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Beliefs Matter: “It Does Really Matter…What One Believes About One Hope” – Ephesians 4:4; John 14:1-3


Hope is something that God gives to help us keep our lives together until the very end

Ephesians 4:4-6 (ESV)  4  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Halford E. Luccock, in Unfinished Business, tells the story of a man who fascinated his dinner companions one night by telling of his experiences in the little town of Flagstaff, Maine, in Somerset County.

The town was to be abandoned and flooded and become a part of a large lake. A dam was being built which would submerge the little town. In the months before it was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it were to be covered with water in six months?

Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more unprofitable, more miserable. Then he added: “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” And I wonder if that’s not a good parable for many people’s lives today.

Hope is something that God has offered us to help us keep our lives together until the very end.

Our hope, in short, is that Jesus is coming back to take us home.  John 14:1-3 (ESV) 1  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

More broadly, based on several texts, our hope is that Christ will return, raise us from the dead or meet us in the air, transform us so that our bodies are like his glorious body, take us to heaven so we can see God face to face & live with him there forever.  Salvation will be complete & we’ll enter into eternal life in heaven.

Our hope is solid. It is not wishful thinking or an outside chance.  

Hebrews 6:13-20 (ESV)
13  For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,
14  saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”
15  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
16  For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
17  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
18  so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
19  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,
20  where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The reason it is secure is the basis it has. Our hope does have a foundation: (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

(1 Peter 1:21 NIV)  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Our hope is based on God raising Jesus from the dead.  So, because God raised Jesus from the dead, we have a solid hope that he will return and take us home.

The question isn’t whether we have a thorough understanding of hope but whether our hope is transforming the way we live. Are our lives noticeably different because of our hope that Jesus is coming back to take us home?

A woman diagnosed with a terminal illness called on her minister to plan her funeral. She had some ideas about what she hoped would happen, but she was insistent about one thing: “I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.

Her incredulous minister demanded an explanation. “Oh, it’s quite simple,” the woman said. “In all my years of attending church socials and potlucks, I always remember that, when they clear the dishes, someone will say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It’s my favorite part, because I know something better is coming. So I want people to see me there in that coffin with a fork in my hand and know: ‘Her best is still to come.’ ”

Here are some of the ways the Bible says our hope should affect us:

Give us Joy — (Romans 5:2 NIV)  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

(Romans 12:12 NIV)  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Lead to Praise: (1 Peter 1:3 NIV) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 

Give us Endurance: (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Cause us to Purify ourselves: (1 John 3:2-3 NIV)  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. {3} Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Speak openly even courageously to others: (2 Corinthians 3:12 NIV)  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

The Bible teaches that our hope should have a noticeable effect on how we actually live our lives.  The one hope of the Christian has always rested upon the return of Christ and the blessings of the- future life” (Titus 2:13 ; I Peter 1 :13).

“Set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” ( I Corinthians 15 :19).

Strengthening our Hope (Bible gives several, I’ll mention 3).

Make sure our hope really is in God (not government or my own abilities; not here & now; not health & wealth gospel)

(Hebrews 13:14 NIV)  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

(1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

 (1 Peter 1:21 NIV)  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

 Choose to trust God.

(Romans 15:4 NIV)  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:13 NIV)  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(Hebrews 10:23 NIV)  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Be willing to learn from our suffering (Rom. 5:3-4).

(Romans 5:3-4 NIV)  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; {4} perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Ironically, one of the things that often robs me of hope is intended to be a means of increasing our hope.  When we suffer, whether it is for our faith or not, it is a God-given opportunity for us to develop perseverance.  If we persevere, that affects our character.

If our character becomes more like God’s, then we have all the more reason to hope. So, suffering gives us an opportunity to develop hope, but it isn’t automatic—we have to be willing to learn from it.

Be diligent in doing good

(Hebrews 6:10-12 NIV)  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. {11} We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. {12} We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Summary: we have a hope that Jesus is coming back to take us home, our hope has a solid basis: the resurrection of Jesus, & we can strengthen our hope by making sure it really is

In the 1800s, when he was just a small boy, John Todd lost both of his parents.  A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he left home to study for the ministry.  Later on, this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress wrote Todd a letter.  She asked whether death would mean the end of everything, or could she hope for something beyond?

Here is the letter John Todd wrote in reply:

“It is now 35 years since I, as a boy of six, was left quite alone in the world.  You sent me word you would give me a home and be a kind mother to me.  I have never forgotten the day I made the long journey to your house.  I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your servant, Caesar, to fetch me.

“I remember my tears and anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight to Caesar, I rode off to my new home.  Night fell before we finished the journey, and I became lonely and afraid.  “Do you think she’ll go to bed before we get there?” I asked Caesar.

“Oh no!” he said reassuringly, “She’ll stay up for you.  When we get out of these woods, you’ll see her candle shining in the window.”

“Presently we did ride out into the clearing, and there, sure enough, was your candle.  I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me—a tired and bewildered little boy.  You had a fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper waiting on the stove.  After supper you took me to my new room, heard me say my prayers, and then sat beside me till I fell asleep.

“Some day soon God will send for you, to take you to your new home.  Don’t fear the summons, the strange journey, or the messenger of death.  God can be trusted to do as much for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago.

“At the end of the road you will find love and a welcome awaiting, and you will be safe in God’s care. “

 It’s the wise individual who can hope for the best, get ready for the worst, and take what God chooses to send.

I like the example of the hospice nurse, who had ministered to many as they faced death, trying to ease the transition. A minister asked her, “Do Christians die differently from others?” “Most definitely, yes,” she replied, “Christians really do die better.” Why do Christians die better? “They know it isn’t over.”

I am told the catacombs in Rome, those tunnels under the ancient city, where many of the early Christians were buried, reveal symbols of faith.

Three common symbols appear: the dove, the fish, and the anchor. The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The letters of the Greek word for “fish,” ichthus, stand for the words Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. The anchor came from the idea that as Christians were going through difficult, insecure times, their hope anchored their souls.

I must insist that we take a few steps alongside the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) to make certain we see the other side of this difficult coin. The whole situation seemed to these two men to have no explanation. Their hopes and dreams were shattered.  There is all the poignant, wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowing words, “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel.”

They were the words of men whose hopes were dead and buried.  Then Jesus came and talked with them, and the meaning of life became clear and the darkness became light.

Life with Christ is an endless hope, without him a hopeless end

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Church, ephesians

 

Beliefs Matter: It Really Does Make A Difference What We Believe About the One Body – Ephesians 4:4; Romans 12:3-8


* Appreciation to Marvin Bryant

We receive from God’s Word much instruction on HOW we should live and WHAT we should believe.

An example of that is found in Ephesians 4:1-6. Verses 1-3 show us the how: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
3  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Verses 4-6 show us the what: 4  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—
5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Sometimes we might tempted to think we’d like more of the HOW and less of the WHAT. I don’t know which way that may go in your life, but the fact is that God has given us both of them.

In order for us to be a genuine people of God there is a certain life we need to live and also certain belief matters we need to share. Our lifestyle is tremendously important, but in this series we are focusing on the belief matters.

God gives us 7 belief matters that we need to hold on to in order to be a part of God’s true people—these are beliefs that really matter. Today we are going to look at the first one he mentions, the one body, which is a reference to the church.

Every true believer is a part of God’s one church.

(Matthew 16:13-18 NIV)  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” {14} They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” {15} “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” {16} Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” {17} Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. {18} And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The One Body is the church that Jesus built in the 1st century.

Chrisian means “one who belongs to Christ,” and that should be our primary identity as individuals. The primary group identity is that we belong to the one body.

More than any other identity I may have as an individual, I see myself as “Christian.” Church refers to the group of all those who belong to Christ and that should be our primary group identity. More than anything else that gives me identity, I am a Christian, part of the body church.

Secondarily I may be right-handed, good-looking and funny or maybe not. Maybe I’m rich, liberal, democrat, Republican, Lithuanian, basketball player, from Montana or Tennessee, a guitar player, who loves quiche, but all that is secondary to my main identity as a Christian, a part of the church.

Because I am a believer and if you are a believer—we have a unique relationship to all others who are also part of this one body.

Let’s turn to Romans 12 for a few moments. There’s a little verse there that might “get next to you” a little. Some of the things we see in this series are going to “rub us wrong.” They have that tendency in my life, unless I take on a particular mindset. But it’s only fair that if it “bugs” me I ought to inflict some of that one you!

Being a part of God’s one church includes having a unique relationship and connection with everyone else who is a part of this group:

(Romans 12:4-5 NIV)  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, {5} so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Did you notice anything there at “rubs you wrong?”

You’ll notice that the phrase “belongs to all the others” differs from the independent spirit Americans value, but American is not my primary identity—that’s secondary to this.

We have this God-created connection even with people who are different from us and with whom we might not otherwise associate:

(Galatians 3:28 NIV)  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Besides, those identities are secondary:

  •  But this does mean, like it or not, that we have that special connection with those Christians whose secondary identity is Democrat and those whose secondary identity is Republican.
  •  You & I belong to those believers whose secondary identity is liberal & to those whose secondary identity is conservative.
  •  You & I belong to those Christians who also, secondarily, could be described as poor, middle class, or rich.
  •  We are all one & we all belong to each other. Not all of these will meet together in the same worship assembly, due to distance certainly, sometimes due to differing languages & perhaps sometimes due to different cultural matters, but never due to barriers that are secular and fleshly.
  •  But even in circumstance when we don’t all meet together, we are all still a part of the one people of God.

As we continue to go through a list of our oneness with people of all kinds of secondary identities, at some point we may begin to wonder whether all those people are a part of God’s church….or if we can be comfortable in some associations.

It is true, according to Jesus, that not everyone who claims to belong to him really does :

(Matthew 7:21 NIV)  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

There will be times when we will have to come to some conclusions about who is part of the one body. How do we come to those decisions? We let God and His Word tell us! If we should begin a process to add shepherds to the leadership of this congregation, we would want to use God’s definition to make certain they are Christians, wouldn’t we?

While it will never be my place (or yours) to decide on the eternal fate of anyone, we will be called upon from time to time to let God’s word define and clear up some matters as they relate to our ministry here at Parkway or in the community.

According to Jesus, you know by their fruit, the way they live their lives. According to Eph 4, beliefs matter also, at least some certain core beliefs.

As we go about involving people in our various ministries and having fellowship with others, we will sometimes have to make some decisions about whether we think a person in fact is a part of God’s people, but we need to remember those decisions are not definitive. God knows who his people are; we too will often know, although not perfectly.

In this one group of God’s people, not only are we different in that we have a great variety of secondary identities, we are also different in gifts. In this way we are similar to a human body—many parts to our bodies, and each part has a different function. That’s how we are in the body of Christ.

So what? We are all a part of God’s one church, we all belong to each other, even with people who have a secondary identity that’s really different from us, and we all have different gifts/functions. So what? Well, what we really believe about these matters will affect the way we live. It’s easy to say we agree with these truths God has given us about the one body, but the test of whether we really do believe them is how we live our lives, especially how we live them in relation to the other parts of the one body

Some lifestyle matters that test whether we really believe in the One Body.

Attitude toward other members of the One body

(1 Corinthians 12:14-16 NIV)  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. {15} If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {16} And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. (if you believe you are inferior to others in this one body, I am not so certain that you truly believe in the one body of Christ.)

(1 Corinthians 12:21 NIV)  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (if you believe you are superior than someone else in this one body, I am not so certain that you truly believe in the one body of Christ.)

(1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NIV)  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, {25} so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

If you believe in the one body, you know we are equally special and important!

(Romans 12:15 NIV)  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

(1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV)  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

When someone is hurting, to say “don’t cry” or “get over it” contradicts the word of God. To rejoice at someone’s misfortune contradicts the word of God. To be disappointed when someone is blessed or rewarded contradicts the word of God. If we do such things, it calls into question whether we really believe we are all part of the One Body of Christ.

Attitude toward and use of our gift(s) in the One Body.

Respect the diversity of gifts. Don’t insist everyone be like you. Do you have the misshaped idea that everybody ought to be involved in the ministry you are involved in…rather than realizing that we have different interests and talents…and we need all of them!

Don’t seek to have a gift you don’t have for wrong reasons: the ones you may humanly perceive to be more prestigious or powerful or self-gratifying. That’s not what these are about.

Whatever gift or gifts we do have, we are to use them to serve & edify the One Body.

(Romans 12:6-8 NIV)  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. {7} If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; {8} if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

(1 Corinthians 12:7 NIV)  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV)  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

What God has enable us to do is not about me & my gift & making a name for myself; it’s about using the gifts God has entrusted to me for the benefit of others.

Whether we respect the diversity of gifts & use ours for others, indicates whether we believe in the One Body.

If we think “this thing we do called church” is primarily about attendance, I question whether we believe in the One Body.

Love for other members of the One Body.

(1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)  But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

When it comes to my relationships w/ all the other members of the One Body, am I … (vv. 4-7)? Paul is painfully specific about what it means to be “lovers of the one body!” You don’t hear Paul saying “well you have to love them but you don’t have to like them.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)  Love is patient…kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Whether we love all the other members of the body indicates whether we believe in the One Body.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Church, ephesians

 

A Turtle on the Fence Post Ephesians 2:1-10 


If someone handed you a couple of pills and said, “Swallow these,” would you do it? Not likely. However, if you were in a medical office and the person speaking was a doctor who had just told you that you would die unless you took the pills, you would be more likely to do so. 

Sometimes you have to know how bad the bad news is before you can appreciate the good news. Paul tells us how bad the bad news is: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

This is God’s spiritual evaluation of one outside of Christ.

Dead. Not sick, not dying, not having an off day— dead. What can dead people do to help themselves? Not much . . . in fact, absolutely nothing. That is why God, in his mercy, had to reach out to us in his unfathomable love: a love that would sacrifice his only Son for us.

God has given us our diagnosis. Have you understood it? He has also given you the remedy.

The root meaning of “transgressions” suggests a fall or lapse, while the root meaning of “sins” implies an innate state of corruption. Both words reveal people’s inability to please God and live as they should. The plural of both words further emphasizes the natural tendency of humans to continue in sin. Unbelievers’ constant sin and rebellion against God portray their spiritual death.

2:2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. NLT

Paul described three marks of unbelievers:

  1. They lived like the rest of the world. This refers to the world’s accepted, but immoral, lifestyles and godless motives. Jesus warned his followers: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” ( John 15:18-19).
  1. They followed the mighty prince of the power of the air. This prince is Satan. The passage focuses on Satan’s reality as an evil power with a certain amount of control in the world. The Bible pictures Satan as ruling an evil spiritual kingdom—the demons and those who are against Christ.
  1. They were enslaved to “gratifying the cravings of [the] flesh” ( 2:3). This is the third mark of unbelievers, described in the following verse.

2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. NKJV

16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Behind those two words lies a cosmic plan so huge in scope and so vast in love that the human mind cannot fully comprehend it—all we can do is humbly receive it. Instead of leaving sinful humanity to live worthless and hopeless lives ending only in death, God acted. How God acted and why He acted is explained in this verse and in 2:7.

God acted on behalf of humanity because he is rich in mercy.

What is “mercy”? The word has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed. Mercy was seen as a basic attribute of God, sometimes called “lovingkindness” or “compassion.” This word describes the outworking of God’s love toward people and is shown in his lovingkindness toward them even though they do not deserve it ( Psalm 51:1; Jeremiah 9:24; Hosea 2:19; Jonah 4:2).

God not giving us what we deserve. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.

God also acted on behalf of humanity because of His great love. The Greek word for love, agape, is used. It means the selfless love that seeks the best for others. While God could have simply destroyed all people because of their sin, he chose instead to show mercy and love.

Sinful people cannot even approach the holy God, but God extended his love to them, knowing that only he could give salvation to them. Such love is “great” and beyond human understanding.

This love was directed toward us, meaning Jews and Gentiles alike. God’s riches of grace, mercy, and love were meant for all kinds of people from the beginning—Jews and Gentiles—and all people are offered salvation and life in Christ.

2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. NIV In addition to being “made alive” ( 2:5), believers are also raised . . . up with Christ. Christ was raised from death and left the tomb—an act accomplished by God’s power alone, as Paul explained in 1:20. Believers have also been “raised.”

We conduct this new life in obedience to God, and thus it is totally different from the life the world offers. As Christ was raised from physical death, believers too are raised from spiritual death to an entirely new kind of life. Believers will experience physical death, but we are assured of resurrection from that death and eternal life with God.

Finally, believers are seated . . . with him in the heavenly realms. Christ has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father, indicating his finished work and his victory over sin. Christ has been exalted by God’s great power ( 1:20). Christians have tended to see this seating with Christ as a future event, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 as well as other verses that point to our future reign with Christ (such as 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4; 22:5). Yet Ephesians teaches that we are seated with Christ now. We share with Christ in his victory now. This view of our present status should help us face our work and trials with greater hope! Believers, as heirs of the kingdom along with Christ, are spiritually exalted from the moment of salvation. We have a new citizenship—in heaven, no longer just on earth: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 3:20 nkjv). The power that raised and exalted Christ also raised and exalted his people. That same power works daily in believers, helping us live and work for God during our time in the world.

Being made alive, being raised, and being seated in heaven occurs in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus was the forerunner—without his sacrifice for our sins, his resurrection, and his exaltation, humanity would still be without hope. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know that our bodies will also be raised from the dead ( 1 Corinthians 15:12-23). Our eternal life with Christ is certain because we are united in his powerful victory. We have been given the power to live as Christians now ( 1:19), not in conformity to the world and its standards, but in obedience to God ( Romans 12:2). This metaphor pictures God sharing his glory and victory with his people, giving them the privilege and authority of shared kingship. Believers can claim their royal status now, for they are children of the King!

2:7 That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. NKJV Here is the final and definitive reason for God’s action on behalf of humanity, his reason for making us alive, raising us, and seating us along with his Son in the heavenly realms. God wants quite simply to show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us. The Greek word for “show” (or “show forth”) comes from legal terminology. God closes the case by presenting the astounding evidence of his church, his people. The church could only exist by God’s love; the fact of its existence, the fact that people have been offered salvation, reveals the abundance of God’s grace and kindness (see also 1:7; 2:4). Again, this was accomplished only in Christ Jesus. Without Christ’s sacrifice, there would be no hope for a relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” ( John 3:16 nkjv). The result? Eternal praise from those whom he has saved (see 1:6, 12, 14).

To whom does God “show” this? Obviously the believers are experiencing God’s grace and kindness. But the believers, the church, show God’s grace and kindness to an unbelieving world. The phrase “in the ages to come” refers to future ages on earth. Throughout history, God will continually demonstrate his work. As time goes by, his grace will be fully shown.

There is an expression: “When you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself.” It’s obvious that someone had to put the turtle up there. In a very real sense, Christians are turtles sitting atop fence posts, put there by the grace of God.

It’s as if someone asked God, “How can I be sure you’re as loving and gracious as you say you are?” His response is simply to display the church—flawed, sinful, capable of stupidity and faithlessness—as Exhibit A, demonstrating his infinite patience and mercy.

How else would a group of such obviously fallen men and women get together and do anything for the glory of God?

Who else but God would use people like us? You are a display case for the grace of God. Demonstrate his great kindness to you by sharing it with others. Use his patience with you to witness to others.

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. NKJV Elaborating on the statement in 2:5, this verse repeats that it is by grace that anyone is saved. Salvation includes being made alive, raised, and seated with Christ as described in 2:5-6, and that occurs only because of God’s kindness toward undeserving people. “Grace” refers to the multifaceted gift that God makes available to us despite our unworthiness. Not only does God mercifully withhold the judgment and punishment that we so clearly deserve, he grants instead the almost unbelievable gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. God’s grace requires faith because the moral and legal case against us leads to an inevitable verdict—guilty. “Grace” means the forgiveness of our sins. It cannot be earned by works or by any goodness in us. It is free and undeserved favor on us by Christ’s faithful act of redemption.

Our salvation comes from God’s grace alone. “Through faith” could refer to: (1) God’s faithfulness to his promises, (2) Christ’s faithfulness in his obedience to God by dying on the cross, or (3) people’s faith in accepting salvation. In light of Paul’s references to the Ephesians’ faith in 1:1 and 15, he most likely meant “faith” to refer to people’s faith (#3 above). The way people obtain salvation is through faith—simple acceptance of God’s gift of salvation (see also Romans 3:22, 25; Galatians 2:16).

And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. NKJV Lest anyone should think that “faith” is a necessary work that people must perform in order to receive salvation, Paul added this phrase. It is unclear whether that refers back to “saved,” “faith,” or to the previous section. It is most likely that Paul is referring back to his entire explanation of salvation in 2:4-8, thus including “saved” and “faith” in his one word “that.” Thus, “faith” is also a gift. In any case, Paul is firm that absolutely nothing is of our own doing (not of yourselves)—not salvation, not grace, not even the faith exercised to receive salvation—everything is the gift of God. Salvation does not come from our self-reliance or individualism but from God’s initiative. It is a gift to be thankfully accepted (see Romans 3:24-28; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31; Galatians 2:16).

William Temple: The only thing that a man can contribute to his redemption is the sin from which he needs to be redeemed.

2:9 Not of works, lest anyone should boast. NKJV Salvation is “not of yourselves” ( 2:8), and it is not of works. In other words, people can do nothing to earn salvation, and a person’s faith itself also is not to be considered a “work” or grounds that anyone should boast.

People find it difficult to accept something so free, so willingly given, so available to anyone. We want to feel as though we did something, that we somehow earned our salvation by our merit. That was how the Judaizers (false teachers who said Christians had to obey all the Jewish laws) regarded their laws and why they tried to impose them on the Gentiles—there had to be a certain amount of law keeping and goodness on people’s part in order for them to receive salvation. But Paul’s words are unmistakable—if salvation is by God’s grace and is accepted through faith, then it is “not of works.” If salvation could be earned by good works, then people would, by nature, “boast” about their good works, compare the goodness of their works to others’ good works, and do good only to boast about it. Then, what would be “good enough” for salvation?

But no one could ever be good enough to please a holy God. He casts aside all human effort and pride by offering salvation for free to all people by simple acceptance. People are given salvation on the grounds of God’s grace alone.

2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV But wait, there’s more. We are God’s workmanship (work of art, masterpiece, new creation). Salvation is something only God can do—it is his powerful, creative work in us. People are re-created into new people, and those new people form a new creation—the church.

Why would God do it? Why would he sacrifice his only Son for sinners like us?

Ephesians 2:10 gives one reason: so that we could be living, breathing pictures of his grace and mercy. Not only does he change us radically into new creatures, he also wants to use us as display cases for his artistry.

According to this verse, believers are his workmanship, his masterpieces. That would be an arrogant claim to make about ourselves if God hadn’t already said it.

This statement also carries some significant implications about how we ought to see ourselves and how we ought to treat one another. God’s masterpieces should not lower or degrade themselves with sinful attitudes, words, or behaviors. Nor should we devalue his other works of art: our brothers and sisters in Christ. Treat fellow Christians as God’s masterpieces.

Out of gratitude for this free gift, however, believers will seek “to do good works”—to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness. While no action or work we do can help us obtain salvation, God’s intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.

We are saved not merely for our own benefit but to serve Christ and build up the church ( 4:12). This solves the so-called conflict between faith and works. Works do not produce salvation but are the evidence of salvation.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2020 in Church, ephesians

 

“Does It Really Matter What One Believes” Ephesians 4:1-6


*Appreciation to Marvin Bryant for many great thoughts…

A few years ago a man and woman in Long Beach, California stopped and bought some fried chicken for a picnic. When the clerk took their money she somehow, mindlessly, enclosed a large stack of the cash register’s money in with their food. When they arrived at the picnic spot and found the money, the man instantly said they had to return it, which they did.

The frantic manager was thrilled to meet someone of such honesty. He wanted to call the newspaper and have the man’s picture and story printed. The man refused, which is even more impressive as long as you think it was due to his humility. But the story turns sour when you find out the reason he didn’t want to call the newspaper is that the woman he was picnicking with wasn’t his wife but was in fact someone else’s.

That sick feeling you have right now is why we need to be genuine as God’s people…this “thing” we’re doing here is not about ritual or numbers, but we’re seeking to be a church that belongs to Christ…individuals who want a high moral standard that includes lifestyle, attitudes & beliefs.

From the front page of some website:

“…is part of a fellowship of independent congregations known as the churches of Christ, with roots in the Restoration Movement. We seek to shed our individual differences and unite on the simple truths of the New Testament. We are far from accomplishing this ideal, but we do seek to follow God’s word in an open and authentic way.
   “We are not a perfect church. We are a church where imperfect people can connect with a perfect God, where people can grow together, learn together, and serve together. We are each unique members of Christ’s body, using the gifts His Spirit provides to build each other up, lift up Jesus Christ in this community, and reach the world with the Good News! We’d love for you to join with us on this journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

 Beliefs matter.  Jesus confronted the Sadducees regarding their disbelief on the subject of the resurrection in  Matthew 22. He stopped their ‘trap’ but he also exposed the error of their belief.

When Apollos began to preach the word of God in Acts 18-19, he was “off” on the subject of baptism and it was corrected.

We are to use wisdom and grace in building people up and bringing people into the “way of the Lord more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28; Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 4:29).

(Acts 18:24-28)  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. {25} He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. {26} He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. {27} When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. {28} For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) 5  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) 29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Which beliefs matter? Is it what the elders offer as “official church policy?” Do you have to follow lock-step with everything the preacher or favorite Bible class teacher presents? Of course not!

We will have our own ideas about many subjects, but on some subjects there can be no real discussion, if it fits in the area of God’s Word and it is clearly given by direct command, necessary inference, or is based upon the teaching in the 1st century of the apostles of Christ.

Right doctrine is essential to right living. It is impossible to live a faithful Christian life without knowing biblical doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching, and there is no way that even the most sincere believer can live a life pleasing to God without knowing what God Himself is like and knowing the sort of life God wants him to live.

When people say, “Don’t talk to me about doctrine—just let me live my Christian life!” they are revealing their ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer.

“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you live right” is a similar confession of ignorance. It does make a difference what you believe, because what you believe determines how you behave!

The main idea in these first sixteen verses is the unity of believers in Christ. This is simply the practical application of the doctrine taught in the first half of the letter: God is building a body, a temple. He has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to Himself in Christ. The oneness of believers in Christ is already a spiritual reality. Our responsibility is to guard, protect, and preserve that unity.

Most denominational members would be surprised to discover that their chosen religious affiliation is less than 500 years old. Many people assume that the church of which they are members is ancient in origin, divinely ordained, and a part of the church revealed in the New Testament.

It doesn’t always occur to them that there were no denominations in New Testament days. When the church was established in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, there was one church with Christ as the head and the apostles as pillars of faith as they did exactly what Jesus had trained them to do.

That church was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence. The kingdom came with power (Mark 9:1) when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8).

The gospel was preached, sinners responded to that resurrected Savior, they repented, they were immersed in water for remission of sins, and they began the Christian walk.

How simple! And how tragic today that so many have changed that simple beginning with their own ideas and teachings. How thrilling it is to find people in the Ukraine (for instance) who were given Bibles in years past and began reading it and with little or no help from outside teachers, became New Testament Christian and began worshipping in ways God approved through the apostles and first century Christians.

 At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

Jesus prayed that His followers would be united (Jn. 17:21-23).

(John 17:20-23)  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 Those who cause factions are to be rejected

(Titus 3:10)  Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

Men who cause dissensions are to be avoided

(Romans 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Tim Stafford (OCC professor) tells of a minister who used a jar full of beans in teaching. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right.

He then turns to the list of their favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste. And the teacher agrees.

But then he asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, and amazingly, he gets the same answer, from old as well as young: they say choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song than knowing the # of beans in the jar.

IF that is true, then what we believe has more to do with what we like or what we will not accept. The issue of God’s authority is taken out of the equation!

One of the main reasons that cults in our day have had such an impact on the world is their unity. Disharmony is not tolerated. Though misguided, misused, and often totalitarian, such unity is attractive to many people who are tired of religious uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion.

Few of us who have attended church for a number of years have not been in or known of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarrels are a part of life. We grow up in them and around them. Infants are quick to express displeasure when they are not given something they want or when something they like is taken away. Little children cry, fight, and throw tantrums because they cannot have their own ways.

(James 4:1-2)  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.).

What the Lord laments and opposes, Satan applauds and fosters. Few things demoralize, discourage, and weaken a church as much as bickering, backbiting, and fighting among its members. And few things so effectively undermine its testimony before the world.

The church we see in the New Testament was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence.

At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

God is much more desirous of people being saved, than of their being condemned

(Ezekiel 18:23)  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

 (John 3:17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Church, Doctrine, ephesians

 

Conflict between the weak and strong – Romans 14


A major theme of the New Testament is that of sin’s power to destroy the spiritual and moral health of the church as well as of the individuals who commit the sins. The epistles are filled with commands and injunctions regarding the need to continually eradicate sin in the church. That is the purpose of both church discipline and self-discipline.

But outright sin is not the only danger to a church’s spiritual health and unity. Although they are not sin in
themselves, certain attitudes and behavior can destroy fellowship and fruitfulness and have crippled the work, the witness, and the unity of countless congregations throughout church history. These problems are caused by differences between Christians over matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. They are matters of personal preference and historic tradition, which, when imposed on others, inevitably cause confusion, strife, ill will, abused consciences, and disharmony.

Even in small churches, there often are considerable differences in age, education, maturity, personalities, and cultural and religious backgrounds. Some members may come from a long line of evangelicals. Some of those families may have a heritage of strict legalism, while others have one of considerable openness and freedom. Some members may have been accustomed to highly liturgical worship, others to worship that is largely unstructured and spontaneous.

Such diversity can strengthen a local congregation, reminding the church itself and witnessing to the world around them of the power of Jesus Christ to bind together dissimilar people in a fellowship of genuine and profound unity. The Lord did not plan for his church to be divided into a hundred varieties, based on distinctives of personal preference and traditions that have no ground in Scripture.

The particular danger to unity that Paul addresses in Romans 14:1-15:13 is the conflict that easily arises between those to whom he refers as strong and weak believers, those who are mature in the faith and those who are immature,  those who understand and enjoy freedom in Christ and those who still feel either shackled or threatened by certain religious and cultural taboos and practices that were deeply ingrained parts of their lives before coming to Christ.

In the early church, many Jews who came to faith in Christ could not bring themselves to discard the ceremonial laws and practices in which they had been steeped since early childhood, especially the rites and prohibitions the Lord Himself had instituted under the Old Covenant. They still felt compelled, for example, to comply with Mosaic dietary laws, to strictly observe the Sabbath, and even to offer sacrifices in the Temple because they were given by the true God.

Other believers, both Jewish and Gentile, understood and exercised their freedom in Christ. Mature Jewish believers realized that, under the New Covenant in Christ, the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic law were no longer valid. Mature believing Gentiles understood that idolatry was a spiritual evil and had no effect on anything physical, such as meat, that may have been used in idolatrous worship.

Those who were still strongly influenced, favorably or unfavorably, by their former religious beliefs and practices were weak in the faith because they did not understand their freedom in Christ.

On the other hand, those who are strong are often faced with the temptation to push their freedom in Christ to the limits, to live on the outer edge of moral propriety, to see how far they can go without actually committing a sin. Those who are weak are tempted in the opposite way. They are so afraid of committing some religious offense that they surround themselves with self-imposed restrictions.

Christian convictions do not define what is “right” and “wrong.” God’s Word defines what is right and what is wrong. Biblical revelation is not a matter of personal discretion.It is not a conviction to believe that murder is evil or that loving our enemy is good. Convictions take up where biblical revelation and human law leave off. Convictions determine what my conduct should be in those areas not specifically prescribed by Scripture. My convictions draw the line between what I will do and what I will not do as an exercise of Christian liberty.

Convictions reach the conclusions of “should” and “should not.” The question is not so much, “Can I do this or that?” but “Should I do this or that?” Paul writes: (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV)  “Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.

Christian convictions are matters of conscience. Convictions are the result of the interaction of several factors. One factor is knowledge—a grasp of biblical teaching and doctrine. Another is that of conscience, our “inner umpire” which causes us to feel either guilt or moral affirmation. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7).

Christian convictions are matters of faith. Knowledge and conscience are factors which determine our convictions. Faith also plays a vital role in our convictions. We should only practice those liberties we can do in faith. If we doubt (the opposite of faith), we are condemned by doing what our conscience does not approve.

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:22-23).

In the Church at Rome there were apparently two lines of thought. There were some who believed that in Christian liberty the old tabus were gone; they believed that the old food laws were now irrelevant; they believed that Christianity did not consist in the special observance of any one day or days. Paul makes it clear that this in fact is the standpoint of real Christian faith.

On the other hand, there were those who were full of scruples; they believed that it was wrong to eat meat; they believed in the rigid observance of the Sabbath tyranny. Paul calls the ultra-scrupulous man the man who is weak in the faith. What does he mean by that?

Paul’s sympathies are all with the broader point of view; but, at the same time, he says that when one of these weaker brethren comes into the Church he must be received with brotherly sympathy. When we are confronted with someone who holds the narrower view there are three attitudes we must avoid.

(i) We must avoid irritation. An impatient annoyance with such a person gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view and to understand it.

(ii) We must avoid ridicule. No man remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. It is no small sin to laugh at another man’s beliefs. They may seem prejudices rather than beliefs; but no man has a right to laugh at what some other holds sacred. In any event, laughter will never woo the other man to a wider view; it will only make him withdraw still more determined into his rigidity.

(iii) We must avoid contempt. It is very wrong to regard the narrower person as an old-fashioned fool whose views may be treated with contempt. A man’s view are his own and must be treated with respect. It is not even possible to win a man over to our position unless we have a genuine respect for his. Of all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unchristian is contempt.

There are some people whose faith is so strong that no amount of debate and questioning will ready shake it. But there are others who have a simple faith which is only needlessly disturbed by clever discussion.

This passage deals with the principles which are to guide the believer as he faces these issues.

1. Receive the weak brother (v.1-2).

2. Do not despise and judge (criticize) others (v.3-4).

3. Be fully persuaded of right and wrong behavior (v.5-6).

4. Watch out—watch what you do (v.7-9).

5. Leave the judgment up to God (v.10-12).

6. Judge only one thing: stumbling blocks (v.13-15).

7. Give no occasion for criticism (v.16-18).

8. Pursue things that bring peace and edification (v.19).

9. Do not destroy or ruin the work of God in another person’s life: it is sin to do so (v.20).

10. Do nothing to cause a brother to stumble (v.21).

11. Watch and do not condemn yourself (v.22-23).

The ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ have several distinct characteristics.

(1) They are weak in faith. Literally, they are weak ‘in the faith’ or ‘in their faith. I suspect that both elements are true. That is, the weak are those who have not yet come to the full realization of the freedom and the liberty which is a part of the faith.

 (2)  The weak are prone to condemn the actions of the strong. As they have not yet come to understand Christian liberty, they do not accept it in others. The weak can be immediately recognized by the frown of contempt on their faces, and the “Oh, no!” look in their eyes.

 (3) The strong are those who are more fully aware of the nature of grace and of the teachings of the word of God. They have a greater grasp of the faith (objective-doctrine) and so their faith (subjective-personal) is stronger.

 (4) The strong are susceptible to the sin of smugness and arrogance. They can easily find contempt and disdain for those who cannot fully grasp grace. On their face can be seen the lofty, yet condescending, smile of contempt. Their eyes betray an expression of “Oh, really.”

 “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1).

He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. … for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:6, 8).

If we wish to busy ourselves with the work of passing judgment, let us concentrate upon ourselves, rather than upon our neighbor, for at the judgment seat of God we will be judged for our own actions: “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10).

The force of Paul’s argumentation is irresistible. The Christian has no business trying to conform his brother to his own personal convictions, since convictions are private property, since God has accepted him as he is, and since every servant is accountable only to his own master.

 Our Christian liberty is vertical, before the Lord. But the exercise of that liberty is horizontal, because it is seen by and affects others. To rightly understand and use our freedom in Christ brings great satisfaction. But that satisfaction is multiplied when we willingly surrender the exercise of a liberty for the sake of other believers. More importantly, it greatly pleases our Lord and promotes harmony in His church.

Marks of a Strong Fellowship Within the Church, 15:1-13

Paul shared the two sources of spiritual power from which we must draw if we are to live to please others: the Word of God (Rom. 15:4) and prayer (Rom. 15:5-6). We must confess that we sometimes get impatient with younger Christians, just as parents become impatient with their children. But the Word of God can give us the “patience and encouragement” that we need.

This suggests to us that the local church must major in the Word of God and prayer. The first real danger to the unity of the church came because the Apostles were too busy to minister God’s Word and pray (Acts 6:1-7). When they found others to share their burdens, they returned to their proper ministry, and the church experienced harmony and growth.

 This passage is a continuation of the former chapter. It clearly pinpoints the marks of a strong church. Once studying this passage, a believer can never claim he did not know his duty within the church. Every believer’s part in building and making the church strong is clearly spelled out.

Mark 1: the strong bear the weaknesses of the weak (v.1-3).

Mark 2: everyone studies the Scriptures (v.4).

Mark 3: everyone works for harmony (v.5-6).

Mark 4: everyone accepts one another without discrimination (v.7-12).

Mark 5: everyone is filled by the God of hope (v.13).

 

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2019 in Church

 

Challenges a congregation must meet: four practical challenges to congregational life


(Revelation 3:11-13)  “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. {12} Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. {13} He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”Isaiah 26:4 (66 kb)

If he can, the devil would like to hinder the gospel from being spread. He is intelligent enough to be very subtle and shrewd in his attempt to obstruct our progress in the Lord’s work.

(Genesis 3:1)  “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?””

(2 Corinthians 11:3)  “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

The result is that we may attend to certain of the devil’s “diversionary tactics” — all the while overlooking some of the things that are really holding us back.  There are some challenges that any congregation of Christians must meet in order to serve the Lord faithfully.

I. A CONGREGATION MUST REMEMBER WHAT ITS WORK IS: SOWING THE SEED

It requires constant discipline to stick to our work and let the Lord do His.

(Jeremiah 7:27)  “”When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.”

 (Ezekiel 2:7)  “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.”

It is our work to “plant” and “water”; it is the Lord’s work to give the “increase”

(1 Corinthians 3:1-6)  “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. {2} I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. {3} You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? {4} For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? {5} What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. {6} I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

Ultimately, the Lord will want to know not how many people we baptized, but how many people were left in our community that we never confronted with the gospel.  We are constantly tempted to bypass the work of seed-sowing or to believe that we are doing “enough” — we must resist both of these temptations.

FaithAtHome bookmark WEBII. A CONGREGATION MUST LIVE ABOVE PETTINESS

It requires constant discipline to keep away from “itsy-bitsy thinking.”  Selfishness, gossip, and factionalism are the bane of the Lord’s work in many places.

(Philippians 2:3-4)  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

 (Philippians 4:2)  “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”

 We need a sense of proportion and priorities. It is disastrous to “major in minors.” We must be able to see the largeness and importance of the work we are doing in comparison to our own personal concerns.

(Philippians 1:12-18)  “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. {13} As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. {14} Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. {15} It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. {16} The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. {17} The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. {18} But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,”

What the Lord’s work is about is co-operation

(Philippians 1:27)  “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”

The emphasis on “together” in: (Ephesians 2:19-22)  “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, {20} built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. {21} In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. {22} And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

 (Ephesians 4:16)  “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

III. A CONGREGATION MUST BELIEVE IT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ITS COMMUNITY

It requires constant discipline to be confident we can bring about significant changes for good where we live.  Without some hope (desire + expectation), our work will cease altogether. When Christ sets before us an “open door” (Revelation 3:8)  “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” ), no one can shut it.

We simply must keep in mind that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world

(1 John 4:4)  “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

IV. A CONGREGATION MUST MAINTAIN GRATITUDE FOR ITS BLESSINGS

It requires constant discipline to emphasize the positive rather than the negative aspects of our congregational situation.  Few congregations have had more problems than Corinth — yet there were still things to be thankful for:

(1 Corinthians 1:4-9)  “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. {5} For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– {6} because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. {7} Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. {8} He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. {9} God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Conclusion

We must determine to meet these challenges successfully.  It is true, congregationally as well as individually, that with every temptation there is a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).

But we must have the honesty to see temptation for what it is and arm ourselves against it – (Ephesians 6:10-11)  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. {11} Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed –

(Romans 13:11-12)  “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. {12} The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

(Hebrews 4:1)  “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2019 in Church

 

Pursuing Peace… “No sleep can be tranquil unless the mind is at rest.” Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God


“God made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising.” –King Solomon.

“Because we lack a Divine Center, our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’ … We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” —-Richard Foster.

peace
Peace is rare: Less than 8 percent of the time since the beginning of recorded time has the world been entirely at peace. In a total of 3,530 years, 286 have been warless. Eight thousand treaties have been broken in this time.

But we don’t always want to be so grandeur in our thinking. After all, I don’t start wars and I certainly can’t halt them.

We might rather dwell on this little piece of real estate that can be called ‘mine’ and leave it at that…to work on the attainable, casting aside the greater ideals. Why not think more simply?

Well, life doesn’t always allow for that. While it is true that the bathtub was invented in 1850 and the phone in 1875, and in 1850, you could have sat in the tub without having the phone ring, that doesn’t always answer the day’s issue.

Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.

Media mogul Ted Turner wanted to see if anybody had a real vision of a future world at peace and in harmony with the environment. He said his quest ended in disappointment. Turner told an Atlanta gathering of contributors to his Cable News Network’s World Report a few years back that he funded a competition to find a book that gave a workable plan for a world of peace.

“With 10,000 manuscripts, we did not have one plausible treatise on how we could get to a sustainable, peaceful future,” Turner told the gathering. The board chairman of Turner Broadcasting System Inc. said that, without a feasible plan, the prospects of creating peace are grim. “You’ve got to have a vision,” Turner said. “We can achieve it.” It’s too bad that Ted didn’t read the manuscript about the Prince of Peace.

In the fall of 1892, D. L. Moody boarded a ship in Southampton bound for New York. Three days into the journey, Moody, lying on his bunk, was startled by a loud noise, and the vessel began to shudder. The large shaft that drove the propeller had broken and smashed through the side of the ship. Water began pouring in and it was soon apparent that the ship would sink.

Moody was no stranger to dangerous situations. He’d been shot at in the Civil War. In Chicago, during the great cholera epidemic, he fearlessly visited the sick and dying. “But on the sinking ship,” Moody wrote in his memoirs, “it was different. It was the darkest hour of my life. I had thought myself superior to the fear of death,” but that illusion quickly vanished. “I could not endure it.”

Moody went to his cabin and on his knees poured out his heart to God. What happened? Moody said, “God heard my cry, and enabled me to say, ‘Thy will be done!'” He went to bed and fell asleep. He wrote, “I never slept any more soundly in all my life.”

At three in the morning, Moody’s son awakened him with good news: a steamer had heard their distress signals. Seven days later, they were towed into safe harbor.

I remember hearing of a young man who went to a minister of Christ in great distress about his spiritual state. He said to the minister, “Sir, can you tell me what I must do to find peace?” The minister replied, “Young man, you are too late.” “Oh!” said the young man, “you don’t mean to say I am too late to be saved?” “Oh, no,” was the reply, “but you are too late to do anything. Jesus did every thing that needed to be done twenty centuries ago.”

All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace. The second of the two most popular Christian greetings is “peace” (eirene). It is roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew shalom. But, though it is related to this word, it also means more.

Above all, peace is God’s gift to man, achieved by him at the cross of Christ. It is peace with God (Rom 5:1) and is to express itself both in peace of mind (Philippians 4:6, 7) and in a very practical peace between all those who know God.

This latter peace should be seen, as William Barclay notes: in the home (1 Cor. 7:12-16), between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14-17), within the church (Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:15), and indeed in the relationships of the believer with all men (Heb. 12:14). The apostle Peter suggested its priority for our life: “.…he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:11b).

However painful or difficult, or, on the other hand, however inconspicuous or humdrum life may be, the Christian finds his peace in accepting and playing his part in the master plan.

In life troubles will come which seem as if they never will pass away. The night and storm look as if they would last forever; but the calm and the morning cannot be stayed; the storm in its very nature is transient. The effort of nature, as that of the human heart, ever is to return to its repose, for God is peace.

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.

I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it. We cannot blink the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.

Peacemaking is an action that springs out of an attitude. When the heart’s wrong, there can’t be peace. Selfishness is a gangrene, eating at the very vitals. Sin is a cancer, poisoning the blood. Peace is the rhythm of our wills with Jesus’ love-will. Disobedience breaks the music. Failure to keep in touch makes discord. The notes jar and grate. We have broken off. The peace can’t get in. Jesus made peace by his blood. We get it only by keeping in full touch with him.

We would do well to acknowledge that which cannot be changed. Edwin Markham put it well:
At the heart of the cyclone tearing the sky And flinging the clouds and the towers by,
Is a place of central calm; So here in the roar of mortal things,
I have a place where my spirit sings, In the hollow of God’s palm.

A few years ago Ann Landers wrote a column in which she tried to depict what the earth would be like after a nuclear war. And she asked all of her readers to clip the article and to send it to the White House. The President, Ronald Reagan, wrote her a letter about two weeks later in which he acknowledged that he had received over two hundred clippings. But then he went on to suggest, “I think you sent them to the wrong place. They should have been sent to the Kremlin.”

While it may have been true that much of the problem could be laid at the feet of the Soviet Union rather than the United States, it’s also true that we often look at the problem with “those other guys” and fail to examine ourselves.. That’s often the problem about peace, isn’t it? It’s with those other guys.

I’ve been told that there are places in Europe where you can sink a spade into the earth, and in just two or three spadefuls of earth, you can dig up prehistoric artifacts and also bits of metal from much more modern times. In one spadeful of earth you might come up with a flint fist hatchet, which was used in prehistoric times to crush the skull of an enemy, and in that same bunch of earth, you will also find a bit of shrapnel from some shell fired during the Second World War.

Crushing the skull in the one instance, blowing a person to bits in the other–that is a kind of parable of the history of humankind, isn’t it? War after war after war. The absence of peace.

Frustrated? Wondering where to turn? Paul’s formula for understanding peace comes from a spiritual perspective, but we might need to make one more acknowledgement: I’m reminded of the Peanuts cartoon with Lucy saying to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!” Charlie says, “But I thought you had inner peace.” Lucy replies, “I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness”

Paul has the better response: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. {20} We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. {21} God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2019 in Church, Encouragement

 

Thinking About Leaving Your Church? Not So Fast…by Ben Giselbach


This is an article I wanted more to see.

Sam and Jennifer Johnson just returned from their 2-year anniversary trip. While traveling, they attended a congregation that had a great preacher. His sermons were passionate, dynamic, and interesting. When they returned to their home congregation, they noticed just how dull their own preacher really is. Now in his late sixties, his sermons are predictable, long, difficult to follow, and he has no plans on retiring.

Jack, the deacon over the bus ministry, is upset that his elders have not purchased a newer church van. The current van, a 1997 Dodge Ram with 240,000 miles on it, is now unreliable. It’s had a rough life of senior trips, benevolence, youth events, and regular Sunday morning routes. Now, the bottom of this ugly van is rusted out, the transmission has been rebuilt twice, and the gas mileage is terrible. Yet the elders still won’t sell it and buy a new one. And Jack is the one delegated to drive the van most of the time.

Conflict-ResolutionMarilyn, a 56-year-old single woman, loves to decorate for events. This past month, however, the Vacation Bible School planning team did not choose the theme she wanted this year. She already had several decorations and prop ideas for the theme she suggested, and now thinks to herself, “They knew what I wanted, but decided to go with a more boring theme. How could they do this to me? They just don’t care! I don’t think I can work with these people.”

What do these people all have in common? They are all thinking about leaving their church.

No, they are not upset about moral compromise, false doctrine, or spiritual infidelity within the church. Marilyn, Jack, and the Johnsons are simply suffering from a ‘consumer’ mentality. They have contributed emotionally and financially to their respective congregations, and now expect a return on their investment. “What is the church doing for me?” is the unspoken attitude.

Their stories illustrate the common reasons people decide to leave: personality conflicts, hurt feelings, pride, and selfish preferences. People rarely leave over legitimate biblical issues. When things get difficult, their grievances start multiplying. “I’m not being fed here.” “The elders don’t do anything.” “They aren’t using me.” “There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” “I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” “The elders won’t listen to me.”

Sound familiar?

Yes, the church has plenty of people whose lives do not resemble the life of Christ. There are elders who abuse their authority or are really bad at leading. Big decisions are sometimes made haphazardly and without the consent of others. And there are plenty of personality conflicts, power fights, and relationship squabbles. The temptation to find refuge in a “stronger” congregation can be very appealing.

But the church is not a business, and you are not a consumer. You are Christian who is part of a community – a church family that is imperfect. Your commitment – not your circumstances – to the body of Christ is what matters the most. Regardless of whether your circumstances are delightful or dreadful, it is your dedication to Christ that should determine whether you should stay or go.

“But you don’t understand. My church has a lot of problems!” Yes, and so do you. So do I. We were slaves to sin, and now – by the grace of God – we have been rescued (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Luke 15:11-32). For the rest of our Christian walk, we will be in a state of transformation into the image of Christ (Rom. 12:2; Gal. 2:20). If Christ is committed to us, despite our shortcomings, should we not be committed to His Bride, despite her human imperfections?

More than likely, church problems aren’t keeping you from becoming more like Christ. It is your commitment to building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12), despite her problems, that is making you more like Christ.

Would Christ have you run away from your church the moment a bad decision is made? Or would He ask you to be His light in the period of darkness?

“They aren’t using me.” Maybe you haven’t been given the job you want. But maybe that is because you could serve a greater role doing something else.

“I’m not being fed here.” Maybe you are confusing real spiritual growth with faux spiritualism. Maybe you are relying too much on the church, rather than your own study of the Scripture, to grow closer to God.

“The elders don’t do anything.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What they need, however, is your encouragement. “The elders won’t listen to me.” Maybe you just need to learn to be submissive to their decisions (Heb. 13:17).

“There aren’t enough activities for my kids.” Then you need to step up and help with the children’s ministry at your church. If you think of church as a daycare for your kids, you have other problems to deal with.

“I’m tired of all the hypocrites.” If your brother or sister is wrestling with sin, then they need you to help them overcome their inconsistencies (cf. Heb. 10:24-25). They need the encouragement and support of faithful Christians like you. The last thing they need is for strong Christians to flee.

God has given us His church, and through it His grace transforms us (Titus 2:11-12). Christians are to build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11), but that can only happen if we are committed to one another.

Think twice about leaving. Perhaps your congregation needs you now more than ever before. And perhaps fleeing the moment the road gets bumpy will keep you from maturing in an area in which you need to grow spiritually the most.

When It Is Time To Leave
[A few days ago I wrote, “Thinking About Leaving Your Church? Not So Fast.” It has generated quite a bit of traffic, and many of you have written some very good responses, both publicly and privately. Some readers have asked: When, if ever, is it okay to leave?]

The disease of consumerism is a plague within the Lord’s church. Since we stop shopping at stores that no longer carry the products that we want, and since we stop eating at restaurants that change the recipe of our favorite menu items, we think we should leave our congregation when things no longer go our way.

Yet, consumerism – “The church owes me for my patronage” mentality – is foreign to what God wants for His church. The moment we became Christians, the Lord added us involuntarily to His church (cf. Acts 2:38, 47). Since we have been raised with Christ, we are now seeking what is best for Him and His kingdom, not ourselves (Matt. 6:33, Col. 3:1-4:6). The local congregation of Lord’s church needs us (Heb. 10:24-25, 1 Cor. 14:12), and when we leave for petty reasons, we are guilty of abusing – not building up – the Bride of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:23, 25-27, 30). If Christ is dedicated to me despite my imperfections (1 John 1:7-2:1), I need to be dedicated to His church despite her human imperfections.

But is it ever appropriate to leave your congregation and attend another? Yes.

Knowing when to leave is a matter of judgment. But that does not mean the Bible does not have anything to say about the matter. I like the advice of Jonathan Leeman in his book, Church Membership: How The World Knows Who Represents Jesus. He writes:

All of us, at times, will be called to endure humbly a leader’s mistakes and sins. Nonetheless, should you find yourself in a church were the leadership is characteristically abusive, I would, in most cases, encourage you to flee. Flee to protect your discipleship, to protect your family, to set a good example for the members left behind, and to serve non-Christian neighbors by not lending credibility to the church’s ministry. (p. 118)

I believe you should leave when the leadership is characteristically abusive. The key word is “characteristically,” meaning “indicative of character or typical of personality.” The fruit of the spirit is characterized by longsuffering (Gal. 5:22), meaning we need to lovingly endure the occasional human blunders of our otherwise godly leaders (cf. Heb. 13:17). Such mistakes are not characteristic of penitent, spiritual men who simply want to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28). In other words, mistakes are the exception, not the norm, for godly leaders.

Yet, things that characterize an abusive leadership include (a) lacking of respect for the silence of the Scriptures in matters of religion and worship, (b) depending on charm or passive aggression rather than God’s Word and prayer, (c) playing favorites, (d) using extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment), (e) speaking often and quick to pompously bloviate, (f) rarely serving others in secret, (g) teaching others without grounding them in God’s Word, and (h) emphasizing outward conformity rather than genuine repentance and contrition in spirit.

I understand the above characteristics are sometimes subjective. So here are some more specific qualities of an abusive leadership which, I believe, require you no choice but to leave.

Flee Your Church

1. When leaders teach blatant false doctrine (Gal. 1:7-9)

If elders are teaching or endorsing flat out error, and refuse to repent, it is time to leave. Staying to ‘fight’ may not be as fruitful as the statement you make by leaving. Of course, make sure you are leaving over a specific scriptural issue, not merely a matter of opinion.

2. When leaders tolerate outright error from those who teach (Rom. 16:17)

When we no longer hold to “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), we are no longer unified in the apostle’s teaching (John 17:20-21). When elders permit ‘alternate views’ to be taught within the assembly, it is time to leave.

I have experience with one church that permitted a man to teach an entire class on the subject of the Holy Spirit, wherein he taught obvious untruths about how the Spirit leads Christians & non-Christians alike, and how the Spirit supposedly still gives Christians miraculous abilities today. I know of another church that would permit a sermon on Matthew 19:9 so long as an ‘alternate teaching’ to what Christ taught was presented.

In cases like these, I would suggest leaving immediately in order to protect your family and to set a good example to the rest of the church.

3. When leaders no longer demand holiness (1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14)

If a church not longer expects saints to live like saints (1 Cor. 1:2; John 17:17), you must leave. Any church that tolerates open, impenitent sin among its members is no true church of God (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

I know of several churches that refused to discipline a man and a woman who had no scriptural right from God to be married (cf. Matt. 19:9). I know of another congregation that refused to discipline a man for living with a woman – as though they were husband and wife – though they were not married. And I know of still another congregation who tolerates a member (because she is a major financial supporter of the church) who openly supports the LGBT agenda. All of these serve as examples of downright wickedness.

If any of this describes your church, my advice is to leave immediately. I fear there will be many who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and hear Him ask, “Why did you continue to attend that congregation when you knew they had lost their first Love?” (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:4).

And When It Is Time To Leave…

1. Don’t burn bridges. Chances are – if you were building the relationships within the church community that God wanted (1 Cor. 12:25; Eph. 4:25) – you will still encounter members of that church from time to time. You’ll see them at the grocery store, at weddings, at funerals, at ballgames, and maybe even at family reunions. Do what you can to keep those meetings from being awkward. Try to leave your congregation on the best terms possible.

2. Leave graciously. Any time someone leaves a congregation (e.g. moving to a new address or graduating school), it is a painful experience. The pain is exacerbated when someone leaves for doctrinal reasons. Fight feelings of bitterness and anger. The temptation to leave a gaping wound will be strong. However, recognize that vengeance does not belong to you (Rom. 12:19). Rather, if the church – particularly the eldership – is guilty of abuse, then it has the judgment of the Lord to fear. Leave with gentleness, and let the Lord handle how they have treated His Bride.

3. Tell the elders why you are leaving. This is deeply important. Too many just ‘drop out’ from attending without telling anyone why or where they have gone. This makes the job of shepherding much more difficult (cf. Matt. 18:12-14). If you tell the elders you are leaving and why, maybe they can repent or clear up a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Maybe they need to learn from you. Since the Lord will judge them for their mistake (Heb. 13:17), the loving thing to do is expose their error before that Day.

4. Make it a ‘clean cut.’ If you’re going to leave, then leave. Don’t fade away, slowly dropping your commitments and relationships. If you are part of that church family, then be part of the church family. If you are leaving, then leave completely. Place yourself under another faithful, godly eldership as soon as possible so they can watch over your soul. (Read: Yes, Local Church Membership Is Essential)

5. Keep praying for the congregation you left. Pray for your former elders. Pray for the sheep still in their perilous care. Pray that those who are guilty of abuse will come to repentance. Pray for reconciliation.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2019 in Church

 

One of the most helpful things to us…coming to know God, the most fascinating ‘person’ alive


One day it occurred to me that God is the most fascinating ‘person’ alive and that getting to know Him could well be the most helpful thing that ever happened to me. The more I probed His nature the more convinced I became that knowing Him is the solution to most of my problems.

In the early days of the automobile a man’s Model-T Ford stalled in the middle of the road.  He couldn’t get it started no matter how hard he cranked nor how much he tried to advance the spark or adjust things under the hood.  Just then a chauffeured limousine pulled up behind him, and a wiry, energetic man stepped out from the back seat and offered his assistance.  After tinkering for a few moments the stranger said, “Now try it!”  Immediately the engine leaped to life.  The well-dressed individual then identified himself as Henry Ford.  “I designed and built these cars,” he said, “so I know what to do 2 Corinthians 9:15 (60 kb)when something goes wrong.”

God, as our creator knows how to “fix” us when our lives are broken by sin.

God is not discoverable or demonstrable by purely scientific means, unfortunately for the scientific minded.  But that really proves nothing.  It simply means that the wrong instruments are being used for the job.

A Sunday School teacher saw one of her little boys drawing furiously with a set of crayons. “What are you doing, Johnny?” she asked. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” said Johnny. “But Johnny,” said the teacher, “nobody knows what God looks like.” Replied Johnny: “Well, they will by the time I’m through with THIS!”

In looking for a challenge or some direction in life, the most challenging task we can approach is the zeal to come to know God. Think how that process might begin with some questions/answers:

Name: God.
Also known as: The Almighty, Jehovah, the Father, Lord.
Occupation: Sustainer and ruler of the universe.
Address: Everywhere.
Sex: Does not apply.
Place of birth: Does not apply.
Social Security: None.
Mother’s maiden name: None.
Dependents: Everyone.
Honors received: Too numerous to list.

God doesn’t fit a mold, does he? He is, to put it mildly, unique. One of a kind. Indescribable, some would say! God is beyond cataloging, and no computer resume, no investigating committee, not even a CIA computer could give an exhaustive profile of who He is and all that He’s done.

God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God. Yet we cannot give up! We can’t throw up our hands and dismiss Him as a mystery…we need Him!

Imagine a sheer, steep crag with a projecting edge at the top. Now imagine what a person would probably feel if he put his foot on the edge of this precipice and, looking down into the chasm below, saw no solid footing nor anything to hold on to.

This is what I think the soul experiences when it goes beyond its footing in material things, in its quest for that which has no dimension and which exists from all eternity. For here there is nothing it can take hold of, neither place nor time, neither measure nor anything else; our minds cannot approach it.

And thus the soul, slipping at every point from what cannot be grasped, becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is connatural to it, content now to know merely this about God, that it is completely different from the nature of the things that the soul knows.

It’s amazing in this world the way people respond to God, as they understand Him…it’s very different: some grovel before totems; others bring offerings of chickens and goats; others kneel five times daily to chant prayers; others go into trances. Some believe in God so intensely they preach in foreign lands; others deny His existence by their silence.

We need to come to see God in people around us. We need to know Him in a personal way.

I’m thinking of a little boy named Timmy. Timmy was very afraid of the lightning and the thunder. His mom and dad went into his room during a thunderstorm and said, “Now, Timmy, don’t be afraid. God is right here in the room with you.”

He said, “Okay, Mommy and Daddy, I won’t be afraid.”

But then as the mommy and daddy went into their room and started to get ready for bed, the lightning clapped, and the thunder rolled, and Timmy screamed bloody murder. Timmy’s daddy and mommy went back into the room and said, “Honey, we thought we told you, you don’t need to be afraid. God is right here in the room with you.”

Timmy said, “Mommy and Daddy, I know God is right here in the room with me, but I need someone with skin on.” [1]

What is God like? Answers don’t come easy, because of the immensity of the subject. God is huge, filling the universe. Also people might know the right words, but they seem to become hollow shells because they can’t comprehend them.

We say that God is holy, righteous, loving, gracious, Father-Son-Spirit, but we don’t know what all this means. How do we know the words are empty? We can tell by the way many Christians behave!

Our behavior exposes our failure to understand the words coming out of our mouths. We can talk about God, but we do not know Him! God is not like us — He’s one of a kind! God is different from men. Anyone trying to know God and learn to relate to Him must begin with this fundamental truth.

God is not optional! Unlike everything else, God is absolutely necessary, like water for fish. We can’t just “take God or leave Him” — He is inescapable, even more so than death and taxes. We must not be too “familiar” with God, or regard Him as optional…we must learn to let God be God.

A. W. Tozer wrote concerning the desperate need for the church to revise its concept of God due to a very distorted conception of Him: It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.[2]

Tozer goes on to say, The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her.[3]

A. W. Pink is of the same opinion: The god of this century no more resembles the Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The god who is talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday school, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible conferences, is a figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside the pale of Christendom form gods of wood and stone, while millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a god out of their carnal minds.[4]

One day it occurred to me that God is the most fascinating person alive and that getting to know Him could well be the most helpful thing that ever happened to me. The more I probed His nature the more convinced I became that knowing Him is the solution to most of my problems. I became convinced that knowing God better was the answer to many of their problems as well. I decided that I want to get to know God intimately, and that I want to help others get to know Him as well, if I possibly can.

God is knowable, and He does want to be known. As a matter of fact, He tells us that our eternal state depends upon knowing Him. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Knowing God and His Son Jesus is the heart of the whole matter of eternal life. The word know in this verse does not refer to a casual acquaintance either. It is the kind of knowledge that comes through living contact and personal relationship. If knowing God is that important, maybe we ought to talk about how we can get to know Him.

A mother was approached by her young son, who asked, “Mommy, did God make Himself?”  Realizing that such questions by children are very important and must be answered, she dropped what she was doing and sat down with her youngster for a little talk.  Pointing to her wedding band, she said, “This is a ‘love ring,’ which your daddy gave me when we were married.  Look at it closely and tell me where it begins and where it ends.”

   The youngster examined it carefully and then said, “There’s no starting place and stopping place to a ring.”  The mother replied, “That’s the way it is with God.  He had no beginning and has no end, yet He encircles our lives with His presence. He is too wonderful, too great, for our minds to understand. Nobody ever made God — He always was!”  Somehow the boy realized that for God to be God, He could not have been created. He had to be without beginning and without end.

Martin Luther once was so depressed over a prolonged period that one day his wife came downstairs wearing all black.  Martin Luther said, “Who died?”  She said, “God has.”  He said, “God hasn’t died.” And she said, “Well, live like it and act like it.”

WHY IS KNOWING GOD SO IMPORTANT?

  1. It shapes our moral and ethical standards.
  2. It directly affects our response to pain and hardship.
  3. It motivates our response toward fortune, fame, power, and pleasure.
  4. It gives us strength when we are tempted.
  5. It keeps us faithful and courageous when we are outnumbered.
  6. It enhances our worship and prompts our praise.
  7. It determines our lifestyle and dictates our philosophy.
  8. It gives meaning and significance to relationships.
  9. It sensitizes our conscience and creates the desire to be obedient.
  10. It stimulates hope to go on, regardless.
  11. It enables us to know what to reject and what to respect while I’m invited to planet Earth.
  12. It is the foundation upon which everything rests!

[1] Thomas Tewell, “The Tenacity of a Bulldog,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 141.

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper and Row, Publish­ers, 1961), p. 10.

[3] Ibid., p. 12.

[4] Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead, pp. 28-29.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2019 in Church

 

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? James 1:1-5


The Omniscient God knew that His people would have to suffer persecution, and even death for some of them, at the hands of their enemies, in a godless world. He made certain to make known that fact so we’d know that their (our) suffering would not be in vain.

 (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 NIV)  Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. {2} And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. {3} But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

 Acts 17:27 (153 kb)(2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

 (Revelation 2:12-13 NIV)  “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. {13} I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.

Life just doesn’t seem fair. It’s often the very best people we know who go through the worst things we can imagine. All too often it seems that the crooks get away with their meanness and even seem to have a pipeline of blessings coming into their lives.

Our human sense of logic would like to pigeon hole everything to such a degree that when people are having troubles we can know they aren’t doing right or they wouldn’t have such things happen.

  • Of a Christian in business and it goes bankrupt. Many will look at it and say something had to be wrong with the way they were living or such a thing would never have happened.
  • Of parents whose children become tyrants. We have a tendency to declare them unfit parents of their children wouldn’t have made such a horrible error.
  • Of couples in marriage. One leaves. The marriage falls apart. People begin to wonder about the Christianity of the one who was left. Must not have been living right or the other one would never have left. In so doing we ignore the teachings of the Bible.

 (1 Corinthians 7:14-15 NIV)  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. {15} But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

 Remember the disciples when they saw the man born blind.

John 9:1-5: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. {2} His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” {3} “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. {4} As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. {5} While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Silly question. What could he have done before birth to have violated God’s will and cause him to be born blind? Jesus declared, “Neither”. They had missed the whole point.

 But there is no doubt good people suffer, are persecuted, are hated by the world, are mistreated by neighbors and fellow workers and generally have problems. Why? Why do bad things happen to good people?

 BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A WORLD INFLUENCED BY SATAN.

When sin entered the world at Eden its affects passed on all, even those who hadn’t sinned.

(Genesis 3:16 NIV)  To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

 God told Adam (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV)  To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. {18} It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. {19} By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Much of what happens that is bad is simply because we live in the world we do. Satan is powerful. His reign has been upset and he is like a tyrant over some country who has been voted out of office and is mad at the whole world now. Whatever he can do to cause pain and agony he is ready to do it. This is what Satan does when he controls.

 BECAUSE TROUBLES CAUSE US TO GROW.

If only good came to those who do good, we would become soft and tender footed in our spiritual life. One of the things wrong with the whole health, wealth and prosperity gospel is that it brings people into Christianity for the wrong reasons. They want something, which solves all their problems.

 But trials produce endurance. They bring a spiritual toughness to us.

(James 1:1-5 NIV)  James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. {2} Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. {4} Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. {5} If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

 Persecution causes us to turn to God many times.

(Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. {12} Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 (1 Peter 4:14 NIV)  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

 Suffering turns our hearts to the Lord.

(Psalms 119:67 NIV)  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.

 (Psalms 119:71 NIV)  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

What needs to happen for us is for us to glory in our tribulation, since such troubles bring perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint us.

 (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, {2} through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. {3} Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; {4} perseverance, character; and character, hope. {5} And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We are more than conquerors in all the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword.

 (Romans 8:35-37 NIV)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? {36} As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” {37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 CONCLUSION

Whatever the reason we have the troubles or bad things, which happen, the result can be marvelous. Our light, momentary afflictions work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

 (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. {17} For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. {18} So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 Our afflictions remind us what we already have in this life and that we certainly don’t want to go to a place where that is all there is.

 I may never understand all the why’s of this life, but God still loves me and  He longs to get me ready for an eternal home with Him. Are you ready to meet the Lord today?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2019 in Church, Encouragement

 
 
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