Saturday, December 8, 2018

Encouragement for Church Leaders


1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

We are all witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We’ve studied his life, and how he lived and suffered for each of us.

Since we identify with Christ’s sufferings, we are also partakers of those sufferings. We suffer for Christ. And so we also have access to the glory that is going to be revealed.

Christ charges each of us, to shepherd the flock of God. Pour your heart and soul into the work of the ministry. Don’t do it because you have to, or because God is making you, or you feel obligated. But simply serve willingly.

Don’t serve for any earthly gain, not for status, or for power or money, but eagerly serve for Christ, to the glory of Christ, humbly, because you love Jesus.

It says do not been domineering over those in your charge. But instead be an example to them.

Why should we do this? Because, as shepherds, we know the chief shepherd will appear, and he will judge us impartially for how we’ve conducted those placed in our trust during our time on Earth. We will be held accountable.

One of the most thought provoking and evocative scriptures for me is from James 3:1 and it says: “Not many of you should become teachers my fellow believers because you know we who teach will be judged more strictly.

So we’ve got a general judgment, and then there's the judgment God will render on teachers and leaders of the church, which will actually be a more strict judgment. There will be more guidelines and rules and higher standards that we were suppose to meet.

My concluding thought to all of us, is that we tremble at this thought, and so conduct our business before God that we are found to be without reproach, and working impartially to bless God’s people. 


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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Philosophy of the End Times: Immortality, Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell


Today we’re going to be talking about the philosophy of the end times, what we call in theology, “eschatology.”
The short summation of a theology of end times goes like this: “We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.”  We’ll break down this theological statement and examine it part by part to try and understand how God goes about completing the victory of Christ Jesus, how he judges the world, how he rewards those who are righteous, and how he punishes those who choose wickedness. 
First of all, we look at the beginning of this statement which says “we believe in the immortality of the soul…”  Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV) says, “…the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”  So we know from the scriptures that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into him life, and while our present body is doomed to die because of the fall, our soul, our spirit, will return to God after we die (Genesis 3:19). In short, we are more than a body. We each have a soul. And that soul is eternal (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 225).
Next it says, “we believe in the resurrection of the body.”  It’s important to remember that in the next life we won’t be vapid spirits, like a mist floating around in the clouds.  We Christians believe that we will be given new bodies in the next life.  Philippians 3:21 says that we will have new bodies, transformed to be like Christ’s glorified body.  When Jesus resurrected from the dead, was he a ghost or a mist or wisp of cloud in the air?  No, Jesus was physical. He ate with his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:35-48).  We as Christian salvationists do believe in the resurrection of the body, and we want to avoid over-symbolizing our future eternal life as a sort of non-physical life, with harps floating in the clouds. We will not be “disembodied spirits” but whole persons in Christ (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226).  God’s design for the restoration of Eden is much more than a pop cultural picture of eternity. 
Next our truth statement says, “We believe in the general judgment at the end of the world.”  Theologians of the past were not as politically and religiously correct as we are today. They weren’t overly concerned with not hurting people’s feelings or sugar-coating the “justice” side of God’s character.  They just put it out there.  And we know from the scriptures, that there will come a day when the righteous and the wicked will stand before God, and give an account for how they lived (Romans 14:12-13). 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  Theologians often refer to this event as the “great white throne judgment” which comes from Revelation 20:11-15.  We should always be careful as Christians, how we are living.  We want to be quick to love, and we want to avoid condemnation of others, and we want to make sure we’re loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And we want to make sure we’re being faithful stewards of our time and resources.  And we also want to make sure we’re quickly repenting of sins as they come up in our lives. Why? Because we know there will come a day when we will stand before God and give an account of our lives (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226-227).  Thankfully we have Jesus Christ who is our advocate before the Father, and who has washed away our sins (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 10:10-12). 
For those who are vindicated on the day of judgment, we believe “in the eternal happiness of the righteous.”  And for those who are condemned on that day we believe “in the endless punishment of the wicked.”  Let’s unpack these two last statements.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for those who love and obey Him (John 14:2-3).  Indeed, the book of Revelation speaks of a new heavens and new Earth, in which God has remade the universe, and has remade the Earth to be a perfect place of peace, similar to the original garden of Eden (Revelation 21).  And in this new reality, on this new Earth, the book of Revelation describes the eternal city of God called “The New Jerusalem.”  In fact, the book of Revelation gets quite specific about this city, indicating the dimensions of this city, similar to how Noah was given the exact dimensions for the ark (Genesis 6:15, Revelation 21:16-17).  Revelation 21:16-17 (NIV) says, “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick.”  12,000 stadia is about 1,400 miles long, and tall.  So we see a city, some think it’s a giant pyramid in shape, others would say it’s a giant cube.  But the point is it’s real, it’s a concrete reality. We want to avoid over-spiritualizing these images, as if we can’t really know what they mean.  Revelation is showing us that we won’t merely be vapors in the clouds with harps, but we will be citizens of an eternal city of God.
Yet we also know that there is a place reserved by God for those who have rejected him and lived lives of sin and wickedness (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 227-228).  The scriptures refer to this place by many names, some of them include: Sheol, hades, outer darkness, and hell (Psalm 16:10, Luke 16:23).  
Hell is rarely mentioned in the pulpits of our modern age, and I do want to state it clearly that hell is a real place.  It exists, and the scriptures talk about it, so we should be aware of it.  Jesus mentioned it several times, and in fact stated that if a part of us causes us to sin, we ought to be so diligent as to cut it off, to avoid the fires of hell (Matthew 5:30).  Now will hell be a place of literal fire and burning? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it will be more like a great, empty, cold darkness. We don’t really know. But scripture gives us many images of hell as darkness, gnashing of teeth, conscious torment, being eaten by worms, and burning/fire (Matthew 10:28, Revelation 21:8, Mark 9:48). There are two primary views within evangelicalism regarding hell, one is our view which is conscious eternal torment and the other view is called “annihilationism” (Peterson, 2014). Annihilationism is the idea that the souls of the wicked are destroyed at the judgment, not sent to a place of torment (Boyd & Eddy, 2009).  But we in the Salvation Army hold to the view of conscious eternal torment.  Both views would be considered within the larger family of evangelicalism, but our movement specifically holds to the eternal torment view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). The point of all this is, we don’t want to go to hell, and we don’t want our neighbors to go there.  That’s why evangelism is so important, and that’s why Jesus told us to “go” in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). 
In conclusion, we believe that our souls are immortal, our physical bodies will be resurrected, that all will be judged, and that the righteous will go to eternal life, and the wicked will go to eternal punishment (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013).  

References
Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: Understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Peterson, R. (2014, February 1). Annihilation or Eternal Punishment? Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/annihilation-or-eternal-punishment/
The Salvation Army handbook of doctrine. (2013). London: Salvation Books.
Walton, John H. (EDT)/ Keener, Craig S. (EDT). (2016). Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: New International Version, Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Harpercollins Christian Pub.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Developing Godly Habits: How to Order your Life


Sermon Audio:


I try to exercise regularly. I have to exercise a great deal and be very, very careful about how I eat, because my body is very good at gaining weight and not very quick to lose it. Can anyone relate?

I always have eggs for breakfast, and coffee. I try not to eat again all morning until lunch time. At lunch I eat a large meal, my largest of the day, and then I try not to eat again until 5:00 PM dinner. I play basketball for an hour and a half, full court, on Mondays and Thursdays. Three times a week I do a 20 min workout routine.

It's amazing how much time and effort we put toward our physical bodies. We fight very hard to keep fit and stave off old age. At least for as long as we can. But we know that each of us will one day die, and our bodies will pass into the ground, and our souls will return to the God who made them.

The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his letter to Timothy, told his young apprentice that physical training does have some value. But Paul indicates that training in Godliness has value for all things.

How much time and effort do we spend toward say, our jobs? Forty hours a week? And how much time do we put toward our families? Many hours of time. These things are important. Our jobs help us pay the bills, and provide for our families. Our families are very important. But do we have the right order of priorities? Is God first in our lives, and do we spend real time with Him? Are we training ourselves in Godliness?

Today we’re looking at the topic of developing great habits. So we’re going to look at a theological concept, exam some scripture, and then consider our applications.

The Apostle Paul in his letters, like Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, often returns to a simple formula for the Christian life. I like to call it the Pauline equation. This equation… this balance that we’re going to talk about has been wrestled with by all the greats throughout history, from Martin Luther during the protestant reformation, to John Wesley and George Whitfield, all the way to the 1970s revivals of Billy Graham, and the Jesus movements of the 1980s and 90s. Balance, between faith and obedience. The Pauline equation…

One, recognize that you’ve been saved by the grace of God found in Christ. Jesus Christ, through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave has paid our debt of sins. Your sins are washed away if you are in Christ. You’ve been born again. You’ve walked out of the tomb of sin and darkness, just as Jesus left the tomb and showed himself to many witnesses. If you’re in Christ, your sins are gone. Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God against sin by dying in your place. Your sins, that whole record of wrongs is wiped clean because your sins were put on Christ, at that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out: “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our sin, and gave us his righteousness. Theologians call this the great exchange.

Two, Paul next always tells us that we must live the most pure and holy lives in response to this free gift. We’re exhorted to set aside sins of the flesh, and to embrace the fruits of the spirit. It takes dedication to walk in obedience in the Christ-life. If we skip either of these elements we can begin to drift away from Christ, and we begin to be in danger of losing our salvation.

As the 9th doctrine of the Salvation Army states: “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.”

There are two key words in that statement I’d direct your attention to: “Obedient faith.” Faith in Christ’s atonement. Obedience to Christ’s commands. And what's the verb? “Continued.” We have to walk the walk, day by day, month by month, and year by year.

Obedience and faith. If we don’t obey Christ, then we are in danger of antinomianism. That’s a big theological word, but it means that we believe in Christ, but never change how we live. We keep on sinning, and then say “God will forgive me.” That’s not how a real Christian lives. So we need obedience.

The other danger is that we can become too focused on obedience and trusting in ourselves for our salvation. We start to slowly put our faith in self, and our own attempts at righteousness. We become a Pharisee. Either path leads to spiritual disaster. So we must walk faithfully and obediently, with Christ. And to do that, we have to consider how we can develop Godly habits.

We’re going to approach this topic of developing great habits from two perspectives. The first perspective is positive practices, the second is negative practices. In other words, we’re looking at biblical commands that tell us “to do” certain things, and scripture that tells us “don’t do” certain things. Then we’ll address applications.

Turn in your Bibles to 1st Timothy chapter 6, and we’re looking at verses 11-12: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Verse 11, when your being tempted it is usually acceptable to simply flee the situation. I’ve been there. Don’t stay in the den if you have a choice, get out. That’s biblical. And it says, while fleeing from temptation, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. So on one hand we flee, on the other we actively pursue.

When you pursue someone, or something… let’s say your dog runs away from home. And you’re out there looking for him, you follow his trail, and your after him for hours if necessary. In the same way, when we pursue righteousness, and godliness, it is an active pursuit. It’s a positive, intentional pursuit, something that we incorporate into our daily lifestyle. Too often we as Christians can become too locked in, too normalized. To follow Jesus is a living, breathing, exciting process. If it’s become too normal, then it’s time to stir it up, and go deeper with God.

Pursue faith, faith is an unshakable trust in God. We don’t simply believe that Christ is alive and well in heaven right now, we know it. We know it through and through. When we see chaos around us, division, poverty, and suffering, we are not shaken, not broken by it, instead we center our focus on Christ, and recognize with calm and peace, that His plan is continuing effortlessly forward.

Pursue love. Love is not a feeling, not in a biblical sense. Jesus said this is love: To give up one’s life for one’s friends. Love is action, love is doing something. Love is stopping by at your grandma’s house for no reason, because you love her. Love is calling your dad and just talking for an hour. Love is volunteering for Christmas kettles. Love is praying for your friend who doesn’t know Jesus. Love is action.

Pursue endurance. Does that seem like a strange thing to pursue? Most of us have been through crazy times in our lives when we’re shocked by what is happening. A family member dies. We lose a job. Our child is addicted to drugs. A dark depression sets in. We are in more need of endurance than we might realize. Be ready to fight through when dark times come. Winston Churchill said if you’re going through hell, Keep going!

Pursue gentleness. Men, gentleness is not our greatest ability. We can often be harsh & cold. We need to pursue gentleness. Especially with your spouse, and your children. Be gentle. Women, let’s talk. Have you ever said something rude to your husband in earshot of others? That’s not gentle. Have you ever, while disciplining your children, later found yourself using that same tone with your husband? Believe it or not, your husband needs gentleness from you too.

Those are positive commands. We’re being told “do do this.”

Now let’s look at some negative commands. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 5:19-21: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

We looked at some things “to do” and now we see things to “abstain from.” To abstain means to never touch those things. If I’m abstaining from alcohol, I never buy it, I don’t think about it, and I don’t hang out in bars. I stay away from it.

In the same way Paul exhorts believers to stay away from various sins that threaten to shipwreck our Christian journey.

A few things jump out to me. Sexual immorality is always at the top of the list. It’s a sin that we’re especially susceptible to. If we aren’t proactively resisting those sexual temptations, they can and will take over and enslave us.

Idolatry jumps out to me. Idolatry is when we put something in our lives before God, like money, or our marriage, or even ourselves.

Hostility jumps out. How often does hostility occur in our relationships? Or when we’re driving?

Divisions and dissensions. We’ve all seen people at our work places, or in our circle of friend, who like to spread gossip, and stir up drama and controversy. The Bible very clearly tells us, don’t be one of those people.

So I’d encourage you to look over this list in greater detail on your own time. But do recognize the seriousness here. At the end of this list it says “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So if we persist in these sort of sins, and refuse the Spirit’s leading, we won’t be going to paradise. We’ll be going to the other place. Take it seriously.

So, how can we put these various commands and practices into action in our lives? To truly live as a “real Christian” takes an ordered life. It takes intentional weekly practices.

I’d like to recommend a book to each of you, it’s called Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This book is a best seller, and it’s really the gold standard of spiritual disciplines. It’s been instrumental in my life, to develop deeper relationship with God.

The two great practices of all Christians are personal prayer and Bible reading. Let’s talk prayer.

I set a goal of praying for 30 minutes a day, three times a day. When Daniel was in exile in Babylon he prayed 3 times a day. Now, I’m a night owl, so the best time for my long prayer is at night. Usually I begin at 9:00 PM. If you’re a morning person like Major Bob, you could always wake up at 4 AM and pray then.

I’d like to teach you a prayer that I think is great. Everyone look at your hand, doesn’t matter which one. First, your thumb. Your thumb is the one closest to your body. Pray for those close to you, your parents, friends, and family. Pointer finger. It stands over your thumb. Pointer finger means pray for your spiritual leaders. Here you can pray for Major Bob and Lisa, and for other leaders in the corps here. Believe me, they need your prayers, especially during this time of year. Your middle finger, it’s the tallest finger, standing above all the others, so for this finger you pray for those in authority. Pray for the president, and his cabinet. Pray for congress and the courts. And pray for local political leaders as well. The ring finger is our weakest finger. It really can’t do too much. So here we pray for the weak and the hurting. We pray for alcoholics, drug addicts, the abused, the lonely, orphans, widows, and so on. Finally, the pinkie is the smallest finger, so here we pray for ourselves and our needs and desires. Five finger prayer.

Next, Bible reading. I usually read my Bible at the end of the day, after I pray, when I get in bed. I keep my Bible there, and I read one or two chapters from the New Testament and one or two chapters from the Old Testament. Keep it simple. But do it. Be in the word each and every day. It usually takes me a while to fall asleep at night, so what I do is I use my Bible app or my laptop to play an audio Bible to myself while I try to sleep. It’s great. Check out biblegateway.com.

All these practices start by developing great habits. What do the psychology nerds say about developing a great habit? It takes about two months of “forcing yourself” to do it. It’s a little awkward at first, it’s a little bit of a chore, but after those first few months, it becomes a habit. This is how we develop great habits. It’s by doing it every day, even when maybe we don’t really want to, that it’s going to develop into a habitual practice.

In conclusion, we can do this! God will make it possible. These are practices that will become great habits, that will transform your walk with Jesus, from something that may seem distant or stale, to something living, breathing, close, and active. Let’s pray.



Friday, November 23, 2018

Overcoming Strife and Division: How can the church build unity among believers?


1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."

It's no secret that we live in a time of great divisions and differences.  Western society seems to be in state of shifting identity.  And as humanity in the west attempts to understand who they are and what values they represent, we see the same cultural conflicts begin to show themselves in the body of Christ.

It's also no secret that the church of Christ on Earth is called to a unity that transcends the divisions and conflicts of this world.  Sometimes the church has failed to properly show that unity. But instead of ragging on the church and it's failures, how instead can we help build toward unity?  How can the body of Christ transcend cultural conflicts and ideological differences?  Let's look at a few ways to approach this strife and division.

1. Recognize that deep differences in values do exist.  There are major value differences between different sectors of our society.  A student at MIT or Princeton working on a law degree or a doctoral thesis is going to have in most cases radically different viewpoints than a rural steelworker who lives in a town of 12,000 people.  So be it.  Differences do exist.  As Christians, how can we focus on what unifies us, instead of divisions?

2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."


2. Don't use the pulpit or the body of Christ to propagate your ideology.  If you happen to be a social justice minded progressive activist or a stalwart constitutional conservative libertarian, in either case, as we worship together as Christians, and we both take up positions in leadership in our churches, whether volunteering for a can drive or serving as a youth pastor, learn to separate the ideology from the Christianity.  

The ideology says that political and cultural values come first, and Christianity comes second.  Learn to reverse that.  Christianity comes first, and the values of the word of God, and secondary all the values of the ideology, whether conservative or progressive, or whatever else it may be, socialist, or libertarian and so on.  This is harder than it seems. Because we will want to use our platform to support our agenda.  But should we?  That is the real question.  Is the pulpit for scripture, or for ideology? We are a deeply divided society, but, we can unite around the common values of the Bible and Christianity. 

Philippians 1:27 ESV "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel"

3. Facilitate Communication and Relationships. It's pretty easy to argue with someone over social media or email. It's a lot harder to do the same thing eye to eye, in the same room.  When we converse face to face, we are forced to realize that our opponents are just people.  We realize these people are humans, not monsters.  And that makes it hard to keep yelling and battling it out over ideas.  Then again, even face to face there are some things that simply won't be able to be worked out.  Different people have different viewpoints and opinions.  That's how the world is.  But we all also have many things in common.  How can we build on those unifying beliefs to build unity in the body?  

This is not to say that if we all come together and talk then we're all going to sing kumbaya or anything.  That sort of pie in the sky just isn't realistic.  But with more communication, perhaps unity can be improved in the body of Christ.  We have differing views, but we have common beliefs as well. 

Romans 13:8-10 "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."



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