Archive for August, 2012

Doctrines and Practices

Many things changed after the American Revolution. New freedoms were enjoyed, and citizens had to become accustomed to a republic instead of the monarchy they had all lived under in the past. It wasn’t that there had been a change in kings. It was a totally different type of government now. The same is true of what has happened now that the Mosaic Law is fulfilled in Christ. We have been set free form a law that could only condemn, but could not redeem. We moved from a law that was laid out line by line and specified everything that could and could not be done.

One thing that is different is that now, instead of having to commit a sinful act, we only have to want to do it in our hearts in order to be guilty before God. So it is not that this new law is easier. It is just different because it gets to the root of sin — our hearts.
The Hebrew writer refers to it when he quotes Jeremiah 31:33-34:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18 ESV)

Before, the law had to spell everything out compel obedience. Now, the Spirit has put the New Law in our hearts. Whenever we take in the words of Scripture, especially if we commit them to memory, we are busy putting those laws in our hearts. As a result, our minds and hearts are transformed.

According to Jesus, the Mosaic Law was in force until John the Baptist. Now we are under Kingdom Law.

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. (Luke 16:16 NET)

Now, instead of being ruled by the letter of the law, we must keep the spirit of the law. The Apostle Paul put it this way to the Corinthians:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6 NET)

Here is a good place to define the terms “doctrine” and “practice”. All doctrine must be founded in the Word of God. We are not to go beyond what God has revealed, but must be able to back up what we teach to be truth with chapter and verse.
But practices are different. They are the things we do to live out the truth in our lives. Practices must be done with doctrine in mind. For instance, if a practice violates doctrine, it is sin. But if a practice can be done without violating what has been revealed, and does not violate our conscience, the we are free do do it, keeping in mind that we are not to violate the spirit of the law either.

Here is an example. The Bible clearly says that the Lords Supper was eaten using unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. To use anything else wild violate what the Bible says those elements symbolize. So using cookies and Pepsi would violate the spirit of the law and would be sinful. In the other hand, we make partake of those same elements indoors, outdoors, left handed, right handed, with red grape juice, purple grape juice, in one cup or many cups because none of those things violate the intent of the commandment. We do not need to wring our hands because we have no clear direction on those kinds of exact details. Neither to we have to find an example for everything we do. If it is not contrary to doctrine, and is not unwise (it’s not stupid), won’t create the appearance of evil, and will not cause a brother or sister to stumble, then go ahead.

Another example is in giving. What is important is that we give, not whether or not we use a check or cash. Either one is fine because they didn’t have checks 2000 years ago, so no direction is given about the exact type of funds to be given. We just give as we have determined in our hearts, and do so cheerfully because that’s what the Word says to do. Instead of looking at the exact amount we give, as was done with the tithe under the Old Law, God looks upon our hearts and the motive behind our giving. In a way, it’s easier and harder at the same time.

I have seen the pendulum swing both ways. A group of Christians starts off wanting to follow Jesus by the New Testament alone. And things go well for awhile, until some will start wanting a chapter and verse for every single thing that is done, when sometimes there is none. They end up missing the forest for the trees as they sink into focusing on the minutia and lose there first love. Take it to it’s conclusion, and you won’t have a church building, since none are authorized in the New Testament and none existed for the first 300 years of church history.
But then the opposite happens. A group splits off and declares that they are fee of such legalism and cat aside all restraint. Not only do they stop searching the Scriptures to find it what to do, they stop paying attention to the scriptures for what to believe as well. And as the baby swirls down the drain with the bath water, the sink into lawlessness and are worse off than when they began.

The key is in finding balance. We teach doctrine from the Word and only the Word, and are only open to practices that do not violate doctrine. That will end needless debate on things of little importance so we can focus on teaching the truth of God’s Word in its purity and simplicity. We will not be arguing over the arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic, but will be focused on getting people to the lifeboats before they are forever lost.

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An Incarnation Celebration

I realize it’s August, but there is something on my heart that I need to share. And it can be summarized in one word – Christmas.

Yes, Christmas. It’s going to happen again this year, and there are some predictable things that will come with it. People will stress out about gifts to buy, going into debt again this year. Children will spend days wondering about what they are going to get, although some will give presents, too. The suicide rate will spike, and some marriages will finally break from the strain. Children will be told that Santa will bring them presents, so as to avoid offending anyone with stories about the birth of Jesus. Businesses will make the biggest money of the year, and it will all be over. Trees and wrapping paper will be recycled, and some things will be re-gifted.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!

Let’s wind the clock back. Not to our childhood, but further back. 2000 years back! While many will read the Christmas stories in Matthew 1 and Luke 2, John summed up the incarnation succinctly in just one verse.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)

The Word becoming flesh, known as the incarnation, is a pivotal moment in history. It is the intersection of humanity and eternity, where the very creator of the universe condescends to commune with His creation. Without the incarnation there would have been no salvation. That is worth celebrating!
But do we really celebrate this incarnation by commercialism and rituals borrowed from ancient pagan rites? No! Now some may say that it doesn’t matter what the symbols and practices meant to pagans long ago, it just matters what they symbolize to us today. I would submit that it only matters what those things mean to God, not to us.

So I ask, how do we rightly celebrate the supreme gift given to us at the Incarnation? By giving gifts. But not the kind I wrote about above. We should celebrate by giving ourselves, the same way He gave himself for us. This year can be different. What a perfect time to begin living out in our lives the compassion of Christ. So often Jesus was “moved with compassion” and met the needs of others. We, too, can give to the poor, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and teach our children that the real meaning of giving is not just to write a check and walk away, but to be the very hands and feet of Jesus as we minister to those who He came to save!

So why write something like this in August? Because we can start planning now! Find a need and plan to fill it. Make it intentional. Don’t just hope an opportunity presents itself, but actively seek out ways to be a blessing in Jesus’ name this year. Oh, and please don’t just give to some church fund and excuse yourself from active participation. Don’t fall into the trap of “I gave at the office so my obligation is covered” and miss out on a rich blessing!

We can do it if we plan to do it. Make this year different. Build memories of Christmas with something other than what I got this year. Be the manifestation of the love of Jesus to someone this year. Introduce them to this Jesus who is “the Word made flesh” and have a true Incarnation Celebration this year.

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Jumping For Jesus

Have you ever read about the miracles in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and wondered what it would have been like to have witnessed them? The wonder and amazement you would have felt would have been life changing.
I want to take a look at the healing of the lame man at the temple by Peter and John in Acts 3 and draw some lessons from it.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1-10 NASB)

The story goes further to include the preaching that occurred after the miracle, but my intention is to focus on the first part. One of the first things mentioned is that the man was born lame. This was no temporary condition from an injury that would eventually be recovered from. He had been born that way. Ever wonder why you can’t find a so-called faith healer attempting to heal people with conditions they have had from birth? No headings of those with deformed limbs, or Down Syndrome or conjoined twins. This also meant that everyone would know who he was and would have to give God credit for the healing.

Another thing I see here is that this spot by the temple gate was where he was always taken. Jesus, during his earthly ministry, went to the temple numerous times. Surely he had seen this man there. And yet Jesus did not stop and heal him. By passing the man by, Jesus was demonstrating that it is not always God’s will to heal everyone right now. Jesus was directly led by the Spirit, and only did those things he was told to do. Was it because He had no compassion for this lame man? No, it was because, in this case, the healing was to take place later at a time that would bring glory to God and facilitate Peter and John preaching and souls being saved!

After the healing took place, the man gave thanks and praise to his healer – God! He was not ashamed to openly and boldly let everyone know who had made such a dramatic change in his life. Should we be any less enthused about what God has done for us in Christ? We were all under condemnation and sentenced to eternal destruction. But someone, somewhere, at some time told us about Jesus. We heard, believed, repented, confessed Jesus as Lord,and we’re baptized. We are now on the road to heaven because someone has paid our penalty for us. Shouldn’t we be every bit as excited as the lame man who could now leap?

Since the miracle had created an opportunity to preach, Peter and John seized the moment and proclaimed Christ to the crowd. They didn’t sign up those who heard as their partners and certainly did not take an offering to support the ministry. Jesus was the center of their ministry. Yet how many today claim power to heal, and will pray for you when you send in an offering?
Another point I would like to make here is that throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles went around the world starting one thing, and one thing only – churches! The didn’t start ministries in every city, the planted congregations! They didn’t even start ministries of their own. No Peter and John Ministries, Inc. no, the Great Commission was to be accomplished by churches, period!

In the end, the lame man’s enthusiasm drew a crowd, and multitudes were saved. Let’s get fired up about what Jesus has done for us and see who asks us for an explanation for our joy! And may many souls be brought into the Kingdom!

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Soul Sleep

There is a popular, although not a majority, teaching which says that when we die, we are not conscious of anything and are in a state of sleep until the resurrection. That’s not what I am writing about. What I am writing about is the two different ways that someone’s soul can be asleep in the here and now.

The first type of sleep is completely natural. The natural, carnal, unregenerate human is asleep to the things of God. In fact, he is probably oblivious to spiritual things. If not, he believes they are foolishness.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB)

Because of this deep sleep, which is also spiritual death, it takes a supernatural force to awaken them from this sleep. God has provided such a force, and it is His Word. The only way to bring faith to life is for some one to hear the Word of God and believe it.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17 NASB)

And so the call goes forth to all who are willing to hear to wake up, in the same way turning on a bright light can wake someone from sleep. We shine the light of Jesus and ask them to choose to rise and live.

But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,
“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:13, 14 NASB)

But there is another type of soul sleep. It can affect Christians who become comfortable with their level of growth and decide to stay there. The enemy lulls them to sleep and they become unaware of their backsliding. For staying at one level is not possible. We are either moving forward or sliding backward.
One question we can reflect on is this: was there a time in the past when I was more on fire for God? When I had more zeal and was bearing more fruit? If you can say yes to any or all of those questions, you are in a backslidden condition and need to get back on the road to heaven.

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:11-14 NASB)

I am convinced that this condition was what happened to the church at Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2. They didn’t hold an elders meeting one day and decide to leave their first love. It was a gradual, unintentional process. If we discover we are asleep, or starting to get drowsy, we née to do what Jesus commanded the Ephesians to do.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place-unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4, 5 NASB)

So let’s have a wake up call. We can’t wake up sinners in the darkness if we are asleep in the light! I love the way the late Keith Green put it. (edited for space)

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down?
Don’t you care? Don’t you care?
Are you going to let them drown?
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
Don’t close your eyes and pretend the job’s done!

Open up, open up
And give yourself away.
You see the need
You hear the cries
So how can you delay?
God’s calling and you’re the one,
But like Jonah you run.
He’s told you to speak but you keep holding it in.
Oh, can’t you see it’s such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
’cause it’s asleep in the light!
How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come?
Don’t close your eyes and pretend the job’s done!

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God Listens To Abba

Many children have terms of endearment for their parents and grandparents. While these names may not make sense to an outsider, to those inside the relationship those names evoke the fondest of memories. One such term that is used in the New Testament is “Abba” and it means “daddy”.

The term Abba conveys a sense of utter trust and intimacy between a child and a father. So much so that it is even carried on into adulthood. It was in the Garden as Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36 NASB) In His hour of deepest sorrow and emotional pain, Jesus cries out to the Father with the most intimate name he knows – Abba. While His Father is high and exalted above all the universe, He is also “Daddy”.

I read the story of a tourist in Israel years ago who was walking with his tour guide in a residential neighborhood. As the walked, they saw a man park his car in front of a house. Immediately two small children ran out the front door to welcome him home from work, crying out “Abba! Abba!” until he hugged and kissed them and carried them back into the house.

It is that same spirit that we have as Christians in our hearts, because God is now our Father and we are his children. Paul wrote about that relationship in letters to Rome and the churches in Galatia.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 NET)

And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6 NET)

Think about that! We now have the privilege of using the intimate name that Jesus himself used when addressing is Father! And because of the love relationship we have with God, we can call Him Abba because we have been brought into the family as adopted children.

I think that is what the Hebrew writer had in mind when he said this:

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

We don’t have the boldness of a trusted advisor or even a daily servant. We have the same boldness to enter into His presence as the King’s children have. It is not based on talent, experience, or status. We can come to our Abba Father at any time simply because He is our Daddy and we know how much He loves us!

The Apostle John summed it up best:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1, 2 NIV)

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Being Like Andrew

I like to do biographical studies in the Bible. It keeps things fresh and sometimes it helps when I get an overview of someone’s life instead of looking just at single instances. One person I find fascinating, even though little is said about him, is the Apostle Andrew.
Andrew was Peter’s brother, and actually became a disciple before him. While he is usually mentioned fourth in the lists of Apostles, it becomes apparent that his brother Peter was part of Jesus’ inner circle. Yet there is never any mention of envy or jealousy on Andrew’s part. Rather than let pride rule him and become resentful of Peter, he remains where Jesus has placed him, confident that God knows what is best.
Other than in lists, Andrew is only mentioned three times, all in the Gospel of John. And that is not surprising, since John and James were also fishermen and appear to have known Peter and Andrew. Let’s take a look at those three passages, and then draw some lessons from Andrew’s life.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He *found first his own brother Simon and *said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:40-42 NASB)

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, *said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:8, 9 NASB)

these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip *came and *told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came and *told Jesus. (John 12:21, 22 NASB)

So, what reason is there that these accounts are in Scripture? What do these stories have in common. After pondering and meditating on this for awhile, it became clear what they have in common.

Every time we see Andrew, he is bringing someone to Jesus!

First, he brings his brother, Peter. He is so excited about finding the Messiah, that he goes and gets the me closest to him and brings him to Jesus. How often all of us have seen someone newly converted, who in their zeal goes out and tells everyone they know about how wonderful our Savior is! As we mature in Christ, that wonder and enthusiasm needs to be stoked and kept hot.

Then he brings a little boy to Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000. There is nothing to indicate that he knew this boy. And yet the account doesn’t say Andrew grabbed him, took him kicking and screaming up to Jesus, and stole his lunch. Andrew had searched and found someone willing to bring all they had to the Master. We also should continue to seek out those who are inclined and willing to offer themselves to Christ and guide them to his feet.

And finally, a men came seeking after Jesus, who apparently knows who He is already. Andrew and Phillip simply assure them that Jesus is in fact there and do not hinder them. But these were not their kinsmen. The men were Greek proselytes who had come to the feast in Jerusalem. Yet there is no hesitation on Andrew or Phillips part. No sign of prejudice and thought that any man was less worthy to find Jesus. It is also worth pointing out that there was something about Andrew and Phillip that made it unnecessary for the men to ask them if they knew Jesus. He simply approached them and said, “sir, we wish to see Jesus. In our preaching and teaching, the only way we will be of any benefit to our hearers is for us to remember that what our audience really needs is to see Jesus. They don’t need to see our intellect or wit on display. They don’t need to be entertained. They just need to see Jesus!

We should all want to be remembered someday as an Andrew. Whenever people think of us, what a wonderful tribute it would be for them to say, “he was always bringing people to Jesus”.

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Smooth Talkers Not Needed

Smooth Talkers Need Not Apply
There are some smooth talkers that it seems could sell people anything. There are also some who can give a speech so moving that people run to join their cause. But when preaching, is that what God is looking for? Is He looking for the most gifted speakers or the most persuasive salesmen? Let’s see what the Apostle Paul said about his own preaching strategy.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NASB)

Paul first says he did not come as a gifted speaker or philosopher. Paul was not an uneducated man, either. He was a scholar in his own right, and could have overwhelmed his audiences with the depth of his knowledge. But rather than give into the temptation to do so, he purposely avoided it. His message was simply about Jesus Christ and his crucifixion for our sins. He would rather be seen as weak and foolish than as a gifted orator.
Why? The focus had to be kept on Christ. How many sermon series being preached around the American church today are on things other than Jesus? Oh, He may get a cursory mention but Jesus is not the central focus of the teaching. The message is on how we can be happy, or prosperous, or successful. The message is a WIIFM statement (what’s in it for me) rather than centering our thoughts and actions on Jesus and what HE wants.

But what about the demonstration of the Spirit and power of God?

God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:4 NASB)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20, 21 NASB)

While the signs and wonders of the Apostles were necessary for Showing that the message was from God, that message is now here for us. The power of the Spirit is demonstrated by the ability of the Bible to convict sinners and draw them to Jesus.

When we preach with the mission of drawing people to the person of Jesus Christ, and we use the Word of God to do so, the message has inherent power. That power will so draw people to Jesus that they will not be dissuaded by a worldly philosophy. A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. And their faith will be based on the Word of God, and not the preacher.

What is needed is a generation of preachers who are so in love with Jesus Christ that they can’t stop talking about him. Preachers who will draw their messages from the pure spring of living water found in the Bible, unadulterated by human philosophy and the wisdom of men. They will be men of power that can be mightily used of God to win their generation for Christ. The world can keep its smooth talkers and silver tongued orators. We want men to know nothing and long for nothing more, than the person of Jesus.

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