Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gratitude and Humility

Faith, hope, love.

I enjoy seeing people filled with new hope, and it's a wonderful thing to see in others, but sometimes an all too uncommon experience, as I work at the Salvation Army homeless shelter.  Working at this level, with these wonderful people; it's truly what it's all about.  

I probably, more so than most have been guilty of undervaluing the wonderful gift this is.  I toil in my own sadness.  I get frustrated and feel lonely.  And sometimes that is required, to await the Lord patiently in sadness.  But sometimes it's time to be grateful.  Maybe always, yeah, always is the time to be grateful.

I've been given freely what so many will never have.  9 out of 10 drug addicts will die of their addiction.  5% of true alcoholics will recover for a year, out of that 5% another one out of one hundred will recover for life.  And those are generous numbers to give the scene.  How blessed am I to have just one more day taking in breath?  But much more so, how blessed am I to be a child of God?  

Many will never have that.  They will never receive it, or want it.  And when they die, God will say,"I offered you all those times, and you chose to resist, and say no and walk your own way."  And then they'll be cast off, eternally disconnected from God.  Because they didn't realize or take care to note and respond to the fact that in God they have their being, in him they move and breath and have their life all together.  

Acts 17:28 NIV For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

The breadth and weight of it is incalculable.  I was taken from the bottom, scraped off the floor, and resurrected to new life in the body.  Rescue, election, regeneration, and ministry.  Just to name a few. 

Some friends at a support group recently were talking about the incredible value of humility.  It allows for growth, and the lack of it entirely stifles growth.  It's just that simple.  Another friend of mine says "expectations are pre-meditated resentments."  Isn't that the truth?

So I need to relax, and stop taking myself so seriously sometimes.  Indeed the spiritual war is real, but I can't keep up the good fight if I'm drained and weary from work with no play.  God blesses the relaxing times of laughter just as much as he blesses the moments of strife in ministry.  If I condemn myself for relaxing, I'm not living as a Christian should.

Recently, more and more so, I find myself constantly in conflict with those around me, and with myself and with my own broken conception of God.  But in him I move.  He provides for me.  He gives the blessed ministry to the lost, of whom I once was, here at the Salvation Army.  He responds to my prayers for residents, he joins in the conversation at the groups I facilitate, and his Spirit is at work within my friends here who are such lost sheep.  Lost like I was lost, and lost like I sometimes am still lost.

The journey is a gift.  The ministry is a gift.  And even more so, the conflicts, depression, sadness, anger, and failures are all gifts from God.  He uses these things to shape and mold me into a holy disciple.  I know for certain that the struggles I go through now are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed.  

Romans 8:18 NIV I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Sometimes, a lot of the time since I'm a perfectionist, I have to allow myself the freedom to make mistakes.  Humans make a lot of mistakes.  Sometimes after I realized I've sinned I wonder, has God finally had enough?  And he's going to cast me out of his family?  That's rubbish.  It's total rubbish.  My biological father was quite abusive to me, and sometimes that abusive personality is resurrected and placed onto my conception of God the Father of the Bible.  And so I try to watch for that and separate the truth from the lies.  

Repentance is a journey, and no one ever completes it and no one ever does it perfectly.  The same must be true for knowing God.

There are a lot of questions that run through my mind day by day.  There are a lot of giant issues in the world that I try to wrestle with.  But I'm just one person.  And it's not about me.  Or even the problems, or their solutions.  It's about God and glorifying him.  It's about others learning of God's graceful kindness through the transformation at work in Christians like me.  There are always more questions...  But I know one thing that is true: I have been saved by Jesus Christ, and I'm eternally grateful for that.

1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Using Youtube for Spiritual Health (Three Videos)

The internet is an awesome thing.  In one way it can be a terrible distraction, an open flood gate to temptation, sin, pornography, and addiction.  Used for the edification of the Christian disciples growing in faith, it can be used for constant encouragement, growth, edification, teaching, networking, evangelism and the building up of the disciple. 

As much as I enjoy reading books, I don't always have the patience for it.  Youtube is an awesome free resource to get some quality teaching in during the course of a day.

So I thought I would share three videos, some things I've been watching lately in three different areas of edification, learning, and instructing.  And watch the Twitter feed on the right menu of the blog, videos I'm watching that have been helpful I'll often post to the twitter feed, definitely watch for those!

1. The first video presentation is a straight apologetics presentation by one of my favorite apologists Frank Turek.  It's called "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist."  It's highly instructive regarding the best arguments for the existence of God, and the use of logic.

2. This video is just a straight sermon by Mark Driscoll at John Piper's conference "Desiring God." (2008)  The message is titled: How Sharp the Edge? Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words.

3. The third and final video is a presentation by Ravi Zacharias, a teaching to Christians, for Christians with an apologetic flavor to it.  The message is called "Raised to Run."

Related Links:
Five Video Presentations by Ravi Zacharias on Christian Philosophy
12 YouTube Sermons by Mark Driscoll on Jesus Christ
Five Passionate Powerful Youtube Sermons

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Pursuit of God

Librivox - The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer free audiobook

Praise the Lord for he is good!  His love is all empowering, of constant enjoyment and for the purpose of satisfaction to those he gives it to.  His blessings are new everyday.  

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]his mercies never come to an end;23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The weather has been beautiful the past two days, and it's been just great to get outside and just be warm.  They may tell for years of the winter of 2013.  It was quite severe, in my humble estimation.  

Even the seasons display the broken state of reality.  The crumbling of the fall, the frozen dead winter, and the rebirth of spring, the time of prospering in the summer.  And so it repeats.  Sometimes I wish I didn't notice those sorts of things.  Too often it leaves me haunted.  Think about this one.. the universe is flying apart, exploding outward, and scientists tell us it's velocity is increasing as it blasts apart.  

It's almost like we live in a broken tangent universe intended for destruction, don't you think?  And if you read the scriptures.. that's exactly what it says.  

Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Recently I was reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and he made a point that really struck me.  He said that God is previous to everything.  He is previous to the pursuit of God.  And it occurred to me that God is also in the future, before everything.  Tozer made the point not in a corporate sense but in an individual sense, on a day to day basis.  God is before everything I do, on a day to day basis.  And I think the enjoyment of that is in noticing when things feel perfect and realizing, in the moment, as I walk step by step, that God has ordained every foot fall.  

I was doing just that today, before work, at the dog park in town, watching my feet hit the ground, one after another.  It was a moment of realizing I can't predict the situations God will put me into, which worries me, legitimately, but at the same time if I simply allow my feet to hit where they may,  I can be assured that God is in total awareness, past, present, future and his will is being done regardless of my attempts to predict what he might do.  Because I do that.  I want to know what's going to happen before it does.  I've asked God to tell me.

Here's a shocker; he won't tell me.  I don't need to know.  In fact the building up my character is dependent on me not knowing.  Faith is foreign to person who has lived in a scam society his full life of twenty-nine whole years.  It's so humbling to realize just how limited I am in understanding, knowledge, breadth of experience, and most certainly even my known existence.  I don't recall before 1985.  I wasn't there.  I can read about it in history books giving the illusion of experience, and hear scientists spout of billions of billions this, and millions of millions ago that, but in the end, it's all just writing in books and theories on a chalk board.  I've never been there.

I thought the correct spirituality, religion, whatever word you want to use, deity, when I found it, it would "just seem right."  Do you know what I mean?  I thought I would slide into it like a comfortable wind jacket.  Ahh, finally what I always knew deep down, here it is, finally.  That was not the case at all with Christianity.  With Jesus Christ.. it was difficult.  And it felt uncomfortable.  The gospel confronted the very worst parts of me head on, and it offended me.  That's the challenge.  It's not the easy lie, or even the easy truth, it's the difficult truth.  Very difficult.  In addition, walking in it day in and day out is difficult.  It's confronting old patterns of thinking, and relying on faith.  The hardest part, being humbled, the second hardest part, focusing on something other than myself.  

 The resulting peace though, and the satisfaction of communion with the maker compares to nothing.  A.W. Tozer referred to the "born again" moment as a sudden leaping out of a dark foggy mist of self, and being filled with excitement at the completion and the beginning of the pursuit of the relationship.  He's absolutely right.  The new birth is so incredibly powerful in emotion and transformation, it's out of this world.  When I read what he wrote, I pictured a black two dimensional shadow of a self and the new birth as the individual shifting into bright white into three dimensions about the past dark self, as it drifted away.  Yeah, that's what it's like.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) 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. This inheritance is 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 all 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 the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—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 end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I continue my work at the Salvation Army of Wausau's homeless shelter.  Given my expertise in AODA (alcohol, other drug abuse) I run a weekly group to help get residents with such issues on the right track.  My supervisor fully supports my desire to show forth the Christian message in the groups.  It's been one of the most difficult, troubling, and heartbreaking things I've ever tried to do.  Why?  Because of the demographic for one, I'm working with lifetime repeaters, and two, because I've been there.  From the first group I lead, every single person has relapsed.  I so identify with the words of Isaiah to God, "Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1 ESV) 

It's been extremely difficult, the groups and the confrontations with clients at the shelter.  I've nearly walked out many times.  And it's only been a bit over two months.  But I'm determined to persevere, because the ministry seems so clearly from God.  It's just obvious, and apparent.  God never said it would be easy.  And he encourages me.  Often a day or two after I've gotten on my knees and yelled at him, freaked out, cried out, or had a breakdown of sorts.  That's life.  What was difficult was having some of my Christian friends tell me I was wrong to be sad, or frustrated or depressed.  And being quoted scriptures about joy.  It's not always joy.  Remember Jesus?  He wept.  He cried out to God.  So did David, time and again in the Psalms.  It is right to do so, and sometimes when you're upset, depressed, lost, and half-nuts, you're exactly where your suppose to be.  

I was encouraged today.  At church this morning there were visits from India, named Sunny and his wife Mercy.  Sunny shared the story of his privileged life in India, in the higher castes.  But when he became a Christian and saw the suffering of the lowest caste, of over 300 million people he said to God, that he had to do something about it.  He went to villages of the lower castes, but in one they would not receive him.  But he refused to leave, he just sat under the tree outside the town.  The people shunned him.  But the children eventually came out, curious about him.  It started so humbly, and now there have been over 100 churches planted all over India.  Hundreds of thousands have heard the gospel, the gospel that they never heard before, plain and simple!  Sunny started a clothing factory, and hired disadvantaged women from the surrounding communities paying them good wages and treating them very well.  This is unheard of in India.  These are people who would otherwise be on the streets, probably eventually forced into the sex trade industry which is prosperous across the country.  Two Christians from the United States were there, sharing about seeing the villages of the lower castes.  They said it's shocking.  They have nothing.  They told of a town around a stream, where the water is green and polluted.  But they drink the water, because they have nothing else.  Entire families live in a single room.  An entire village shares one bicycle.  

This is not the kind of story we hear about Eastern society, especially when colleges across the USA embrace eastern mysticism and practices while condemning Christianity.  If Hinduism is so wonderful, then why the caste system?  If the eastern spiritual practices are so great for society and for the individual then why are countries like India and China places of corruption, poverty, and class society?  

To hear about how Sunny began with just himself, at a village, talking to people about the gospel and how God spread that effort into over 100 churches and his clothing factory.  To make a long story short, a Christian couple brought the shirts from the factory to my church, New Day, to sell them.  The money raised would be used to help build schools and orphanages.  The couple had traveled to many large churches around the midwest, but after leaving New Day they had raised $1800.00 and used that money to purchase land to build a Bible school.  They came back, and once again, many shirts were sold.  At least thats how it seemed.  I bought one!  So exciting.  

Support their ministry if you can: Click here to visit their website.

That was very encouraging to see that Sunny started with just himself, making an effort and God multiplied it.  It was also humbling to see the kind of challenge he faces in India.  He deals with heartbreaking poverty, and he must see terrible things.  I see ugly things too.  But nothing compared to that.  So it was encouraging to see the comparison, to be humbled, and to be encouraged as a result.

Hebrews 11:12 (ESV) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 

Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

12 musts for the Future of Christianity in the West

Restoring Christianity in the west?  Is it even possible?  Of course it is.  It's a new situation of course.  Preaching to a post-Christian people?  How do you do that?  I couldn't tell you for sure, exactly, because it hasn't been done.  But here are some ideas...

1. We must fall in love with what it truly means to be a Christian again.

Philippians chapter 2 explains to me what it means to emulate Christ on Earth in a way that truly touches my soul.  Humble, humble, humble.  Service, service, service.  He esteemed himself not, but took on the form of a suffering servant.  We are called to do the same.  The daily growth in relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ is not boring, it's incredibly exciting, perilous, wonderful and mysterious.  Return to your first love, wayward brothers and sisters.

2. We must carefully adjust the identity of the Christian individual

The identity of the Christian is marred by the idea of a person who is rude, rebuking, annoying, weird, backwards, intolerant, and hard to be around.  In stark contrast is what the Bible teaches a Christian to be: loving, humble, compassionate, supportive, engaging, intriguing, enjoyable, and joyful.  Too many Christians are playing god, and "holier-than-thou" and not enough are digging in to be a blessing, long term, to hurting people. 

3. The identity of the corporate church ought to be based in incredible love and humble character while at the same time claiming little of the virtue of Christ corporately, but constantly pointing to the perfection of Jesus Christ the person.

Many assume that when you call yourself a Christian you're saying your perfect, or holy, or better than them.  Of course that's false.  But why don't we wear that?  Churches play pretend a bit too much.  Change the image, be a hospital for sinners.  Adjust around that kind of image.  Welcome people to repentance, don't close yourself off.. churches like that close their doors and become night clubs and bars, like the old churches in Europe. 

4. We must embrace evangelism

This one just amazes me, how little passion there is for evangelism.  I can't shut up about Jesus.  There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not dropping off Bibles at a food pantry, or tacking invites to church to bulletin boards, or talking to friends about Jesus, or posting on the internet about it.  Get active, sleeper, and Christ will shine on you.

5. We must teach new believers to count the cost

 Dur.  Didn't you get the memo?  Theres this book, called the Bible, where it says, "count the cost."  Because it ain't easy.  Did someone tell you being a Christian was all happy happy joy joy?  It's good at times, it's insanely difficult at times.  Heart-breaking at times.  And it's suiting up for a war.  Count the cost before committing to Christ.  Many a fool received Christ as savior, and fell away as hard times fell.  Spiritual warfare is real.

6. We must preach repentance

Repent, repent!  What did Peter say at Pentecost?  Repent!  Have a change of heart.  The culture changes, the beliefs and values of the culture adjust, change, alter, but the need for repentance remains the same no matter where we are or what is happening around us.

7. We must engage a secular culture with apologetics

Yeah I know, I've said it about a million times, but apologetics is what Paul used at Mars Hill to engage the pagan/atheist/agnostic/secular culture of Greece.  Presupposition is madness in the west today, it's completely insane unless you're working in the suburbs on a revival at the tent next to Larry's general store.  The ol' town folk will love them presuppositions regarding God, the Bible and truth.  For the rest of the country, the other 80% apologetics are so incredibly useful, intriguing, and effectively confront the endless pushing of evolution, and refusal of any possibility of intelligent design, a creator being, and the historical Jesus. 

8. We must energize the youth in the church with advanced teachings on theology and apologetics, challenging the limits of their knowledge and wisdom, we sorely underestimate the young, feeding them basics when they can handle much more.

Catechism?  I don't know what that is.  It's some sort of thing, and it looks funny.  A strange, old word.  Dogma and catechism can kiss it.  Teach, train up these kids, push the limits of their minds you fools!  You treat these kids like they're idiots, and act confused when they ditch the boring, irrelevant church to go smoke dope and party it up.  Trust them with more.  Use them.  Engage them constantly.  For teens, young adults, twenties, give them chances to speak, trust them with important positions.  If you don't show them they're needed and useful, they'll leave, I guarantee it.  

In addition, the youth, especially those in public schools must be taught creation from home as they encounter evolution dogma rhetoric in school.

I've been reading some books on young earth creation, it's a fascinating subject and points out many of the carefully ignored flaws in the theory of evolution.  Kids will be driven away from God by science classes on evolution.  It's an arrogant naturalistic way of saying,"see, I'm superior, there is no god.  We're past such foolish old superstition."  I was talking to a friend who had that happen with her daughter.  It happened to me as well.  I was quite literally brainwashed by the public school system into buying into the framework of the naturalism worldview.  (I'm currently reading The Young Earth by Morris, check that one out, it's excellent.)

9. We must claim, own, and extend God's sovereignty in all areas of life.  

I hate it when preachers refer to the Bible as "stories" or "the narrative."  What are you talking about?  These are historical accounts.  It's easy for people to detach the scriptures from reality and keep it in a vacuum.  Don't let that happen.  I looked at images from the Hubble telescope and I saw the handiwork of my creator.  And I called it just that in my writings!  That's God's work, claim it!  That should extend into all areas, claim and own God's goodness in all things.  Imagine the applications, considering God is sovereign over everything, all things!  No wonder the atheists and agnostics can't and won't believe it, you don't either!  It's just your nice church stuff? This stuff is REAL.  I mean.. do you get that?  God is actually, really, totally actual, real, not abstract, existent, present, HERE. 

10. We must fall in love with missions again.

More missionaries are needed, we need mobilizing ministries and going ministries.  Suite up soldier, get to the front!  India, China, Pakistan, the prime countries of the 10-40 window.  They remain largely unevangelized.  It's dangerous there as well.  But Jesus never said it would be easy. 

11. We must fall in love with wisdom again.

My goodness are we in trouble when we start trusting the culture, or our own judgment over what the Bible says.  God is right!  Trust him.  Step out and do so.  He is always proven correct.  He has proven himself always correct, to me, often to my embarrassment time and again.

12. We must fall in love with service again.

Service is the Christian life.  Selfishness is the American way.  Have we lost the desire for service?  I don't mean token service, an hour a week.  I mean hard service, consistently, regularly, wherever we are...  Something to pray about. How can you serve, to excess?  

Related Links:
The Mainstream Media, Tolerance in America
American Traditionalism vs. Actual Biblical Christianity
True Christianity vs. the Modern Culture
The Power of Love in Western Culture
Outlook for a Revived American Christianity

Academic Paper: The Holy Spirit as Guide, Preacher, and Indwelling in the Book of Acts

Liberty University

The Holy Spirit as Guide, Preacher, and Indwelling in the Book of Acts

A research paper submitted to Dr. L. Timothy Swinson
In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements For

Liberty University

Justin Steckbauer

Lynchburg, Virginia
May 7, 2014

The moments were powerful and moving. The book of Acts, written by Luke bridge the gap between the gospel accounts and the letters to the churches with the historical account of the actions of the Holy Spirit, working through a rag-tag band of peasants lead by a man who denied Jesus three times, and later joined by a man previously in the business of hunting down and murdering Christians. Twelve men, and what was the mission? It was to spread the gospel to the entire planet. It was impossible for them to do this themselves, alone, without the direct power of God working through them. As God the Father gave his son Jesus Christ to appoint the apostles, so Jesus Christ gave the Holy Spirit to guide, speak through, and indwell his messengers, effectively spreading the gospel to the barbarian war torn world. Empirically we see that Jesus Christ, by way of the given Holy Spirit was quite successful. Today there are over two billion Christians worldwide, and the Bible is the best selling book of all time (“Best selling book of non-fiction”, “Major Religions ranked by Size”).
The centrality of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts is obvious from the very beginning (Turner, 2003, p.147). All Lukan scholars tend to agree that Luke's emphasis on the Holy Spirit is less explicit than one would expect (Turner, 2003, p.147). There are still many divides in scholarly circles on Luke's view on the Holy Spirit (Turner, 2003, p.147). The majority of scholars seem to be of the view that the Holy Spirit is expressed by Luke as an empowering for service and mission (Turner, 2003, p.147). This is the thesis I intend to defend, that the Holy Spirit empowers, for specifically the spread of the gospel, the three principle avenues of evangelism being the reception at Pentecost and the subsequent ability to speak in the gentile languages first; Second, the guidance of the Holy Spirit in regard to travel, and the encouraging assurances of the Spirit. Third, the Holy Spirit as speaking directly through apostles by filling them, creating a unique combination within the apostle similar to the idea of inspired scripture, both spoken with human words and ideas, yet also fully inspired by the Spirit. These three principle ministries of the Holy Spirit provided the framework necessary for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be spread effectively into all the world.
It is important to note that the Holy Spirit does not have a ministry outside of Jesus Christ. The baptism of the Spirit, a ministry of the Holy Spirit not discussed at length in this paper is for the purpose of bringing one into the body of Christ. A.C. Gabelein (1962) a theologian put is best when he wrote: “The baptism with the Spirit brings the one who is thus baptized into the organic union of the body and under the imputed blessings and power of Christ who is the Head. It establishes an identity between the believer and his Lord which is as a member of a body to the head, or a branch to the vine. There are upwards of 130 passages which declare that the Christian is in Christ. It is never said that we are baptized into the Spirit. Such an interpretation is impossible, but it is said that by the Spirit we are baptized into one body.”

Jesus Christ gives the Holy Spirit
After his incredible victory at the cross, Jesus Christ reclaimed his life and appeared to the apostles in various locations for forty days. The Holy Spirit did indeed minister through Jesus Christ, which is noted very early in Acts by Luke (Acts 1:2 NIV). Just a few verses later Jesus instructed the disciples not to leave Jerusalem and said this: “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5 NIV). The beginning of the ministry of the disciples is contingent on the Holy Spirit being distributed.
The commissioning was simple yet effective as a final order: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). Then Jesus ascended to heaven, and the apostles watched, stunned, but were urged by angels to know that he will return again (Acts 1:11 NIV). The final words of Jesus Christ are linked to passages of scripture across much of the Old Testament (Moore, 1997). One such passage is Isaiah 49:6 (NIV) which states, “he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Some scholars believe the statement made by Jesus denotes not only a geographical sending, but an ethnic ministry to the gentiles (Moore, 1997). Such a daunting commission to the entire gentile world requires a powerful friend, the Holy Spirit working through the disciples, to have any possibility of success.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, and they were then able to speak in foreign languages (Acts 2:4 NIV). Nearby gentiles from all over the world heard their native languages being spoken (Acts 2:5-6 NIV). The Spirit was at work, creating a situation that allowed for evangelism of Jew and Gentile alike. The result was 3,000 new Christians (Acts 2:41 NIV). The Holy Spirit had begun to work through the apostles.

The Holy Spirit Fills Believers as they Preach
After Peter's speech at Pentecost the church began to grow. Soon enough however, the Jewish leadership came against the Way. Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin and it was at this time that Peter spoke, filled with the Spirit. Acts 4:8 (NIV) says, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!” Peter goes on to make an inspired speech to the Jewish leadership, telling them Jesus Christ is the exclusive way to salvation (Acts 4:12 NIV). Luke notes specifically that Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is at a moment when evangelism is needed, and upon the filling of the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ is presented as Lord and savior; the Gospel is preached.
Once again the idea of the filling of the Spirit is seen at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen has just made a long speech to the Sanhedrin. At the end of the speech, the crowd is about to explode with anger. Then we see Acts 7:55-56 (NIV) which says,” But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This last statement drove the crowd mad, and they covered their ears and proceeded to stone Stephen (Acts 7:57-60 NIV). Though it is highly likely that Stephen was filled with the Spirit during his entire speech, Luke does not make note of this. But it is noted that the Holy Spirit provides a vision to Stephen of Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God. The vision triggers Stephen to speak audibly and describe what he is seeing. He was preaching by way of the Holy Spirit just by describing what he was seeing. In describing this beautiful scene, the Sanhedrin's resistance to the Spirit was perfected. The Sanhedrin had heard Jesus describe himself as the son of man only a few weeks earlier, and Stephen's use of that title was a clear testimony to the Sanhedrin of the deity of Christ (Constable, 2014, p.127). In furious anger they proceeded to kill him.
The third filling of the Holy Spirit I'll touch on is Paul in Acts 13:9. Acts 13:9 (NIV) says “Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said.” Paul goes on to rebuke the sorcerer named Elymas. According to Constable (2014) “Paul was about to announce a divine miracle designed to frustrate Satan's work in hindering the progress of the gospel.” The divine miracle left the sorcerer blind for a time (Acts 13:11 NIV). Once again while Paul attempts to share the gospel, persecution occurs. The Holy Spirit used the persecution, in this case a Jewish false teacher attempting to mislead the Roman proconsul, for the purpose of evangelism. The proconsul is so amazed he ends up believing (Acts 13:12 NIV). Once again the Holy Spirit has succeeded in spreading the gospel.

The Holy Spirit's Guidance of the Church
The Holy Spirit has clearly been shown to be a received indwelling, given by Jesus Christ for the purpose of empowerment and mission. He has also been shown to be a filling empowerment for the purpose of evangelism. The third ministry of the Holy Spirit in regard to the thesis is the Spirit's loving guidance.
Acts 10:19-20 (NIV) says, “While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you.  So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” In this situation Peter had just received a vision from the Spirit regarding ministry to the Gentiles. Peter proceeded to obey the leading of the Spirit and later baptized a Roman named Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:47-48 NIV). The Holy Spirit guided Peter to a situation where he had the opportunity to preach the Gospel, he preached, and new believers were baptized. The Holy Spirit strategically moved about, building the church one brick at a time in the book of Acts, truly astonishing, mysterious, and wonderful.
In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit speaks to the church at Antioch. In this case the Holy Spirit is working as a missionary mobilizing force, pairing Paul and Barnabas together in preparation to be sent. Acts 13:2 (NIV) says “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The Holy Spirit is once again seen strategically building the church. Not only does the Holy Spirit guide the missionary to new converts, in the case of Peter to the family of Cornelius, but it also works in the church mobilizing and sending missionaries. The Holy Spirit is truly the loving guide of the church of Christ.
The Holy Spirit also works in strategic prevention and timing in His ministry of guidance. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV) says, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” The Holy Spirit knows how to guide the apostles to new converts, the Spirit mobilizes missionaries, and the Holy Spirit also knows where the apostles should not go. It's just after these verses that Luke writes of the vision Paul receives, most certainly from the Holy Spirit, to take the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10 NIV).
Paul in Acts chapter 20 is sent by the Spirit to Jerusalem. In his speech to the Ephesian elders, he says, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:22-24 NIV). This is probably the only speech by Paul that Luke heard with his own ears (Constable, 2014, p.289). The Holy Spirit sometimes leads the apostles into difficult situations, for the sake of the glory of God. The ultimate purpose here is that the gospel be preached, no matter what. Once again the Holy Spirit shows himself as guide, as he beckons Paul back to Jerusalem where prison and pain await. Later in Acts the Spirit leads Paul to Rome itself, where once again the Gospel is preached (Acts 28:31 NIV).

Jesus Christ while teaching salvation and the narrow way the Christian must walk was asked: Given how difficult the Way is, who then can possibly be saved? His reply was simple and straight to the point, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NIV). In the same way, it was impossible for the church of Christ to spread effectively and lead the lost to salvation without the Holy Spirit guiding the church, ministering through the apostles, and indwelling the body of Christ with gifts like tongues. Jesus Christ commissioned his followers and distributed the Holy Spirit to them at Pentecost (Acts 1, 2 NIV). The Holy Spirit inspired and spoke through great men like Peter, Stephen, and Paul (Acts 5, 7, 13 NIV). The Holy Spirit guided the church in baptizing new believers, sending missionaries, and leading missionaries into situations where the gospel could be preached (Acts 16, 20 NIV). The book of Acts is truly the historical account of God himself building His early church, eventually reclaiming billions from the hands of the evil one for eternity in his kingdom, to this very day.

I. Outline


A. Background

B. Thesis: In Acts, the Holy Spirit is received, guides, and speaks through the Apostles effectively spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

II. The Ministry of the Holy Spirit through Jesus and at Pentecost
A. Jesus instructs the Apostles through the Holy Spirit
1. Acts 1:2 Jesus' final instructions via the Holy Spirit
2. Acts 1:8 Jesus' commissions to the apostles as witnesses
B. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
1. Acts 2:2-4 The Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles
2. Acts 2:14-21 Peter references Joel regarding the Spirit

C. Response to the Holy Spirit
1. Acts 2:5-13 Initial reaction of the crowds to the Tongues
2. Acts 2:37-47 The Response of the Jews to the Holy Spirit

III. The Holy Spirit fills the Apostles while they Preach
A. Acts 4:8 Peter speaks to the Religious Leaders filled with the Spirit
B. Acts 7:55 Stephen speaks while filled with the Spirit
C. Acts 13:9 Paul speaks by the power of the Spirit

IV. The Holy Spirit's Guidance of Believers
A. The Holy Spirit speaks to the Apostles
1. Acts 10:19 The Spirit speaks to Peter regarding the three men
looking for him
2. Acts 13:1-4 The Holy Spirit speaks to the church at Antioch
regarding Paul and Barnabas

B. The Holy Spirit as a guide and instructor
1. Acts 16:6-7 The Holy Spirit prevents Paul from going into Asia
2. Acts 20:22-23 The Holy Spirit compels Paul to go to Jerusalem

Annotated Bibliography

"Best selling book of non-fiction." Guinness World Records. (accessed May 8, 2014).
[The Guinness book of world records is a highly reputable source, listing the Bible as the best selling book in human history.]

Constable, Dr. Thomas L.. "Notes on Acts." Sonic Light. (accessed April 20, 2014). [This commentary by Dr. Constable will be a good overall reference for general notes on the entire book of Acts. Dr. Constable deals with all the issues of title, authorship, purpose, events, and the work of the Holy Spirit for the mission to the Gentile world.]

Gaebelein, A. C. “Baptism of the Spirit.” Central Bible Quarterly 5:2 (Summer 1962): 34–40. [Gaebelein's article regarding the baptism of the Spirit should help cover the topic in my thesis statement regarding the reception of the Holy Spirit. Gaebelein's paper revolves around the baptism at Pentecost, and there is a subsection of my paper devoted to to Pentecost, as well as Peter's speech after the tongues, so this piece should be quite useful.]

"Major Religions Ranked by Size." (accessed May 6, 2014).
[According to the estimates made by based on the best data, there are approximately 2.1 billion Christians in the world today.]

Moore, Thomas S. “‘To the End of the Earth’: The Geographical and Ethnic Universalism of Acts 1:8 in Light of Isaianic Influence on Luke.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:3 (1997): 390–99. [This paper by Thomas Moore effectively discusses Acts 1:8 in a way that ought to intersect with my paper nicely. My paper will touch on the giving of the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ, so this article will be useful in citations for that section.]

"" (accessed April 20, 2014). [I will make use of the website tools including the Holman Bible Dictionary, as well as Strongest Concordance if need be. If there are any issues for the paper that aren't filled by the NIV Bible or the Notes on Acts by Dr. Constable then this should help fill the gaps.]

NIV Bible. Popular ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997. [My Bible of choice, referenced in paper form as well as online through various free access websites, most notably]

Russell, Walt. “The Anointing with the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts.” Trinity Journal 7, no. 1 (Spr 1986): 47–63. [The Holy Spirit being the central issue of my research paper, this article will be useful. I will necessarily need to hit three areas of defense of my thesis statement: The reception of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit as it speaks through the Apostles. This piece will help with the third area, the Holy Spirit as it speaks through believers.]

Turner, Max. “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts.” Word & World 23, no. 2 (Spr 2003): 146–153. [This piece by Max Turner describes the Holy Spirit as portrayed by Luke as central to the the propagation of the Gospel. Turner describes the Holy Spirit as a means for inspired speech, revelation, and wisdom. This paper will be useful in describing the guidance provided by the Holy Spirit which is the second issue of my thesis statement.]

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Mystery of Striving endlessly, but never Finding, and the true source of Meaning

Are you one of those people whose always going but rarely arriving?  Yeah I know the feeling.  Sometimes you just forget what you're even chasing, what the root desire was.  I must say I see it everyday.  I guess these are results of a sin spun planet.  It's easy to verify.  There are some really heartbreaking realities, things most don't see.  I get to see them now.  I've been working at a Salvation Army homeless shelter for two months now.  I get to see a lot of it.  Battered girlfriends.  Lifetime alcoholics, day by day for 60 years.  Sending those people onto to the street because they're intoxicated, or calling the police because they're becoming violent.  Well wow.  It's not something I'm used to.

Yet I find a lot of peace intermingled with the crisis situations.  It's like I'm suppose to be doing it.  I can't really explain it.  Obviously it felt like the job came from God.  The name of the business gave it away.  But I didn't realize there could be a job I could enjoy.  In the past I've jockeyed a cash register, or answered emails for a shoe company, or checked medical insurance claims for errors.  But knowing I'm doing something that actually matters.. well, that's priceless.

Ugly decisions, but that's this life.  There is very little black and white.  It's a billion shades of gray.  Which makes it all the more amazing that Jesus Christ never sinned once.  These situations get so muddy.  Who wants to make those kinds of decisions?  And the dispersive ironies regarding whom God chooses to make the hard calls, in such situations.

The Bible says to whom a little was entrusted, much will be entrusted later.  Sometimes we have to go, and go, and go, and sometimes we have to arrive in today.  And live the day.  Let me ask you something: Does a child sex offender need your mercy as much as a battered wife with a black eye?  I didn't ask if the sex offender deserved it, but if they were in need of it.  We all need mercy for different reasons, and we all need grace if we're going to survive in a world shattered by sin.

I'm the kind of person who is always striving but never attaining, and I rarely allow myself the comfort of the feeling of a job well done.  Is that you as well?  Is guilt and binding shame your constant companion?  Allow me to recommend a book that has been helping me recently, it's called "Healing for Damaged Emotions" by David A. Seamands.  So far so good, there is much healing to happen in my life.  The stress and depression has mounted lately, to overwhelming levels, but I take heart.

The Bible is filled with depressed greats.

1 Kings 19 1-2 Ahab reported to Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the massacre of the prophets. Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: “The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets.”
3-5 When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush.

In the wake of Elijah's great victory against the wicked false prophets, he became depressed as Jezebel threatens his life.  Good thing the believers around him didn't tell him he must be "in sin" because hes depressed.  Spurgeon, Luther, Brengle, the greats have all suffered from depression and pain.  What about Jesus Christ, "Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." (Matthew 26:38)

Things became quite tough recently, and I leaned heavily on God.  And many a time it felt like I was in free fall, leaning into a blank nothingness, calling on one who seems unwilling to step in and shelter me.  But I clung to my trust in God, defiantly, stubbornly refusing to let go or question.  I hid in my God.  And he has comforted my soul, the clincher; in his timing.  

Trust in him, ask him for guidance in times of trouble.  Know he will test you, but only for your future good.  He will assign difficult tasks to you in ministry, for the good of those around you, and sometimes at the expense of your own peace and happiness.  Because that is just what God did when he tabernacled in a human body, Christ Jesus in humble service to those around him.  

Philippians 2 (MSG)

He Took on the Status of a Slave

1-4 "If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father."

Again and again, the humble service found in the Bible shouts Christianity's superiority over all other world views, because it does the most good, making it a hard truth to follow, yet so obviously superior in that it does the most good for everyone surrounding at the expense of the one who follows it, sometimes to the point of death.  The naturalists, the altruists, the liberals in all their pious talk have very little action to back it up, yet are constantly glorified by the established media.  At the same time, Christians doing incredible good are largely ignored, and their failures are magnified and shot across the airways.

God gave me some rest recently, and I was able to spend this last weekend at Crescent Lake Bible Camp in Rhinelander.  It was a much needed break, and being back here in the city I wish I had another month or four to spend there in quiet contemplation.  I dread going in to work, I dread the daily grind and that's tough.  It's just tough.  But there it is.  God gives ministry, he gives rest.  And what is all the striving, but foolishness?  The reality of security, significance, the culmination of the two, meaning, is found in the perplexingly completed situation of intimate relationship with God the Father.  The mystery of that relationship is the foundation of immovable, unsearchable completed satisfaction and joy, not something to strive for, but something already received, yet still to be fully perceived, and later fully revealed.  

God bless, and take care.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Three Loves: God, others, and you

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Doctrine is an ugly word, with seriously negative connotations.  But what do we believe as Christians?  What does it mean to be a Christian?  What about the Bible?  What does it actually say, apart from any other source regarding truth and the world around us?  These are matters of urgent importance to Christians who claim Jesus Christ as Lord.

Titus 2:1 (ESV) But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

The Bible is a collection of 66 books of writing spanning thousands of years, there is no other book that rivals the Bible in it's breadth of time, accuracy, historicity, or timeless quality.  There is absolutely nothing like it in the history of man.  When compared with recorded history from outside sources it is considered to be 99.7% accurate. 

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

The type and style of books are incredibly versatile.  It's important to remember there are very different styles in the books, some are historical accounts, some are recordings of family lines and listings of numbers of people in every tribe.  Some of the books are poetry and songs.  Some of the books are letters to ancient churches from the apostles.  Other books are considered prophecy, meaning they predict the future.

The historical-cultural context is also vital to understand.  And when someone with no training in Biblical interpretation, a chip on their shoulder, and a desire to misunderstand all come together, you get slanderous representations of the Bible that call it misogynist, racist, homophobic, contradictory, and so on and so forth.  I saw an atheist indicate that the Bible supports multiple wives.  That's absolutely false.  There are people in the Old Testament in that situation, in history, but it is most certainly not considered a good thing.  It was a bad thing, and if you read a chapter or two further from accounts of multiple wives, like with Abraham or Solomon, you see it caused huge problems in their lives.

The point here is that taking verses out of their cultural and historical context leads to misinterpretation.

Hebrews 13:9 (ESV) Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

The next thing to be aware of is something theologians called "progressive revelation."  Remember that the Bible contains writing spanning from several thousand years BC, to about 50 years AD.  Progressive revelation means that as time passes in the books of the Bible, God slowly reveals the details of his plan.  So something that was true in the Old Testament, may not necessarily still be true today, because of progressive revelation.  Similar to this is "covenant change."  In the Old Testament, Israel was under the covenant of the law.  A covenant is an agreement, nothing more.  God gave Israel the laws to live by, and during that time someone was considered "righteous" by God, in other words, in good standing, by having faith and trust in God, and also by obeying the laws he gave.  

The Old covenant and the plan in times past, to break it down extremely simply, was like this: Man had turned on God.  But God chose to raise up the nation of Israel on the planet Earth as an example to all mankind of proper living.  All the other nations of the Earth would see Israel, and they would see God blessing Israel, and being their leader, and this would be an example to the nations of the planet that God is good, God is love, and that being his children is the best way.  Israel unfortunately was unable to follow the laws God placed upon them, and continually turned against God, just as the first humans did in the garden.

This resulted in the New covenant, which is located in the New Testament.  This is the covenant with God we are under at this very moment.  Believe in his son, repent, remain in active faith until the last day and you will live forever.  His son being Jesus Christ.  Maybe you've heard of him. 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV) “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

With the revelation of the New Testament, you can then look back at the Old Testament and see how every book of the Bible pointed to the future coming Messiah.  I could write twenty pages on that topic alone, of every pointer in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ, whether in theme, overarching context, allegory, prophecy, poetic reference, or direct reference.

Two such references occur in a speech made by Peter at Pentecost:

Acts 2:22-36 (NIV) 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[e]
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’[f]
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Everything points to Jesus Christ.  We are greatly blessed to be in relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible provides our moral framework, our instructions and our understanding of the Lord.  It is concrete and real, yet mysterious.

Ephesians 3:3-5 (NIV) According to[a] revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I wrote beforehand in brief,so that you may be able when you read[b] to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ (which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit)

So what is our salvation, our eternal life in Christ Jesus contingent on?  Yes, you guessed it, it's contingent on Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross, and his resurrection points to our future resurrection from the dead.  But it is not Jesus Christ alone, and only Jesus Christ.  If that were so, every single person born would have eternal life.  We have to respond to Jesus Christ with something, and that something is called faith.  Faith is our response, Jesus Christ is the completed work.  It's not about works, or working ourselves to heaven.  It's about having faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. 

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

The divide between works-faith and faith alone in doctrine has lead to some false doctrines, one of which is called the doctrine of eternal security.  This is a false doctrine, it is not biblical.  Eternal security says that once you have believed in Jesus Christ, you can never lose your salvation, because your salvation is contingent on what Jesus did on the cross, not your works.  They are absolutely right that Jesus Christ is what allows for salvation, but we have to respond in faith.  The Bible speaks again, and again, and again of people falling away, believers faith being shipwrecked, and so on and so forth.  The doctrine of eternal security is false and not biblical.

I'll point to Colossians 1:21-23 to illustrate this point:  

Colossians 1:21-23 (NIV) Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Let me break this down, once and for all.  Verse 21 shows the past, the problem, what was going on before we were saved.  Verse 22 shows the solution, Jesus Christ, which allows for holy presentation of the believer in sight of God the Father.  Then we have verse 23, the condition.  "If" you continue in your faith.

Very simply, faith in Jesus Christ's work on the cross is necessary for salvation, eternal life.  It is not about works.  But a believer must continue to the end in belief, in faith, or they have then lost their salvation.  So many other scriptures suddenly make sense when taking this view.  It all falls into place.

This is not a reason for great concern friends.  Because God disciplines those whom he loves, he will preserve our faith.  But apostasy is always possible, if we push hard out of the arms of God.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:3 (NIV) Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  
The doctrine of eternal security is dangerous, because people have a 10 minute conversion, then assume they're good, leave church, fall away, and never come back.  We see it again and again.  The statistics on those who become Christians then fall away, well, it's staggering, about 65% according to a book by Dr. Ben Guiterrez.  

It's very important to understand what eternal life is contingent on.  Rebirth is another requirement mentioned by Jesus:   

John 3:3 (NIV) Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

 Another requirement is repentance.  Repentance means to have a change of mind about the sins we commit, and to leave our old ways behind.  Don't worry, Jesus helps us do this slowly over time, as does the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 13:3 (ESV) No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Having fulfilled these requirements, we live the Christian life, serving and loving, and enduring difficult times and spiritual attacks.  It's not easy, but it can be done.

Matthew 7:14 (ESV) For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We are also commanded to make disciples of non-believers while we live on Earth, in the fallen creation.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

The Bible contains our message of eternal life, most certainly.  But it also offers wisdom and encouragement of all kinds.  There are myriad's of prescriptions for daily living, some of them culturally bound, but many not.  Many of the suggestions transcend culture and the ones that don't contain principles that are universal to daily life today.

It's really a wonderful book.  Wow.

If you need wisdom, and we all do, then Proverbs

If you need encouragement, then Psalms, or Philippians or Ephesians.

If you're curious about end times issues, Daniel or Revelation.

If you want to understand faith in connection to salvation, Romans.

If you want to understand how good works fit into life, James.

If you want to learn more about Jesus- John, Mark, Luke, and Matthew.

The beginning, read Genesis.

Are you in pain, struggling, read Job.

Are you depressed, at the end of your rope, bankrupt on pleasure, read Ecclesiastes.  

Curious about the beginning of the church or the Holy Spirit, read Acts.

It's incredible how this book touches on every aspect of life providing truth, and very often difficult truth. There is always something new to find in the Bible.  The discipline of Bible study can either make or break a Christian follower of Jesus.  I pray to God often requesting he help me to read my Bible more often.  Prayer and Bible study are two life bloods of Christians.  The third is fellowship and the fourth, just as important is worship, whether personal or community worship of God.  

I'll leave you with the words of Jesus here, to his disciples, regarding love.  Love really is the most fundamental principle of the Bible.  

John 15:9-13 (ESV) As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

I would say our mission as Christians is best summed up right here in the words of Jesus:

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV) 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love God, love others, and love yourself also.   Don't let anyone ever sell you on worm theology, or that humbleness = abusing yourself.  That is most certainly false.  If I'm cruel to myself, mean to myself, abusive to myself, if I don't love myself, then how can I love others as myself?  If I hate myself, I'll most likely end up hating others as I hate myself.  

Love God, love others, and love yourself.  All the law and doctrine can be broken down to that simple statement.  

Amen. Go in peace.