Sunday, December 2, 2012

Homosexuality is Sin

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination..." Leviticus 20:13

We are living in a day when everyone does that which is right in his own eyes.  There is no respected standard of morality in America anymore.  Americans have dismissed the Word of God as a bunch of old fairy tales no longer valid for our modern times.  Therefore, the Bible has no authority in people's minds today.  The Bible's usefulness for guiding moral choices today has been totally dismissed.  Everyone demands their rights to not only make their own choices (we all have free will) but to require our society at large to accept the sin of homosexuality as a respectable American lifestyle decision.  That battle in the political arena is outside the scope of this article.  However, when confronted with the idea that homosexuality is no longer a sin, I am compelled to respond.

Someone recently commented that we Christians are quick to point out some sins in the Old Testament but neglect others.  For instance, Leviticus 19:19d says, "neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee."  This person asks how "prohibitions against homosexuality still 'count', but that rules about, say, mixing fibers or trimming beards do not."

This observer asks a very good and valid question. Why do we adhere to one commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures and not another?  The answer is that we now live in a different dispensation of time.  We no longer live in the Age of Law (Old Testament times) but in the Age of Grace (the Church Age). This distinction makes all the difference.

Of the three types of law given in the Old Testament (Ceremonial Law, Civil Law, and Moral Law), the New Testament affirms the Moral Law against the sin of homosexuality while it does not reiterate the law against wearing a "garment mingled of linen and woollen". I'll go out on a limb here and say that wearing such a garment today does not violate God's Moral Law. There are some laws in the Old Testament (Ceremonial and Civil Laws) which are no longer necessary to follow in New Testament times because Jesus has "fulfilled" the law.

For example, ceremonial laws such as the command for Temple sacrifices are currently unnecessary because Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever" (Hebrews 10:12). It is no longer possible "that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4).

Homosexuality, however, is recognized as sin in the New Testament (in the current Church Age), as the apostle Paul points out;


"Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie... For this cause God gave them up until vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." - Romans 1:26-27

Homosexuality is not the only sin reiterated in the New Testament.  Other crimes against God's moral law are also still valid today such as adultery, killing, idolatry, and coveting, to name a few.  The bottom line is that people who engage in homosexuality are sinners just like everyone else born in this world today. ..

"There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10).
"If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:10).
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Christians need to be careful to distinguish the sin from the sinner (Hate the sin, Love the sinner). We do not judge the person engaged in such activities because judgment is reserved for God. Homosexuality is just one symptom of the corrupt, sinful condition of mankind.

Christians recognize that we are also guilty sinners and, like the Pharisees mentioned in John 8, no true believers are without sin or ought to be willing to cast the first stone. It is, however, a part of a Christian's duty to call sin sin and to share the truth of God's word while expressing love and concern for the souls of our fellow human beings.

Rather than trying to justify a modern lifestyle of sin (ie. homosexuality), what is really needed is for mankind to:

1. Become aware of our sinful condition (via the Scriptures).
2. Feel true sorrow for our sin (conviction).
3. Hear and understand the love of God who voluntarily laid down His life to pay the penalty for our sin.
4. Repent and accept God's sacrifice and His offer of eternal life to all who will believe.

It's also important to keep in mind that salvation cannot be obtained by performing good works;
"For by grace are ye save through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9

So even if one were to try to live a perfect moral life, he/she cannot be good enough to deserve God's favor. And that's exactly why God sent the Messiah - to suffer the penalty that we deserve to receive. Why? God loves us and "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"(2 Peter 3:9).

Although some of this may seem off point, the original question has to do with the identity of sin. And the ultimate answer is that all are guilty before God, whether engaged in homosexuality or not. But God provides a solution. If only more people would accept it before it's too late.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Do you have a Kindred Spirit?

Do you have a kindred spirit? Someone with whom you can share anything under the sun? Someone who thinks like you, believes like you, has the same attitudes and feelings as you? Someone who can finish your sentences and complete your thoughts? If you do then you are truly blessed in this life. If not, then perhaps you should ask God for a kindred spirit. A kindred spirit is a real blessing and encouragement to every believer.



WHAT IS A KINDRED SPIRIT?
But what is a kindred spirit? A kindred spirit is an old-fashioned term which was brought to my attention a few years ago after watching a homeschool play about Anne of Green Gables. Anne speaks of having a kindred spirit. This got me wondering, what does that mean?


The dictionary says a kindred spirit is “an individual with the same beliefs, attitudes, or feelings as oneself.” While the Bible doesn’t contain the term “kindred spirit,” it does use another term which connotes the same meaning. In Philippians 2:19-21 the apostle Paul says this of Timothy; “for I have no man likeminded.” This word, likeminded, is a combination of two words in Greek, “isos,” which means “equal” and “psuche,” which means soul. The meaning, therefore, is “of equal soul.” This is the same as “kindred spirit.”


The aposle Paul calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son” (2 Tim 1:2). There is something special about this relationship between these two Godly men. It seems that Paul was a sort of spiritual father to Timothy and, thus, a father/son-like relationship developed. But Paul led numerous people to a saving belief in Christ, not just Timothy. Nevertheless, Paul calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son.” So there was something special here. They were kindred spirits.


HOW FAR HAVE WE STRAYED?
In church we sing “Blest be the Tie that Binds.” It says “the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” Let me reprint this heart-stirring hymn here;


Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.


Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.


We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.


When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.


This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.


From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.


Two phrases stir me most about this hymn. First, I feel convicted because I can’t remember the last time I “shed a sympathizing tear” for another brother or sister in Christ. Secondly, I wonder, do I really have “inward pain” when we “asunder part?” I wonder how many believers truly have these feelings for one another? I only ask this because it amazes me how quickly the church parking lots empty after Sunday services. How far have we strayed within Christianity from when this hymn was first composed?


KINDRED SPIRIT vs. KINDRED MIND
There seems to be a distinction between a “kindred spirit” and a “kindred mind.” In church, we are among “kindred minds.” We share the same beliefs. We worship together. We study and quote Scripture together. We even bear one another’s burdens and pray for one another. There is much benefit in belonging to a church with kindred minds.


SPOUSES ARE KINDRED SPIRITS
Kindred spirits, however, are different. They share an even deeper, more intimate connection within their hearts. A husband and wife ought to be each others’ primary kindred spirits. But recently, I’ve been thinking about those women who come to the realization that their husbands are not saved. When one spouse is saved and the other is not then they have totally different perspectives on life. As much as she may try, they can never be true kindred spirits until the husband repents of his sin and trusts Christ for salvation.


“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hat light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14)


So what is a lonely wife to do when she wakes up and realizes that her husband is not saved? Well, she must continue to love and submit to him. We live in a country that worships independence. Women are in the workforce en mass and don’t like to be dependent upon their husbands. They want to control their own destinies. This, however, is detrimental to our society, in my politically incorrect opinion. The unsaved husband can be won to Christ by her lifestyle of total dependence and respect for her husband. She must cherish him and give him honor. She must be totally wrapped up in him.


“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (lifestyle) of the wives.” (1 Peter 3:1).


ONE KINDRED SPIRIT IS GOOD. MORE IS EVEN BETTER!
Everyone should have a kindred spirit. This makes life richer and more blessed. But while kindred minds are plentiful, kindred spirits are quite rare. So when you find a kindred spirit, you will know it. For many of us, our spouses alone will be our only kindred spirits throughout life. But if you can have one or two more then you will be double or triple blessed!


HOW DO YOU GET A KINDRED SPIRIT?

There are three key ingredients for getting a kindred spirit. And I suggest that we all desire in our hearts for more kindred spirits in our lives. They are a true, mutual blessing and help to make our lives more bearable and even more enjoyable and fulfilling. After all, as God says, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).


PRAY FOR A KINDRED SPIRIT
If you decide that you would like a kindred spirit then the starting point will be to pray to God for one! Don’t be anxious about it but “let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil 4:6). Too often we try to take matters into our own hands and not go to God first. But as He reminds us in His Word, “ye have not because ye ask not” (James 4:2).


BE KIND TO EVERYONE
You know that verse that says to “entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2)? Well, the same principle applies to kindred spirits. Be kind to everyone you meet, everyone with whom you interact. You just don’t know which one of them are potential kindred spirits.


“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly” (Prov 18:24).


“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especiallly unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).


“Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).


The bottom line here is to just be kind. Many of us need to work on this, myself included. We live in a culture that is extremely judgmental. Everyone is concerned about their “rights” and not about their fellow humankind. This mentality, unfortunately, has crept into the church like a worm eating through an apple. Oh there is surface kindness. There is the kindness that shows a good face. But then, behind the scenes, God sees the hearts. D.L. Moody, in his sermon entitled “Christian Love” points out the difference between “true love” and “sham love.” I wonder how many of us practice “sham love” and don’t even realize it.



KEEP YOUR RADAR ON!
And finally, to get a kindred spirit, after you pray and are kind to everyone, you should keep your radar on. You should be on the lookout. You should be expecting an answer to your prayer from the Lord God Almighty.


“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt 21:22).


If you are truly believing that God will answer your prayer then you will be watching. You will be on a heightened state of alertness. And sometimes, God will answer your prayer in ways that you never really expected. He will often surprise you! So be willing to adapt. Don’t think you have it all figured out. Let Him provide the answer to your prayer.


INTERESTED?
If you took the time to read this long-winded post then I think maybe you are interested in having a kindred spirit. Perhaps you’ve thought of these things but never really knew how to express it. My prayer is for every Christian to have at least one kindred spirit. But even better would be two or three. Pray. Submit. Be kind. Watch. God will bless you. I just know it!




Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Love, Separatism, Outreach and the Future of American Fundamentalism

As we enter the next era, I can’t help but notice some a few trends worthy of reflection as we continue to hold the line with the Word of God, Sanctified living, and the Great Commission.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE?

First, Christians must always acknowledge the authority of God’s word. We live in a pluralistic age when every man does that which is right in his own eyes. The Bible has been dismissed as a mere gathering of moral teachings that, along with many other competing texts, contains some valuable life lessons. With the advent of Liberalism, the almighty self has taken upon itself to reject the inspiration of Scripture. Even some New Evangelicals have taken this stance and it’s currently deteriorating their movement. Once the authority of Scripture is denied, all sorts of heretical beliefs quickly ensue.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH SEPARATISM?

Secondly, the whole issue of Christian Separatism needs a revival of sorts. D.L. Moody once said, “You cannot love God and the world at the same time, because they abhor each other. They are at enmity, always have been and always will be.”

More importantly, Scripture admonishes us to be separate from the world, to be different, to be distinguished as lights in a world of darkness. I agree with Kevin Bauder who, speaking at the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries in 2005, said;

"Gentlefolk, if we loose separatism we have lost fundamentalism. It is time for us to turn the best efforts of our best exegetes and theologians to a renewed, sustained articulation and defense of biblical separation."
This issue of separatism is in desperate need of our attention today. Separatism has always been a defining characteristic of our movement (as well as the Fundamentals of the Faith; the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, the authority of Scripture, the sacrificial atonement, and the literal/physical return of Jesus to the earth).

A continued militant stance against worldliness must be trumpeted from our hilltops because the separatist cause is currently loosing ground in our circles. Conservative, fundamentalist Christian secondary schools are watching their graduates attend non-separated universities. One of these universities proudly asserts its size and growth trends. Significant numbers of young fundamentalists are deserting our ranks and fleeing to non-separated schools. David O. Beal, professor of history at Bob Jones University calls these schools “neo fundamentalists” and observes that they have abandoned “the old separatist position” and now blend “quite naturally into middle-of-the-road to right-wing evangelicalism.”

At the grassroots level, congregations, too, while some still submit to biblical principles of music in worship, are dismissing those same principles in their personal listening habits. The unorthodox assumption that “to reach the world we must be like the world” is gaining ground. As John MacArthur points out in his book, Ashamed of the Gospel, among evangelicals, separatism is hardly even discussed any more;

"Virtually every modern worldly attraction has a ‘Christian’ counterpart.
We have Christian motorcycle gangs, Christian bodybuilding teams,
Christian dance clubs, Christian amusement parks, and even Christian
nudist colonies. Where did Christians ever get the idea we could win
the world by imitating it?"

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO TRUE CHRISTIAN LOVE?


While biblical separatism is certainly a defining doctrine of fundamentalism and in desperate need of deeper analysis, there is another issue mysteriously absent from the fundamentalist conversation today; love.

I believe our lack of love for one another is what's driving our kids away into neo-fundamentalist circles. No one in their right mind would walk away from those with whom they have a deep respect and love.  Sometimes we tend to jump on our doctrinal bandwagons (and sometimes we should) but we forget about the emphasis God places upon the need to love one another. One must only peruse through some 18th and 19th Century hymns to see just how far we have wandered. Consider these words from an old favorite, “Blest be the Tie . . .”

We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain . . .

While we may share mutual woes and often help each other in tangible ways, few any longer have bonds strong enough to warrant the shedding of tears for one another. When was the last time you shed "a sympathetic tear" for a brother or sister in Christ? We add names to prayer lists and duty is done in lifting requests up to God in often robotic fashion.

And when church is dismissed, congregations clear out the parking lots quickly. Few feel “inward pain” when parting. Such heart-felt emotional ties of kindred minds are predominantly missing from our churches today. If such love and acceptance were equally as important as doctrine and separatism, there would be no reason for young fundamentalists to abandon our movement and saunter to the left. Bauder again observes . . .

"We are dealing with a younger generation for whom the personal and emotional
has become very important. In my opinion, this is not a bad thing. We do not have to choose between the mind and the heart. God has so constituted us that we can have both. In fact, if we do not have both we become caricatures.”

Armed with unlimited texting and Facebook, our youngfolk are extremely interconnected. Texting, online chatting, Twitter, and Facebook have engaged young people all over the world into sharing details of their lives which ordinarily may never have been expressed to anyone but those with whom close bonds were already established. Ties have been built through technology that are strong, influential, and unhindered by difficult accents or intimidating body language. Mature fundamentalists are needed to enter into this electronic subculture to participate in the lives of the next generation. Encouragement, wisdom, and personal advice and influence are desperately needed. Love ought to be the primary motive here.

THE GREAT COMMISSION AT OUR FINGERTIPS!

Finally, we need to broaden our thinking about foreign missions. Technology and business has opened the hearts of the third-world to the influence of America like never before. American corporations are outsourcing countless American jobs to capable, young college graduates around the globe. Most of these young, bright international workers speak English and long to improve their lots in life.  They are also refreshingly open to the spiritual influence of American believers..  Many are required to work nights to facilitate communication with their American colleagues.

International ties, thus, are being made at personal levels on Facebook. This personal trans-global communication is occurring now and growing at a rapid pace. These new foreign contacts are also refreshingly open to the spiritual influence of American believers.

Untainted by the postmodernist pluralism plaguing America, many in these often Third-world countries are more receptive to Scripture than the average Joe in America. “This country is far more open to the Gospel than most parts of the USA,” recently wrote a missionary to me from the Philippines.

Thus, opportunity abounds for American fundamentalists to exert a little outreach without the fear of the militant rejection encountered at home. Perhaps this could be a shot of confidence for us. A personal and bold stand for the gospel is literally at our fingertips. The influence of mature Christians, therefore, is needed not only among our young at home but also with the lost and spiritual babes in Christ across the sea. While never forgetting the lost physically in our midsts, we ought to embrace these opportunities at once!

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

While the more academically-minded fundamentalists further develop separatist doctrine and gifted preachers and teachers focus on grounding their congregants in the great doctrines of our faith, wise believers can, in the meantime, exert considerable influence upon the world.  God wants us to love one another. He wants us to delight in helping one another. There can be no greater investment in one another than to love, show concern, and be involved in each others’ daily lives. Technology has enhanced this opportunity!

If fundamentalism is to survive then love for one another, at the grassroots level, must become important to us. The triune battle cry of doctrine, separatism, and love must dominate our movement's conversation. Only then will fundamentalism be worthy of survival.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Trip of Your Life

Visiting Nanna

The address to Nanna's new assisted living complex had to be programmed into the GPS before we embarqed.  The way there was generally familiar as we had previously traversed some of the same main highways. But after getting off at the exit, a whole new territory on secondary roads had to be explored. When Nanna's new home finally came into sight we rejoiced that the long trek had ended and we could finally be in her presence.

LEARN HEAVEN'S ADDRESS

Life is a lot like that journey to Nanna's. First you have to know the address for where you want to go. Most people deeply and quietly desire to go to heaven when this life is over. They know, generally, where they want to end up for all eternity (in heaven, not hell). Specifically, though, most are not sure how to get to heaven. We knew Nanna's home was where we wanted to go. But we couldn't make any progress in our journey until we first knew her address. Knowing Nana's address is akin to knowing God's plan of salvation.

1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

If it's at all possible to express the address for heaven then it would look something like this:

Heaven's              All have Sinned (Rom 3:10, 23)
Address:              The penalty for sin is death and hell (Rom 5:12)
                           Jesus died to take away our sin (John 3:16)
                           Jesus wants you to be saved today (John 1:12)

Do you know heaven's address?  Some know God's simple plan of salvation (heaven's address) and truly desire to go to heaven but they reject that address calling it "too narrow minded". They foolishly believe they can make up their own address for heaven. Usually, the address they concoct is religious but has nothing to do with God's grace and everything to do with man's efforts (Eph 2:8-9).

PLUG THE RIGHT ADDRESS INTO YOUR SOUL

Understanding Nanna's address as the truth is a good first step but it doesn't really do us any good until we program it into the GPS. Just knowing how to have salvation is also a good first step since many have been blinded from the saving gospel of Jesus Christ (John 12:40).  It's simple enough for a child to understand (Luke 18:17) but more difficult for a crusty adult whose motto is "my way or the highway" (Prov 16:25).

2 Cor 4:3-4 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

However, just knowing how to become a Christian does not make one a Christian. The address needs to be not just known but actually entered in. The good news, the plan of salvation, the address of heaven needs to not just be known mentally, but it must actually be entered into your heart (Rom 10:10).  It's a decision you must make.  It requires an act of your will.  Salvation doesn't just "happen".  You, personally, must make the decision to be saved from the wrath of hell, to receive the gift of eternal life.  Without this address programmed in, you will never reach heaven. Instead, you'll wander about listlessly through life ever seeking but never arriving (2 Tim 3:7).

JUST FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS

What about being a good person?  Living a good life as a believer comes after the moment of salvation (not before).  Once the address is obtained and programmed in and you have repented of your sin and become saved, a life of good living then ensues.  As long as you follow the directions provided in the Bible, you'll not only get closer and closer to your final destination over time, but your journey along life's path will be sweeter and fuller.   Theologians call this process Progressive Sanctification which is a fancy way to say "being transformed from your worldly self to a more Christlike believer." This is the journey of Christian living which begins at the moment of salvation, at the moment your GPS is programmed with the correct address for heaven.

YOU HAVE ARRIVED!

We arrived at Nanna's!  And with the correct address programmed in, you will arrive in heaven. It's just a matter of time. Once the address to heaven is programmed into your soul (once you've been saved), you are then, at that instant, a child of God, and a citizen of heaven. You don't have to live a right life to earn a place in heaven (Titus 3:5).  You live a right life not out of duty or for personal gain but because you genuinely love God and want to please Him.  Salvation cannot be earned.  It must be received like a gift.  Then, God wants all believers to stay on the right path.  If you take a wrong turn as a believer then He wants you to make a legal U-turn as soon as possible.  If you can accept the above-mentioned address for heaven then program it into your heart.  If you do then you will, without doubt, rejoice to see God face-to-face at the final destination.



Friday, March 4, 2011

God's Plan for Growing the Church

PASSING THE BATON

When on the high school track team we ran the one-mile relay. There were four of us and we each would run around the track once, a quarter of a mile, and carry in our right hands a baton, a small aluminum pipe about a foot long. After circling the track we had to pass the baton to the next runner without dropping it. Technique was everything. It had to be done within a delineated area. Both runners had to be moving at the time of transition. The guy in front would hold his right hand open behind him as the runner behind firmly placed the baton into his hand. Sometimes the baton would drop and clank around on the track surface.  

It seems today that the baton of the Gospel has been dropped. The strength of the previous generations has fallen and is rolling about on the ground and we are fumbling around trying to pick it up so we can finish the race.  The task of bringing the Gospel to the lost and the deeper truths of God's word to fellow believers is now squarely upon the shoulders of the current generation.  

GOD'S PLAN FOR CHURCH GROWTH IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE PLAN

Why is God’s plan for church growth the only acceptable plan?  His plan is exclusively authorized by God in His word.  Any approach to church growth apart from that which God directed is futile.  In His prelude to the Great Commission, Jesus said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth (Matt 28:18).”   Afterwards, Jesus tells the disciples what they must do, based on that power, or authority, He possessed.

This word, power, which Jesus used is also found in another familiar and much loved passage of the Bible;

Rom 9:20-21  Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The potter has power over the clay. At Old Sturbridge Village, a re-creation of small town American life in the 1830s, the potter, in his little shop, uses a foot pump to make his turntable spin. Then he plops a glob of clay on the table, dampens it with water, and with his bare hands, he forms this blob of nothing dug from the earth and turns it into a useful vessel.  Whatever is in his mind is what he makes.  That lump of clay could go in many directions but the potter is the one who decides what to create.

Likewise, Jesus was given all power, all authority, to tell believers how to grow the church.  He is the Great Decider of how the church is to grow. If we try to grow the church in any other way that contradicts God’s plan for church growth then it’s just not going to work right.  No other plan for church growth is authorized by God.

GO TO THE LOST

Due to the persuasive general relativism of American culture, we have lacked the courage and internal fortitude to reach out to our lost world the way we should.  Reaching out are the operative words here because Jesus told us to move toward them, not wait for them to come to us; "Go ye therefore" (Matt 28:19).  How many of us try to work the gospel into our conversations with the lost?  Do we go to them?  Do we witness to them?  Do we pray for them?  Kindness will do wonders and some may even come to church upon our invitation.  But, overwhelmingly, most people within our own communities have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God wants us to take it to them.  But we must remember, the way we say it is just as important as what we say (speak the truth in love).

Luke 11:33 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth [it] in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.

TEACH THE BIBLE

Just as important as passing the baton for the salvation of lost souls is the need for encouraging spiritual growth among believers.  "Teach all nations," Jesus said.  But teach them what?  Jesus continued, teach them "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20).   Once we go to the lost, teaching them how to get saved, some of them may surrender to Christ.  But then what?  That's when the hard work begins.  They need to be grounded and grow in all the truths of God's Word. 

This grounding of God's word is essential to help believers stand against the wiles of the devil, who, "as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  If you don't know what the truth is (from the Bible), then you're susceptible to being led astray like a sheep wandering from the fold.

REACH AND TEACH

Church should always be a place where a lost soul can come find out how to become a Christian.  But primarily, the church is for the already-saved.  We should be sensitive to unbelievers who may come to our services but the primary focus in church is worship, prayer, fellowship, and edification.  Contrary to today's popular evangelical movements, the purpose for church is not to institute a marketing plan, attract a crowd with secular enticements, and figure a certain percentage will "stick".  God is not so much concerned with what size a church is, but rather, what "sort" it is (1 Cor 3:13).

There are limited days on earth for all people.  At some point in their lives, they need to here the simple gospel message.  All the world's religions preach a works-based salvation.  True Christianity is based on grace.  Christianity is based on the Christ who paid for the sins of the world.  Yet most try to work and earn their own salvation by their own might.  They need to hear the truth!  Will you be the one to reach down, pick up the baton, and pass it on?  Ask God to let you be a blessing to other people in this way.  Usually, a forceful throw-it-down-their-throat approach doesn't work.  Ask God for sensitivity, leadership and help today.  Don't delay, relay.


Friday, February 18, 2011

How to Tell if You're Growing Spiritually


TAKING MEASUREMENTS

Down at the foot of the basement stairs is a growth chart recording the kids' heights.  It was always an exciting moment for them to go downstairs with dad and the tape measure to see how much they've grown.  Usually, they were not disappointed.

While our physical growth, whether upward or outward, is obvious, our spiritual growth is less easy to recognize.  We can't see our spiritual growth.  It's intangible.  So there must be another way to notice progress.

YOU CAN TELL IF YOU'RE GROWING SPIRITUALLY WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AND SEE THE ERROR OF YOUR OLD WAYS

The apostle Paul was saved dramatically on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).  The starting point for his spiritual growth occurred at the moment of salvation.  No one can mature spiritually without first being made alive in Christ.  The Bible calls this being quickened, being born again, and becoming a new creature.  All spiritual growth begins at the moment of salvation, when you admit you're a good-for-nothing low-life sinner falling far short of the mark.  But then, hopefully, you realize, with gratitude in your heart, that Jesus Christ loves you despite your total and absolute depravity even to the point of voluntarily giving up His life for you on the cross (Matt 26:53).  What great love Christ has for you!  The apostle Paul came to this realization, this starting point on the journey of progressive spiritual maturity.  Listen to the words of this changed man:

Philippians 3:7-8  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yeah doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

If you can look back and remember a specific moment in time when you admitted your sin, confessed your sin, and, perhaps with tears rolling down your cheeks, acknowledged the fact that Jesus gave His life to save your soul, to enable you to enter heaven when you die, not because of any good you've ever done, but because of the acceptable sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for you, then you have embarqued upon the only genuine spiritual journey.  The moment of your salvation is the starting point, the new birth.

Paul used to think he was a pretty good person.  He was one whom others esteemed, .  He was a real go-getter, building quite a reputation for himself as an esteemed Pharisee and persecutor of Christians;

Philippians 3:5-6  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

A MARK OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS PUTTING YOUR FAMILY HERITAGE IN PERSPECTIVE

Are you proud of the stock from which you were born?  Paul was able to look back and see a major error in his past worldly thinking.  He boasted that he was "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin".  People without Christ today will sometimes boast of their heritage, of their ancestral roots.  It defines them.   It gives them an anchor in their communities, a place to belong.  But that anchor doesn't hold.  That anchor lacks weight and moves about in the tempestuous sea of life.  It's insufficient.  It provides no real stability or rest.  After his spiritual awakening, this was something Paul realized.  He could look back and see that he had grown from identification with his heritage to identification with Christ his Saviour. 

A MARK OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS PUTTING YOUR RELIGIOUS HERITAGE INTO PERSPECTIVE

Some of us have been born into a Christian heritage.  Some can look back and say, I was born and raised in a Christian family, gone to church all my life, heard God's Word spoken and preached regularly.  So that's where my confidence is, in my church, in the faith of my youth or the faith of my parents.  Tradition is what defines me.  That's what I cling to.  But that is just as weak.  You cannot place your confidence in the situation into which you were born.  You must personally call upon Christ for salvation.  No one can do it for you.

Romans 10:13  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

A MARK OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS DEPENDENCE UPON GOD

When we're young, no mountain is too tall to climb.  We have enormous confidence in our strength, abilities, and mental prowess.  Some people enter their Christian walks with extreme confidence still in themselves.  But Paul realized right away that any strength he could muster was not is own, but from the One who provided him his strength;

Philippians 4:13  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Note that the verse doesn't just say "I can do all things."  We cannot leave out Christ.  Evidence of spiritual maturity is having a dependence upon Christ in everything we do.

HAVING A RIGHT HEART

Can you look back at past years and say, "you know, I've grown since then.  I can't believe I used to do that.  What was I thinking?"  Do you see progress?  Do you see movement in your own life from worldliness toward Godliness?  Have you left worldliness behind or are you still deep in the muck of it?  Have your wagon wheels gotten stuck?  Are you parked there and see no forward progress?  How do you get out of it?  Are you really a Christian or have you just fallen into line with your tradition?   Remember, Christianity is not centrally about performing good works.   Christianity begins by admitting you are a sinner and asking God for forgiveness.  Have you done that?

And if you are truly saved from the grip of hell then desire Godliness.  Simply ask Him for help and guidance.  He will help you. He will guide you.  But it has to start in the desires of your own heart.



Friday, February 11, 2011

Fed-up with Life?


WISHING IT WOULD END?

If you've ever felt like you wanted to just give it all up then you're not alone.  For someone with nothing to live for, it seems to make honest, logical sense to desire it all to end.  What's the point of prolonging the suffering?  Since much of life is a struggle with work, pain, relationships, health problems, and finances, an end to all that turmoil sounds appealing.  Death can sound like a relief.

But most who think they have no reason to live also have no real purpose for their lives.  They have no reason to wake up every morning.  Maybe they're lonely.  Maybe they're sick.  Or maybe they're just at wit's end.  They're just occupying a slot in time, going through all the motions, until they grow old and are buried in the grave.  But what happens to them in eternity?

God has a purpose for every one's life.  The reason why God allowed you to be born here below was so you could be born from up above (John 3:7).  When you finally see the futility of your life, of your existence, you are very close to salvation.  You have seen through the delusion of all the world's empty reasons for living.  You have seen through all of life's distractions.  A sign on some one's front door says, "Live, Laugh, Love".   Is that a strong enough peg to hang your hat on?  Or are you desirous of more substance?

The only satisfying reason for living is to know God.  And knowing God can only begin at the moment of salvation, at the instant in time when you acknowledge your sin (Rom 3:23) and trust that Jesus Christ died to give you everlasting life (1 Jn 5:13).  Being saved is an event in time.  Salvation is not a process.  Salvation is not becoming a better person.  Salvation is ending reliance upon your own strength and trusting Christ alone (Psalm 118:8).  Once a person is saved, a whole new life opens up . . . a life with true meaning and purpose.

FED-UP BELIEVERS

It's understandable why non-believers have nothing significant to live for but what about genuine Christians?   Do true believers in God ever get so down in the dumps that they wish it all would end?  After all, won't our existence be better when this miserable life is over?  As soon as this life ends, we have a great future awaiting us because we've repented and accepted God's gift of salvation (Eph 2:8-9).   The apostle Paul had no fear for the end of his earthly life.  He knew, with absolute certainty, what to expect when his earthly life ended;

2 Cor 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord

GOD KNOWS YOUR LIMIT

Taking one's life, of course, is sin.  It's murder and breaks the sixth commandment (Exod 20:13).  If you're in the category of a believer exasperated with your situation in this life then it's comforting to know that God has instituted a limit to what He allows you to suffer;

1 Cor 10:13  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].

IN GOOD COMPANY

If you've ever teetered on the precipice of that which you can bear then you're in good company.  You're not alone.  It's wrong, of course, for believers to constantly wish life was over.  After all, we have God's hope in our lives.  We have His abiding presence, the Holy Spirit, walking with us at all times.  We are the only ones equipped with the ability to reflect God's light in a dark world.  But sometimes, just sometimes, we feel like we can't take it anymore.  Consider the shocking inner conversations of those famous in the faith who all, at times, wished they were dead;

Moses - And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness (Num 11:15)

Jonah - Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for [it is] better for me to die than to live (Jonah 4:3)

Elijah - But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I [am] not better than my fathers (1 Kings 19:4).

LIVING IS MORE NEEDFUL

God has a mission for every Christian who feels fed up with life.  God wants you to stay the course, fight the good fight, keep the faith.  There are people in far more desperate situations.  Just think of the many without Christ destined for hell (Matt 7:13).  All believers are ready for the next life.  We don't wonder what will happen because we know we're going to heaven (1 Jn 5:13).  The apostle Paul knew where he would be better off but he found it more necessary to spend his life in service;

Phil 1:24  For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh [is] more needful for you.

Ever wonder why you were born when you were born, into your particular country, community, and family?  Sometimes people wish they were born in different eras.  After visiting Old Sturbridge Village here in New England and being temporarily transported back in time, it seems like the 1830s may have been a better time to live, a simpler day.  But remember that of the 6,000 years of human history, God appointed you to be born now, in this generation, in this particular situation, at this specific point in time.  It's not luck.  It's not coincidence.  God knew you before you were even formed in your mother's womb (Jer 1:5)  and your presence in this world at this time was no accident.

So what, exactly, is your mission?  Only God can answer that.  Ask Him.  Most likely, your mission will have something to do with your abilities and spiritual gifts.  But whatever God's specific mission is for your life, there is a general mission in common with all believers.  And you're feelings of desperation are understandable if you're neglecting any of these needful spiritual engagements.  He wants you to be in His word.  He wants you to be in prayer.  And he wants you to be in a church where you can be fed the truth of God's word, be encouraged in the faith, be in fellowship with like-minded believers, and serve God.

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

If you're a Christian and feeling life is worthless then just remember, the Son of God took the form of a man and died on cross for you.  Christ died so you may live.  He values your life highly.  Is it possible that your life seems useless because you're out of the will of God?  Have you been neglecting Him?  Have you made decisions with your life that bring Him dishonor?  If you're not in God's will then you know it.  Perhaps, in His mercy, He's telling you that the path you're taking is wrong with only continued pain and misery ahead.  It's time to turn around and go back in the right direction.  If you're desiring your life to be over, wishing it all away, then ask yourself; Is there a change you need to make in your life to get back on the right track?