in the entirety of the gospels reveals that suffering is connected with Jesus Christ as the sufferer. The Biblical author would have us associate suffering with the suffering Servant himself.

As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, verse 12:  “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”

You see, not only does Christ situate himself so that we may reach him in the city among the “pure” folk, but he comes to us, and inhabits that outside, marginal space with the suffering. That is the power of God’s contagious love over our suffering. God has come down, not to contain Godself to the holy of holies, but as an uncontained, unbridled force, extending far beyond the limits of our social constructs, lighting up the darkest corners of unmentionable pain, even out beyond the city gates where the “impure” and “unholy” reside. In Jesus, God climbs down into our suffering with us and redeems it with God’s holy presence, so that as we reach out, we can be assured that God’s power goes out to meet us.

 

March 12, 2017

A Fractured Gospel

by Russell Young
Although the gospel message has been around for about two thousand years, its understanding remains muddled. The Word has presented that eternal salvation comes through a person’s “doings,” through obedience, and through belief. It seems that many have selected from these the option that appeals to them and have concluded a means of meeting God’s condition so that they might rest their hope in him. The truth is that all three are components of the same gospel truth and they need to be appreciated as such. Belief (faith) motivates obedience and obedience compels the believer to act in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to God.
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It gets tiresome to attend to debates, written or verbal, about the validity of one component while disregarding the others. The disputes are endless and where eternal salvation continues to be perceived as through a single factor the debates will continue to persist and will achieve nothing except division and lost souls. Time and energy are wasted and confusion is produced as many self-righteously defend their position. Unfortunately, after two thousand years, church practitioners have often become entrenched in reliance upon a singular aspect of the gospel and objectivity has been lost. Consequently, many who now claim to be called to present the gospel cannot even clearly define it. This ought not to be so. Too many people are being left stillborn in churches while others are dying in the deserts of their communities.
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Jesus taught: “Do not be amazed at this (the Son of Man having authority as judge), for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (JN 5:28─29 NIV; See also 1 Pet 1:17; Mt 7:2; 12:36; Jn 5:28─29; 2 Cor 5:10) A person’s doings or practices should not be confused with the issue of “works” which applies to salvation through the works of the law. The Lord taught that evidence of faith, a person’s testimony through his or her practices, matters.
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In Hebrews it is recorded: “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Christ also presented the need for obedience-Mt 7:21; 2 Thess 1:8─9; Rev 12:17, 14:12, Rev 22:14 (KJV), etc. The Lord is the Spirit and one purpose of his indwelling presence is to sanctify the obedient believer and to fit him or her for God’s heavenly kingdom. The believer must be made into the likeness of God’s Son (Rom 8:29) if he is to enter God’s kingdom.
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Many times the Lord has proclaimed that salvation comes through belief or faith in his person and ministry. However, belief is revealed through the practice of obedience. It is recorded: “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18─19 NIV) Those who do not obey Christ, the Spirit, lack saving faith and will not dwell with him.
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Faith/Belief resulting in obedience and “doing good” is what saves a person from judgment and into God’s glorious kingdom and presence. Without righteousness, which is the result of God’s “handiwork” (Eph 2:10) and is achieved through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), the confessor must remain forever separated from the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
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The truth of the gospel needs to be appreciated and clearly proclaimed if the dead are to be brought to life. Confusion is destroying the church of God and making it powerless is a depraved generation. Those who loudly proclaim a component of the gospel as being the necessary and full truth will be accountable for much one day. Those who are confident that they have brought many into the kingdom may find that they, like their sheep, will be shut out from the wedding feast and from God’s holy kingdom. Many false promises through a fractured gospel are being persuasively proclaimed to win the lost to church communities. In the end, many are presenting no gospel at all.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and 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

 

February 21, 2017

Worshiping in Vain

We’ve linked to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian before at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently not here. Time to fix that! Click the link in the title below to read this at source; there are some really good articles.

What is Vain Worship?

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ words and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

The Context – Jewish Traditions

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees because His disciples ate food without first ceremonially washing their hands according to Jewish customs. In order to help his readers understand what was going on, Mark explained, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). And he even added, “And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4).

The Pharisees thought their strict customs and traditions were necessary in order to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses by eating something “unclean.” However, Jesus’ disciples were not observing these customs; which is why the Pharisees were very critical of them and of Jesus.

It’s important to recognize that nothing in the context is about worshiping “the way we want” versus worshiping “the way God has told us in His word.” That is an important discussion to have, but it is NOT the discussion Jesus was having with these Jews.

The Meaning – Vain Worship

The word, “vain” means “useless” or “empty.” It means “hollow” or “unsuccessful.” When Jesus used Isaiah’s words to criticize the people of His day, He wasn’t criticizing the way they were praying or singing. He was criticizing their hearts and the way they were living.

He went on to criticize the way they kept the custom of “Corban,” but disobeyed God’s command to financially provide for their parents. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Jesus was saying, “All your words about honoring God are worthless. You say you love Him, but you don’t. Your religious piety is just a show you’re putting on for people. Your customs and traditions are for your own benefit; not because you actually love God.”

The Application – Vain Worship in Modern Times

I would certainly agree that we should worship God the way He says for us to worship and we should not invent unauthorized ways of worshiping. In fact, I could not agree with that more. But if we think avoiding “vain worship” is done by simply worshiping according to the rules, then there is a very good chance that we ourselves are truly guilty of vain worship.

I can’t help but think of Christians and congregations in the 50s and 60s who discriminated against people of other skin colors. That was vain worship! They were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They maintained their custom of discrimination, segregation, and racism, saying, “That’s just the way things are done around here,” while they rejected God’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. Critical of the church down the street for worshiping in an unauthorized way, but all the while being guilty of truly vain worship.

And we continue to do such things today. Our worship is vain anytime we honor God with our lips, but we are more concerned with keeping the religious customs and traditions of our time than we are the actual commandments of God.

It’s interesting how many religious customs and traditions we have:

  • What time we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • How many times we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • Whether or not we have a Wednesday Bible study.
  • How we dress when we come to worship.
  • Whether or not we offer an invitation at the end of a sermon.

None of these traditions and customs are inherently wrong; just as the washing of hands in Jesus’ day was not inherently wrong. But they become wrong when God’s people are more concerned about keeping traditions and customs than we are things like:

  • loving our neighbor
  • loving our enemy
  • not slandering anyone (including political leaders)
  • not being greedy or covetous

These are things God actually addresses and commands, but often we are more concerned with keeping our customs and traditions than we are obeying the actual commands of God. This is when we are truly guilty of “vain worship.”

Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Examine your life. The question isn’t, “Do you worship according to the rules?” but rather, “Do your words and your life reflect true devotion to God?”

 

 

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

February 9, 2017

Leading Like Jezebel in Thyatira

by Clarke Dixon

You have influence! In every relationship, in fact every encounter, you influence and are influenced. Even where there seems to be disengagement, there is still influence. As we continue our trip through the seven churches of Revelation,we meet a person of incredible influence in Thyatira. Not good influence, but incredible:

I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Revelation 2:20-21

You may have a Jezebel in your life, exerting incredible influence. Not good influence, but incredible. You may be the Jezebel in someone else’s life. Jezebel is not likely the real name of the woman in this church. Instead this is a nickname, pointing back to the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. The original Jezebel had incredible influence over the King. Not good influence, in that he was influenced away from Godly worship, but incredible. We have the capacity to influence and be influenced away from a God-focus. Therefore we need to take influence very seriously. So what are the leadership lessons we can learn from Jezebel?

One person’s influence can be extremely important. When you think of the great themes and scope of the Book of Revelation, it is remarkable that this one woman should get a mention. We are not told if she has an official leadership position. That does not matter, for we can wield incredible influence without an official position. I’ve seen some people wield incredible influence on individuals, and an entire church, even after they have passed away! Do not underestimate the kind of influence a Jezebel can have in your life, in your family, or in the life of your church. And don’t underestimate the power you exert over others. You do have influence. Are you using your influence to draw people toward Christ’s Kingdom, or away?

To claim to speak on behalf of God is a very big claim. Jezebel “calls herself a prophet” (verse 20). Broadly defined, a prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God. Jezebel was not doing that at all. Her advice directly contradicted that of the apostles at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to stay away from idolatry and sexual immorality. Her advice directly contradicted the commands and wisdom of all the Scriptures from Genesis on. Do we allow people to “speak on behalf of God” in our lives who have no right to? Are the spiritual leaders of our lives full of Biblical truth and the Holy Spirit? Or are we sometimes the ones to get preachy without a good grasp of Biblical truth and fullness of the Holy Spirit?

That you reap what you sow is still true, and so what you sow as a person of influence is very important. Jezebel will reap what she has sown: “Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings” (Revelation 2:22).

Grace is a wonderful theme in the Bible and comes to its most profound expression in Jesus. In Jesus, we do not reap what we sow, we reap what He has already sown in his death and resurrection. He sows love, mercy, and forgiveness. We reap eternal life. We also reap what the Holy Spirit sows, a Kingdom life, a life marked by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But we might take a Jezebel detour. We might insist on doing the farming ourselves, throwing away the Holy Spirit’s seed, preferring to sow our own seed instead. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. If people are allowed to have a Jezebel influence in our lives, don’t be surprised by consequences. If we lead like Jezebel, don’t be surprised if like Jezebel, we reap what we sow. Let us reap what the Spirit sows instead.

Shepherding is a great image for leadership. The concept of leadership carries through the letter to Thyatira:

 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-28

“To rule” in verse 27 is literally “to shepherd” and reflects the Greek translation of Psalm 2:9 quoted here. Christian leadership is not just influence for the sake of having power, it is about shepherding. It is not so much power over, but responsibility for. There are three aspects of shepherding to think about.

First, the shepherd is not the owner of the sheep, but is accountable to the owner. All leaders are accountable to God, even if they do not believe in Him.

Second, care of the sheep is an important aspect of the shepherd’s work. We can think of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures.” The good shepherd leads the the sheep to good pasture.

Third, the shepherd is to have concern for the safety of the sheep. Looking to Psalm 23 again: “your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” Thy rod and staff comfort me because with them you can chase away predators.

Keeping in mind these aspects of shepherding, we can clearly see that Jezebel was no shepherd. In not repenting, she was not being accountable to God. She had no care or concern for the sheep. In fact she was leading them into danger. In contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep (John 10). Are there Jezebels in your life who throw off accountability, who are influencing you though they have no care or concern for you? Are you a Jezebel, or do you shepherd people?

You are, whether your realize it or not, a person of incredible influence. But is it good? Are you a good shepherd, like Jesus? Or a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, like Jezebel?


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

February 8, 2017

Christ as Seen in Ephesians

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Robert Lloyd Russell’s blog. He is one of the most faithful and disciplined online Bible study writers I’m aware of. My hope is that when you’re finished today’s short reading, you’ll click through and look at both the content he offers and the way the studies are organized.

This is reprinted from “Abundant Life Now,” a free blog which offers inspiring moments, thought-provoking comments, and solid Biblical insight at http://RobertLloydRussell.blogspot.com/ .

Christ in Ephesians

~ Jesus Christ Is Cornerstone of The New Temple and the Head of His Church ~

The Bible is about Jesus Christ ~ “Jesus said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

Jesus Christ in the Book of Ephesians ~ As the Head of the Church Jesus Christ is the Giver of ministry gifts, the Christ of unsearchable riches, and our glorious treasure. He is also our Reconciler, and Heavenly King.

The Old Testament anticipated that the Messiah would be a Temple builder. Jesus Christ has come and is building a temple—but not a physical bricks-and-mortar temple. He is the chief corner stone and the foundation has been built with the apostles, prophets. His saints (both Jewish believers and Gentile believers) are completing this most important of all temples.

Now, therefore, you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Comment ~ We have only touched the surface of Christ in the book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul told us the Scriptures present many shadows of things to come but the reality is found in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Compare the Following Passages:

Ephesians 5:31 with Genesis 2:24

Ephesians 6:2-3 with Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16

You’re invited to read one of the O.T. articles in this series: Christ in the Book of Joshua. (The entire series is linked in the page’s left sidebar.)

February 2, 2017

Religion and Sex, Here, and in Pergamum

by Clarke Dixon

Old fashioned fuddy-duddies in a society that is enlightened and progressive. That is how many people would describe Christians today, especially in the areas of religion and sexuality. In matters of religion the contemporary trend is to either deny, or affirm, all of them. You can practice one, but don’t dare say it is the only one that is true. And in matters of sexuality, there are no rules, so long as it is consensual. If only the Church would get with the times and not be so stuck in the past! But is this fair? Has society truly progressed leaving the church stuck in the past? The letter to Pergamum in the Book of Revelation helps us answer this question.

While the faithfulness of the Christians at Pergamum is commended, there is something that Jesus must address:

But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Revelation 2:14-15 (NET emphasis mine)

Whoever the Nicolaitans were, the main concern is with their teaching on religion and sexuality. To understand why this is important, it helps to know something about religion and sexuality in a Roman city like Pergamum.

The word that could be used to sum up a typical Roman view of religion is confusion. Confusion because the gods were always in a mess. When men create gods in their own image, the gods start to look and act a lot like men. Character deficiencies are to be expected. If the gods could be in a mess, they would hardly be in a position to give moral guidance. You would be excused for being in a mess too. Further, you could be confused about whether the gods like you or not. You might pour out the proper libations to the proper gods, but if your boat sank, it was pretty clear they were not happy.

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from confusion in matters of religion, to clarity. God was not created by men, but He is the Creator Who has revealed Himself. His character and nature are clear. His moral guidance is clear. That you have the opportunity to stand in a love relationship with God is clear. Yes, you might pray and your boat might still sink, but that God loves you is still clear. The proof was not in a safe voyage across a sea, but in the cross of Jesus Christ which brings us safely from enmity towards God to intimacy with God. With the Gospel, confusion is replaced with clarity. 

The word that could sum up a typical Roman view of sexuality is power. Adultery, prostitution, sex with temple prostitutes, sex with prepubescent boys; all of this was not just allowed, it was encouraged. The free Roman male should do all this, and should not blush. You had sex, not because you were in love with someone, but because you had power over them. What kind of a Roman man are you if you cannot prove your strength and power?

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from a place where sex is about power, to sex being about love. You might think that the Romans were free in matters of sexuality, and that Christianity came to replace freedom with rules. But the move is not from freedom to rules. Instead it is from a power trip to a journey of love. Paul in speaking about renouncing old ways has not changed gears when he says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” (Ephesians 5:25 NRSV). Among other things, this is still on the theme of living a new way, and not the old Roman way. In Christ, husbands are called to sacrificial love, and this includes matters of sexuality. Loving your wife means giving up the prostitutes and whatever other sexual interests you had as a Roman man. In places like Pergamum the Christians were the enlightened and progressive ones calling people away from the old status quo of sex as an expression of power to a new way of sex as an expression of love. 1

We clearly see this shift in matters of religion and sexuality at the Council of Jerusalem. The big question facing the Church at the time was whether non-Jewish people needed to become Jewish as they became followers of Jesus. Here is the conclusion they sent by letter:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

In other words, you do not need to become a Jew and keep all the rules of Judaism when you become a follower of Jesus. But you can no longer live like a typical Roman! Roman confusion about “the gods” does not mix with Christian clarity about the love of God in Christ. Roman emphasis on power in matters of sexuality does not mix with the Christian emphasis on sacrificial and covenantal love.

At Pergamum, the Nicolaitans were pressuring the Christian community to ignore the wisdom of the Jerusalem council and keep living like typical Romans while also looking to Jesus. They are called to repent, keeping in mind that while Rome ruled with the power of the sword, the Romans themselves were accountable to a more powerful God.

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. . . .  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Revelation 2:12,16 NIV

So are we being old fashioned fuddy-duddies, out of step with an enlightened and progressing society? Should we join with the Nicolaitans and mix our Christian faith with changing Canadian values in religion and sex? Actually, in throwing off the beliefs and ethics grounded in our Christian heritage, our society is not moving forward, but moving backward – to ethics recognizable to pre-Christian Romans. In throwing off an exclusive belief in Jesus as Lord, society is moving from clarity about God and His love to confusion. And in throwing off Christian ethics in sexuality, society is moving away from love as the anchor. When you un-stick religion and sexuality from God’s Word, you quickly become unglued. As Christians, we are called to join God in turning religion and sexuality from confusion and power, to clarity and love. There is nothing old-fashioned about that!


1 I am always indebted to the work of Biblical Scholars as I am in the habit of consulting various Bible Commentaries in the preparation of sermons. One book in particular helped shape this sermon: Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Michael Rueger, who points out the Roman view of sex as power, and the Christian call to love.)


Read today’s post at Clarke’s blog, Sundays Shrunk Sermon.

February 1, 2017

No Human Body Could Take the Full Impact of God’s Presence

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2013.


Exodus 33 20No One Can See God And Live

Occasionally I will read or hear conjecture as to what a “glorified body” will consist of when we leave this life and begin life in a New Earth governed by a new order. People speak of being able to transport instantly from one location to another in a manner reminiscent of Star Trek’s “beam me up.” Others wonder about food consumption, since scripture mentions a “marriage supper.” One discussion centered on clothing, because in God’s original order in the garden, the man and his wife were naked. (The conclusion was that yes, we will be, but our minds will be changed so we won’t think of it the same way.)

But I think the biggest change that will occur in those bodies will be that we will be able to withstand seeing God; we will be able to contain the impact of His presence. Have you ever heard that phrase, “No one can see God and live”? Where does that come from?

The reference is from Exodus 33:20. Here’s the story of a direct conversation — not a vision or dream — in context from the NLT with the key verse underlined:

Moses Sees the Lord’s Glory

12One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

18Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh,c before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

(whole chapter)

This is reinforced in the New Testament:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

and

John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

and

1 Timothy 6:16 12Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.13I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate,14that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,15which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,16who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

(A parallel to that last passage is something familiar if you’ve sung the chorus How Great is Our God: Psalm 104:2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. )

That doesn’t mean that some have not come close. We know that just a chapter later, when Moses received the “big ten” his face shone when he came down from the market.

The Radiant Face of Moses

29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

This is confirmed in II Cor. 3:7 (ESV)

7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

This is also reminiscent of the familiar passage in Isaiah 6

1It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

5Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Finally, we can’t begin to scratch the surface of this topic without considering the transfiguration in Matthew 17:

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Be sure to see also Revelation 10:1

Today’s reading was prepared using the online site, Bible Hub.

January 24, 2017

Was Jesus Spinning Moses’ Law?

This week’s sermon contained a verse I had never noticed before. Using modern terminology, some would argue that the writer of Hebrews is saying that Jesus spins the law different.

(NLT) Hebrews 7:12 And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it.

(The Voice) Hebrews 7:12 because when there is a change in the priesthood there must be a corresponding change in the law as well.

(NCV) Hebrews 7:12 And when a different kind of priest comes, the law must be changed, too.

Hebrews is a difficult book on the best of days but this verse really arrested me as I looked at it. After checking StudyLight.com and GodVine.com — both of which reprint material from some classic commentaries — I decided to go with Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason Ministries, an excellent apologetics organization. (Greg’s new book The Story of Reality has just released this month; more info at Zondervan.com.)

Today you have a choice; you can read the commentary on this verse by clicking the title below as usual, or you can click through and watch and listen to Greg’s answer on video. (I encourage you to watch the video version.)

What Does “Change of the Law” in Hebrews 7:12 Mean?

Does Jesus change the law? Here, we are referring to the Mosaic Law. The verse says, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” What it sounds like initially is that Jesus is tinkering with Moses. Moses gives the law, and then Jesus comes in and begins to tinker with it. There do seem to be some occasions where that happens. In the Gospels, Jesus means to clarify and give a deeper insight. That is certainly not what’s going on in this particular case, however. Something else entirely is going on. There’s not a tinkering with the Mosaic Law, there is an exchange of law systems.

We’re going to employ a rule that we emphasize at Stand to Reason all the time. It’s called, “never read a Bible verse.” If you’re going to try to figure out the meaning of a verse, it is not enough to read one verse. You have to read a paragraph or more. Instead of just reading verse 12, you might start with the first verse of the chapter.

In verse 1, there is a discussion about Abraham and a man named Melchizedek who is a priest of the Most High God. Abraham has not yet had Levi, who is to be the head of the priesthood. Abraham gives honor to Melchizedek, showing that Levi, in a sense, is honoring Melchizedek. Therefore, Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood because the lesser gives homage to the greater. That’s the set up for the verse in question.

In verse 11, the Mosaic Law has Levi and the priests making provision for sin. The writer says that if that were adequate for perfection, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek? The writer is arguing that Jesus is a priest, but not a Levitical priest. He was born in the line of Judah. He represents a different more unique priesthood. A priesthood like Melchizedek. So he asks, “If perfection had been attainable, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” There’s our verse.

Do you see how that verse sounds different once we have more context? Never read a Bible verse without the context. What the writer of Hebrews is talking about is not tinkering within the Mosaic Law, but a change of law systems. There was law grounded in sacrifices that make men temporarily acceptable before God through the line of Levi, but that isn’t permanent. We need a different system. Jesus is the priest of that different system. He’s the new covenant, not the old covenant. The old covenant is temporary. It was just holding over until the new covenant came. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins.

The writer of Hebrews says Jesus brings in a new system. He’s the only one, and He makes perfect those who are sanctified and set aside under that particular system.

The following verse says, “For the one of whom these things are spoken belong to another tribe from which no one has ever served at the alter. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” Yes, there’s a change in law, not a tinkering or adjustment of the Mosaic Law, but a putting aside of the entire system because this was just a picture of the perfect priesthood Jesus would provide after the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is here now, therefore the old system is set aside. That is a central theme in the book of Hebrews, and that is what is being referred to in Hebrews 7:12

 

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

I’ve been wanting to find a way to share with C201 readers this video by David Wesley of a virtual choir representing several different countries singing the classic hymn, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.

Hymnary.org notes that, “When this hymn was first published in 1876, Hebrews 9:22 was quoted underneath the title: ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.'”

At Hymnal.net a reader comments:

…There is a question about whether the Bible itself ever talks of being ‘washed’ in the blood (in Rev 1:5 the verb is better translated ‘loosed’ or ‘freed’). But my point here is a wistful sadness that the word ‘sin’ is so often used in the first line rather than ‘stain’. There is evidence that the latter was Lowry’s choice. Of course it rhymes better with ‘again’ in the third line. But more to the point, it is such a colourful word. How easily we can picture the ugly stain of sin blackening our lives like a huge ink-spill. What a pity the more common but less pointed word ‘sin’ is so often used.

Of course, both terms are theologically correct. But the charm of poetry is largely that it can create images that make us envision things in a new and vivid way. Language is one great gift God has given us that separates us from the rest of creation. It is important to make full use of its marvelous potential…

At the blog Before the Cross, Chris Howard has a longer discussion of the hymn:

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence… Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilled on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


 

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

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