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Author Archives: Gary E. Davenport

About Gary E. Davenport

Christian man, husband, father, father-in-law, and granddaddy

Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – What is Easiest To Say?


Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?

When Adam and Eve had fallen into sin and were hiding from the Lord God among the trees of the garden, he came seeking them not with a rebuke but with a question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9.)

Obviously, divine questions are never asked to get information. God knew where they were, they didn’t hide so well that he couldn’t find them. So the question “Where are you?” was meant to be answered on a deeper level. He asked the question because he wanted Adam and Eve to discover things that they were hiding from themselves.

Answering God’s questions teaches us truths about ourselves that we would otherwise not know. The penetrating questions of God prepare us to hear the rest of what he will say, the words of comfort, challenge, warning, correction, promise, prophecy, salvation, and hope.

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV) 1  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
    With amazing speed the news spread that a miracle-working Teacher had come to Capernaum; and wherever our Lord went, great crowds gathered. They wanted to see Him heal the sick and cast out demons.

Jesus had already attracted the crowds.  Because of that he had attracted the notice of the official leaders of the Jews.  The Sanhedrin was their supreme court.  One of its great functions was to be the guardian of orthodoxy.  For instance, it was the Sanhedrin’s duty to deal with any man who was a false prophet.  It seems that it had sent out a kind of scouting party to check up on Jesus; and they were there in Capernaum. 

3  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
4  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

 

WHAT DOES FAITH LOOK LIKE?

Verse 4 tells us that these four companions dug through the roof to lower their paralyzed friend to Jesus, bringing us to the questions of the physical circumstances in which this event took place. Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you must rely on your friends to help you travel there if you’re not ambulatory.

The homes were small. The crowd filling this home might have numbered fifty, at most one hundred, and we know they were spilling out into the street. The walls were made of stone, but the roofs had beams across them, between which straw and thatch were packed together with clay.

Most homes had stairways leading to the rooftops so people could ascend on hot evenings and enjoy the breeze, using the roof as a sort of porch. Apparently what these men did was climb up the exterior stairway to the roof, dig out the clay and the thatch from between the beams to open a hole in the roof, and lower their friend down to Jesus.

Let’s consider why Jesus concluded that he was seeing faith as this man descended before him from the hole in the roof. These men were audacious enough to believe him! They were boldly saying, “If you say so, we are going to trust that you care more about people than buildings, and we are going to tear a hole in your roof and put before you one of the very kinds of people you said you have come to help.”

They believed the things that he had said about himself and they acted on their belief. They were willing to go to lengths that other people would question.

They were deeply concerned about their friend and wanted to see him helped. They had the faith to believe that Jesus could and would meet his need. They did not simply “pray about it,” but they put some feet to their prayers; and they did not permit the difficult circumstances to discourage them. They worked together and dared to do something different, and Jesus rewarded their efforts. How easy it would have been for them to say, “Well, there is no sense trying to get to Jesus today! Maybe we can come back tomorrow.”

There comes a time in every relationship when a decision must be made that will change everything. And when God himself draws near and we hear his voice, postponement can lead to a hard heart.

5  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
   When they heard Jesus say to the man that his sins were forgiven it came as a shattering shock.  It was an essential of the Jewish faith that only God could forgive sins.  For any man to claim to do so was to insult God; that was blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). 

At the moment they were not ready to launch their attack in public, but it was not difficult for Jesus to see how their minds were working.  So he determined to fling down a challenge and to meet them on their own ground.

It was their own firm belief that sin and sickness were indissolubly linked together.  A sick man was a man who had sinned.  So Jesus asked them:  “Whether it is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”  Any charlatan could say, “Your sins are forgiven.” There was no possibility of ever demonstrating whether his words were effective or not; such a statement was completely uncheckable. 

But to say, “Get up and walk” was to say something whose effectiveness would either be proved or disproved there and then.  So Jesus said in effect:  “You say that I have no right to forgive sins?  You hold as a matter of belief that if this man is ill he is a sinner and he cannot be cured till he is forgiven?  Very well, then, watch this!”  So Jesus spoke the word and the man was cured.

The experts in the law were caught in a dilemma: on their own stated beliefs the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven.  He was cured, therefore he was forgiven.  Therefore, Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true. 

Jesus must have left a completely baffled set of legal experts; and, worse, he must have left them in a baffled rage.  Here was something that must be dealt with; if this went on, all orthodox religion would be shattered and destroyed.  In this incident Jesus signed his own death warrant-and he knew it.

The first part of Jesus’ two-part question in this passage is “Why are you thinking these things?” The second part is “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”

As illustrated earlier by God’s question to Adam and Eve when they were hiding in the Garden, Jesus didn’t ask the teachers of the law, “Why are you thinking these things?” because he didn’t know. Rather, he wanted them to answer the question, to consider why it was that what they believed about God led them to anger and rejection of the possibility of forgiveness of sins rather than hope.

9  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?

 

The second part of Jesus’ question is more logic-based. He asked them to draw a conclusion, and then he acted to prove the point: “If I can do the apparently more difficult, visible, thing, then doesn’t it seem that I can also do the invisible thing?”

10  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—
11  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
12  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The need this man had was for his sins to be forgiven. The paralysis was not the main point, and the hole in the roof was not something that concerned Jesus, because people were more important to him than buildings. Jesus’ focus, then and now, is on what is important, not on the curiosities of the moment.

WHAT SORT OF GOD DO YOU SERVE?

Finally, let’s return to the two questions that Jesus asked the teachers of the law. He had forgiven the paralytic’s sins and given him relief from his desperation over all the things he had done to drive a wedge between himself and God. The man was free of his urgent spiritual burden. The knocking of a hole in the roof was of no consequence to Jesus.

Knowing all of that, Jesus still asked them the question, “Why?” I believe what he was truly asking was, “What kind of God do you serve?”

It is the kind of problem religious people always have: The more knowledge we gain, and the more we are involved in churches and Bible studies and Christian groups and so on, the more we learn to hide sin rather than see it forgiven.

The simple point is, Do we serve a God who is passionate about forgiving sins, who loves to remove burdens from people, who is generous with grace and mercy, who characteristically does good for us rather than raising his eyebrow at us and remaining distant? Of course. Of course his Son will speak of mercy and love, the removal of burdens, and the giving of life. That is God’s nature.

I believe the problem these teachers of the law had was the problem that folks like us have, so it is worth asking, “Why do we have so much trouble forgiving ourselves? Why do we have so much trouble welcoming hardened sinners or difficult people and sharing with them a word of forgiveness? Why would we rather live with cover-up than with forgiveness?”

DOES JESUS HAVE AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE?

Jesus’ other question is one of logic: “If I can do the more difficult, external, visible thing, isn’t it likely that I can also do the invisible thing?” This addresses the question of whether Jesus Christ has the authority to declare, “Your sins are forgiven. The struggle is over. You and God are in perfect relationship again. There is nothing from your past that clings to you any longer.”

Jesus said, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is his message to people like us-people who are aware of our failure, who know there are things about us that we would be ashamed if anyone else ever knew, who long for some relief from the struggle, who want to believe that God will be for us, not against us, who want to start today’s battle with a sense that God is on our side, not removed from us by some distance or barrier, who need the hope that goes along with forgiveness.

1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)
5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7  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.
8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

   To “confess our sins” means to agree with God that an act or thought was wrong, to acknowledge this to God, to seek forgiveness, and to make a commitment to not let it happen again. Augustine observed that confession of sin is a sign that truth, which is itself light, has already begun to illuminate people’s sin-darkened lives.
     But I don’t feel forgiven? 1. Believe God. 2. See yourself as God sees you (cleansed by the blood of Christ).

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Let us shake off paralysis, pick up our mats, and walk.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Sermon

 

Questions Jesus Asked (From the gospel of Mark) – Why Are You So Afraid?


He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

STORM-TOSSED LIVES

The question Jesus asked is preceded by one that was asked of him, and it too is a provocative question. The disciples on the boat woke the Lord and asked him, “Don’t you care if we drown?

This story not only describes an incident that happened in history on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples over 2,000+ years ago, but it also illustrates conditions of life that resonate with most of us. There are times when life is overwhelming and treacherous for us, when there are anxious and threatening circumstances.

We petition God, we seek out friends, we read the Bible, we fast and pray, hoping to penetrate to heaven. And it seems as if our Savior and Lord is asleep. The thing we’re most aware of is the hardship, and the thing we’re least sure of is his love.

Human beings live storm-tossed lives. The most difficult question that non-Christian skeptics ask is the question of suffering. How can God be all-powerful and all-loving and allow his people to live in fear and anguish?

The place Jesus ended in this story is the place that everybody who believes has to come to in theology and experience. He asked the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” In the long run, the problem of human suffering is the problem of faith. It requires that we be persuaded by One whose presence mitigates the need to have our questions answered.

WHY JESUS SLEPT IN THE BOAT

Let’s observe the details of the story. Verse 35 starts out, “…When evening came….” A long day of demanding public ministry preceded this account. Jesus was exhausted. “…He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side’….”

They set out across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, leaving the region of Galilee where Jews predominated and going to a region that was mostly Gentile, the Decapolis area. “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” The words “just as he was” remind us of how tired he was, and indicate why he quickly fell asleep.

It’s helpful to see Jesus unable to keep his eyes open. Have you ever felt that way? We struggle with our weakness and weariness. We wish we could be better parents late in the day, and often we’re too tired to be. Weary husbands and wives have little to offer each other. Making it through the day becomes a major accomplishment.

But it’s encouraging to see Christ in that very same condition, because the words of Hebrews 4:15 come back: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”

He knows what it’s like to be human. He’s been in every human place, been pressured by every human pressure, even such a simple thing as weariness from a day’s hard work. The next time you feel that way, remember you have a high priest who will minister to you with sympathy and understanding.

Another observation that’s worth making from this scene is that after a day of teaching, the Lord decided to leave, precisely because the day of teaching was over. It was useful to those he had taught for him to leave. To hear Jesus speak for an entire day, to fill a notebook full of the themes of the kingdom of God, to be given instruction in the truth in wonderful and creative and picturesque ways, and then for him to leave, suggests to us that there comes a point when learning should lead to obedience.

Rather than allowing these people to spend the next day in another seminar, and the next, as if more information were the key to everything, Jesus realized, “I’ve taught them more than they can handle. And it is thinking harder about what they have already been told, deepening their experience with the truth they already have, that this group in Galilee needs. So I’m going elsewhere for a time.” Similarly, the majority of us in this church have more information than we have experience with the truth, we know more than we believe, we’ve been told more than we act on.

THE PROBLEM OF OVERREACTING

Moving farther into the story, we ought to consider the nature of the storm. Mark records this, probably from Peter’s telling of it, as a “furious squall,” as the New International Version translates it. On the Sea of Galilee, which is roughly the size of Lake Tahoe, there are seasons when gusts of wind blow down off the Golan Heights. It’s set in a valley between hills that form a corridor for the winds. This was not a supernatural event; it was a storm of the type that still happens on the Sea of Galilee. It was a very serious storm. It was at night, which made it even more dangerous. The text is very clear that the disciples faced a treacherous set of circumstances.

But the question that we might ask is whether this was the zenith of testing that these disciples thought it was. Were they in the most extreme of conditions? Were they at their wit’s end, completely overcome, with nowhere to turn? Is that what the passage is telling us? Or was this a storm like storms they had seen before? After all, these were fishermen who had spent their life on this lake. I believe the disciples were overreacting, and we can learn why as we hear Jesus’ question to them.

Jesus was never worried about the storm. When he was awakened, he wasn’t shaken by an awful storm-wracked sea. He rebuked the storm the way you would rebuke an overzealous puppy: “Quiet, stop! Calm down!” One translator renders it, “Pipe down!” And he stopped the storm not because he felt lives were threatened, but so he could have a conversation. He was calming noise and confusion. Jesus treated the storm as a difficult test, a demanding set of circumstances, a hard lesson, but not as if all were about to be lost at any moment.

Many of us conclude at times that we are in emergency situations when we are not. Many of us feel overwhelmed by pressures and demands and stresses. We give ourselves permission to throw up our hands and tear our clothes and wail and feel sorry for ourselves and expect others to coming rushing in to help. We declare ourselves to be at the end of our rope and rail at the unfairness of it all. That is essentially a declaration of immaturity.

This was a hard storm, but the disciples’ sense that their lives were momentarily to be forfeit was an overreaction.

Rather than grab Jesus and accuse him of lovelessness in this out-of-control way, they had the opportunity to face the storm with faith, bail out the boat, and work together with the sailors in the other boats in case someone fell overboard. They had the opportunity to trust God and strengthen each other in very trying conditions.

Young Christians often have the mistaken notion that coming to the Lord means the end of life’s troubles. Did you ever think that? And for many, in the earliest months of Christian life there is wonderful provision. Doors open at just the right moment, the sun comes out just when the clouds seem to be gathering, and wonderful possibilities abound. Then the storm strikes. Maturity comes from trusting God when there is no evidence of his presence. Storms are the school in which we learn faith. Emotional overreaction to demanding circumstances is one indicator of how much we have left to learn.

It was, of course, completely legitimate for the disciples to awaken Jesus. A faithful response in waking him up would be to say, “Here’s a bucket-you need to start bailing,” or, “What do you think we ought to do?” or, “These kinds of storms are nothing to trifle with, and we need all hands on deck.” The problem with their response was that they had concluded that Jesus had stopped loving them, and they had given way to panic.

THE WORST FEAR OF ALL

Let’s consider the struggle that elicited their question and Jesus’ question in response. They grabbed him and said, “Don’t you care? How could anyone who loves us treat us the way you’re treating us?” The sleeping Savior, who had performed miracles for others, was unresponsive to their plight.

Job wrestled with some of the same issues: a God who didn’t respond to the suffering of his loved one. What we usually say to God when we’re hurting is this: “I need you to wake up and change the circumstances. If you really care for me, you’ll do something to get me out of the mess I’m in. But at a minimum, if you don’t change the circumstances, at least explain them.” The Lord could act if he chose to. We know his power is great enough, but the fact that we are still struggling, anxious, uncertain, confused, and weighed down is evidence that he doesn’t care.

It is not physical danger or even the prospect of death that we fear the most. The deepest fears are about eternity and the character of God.

The disciples had placed ultimate hope in Christ. They had seen him release sufferers from the power of demons. They had heard him tell them truths that no one else had ever spoken before. They had heard him pray as only he could pray, with a Spirit-given intimacy with God in his prayers that they had no experience with. They had seen him challenge fleshly religion and declare the love of God. They believed that he was a source of hope, that he could be trusted, that life would make sense with him at the center. But now he was asleep in their hour of need, and they were beginning to say to themselves not, “I fear I am going to die,” but, “I fear he is not who he claims to be.”

I have trusted my life to Jesus of Nazareth who lived as no other has and died as no other has and is now seated at God’s right hand. I would be shaken to the core if these things proved to be a hoax. The disciples on the lake were not most afraid of physical death (by drowning). They were deeply shaken by the possibility that Jesus would put them in extreme circumstances and then ignore their plight-that he was not who he claimed to be. “Do you not care…?”

“The boat won’t sink, and the storm won’t last forever.” The gospel won’t “sink”; it will bear all the weight you put on it. The hope of the gospel doesn’t dim over time or fail under pressure. The Lord will supply our needs for every day of this life and for eternity.

But the second phrase is important, too: “The storm won’t last forever.” It is not true that being a Christian is to be assigned to suffer forever and ever. The end of the story is not more suffering. The end of the story is joy, glory, the approval of God, being made like Christ, fellowship with other people who believe, the end of evil.

A HEALTHY FEAR OF GOD

This account has a great ending. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'” A moment earlier they had been terrified by the storm; now they were more terrified! They saw the one who, with a word, banished wind and waves.

That’s what it means to have faith: to be more impressed with Christ than we are with the problems, to have a fear of God in the proper sense. This is no one to be trifled with, and when he engages our enemies, they will fall. However we evaluate our circumstances, whatever our feelings tell us-and very often they are negative and hurtful, with no reason for hope-against all these is the word of Christ. We ought to be more impressed with him than we are with our analysis of our circumstances.

Moses preached a wonderful sermon in the book of Deuteronomy. He stood before the children of Israel at the end of their wilderness wanderings. He was at the end of his life, he knew, and he would not be with them much longer. He preached of law and covenant, of the past and future, of blessings and curses. At the end of the sermon, this great patriarch, this great man of faith, the friend of God, used one of my favorite metaphors for thinking about God’s love.

Deuteronomy 33:26-27: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.The eternal God is your refuge,and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Always underneath everything is the embrace of God, the one who holds on to us. His arms are everlasting; they will not fail. Storms, problems, pressures, failures, inadequacies, anxieties, confusions-underneath them all are the everlasting arms of God. He will embrace us and hold us up.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun….” That’s what Jesus helped these men in the boat see. Faith that believes that underneath everything are the everlasting arms of God will give us the courage we need, whatever the circumstances.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2018 in Mark

 

Ministry to missing members: How to respond when people are in danger of ‘dropping out of church.’


The Apathetic and Bored Church Member

John S. Savage wrote a doctoral dissertation several years ago on inactive members and the steps they go through to become ‘permanently’ inactive. I believe it will be advantageous for all of us to be aware of these steps and be ready to assist our brothers and sisters if a need arises.

1. The first step is an anxiety-provoking event.

An incident which produces some type of anxiety or uncomfortable feeling in the active member (1) Conflict with the minister; (2) Conflict with another family member; (3) Conflict with another church member.

2 Peter 1:21 (48 kb)We found 95 percent of the people had experienced what we now call an “anxiety-provoking event”-an ape. Subsequent research showed these events usually come in clusters, several apes compounding within six months to a year.

Anxiety is the emotional alarm system triggered by disequilibrium, hurt, or anticipated hurt. The inactive members we visited revealed high levels of anxiety, which drove them from church membership because they were never resolved. Their anxiety fell into four categories.

  • Reality anxiety. This anxiety is based on some real, historical event; you could have videotaped what caused it. Normally the event is a snub or an utter lack of church care when a member needed it.  A family from the church had their home burn to the ground, and their 2- and 4-year-old children died in the fire. How many people went to visit him and his wife? Maybe the minister, but probably not many parishioners. Most would confess, “I wouldn’t know what to say,” as if they had to say something.  That event causes reality anxiety. A family experiencing this kind of tragedy would have a hard time returning to a church they felt let them down when they needed them.
  • Moral anxiety. Moral anxiety arises when people experience in themselves or others behaviors they believe aren’t right.  Immoral sexual activity causes many people to eventually leave the church.
  • Neurotic anxiety. Neurotic anxiety is pain caused by the imagination. Someone may claim, “I don’t go to church because the minister doesn’t like me.” The feeling might be based on reality, but the chances are it’s neurotic. It’s only in the person’s head.  A man goes into the hospital, doesn’t let you know he’s there, but expects you to visit. Then he gets angry when you don’t. Months later when you do call, you may trace his problem to that hospital stay. The man is convinced you don’t care about him. That’s neurotic anxiety.  We can inadvertently foster neurotic anxiety. For example, a minister regularly calls on a couple who are potential members. He spends time with them and makes them feel important. All the time they’re thinking, Look at all the personal attention you get from the minister around here! Then they join the church, and the attention they receive drops almost to zero. They wonder what happened. The minister has accidentally encouraged unrealistic expectations, which give rise to neurotic anxiety.
  • Existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is the feeling brought about by the thought that some day you may not exist, or that even if you do, your life may be meaningless. We hear the refrains, “The church has lost its meaning for me,” “The sermons don’t mean anything anymore, Minister,” “My kids are bored stiff in Sunday school.”

Main conflict areas
All anxiety arises from some problem. The most common is intra-family conflict. Husband and wife square off on some issue; parents and kids squabble. This kind of conflict is the most consistent characteristic of people who have left the church.

Conflict with ministers is the second most common problem. When ministers avoid dealing with people’s anxiety, the people simply avoid the ministers and their churches.

Family against family, inter-family conflict, is the third arena. It’s the Hatfields against the McCoys; people don’t get along with one another.

Overwork, or at least the feeling of it, presents a fourth problem area. With volunteer church service, too much too soon or too long, with no reward, will drive people from the church.

Suppose you discover a family is having troubles at home, seems to be avoiding you, is feeling disappointed about the way other church members have treated them, and thinks they’re overworked and unrewarded. You will usually find they are experiencing reality, moral, neurotic, or existential anxiety-often simultaneously. Then you can predict the next stage: they cry for help.

2. The second step is the blinking red light.  The member is hurting inside and wants/needs to talk.

3. Anger is the third step. When anxiety reaches the stage of acute discomfort, the anxiety is transformed to anger.

The cry
If we learn to hear and respond to people’s cries for help, we can usually prevent their dropping out. Those still crying will respond to our efforts to reach them. But cries don’t last forever. Some cry longer than others, depending on their bond to the congregation, but when the cry goes unanswered, eventually members leave. Then the damage is much greater and more difficult to repair.

A verbal cry for help may sound like this: “I don’t know if I want to continue coming to this church. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hypocrites!”

Or it could be more subtle: “You know, all the men but me in our Sunday school class have had promotions at work.”

I worked with a woman in Christian education for two years and never once heard a complaint. Then one day in the midst of a long paragraph she let slip just one sentence: “I’m not sure I can do this job much longer.”

I didn’t say anything right then, but when I saw her the next Sunday morning in the hallway, I said, “Sally, I have a feeling you might be upset about some things in church, particularly in the Christian education area.”

“Can I talk with you this week?” she said.

She came in the following Thursday with all her teaching materials-and unmistakable body language. Even before she sat down, she said, “You’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you, but I’m going to resign.” I listened to her story for an hour and a half, and I heard from her the classic phrase of one who is thinking of leaving: “I don’t want to leave the church. I love the church, but I’m tired.” She was overworked-reality anxiety-so we renegotiated her workload, and she stayed. The key is hearing the story first.

Ministers can respond to cries in one of three ways:

First, they can listen and respond to the pain the cry represents. That can be amazingly beneficial.

Second, they can ignore the cry, not realizing how serious it is, until the cry moves into anger. The person gets more agitated and says, “Hey, what do I have to do to get you to hear me? Somebody help me. Can’t you see I’m about to leave the church?”

Third, they can shoot the person with the gospel gun: “What’s the matter with you? Are you losing your faith or something?” That’s a mistake of confusing the symptom for the disease, the behavior for the cause.

But surprisingly, even if we react to the immediate anger rather than the anxiety behind it, we’ll still recover about 80 percent of the people. Even hesitating steps in the right direction can help.

If we miss the verbal cries for help, we at least have a whole string of nonverbal cries to alert us to the problem. The cries for help become behavioral. The person either leaves or begins the process of leaving.

4. Behavioral change. The member either becomes more aggressive or withdrawn. If the problem is not resolved at this point, they move further away from active membership. They drop out of committees. They give up their Sunday or Wednesday classes, if teaching. Usually, at this point, they stop attending except on Sunday morning. They stop attending special meetings and their contributions are either cut down or cut out altogether.

The first behavior change is the leaving of worship.

Second, people leave major committees and boards. They either don’t show up or they begin to show up sporadically. Both of these indicators can be seen on an attendance graph. The one who was always there four Sundays a month drops to three to two to only rare appearances. Or the board member makes one or two meetings a year after nearly perfect attendance in past years.

Third, people begin to leave Sunday school. Most adults have their closest friends in their Sunday school classes. Backing away from friends is a major change.

Fourth, the kids are pulled out of Sunday school. The parents decide they don’t even want to bring them, let alone come themselves.

Fifth comes the letter of resignation, and finally, interestingly enough, the pledge is dropped. That’s the final gasp for help, the last commitment to be given up in most denominations.

The sad thing is, these dropouts are hurting. They’ve not only experienced a cluster of anxiety-provoking events, but also are grieving the loss of their church.

Skunks and turtles
In my experience, a third of the inactive people we called on had tears running down their cheeks once we dug out the original cluster of pain. Uncovering that hurt caused them to cry before perfect strangers.

But people respond to their pain in different ways. Some begin to blame something external – the church, the elders, the members, the minister. We’ve nicknamed them skunks. When you call on these people, you get sprayed on. It’s what happened to me when the woman slammed the paper into her lap and lashed out at me.

When these people drop out, they wait six to eight weeks and then psychologically seal off the pain and anxiety produced by the original cluster. They back away and by all appearances become apathetic. But the pain of the cluster remains and acts as the block to returning to church. In order to get the person to come back, we must deal with that pain.

After they seal off the pain, people reinvest their time, energy, and money in other pursuits. Half reinvest themselves in the family; they buy tents, trailers, and snowmobiles and go away on the weekend. You visit them and hear, “Our family is just as close to God fishing on the lake as we were back at church with that bunch of snobs.”

The other 50 percent reinvest themselves in other institutions: hospitals, PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Rotary. So if we call on them, they’ll point their finger at us and say, “I’ve gotten involved with that volunteer ambulance crew. I’m a dispatcher on Sunday mornings. You know, we really help people now.” That’s a skunk speaking.

Another set of dropouts experiences a different emotion: hopelessness. It’s the antithesis of helplessness. It’s the sense of being incapable of generating any inner motivation. As a result, these people withdraw and become inactive. We call them turtles.

Turtles have incredible power to hook other people’s guilt. A turtle’s cry for help might sound like this: “I’m sure you could get Mrs. Green to teach the class. She would do a much better job than I could.” The turtle drops out, waits six to eight weeks, and seals off the pain, much like the skunk. But turtles point the blame internally, toward themselves.

Whether it’s the skunks’ spray or the turtles’ timidity, the various cries for help can be addressed.

Pain – listening
So what do we do for these people? We need to teach ourselves and our lay people to hear the pain of inactive people. It helps, too, if we learn how to intervene in the stages leading to inactivity, before the people disappear.

When we call on an inactive family, or one heading that direction, chances are strong we’re going to have to deal with anger. The turtles’ anger will make us feel guilty, and the skunks’ anger will make us mad. Since calling on an inactive member is often painful, it’s easy to enter a cycle: People leave because they’re angry; I’m angry because they left; I punish them by letting them sit in their pain; they punish me by not coming back.

5. Holding Pattern.

This lasts from six to eight weeks. During this time, they are breaking emotional ties with the folks at the church. They are waiting to see if anyone from the church will call on them. If no one comes during the holding period, then they begin to reinvest their time and energy in other organizations and clubs. Camping, or other family outings, especially on weekends, seems to become a favorite pastime of the inactive member.

6. Out the back door.

The active member has now made the journey out of the church and no longer attends or takes interest in the congregation to which he/she once gave much time and effort.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2018 in Church, Encouragement

 

Do It Anyway…


 

1. People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs Fight for a few underdogs   anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9. People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you   have anyway.

David Augsberger, When Enough is Enough, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984), pp. 109-130

 

leaders1Finding Good Leaders

What kind of person is best able to involve others and himself in good decision making? J. Keith Louden lists seven qualities:

1. The ability to look ahead and see what’s coming—foresight.

2. Steadiness, with patience and persistence and courage.

3. A buoyant spirit that in spite of cares generates confidence.

4. Ingeniousness, the ability to solve problems soundly yet creatively.

5. The ability to help others.

6. Righteousness, the willingness to do the right thing and speak the truth.

7. Personal morality of a quality that commands the respect of others.

Charles W.L. Foreman, “Managing a Decision Into Being,” from the Management Course for Presidents, pp. 3-4.

 

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2018 in counsel

 

The Day the Angels Sang to Mother


     One day, a young Mother set her foot on the path of life. She was excited and thrilled by what laid ahead of her. Curious, though, by her mysterious journey, she asked her Guardian Angel, “Is the journey long and difficult?”

     Her Guardian Angel replied: “Yes, and at times the journey will seem hard and burdensome. But remember this, no matter how tough it gets, you’ll discover that everything will work out for the best if you have faith in the Almighty One. Trust me, the end will be better than the beginning.”

     The young Mother was happy, and she did not believe that anything could be better or more special 1 Peter 1:12 (34 kb)than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way. Life was good during these early years since the sun always casted its radiance on them. Because of this, the young Mother rejoiced and said, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than these years.”

     Then night came and a violent gathered. Both the wind and the rain drenched them. In no time, the children were trembling with fear and terror. Concerned about their safety, the Mother immediately drew them close to her bosom and tenderly covered them with her mantle. Comforted, the children said, “Mother, we are no longer afraid, for you are near. No harm can touch us now.” The Mother then took a deep sigh and said, “This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children the value of trust and courage.”

     Eventually morning arrived. At the break of dawn, they all saw a rocky hill ahead. The children decided to climb it, but quickly grew weary. The Mother too was weary, but she repeatedly encouraged her children saying, “A little more effort and patience, for we’re almost there.” So the children continued to climb the hill — even when they slipped and fell along the rugged path. When they finally reached the top, they triumphantly cheered, “We couldn’t have done it without you, Mother, and now we know that we can overcome any mountain that comes along our way.” That night, the Mother raised her tired eyes to Heaven and thanked God saying, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned endurance and hope in the face of hardships.”

     The next day, strange clouds came which darkened the earth — clouds of war, hatred, and evil. Overwhelmed by these threatening clouds, the Mother and her children staggered and stumbled. Fortunately, though, the Mother remembered what her Guardian Angel told her. Therefore, she inspired her children saying, “Have faith, my beloved ones. Lift your eyes to the Light, for the Light will bring forth sunshine in the midst of this dreadful darkness.” So the children looked to the Light, and saw an Everlasting Friend above the clouds. The Everlasting Friend guided them, and successfully brought them beyond the horrifying evil. That evening, the Mother wept and said, “This is the best day of all, for I have taught my children to love God.”

     And the days went by. The weeks, the months, and the years took their natural course. The day, however, finally came when the Mother grew old. By now, she was tired, wrinkled, and weak. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. Indeed, when the road was hard, they helped their Mother. When the road was rough, they lifted her. And when the road was too painful, they carried her.

     Ultimately, though, the day came when the Mother and her children arrived at a forest. Beyond the forest, they could see a sparkling trail which led them to some gates that were made of diamonds and pearls. The golden brilliance of this Gate was majestic and breathtaking. At the other side of the Gate, there were some people dressed in white robes.

     With a smile on their faces, they beckoned the Mother to walk through the Gates. Upon seeing the wondrous Gate, the Mother said: “I have successfully reached the end of my journey. My Guardian Angel was right, for now I know that the end is better than the beginning. Indeed, my children can walk alone, and their children after them.” The children then turned to her and declared, “You’ll always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the Gates.”

     Soon thereafter, the children watched her as she walked through the Gates of Eternal Life. When the Mother finally made it through the Gates, the children suddenly heard a heavenly chorus. Unlike anything heard on earth, the chorus sang extravagant songs of praise and admiration in honor of the Mother. The children wept when they heard the songs because they were so grateful for their Mother. At last, though, they were forced to smile and say, “We cannot see her, but she is still with us. A Mother like ours is more than a loving memory. She is a living Presence for all eternity.” It was a day never to be forgotten because it was the day the angels sang to Mother….Unknown Author.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Encouragement

 

Beliefs Matter: One Baptism  Ephesians 4:4-5; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:26-28


Ever made a bad first impression? Have you ever felt like you’ve messed it up enough that you wish you could start all over? That’s one way of describing what baptism is all about, a new beginning, a brand new life.

Ephesians 4:4-5: There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– {5} one Lord, one faith, one baptism; Belief Matters—Eph 4:7 beliefs that really matter, we’ve covered …today One Baptism

When speaking of the one Baptism Paul could not have had in mind the question or debate of where it was of pouring, or sprinkling, or immersion. Only immersion was practiced in the time of the apostles. The earliest case of sprinkling for baptism on record is that of Novation in 251 A. D., who was “baptized” upon his bed while sick by pouring a large quantity of water over him.

According to the historians, immersion was nearly the universal practice until the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church declared at the Council of Constance that immersion and sprinkling were of equal validity.

Paul was certainly not referring to Holy Spirit baptism as the one baptism that was the common experience of the church. Baptism in the Holy Spirit was an exceptional experience. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:4). About ten years later, at the house of Cornelius, Peter saw the Holy Spirit fall of Cornelius and his household.

In telling about this, Peter said that the Holy Spirit fell on them, “as at the beginning. Then remembered the word of the Lord how that he had said, John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:15-16).

These are the only cases of Holy Spirit baptism recorded in the Bible. The experiences of those who claim to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in modern times are so contradictory that no confidence can be placed in them. If there is only one baptism, surely there ought not be any disagreement as to how it is to be performed, or in what it is done.

(Acts 2:38-39 NIV)  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. {39} The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

The difficulty comes in the simple definition —  or redefining – of the word eis. Is it saying that baptism is to receive the forgiveness of sins or baptism is because my sins have  already been forgiven? To say the same thing in another way: is baptism necessary in order to have your sins forgiven?

If the word eis in Acts 2:38 means their sins were already forgiven before baptism, it has to be interpreted the same way in Matthew 26:28: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Does anyone here believe that forgiveness of sins was possible for the masses BEFORE the death and the “shedding of blood” by Jesus?

The One Baptism is an immersion in water of a person who understands and believes the good news about Jesus and who is willing to follow Jesus as his One Lord.

  1. Is an immersion – Word means immerse or dip (ship sinking, man drowning), parallel w/ DBR; some vv. refer to “much water” or “going down into the water” and indicate that immersion is what was going on (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). Some may wonder if sprinkling is okay. Wrong Q—don’t need to be trying to figure out whether what we may have done is good enough but figuring out what God wants.
  2. Understands & believes the good news— (vv. Acts 2:24-38; Col. 2:11-12) not a ritual, must be understanding & faith, not for babies or others who don’t understand or believe.
  3. Willing to follow Jesus as their one lord—(vv. Acts 2:36, 41) not magical & not the end of the journey, rather the beginning.

The purpose and meaning of baptism is broad:

  • It is associated with being a part of the church, being clothed with Christ, repentance, death, the Holy Spirit
  • It is associated w/ forgiveness of sins and salvation. I believe a proper understanding of it fits with the clear biblical teaching that we are saved by grace through faith. The best simple way I know to say it is that baptism is one of the responses to God’s grace in order to be forgiven and saved.
  1. Salvation is by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Grace is the basis for salvation, no way we can save ourselves. When we get baptized, we are not saving ourselves (but cf. Acts 2:40-41).
  2. Baptism is a response to grace. Grace is primary; grace is the basis; baptism is a response to it. Without the grace, baptism would be meaningless.
  3. Baptism is not a work (Titus 3:4-5). Rather, it is a response to Christ’s work.
  4. Baptism is a matter of faith (Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:11-12).
  5. Baptism is one of several responses to God’s grace (faith, repentance, confession).
  6. Baptism is a necessary response (vv. Acts 2:38; 22:16; I Pet. 3:21; John 3:3-5).
  7. Baptism is the beginning point for new life (Rom. 6:4), I don’t know of any other point in time that the NT says we die to our old life.

Every “religious group” teaches some response to God’s grace is necessary for salvation, to believe in Jesus or accept Jesus or pray to Jesus etc. The idea of responding to God’s grace is biblical (“those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace,” Rom. 5:17). I believe the NT teaches baptism is a part of receiving it, one of the necessary responses, in view of the clear statements that connect w/ salvation.

If you are familiar with “the sinner’s prayer” I encourage you to think carefully about that. I can’t find that in the Bible, Rev. 3:20 is talking to Christians.

People feel a need for a tangible beginning point, and baptism is that beginning point…a particular event at a particular point in time and an actual act which is deliberate and able to be witnessed. I believe the sinner’s prayer is a way of filling the void left when people remove baptism.

So baptism is an immersion in water of a person who understands and believes the good news about Jesus and who is willing to follow Jesus as his One Lord.

  • This is the One baptism shared by all God’s people. It holds us together as God’s people.
  • This is what we believe & teach at Parkway & something you need to do if you want to be a member of Parkway.
  • If you’re not quite there yet in your thinking, that’s okay. Our walk w/ God is a journey. But I encourage you to be thinking, praying, & studying about this.
  • It is a vital part. I’d love to talk with you about it if you wish. Or if you think I’m wrong about this, I’d be glad to dialog with you.

(Galatians 1:6-9 NIV)  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– {7} which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. {8} But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! {9} As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

(Galatians 3:26-28 NIV)  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, {27} for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. {28} There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Why is this so important? Because the religious world is good at giving “false confidence” in this area. We’ve got to spend some time today in Acts 19:1-5

Paul found some disciples who had been immersed in water: “in the right way” for the wrong reason. Why was it such a big deal? What was the recourse? How does it affect us today? 

Throughout this series of messages on Belief Matters we’ve been saying it’s not enough merely to understand what the Bible teachers or merely to concur with it. It needs to change our lives.

If we believe in the One Baptism, we’ll do two things: Get baptized, w/ understanding, w/ faith, w/ the intent to follow Jesus. If you haven’t done that, I urge you to do so. If it’s associated with being saved, it’s really, really important. Wouldn’t want you to do it just to do it; need to understand. Glad to discuss it with you further.  Live like you’ve been baptized (not “follow the rules”). Parallel <> baptism and death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2018 in Baptism

 

Beliefs Matter: One Faith: A Call To Arms! – Philippians 1:27; Jude 1


A note posted on a religious website, discussing sexuality as a spiritual experience…says “it is OK be monogamist OK to be Gay,  Bi, Straight; OK to be different; OK to follow our own path; OK to make our own choices without being judged, particularly in this community.”

The truth tells us that while people may indulge their sinful desires in that way, we don’t please God like that.

How do we know? Where do we go for direction? We believe there is One Lord, and today we see there is one place where we can go to find the written directions. The “one faith” does not refer to the act of believing, but to the body of doctrines which we believe. The one faith is the Gospel.

(Philippians 1:27 NIV)  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

(Jude 1:3 NIV)  Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

It is not scriptural to speak of “many faiths” or “interfaith activities” as many do. There are not two faiths nor several faiths. There is only one faith that leads into God’s presence and that is the faith founded by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what Oprah and others are teaching, there is no other approach to God. If a person wishes to live with God—to be approved and accepted by Him—that person has to approach God through the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 NIV)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. {14} He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The point is this: every believer has come to God in the very same way—by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is the only way, the only true faith. Therefore, standing before God and having come to Him through the same faith, there is no room for any differences. We all stand on the same ground, on the same level: the ground and level of faith.

If you want to be a member of this congregation, realize that we believe there is One body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, and One Faith.

Jude 1:1-4 (ESV)
1  Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
2  May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3  Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
4  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Why did Jude write this letter?

To warn his readers that the apostates were already on the scene! Peter had prophesied that they would come, and his prophecy had been fulfilled.

He wrote to “exhort” them (Jude 3). In the Greek language, this word was used to describe a general giving orders to the army; hence the atmosphere of this letter is “military.” Jude had started to write a quiet devotional letter about salvation, but the Spirit led him to put down his harp and sound the trumpet! The Epistle of Jude is a call to arms.

The Army (Jude 1-2)

The Captain of the army is Jesus Christ, and the soldiers He commands are people who share a “common salvation” through faith in Him. Jude called them saints and addressed them as sanctified.

Not only are God’s saints set apart, but they are also preserved. This means “carefully watched and guarded.” The believer is secure in Jesus Christ. This same word is used in Jude 6 and 13 (“reserved”) and also in Jude 21 (“keep yourselves”).

The Enemy (Jude 3-4)

I must confess that I sympathize with Jude. I would much rather encourage the saints than declare war on the apostates. But when the enemy is in the field, the watchmen dare not go to sleep. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground. Jude wasted no time in identifying the enemy.

They were ungodly (v. 4b).

This is one of Jude’s favorite words. While these men claimed to belong to God, they were, in fact, ungodly in their thinking and their living.

They were deceitful (v. 4c).

They “crept in unawares.” The Greek word means “to slip in secretly, to steal in undercover.” How could false brethren get into true assemblies of the saints? The soldiers had gone to sleep at the post! The spiritual leaders in the churches had grown complacent and careless. This explains why Jude had to “blow the trumpet” to wake them up.

They were enemies of God’s grace (v. 4d).

Why did they enter the churches? To attempt to change the doctrine and “turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4). The word lasciviousness simply means “wantonness, absence of moral restraint, indecency.” A person who is lascivious thinks only of satisfying his lusts, and whatever he touches is stained by his base appetites.

Many scriptures warn us that the apostates would argue, “You have been saved by grace, so you are free to live as you please!” The apostates, like the cultists today, use the Word of God to promote and defend their false doctrines.

They seduce young, immature Christians who have not yet been grounded in the Scriptures. Every soldier of the Cross needs to go through “basic training” in a local church so that he knows how to use the weapons of spiritual warfare.

They denied God’s truth (v. 4e).

Jude was affirming strongly the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God! But the apostates would deny this. They would agree that Jesus Christ was a good man and a great teacher, but not that He was eternal God come in human flesh. The first test of any religious teacher, as we have seen, is, “What do you think of Jesus Christ? Is He God come in the flesh?”

Anyone who denies this cardinal doctrine is a false teacher no matter how correct he may be in other matters. If he denies the deity of Christ, something will always be missing in whatever he affirms.

They were ordained to judgment (v. 4a).

Jude did not write that these men were ordained to become apostates, as though God were responsible for their sin. They became apostates because they willfully turned away from the truth. But God did ordain that such people would be judged and condemned. The Old Testament prophets denounced the false prophets of their day, and both Jesus Christ and His Apostles pronounced judgment on them.

Why should these men be judged by God? To begin with, they had denied His Son! That is reason enough for their condemnation! But they had also defiled God’s people by teaching them that God’s grace permitted them to practice sin.

How, then, should the church respond to the presence of this insidious enemy? By earnestly contending for the faith.

“The faith” refers to that body of doctrine that was given by God through the Apostles to the church. The word doctrine is found at least sixteen times in the Pastoral Epistles alone.

What does it mean to “contend for the faith”? The Greek word is an athletic term that gives us our English word agonize. It is the picture of a devoted athlete, competing in the Greek games and stretching his nerves and muscles to do his very best to win.

You never fight the Lord’s battles from a rocking chair or a soft bed! Both the soldier and the athlete must concentrate on doing their best and giving their all. There must also be teamwork, believers working together to attack and defeat the enemy.

Sometimes you hear well-meaning people say, “Well, it’s fine to contend for the faith, but don’t be so contentious!” While it is true that some of God’s soldiers have been the cause of quarrels and divisions, it is also true that some of them have paid a great price to defend the faith.

As Christian soldiers, we must not fight each other or go around looking for trouble. But when the banner of Christ is in danger of being taken by the enemy, we cannot sit idly by, nor can we ever hope to win the victory by wearing kid gloves.

Paul admonished both Timothy and Titus to make sure the believers were being taught “sound doctrine,” which means “healthy doctrine,” doctrine that promotes the spiritual health of the local church.

While individual teachers and preachers may disagree on the fine points of theology, there is a basic body of truth to which all true Christians are committed.

He exhorted Timothy to entrust the Word to other faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). You and I would not have the Word today were it not for faithful believers down through the ages who guarded this precious deposit and invested it in others.

The church is always one generation short of extinction. If our generation fails to guard the truth and entrust it to our children, then that will be the end! When you think of the saints and martyrs who suffered and died so that we might have God’s truth, it makes you want to take your place in God’s army and be faithful unto death.

False doctrine is a deadly poison that must be identified, labeled, and avoided. We must always speak the truth in love, and the weapons we use must be spiritual. At the same time, we must dare to take our stand for “the faith” even if our stand offends some and upsets others. We are not fighting personal enemies, but the enemies of the Lord.

It is the honor and glory of Jesus Christ that is at stake. “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).

The Victory (Jude 5-7)

Jude 1:5-7 (ESV)
5  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
6  And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
7  just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Jude reached back into Old Testament history and gave examples of God’s victory over those who had resisted his authority and turned from the truth. The point Jude was making is that God judges apostates. Therefore, the false teachers who had crept into the church would also one day be judged. Their seeming success would not last; God would have the last word. 

The sin of Israel was rebellious unbelief (Heb. 3:12). The sin of the angels was rebellion against the throne of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was indulging in unnatural lust. Unbelief, rebellion against authority, and sensual indulgence were sins characteristic of the false teachers.

The conclusion is obvious: the apostates will be judged. But, meanwhile, God’s soldiers must stay on duty and see to it that these false teachers do not creep into the ranks and start to lead people astray.

Jude 1:17-25 (ESV)
17  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
18  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
19  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
20  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
22  And have mercy on those who doubt;
23  save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24  Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
25  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

What can we do practically to oppose the enemy and maintain the purity and unity of the church?

For one thing, we must know the Word of God and have the courage to defend it. Every local church ought to be a Bible institute, and every Christian ought to be a Bible student.  The pulpit needs to declare positive truth as well as denounce error.

Second, we must “watch and pray.”

The Christian life must never stand still; if it does, it will go backward. The enemy is already here and we dare not go to sleep! Spiritual leaders in local congregations need to be alert as they interview candidates for baptism and church membership. Congregations must exercise discernment as they select spiritual leaders.

Finally, we must have the courage to maintain a position of biblical separation from those who deny Christ and the fundamental doctrines of the Word. This does not mean that we separate from fellow believers over minor doctrinal differences, or that we practice “guilt by association.” God’s true army needs to stand together in the battle for truth.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in Doctrine

 
 
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