Walking Together

Posted on February 1, 2009. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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Let’s talk football. Today’s the big day, Superbowl 43, Pittsburgh Steelers versus Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh is going for their 6th Championship ring, and they are a football dynasty. Arizona Cardinals last won an NFL title in 1947 and hold the record for the longest drought without a title.

There are great reasons to root for both teams. For instance, Diane is rooting for Pittsburgh because it’s her home town. My mother is going to root for the Cardinals because their uniforms match her fingernail polish. Both excellent reasons.

But there is something bigger going on behind the scenes this year. Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Cardinals, is a Christian evangelical who gives thanks to God in nearly every interview. Before his NFL career, he was bagging groceries, and now he holds weekly bible study sessions with as many as 20 of his teammates. Kurt says, “You just have to embrace it, whatever God does in your life and wherever He puts you.”

Troy Polamalu, safety for Pittsburgh, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, savage on the field but gentle in person. This week, Troy said, “I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on and off the field,” he said this week in Tampa. “It determines how you live your life when you love God.”

And the faith of the Steeler’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is the cohesion that holds the team together. Here’s a snippet from an article from BehindTheSteelCurtain.com


The cohesion of a football team is the direct reflection of its head coach. The 2008 Steelers are the ultimate model of individuals coming together as one. It is said that truly great people take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Through Tomlin’s leadership, you can hear that mantra ringing from each and every player. Not only do Steelers’ players not snipe at each other and look to blame, they genuinely love each other and defend each other. The camaraderie on the 2008 team was as good as it gets. Stan Savran, popular Pittsburgh media personality, has been around the team for more than 30 years. Heading into the AFC Championship Game, Savran could feel the unity. “There’s something very special going on in that locker room,” said Savran. “You can feel it.”

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can attest first-hand about Savran’s intuition. “We have a special group. We call ourselves ‘The Band of Brothers.’ The offense picks the defense up. The defense picks the offense up. Special teams picks us all up. We say that nothing can come between us. We’re a real close group. We really feel that way. We want to go out and play for each other.”

LaMarr Woodley, a young player in just his second year, is experiencing something that he’s never experienced before. “I never imagined feeling this way about teammates,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the team. There are no individuals in that locker room. It’s really hard to explain, but it is very real and very special.”




And how does Mike Tomlin hold the Steelers together? He puts into practice what he’s learned as a Christian. This week in Tampa, Tomlinson explained his faith in Jesus Christ this way: “First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to lead with a servant’s heart. Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

For further reading on Mike Tomlin’s faith, follow the link.

• What role do you believe unity has played in the success of the Steelers?
• How important do you think it is for us as Christians to be unified?
• How does unity affect our effectiveness as Christians to non-believers? To believers?

Does God want us to work as a team? Of course He does. The bible says that we are made in His image, and He is a relational God we can know. The love God shows to us, we are to model by loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the message behind Paul’s conclusion to the church at Thessalonica at the end of 1 Thessalonians, so let’s turn there now. Here’s a scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 -


Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.



When I first read this conclusion, it reminded me of all those final instructions Grandma gave after a visit to her house. “Goodbye! Be safe! Eat well! Study hard! Wear clean clothes! Look both ways before crossing the street!” And she’d still be calling out all these instructions, even after the car window was rolled up and we were headed down the street and couldn’t hear her. There is much more to these last instructions, though; Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they are to live together as a church of believers.

There are no indications the church at Thessalonica was divided at this time; Paul’s just encouraging and teaching them to be in harmony with each other. In the first sentence, Paul calls them “brothers.” Paul uses this word 27 times in the letters to the Thessalonians; as Christians, we are all adopted children of God, and Paul saw the local church as his family.

I. Family Leadership

No family is perfect; each and every one of us know the dysfunction in our own families. We’re all imperfect and a little dysfunctional, but it is our love for our family that helps us overcome our dysfunctions. And so it is with our local church.

In each local family, we have a leader; without leadership, the family falls apart. God’s structure for the family is for the husband to be the head of the family and sacrifice himself for the good of the family. The wife is to stand next to him and make sure he sacrifices himself. I mean, she encourages him and supports him in love and cooperation. And the children are to obey their parents. This is God’s structure, and the family becomes dysfunctional when we don’t respect that structure.

And so it is with the church. Even though Galatians 3:28 says, “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given each member of the church unique spiritual gifts –


was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.





So some people are given gifts to pastor and teach the church so that the church as a whole may be raised up in maturity and prepare God’s people for service. That is God’s purpose for the church, and God’s purpose for the spiritual leaders of the church.
Paul’s letter, though, is not addressed to the leaders; it’s addressed to the brothers and sisters of Christ. What responsibilities do we have as brothers and sisters in Christ toward those in leadership?

a. Accept them.

People in church leadership are doing their best to utilize the gifts God gave them. Church leaders are not dictators, they are example to follow and have been given spiritual authority from the Lord. As they follow the Lord, so we, too, must follow them.

b. Appreciate them.

Verse 12 says, “respect those who work hard among you.” Spiritual leadership is both a great responsibility and a difficult task, whether one is serving as a pastor, deacon, director, or other spiritual leader like teacher, mission leader, social director, or His Honor, Royal Guardian of the Lunch Ministry. Encouragements are few, battles are many, and leadership is always under attack by Satan. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for our leaders, encourage our leaders, and appreciate our leaders, and serve joyfully with them. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants as long as it is God who gets the glory.

c. Love them.

Paul chooses his words carefully, verse 12 says that our spiritual leaders are our brothers and are “among us,” but they are also leaders “over us in the Lord.” This can easily strain relationships as leaders are called to speak the truth in love. For a pastor to be “among us” and be “over us” at the same time requires the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. If our ministry leaders are just our good friends, their authority to be over us and lead God’s will is weakened. On the other hand, if our ministry leaders are too authoritative, we view them as a dictator. Our leaders have to practice fellowship and authority at the same time and it requires careful balance.

d. Obey them.

Hebrews 13:17 says,


Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.



Spiritual leaders are not always right in everything they do. They’re human and often fail. David, a king and a man after God’s own heart made serious errors in pride, adultery, and murder. Peter denied Christ 3 times and is almost a study unto himself on how to say and do goofy things while in the ministry of Christ. But wise leaders know this; they are jars of clay, prone to cracking, and they seek Christian counsel in their decisions. As leaders, they are God’s servant, and when they call us to obey God’s word, then we must give them willingly our cheerful obedience unless it is obvious they are strayed from God’s message.

If we do these four things for our leadership – accept, appreciate, love, and obey them, then we win the Church super bowl. Paul tells us that the fruit of this cheerful following is that we will be at peace among ourselves. If there’s no peace and harmony, it’s almost always because of selfishness and sin on the part of the leaders or the followers or both. This leads to dissension and division. James 4:1-3 says


What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.




Which do we want as a church? Peace and harmony, or strife and quarrels? It’s clear that only through submission to those appointed as our leaders will we enjoy peace in the family. But we cannot put the burden of peace and harmony squarely on our leaders, so Paul also talks about how we should get along with each other.

II. Family Relationships

In many churches, people expect the church to provide for them. The laymen give their tithes, the church provides the services. But church leaders can’t do everything, and then the people grumble, the leadership weakens, and the church becomes ineffective.

But that’s not God’s plan for the church. The people of the church are supposed to do the work of the ministry. The purpose of the leadership is to equip the people to do the ministry according to Ephesians 4:12 which we just read a moment ago. Instead of blaming the church for the weakness we see, we are to step up and serve. Titus 2 tells us that the older members of the church are to instruct the younger members. As brothers and sisters, we help our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to wait for the leadership to tell us to help.

Some of our brothers and sisters are… special. Paul tells us specifically in verse 14 about three family members that need our help –

a. The unruly. The NIV calls these the idle, but the word means “careless” or “out of line.” The word was usually applied to a soldier who couldn’t march in line. Anybody in here want to admit to marching to the beat of a different drummer? We’re all unique individuals with special gifts, but there are some rules we have to follow if we are to be a cohesive church. We conduct this class according to certain rules, church starts at a certain time, we volunteer to fill specific roles. Otherwise there is chaos. As parents, we love to see our children grow and express individuality, but if that individuality leads to rebellion against our standards, it causes us grief. Individuality is good, rebellion is chaos.

b. The feebleminded, which the NIV calls the timid. The literal translation means “little-souled.” These are the quitters, the criticizers, the pessimists. Paul calls us to encourage them and comfort them and help them grow into bigger souls.

c. The weak. Paul isn’t talking about the physically weak, he’s talking about the spiritual health of the church. Paul means those that are weak in the faith of the Lord. As Christians, we tend to think of the spiritually weak as new believers or those in danger of falling away, but Paul’s actually referring to those people that do not understand their freedom in Christ. New believers in Paul’s time were still also trying to fulfill Jewish law, and they were full of condemnation for those that ate meat on holy days, did work on the Sabbath, and so on. The spiritually weak among us may think they’re strong, but if we criticize or condemn another brother or sister, *we* are the spiritually weak. To be strong is to learn how to be encouraging instead of judgmental.

Ministering to the unruly, the timid, the criticizers and spiritually weak isn’t easy, especially if we don’t realize when *we* are the unruly and spiritually weak. Paul tells us to keep three things in mind when we are ministering to our brother or sister –

1. Be patient. Be patient with whom? Everyone. Patience is a difficult thing to learn, especially when dealing with others. Everybody grows in faith at a different speed, and God speaks to us all individually in His perfect timing. Romans 15:5-6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Watch our motives. Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

3. Be kind. Paul tells us to be kind to each other and to everyone else. While the bible is useful for teaching, rebuking and training in righteousness, too often we wish we had a really heavy bible so we could beat our unruly brothers over the head with it. Criticism and complaining never yields the fruit Jesus expects from us; instead, use kindness and encouragement. Kindness and encouragement is very effective at motivating others to grow.

III. Family Worship

Worshiping the Lord in church gives glory to God, and it’s what we are called to do as brothers and sisters. We must start with worship, otherwise ministry becomes stressful, teaching becomes dry, and relationships aren’t fruitful. All of our activities as a church must begin with worship and praise. I bet Paul had instruction for us in worship, too. Let’s run through verses 16-28; Paul gives us a bunch of instruction in rapid-fire -

a. Be joyful always. God wants a joyful family, not one of dissension or criticizing or irritation. Each family member should contribute to the joy of all. Worship in joy. Then, when we give, give cheerfully. When we serve, serve with joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

b. Pray continually. Being a mature member of Christ means being in constant conversation with God. I don’t mean we are to be constantly mumbling prayers, but that in our thoughts and actions we stay in touch with God to see if what we say and do pleases him. We are called to “pray without ceasing.”

c. Give thanks in all circumstances. Thanks and praise must be an integral part of the family of God. Ephesians 5:19-20 says “speak… to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Study alone is insufficient; application of God’s word begins with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.

d. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Many things can extinguish the Spirit’s fire. Complacency, legalism, criticism, discouragement. But God is at work, halleluiah.

e. Don’t despise prophecies. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul says the purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church. One way to quench the Holy Spirit’s fire is to look down on the work others are doing. I know occasionally I criticize the “name it and claim it” preaching I hear from other pastors, but the Holy Spirit is at work, even when the message is incomplete. It’s one thing to correct and rebuke, but despising the message is going too far.

f. Test everything, hold on to the good. The “nam
e it and claim it” messages may be incomplete, but they still contain some truth. How do we know what is truth? We test it, compare it to the rest of scripture, and keep that part of the message that is true. The Christian life involves hearing a lot of spiritual messages, and we must learn to keep the message that is authentic and discard errors and falsehood. The only way to learn how to do that is to read God’s word and learn it.

g. Avoid every kind of evil. We’ve heard the instruction to be in the world, but not of the world. Temptation abounds. When we recognize it, we should avoid even the appearance of evil.

h. Rely on God. Whew. Grandma’s almost finished. We’ve just read a whole lot of instruction to our family of believers about how to treat our leadership and how to treat each other. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. Paul reminds us that God Himself, the God of Peace, is at work in us. If we are in prayer without ceasing, Jesus is faithful and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to be the brother and sister of Christ that encourages and builds up one another.

Sixteen short verses; a lifetime of instruction to practice if we are to be a model family of believers. There is a purpose to all these instructions; Jesus will return, and we are to be ready. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word of God is at work in our lives; let us continue to build the fire of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us until the coming of our Lord and Savior.

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We Are the Message

Posted on December 7, 2008. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Candle of Loreto
Image by Loci Lenar via Flickr

I’ve discovered the secret to time travel, and have successfully traveled into the future. I’m still doing it – at the rate of 1 second per second. I can’t seem to go any faster or slower.

It amazes me that Thanksgiving has been over for more than a week, and Christmas will be here and gone in a blink. I’m sure time moved slower when I was a kid. The time between December 24 and December 25 was at least a week.

Our Christian life changes over time. The Christian faith we had last year and the year before that should sanctify over time and draw us closer to the Lord. How many remember the day that you gave your life to Christ?

Most of us will fall into one of two groups. For some of us, including me, we gave our life to Christ as an adult. Christ changed our lives abruptly and we became new creatures in Him. Others became Christians as a child or a teenager; lifestyles changed little. I should have been in that last group; I was exposed to Jesus at a very young age and never turned my back to Him. But repentance requires more than that – I also never turned my face toward Him. I did my own thing, not His.

So now my time travel is limited to retrospection. What decisions, good and bad, have I made, and how they steered my life. Only one decision steered my afterlife. A young pastor noticed something – I was coming to church every week, but there was no fruit of my faith. Attendance every week is not fruit, it’s fertilizer that helps us grow.

I can look back with thankfulness for that pastor that devoted a couple of hours a week to me, making sure my faith was laid on a biblical foundation. And I can look back over the last 10 years and thank the Lord for His work in my life. Today, we’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians 1, new believers in Christ, who became wonderful example of Christians.

Paul was on his second missionary journey at this time, during the time in Acts 16-21. Around the year 51, Paul and Silas left Antioch, picked up Timothy in the town of Lystra, through Philippi. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison for their prison but freed by an earthquake. They travel to Thessalonica where Paul teaches in the synagogue for three weeks. The Jews stirred up trouble and then at night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea and began teaching in the synagogue there. The Jews from Thessalonica followed Paul to Berea and stirred up trouble. Paul leaves from Corinth and meets Pricilla and Aquila. Over the next 2 years while in Corinth, Paul writes two letters to the Thessalonians to encourage those he had to leave because of persecution.

So that’s our situation; Paul is in Corinth, encouraging new believers in Thessalonica. From the two letters Paul sent, we know a lot about Paul’s feelings. For one thing, he’ saddened he’s unable to return to Thessalonica, and later, Paul would send Timothy back to them to minister to them. Timothy later returned and brought a letter back to Paul.

The letter Timothy brought back concerned Paul. The persecution in Thessalonica had not ended, and the early church there needed encouragement to stand firm. Also, the enemies of the truth were spreading lies about Paul, claiming that Paul was only traveling to make money and build up his reputation. The enemies also claimed that Paul had stirred up the trouble and then fled, leaving the early converts duped into facing the consequences alone. Paul’s letters defended his actions and his integrity, encouraged the new church, preached against paganism that was creeping back into Thessalonica. He also taught them on several topics, including their reputation outside of the church, to love each other, to work diligently, and discussed the end times when Jesus returns, and then teaches them about the fundamentals of Christian living.

There. We finished 1st and 2nd Thessalonians 2 months early. Any questions? Actually, for such a short chapter, there’s a lot of information here. Let’s go a little deeper. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4 –

Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Paul expresses thanksgiving to the Thessalonians for the gospel in their lives and gives thanks to God. There are 10 verses in 1 Thessalonians 1, and Paul mentions God 7 times. Have you ever had anybody thank you for your faith? Do you give thanks to others for their faith? This is worthy of reflection when you consider the work of Jesus in your life.

Paul addresses this letter to the church of Thessalonica; the Greek word used is “ekklesia” and means a gathering of people called for a purpose. So Paul is letting the Thessalonians they have a purpose and that God has called them. Every church is called for a purpose, and every church has both a physical address and a spiritual address. Physically, the church was located in Thessalonica. Spiritually, the church was located in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those last four words, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” are beautiful together. “Our” reminds us that we have a uniquely personal relationship with God. “Lord” shows He is the ruler of our lives and our submission to His authority. “Jesus” reflects that God became one of us and reflects His humanity. “Christ” is our savior, the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies that He came to save us for all eternity. “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul encourages the church by letting them know he prays for them daily, giving thanks to God. Because of their faith, their work was evident. Because of their love, their labor was evident. And because of their hope, the early Thessalonian church was able to endure the persecution. This is why Paul gives thanks – these are new believers, yet their faith and their love, their hope and endurance was evident. Paul will tell us in a moment why all these are important.

Verse 4 tells the Christian brothers that they are loved and chosen by God. The credit for the existence of the Thessalonica church, and our church, too, belongs entirely to God, not to us. I think as believers in Christ we often take our salvation for granted, as though because we chose to become baptized that we have done a great thing in ensuring our eternal life. But our salvation is not something we earn by our choice, is it? Our salvation is a gift, and God chooses us first. While we make a decision to follow Christ, it is God who first calls us while we are still sinners. We do nothing to deserve salvation. That’s why Paul opens his letter with “grace and peace to you.” Grace is a uniquely Christian concept that God has shown us favor, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, we deserve judgment. But because of God’s grace, we have peace. God has called us and our salvation is secure in Him.

The Thessalonians were new believers, and Paul gave thanks for them. Not only that, it appears Paul had a daily prayer list that included praying for these new believers. This calling of new believers by God is the purpose He has set for us. Paul gave thanks because he could see the “work of faith”, the “labor of love,” the “endurance inspired by hope” in their lives. If somebody examined our lives, will they see the same? What evidence of our faith and love will others find if they examine our lives?
Many people hear the good news yet still refuse to accept Christ. The Holy Spirit does the work of convicting and converting, and Paul encourages the Thessalonians to respond to the Holy Spirit in their lives in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 –

because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel Paul preached follows a specific order. First, the gospel comes to us with words. Faith is useless without knowing why we have faith. Then comes power, the ability to do something. When people hear and accept the good news, lives change. Then Paul mentions the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of Himself to every believer. When the Word of God and the Spirit of God meet in the life of a believer, there is joy and assurance that he or she has freedom from the bondage of sin and is now a child of God.

Notice how Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be imitators of the Lord, but also of himself. We are to be like Christ in our growth as Christians. Paul often asks people of faith to imitate him. In first Corinthians 11:1, he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Ask yourself if you are a good imitator of Christ. Do you have the confidence of Paul? Can you imitate his transparency? If you don’t, why not? Can we be confident that our lives are so Christ-like that we would ask somebody to imitate us? What keeps us from this sort of confidence?

This is an important question because if we are not good imitators of Christ, then we are poor witnesses on His behalf. A good imitator of Christ is a good witness for Christ. We know Paul was a good witness, both by words and by action. The Thessalonians, in turn, became good witnesses despite persecution. They understood that their faith in Jesus Christ might mean temporary suffering but eternal joy. Instead of being embarrassed or hiding their faith, the Thessalonians instead welcomed the message with the joy from the Holy Spirit.

It’s just as important today to be joyful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it was for the Thessalonians. Just like the Thessalonians, we can worship every week with our church, read the scriptures, thank the Lord for the gifts in our lives, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we make good decisions. As a result of their faith, the Thessalonians became influential in spreading Christianity. Look at verses 7-10 –

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Do you see the cycle of evangelism? First, Paul shared his faith by both word and action to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians imitated Paul, and then shared their faith by both words and actions. The Thessalonians became an example of joyful Christian living to the Macedonians in northern Greece. The Macedonians, in turn, influenced new believers at least 200 miles away in Achaia in the southern part of Greece. Paul says their reputation has become known everywhere.

Paul called the Thessalonians to be like Christ, and offered his own life as an example to them. The Thessalonians, in turn, were an example to the Macedonians. And so on through the centuries, until you, too, heard the word of God and saw it modeled in someone else. The word Paul used for “example” literally translated meant the mark left by a hammer when making a coin. *Stamp*. You have an original that made an imprint, and now you have another just like it. In John 20:25, Thomas says he that unless he sees the imprint of the nails in the hands of Jesus, he would not believe. The word John uses for “imprint” is the same word Paul uses for example. *Stamp* We are to be just like Jesus. Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:48) that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Like a coin made from a hammer, we are to bear the imprint of Christ.

The lifestyle of the Thessalonians provide an example to us today. Verse 9 and 10 summarize the lifestyle of a truly effective Christian in 5 points –

1. Repentence. They turned to God from idols. A saved life, a life in Christ, always begins with a deliberate decision to answer God’s call. A Christian turns from the negative and to the positive. This is repentance. Repentance is a deliberate change to turn from sinful ways and to face the living God. The Thessalonians turned from their lives of idol worship and to a life of faith.

2. Serving. They have a new master. Before, they were slaves to their sin. Slaves to power, to money, to self, to pleasure. Now they are willing slaves to Christ. The Thessalonians serve the living and true God.

3. Goal. They have a new hope. The Thessalonians wait for His Son to come from Heaven. When will this day be? We don’t know. Jesus says it will come like a thief in the night, and we won’t know until it is here. But we are to live every day, every hour, as though Jesus was coming today. If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Paul ends every chapter of 1st Thessalonians with a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

4. Foundation. They have a firm foundation. The Thessalonians were secure in their faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, that He was resurrected in accordance with thousands of years of prophecy. Jesus conquered sin, He conquered death for us. The gospel is the good news that we have eternal life with Him, and He really does have that power.

5. And finally, the fear of God. The Thessalonians were well aware of their sin, and that perfect judgment on sinful humanity before an all-powerful God means that by all rights the wrath of God should be poured out on us. God hates sin. The only reason God does not turn his righteous anger against us is because of his love for us. Only Jesus can rescue us. For that we are thankful and saved from His wrath.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that their lives are showing the cycle of evangelism that Christ calls us to live. First, everything begins with Christ, our perfect example. Second, Paul and missionaries such as Silas and Timothy imitated the behavior of Christ and spread the gospel. Third, the Thessalonians modeled their lives after Paul. Fourth, the new Christians throughout Macedonia followed the example of the Thessalonians.

Where are you in this cycle? What about your reputation? You’ve accepted Christ, and you live in a circle of influence. By your words and by your actions, you influence your spouse, your kids or your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends and coworkers. If your reputation got back to you, what would it say about you?

Here’s a questionnaire on the last 3 verses of 1 Thessalonians 1. I want you to think about these questions. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, you should be able to answer these questions to yourself. If you have an answer to these questions you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. After all, everybody in this class is an example to me and if you tell me your answer, I can imitate you.

1. The evidence this week that I “serve the living and true God” is:

2. I demonstrate to myself that I “wait for His Son from heaven” by:

3. People can tell I believe God “raised Jesus from the dead” because:

4. Someone I know that needs to be rescued “from the coming wrath” is:

We are God’s message. God’s Word tells us who He is, but it is by our words and actions that others come to know Him. Everybody in here has a story of somebody that shared their love of God. We have all been evangelized. But we cannot keep this Good News to ourselves. The cycle is only complete when the evangelized becomes the evangelist. We do this through thanksgiving, through prayer, through encouragement. Like the Thessalonians, we demonstrate our works of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope. We look back with thankfulness that the Holy Spirit and the gospel’s power changed our lives.

Are you waiting confidently for Christ’s return? Are you living a life that is a testimony to God’s grace and miraculous transformation of your life? Is your life “the message”?

Let’s offer thanks and praise that it is.

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God Loves His Creation

Posted on December 4, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that God is in control, that God has a plan for us. Let’s open God’s User Manual, Chapter 1, and start at the beginning. Genesis, verse 1:1 begins -

In the beginning, God created…

Let’s stop right there and discuss just those 5 words. Lately on the New York Times Best Seller List, books by atheists have been topping the list. “God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” “The God Delusion,” “Letter to a Christian Nation,” “God is Not Great.” In response, prominent Christian apologetic authors have come out with books like “The Case for Christ” and seminars like the one we recently had from Reasons to Believe.

Usually, an atheist begins his argument with, “prove to me that God exists” as if somehow you’re going to be able to argue him into heaven. How does God answer this question? “In the beginning, God created.” The bible wastes no time trying to explain the existence of God. God is. Remember when Moses asked God what His name was? Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” God is. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Genesis 1 begins with the understanding that God exists and has always existed and doesn’t spend any time giving evidence to fools who demand to see evidence that already surrounds us.

In verse 2, the second part of the Trinity is introduced, the Holy Spirit which hovers over the formless void. To me, this shows an anticipation of greater things to come; the Hebrew word rachaph is also used in Dueteronomy 32:11, describing how a mother eagle flutters her wings over her young to protect them. The Lord God did not create the world impersonally; creation is very personal to God and he protects us under His wing. If the Spirit of God is hovering, what is He about to do? He is taking a formless void and giving it purpose.

Diane challenged me to read each word carefully, and she’s right, there is so much more to Genesis than a simple story of creation. It’s a story of God’s relationship with His creation and His purpose for His creation.

In verse 3, it says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God spoke the light into existence. I think of this as an introduction to the third person of the Trinity, the Son of God. John 1:9 introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Our Savior is the source of all light; our human perspective tells us that light comes from the sun, but if you’ll look down to verse 16, we’ll see that God created the light on the first day, but didn’t create the sun until the fourth day.

Jesus as the source of all light is also revealed in the book of Revelation at the end of time. Revelation 22:5 says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

As science progresses and helps explain the origins of the universe, it’s interesting to see how, thousands of years before science, God’s Word tells us how the world was created. First the universe, then the earth, then the plants and then the animals. Throughout this creation, God declares His creation to be good. Verse 4, Day 1, the light was good. Verse 10, Day 2, God declares the earth and sky and water and land to be good. Verse 12, Day 3, the vegetation with plants and trees and fruit, God declares to be good. Verse 18, Day 4, God creates the sun and the moon and the stars and declares them good. Verse 21, Day 5, God creates the great creatures of the sea and every winged bird and declares them good. Verse 25, Day 6, God creates livestock and land animals and declares them good.

On the 6th day, God creates man, and verse 31, God declares it to be very good. Not just good, very good. Nothing further needed to be made; His creation was exactly what God had planned. God’s creation reflects God’s glory, and God’s creation continues to reflect God’s glory, even if man’s ability to reflect God’s glory is imperfect. Man is different from the rest of creation. On the first 5 days, look at how God spoke creation into existence. God said, “Let there be light.” God said, “Let there be sky, let there be land, let there be seas.” But when God created man in verse 26 it says, “Let us make man in our image.” This phrase is far more personal than the previous 6 days where God effortlessly spoke creation into existence with “Let there be.” The phrase, “let us make” is quite unlike the others. First of all, it’s plural. Let “us” make man. Who is this “us” God speaks of, and why is there no “us” in the rest of God’s creative activity?

The presence of the Holy Spirit and verse 2 and the hint of the Christ to come in verse 3 form the plurality of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is omniscient and knows this creation of man will be disobedient to Him and He knows how much this disobedience will cost Him. The bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:20 that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to be our redeemer; God knows that the Son will one day be sacrificed to pay for our sins. He planned it during creation.

Why is there no “us” listed in the first 6 days? Perhaps because the first 6 days show God’s creative ability and his omnipotence, but nothing in the first 5 days shows God’s love like the day He created man. God is going to demonstrate and prove His love by creating the one creature to whom God will make Himself vulnerable. For God so loved the world that He gave us His son and planned this love from the very beginning of creation. God created man already knowing the cost to Himself, a love that humans can barely comprehend.

God created both men and women in His likeness, in His image. His image has nothing to do with gender or our skin color or our height or weight or any other differentiation between humans. By creating us in His image, we are to reveal something about God, but we are not gods ourselves.

I think the importance of the phrase “in His image” should not be taken lightly; it underscores the importance of human life to our Lord. In our society, we see many, many debates that degrade the importance of human life. When it comes to the life of the unborn, God values the life long before birth. Pslam 139:13-16 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In debates about euthanasia, we hear about the quality of life as though we have set ourselves up to be the gods who determined what sufficient quality of life is. Who are we to determine God’s plan for another’s life? Who are we to determine whether somebody else’s life no longer has meaning? For that matter, who are we to determine whether our own lives have meaning? God’s voice is clear – human life is sacred, human life is holy, human life is made in His image.

Genesis 1:29-30 emphasizes the sanctity of life of creation. It says,

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

We see the so-called “natural order” today and can’t imagine the world any other way, but God gave man every seed-bearing plant and ever tree with fruit for us to eat. The next line implies that all the other animals, too, were herbivores. The importance of life is subtly confirmed here. The bible also predicts a future day when respect for all life will yet again be the order of things; Isaiah 11:6-7 says

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

We know that coming up in a future lesson in Genesis will be about the Fall, when man chooses to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. After sin is introduced into the world, animals are first slaughtered for human benefit in Genesis 3:21, and were probably used for food for the first time after the flood in Genesis 9:3. The sanctity of animal life will not be fully restored until the future reign of Christ on earth when sin is conquered forever.

The first book of Genesis describes humans as the completion of God’s creation where God demonstrates His love for us. The second book of Genesis describes God’s plan for men and women. In Genesis 2:2, after creating man and woman, God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Was God tired?

God did not rest because God needed rest. God rested, I think, to show us the importance of rest. One day a week devoted to simply enjoying what God has created. We tend to put work first in our lives as though our work was our god, and we work all seven days of the week. The seventh day is holy, set apart, for our benefit, not God’s. God has no need of rest, but he knows that this rest is so important he made one of the Ten Commandments.

That’s not to say, though, that work isn’t important. It’s says in Genesis 2:15 that God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him that his job was to work the garden and take care of it. The Hebrew word for “work” used here means to labor, to work for another, and the serve God. God’s plan is for us to work, not an idle life of recreation and laziness.

Let’s back up to Genesis 2:4 and see the relationship God wants to have with His special, very good creation. Throughout Genesis 1, God is called in Hebrew by the ancient name for deity, Elohim. In Genesis 2:4, God’s is called by His intimate name, Yahweh, or “I am”. It’s appropriate that God’s intimate name is introduced here because God begins to act in very personal ways with His creation. In verse 7, God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The beasts of the earth received life by means of the spoken Word of God, but man gets a personal CPR, a mouth-to-mouth infusion of life that clearly lifts man above the animals. Clearly, God has affection for His creation. Will His creation also have affection for God? It is a test that continues to this day. Will we choose to love God as He loves us?

Just like creation without man is incomplete, the creation *of* man is also incomplete. In verse 18, The Lord God, Yahweh, says that it is not good for man to be alone, and He will make a helper suitable for him. If you’ve ever taken a good look at a giraffe, you know that God must have a sense of humor, and I think God shows his humor here. Verse 18-20,

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

It’s like God is saying, Adam, dude. Pick an animal, any animal, to be your helper. You know, when I go shopping, I’m like most men. We decide we need it, we go out and buy it and bring it home. I’m just glad Adam didn’t go shopping for a helper like I go shopping. All the animals are paraded before him, and Adam says, “Are these my only choices? Well, I guess I’ll take the platypus.”

No, it says no suitable helper was found. Whew. Verse 21-22,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

As God created woman, man was deep asleep and observed nothing, preserving the mystery of God’s work. To this day, men don’t seem to understand where women are coming from.

Back in Genesis 1, we read that male and female were created on the same day, but this passage makes it clear that man was formed first out of the dust, then the woman is formed from the man. Man’s need for a helper does not come from man; God says in verse 18 that it is not good for the man to be alone, and that He will make a helper for him.

While the woman would be like him, she would also be different. Man didn’t need another person exactly like himself. God created man with certain strengths and God-given abilities. Then God created woman with different strengths and abilities that complimented man. The verbs used for God’s creation are different; God “formed” man out of dust, just like a potter forms a vessel out of clay. But God “made” woman, built for a specific role. Though man and woman are different, man and woman are made from the same substance and share a tie that can never be broken.

Adam was obviously overjoyed he didn’t settle for a platypus. When he awoke, he said, “Wo, man!” Verse 24,

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Two separate people become a single unit with shared dreams, hopes, and tasks. Though different, as married couples we are united. Though separate, we function as one. We learn to love the other and treat them as more precious than ourselves, and so get a glimpse of the love our Creator has for us. Like most people, we want others to see us as better than we really are. When we are physically naked, nothing’s hidden. Yet, the man and woman felt no need to hide who they were, even though they were naked. They celebrated their similarities and worked together to accomplish their God-given responsibilities. A man and a woman’s commitment to God and to each other form the basis of a Godly marriage. In marriage, we accept our spouse just like God accepts us, for who he or she is.

It’s far too easy in our society today to abandon God’s plan for our marriage, to bail when things get tough or uncomfortable. God’s plan is obvious; marriage should be a lifelong commitment to help one another as one flesh in a covenant relationship.

Why would God ordain such a relationship? In all of God’s creation, God first expressed a relationship with man. It was on the 6th day that God used the plural to make man in our image, and it was with man that God first intimately breathed life into his nostrils. God loves us, and wants us to love him. True love is a choice, and we can choose not to love him.

Marriage is an interim step toward knowing the love of the Lord. With a partner, we are naked, we hide nothing. Our spouse knows us and should know us better than any person on this earth, better than anybody but God. We are to be one flesh. With our spouse, we are able to give forgiveness, just like Christ forgave us. With our spouse, we are able to receive forgiveness and recognize in ourselves just how much we fall short of perfection. With our spouse, we can practice loving unconditionally. The tears and the joy of sharing one another’s life, helping each other as one flesh, is God’s plan for our lives.

Ephesians 5:25 tells each husband to love his wife sacrificially, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. Men, do we do that? Or do we place things above our wives? Ephesians 5:25-31,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

And the two will become one flesh. Where have I heard that before? Husbands, let me tell you – whatever sacrifice you think you’ve made on behalf of your wives, it’s not yet enough. Unless you think you’ve sacrificed more for your wife than Christ sacrificed for you.

Wives, you were made for a purpose, to be a helper for your husband, to provide for him things he cannot do for himself. What would you do for Christ if He was in your presence today? If Jesus wanted something from you, would you tell him “no?” Ephesians 5:22-24,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Your husband is your ministry; you demonstrate your love for Christ by the way you demonstrate your love for your husband. While your husband is called to live sacrificially for you, wives are called to remember that they were made to be their husband’s helper in everything.

They way we serve our husbands needs and the way we sacrifice ourselves for our wives gives glory to our Father in heaven who has a purpose for creation. He has a purpose for us in creation, and we are his most precious creation. Will we remember when we leave this room today that every word, every action, should be pleasing to God, and that our marriage is God’s plan to demonstrate His love for us? Listen to the words of Psalm 8:1-4 as we close today:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

God loves us and desires most of all for us to love him in return, and to demonstrate that love to one another beginning with our marriage. All of creation declares His love for us.

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Love Wholeheartedly

Posted on August 13, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Our next minor prophet is Malachi. In Hebrew, Malachi means “messenger of Yahweh” or “my messenger.” Was Malachi the name of the man who wrote this book? Some scholars believe “Malachi” was simply the title of the book, as in “my message” to the people. We don’t know anything about the man himself, but it’s helpful to think of Malachi as the name of the prophet who wrote it. Verse 1 tells us that the book of Malachi is “An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.” The word “oracle” implies a burden, a heavy message from the Lord.

Malachi came after Haggai and Zechariah and probably wrote this about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah. Here’s a probable time line –

538 BC — Zerubbabel leads the first return of Jews from Babylon (prophets Haggai and Zechariah)
521–486 BC — Rebuilding the temple
458 BC — Ezra leads the second return of Jews from Babylon
445 BC — Nehemiah leads the third return of Jews from Babylon
433 BC — Malachi rebukes Israel

After admonitions from the earlier prophets, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt, but over time the people became lazy, earlier spiritual reforms were abandoned, and conditions declined. Jerusalem fell into poor shape, both economically and spiritually. Nehemiah mentions in Nehemiah 5:5 that conditions were so poor, some parents sold their children into slavery to pay debts. That’s not legal today, though goodness knows I once tried. (No, no, no, I’m just kidding.)

The people had turned away from their faith, marrying non-Hebrews and practicing in the occult, and blaming their own poor conditions on God. Malachi challenges this mindset — the people can’t neglect their faith and then blame the resulting poor conditions on God. God’s love is unchanging, forever faithful. It’s the people; it’s us, that are not consistently loving.

Do You Trust God’s Love?

Let’s start with Malachi 1:2-3 –

“I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the LORD says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God says He loves us, and the people respond “How? How do you love us? We have no prosperity, we’re selling our children into slavery, and times are tough. What do you mean you love us?” They people of Jerusalem had a lot to complain about. They had been in captivity by the Babylonians for over 80 years, then 70 years since they had returned to Jerusalem, but they were still not independent. For 150 years their destiny was manipulated by the Babylonians and Chaldeans, and now, even though they had rebuilt the temple and rebuilt the walls under Nehemiah, they didn’t have the manpower to defend against their enemies. From their point of view, God had allowed them to be dragged off into exile, and only through their own hard work did they return, rebuild the temple, rebuild the wall, and rebuild whatever prosperity they could muster. Where was God? How could God possibly say He loved them when so many bad things had happened?

Bad things happen to us today. We complain about them. In Afghanistan, there were 23 South Korean Christians captured by the Taliban; two of them, including the pastor, have already been killed. Where is God? I once lost my job and was unemployed for 2 months. Does anybody here have some health issue that doesn’t seem to have any Godly purpose? What sort of bad things are happening to us or in our society right now?

Do these bad things mean God doesn’t love us? Do they mean that God isn’t paying attention to us?

The people of Jerusalem must have a lot of nerve to say that God doesn’t love them. When he says, “Yet I have loved Jacob,” God is reminding them that God chose His people and has given them preferential treatment. If you remember the book of Obadiah a few weeks back, the people of Esau, the Edomites, share the same father as Jacob. Esau’s people, though, were not chosen by God, and the people of Edom openly rebelled against God. When Moses led the Israelis to the Promised Land, the people of Edom would not allow them to pass. When Nebuchadnezzar attacks, the Edomites tell the Babylonians where the Israelites are hiding, then join in the sacking and plunder. The Lord reminds the people of Jerusalem of His preferential treatment of Israel. The Lord God parted the Red Sea, had an angel of fire to protect them, provided manna in the dessert, but to the Edomites, God promises destruction. God reminds the people of Jerusalem that He loves them, but it appears the people do not remember or do not appreciate what God has done for them. It is true that God allowed their captivity, but only to cure them of their persistent idolatry. God had preserved them, though, and kept them from being destroyed. The people of Jacob only have to look to the people of Esau to see how much God loves them. Without God’s protection, they would have been destroyed.

What has God done for us? It can be difficult to see what God is doing in our lives with our narrow view of “me, me, me.” We’re too limited in our vision, only looking at the moment. God’s love works over a long period of time, and only over time do we get a perspective of how much God loves us. We get mad at God for something that just happened just now and forget about all His other mercies in the past. Perhaps when I lost my job, God saw that I was dependent on something other than Him, and I needed a reminder that if I was faithful, He would provide all my needs. Perhaps health issues give us empathy for others that have similar health issues; nobody can speak God’s love to a cancer patient like a Christian cancer survivor. Perhaps he uses health issues to remind us that our lives are temporal, short, and that we should devote whatever time we have left to loving our Lord and loving others.

But God does care for us, even in the middle of trials. Jesus tells us (Matthew 10:30) that our Father has numbered the very hairs on our head. One… two… there are a lot of hairs, some of us more than others.

It is God’s discipline in our lives that we have so much trouble understanding. The Babylonian captivity was discipline imposed by God to cure them of idolatry. A parent will punish their child for playing in the street, not because the parent hates the child, but because the parent loves the child. The parent could stand in the street also to direct traffic and protect the child, or the parent can teach the child the dangers of traffic. God often chooses to teach us, not just protect us.

There’s a story about a summer Christian camp for kids, and one of the counselors was teaching that God had a purpose for everything He created. The kids came up with good reasons for clouds, trees, animals, rocks, dirt, rivers, and so forth, when one of the children asked, “Why did God create poison ivy?” There was an uncomfortable pause while the counselor thought, but then one of the other children said, “God made poison ivy to teach us there are some things we should just keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off of.”

The people of Jerusalem clearly misunderstood about God’s love. When we trust in God’s love, it does not mean we no longer have responsibilities. The people of Jerusalem though they were exempt from responsibility and effort. They believed they can slack off, be part-time lackadaisical believers, and God will take care of them. We too, pray for God to just fix things. While God sometimes just “fixes” things for us, most of the time God teaches us not to play in traffic. There was a prayer I heard long ago about how God works, it goes like this –

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws me apart from worldly cares and brings me closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own. But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. And God said “No”.
He said He will give me life, that I may enjoy all things.

I ask God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said “Ah, finally you have the idea!”

How does God love us? Like the people of Jerusalem, in the midst of our lives, we focus too much on the here and now. If we would ask God if He loved us, God would say “Yes.” He gave me his only Son who died for us, and we will be in heaven someday because we believe. That’s how much God loves us.

Question for the class — What helps you trust that God loves you when it seems to you God’s doesn’t hear your prayers?

Consider -
1. I can trust God’s love because…

Do You Honor God’s Greatness?

The real question isn’t whether God loves us. The real question is: do we love God? Malachi 1:6-9 –

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

“Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”-says the LORD Almighty.

God asks a good question — with their mouths, the people say they honor God. But God shows them their hypocrisy — they say one thing, but their actions show their lack of respect for God. Starting with the priests; the Lord says the priests are showing God contempt, not honor. The priests are offering blind animals for sacrifice. The animals are crippled and diseased. Where did the priests get the blind and crippled animals? The people offered them. The Lord asks them to try offering them to the governor. Would the governor be pleased? If you were going to a friend’s house for a potluck supper, what would your friend think if you brought an expired can of sauerkraut and a half-open carton of milk?

If we truly believe God is our almighty God, we should honor him with our best. How do we do that? For instance, at work, how should we honor God? With our best service, the best job we can do. As a neighbor, how should we honor God? By loving our neighbor as ourselves. At home as a spouse or a parent, how should we honor God? By loving our spouse, at a minimum, like we love our neighbor. At worship, how should we honor God? With all our hearts; with repentance, reflection, forgiveness. Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Let me ask you something — who here thinks they are truly loveable? I mean if we could see everything in your life, what you do, what you say, even what you think, who here believes they are truly warm and fuzzy and loveable all of the time? And yet, God loves us anyway. What do we do to earn this love? Nothing. God loves us even when we’re unlovable. That is a truly extraordinary demonstration of what love is. It’s not a feeling, it’s an action. We love our neighbor, not because he’s necessarily loveable, but because we are called to love him. And it’s a great example of how we are to love our spouses — our spouses may indeed be truly loveable, but that’s not why we love them. When our spouses are loveable, that just makes it easier to like them. We love our spouses because by loving our spouses, we are honoring God.

As Christians, we worship God through our service to Him and through our obedience. Not just on Sunday mornings, but Monday mornings and Tuesday mornings, too. Notice that God doesn’t want our gift if we are at odds with our Christian brother or sister. We’re a married class; who is our closest brother or sister? What God says here is that if we’re at odds with our spouse, our gift is meaningless. Our worship to Him is expressed through love to one another. Before we worship on Sunday morning, it should be our reminder to forgive one another, to love one another, to be reconciled to one another.

How strongly does God feel about this? Malachi 1:10 has very strong words about this.

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Any outward ritual is worthless. God doesn’t care about outward rituals. God cares about the heart and mind and spirit. If your heart is not right, if your heart is not repentant, forgiving, and full of love, God says He’d rather we nail the church doors shut and go home. He doesn’t want half-hearted worship. He doesn’t want worship from us if we’re angry or gossipy or unforgiving. In Mark 12:28-34, one of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. What was Jesus’ response?

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The verse after that isn’t quite so well known; the teacher of the law agreed with Jesus –

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This verse doesn’t say that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were unimportant; it says that the offerings and sacrifices are worth less than the love of God and the love of each other. Whatever effort we go through to love God and each other, our offerings are worth less. If you love God half-heartedly, the offering is almost worthless.

I believe the Lord would almost rather we be like Esau, who He hated. I think He would have us hate God and turn our face away from Him. If we’re in church going through the motions of worship, but being a poor example of a Christian to our neighbor, our co-worker, our bible class friends, or heaven forbid our spouses, we are harming God’s church. When we are a poor example of Christ’s love, we hinder the witness of those fully devoted followers of Christ.

Let me give you an example of how being a poor example of an obedient Christian can harm the church and turn away potential believers. There was an article last week from Rome; an Italian politician whose party represents Christian values was caught in a hotel room with two prostitutes and a large amount of cocaine. When he was caught, this was his response:

“So politicians in the UDC [Christian Party] do not make love? Of course, I recognize Christian values. But what has that got to do with going with a prostitute? It is a personal matter. This affair has nothing to do with family values. I cannot be branded a bad father and a bad husband simply because after five or six days away from home, an occasion presented itself.”

In Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says this about being a half-hearted Christian –

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

I’m not sure what the theological implications of Jesus spitting us out of His mouth are, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing. Non-committed Christians can be more harmful than non-Christians. Part-time Christians can be distasteful to God. It is not our actions that please God; it’s our heart. If our tongue both praises God and curses men, we are lukewarm, we are dishonoring God. God would have us nail the church doors shut.

Consider -
2. I will honor the Lord’s greatness by offering Him the best of my…
3. I will repent of my unacceptable attitudes and actions that include…

Do You Love God Wholeheartedly?

God wants the best from us. Malachi 1:11-14 –

My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you profane it by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the LORD Almighty.

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the LORD. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.

God wants our best; God wants us to lean on Him, not on ourselves. When we hold back from God, like the man who keep the best for himself and offers the blemished leftovers to God, God doesn’t bless that. God says instead of blessings, such a person is cursed instead.

The purpose of our lives is to show God’s glory, God’s excellence, God’s love, in everything we do. Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another question for the class; I assume nobody brought an unblemished goat to sacrifice this morning. What are examples of an unacceptable offering today?

What is the best way to show that we love the Lord with all of our heart?

Consider -
4. I will express wholehearted devotion to God by…

Conclusion

If I truly trust in the Lord and believe He is greatest among all names, if I truly believe Jesus is my Lord and savior and not just a religious figure, then I want to offer my Lord my best. I can trust in the Lord; he has provided great things to me; my wife, my life, my health, my hair number 2,063,425. Most of all, He provided His son to me to that I shall not perish but have eternal life. If we trust that the Lord loves us, even when we’re suffering or when we don’t feel as though God hears our prayers, we still give the Lord our best. A half-hearted effort of going through the motions means nothing to the Lord, He would rather nail the church doors shut than to listen to us mouth off about each other or to give lip-service to His will. Even when we don’t feel loved, we should give our best to the Lord, just like when we don’t feel loved, we should still give our best to each other. For great is His name above all other names, and our actions and worship should recognize that He is Lord.

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God's Word is Essential

Posted on May 13, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have y’all seen the stories on the news this week about Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda? For the last few years, Mr. Miranda has claimed to be Jesus himself. He says he had a vision in 1973, then after 3 marriages, 5 children, a heroin addiction and a couple of jail sentences for petty theft, in 2000 Mr. Miranda claimed to be Jesus himself. Mr. Miranda says there is no devil or sin because all of that was defeated 2000 years ago, prayer is a waste of time, and he teaches that his followers have a “freedom to indulge” because his followers are predestined for salvation no matter what they do on earth. He tells all of his followers that all churches and religion are heresy and they are to burn religious writings and attack local churches. He’s been banned in several countries. He’s in the news this week because he now claims that besides being Jesus, he’s also the anti-Christ. He is a “good” anti-Christ, though, because there is no such thing as evil. To mark this new revelation, Mr. Miranda now has a very prominent “666” tattooed on his forearm. Of course, his followers happily had their own “666” tattooed on their arms.

1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” We know that this Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus because of scripture passages such as, well, the entire book of Revelation. It’s also clear from scripture that Mr. Miranda cannot be both Christ and the anti-Christ at the same time. If you ever watched “Star Trek” you’d know he’d explode and the universe would cease to exist.

Why are people misled by a charismatic preacher? It’s because they do not know who Jesus really is or what Jesus says. Colossians 2:4,8 says, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Peter faced similar situations with false teachers. Peter and the apostles had been in direct communication with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew exactly what Jesus’ message was. The Word of God was shared through oral traditions and through the Holy Spirit, but the written word, the New Testament, had not yet been written. There was a vacuum of information, and men being what they are, unscrupulous or misinformed people stepped into the vacuum and began to spread problems of all kinds. Legalism was taught, authority of God was challenged, the core teachings of the gospel were challenged, and even the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus was challenged. The apostle Peter wrote this scripture specifically addressing the true theology of Christianity. He wanted Christians to know the truth, the freedom of living in Christ, and put to rest the false heresies that were being spread.

Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:12-15

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

Peter tells the early Christians that they already know the truth, but Peter will “always remind them.” Peter tells them he wants to “refresh your memory” for as long as he lives. Let’s see if Peter’s assessment holds true for us today – do we know the truth about Jesus? Are we firmly established with this truth and what Jesus wants for our lives? I think so. So why is it important to be reminded of these things and to have our memories refreshed?

Let me ask it in a more personal way. We are not perfect like Jesus, are we? We are tempted and fall into sin, whether it is lust of the eyes, hurt with the tongue, worshipping money and idols, sin of pride, something personal we struggle with as we persevere in our faith. When we sin, is at that moment that we stop believing in God? When we sin, is it at that moment that we stop believing in the bible? No, not at all. Of course we believe. What we have forgotten, though, is the truth of the Word. We forget that sin has consequences. We forget that Jesus paid an incredible price for that sin. When we fall into sin, we don’t become unbelievers. We become un-rememberers. We forget our need for grace. We forget God is watching every move and listening to every thought. Peter doesn’t want the believers of Asia Minor to forget. God doesn’t want us to forget.

When Peter says “as long as I am in this tent,” this of course, refers to Peter’s mortality. Our bodies are frail, they are impermanent, and they are imperfect. We have only so much time on this earth to do God’s will. When we are aware of our limited time here compared to our eternal destiny, it should give us some urgency to do God’s will while there is still time.

Peter knows that his time is short – Jesus hinted to Peter in the book of John (John 21:18) that someday Peter would also be crucified. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter had an urgency to share the gospel, but we, too, have the same urgency.

Let’s read 2 Peter 1:16-18 –

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

Peter is telling us the truth; false teachers are not. Peter’s words have the strength of his conviction behind him, the truth of the Lord behind him, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. Myths about Roman gods were passed along from generation to generation that illustrated a particular Roman lesson, but they were myths. Peter reminds us that the story of Jesus is not a myth. Peter didn’t learn about it from others, it wasn’t hearsay or gossip passed along. Peter was there; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. Peter was there on the mountain when he heard God speaking from the heavens. And notice Peter says “we” – Peter, James and John were there on that mountain and were direct eyewitnesses to the transfiguration of Christ. God directly spoke from the heavens that Jesus is the son of God and that God is well pleased with Him.

It’s important to remember that Jesus appeared to thousands or people. When Jesus fed the 5000, how many people were there? Ok, that was a trick question. The point is that these 5000 people were still alive and it was very easy to check to see if the story was true. These were real events that had occurred during the last 20 or 30 years, during their lifetime.

Let’s say I told you that 20 or 30 years ago that Richard Nixon was a great war hero and had fought in Vietnam and because of his great leadership the Vietnam war was won? It would not be a credible story because there are people here in this room that know that isn’t true. In Peter’s day, Jesus was well known. He had appeared to thousands of people, taught thousands of people, and after he died and was resurrected appeared to hundreds of people. They were eyewitnesses. The apostles were so sure that Jesus was the messiah, the son of God, that they were willing to die for preaching Christ crucified. Not one of them recanted their story, even though they were martyred for preaching the gospel.

Peter knows without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came as the Messiah, as the Christ, as the Son of God, that Jesus died and rose from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven. False teachers could not claim that, nor could they dispute Peter’s eyewitness account. What other miracles did Peter see first hand?

That’s why Peter knows he is speaking the truth. Through divine revelation, Peter heard the very words of Jesus. The faith of Christians is not based on clever stories. Christianity is based on real, historical events with multiple eyewitnesses. Can you imagine seeing the transfiguration and hearing God speak from the heavens? Can you imagine how confident Peter was in his faith after seeing that? God wants us to have that same confidence in Him. How does God do that?

Let’s read the rest of our verse for today, 2 Peter 1:19-21 –

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I love that part – you will do well to pay attention to the Word of God; it’s like a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s Word gives us confidence; even though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the words of the eyewitnesses.

The bible is a unique book. There are 66 separate books written over 1500 years, by over 40 separate authors from all walks of life. Amos was a farmer. Luke was a doctor. Ezra and James were ministers. David and Solomon were kings. Daniel was a political prisoner. Peter was a fisherman. Mathew was a first century IRS agent. It was written in Europe, Asia, and Africa, from deserts, dungeons, palaces, and battlefields. It covers all sorts of controversial topics such as raising your kids, improving your marriage, managing emotions, handling money, breaking bad habits, and inheriting eternal life, all in unity. And yet the entire bible has one hero – the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One villain – Satan. One problem – sin. And one purpose – salvation. The entire plot of the bible can be summed up by –

Jesus is coming (the Old Testament)
Jesus is here (The 4 gospels)
Jesus is coming again (The New Testament epistles)

Peter reminds us here – he’s always reminding us, isn’t he? And then he’s reminding us that he’s reminding us. He reminds us that the Word of God is not written by man. Man may have been holding the pen and using his own unique personality, but the Word of God is provided by the Holy Spirit. Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is repeated in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is spoken by God, every word inspired by the Holy Spirit working through men. And it’s not just relaxing Sunday-morning reading, we are to use the Word. It teaches us, it rebukes us, it corrects us, and it trains us in righteousness.

If we take God’s word that the bible is indeed God’s word, how does that affect our relationship with Him? For one thing, if this is God’s Word, does God make mistakes? No, we know God is perfect and holy and infallible. Therefore, we take every word in the bible to be true, holy and infallible.

I heard a story about a pastor who was going to be preaching about Noah and the ark and the Great Flood. A couple of boys decided to play a prank on the pastor, and they snuck into the sanctuary and glued some of the pages of his bible together. Sunday morning, the pastor started reading from the bible and it came out a little different than he expected. He read, “And Noah took a wife, and she was” (here he struggles to turn the page) “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall.” The pastor stood there stunned for a minute, and then said, “I have been reading this Bible for 30 years, and there are still some things that are hard for me to believe.”

Skeptics and atheists claim the bible is full of discrepancies and inaccuracies, but theologians have a scholarly rebuttal to each claim. Some scripture, a lot of scripture, may be difficult for us to understand, but what we have to recognize is that the problem is not with the bible. The bible is incredibly consistent, and when we come across what appears to be inconsistent scripture, we can recognize that the problem is with us. We have limited understanding. With study, prayer and meditation, we can understand more and more, and when we arrive in heaven, we will understand all of it. Right now, in our mortal life, we have a limited view of an unlimited God. Eventually, if we continue to seek him, the full meaning will be given to us. We can learn to doubt our doubts.

What do we do about scripture we do not understand? In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” The Pharisees knew the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I believe God reveals himself to us slowly over the course of our life; just as He revealed himself to Israel over 3000 years. Scripture that is unclear to us one year becomes incredibly clear to us in later years. Jesus says that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. What that means to me is to implicitly trust that the bible is true even if I cannot fathom its full meaning.

If we accept the entire bible as complete true, what does the bible say about the bible? Besides being useful for teaching and rebuking, the word is relevant. Does anybody remember the scripture that is at the bottom of each class newsletter? Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The bible is not dead literature, it is living and active. It’s sharp and it cuts and exposes us to God. It convicts us and shows us our sin and how we fall short of His glory and how much we need our savior Jesus Christ.

There are many ways to ask the Lord for this sort of surgery, surgery that cuts the sin out of our lives. Try asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Read His word and apply it to your life. The problem, I think you’ll find, is not one of understanding so much as it is a problem of obedience. Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.” Many passages are easy to understand. The Ten Commandments, for instance, are very easy to understand. “Honor thy father and mother, especially on Mother’s Day.” If you want God to work within you, try committing a favorite passage to memory. Try reading your bible eagerly and accept it as God’s holy word and then submit yourself to what it says.

Let’s look at John 8:31-31 – To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To the non-believer, Jesus has but one command: “believe in me.” But if we are to grow in our faith, Jesus wants more from us. Jesus tells us to “hold to His teaching.” Where do we find His teaching? The very word of God, the bible. His teachings are here. Hold to His teaching, and we become His disciples, followers of Jesus. Hold to His teaching, then we will know the truth. Hold to His teaching, and we are set free from the bondage of sin.

An intellectual belief in God is not sufficient. The wisdom of man pales next to the foolishness of God. Heartfelt emotions are not sufficient – emotions can mislead us. Sincerity is not sufficient – the most sincere person can be most sincerely wrong. Sincerity does not equal truth, and sometimes religious leaders can be wrong. In Acts 17:11, it says, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” While the Bereans were excited that Paul was in their midst and preaching to them, they examined scripture for themselves to see if Paul was preaching the truth. That’s how we know that Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is not Jesus the Christ. What he preaches conflicts with the Word of God. It’s misleading. It’s false.

I’d like to close with the words of another eyewitness to the life and words of Jesus Christ. From the book of John, chapter 1, verse 1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Let’s give a word of thanks to our Lord who has given us His holy Word.

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Once Saved, Always Saved

Posted on March 5, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! [...] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.

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Colossians 3:15-17

Posted on February 20, 2006. Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Today’s Daily Manna verse is beautiful reminder of the joy of Christian living. In Colossians 3:15-17,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Are you a stressed Christian? We should remember that the battle is already won, and that we have already begun our eternal life. So what is there to worry about? We are called to peace, and peace should be overwhelming our hearts. Surrender the stress, give it up. Chill, dude. :P
  • And be thankful. Don’t just be peaceful, be thankful. Even if (or perhaps especially if) you are going through struggles right now, be thankful that God is working on your character as only He can.
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Teaching and admonishing one another is something that seems to be too often pushed aside in favor of acceptance. Yes, of course, Jesus calls us to be accepting and loving of one another. The amount of time Jesus spent in the company of sinners is not lost on Christians, but remember Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” We are called to speak out against the sin but accept the sinner.
  • And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever we do, word or deed. Before a word comes out of your mouth, before you contemplate getting that little dig at somebody or extract some petty revenge or criticize them behind their back, in all things remember that Jesus paid the price for your sins as well as theirs. Give thanks in everything, in all your words and deeds.

Such a short verse that covers so much. Do I do all of these things at work, when I post, when I greet my wife at the end of the day? This is a good time to admonish myself and make sure I have a good strong control of my tongue and of my typing and remember that all these things belong to the One who created me.

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