Friday, August 31, 2012

Be Patient and Be Impressed

There are three ways that people view Christ.

There are, of course, those who do not truly understand the character or will of Christ. In John 6:42-43, we learn that there were many Jews who were so puzzled by Jesus' teachings that they viewed Him as a lunatic. Even some of His own disciples, "...when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it" (John 6:60). As we see in verse 66, those confused disciples "went back and walked with Him no more." We see this reaction quite often, don't we? Atheists and those who are outside the realm of so-called Christianity and who are ignorant of the true message of the gospel see it as nothing more than foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Paul himself acknowledges, by inspiration, that "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise" (1 Cor. 1:27). Therefore, "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called" (1 Cor. 1:26). But God has designed it this way. Only those who have truly humbled themselves will be privileged to enter the kingdom of God.

Then, there are those who have embraced Christ out of necessity or desperation. Back in John 6, when many of the disciples abandoned Jesus because of the "foolishness" of His message, He turned to the apostles and said, "Do you also want to go away?" (John 6:67). "But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (vs. 68). Did Peter, an uneducated fisherman from Galilee, understand Jesus' message any more than the other disciples? No! There was a lot that Peter didn't understand, and wouldn't understand for a while, but that was okay. He knew who Jesus was, and He knew that Jesus could provide him with the salvation he so desperately needed! Likewise, there are folks today who believe in Christ, and who follow Christ, and yet it may be that they still don't understand much of the gospel. They may understand the basic structure and message of the Word, but the essence of the Word hasn't permeated their heart yet.

Finally, there are those who have worked and studied for years to understand the gospel of Christ, and finally, it begins to all come together. No longer is the Bible just words on paper, facts to be memorized, and rules to be obeyed. It becomes something much more...something "living and powerful" (Heb. 4:12) that consumed our lives. We begin to see people differently. We begin to see the natural world differently. We begin to see our own lives differently. Our priorities shift, not grudgingly, but willingly and happily. And we become so thoroughly moved, so completely impressed, so reverently humbled and enamored and overwhelmed by the testimony of scripture, by the character and wisdom of the Almighty God, and by the promise of heaven. 

How do you view Christ? Are you unimpressed, baffled and confused by the foolishness of the gospel? Have you embraced the gospel out of necessity or desperation while continuing to struggle with faith? Or have you reached that point where Christ has consumed your life to such an extent that you see Him in everything around you?

If you're not there yet, be patient...and you will be impressed!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remember, Thank, Praise!

The nation of Israel had endured many years of instability. Saul had managed to keep the people unified, but the latter part of his reign was especially erratic as he pursued with paranoia the Hebrew hero, his arch nemesis, the former shepherd, David. Then Saul was slain by the Philistines in battle, and the political climate really turned stormy. The former captain of Saul's army quickly made Ishbosheth, Saul's son, the king of Israel, but the tribe of Judah appointed David as its king. Eventually, Abner was slain, then Ishbosheth, and all the tribes came together at Hebron to make David the king of ALL Israel. After years of drama and disunity, David became that unifying force that was so desperately needed.

After conquering Jerusalem and making it the new (and more centralized) capital of the nation, one of David's first acts as king was to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Not only did he have a desire to please God, and God's plan was for the ark to be in the most holy place inside the Tabernacle, this move would unify the people spiritually.

The first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem failed! When David became aware of the problem, he made the corrections and finally, the ark arrived in Jerusalem. It was a triumphant day that stirred the Jews' spiritual affections and turned their hearts to God. After offering burnt offerings and peace offerings to God, David gifted all the people with loaves of bread, pieces of meat, and cakes of raisins (1 Chron. 16:1-3). This was the Jews' first real celebration in a LONG time. There wasn't just victory. There wasn't just unity. There wasn't just peace. There was joy!

With all of this in mind, focus your attention on 1 Chronicles 16:4...
"And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel."
Now that the Tabernacle was erected and the ark safely inside, the Levites and priests could resume their God-ordained work as prescribed in the Law of Moses. David gave instructions to the Levites that we would ALL do well to heed, and no, I'm not talking about the work of ministering before the ark of the Lord. As God's people today, we ought to commemorate, thank and praise God in response to the blessings He bestows upon us.

What is most interesting here is the order...

To "commemorate" is to remember. We ought to first of all remember that our blessings are from the Lord (James 1:17). When something great happens in your life, don't pat yourself on the back. Remember that God is the source.

Then, once you recognize and remember the SOURCE of your blessings, thank Him. Don't just have a thankful disposition, express your thanks. After all, when you do something for someone, it's always nice to hear them say "thank you." So don't assume that God knows you're thankful. Say it! Thank the Lord, and mean it from the bottom of your heart.

If you've commemorated and thanked God, your thoughts will not only be centered on God, you will most likely find yourself admiring God's goodness and will be overwhelmed with affection for Him. God is so good to me. How could the mighty Creator of heaven and earth even take notice of me, much less show such kindness to me? Wow! God is good! The result? Praise Him! Worship Him! 

Like the Israelites of old, we are all encumbered with hardship in this life. We are faced with instability, stress, drama, discouragement, and so many other things that distract us from God. But let's not fail to recognize God's blessings. In fact, let's take full advantage of those times of joy and spiritual awakening by remembering God, thanking Him, and praising Him, thus prolonging our joy and implanting those positive, spiritual affections deep in the soil of our heart.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Losing Your Identity

There is a lot of talk these days about identity theft. It isn't uncommon for people to have their most personal information stolen, their bank accounts drained, and their credit ruined by some tech-savvy criminal. Not only do such actions wreak havoc on our finances, we are left feeling very if someone has invaded our privacy. The point is: we take great pride in our identity.

Of course, we don't have to have our identity stolen by a criminal to know that our identity is one of our most prized possessions. One of the greatest frustrations in life (and the most awkward) is when someone doesn't approve of some innate part of our character and insists that we give up or lose that part of our identity in order to please them. These comments shatter our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

As important as our identity is to us, and as much as we want to be accepted for who we are, the main objective of Christianity is to change your identity. Notice these two verses in Ephesians...
"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision..." (2:11).
"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk..." (4:17).
The Ephesian church consisted primarily of Gentiles. In other words, these were people who didn't have a Jewish heritage. Instead, they grew up in pagan societies and homes. If a Jew was converted to Christ, they did have to make some changes, don't get me wrong, but if a Gentile was converted to Christ, they had to make a lot of changes - the way they spoke, the way they dressed, the way they viewed God, the way they did business, the way they interacted in society, their schedules, and their sense of morality. They, more than the Jews (in general), completely lost their identity when they agreed to faithfully follow the Lord.

Imagine having to lay aside your former self and start from scratch. Maybe you don't have to imagine. Maybe you know how difficult that is. Maybe you've been working on that transformation.

Or maybe your attitude is: "God should accept me as I am, and so should you." Maybe you're too attached to your identity. Maybe you don't like the idea of God "stealing" your identity. Listen closely: that's the very essence of Christianity. We must deny self (Mt. 16:24), be transformed according to the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2), and allow Christ to live through us (Gal. 2:20). As a Christian, it's not longer about you; it's about magnifying CHRIST by your words and actions (Phil. 1:20-21).

God won't accept anything less.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Atheists' Sad But True Claim

This picture (at left) accompanied a recent article on Apparently, a group called American Atheists Incorporated is putting up billboards along key highways that attack both Christianity and Mormonism, pleading with drivers and viewers to instead accept atheism on the basis that it is "simply reasonable."

If you haven't already, take a look at this billboard and the atheists' accusations against Christianity. As you can see, they refer to the God of the Bible as a Sadistic God, label Jesus as a Useless Savior, and contend that Christianity is a religion of hate, despite our assertion to the contrary (which is, I believe, aimed at our condemnation of the sin of homosexuality). As a Christian, it is frustrating to see such false allegations plastered on billboards like this, but honestly, it's not surprising. We can't help how people interpret the nature of our God or the purpose of the gospel. Even the Jews of the first century who heard and witnessed Jesus, were angered by His teachings and viewed Him as a "useless savior."

However, what really bothers me is how American Atheists Incorporated condemns Christianity on the basis that there are "30,000+ Versions of 'Truth.'" This bothers me, not because the Atheists are saying it, but because it's true. What REALLY bothers me is that not only is it true, but the majority of those who call themselves "Christians" are accepting of this division and even HAPPY about it.

Roman Catholic. Greek Orthodox. Lutheran. Presbyterian. Methodist. United Methodist. Episcopalian. Baptist. Southern Baptist. Free-Will Baptist. Missionary Baptist. Pentecostal. Oneness Pentecostal. Assembly of God. Church of God. Christian. And on, and on, and on, and on.

Most in the denominational world never question denominationalism.

Some even say that it's GOOD that we have so many in we get to choose the church and the faith that best suits us. Us. Me. We. Our. I. Prefer. Like. Feel. Me. Me. Me.

It's time we focus our minds HUMBLY on God. What does God say? How does God want me to live? What is HIS truth? Not my intepretation of His truth, or my church's intepretation, or that church's interpretation of His truth. What is HIS Truth???

You wanna know the saddest part of it all? Jesus Himself warned us.
"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be ONE, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:20-21).
When God's people are unified - perfectly unified (1 Cor. 1:10) just as the Father and Son are perfectly unified, working together according to the pattern of God's word (John 17:17; 1 Cor. 4:6) - our unity will serve as a testimony to the world that there is a God and that Jesus is His Son. But when God's people are divided, disjointed and denominational, we're making it that much harder for others to believe in the gospel. Our carnality - for denominationalism is predicated on carnality (1 Cor. 3:3) - is ruining our credibility. Denominationalism and division displease God, but the Devil loves it.

Will this problem ever go away? No. But don't be a part of the problem; have the courage and fortitude to be a part of the solution.

When Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), Jesus didn't say, "There are 30,000+ versions of truth." Actually, He didn't answer that question right then and there. But what I do know is that He constantly affirmed ONE truth (Jn. 14:6; 17:17). Become part of the solution by seeking (Mt. 7:7), hearing and obeying (Jas. 1:22) the truth..and don't stop until you're absolutely sure you've found it, and then keep pressing forward, learning, growing, changing, and losing yourself in Christ!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Predestined HOW?

"...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:4-5).
This is a controversial text. In fact, any verse that mentions the word or concept of predestination is going to incite controversy and debate among religious people. There are those who see this passage in Ephesians and conclude that God has predestined each individual to be either saved or lost. The Calvinists take it a step further, arguing that God's predetermined plan negates man's free-will. After all, if we can make our own choices, then God isn't truly sovereign. While I strongly disagree with the Calvinist's concept of predestination, it is clear that the Bible does teach predestination. The question is not whether we are predestined, but HOW we are predestined.

In many ways, this is a complicated study. However, I like to keep things simple, especially when I'm writing articles for my blog. So I'm not going to analyze every aspect of this issue, nor will I address every detail of the above passage. What I'd like to do instead is direct your attention to another passage in the very same chapter...
"In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise..." (Eph. 1:11-13).
In verse 11, we are once again told that all saints are saints because we've been predestined to be saints, but the specifics of our predestination are outlined in verses 12-13. God predestined, or predetermined, that those who hear the word of truth, trust in Christ, and believe, are sealed by the Holy Spirit (marked as saved). So as the old saying goes, God predestined the plan, not the man. It's not that each individual was predestined to be saved or not saved; it's that those who would subject themselves freely to the conditions of the gospel of Christ were predestined to be saved.

EVEN IF one argues that the man has been predestined, or more accurately, foreknown, what this passage proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that we do maintain free-will. The language of verses 12-13 makes that point very clear. 

hear, trust, and believe in Christ = series of free-will choices

Are you choosing today to hear the Lord, to trust Him, and to believe Him? Please do!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Did Saul Inquire?

As I was reading in 1 Chronicles 10 this morning, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before...
"So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse" (1 Chron. 10:13-14).
The point is made that Saul consulted a medium for guidance, but did not inquire of the Lord. So not only was it wrong for him to partake in the sin of sorcery, but in so doing, he failed to seek help and mercy from the One who could actually give it - GOD!

But here's what is especially interesting about this point. In 1 Chronicles, Saul's death (and the reasons for his death) are being summarized after the fact. In 1 Samuel 28, we find the actual narrative. Notice what is written in 1 Samuel 28:5-7...
"When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, 'Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.' And his servants said to him, 'In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.'"
I had always assumed that Saul had inquired of the Lord, but the Lord had chosen not to answer Saul on account of his unfaithfulness. I had this image of King Saul pouring out his heart to God, seeking His counsel, and yet it was too late - Saul's fate (at least in the physical sense) was sealed; he was to be taken out of the way, and David brought in to fill his place.

But as we read in 1 Chronicles 10, Saul didn't really inquire of the Lord. While some may look at this as a blatant contradiction, I'd like to see it as a commentary on Samuel's account, and here's what I conclude: even though Saul went through the motions of inquiring of the Lord, his heart wasn't truly invested in the prayer, he lacked true humility, and was not sincerely interested in the Lord's will. Or perhaps, even though he prayed and besought God outwardly, he was unwilling to repent and change his ways.
"Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:11-12).
"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).
There are people today who, like Saul, may pray outwardly to God for answers and for help, and yet because they are unwilling to align themselves with the plan and purpose of God, God doesn't hear them. To put it another way, there are folks who are inquiring of God outwardly, but they're not inquiring of God inwardly. 

So here's the question for you (and for me): are we living how we want to live (rather than how God wants us to live) all the while expecting God to hear our prayers and have a relationship with us? Are we praying for His guidance all the while ignoring His word which He gave to guide us? 

Or are we truly humble in His presence, living faithfully and obediently to His word and thus enjoying the blessing and privilege of prayer and the peace that results?

Hopefully, the latter is true in your life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Don't Beat Yourself Up

I'd like to begin by directing your attention to the parable of the Pharisee & the tax collector, which can be found in Luke 18:9-14. Although this parable is well-known in religious circles, many often walk away from this parable with a false and very dangerous assumption.
"Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
In this parable, we see a contrast between two men: the Pharisee and the tax collector. While the Pharisee exhuded arrogance unbecoming of any child of God, the tax collector freely acknowledged his shortcomings and humbly sought God's mercy. The Pharisee in this parable was condemned by Jesus. The tax collector went home "justified."

Many read this parable and conclude that all of us fall into one of two categories. Either we are arrogant and self-righteous like the Pharisee or we are humble like the tax collector. Either we boast about our good works and see ourselves as better than everyone else (the Pharisee), or we beat ourselves up and see ourselves as nothing but perpetual sinners and failures (the tax collector). Remember, this parable was intended, not to degrade righteous people, but to humble self-righteous people (vs. 9). Thus, the tax collector is not being held up as a model for us; he is being used to further enrich and deepen the ugliness of arrogance in religion by way of contrast.

To put it another way, Jesus isn't saying that we must always carry with us a self-defeating attitude, and that if we don't, we must be self-righteous like the Pharisee. He's simply telling us not to be self-righteous like the Pharisee. That's the point of the parable.

Consider with me the following statements and tell me which category these statements fall into; do these statements reflect (a) self-righteousness (like the Pharisee), or (b) the self-defeating attitude many impose upon the tax collector?
"For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:4).
"Therefore let us, as many as are mature (perfect in the KJV), have this in mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you" (Phil. 3:15).
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
"But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39).
"For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith" (1 John 5:4).
Do these four statements denote arrogance? Or, do we see a self-defeating attitude? Which is it?

If we believe that we are innocent, and that there are no sins currently staining our souls, are we arrogant (1 Cor. 4:4)? Is it arrogant to see ourselves as mature Christians (Phil. 3:15)? Is it self-righteous to say that we have been faithful to God and will have heaven as our home (2 Tim. 4:7-8)? Is it haughty to claim that we are faithful and obedient servants of the Most High God (Heb. 10:39)? Are we just like the Pharisee in Luke 18 if and when we make the claim that we have overcome the world and have confidence before God (1 John 5:4)? Based on the way many interpret the parable in Luke 18, the answer is "yes."

Or maybe there's a third category. Maybe it's possible for one to be a confident child of God, walking in the light, mature in the faith and assured of salvation without being either arrogant or self-defeating.

Dear reader, we ought not read Luke 18:9-14 and conclude that we must always beat our breast like the tax collector, or that we must always see ourselves as nothing more than wretched, helpless sinners. The tax-collector had sinned, and was honest about his sin, and we should be just as humble and just as honest when we have sinned. But it is possible to walk in the light and be faithful. It is possible for my life not to be characterized by sin as it once was (1 John 3:6-10). 

Either we are the sanctified people of God, set apart from the world and distingued as God's special people (John 17:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:9-10), or we're not.
I could go on, but for now, I'll step down from the soapbox. Those of you who follow this blog know that this is an issue I've dealt with in the past, and the fact is, I'll probably deal with it again in the future. But I'll leave you with one final comment: when God says that He forgives you, believe it, and when God says that when you're forgiven, you're walking in the light of His presence, believe Him. Otherwise, you're not being humble; you're doubting God's promises.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The World of Make-Believe

I was playing with my kids last night in the yard. My son and I were "fighting." He was Pirate Jason and I was Captain Daddy. My "sword" was actually a padded kids' bat, while his weapon of choice was a "fireball" (i.e. a cushioned Cincinnati Reds baseball). Meanwhile, two of my daughters kept climbing up the slide and then crossing over to the top of the Little Tykes playhouse where they'd proceed to cry out, "Captain Daddy, save us from the tower before the dragon (Jason) gets us." 

Normally, I do wrestle with my kids, but it's not often that I enter the world of make-believe, at least not to this extent. And honestly, one of the reason is that playing make-believe with children is always kind of annoying because (and bear with me) not only do they insist on being the good guys every single time (thus making me the villian), but they always win. It doesn't matter how many times you slash them with your wiffle-bat or shoot them with your lightning rod or pelt them with cushioned balls, I, fireballs - they never die or suffer defeat, and yet they expect you to "wince in pain" and fall down dead at even the most elementary combo attack. I mean...what's up with that? Doesn't it ever occur to them that I might want to be the good guy, or that I might want to win sometimes? Seriously, wouldn't you think that they...

Oh. Sorry. I got a little carried away. Where was I going with that? Oh, yeah...

Last night, after we put the kids to bed, I was reflecting on our stint in the world of make-believe, and it occurred to me that the two aforementioned qualities are actually really good qualities with spiritual implications that hopefully they'll carry with them through life.

First of all, it's great that they are naturally drawn to the good side. They don't want to be the villian or antagonist; they want to be the brave warriors that fend off evil. And they actually fight over who gets to be the good guy and who has to be the bad guy. And secondly, even though we sometimes suffer defeat in life (and yes, we ought to teach our children how to respond to defeat with grace and dignity), it is admirable that they are developing a desire for victory - the good guy wins!

Here's the ultimate point, folks: we need to teach our children (and ourselves) that both of these objectives are achieved in Christ. When we obey the gospel and put on Christ in baptism, we are joining the army of the Lord; we're the good guys fighting against the forces of evil, and yes, we will attain victory in Christ!
"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3).
"Fight the good fight of faith..." (1 Tim. 6:12).
"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).
"For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith" (1 John 5:4).
So as much as I might despise always being the villian, and as annoying as it sometimes is to be a weak villian fighting against seemingly invincible heroes, I guess I'll encourage these traits in my children with the hope that they'll apply them on a spiritual level as they one day put on Christ, grow in Christ, and attain the ultimate victory in Christ.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sanctify...Be Ready!

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
We generally use this verse to encourage fellow Christians (and ourselves) to study the Bible so that we can have an answer ready for any religious questions that those of the world might pose to us, and certainly, that is an appropriate application of this verse. However, Peter is not instructing us to prepare for these questions ritualistically as we might prepare for a college exam; there is something much deeper here that we often miss in our understanding of this verse.

Peter tells us to sanctify the Lord in our hearts. To sanctify is to set apart, and the question that naturally flows from this point is: what does it mean to set the Lord apart in our hearts? Well, it seems to me that we as people are easily distracted, and perhaps more easily overwhelmed by the barrage of influences in our lives. Our thoughts and feelings about work, family, politics, sports, entertainment, and even Jesus, blend together to form a kind of stew, rather than an organized 5-course meal. It becomes difficult to separate one from the other. Our thoughts are all jumbled together. And yet this shouldn't be the case! Jesus is to be sanctified in our hearts. That is, He's to hold such a special place in our hearts that we are able at any moment to focus our minds on Him.

By sanctifying Him in our hearts, we will be ready at any moment to articulate our faith - to give a defense for the reasons we have for being who we are spiritually. To put it another way, to effectively articulate your faith, don't try to memorize a bunch of answers - instead, exalt Jesus and His will in your own heart; lose yourself in Him; make Him the focus of your life. In so doing, you won't have to search your mind for an answer, and then work up the courage to voice that answer. When you've sanctified Him in your heart, you will be ready at all times to eagerly share your testimony.

So how about you? Have you exalted Jesus in your heart...far above everything else? Has His will infiltrated your mind and by extention influenced every aspect of your life? If someone came to you right now and asked, "Why are you a Christian?"  or, "How can you believe that there is a God?" would you have a defense ready?

Or would you reply with, "Ummmm..."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Straight & Narrow

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
I'm sure you've read this passage before, or you've at least heard it quoted in sermons, or by others on Facebook, so needless to say, there is no need to devote pages and pages of text to explain every detail of this passage. However, I would like to emphasize two things...
  1. There is a contrast between "many" and "few." According to Jesus, hell will be filled with "many" and heaven will be filled with "few." So...the majority of people are living in such a way that their "life after death" will be characterized by destruction and fire. Are you one of the few who will experience heaven or one of the many who will experience hell? Do you fit in with the majority? Do you feel comfortable in the world? Is your life much like the lives of your friends, coworkers and neighbors? If you do not feel isolated and/or peculiar in this world, then perhaps you need to reexamine your spiritual condition.
  2. There is another contrast between "wide/broad" and "difficult." The path to eternal destruction is said to be wide, meaning it is easy. Conversely, the path to heaven is narrow and difficult. Imagine the ease of driving down a four-lane interstate compared to the difficulty of navigating a narrow, winding mountain the snow. Christianity, in other words, isn't easy. And yet there are so many people who wear the name "Christian" who are just cruising down the interstate of life, seemingly comfortable, complacent and having a grand ol' time. Do you find it easy to be a Christian, or is every day a challenge? Does your faith consume a lot of your time, resources and energy, or do you feel relaxed and comfortable? If it's easy for you to be a Christian, and if you're expending little effort in spiritual matters, you are most likely not on the straight and narrow path that leads to heaven!
How do you measure up?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Flawed Fellowship

"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:5-7).
The word fellowship in the Bible denotes a spiritual partnership or relationship. According to this text, those who are walking in the light, according to the commandments of God, have a relationship with God. John goes on to say in verse 7 that if one has fellowship with God, they also have fellowship with all others who have fellowship with God. So Christians are necessarily bound together in fellowship - saints are partners together in the kingdom of God.

However, while our fellowship with one another is automatic based upon each saint's fellowship with God, we have to make judgments regarding fellowship in this life. In fact, the book of 1 John was partly written to assist the saints in knowing who did have and who didn't have fellowship with God; they were expected to apply these principles; if someone was truly walking in the light, they were to acknowledge fellowship, but if someone was not walking in the light, they were to refuse fellowship. A simple reading of the book will prove that this was indeed one of the primary purposes of 1 John.

Of course, we ought not extend fellowship to those in the world. That is a given. We cannot embrace as spiritual kinsmen those who are of the world and carnal (2 Cor. 6:14-18). However, even among those who profess to be Christians, we must make determinations regarding fellowship even though our judgments may be flawed.

In Acts 9:26, Paul tried to join the Jerusalem church, but the church was "afraid of him," for they knew that he had just recently been making efforts to persecute the church. I would suggest to you that their hesitation and doubt was justified. They could not flippantly extend fellowship to someone whose sincerity and claims they doubted. Thankfully, Barnabas was there to vouch for Paul; based on Barnabas' testimony, they did finally embrace Paul as a member of the church. Their initial perception was obviously flawed, but they were right in being hesitant until Paul's claims could be proven.

While the church in Jerusalem was exercising caution in refusing Paul at first, there is an example where sound brethren were refused on more sinister grounds. In 3 John 9-10, we read of a man named Diotrephes who refused to accept sound brethren, even "putting them out of the church." Diotrephes was not merely being cautious. One cannot argue that this man, despite his flawed judgment, was at least sincere. As the context bears out, Diotrephes was a malicious, prideful, arrogant man who only wanted to control the church.

The opposite is also true...

Just as we can refuse fellowship to those whom we ought to fellowship, so also can we extend felowship to those whom we ought to reject. We see this in 1 Corinthians 5. There was a man in the church who was living in sin, and yet the church had not removed this man from among them (vs. 1-2). In response, Paul told them to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" (vs. 5). In other words, they were to make it known that this man no longer was part of their fellowship, but instead, was living in fellowship with Satan. We see a similar situation in 2 Thessalonians 3, and in Revelation 2:20, we learn that the church in Thyatira had tolerated a woman among them whom they should have rejected!

So there are dangers both ways. It is possible to extend fellowship to those we ought to reject, and it is possible to reject those with whom we ought to have fellowship. Again, based on 1 John 1, all of us who are walking in the light necessarily have fellowship with one another on the basis that we each have fellowship with God. Yet here on this earth, we must make determinations regarding fellowship, and sometimes our fellowship is flawed; that is, our judgments and decisions regarding fellowship maysometimes be incorrect.

So what are we to do?

Dear reader, we can only do the best we can based on the evidence before us and how the actions of the individual match up with the teachings of the word of God. Sometimes, this is very easy. Sometimes, it is not. Therefore, we must constantly be studying God's word, praying for wisdom, for clarity, and yes, for God's mercy and forgiveness if and when our judgments are misguided or mistaken.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Decoding Revelation

The most popular book of the Bible may very well be Revelation. It is also the most controversial and the most abused! The general consensus is that it foretells events that are yet future, but this interpretation is incorrect. In this brief article, I’d like to share with you 3 rules to “decoding” the message of Revelation.

First of all, “the revelation of Jesus Christ” was “sent and signified” (Rev. 1:1). This means that the book is written in signs, or symbols. To interpret the details of this book literally is to ignore the very nature of the book.

Also, the events of Revelation would “shortly take place” (1:1). Since the book was written in the 1st century, we can say with certainty that John was not prophesying events that would occur more than 2,000 years later. Having said that, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9), and as these same kinds of events occur, God's response will be the same: those who persecute His saints may get away with it for a little while, but they will face God's wrath and Christ will be victorious over His enemies!!!

To be more specific, Revelation was addressed to “the seven churches in Asia” (1:4) to comfort them as they endured a period of tribulation (1:9). It may be that the judgments in this book were against Jerusalem (AD 70), or possibly Rome which persecuted the church in the 1st century. It would be cruel to address Christians in the first century who were experiencing hardship and persecution by promising a divine response (judgment) that would be applied to a latter-day period of tribulation, not to their own.

There are other things that could be discussed, and the 3 rules mentioned above could obviously be fleshed out. Perhaps the simplicity and brevity of this article will encourage deeper study. Please contact me or comment below if you have any questions or disagreements.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ah-Ha Moment in 2 John 9

There are certain verses that I've quoted so much that I've memorized them from the repetition. In battling such a lackadaisical attitude towards God's authority, 2 John 9 is one of those verses.
"Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son."
Despite the 100s-1000s of times I've cited this verse, I had an ah-ha moment this morning as I worked to prepare class material on 2-3 John. As I reread this verse, I noticed something that I have never noticed before and let me tell you, this revelation is revolutionary!!!

Obviously, this verse consists of two contrasting clauses. The first clause is stated in the negative while the second clause is stated in the positive. The negative: If you fail to abide in the doctrine of Christ, the consequence of your disobedience is a loss of fellowship with the Father. The positive: If you are obedient to the teachings of Christ, you have fellowship with the Father but also with the Son.  The addition of "the Son" is added to the positive clause in 2 John 9. I had noticed this before, but this morning, as I restudied this verse, something clicked and I reached a revolutionary conclusion...

If a person is disobedient to the doctrine of Christ, they don't have fellowship with the Father but the inference is (based on the second clause) that they DO have fellowship with the Son. After all, why else would John add "the Father and the Son" to the second clause. The fact that the second clause contains this subtle difference must alter the meaning of the first clause, right? What this means is that if you're obedient, you gain full access to the divine fellowship - Father and Son. However, if you're disobedient, you only have a partial relationship with the so-called "Trinity," or Godhead; you lose the benefits of the Father, but you maintain the benefits of the Son (i.e. salvation). Don't you see how this must be the conclusion based on the subtle addition in the second clause?

Oh...what's that? Did you say something?

Hmmm. So we can't have a relationship with the Son without obeying the will of the Father (Mt. 7:21-23)? And we can't come to Christ without the Father's approval (Jn. 6:44-45)? And if one knows the Son, they know the Father also (Jn. 8:19; 14:7)? Oh, did you say something else? What about Jesus' prayer in John 17? We can't be one with the Son without being one with the Father, for the Son and the Father are one (Jn. 17:20-21)? Well...hmmm. And if we acknowledge Christ, we have God, too (1 Jn. 2:22-23)?

So what you're saying is that my revolutionary revelation, my "ah-ha" moment in 2 John 9, is wrong? And you're suggesting that I shouldn't pit the second clause against the first? Are you trying to tell me that the subtle addition of "and the Son" ought not be abused to formulate a theory that contradicts the rest of the scriptures? Oh...well, okay. That makes sense.

But if I am wrong in my analysis of the structure of 2 John 9, then what of the common explanation of Mark 16:16 in regards to baptism. You know the verse...
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
Denominational folks often say that because the two clauses are different, that the second clause changes the meaning of the first. In other words, because Jesus doesn't say "but he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned" that Jesus is actually emphasizing faith alone as being the means of salvation and thereby contradicting the first clause which demands both faith and baptism. So if my analysis of the structure of 2 John 9 is incorrect, what about this analysis of Mark 16:16? In both verses, there are two clauses stipulating conditions along with the rewards/consequences of meeting those conditions. In both verses, there is a subtle addition or subtraction from the first clause to the second. You can see the similarities, I'm sure.

In Mark 16:16, you're saying that the second clause doesn't contradict or change the meaning of the first clause just as the second clause in 2 John 9 doesn't change the meaning of the first clause. Okay. I can see that. Then what is Jesus' point in Mark 16:16? Come again? Gotcha. Belief precedes baptism, and therefore in the absence of faith, baptism either won't happen or will be ineffective. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. After all, Jesus does say "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," which is consistent with the rest of the New Testament (John 3:5; Ac. 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Thanks for straightening me out on that before my ah-ha moment in 2 John 9 turned into a full-fledged doctrine that caused division in the Lord's body. Shew. That would've been bad.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Don't Settle for Good

"But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more" (1 Thess. 4:9-10).
The Christians in Thessalonica were praised by Paul more than once for their loving and benevolent spirit (see 1 Thess. 1:8; 2 Thess. 1:3-5). This was clearly one of their strengths. And yet Paul urged them not to settle for "good," or even "great." His admonition was for them to "increase more and more."

It is so tempting to settle for "good." We think we've really accomplished something when we become slightly better than average. We know more about the Bible than most. We pray more than most. We help people more than most. We think about God more than most. Our marriage is better than most. Our children are better than most. So we become complacent. We stop growing. After all, so long as we're slightly better than most, so long as we're "good" or "great," there's no need to press tirelessly onward. Right?

When we fall into this trap, we're actually working to please ourselves and other men rather than God. The status-quo becomes our standard, rather than the Lord. Notice what Paul says in another place:
"For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Cor. 10:12).
As we are taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:10, we should NEVER become complacent. It doesn't matter how strong you are, there is always additional progress to be made. Stop looking at everyone else. Stop seeing how you measure up to others in the church. Instead, focus on the Lord and His word. Remain humble. Strive to not only perfect what is lacking in your faith (1 Thess. 3:10), but continue to perfect even the works and qualities that are abundant in your faith.

Don't settle for good. Don't settle for great.

Just don't settle. Ever!