Sunday, April 29, 2018

What is the equation that shows us how to inherit Eternal Life?

What teachings of the scriptures encapsulate the requirements for eternal life?  We're going to look at some scriptures, and some instructions in those scriptures for how to receive eternal life, live it out on Earth, and how to be found as a faithful servant when we meet Jesus in heaven.  

This could be said to be the most important topic imaginable because it deals directly with how we are to come to receive eternal life, and an eternal inheritance. 

What is the equation in the scriptures that shows us how to inherit eternal life in the new City of God?  Let's take a look at some of these aspects. We won't be defaulting back to any established theological framework, instead we're just going to look directly to the scriptures, emphasizing the New Testament, which is our current covenant, while also understanding that the scriptures are a consummate reflection of a saga played out in the context of the Old Testament.  Let's start.

Christ Alone - 
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

There is only one way that we can receive forgiveness for all our past sins.  There is only one way we can be reborn.  There is only one way we can receive the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  There is only one way that we can live a holy life, and receive forgiveness for future sins, as they come along.  And all of those only statements are answered by one person: Jesus Christ.  

We must receive Christ.  We must trust in Christ.  We must declare our complete allegiance to Christ.  We must give everything to Christ.  We must confess our sins and ask Christ for forgiveness. And when we trust in Christ, and trust in His perfect life, death, and resurrection, and believe that Jesus died in our place on the cross, to remove our sins, and to give us His righteousness, then we are truly saved.

And if we died a moment after believing these truths, like the thief on the cross who declared that he was a sinner and Christ was a pure savior, then we would go to heaven and be with Christ in paradise.  And that leads us into our next area.

Repentance toward God -
2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

We must repent of all sin and repent in the ideas in our minds.  The thief on the cross repented in that he acknowledged his own sinfulness and he acknowledged the blameless nature of Jesus Christ.  He said,"We are judged justly. But this man is innocent. Remember me Jesus when you go into your kingdom."  And Jesus replied,"Truly I tell you on this day you will be with me in paradise."  And Jesus spoke the truth.  That is repentance of mind, to admit our sinfulness and Christ's perfection.

But to repent also means to lay aside our sins, and to embrace a new lifestyle.  Because most of us won't die instantly after meeting Jesus.  

Living in the Spirit - 
Galatians 5:16-18 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The question could quickly be: How can I live a life of freedom from sin, when I'm so addicted to sin and so powerless over sin?  The answer to that question is life in the Spirit.  When we live the Spirit life, we deny the flesh, and take up our cross and follow Jesus.  When we live in the Spirit we surrender all to the Spirit of God, and He leads us into all righteousness. When we live in the Spirit, we crucify the flesh, and recognize over time, often months and years, that we are dead, and our lives are no longer our own. If we continue to yield to sin, the Spirit will convict us, that to continue in sin will lead us out of the arms of Christ, and into the depths of hell. In the fear of the Lord, then we repent truly, yield ourselves to the Spirit and we find our shackles have been broken and the Spirit is at last reigning in us.  Access all of these blessings through constant desperate prayer.  God will answer, in time.  Keep appealing.

Abiding in Christ - 
John 15:1-10 ESV “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 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."

Just as John 15 says, we must abide (or remain) in Christ.  To abide in Christ means that we choose freely to love God above ourselves.  It means we love with true love.  And what is true biblical love?  It's not a wishy washy worldly love.  Love in a biblical sense is to keep the commandments of God, the ten commandments, which are summed up by Jesus to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love others as yourself.  

Repentance from All Sin - 
Ezekiel 18:21-23 ESV “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?"

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Don't let anyone deceive you with words: To sin means to fail God.  We must trust in Jesus, and trust in the grace of Christ to free us from all sin.  If we continue in sin, we can't expect to have any inheritance with Christ.  But if we cry out to God, and ask for freedom from sin, He is just and righteous to free us from all sin. 

Antinomianism is absolutely rampant in the churches of today.  Antinomianism is the idea that we receive salvation in Christ, and then we continue sinning and don't live differently than we used to.  To have Christ as savior must be married with full repentance from sin.  If it's not, then it's not a legitimate salvation.  It's a dead salvation.  To sin daily is to be lost, plain and simple. This isn't a popular teaching, but it's the truth. 

Entire Sanctification - 
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God"

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Sanctification is a process that we go through from the moment we receive justification, and new birth; it continues until we receive glorification in heaven after our death.  Glorification is when we are fully redeemed, with a new spiritual body that is not prone to sin.  But in this life we are being sanctified over a lifetime process, from initial sanctification which occurs when we are justified in Christ, and then the next milestone which is called "entire sanctification."  This is what Wesleyan's call the "second blessing." 

In Wesley's mind, a great preacher of holiness theology, the second blessing of entire sanctification was a work done by God, in which perfect love entered the heart of the Christian, allowing the believer to have the mind of Christ, to live as Christ lived, and to love with the same love that Christ loved with.  

To me, this is a moment of surrender and submission.  It's often tied to a crisis of some sort, a realization that I need to give all of myself to God, not just some, but all.  So we yield completely to God almighty, giving all to Him, and we are filled with the perfect love of Christ, by the Spirit, who makes us to love as Christ loved, humbly, and beautifully.  This does not mean we become perfect in our actions, or never struggle with sin, but it does mean that our fundamental desires have been changed, and we desire wholeheartedly to do the will of God always. 

Matthew 25 - 
There are three parables in Matthew chapter twenty-five that I believe are absolutely essential for these last days.  Open your Bible and spend some time carefully studying these parables.  They communicate to us directly Christ's expectations for His children on Earth.  

The Parable of the Oil and the Lamps (Matthew 25:1-13)
Meaning: True disciples of Jesus will remain watchful, and remain active in their faith. If we "fall asleep" in the Christian life, become inactive, they won't go to heaven. 

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
Meaning: Each disciple of Jesus is given gifts (like writing, speaking, artistic abilities, scientific skills, medical ability, serving ability) and if we don't use those gifts for God's glory, even a little bit, then we won't go to heaven. 

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:21-36)
Meaning: If we aren't active in serving the poor, feeding the hungry, giving clothing to those who need it, visiting prisoners, and providing shelter to the homeless, then we won't share in eternal life.  We'll be rejected. 

The Messages to the 7 Churches - 
Church 1 - Ephesus
Practice the simple first-love, true love of Christ, don't engage in legalism.

Church 2 - Smyrna
Do not fear the suffering you must endure for Christ, even imprisonment. Endure to the end.

Church 3 - Pergamum
Repent of sexual sin, evade idolatry, overcome sin by repenting.

Church 4 - Thyatira
Avoid Sexual Immorality, the Jezebel attitude, and the "deeper things" of Satan. 

Church 5 - Sardis
Wake up!  You think your alive, but your dead. Complete the works that you are called to. 

Church 6 - Philadelphia
 Hold fast to what you have!  You have little strength, but keep persevering.

Church 7 - Laodicea
Lukewarm, if your lukewarm realize that you probably aren't even saved.  You think your OK, but your actually poor (no riches being gathered for eternal life) blind (no discernment), and naked (not robed in the righteousness of Christ).  

I believe the teachings to churches six and seven are vitally important for our day and age.  For true Christians, church six, we're struggling in a world overflowing with sin, and we have little strength, so we need to keep persevering.  

The seventh church is important because the church in Laodicea was very, very wealthy.  But they looked a lot like the world, and they weren't really on fire for Jesus.  They were lukewarm.  This is exceedingly true of American and European Christianity.  We need to wake up, encounter the true Christ, have our riches stored up in heaven, have our eyes opened to the spiritual realities of life, and robed with the perfect righteousness of Christ. 

But all seven messages are vitally important: Think about how prominent sexual immorality is in our day and age (churches 3 and 4).  Think of how some can become dry and legalistic (church 1), and think about how many Christians worldwide are suffering and in prison for their faith (church 2).  Think about how many seem like they are dead in their faith? How many do have real faith, but they haven't really repented of active sins in their lives?  Their work before God is incomplete (church 5). 

We can see how these messages are relevant for all of us, at various points in our spiritual journey from justification all the way along the years of the pilgrims progress, all the way to our death, glorification, and eternal life. We see how these messages to the churches are relevant to us today.  

Legalism - Unfortunately in the contemporary evangelical church, when anyone brings up repentance, or sin, or living out our faith, the instant charge is "legalism."  But this isn't legalism.  What is biblical legalism?  Biblical legalism is the false idea that Christians today have to keep the old testament law of Moses with all of it's commands.  That's not what I've done here.  I've simply cited the scriptures, almost all of which are from the New Testament.  These teachings are for us today, and don't constitute legalism, but honest biblical exegesis.  Today I think we've become preachers of antinomianism in many circles, a free gift gospel, where we leave out repentance and freedom from sin.  That is not a gospel at all, it's a lie.  

Adding to Salvation - This is something that Christians will do, to try to paint you into a corner and say your trying to add something to what Jesus did.  That's not true though.  Jesus Christ has completed the work of atoning for our sins.  But our part is to repent, and ask for forgiveness. The work of the Christian life is done by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We simply cooperate with the Spirit in the process.  But our response to Christ's free gift is to repent at our moment of salvation, and also to live a lifestyle of repentance.

Kinship salvation- This is the idea that once Jesus saves us, we are given charge over our salvation and have to maintain it.  That isn't what the idea is here.  The idea is here that God preserves us in our salvation, but that we have to respond in continuous repentance and service to the needy, just as the scriptures instruct us to.  Our salvation is preserved in the heavenly realm with Christ.  But we can always fall away, into sin, and end up with shipwrecked faith.

The equation of Christianity isn't as simple as we'd like to make it out to be.  But Christ alone is our salvation, and gives us forgiveness of sin.  We must always remember that.  What we do in response is simply to live out the Christian life, in holiness and freedom from sin.  But we should strive to do that wisely.  Heaven is real and hell is real.  We must be holy as He is holy.  God is good.  He will help us.  And we can do it, in Christ we can do all things.  Trust in Him.  Amen. 

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

How to Repent of all Sins in your Christian Life

Jesus in the Wilderness
Mark 7:20-23 (ESV) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Repentance is a beautiful thing. Repentance is a breaking free from the ties and bonds of this world, and the sins that so easily corrupt us, and a process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. 

In the west, especially in the United States many Christians have been deceived by a dangerous doctrine called "eternal security."  Essentially this view indicates that "once you're saved, you're always saved."  This doctrine has led many people astray in their Christian faith. Many have assumed that given their salvation experience is legitimate, they don't need to worry about sin in their lives and repenting from it.

But the more I study the scriptures, the more concerned I am about sin in the life of a Christian.  We don't take sin near seriously enough in western Christianity.  And that's a big reason why the church looks a lot like the world.  We don't recognize the need for true repentance.  We're filled up on grace, but what we need is true repentance. 

1 John 1:8-10 ESV "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

Our God is a gracious God, and He forgives the sins of those who put their faith and allegiance in Jesus Christ.  I used to believe that our sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven in the moment of salvation, in the moment of saving faith in Jesus Christ.  I no longer believe that, because there isn't much basis for it in the scriptures.  

I had considered a scripture in Hebrews a basis for this belief, that "Jesus died for sin, once for all time" (Hebrews 10:10).  But I realize now that on a firmer basis of good exegesis, this scripture is much more likely referring to the fact that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross transcends time in it's accessibility, meaning the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross redeemed people in the past, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and so on.  And Jesus' sacrifice is also available infinitely forward to our present age, as a timeless option to receive forgiveness of sins.  

But I now realize that if we are in active sin in our lives, those sins are not forgiven, unless we repent of them and turn away from them.  That is why it's important for us to conclude each day in prayer, and make an inventory of our day, and confess and repent of any sins in our lives.  

It's important to understand that there is a distinction between active sin and being tempted.  To be tempted is not a sin, Jesus was tempted, but He did not yield to the temptations.  So to be tempted is not a sin.  But if we are tempted, and we give in and indulge in the sin, in thought or action, then we have sinned. But don't worry, God provides a way of escape for every sin that dares to beset us. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Galatians 5:16 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

We're given a clue as to how to overcome sin in our lives: To overcome, we must walk in the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was given to us, by Jesus, as a deposit in our souls, to help lead us into all truth and purity.  

We are already dead in Christ.  We were buried with Him in His death on the cross. We are therefore dead to the sin He died to destroy, and we are now alive to Jesus. We are reborn, as alive to Jesus, and dead to sin. So we must fight to walk in that Spirit life.  

But to live free of sin, I must emphasize is not a checklist of "to do" and "don't do."  To live free of sin is to live so completely yielded to the Holy Spirit, so utterly subjected to Christ, so completely adherent to the will of the heavenly Father that sin is rendered powerless. Temptations will come, but our yielding to the Father will win the day over those temptations. 

So the question must come up: What exactly is sin?  Well, we do get some lists in the scriptures.  Here is one such list, of 15 categories: 

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Sex always comes first.  God knows us so well. Sex is the hardest sin to overcome, because it's temptations are so strong.  The big three sexual sins are: masturbation (using lustful images in the mind or pornographic videos to sin), fornication (to engage in pre-marital/non-marital sex acts), and adultery (to have sex with a married man or woman, or lust after them in your heart).  Those are the big three, especially in our day and age.  I've done all three, sadly.  But I've also confessed my sins in tears before God, and asked for forgiveness, and repented, and I was forgiven and washed clean, completely.  The same repentance and forgiveness is available to you, today.  

But if we're playing a game with God, where we sin, then repent, then the next day we sin again, and repent, that is no good.  In that situation we need to ask God to help us fear Him.  Ask Him that again and again, to put the fear of the Lord in us.  Then we'll tremble before His throne, we'll tremble about the fires of hell, and we'll be zealous and repent quickly of that sin.  And that's true repentance, which is enabled by the Holy Spirit.  It starts with grief, then fear, then a sincere turning, and a practicing daily of a new lifestyle.  Once again, I speak from experience.  I played that game with God.  And I asked God for fear.  And He gave me fear.  Now I've repented and it's a real repentance, which is a gift.  

There is no distinction between sins in God's eyes.  God doesn't say "Well you were a Christian in active sin, but your sins weren't that bad, you were just doing smaller sins, so it's no big deal."  No, that's not how it works.  Say, that you repent of all the "big sins" but you continue to say, download pirated music online, or you continue to steal things from your work occasionally, or you skip tithing, because "no big deal."  God will come to you, in the Spirit, again and again to tell you to repent of those sins.  But if you keep resisting, and telling yourself in your mind that it's no big deal, well, you won't be in heaven, plain and simple.  You'll be in the other place.

This is not my favorite teaching.  I prefer to focus on God's grace, on the love of Christ, and on the forgiveness, mercy, and eternal life given to us.  That's what I love and like to think about.  All of those things are indeed true about God.  But I would not be a faithful minister of the gospel if I didn't warn those I teach and care for about the dangers of living in active sin as a Christian.

Yes, we can lose our salvation.  But it's not like you turn around and say, "Oops where did it go!?" God preserves us in the palm of his hand and he comes to us and rebukes and disciplines us when we get off track. But we know when we're straying from God's path, and we know when sins are active in our lives. And there does come a point when we step outside His will and plan.  We have those choices to make.  

Don't be deceived by elaborate theologies.  Put the scriptures before theological allegiance.  And the scriptures talk again and again about "falling away" and encouragements to "abide(remain) in Christ."  I'd commend John 15 to you, as well as 1 Timothy 4:1 ESV which states: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons."

I'd also recommend the following scriptures for your consideration in regarding to falling away/departing the faith: Hebrews 6:4-6 ,Hebrews 3:12-19 ,Revelation 2:4-5 , 2 Corinthians 11:3 , 2 Peter 2:20-22 , Romans 11:19-22 , Matthew 24:10-13 , and Revelation 3:11.

Please don't just take my word for this one, examine the scriptures yourself. But I would give you this one encouragement: Put the scriptures above a theological allegiance.  Don't try to force the scriptures into the theology you prefer.  Instead let the scriptures speak for themselves.  

I know many of you reading these words are Calvinists.  I want you to know I love you as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We aren't enemies.  We're friends.  And I know your going to teach your people to thoroughly repent of all sin.  But I'd encourage you to examine the scriptures and discern them in all wisdom.  

Just as Jesus Christ taught the seven churches in the book of Revelation, we must be focused, determined, and hard working in the Spirit to repent of sin, and ensure that we are in the will of God.  God will make His will for our lives clear and we must follow it.  The scriptures say that many will come to Jesus and say, "Lord, Lord, remember all we did for you in our lives, and the miracles we performed."  And Jesus will say to them: Depart from me, I never knew you (Matthew 25:31-46). We need to be obeying God's will, if we expect to share in eternal life.

Additionally, we must not harbor unforgiveness or hatred for those who have harmed us in the past or present.  Take some time in prayer, on your knees, to search through your heart for unforgiveness and anger/hatred.  Ask the Holy Spirit to search you and reveal these things.  Then declare forgiveness in your heart, and love in your heart.  Remember that the Lord said hatred is murder (1st John 4:20).  And also recall that Jesus said that if we don't forgive others their debts, then our debts won't be forgiven.  Jesus forgave us all our sins, and our response is to forgive those who have done unspeakable evil to us.  Or even just small things.  We've been forgiven, so we must forgive (Matthew 6:15). 

Finally, we must not be lukewarm.  We must work to be on fire for Christ.  We must truly follow and obey Him.  The church that Jesus addressed in the book of Revelation, the church in Laodicea had become lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-21).  They were so wealthy and affluent that they couldn't recognize that they were poor, blind, and naked.  They needed to cloth themselves in Jesus, instead of relying on their wealth and power.  I think we have the same problem in the United States today.  We need to truly submit to Jesus and rely on Him, not worldly wealth.

In conclusion, I want to tell you that this a very difficult message for me to write.  I don't like having to share this kind of message.  In fact I've tried to avoid this reality in the theological framework in my mind for years.  I've resisted it and fought against it, and desperately wanted to believe that sin wasn't such a big deal.  I wanted to believe eternal security.  I wanted to believe that active sin wasn't such a deadly foe to eternal life.  I wanted to believe that extra grace would cover over the sins I was practicing each day.  But I realize now, that for those in active sins, their lot is in the lake of fire.  It doesn't matter how well we've served Jesus or how many converts we've won, or how faithfully we've taught the scriptures.  God shows no favoritism.  So we must be careful not to disqualify ourselves while running this race of serving Jesus (1st Corinthians 9:27).  

Hell is a real place. If you go there after you die, you'll be conscious. You'll be able to feel and you'll have your senses. You'll have a body, you'll be able to think and reason, and you'll constantly recall all the chances you had to repent, and didn't.  I don't say that to scare you, but because I don't want you to go there.  And our God is a righteous judge, He will return in power and glory to rule His people. He will bring into judgment all things we've done. 

But don't be afraid. God will help you overcome all sin in your life.  And to he who overcomes, they will be given a crown by Jesus (2 Timothy 4:7-8). And once we're in heaven, with Jesus, there is no longer a danger of sin.  We'll be free to be holy and pure and clean.  And it will be wonderful.  Heaven is real! So choose heaven, instead of hell. 

This is such a hard message for me to share, but I believe with all of my soul that this message is true and of Christ.  We must take sin seriously, and we can and we will.  And if we do, and we cooperate with the Spirit in putting to death the sins of the flesh, we will make it to eternal life with Christ in heaven.  We will be pure and spotless in His sight if we are zealous and determined to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.  Thank you for reading and keep on praying and seeking God! 

1 John 1:9 (ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Should I Tithe 10% to my Church?

Proverbs 3:9 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce

Let's talk about tithing!  In my view, tithing is very important.  God gives us Jesus, he gives us life, he transforms us, and makes us new in Jesus.  He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us and make us holy.  

He almost always sends us to a church, to serve in some manner, and we become part of that family of believers.  It's a beautiful thing. We become part of a church, and we begin to serve and contribute to that church family.  Usually it's fairly clear where God leads us, for me, the Salvation Army, the best church ever in my humble opinion.  But there are many great churches out there.  If your looking for one, don't look for the one you like.  Look for the one that teaches the entirety of the scriptures, is Spirit-filled, and most importantly look to where God is leading you.  

And remember, when joining a church, it's not about the church meeting your needs.  No.  This is God's body on Earth, and instead our attitude should be: How can I serve God through this church's ministries?  How can I be a faithful servant of Christ? 

It's not perfect. And it's not always easy.  There are issues at churches, and divisions, and certain things that happen, but we work through those things, through prayer, conversation, and obeying the word of God.

So about tithing: What is tithing?  Tithing is a concept from the Bible, from the Old Testament, that we give 10% of our income to God.  Sound like too much?  It's all His anyway.  It's not ours.  God owns everything.  We're blessed enough that he gives us a great deal of wealth, especially in the west.  We're so blessed! Wow!

Tithing is very important. And we should take it seriously. We don't want to "rob God of his tithe" as was recorded in Malachi, in regard to Israel. Tithing is a big deal, it's a clear instruction from God.

Please take that command seriously, and if your a Christian leader, or a pastor or officer, you should tithe to your church just like any other would. The minimum is 10% but preferably more, because the New Testament standard is to give joyously of we all have! God gives us so much, and it all belongs to Him anyway.  So do give tithes at your local church.

Something I also do is I support charity work, I support Compassion International and other charities.  I give to The Salvation Army world services to help build the kingdom overseas in Africa and Asia and South America.  

2 Corinthians 9:7  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

God loves a joyful giver.  God loves those who give regularly to support His work.  And let me remind and encourage all of us: God will hold us accountable for our giving.  He expects us to tithe, as much as he expects us to serve the poor and needy, and stand up for those who are outcast by society.  God expects us to tithe, and he sees everything!  So please settle it in your heart and mind to give generously to your church family, and to charities as you feel led. 

I like David Ramsey's approach of starting at 10% and then slowly working your way up to 15% then even 20% and further.  I love that!  

Proverbs 11:24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

God blesses us when we tithe.  When I didn't tithe it seemed like I never had any money, and kept struggling in debt.  But when I gave my first fruits to God, just writing out a check right when I got paid, God blessed me.  

Now today I have investments in the stock market!  Can you imagine that?  Me?  I could never get that going on my own.  God blessed me, because I honored him by tithing.  Do the same, and test God in that way, and He will respond. It's a promise for us today.

Malachi 3:8-10 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

God will Uphold His Army: Standing on the Truths of Scripture

Notice: The views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely of those making them, and they do not necessarily constitute the views of the Salvation Army, it's partners or affiliates.

Dialogue, discussion, a conversation, two different viewpoints... It all sounds so good, doesn't it?  We're on two different sides of an issue and we selflessly come together to find a middle ground on a critical issue.  That sounds reasonable doesn't it?

But let me ask you this question: Should we have conversation about if Jesus was really the son of God?  

Of course not.  We know as believers in the church, that Jesus is the son of God, and that he came to die for us sinners, to set us free and give us life.  

That's a fundamental truth of our faith, as part of the body.  If we don't believe that, we aren't part of the body of Christ, plain and simple.  

Another question: Should we have a conversation, in the church, among fellow believers, about if we should get rid of the Bible or not?  Of course not! We can't just toss the Bible out the door, and make up our own beliefs.  That's not a conversation we're going to have.  There are certain things that we must agree on, if we are going to declare ourselves part of the church.

3rd question: Should we have a discussion, as the Salvation Army, about if we should add a 4th person to the Trinity? Hear me out, listen, we can add William Booth as the 4th person of the Trinity, because, you know, progress and tolerance.  And grace and love, of course.  Alright, but at least we can find a middle ground between our positions.  You want the Trinity, I want the Quadinity, so we can find a middle ground between our two positions.  It's a conversation, you know, it's a dialogue.  

See how ridiculous that is?  It sounds so reasonable to have a dialogue, to find common ground, and to meet half way.  But what is half-way between truth and falsehood?  Half-truth?  Half-lie?  No, truth is objective.  And there is truth, and falsehood.  There's no middle-ground between them.

And in the same way, we should not have a discussion about endorsing homosexuality. We don't need to embrace a lifestyle clearly addressed in the scriptures multiple time (Genesis 19:1-13Romans 1:26-271 Corinthians 6:9;1st Timothy 1:10Matthew 19:4-6). We don't need to find a middle point between biblical truth and non-biblical worldly ideology.  We stand on the truths of scripture.

It's simply like this: We must love and reach out to people who struggle with the sin of homosexuality.  We must love them, encourage, and help them to repent of that sin.  We must invite them to church, help them to find the grace of Christ, by turning to Christ, and away from their sins.  That's what every sinner in this world needs, all of us included. 

The first doctrine states that we believe the scriptures of the Old and New testaments are trustworthy and they constitute the instruction, the baseline for Christian faith and practice.  Part of becoming a soldier, an officer, or even an adherent is agreeing that these are our shared beliefs.  

These truths don't change.  The scriptures are quite clear about the homosexuality issue.  The scriptures are clear. And it is wrong for us to go into the word with a black marker and cross out the scriptures we don't like or don't agree with and say that this is God's grace, and God is still speaking. 

God is speaking today, and everyday in our world.  But God doesn't change, and His word doesn't change.  The New testament is for us today, and the New testament indicates that homosexuality is a sinful practice (1 Timothy 1:10, Romans 1:26-27). God is not speaking in regard to a black marker coming down from heaven, to cross out the scriptures that we don't like.  That isn't God speaking, that's you speaking.  That's people speaking, about their own opinions, elevating their views above the scriptures.

It's easy to yield to the pressures of culture, to change the word, to change our viewpoints to match the worlds.  But that's not what we're called to do, we're called to be counter-cultural.  

We must trust the word of God.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is ministering in the world.  But once again, the Holy Spirit is not out there ministering in the world saying: "God's word is out of date."  No.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, it doesn't endorse it.  The Holy Spirit inflames the Bible into our minds, it doesn't change the Bible to fit our desires. 

To have a dialogue, and to find a middle ground sounds reasonable on paper. But it's simply a logical fallacy (appeal to moderation fallacy), to find a middle ground between truth and sin.  The scriptures say what they say, and they don't say what they don't say.  

The doctrines of the Salvation Army are what we all agree on when we participate in this Christian movement.  The truths of the Bible don't change over time because we decide they should.  Those viewpoints are gleaned from the scriptures, and they are true.  And part of coming to faith in Christ, and joining this army is to declare trust in the SA doctrines, as accurately interpreting the scriptures.

And if we are going to say that we need to change our view, we need to be more inclusive, we need to embrace and teach that homosexuality is holy and right and not sinful, then we've just stepped far outside the bounds of scripture, of William Booth, of the Salvation Army, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

There can be no compromise with lies.  There can be no dialogue with heresy against the foundational truths of the Christian Bible.   The Bible is the truth about everything.  We agree on that as Christians, as followers of Jesus.  

A dialogue sounds nice.  But it invites legitimacy to viewpoints that plainly contradict the truth.  We must not dialogue against the Bible.  There can be no discussion between the Bible and "incarnational" such and such, which is simply, embracing the views of the world, of sinful humanity, and forcing those views on the Bible, supplanting the Bible, with our own fungible opinions, opening up a doorway for such things to continue, until God forbid the army would crumble into a secular social services, social justice movement.  

What goes next after biblical marriage?  The inspiration of scripture?  God the Holy Spirit? Or even someday Jesus Christ himself?  This may seem unlikely, but often what begins with one compromise, can lead to a pattern of compromise. As the scriptures say: With the foundations gone, what can the righteous do?  (Psalm 11:3)

We as members of this team, this movement all agree on one truth:  The Bible is the wholly trustworthy word of God (Doctrine 1).  If we can't agree on that, then we're not really fighting on the same team.  That's the whole problem though, I suppose.  But I'm sure there are many out there who hold wrong opinions about certain things in the scriptures who really do love Jesus.  But that does not mean that these false viewpoints, and this heretical theology should be given any sort of legitimacy.  

But we do have a phrase to identify someone who is teaching something that is not true: We call that person a false teacher (2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 John 4:1, Romans 16:17).  And they will have to give an in person account to Jesus about what they taught (Matthew 12:36).  That's a fearful thing, especially since the word says we who teach will be judged more harshly (James 3:1).  

God is real!  And He will call us home and require an account from us of what we taught.  Was is true?  Or did we teach what we wanted to say, instead of His word? It's a fearful thing. Search the scriptures diligently, and humble yourselves.

The Army trusts in the scriptures above the ideas of secular humanity, period.  Let that never change. Yes we must love people.  Yes, we will love people.  But that doesn't mean yielding to sin, it means showing radical grace, while encouraging total transformation.  That's the power of the gospel to transform a person, inside and out.  

One final thought for my brothers and sisters: Don't be afraid. God will uphold His Army. This Salvation Army belongs to God almighty, and no other.  It is His instrument.  He will uphold His army.  He will strengthen us.  I encourage all of you, pray constantly for this army to hold strong, to stand firm, and to be bold in proclaiming the true, full gospel.  Believe when you pray, and pray often.  Prayer is so incredibly powerful.  And be brave, and bold. Take a stand without compromise.  God will honor that, though you may for a while have to endure trials of many kinds.  God is good.  He is with us.  Don't ever give up, and take hope and strength always in Christ.  Again I tell you: God will uphold His Salvation Army.  Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Related Posts:
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  2. Are you Jaded with the Church? How to Resist Jadedness 
  3. The Divine Mysteries of Jesus Christ
  4. Hope for the Drunk, the Drug Addict, and the Deeply Depressed
  5. The Judgment Seat of Christ
  6. Christian vs. Secular Ideology: The Power of the Resurrection
  7. What is the Truth about Abortion? 
  8. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  9. Gay Marriage, LGBTQ Issues, and the Christian Worldview
  10. A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

God's Fingerprint on Reality: Emotions of Life, Freedom, & the Golden Ratio

Great trails extend between cities, connecting people, and we drive from here to there traveling the roads.  We go from here to there, day in and day out. Trees roll across the horizon.  Massive metal cities rise up from the fog of daily life.  We move from here to there, wondering at our lives.  Or maybe just rolling along completely unaware of anything?  

I often wonder what a single day will bring, blessing or disaster?  Chaos or cohesion?  The light wakes in the morning, the shades are drawn, and I shutter in anticipation.  Though not always, some days I wake up and realize I have no control and it doesn't matter anyway.  But I'm always slow to rise, and disturbed by reality itself.  Yet there are great joys in life, there are so many balancing themes, and so many contrasts in life... it's a consistent state of awe.

Suffering comes, it will in this life.  We don't know who we will meet or when.  Moments grow beautiful.  But not quite perfect.  In a beautiful interaction, with a group of people, when the Spirit takes over and synchronicity flows, still, something is missing.  And there are those times when we stand alone, lonely, bitterly sorrowful and wish upon wish that someone might come up to us, and tell us: Everything is going to be OK.  And you think of how beautiful it would be if that happened, and how it would touch your heart.  

But no one ever comes.  The dank alley remains dark, a few people pass by, but nothing happens.  That hope we hang out, unfortunately falters and disappears.  And the heart goes slightly colder, and more distant.  

The strongest emotions seem to dwell with family, and with romantic love.  And of course with God.  Nothing breaks my heart more like a simple infatuation, or an expressed desire left unrequited.  

To love at all is to be vulnerable, so said C.S. Lewis.  To really live our lives, to not hide away, but really live, and to really be out there doing this life, we must expose ourselves to the possibility of rejection.  This is necessary.  

These feelings we carry with us, they come to define who we are.  And if we've been through a lot of trauma in our lives, they can make us shaky, nervous, depressed, and even self-destructive.  Healing is necessary.

I listen to beautiful music.  It brings healing to my soul, through identification.  Music expresses feelings that our words can't identify.  It paints a picture that no brush can describe.  It defines emotions that our words can't.  

Time passes by and God does beautiful things. He's so mysterious in His actions, to attempt to predict how he'll work, is impossible.  To even notice, is astonishing.  To contemplate His depth, brings fear.  I whisper a question into the simple air of my familiar apartment and He does not answer.  So often He does not answer.  Yet in the span of a day, He makes himself known. He's great and far above us. Somewhere up there. But we're not up in the clouds overhead, we're in the mud below.  

And so often God's plans for us are so bitterly painful.  We must embrace the suffering, and suffer daily with a quiet strength.  This is nobility, to suffer quietly and bravely.  

God made us with the ability to reason, and God loves reason, logic, and science.  But there is a variable that affects everything we do, it's emotion.  Emotion isn't bad, but it certainly skews what might've been more simple equations.  But emotions don't rule us, at least they shouldn't.  Then again our current generation seems to do everything on emotion, and the guiding star is whatever feels good, regardless of consequences.

I've gone through the ringer of hedonism, of doing what feels good.  It's empty.  There's nothing there but madness, depression, and morning after syndrome.  It doesn't matter how many packs you smoke, or how many girls you sleep with, the hole keeps getting ripped open wider, it doesn't close and it's never satisfied. 

It's so hard to close a new hunger once it's opened.  Who can ever satisfy a drug addiction?  It's never satisfied.  What about pornography?  It never ends.  And it just keeps getting wider, that hole in our soul, and it needs more and more to satisfy it, until the hole is so large our heart falls out through the opening.  It's easy to die with a needle in your arm, stupified and exhausted in putrifaction.  

The three day hang over is really the best result of hedonism, because the misery demands our attention, and the suffering and pain demands a change that would've never come in any other way.  

You can lay on a highway, you can stand there and hope to be hit by a car, but it's not going to happen if God doesn't want it to happen. You can throw yourself off a bridge, and nothing will happen, unless God wants it to happen.

All our days are in his books.  Yet we have free choices to make.  The grand paradox of life, it is. God's fingerprint is on reality, it's on our souls, it's written into the code of our matrix.  It's the Phi of reality, the golden ratio, the infinity equation written into the substance of reality, replicated on every level from subatomic to galactic. God is love, infinite power, and an expression of glory, a word that depicts a reality beyond our reality, the otherness of God, the dimensions of Him that goes beyond all we can imagine. The fact is God made all these realities, he designed our genome, the laws of mathematics, physics, and the laws that govern space-time. 

Yet to feel a sunset, to read a lovely book, to write, to paint a beautiful painting, to consider the state of life, to give birth, to build a city, all of these are expressions of our own sharing in his creative genius.  God the creator of space, time, reality, consciousness, also created us His masterpiece with something special: The ability to create creatively.  So we build our little wonders, and tragedies, and beauties and mega-weapons on the platform he's created.  

He's made a reality for us to play in, but something's gone wrong.  It's like a holodeck in Star Trek.  But the safety protocols are offline, and the exit won't function. This is our block play-land.  This is our minecraft region.  And what a mess we've made of it.  Yet there is great hope, and future renewal of all things, in Jesus Christ.  That's where the revolution begins, and it's end is portrayed in the future, as the total destruction of the current matrix and reboot, no, not a reboot, not an update to the system, but a whole new system, perfect in every way, a preparation for those who reject the matrix and turn to Christ in humble need.  Then we know, the future holds a perfect reality beyond this broken one.  And that my friends, is the meaning of life.  

Related Posts: 
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Monday, April 9, 2018

To Those Who Overcome: How to Be Free from all Sin


Note: This message is intended for mature Christians well along in their walks with God, not for new believers or for seekers. Understand that when reading.  Thank you.

"He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." -Revelation 3:21 NASB

William Booth said, "I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost; Christianity without Christ; forgiveness without repentance; salvation without regeneration; politics without God; and Heaven without Hell."

When I first read that quote from the founder, I thought to myself: Yeah, I mean, kinda, some of that is probably true, but William, that’s just too much. It’s grating on my ears. I don’t like to hear about hell, it makes me feel yucky. Don’t talk about repentance, just talk vaguely about repenting. And so on… and today I think to myself when I read that: Dead on. Exactly right.

But not here, not now, not amongst us, on campus, as cadets and leaders. We will be set aflame by the Holy ghost. We will preach Christ. We will teach true repentance. We will talk about heaven and hell. Today we’re looking at Acts 2, where we find a great example of full gospel minister, in the apostle Peter. 

"This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 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." -Acts 2:23-24 NIV

Peter preached his first message on this day, recorded in Acts chapter 2, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came. Many of you here will be Peters going out into the field, to begin your service to Christ. And the rest of us will go out to our summer assignments to do the same.

Don’t let it ever be normal friends. This is special what we do. Peter preached boldly to the crowds on that day, and 3000 new believers were won. But they weren’t won by him. They were won by that Holy Spirit within him, and that Spirit in the people. It says they were cut to the heart by the message. They were disturbed, and roused from their antipathy to action/change. That change was wrought by the Spirit.

We often try to do things in our way, by human power. Don’t we? But Jesus said, “Human power is of no use at all.” (John 6:63 GNT)

Peter was totally yielded to God. But remember in the gospels, how Peter was? He denied Christ! But for each of the three times Peter denied Jesus, Jesus asked him: Peter, do you love me? After the 3rd time, Peter wept. Peter repented. Jesus restored him. (John 21:15)

When I began preparing to move here to training college 8 months ago, I asked the Lord to put a scripture before me, to provide guidance to my life here. God very clearly placed a scripture before me: Hebrews 12:1-2 “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Throw off everything that hinders us. And the sin that so easily entangles. The Lord has been speaking to me of sin so clearly lately. And I struggle so hard, regarding sin, and how to truly be free from all sin. And even questioned: Is real holiness even possible? My answer had been no. Now, my answer is yes, it is possible. And it is necessary. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. I keep being reminded of the scripture that says “Many will come to Jesus and say of the miracles they performed for Jesus, and Jesus will say to them, Go away from me, I never knew you, you worker of iniquity.”

We can’t keep playing games with God, sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, storing up images in our minds, and playing them over and over, acting as if God does not clearly know what is going on in our minds and hearts. (Galatians 6:7)

Could one of you, or I, be one of those ministers that faithfully served Jesus, who is told in the end: “Go away from me, you worker of evil”? We assume that something like that could never happen to us. We’re too special. And it is true that God loves us each with a special love. But God is a just judge, and He doesn’t show favoritism. (Romans 2:11)

Paul said, “run your race wisely, so that we will not disqualify ourselves.” So I plead with all of you today, to set aside the sin that so easily entangles. And I plead the same to myself. No more games with the Lord. (1st Corinthians 9:27) 

It's time to go deeper with the Lord.  Ask the Lord in prayer, on your knees, "Lord, go deeper into me. You've done a mighty work thus far. Now go much deeper into my soul and change me in deeper, more thorough way." When we go deeper with God, and honor Him in doing His will, not our own, He will respond in ways we can't imagine.

Our God is a fearful God. We must tremble before Him. He is so much higher than us and He loves us. He has prepared a place for his holy ones, his church, and he has also prepared a place for those who resist his Spirit and push forward in sin. (pause) I love our God so much, his grace and love. Those are true, real aspects of our God. But so is holiness, wrath, and judgment. If we truly want to honor God and be free from evil, the fear of God is the key to that doorway. Proverb 16:6b says “By fearing the LORD, people avoid evil.”

We can’t fear God though, we really can’t. Only the Holy Spirit can teach us that. So ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom here. Cry out to Jesus again and again, stubbornly, endlessly, for freedom from every sin in your life. Jesus will help us. He will set us free from every chain. Don’t give up, keep fighting!

It’s so tough some days, when my body cries out for something, anything that would feel good, even for a moment. But stand firm in the Spirit, which is obeying the will of God.

Each day we wake up in the flesh, and our default is to do things in our own human effort. Instead, shift over to the Spirit-life. Live out of the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, truly doing his will. You’re here at training college, which means you’ve begun to obey God, you care deeply about doing God’s will and not your own. Keep doing that, in every corps program, in every decision you make in the field, double-check it with God. Seek His will for your corps first.

Temptations will come and assault us deeply. Sexual temptations will come. Satan will offer up affairs to destroy our marriages, and controversies to test our resolve. Lusts of the flesh will come. Pride will come and attempt to destroy all our work for Christ. And many fall to those temptations. But put on that strong armor of God, to stand against every attack of the enemy. Spiritual warfare is a reality. And we are target number 1 of Satan our enemy, who wants to destroy and subvert the church. Fight back with the weapons of faith.

We have great and mighty works to do in the world. We have a great awakening to lead in the central territory. We can’t afford anything holding us back! Be holy as He is holy. We will succeed, I believe that, in Jesus name.

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Why? Because Jesus meets us on the way. When Peter fell short, denying Christ, he was afraid and falling apart. Jesus did not leave him there. Jesus came to him, and invited him to repent. Peter’s response was true repentance. And what came as a result of that decision? Peter became a great leader of the church, as He preached boldly, on the day of Pentecost, preaching about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And the Spirit was with him completely, ministering through Him, and 3 thousand were saved. Christ calls us to the same task today. And we will do it.