Friday, August 31, 2007

Should Our Goal Be To Make Conversion Easy?

The folks at Old Truth have an engaging article by AW Pink posted about the dangers of focusing on conversions rather than truth.

Different is good – a lesson from history

Why did Christianity survive and even flourish in the first century? In addition to the will of God, was it because it allowed itself to fit into the world system and the culture? Absolutely not! It is precisely because it did not fit-in that caused it to survive.

The fact that the early Christians wouldn’t engage in much of the popular activities of the day because sin was often present and then they were actually willing to die instead of worshipping the Emperor, made people stand-up and take serious notice of this new thing called Christianity. Yes they were persecuted and considered outcasts, but at the same time Christianity grew like wildfire and many came to the Lord.

We can learn something from this early New Testament church history - different is good. In fact, being different is the best thing we can be. Followers of Christ are not supposed to be at peace with the world or even desire it. In fact Jesus said that we cannot serve God and mammon. He also said that the world will hate you because they hated me first.

Many Christians believe that the church must embrace the world, be relevant, and be friendly with the world in order for it to survive and flourish. If we show them that we are really not that different, then they will be interested in us – wrong. This approach will make Christianity indistinguishable from the world and therefore completely irrelevant.

Let’s take a lesson from history and boldly be different. Not for the sake of being different or just to be hated. Rather, because as fully devoted followers of Christ we cannot go where the world goes and we cannot do what the world does. We are called to be aliens and we need to be at peace with that.

Here’s the interesting reality, the world is looking for something real and different. When we try to fit in, we are not making Christianity more interesting, instead we are making it trivial and boring. It is Christ himself, love for God and others, and our willingness to follow him even though it makes us very different that will make the world stand up, take notice, and actually start asking why. Contrary to the growing popular belief of making every attempt to be “relevant” and to fit Christianity into the culture, I say let’s be what we are, different is good, and this difference is what will actually “add many to our number daily”.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How do you know you know him?

To know God is one of man’s deepest desires. We want to feel his touch, experience his love, please him, and know that we will live with him forever. The last thing any of us wants to hear is “depart from me for I never knew you”. I think we can all agree that knowing God is important.

So, how do we know we know him? The Apostle John presents a direct correlation between knowing God and obeying God.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. – 1 John 2:3-4
Jesus equates obedience to love. He says that if we truly love him then we will obey him.
If you love me, you will obey what I command. – John 14:15
So, do we want to know God? Do we want to be close to him and have a real relationship with him? Then we need to love him. And true love will be evidenced in a life of obedience. We know love matters, but true love starts with obedience and ends in a beautiful relationship - knowing the savior of the world and the savior knowing you.

Here’s the progression: Love God => Obey God => Know God

Is your life characterized by obedience to Christ? Can you honestly say you have repented? Have you stopped living for yourself, turned from the world and its passions, and now live only for Jesus and his desires? According to God’s Word, how you answer these questions will give you some insight into whether or not you really know him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Is it for all to hear or is it a secret?

Why did Jesus speak in parables? Was it to make his point with pithy analogies and grab the attention of men with catchy stories? On the contrary, Jesus used parables so that people would not be able to understand him. What? Didn’t God say that he “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”? 1 Timothy 2:4

Well, take a look at this statement made by Jesus himself as he likens his use of parables to the ministry of Isaiah:
The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!" - Mark 4:11-12
Yes, God wants everyone to come to a saving knowledge of him. However, he wants sincere faith and hearts that are turned to him out of love and humility; not in order to simply gain the Kingdom, forgiveness, and a “get out of hell free” card.

Therefore, the Kingdom of God was presented by Jesus in a way that the hard-hearted would reject and those with sincere and pure hearts would embrace. I suggest we daily examine the condition of our hearts so that we might hear God clearly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Small Church Corner: give me your thoughts and experiences

I am toying with the idea of a weekly post related to the topic of small church – more commonly referred to as small groups. I am a huge proponent of small church as illustrated in the historical New Testament experience. Let me know if this topic is of interest to you by providing me with a comment.

Here are some questions I have for you:
  1. Are you, or have you been, a small group leader?
  2. How has God used you?
  3. What challenges have you encountered?
  4. Tell me stories of changed lives as a result of the small group / small church experience.
  5. How has your life been impacted?

I want to hear your story.

Seriously Aggressive Faith

How bad do you want God’s touch? Do you really believe that Jesus can do it – can heal you, can forgive you, can change you? Well, what kind of action have you taken in order to be in his presence? Are you in his Word, do you regularly fast, have you forsaken your lustful desires? In Mark 2 we see some aggressive faith when a paralyzed guy and his four friends rip a hole in someone’s roof to see Jesus. They didn’t passively wait for everything to “align” and fall into place. They took action and went after it.

Let’s look at the text:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he (Jesus) preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."…

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" – Mark 2

It looks like the paralytic received a lot more healing than he originally sought. He received spiritual healing in addition to his physical healing.

If we really believe and have sincere faith, we won’t let anything get in the way. We will be like the paralytic and his buddies, we will stop at nothing to be in the presence of God and experience his forgiveness, healing, and transformation. And more than likely you will also, like the paralytic, experience more than you bargained for. Remember, passive faith without real action is not what happened here. Rather, it was seriously aggressive faith that resulted in action.

I also think it is important to point out the community aspect of this event. The paralytic had a group of friends who had faith. Jesus saw their faith – not just the faith of the paralytic. It is important to be in close relationship with others that have aggressive faith. It spurs us on, keeps us accountable, and actually can draw us closer to God.

Be aggressive, take action, and expect results.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What’s the Biggest Problem with Contemporary Church Music?

Many people get their theology and ideas about God and the Christian life from the worship songs they sing. That can be a scary proposition at this time in the history of the church. I appreciate that John McArthur is bringing up this important topic in his recent article What’s the Biggest Problem with Contemporary Church Music? and I pray that change will occur in this area.

Thanks to Ken Fields at The World From Our Window for the link.

Related Post

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another look at "to preach or to heal"

In my last post, What did Jesus really want to do – preach or heal?, I discussed the somewhat apparent preference Jesus had early in his ministry on preaching the kingdom of God over performing healing services (not that he didn't do both).

I will again look narrowly at a relatively small segment of scripture, Mark 2:1-12, in an effort to explore and interpret the actions and intentions of Jesus while he performed his earthly ministry. So, please understand this is not intended to be a macro view or representation of the ministry of Christ.

In the account of the paralytic found in the Gospel of Mark we again witness a leaning toward preaching as Jesus' primary ministry while healing seems to be a secondary aspect.

  1. Jesus preached the Word to the crowd. v. 2
  2. When his planned teaching was very unexpectedly interrupted, Jesus forgave the paralytic's sins after witnessing his aggressive faith (spiritual healing). v.5
  3. Jesus heals the paralytic (physical healing) to prove his authority to forgive sins. v.10-11

So, while we know Jesus cares for our physical health, these verses indicate his primary concern is with our spiritual health. This text indicates that healing a paralytic was not on Jesus' agenda that day. But, preaching the word of God was.

NOTE: I must say that I am not trying to make any significant theological statement in this post or the prior one. I am simply enjoying the observations.

Wonderful related post at Anonymous Discipleship.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What did Jesus really want to do – preach or heal?

We know that the ultimate reason and purpose Christ was sent to earth was to be the Savior of the world. With that being said, I would like to focus somewhat narrowly on the first chapter of the gospel of Mark which paints an interesting picture of the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It begins with Jesus being baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descending upon him, and then him spending time in the desert. After this, he begins his earthly ministry as a preacher / teacher:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Mark 1:14-15
Jesus then drove a demon out of a man in the synagogue as he was preaching. The people were amazed. He then healed Simon’s Mother-in-Law and people lined up for healing.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. – Mark 1:32-33
What is interesting in this first chapter of Mark is what happens next. Even though there are many people still wanting Jesus to minister to them, Jesus decides it is time to move on to other villages. Why did he want to move on? Was it to heal others and drive out demons? Here is what Jesus said:
"Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." - Mark 1:38
Jesus wanted to get back to preaching. In fact, he stated that preaching was the reason he had come. However, did he ignore the physical needs of people as he preached? No. Mark immediately follows with a description of Jesus healing a leper. But, notice how Jesus clearly did not want the leper to tell people he had healed him. It appears as though Jesus did not want another crowd of people coming to him for healing because he wanted to continue his preaching: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” However, the leper did “spill the beans” and the crowds came.

Remember, I am only examining the first chapter of Mark. But in doing so, it has uncovered this interesting angle on Jesus’ view of his ministry here on earth among us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Have we failed the test?

Repentance is a non-negotiable with God; not just a thought or intention, but something lived out in deed – an evident component of our lifestyle. Paul points out this fact in 2 Corinthians 13. He actually sounds a lot like James in these passages. Remember, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth – to “believers”. They had presumably made a profession of faith and repentance, but were apparently not daily living lives of faith and repentance. This frustrates Paul and makes him genuinely question their faith because Paul spent more time ministering in Corinth than anywhere else accept for Ephesus. Why weren't their lives changed? He had addressed these issues with them before and they were not “getting it”. Let’s look at the text:

I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. – 2 Corithians 12:21

This will be my third visit to you. "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? – 2 Corinthians 1-5
Paul is essentially telling the Corinthian church that some of them, by their actions, are demonstrating unrepentance and an unchanged life. He says that this is evidence that Christ is not in them and that their faith has failed. Yes, Paul has just said that our actions are evidence of our faith – or lack thereof. James says it like this; “I will show you my faith by what I do”.

Remember, this all starts with the heart. If our hearts are truly circumcised and pure before God, we will daily repent and live lives that glorify him. If we are not daily repenting in deed and living clearly for him, we must examine our hearts and our faith.

We are all called to take up our cross daily; to die to self daily. It is not a one time act, simply a thought, or merely an intention. It should be evident in the way we daily live our lives. Finally, we are called to finish the race and end well. May we lean on and respond to God’s grace and the perfect work of Christ on the cross.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Small Groups: A fad that has passed its prime?

I don't think so says Milton Stanley in this post on small groups. He takes the small group concept all the way back to the trinity.

Is it Kindness or Sorrow?

Which one is it, kindness or sorrow? Paul states that both are the path to repentance. How can two things that are virtually polar opposites, kindness and sorrow, both lead to the same place? Wouldn’t it make sense that if kindness leads us to repentance then sorrow would lead us in the completely opposite direction like indulgence in the world? If sorrow leads us to repentance, then kindness should lead us to worldly passions.

I think it is totally amazing that God can use both his kindness and sincere godly sorrow to bring about the same conclusion in our lives – a repentance that leads to salvation. Let’s look at the text and examine each path to repentance.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? – Romans 2:4

Godly Sorrow:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-11
I say thank you God for being so diligent, patient, and kind with us. And for doing whatever it takes (kindness & sorrow) to lead us to repentance and save our souls. Father, thank you for using the Holy Spirit and others (Paul to the Corinthians) to speak into our lives, to declare the Gospel, and to expose the offense of sin so that we may be reconciled to you through faith and repentance.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It is well with my soul

I was captivated today by the story of Horatio G. Spafford. His life reminds me so much of the life of Job. For he was a godly man who lost nearly everything, yet his faith never crumbled. Instead, he glorified God in the midst of his own suffering.

Horatio Spafford lived in Chicago, Illinois at the end of the 19th century. While he and his family survived the great Chicago fire, most of his life’s savings did not. However, it was just about that time that his only son tragically died.

Only a few years later, the ship carrying his wife and four daughters to Europe for an evangelistic crusade and a family vacation sank off the coast of Newfoundland. All four daughters were lost. Spafford, who was delayed due to some business, boarded the next ship to be with his grieving wife.

How did Horatio respond to this incredible loss? What was his reaction? Was he angry with God? Did he curse God and turn his back on him? “It is well with my soul” was his response. Only someone who truly knows God and is filled with his Spirit can react in this way to such tragedy. God, may I have this kind of faith and strength.

Horatio G. Spafford shared his faith and uncompromising trust in the sovereignty of God with us all when he wrote the great hymn –

It is Well with My Soul:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul, It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come. Let this blest assurance control. That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole. Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll. No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life; thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait. The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord! Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight. The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend. Even so, it is well with my soul. - Horatio G. Spafford, 1873.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Are you still a sinner?

There is a theology being taught from many pulpits today that cheapens the work of Christ on the cross. It presents half of the power of the cross and basically denies the other half. In other words, the message is that Christ's work redeems us, atones for our sins, and justifies us, but that is basically it; we are still sinners controlled by our sinful nature until we die.

The fact that Christ has victory over sin and death is too often not taken seriously or literally. This victory gives all who are in Christ the same victory over sin today - right now! Christ's work on the cross means we are no longer “slaves to sin” and can say no to sin today while we are still living. The victory is supposed to happen now - not some time in the future when we die. The work of Christ is sufficient to justify us and to completely sanctify us; giving us true victory so we stop sinning.
Am I seeking to stop sinning or have I actually stopped? To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning. The Bible never asks, "Should a Christian sin?" The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin. - Oswald Chambers, "My Utmost for His Highest", August 15 Read More
“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come” – 2 Cor. 5:17. Are you a sinner or a saint? I was once a sinner before Christ, but now that I am in Christ I am a saint. I was a sinner saved (justified) by grace. Now I am a saint that is being sanctified by that same “grace that brings salvation and has appeared to all men. It teaches me to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life in this present age (today)”. – Titus 2:11. That is amazing grace which changes me both today and for eternity. That is what Christ completed on the cross.

Related articles

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Take off your parka

“How do we let the Holy Spirit lead our ministries and our lives?” This question was asked at a recent leadership gathering. Here was my attempt at answering the question:

In Romans 8, Paul very clearly points out that we either live by the sinful nature or by the Spirit.
Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature (flesh) but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ… Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. – Romans 8:8-9, 12-14
I lived much of my “Christian” life experiencing very little of the Holy Spirit. However, after the message of Romans 8 renewed my mind, I put it to the test. By God’s amazing grace, I began to put to death the “misdeeds of the body”. As I did, I found the Holy Spirit becoming real. I began to feel his presence and hear him speaking into my life. I also experienced a release from the Holy Spirit into ministry that had never been there before. Transformation occurred in my life. The Holy Spirit became real and active when my flesh began to die. Again, Paul makes a very clear correlation: more flesh (sinful nature) means less Spirit; less flesh (sinful nature) means more Spirit. Kill the flesh, die to self, and live by the Spirit!

Try this on for size:

The Holy Spirit is a light breeze that blows into our lives the very breath of God. However, many can’t ever feel or experience his presence because they are decked out in a parka that insulates them. In fact, we have the hood over our head and have pulled the drawstrings tight. The parka represents the flesh, sin, and unrepentance. We begin to feel the Spirit only when we start removing layers of sin from our lives. When we take off the parka we feel a little bit of the Spirit’s presence. We then take off the turtle neck and feel a little more of the Spirit. However, where we all need to be is at that place where we can feel even the slightest breeze. You know what I’m talking about. Like when you have just gotten out of the pool and are still wet; there is a little breeze blowing and you actually feel cold; even when it is 115 degrees outside. You are so stripped down and sensitive that you feel everything. That is where we need to be; may we all be stripped of our flesh and sensitive to every move of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You’re not a pawn – You’re a player

The following passage in 2 Corinthians 7 got me thinking about the role we play in our lives as followers of Christ.

Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
Why can we do this? Because,

"I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." … "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." – 2 Cor. 6:16-18

Look, we have a role to play. Because we are in Christ, are filled with the Holy Spirit, and have received the power of God’s amazing grace, we are no longer simply pieces on a chess board waiting to moved and manipulated by the world. No, we have been activated and moved to a completely different game (not that life is really a game). In this new game we are allowed, no expected, to play an active role and be players - not just passive pieces. It’s like being transformed from a pawn on a chessboard to the quarterback of an NFL team.

That is exciting. Sadly, many people fear this new role and keep longing to be a powerless piece on a chessboard again. They seem to lack the faith and understanding that the game has changed and that we have a coach who has never lost a game.

So, how do we find success in this new role? How do we make this a winning experience? Here’s the beauty, we have been given everything we need to win. In fact, victory is guaranteed if we just do what the coach tells us to do:

  1. Study the playbook (Bible) and know it inside and out.
  2. Practice and train both in-season and out of season.
  3. Enter the game with the confidence of a winner.
  4. Run the plays given to us by the coach.

Embrace your new role with confidence because you are no longer a pawn, but instead a superstar player on the winning team that is coached by Jesus Christ himself.

There are so many examples throughout scripture of our active involvement. Another that comes quickly to mind in found in Acts 2 when Peter instructs at Pentecost to "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where do you get satisfied?

This past week had a general theme to it: where do we go for comfort? My first encounter last week with the topic of comfort was in 1 Corinthians 1 and I subsequently wrote The gift of comfort – pay it forward. The idea here was that God works through fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage, minister, and comfort each other. I then experienced a moment of temptation to find comfort from the world (movies and shopping) at the tail end of a “stressful” couple of days. I wrote about this experience in What happened when a stressed-out guy read his Bible. Finally, I attended a leadership meeting Sunday night where one of the two primary discussion questions was “do you find your satisfaction in God”. This topic of satisfaction is essentially the same thing I was contemplating all week. Comfort and satisfaction can often be synonymous.

I desire to find every ounce of satisfaction only from the Lord. It is the only satisfaction that truly satisfies. If we look for it from the world we will continually find ourselves singing the Rolling Stones hit “I can’t get no satisfaction”. I was at a pastors gathering last year here in Phoenix and John Piper was the keynote speaker. I recall an interesting conversation that he had with Wayne Grudem and Darryl DelHousaye. John couldn’t figure out how the other two could spend so much time on the golf course. He didn’t say or imply that golf is evil or wrong. John wasn’t trying to judge his two friends. He just couldn’t understand how they would give up time with God, time in his Word, and ministry opportunities for hitting around a little white ball. He made a similar comment about how so many men will spend such a huge chunk of their weekends watching sports. He couldn’t reconcile how that could provide any true satisfaction. He was sincere. He wasn’t trying to be a party pooper.

Here’s the deal: God has prepared an incredible feast, complete with the finest delicacies, a smorgasbord that completely satisfies in all ways. However, many are ruining their appetites by stopping off at McDonalds on their way to the feast. They are filling up on stuff that doesn’t truly satisfy and isn’t the best. In fact, too much of this stuff can actually kill you. We need to only accept the real deal. No more temporary satisfaction that the world peddles. We need to only dine on what the Lord is serving up. So, where are you going to get satisfied? Where do you turn for satisfaction? My prayer is that I would always turn to God. The only one who truly satisfies.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What happened when a stressed-out guy read his Bible

I had a very hectic and “stressful” couple of days earlier this week. No, not life changing stuff; I was just beginning to feel a little overwhelmed due to a full plate, too many balls in the air, and some things I was depending on that just didn’t happen and thus added to the stress. You have probably had a similar experience or two in your life. Anyway, on Wednesday I felt the need to escape. I actually had the thought of sneaking out and going to a movie or going shopping and buying myself something spiffy. I was being lured into running to the world for comfort. Thank God that I quickly took those thoughts captive and after pressing through the day decided to go home and continue my personal study in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church.

God’s timing is perfect. His word is active and living. I didn’t run to the Bible in hopes of finding comfort. I just knew that it was where I should be instead of at some movie theater. I didn’t do a study on dealing with stress. I didn’t do the “God I am going to open my Bible and put my finger on a verse so you can speak to me” routine. I simply continued my study in 2 Corinthians from chapter 3 into chapter 4. What happened? I found God speaking directly to me. It couldn’t have been any clearer.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Now I know enough to know that my light and momentary troubles were much lighter and momentary than what Paul was eluding to in these passages. However, this text spoke to me and brought it into perspective, righted my thinking, and returned my focus to the kingdom. Nobody can tell me that God’s Word isn’t inspired, living, active, and a tool used by the Holy Spirit to transform and disciple his saints.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The gift of comfort – pay it forward

Some of the initial text in 2 Corinthians introduces us to a wonderful example of why the body of Christ is so important. We need each other; we encourage each other; we comfort each other. God uses us to minister to each other as Christ ministers to us and through us. When we share Christ, and he lives in us, we are equipped to encourage and comfort each other in times of trouble and hardship.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

When Paul is talking about comfort he is not talking about encouragement so we can go on living a happy-go-lucky, easy going, smooth sailing life. Comfort is presented as consolation and encouragement. This “comfort” is ultimately extended to believers who have suffered, often severely, for the sake of Christ. You can experience a level of this if you have had a bad day at the office, caught a mild cold, got a speeding ticket, missed a flight, or had a disagreement with a family member. However, the main purpose and net effect of this form of comfort discussed by Paul is to help believers endure the same kind of suffering he was suffering. Although we don’t see a lot of extreme suffering for Jesus’ sake in America, it does exist in many places throughout the world today and definitely was present in first century church.

Paul was saying that just as we are persecuted because of Christ, so we also receive comfort because of Christ. Yes, at times it can be tough being a believer, but praise God for the incredible encouragement and comfort we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ and this often came from Jesus to us through our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For instance, Paul received comfort and encouragement during his difficult ministry filled with beatings, ridicule, and imprisonment when he received good news of progress and spiritual growth from the churches such as the church in Corinth. This comfort, or encouragement, then gave him the strength to provide comfort to others. Do you see how this works? It is the gift from God that should keep on giving. It’s a kind of “pay it forward” experience.

It is important to point out that this gift of comfort is not self-serving, but rather for the equipping and the health of the church at large. Therefore, stay in fellowship with other believers. It is essential to you and to others. God created the church, the fellowship of the saints, for a reason. He uses the church in very real ways. Don’t be a loner. You could be missing out on great comfort or the blessing of being an encouragement to so many others.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Don’t bring that gift in here:

Let me preface this post by stating that, while I grew up in a Spirit-filled church, I myself have not been incredibly active in using them in my life and ministry. It has just been recently that I have begun to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts”. In fact, using the word “eagerly” unfortunately might be too strong. But, why don’t many, or most, of us eagerly desire with passion spiritual gifts? Why do we shy away from prophesy and tongues? Didn’t God give us these gifts to build each other up and to bring him glory? These questions are rattling around in my brain after reading 1 Corinthians chapter 14 today.
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
Many churches seem to avoid, and outright discourage, the gifts of prophesy and tongues in their services. These gifts were actively included in the early church gatherings. Paul spends a whole chapter in 1 Corinthians discussing the subject and encouraging their proper public use. Maybe it is just that churches are worried that they will not be able to ensure that these gifts of the Holy Spirit will be properly practiced. So, let’s the throw the baby out with the bath water. Isn’t that what has been done? That’s not what Paul suggested.
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
I am not advocating out-of-control church gatherings where the gifts of the Spirit are placed on some kind of sacred pedestal and allowed to run unbridled. Neither am I advocating that the gifts of the Spirit should have a greater emphasis than the acts of teaching the Word of God or engaging in corporate worship. I am simply throwing out the question, “why have the gifts of the Spirit been completely removed from most public services?”

We have a whole generation or two that have never experienced these gifts in use. They have never heard a Holy Spirit directed speaking of tongues and the subsequent interpretation. They have not experienced the presence and power of God displayed in prophesy. This is sad. God is powerful and he has given his church these gifts to build up, edify, and strengthen the church. I know it can seem nearly impossible to incorporate this level of freedom into the modern church service. But, I would say that where there is a will, there is a way.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bi-vocational: what's your story?

Many of the early apostles were bi-vocational; they spent much of their time in ministry while also holding down another job or line of work in order to pay the bills and subsidize their work for the Lord as apostles, teachers, and pastors.

This is my story. In January I made the leap into full-time ministry. I have enjoyed a successful business career in both technology and most recently in real estate. However, I felt the call to be a minister and jumped at the opportunity.

The decision was an easy one. However, my wife and I had to figure out how to deal with the economic ramifications involved in making this significant career move. One thing we very quickly decided to do was to make several changes to our lifestyle and sell off assets. But, we have a relatively large family and even after making the changes we knew that we still needed additional income in order to pay the bills and feed all six of us (my older boys are 11 and 9 but eat like full-grown men).

God had been planning for this long before I had a clue. He had transitioned me 5 years earlier from a corporate America job into the self-employed business of real estate. He also blessed me with a great network of clients. This was such a God thing because I have been able to transition my real estate business from a full-time to a part-time occupation while at the same time going into the ministry as my primary job. I no longer focus on building my real estate business and it only requires a handful of hours each week, but God uses it to help me pay the bills. I firmly believe God is using it to fund his work as I am able to focus on kingdom activities. This bi-vocational thing also allowed my church to hire me and keep me employed without breaking the bank and feeling the entire responsibility for providing for my financial needs. I wouldn’t be surprised if God would someday provide such a huge commission from a real estate transaction or two that I could reduce my income from the church. That would be simply awesome.

Now listen, Paul stated very clearly that a minister is worth his wage. I am not advocating that ministers should not be paid for their work.

If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?- 1 Cor. 9:11

However, Paul also was very careful to not be a financial burden on anyone during his ministry. You see, Paul was bi-vocational and worked as a tent maker in order to fund his missionary work.
But I have not used any of these rights…If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. – 1 Cor. 9:15 & 17
Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. – 1 Thes. 2:9
Some ministers subsidize their day jobs as writers and make a little extra money selling books. I sell a house here and there. What about you? If you are bi-vocational, in ministry and something else, please let me know. I would be curious to hear your story.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

World Magazine Says "Amen" to Transformed Daily

A big thank you to World Magazine for their kind comments and support of
"The two best Romans 12:2 - Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may be able to determine what God's will is -- what is proper, pleasing, and perfect. - "chartered" blogs I know of - Transforming Sermons by Milton Stanley and Transformed Daily by Eric Jones are both talking about obedience & legalism. Actually Eric (Transformed Daily) is talking about it and Milton and I are referencing it and amening it. No matter the exact details the ideas are good and worth a read." - WorldMagBlog July 26, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Being a coach isn’t enough

In the following passages, Paul continues to underscore his commitment to live-out what he teaches and he clearly tells us why: so that he will not be disqualified.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
It is not enough to talk about the gospel and teach others about being a disciple; we must live it out ourselves. We must personally run the race to win. Coaches don’t win the race. It is only the runners that can actually win the race and get the prize. Paul does not want to just be a coach; he makes sure that he is also a runner in the race. And not just any runner, he wants to win the race. Therefore, he trains himself, he exercises, he puts himself on a strict diet, and he actually does what he teaches (coaches) others to do.

To underscore his commitment to personally finishing and winning this race he uses very strong language like “I beat my body and make it my slave”. These are the words of someone who is willing to go all the way to make sure he gets the prize and is not disqualified. Paul knows, and is pointing out, that this race (the Christian life) is not a cakewalk. It is serious business and requires us also take such a view of our lives.

May we not just be coaches, but also runners; may we not just be talkers, but doers; may we practice what we preach and discipline ourselves so that we may not be disqualified. Remember, this is not practice; it is the real deal. We are a running the race for a prize that will last forever.

Related post: Do as I say … and do

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Do you love enough to judge?

This subject is often considered edgy and something to be avoided. However, I couldn’t get away from it as I was studying 1 Corinthians. So, here it goes.

Paul says that he passed judgment on believers who are living in sin; specifically sexual immorality in these passages. He goes further and says they should be handed over to Satan, not to associate with them, and to expel them from your fellowship. He is talking only about those who “call themselves a brother” who are living in sexual immorality. He is not talking about unbelievers.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." – 1 Corinthians 5
Historical context: Corinth could have been called “sin city” at that time with the principle sin being sexual immorality. The big problem was that the church began to be accepting of this sin. They allowed the sin to exist in the church and its members. They were allowing the culture (the world) to influence and infiltrate the church. They were becoming a little too culturally relevant.

Why don’t we see this instruction from Paul being taught and acted upon in the modern church? In fact, the trend is to go overboard by openly accepting “believers” who are actively engaging in all kinds of sexual perversion and immorality. How does the church justify this complete disregard of Paul’s clear instruction?

I believe Paul loved the believer living in sin so much that he aggressively dealt with the situation instead of placating it. He did this to bring them to repentance and right standing with God for their salvation. He also wanted to protect the church. “Don’t’ you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

It is time we, the church, also started caring more about peoples eternal salvation rather than their feelings of acceptance. We need to tell people the truth and protect the body of Christ out of love for both. Do we have the courage to tackle this?