Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Book of Hebrews: Old Testament meets the New in Christ

“As the name imports, Systematic Theology has for its object the gathering of all that the Scriptures teach as to what we are to believe and do, and the presenting of all the elements of this teaching in a symmetrical system. The human mind must seek unity in all its knowledge...The method of construction is inductive.

It rests upon the results of Exegesis for its foundation. Passages of Scripture ascertained and interpreted are its data. These when rightly interpreted reveal their own relations and place in the system of which the Person and work of Christ is the center.” -A.A. Hodge, quoted in Credenda Agenda, Vol. 4, No. 5, p. 1.

Many think of Romans when they think about a systematic theology of Christianity. But there is another book that speaks forth systematic theology in my view, the book of Hebrews.

We are not sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. Some think it was the apostle Paul, who wrote about one third of the New Testament. Others think it could be Barnabas or Apollos. But no one knows for sure. In fact if you look at Hebrews 1 there is no initial greeting in the letter which is very uncommon for a new testament letter. Hebrews was written in AD 67, so if it was written by Paul it would be his last letter. Hebrews is a fairly long letter, encompassing 13 chapters. A little shorter than Romans. But like Romans, Hebrews is a very theologically rich letter. We often talk about the theological power and depth of Romans, but Hebrews to me is just as theologically deep and instructive.

Hebrews chapter 1 illustrates the beauty and depth, it says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

As we can see from the title Hebrews is written to Hebrews, to Jewish Christians who understand Jesus Christ from the backdrop of the Old Testament. So Hebrews goes into a lot of detail about how the gospel of Jesus Christ rests within the nexus of the Old Testament, as a fulfillment of the history of Israel and the law of Moses. But Hebrews also makes it clear Christ’s supremacy over those things, and as one who is not simply an angel or a created being, but one is himself God with us. In fact in Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 3 we see the writer telling us Jesus is greater than angels, and greater than Moses. And leading up to chapter 10 in Hebrews we see the argument made that Christ is the perfect eternal “high priest” for Israel and indeed all the people of the world. He is one who stands in for us as the perfect sacrifice.

In Hebrews 3:1-6 we see how Jesus is explained as being greater than even Moses, the great patriarch of the Old Testament. It says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.”

We also see one of the key themes of Hebrews is the command to not fall away. Particularly in chapters 2 and 3 we see that message. But it is echoed throughout the book. It was common in Israel’s history for generations to begin to drift away from God and go after idols, so the writer of Hebrews reminds the Hebrew readers to continue steadfastly in the faith, not drifting away.

We find a stark reminder about falling away at the end of Hebrews 3. The author of Hebrews compares the danger of falling away to the Israelites who were saved from bondage in Egypt only to die in the wilderness because of their unbelief.

It says, verses 12-19 “12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”

Then in chapter 5 we see an important reminder about the promises of God found in Jesus. All the promises of God are “yes” in Christ! Did you know that? And the author of Hebrews compares these promises, to the promises God made to Abraham.

Hebrews 6:13-14 says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.”

The challenge there is of course to continue waiting patiently, and then after we have waited, we receive what was promised, just as Abraham did. And Abraham waited a total of 25 years for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Are you good at waiting?

In the next few chapters we see more warnings against falling away, we see Jesus compared to Melchizedek in the Old Testament. And we see Jesus described as the perfect high priest of a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man.

In Hebrews 9 we see a beautiful depiction of the gospel, it says, “14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

And again at the end of chapter 9, “27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Then in Chapter 10 we see a challenge to persevere in the faith to the end, it says, ‘19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” -Hebrews 10:19-25

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess! Let us draw near to God with sincerity of heart. And with a deep assurance with the faith we have in God. And let’s encourage one another toward love and good works. And heres an important reminder for people today in the COVID era, let us NOT give up meeting together. We’ve gotta meet together, it’s a command of God. We as the church belong together.

At the end of chapter 10 we see a severe challenge not to continue sinning after we come to faith in Christ. It says, Hebrews 10:26-31 “26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

That’s a very severe reminder isn’t it? But it’s important to recall that God is a serious God. He expects us to obey his commands and to repent away from sin, and to live in closeness with Jesus Christ our savior. God will judge his people. I believe that. On judgment day, I’m sure many people will be surprised, who goes into paradise, and who is turned away. Everything will become clear about who people really were on that day.

Hebrews chapter 11 and 12 are two of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible. Hebrews 11 is the faith chapter, and we go through a history of Israel’s greatest heroes, and how their faith in God guided them to do great things.

It speaks for itself, so I’ll just read for you the first 12 verses of Hebrews 11, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”

And it continues, by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob, by faith Joseph, by faith Moses, all the great heroes of the OT are mentioned.

Hebrews chapter 12, is just extremely powerful and theologically deep. It says in the first 3 verses, “Therefore, 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. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

That is the challenge to focus on Jesus, and turn away form sin, and focus again on Jesus, and do not lose heart!

Then we get the challenge to endure correction from God, it says, “7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”

Remember if you’re disciplined by God, that’s good, because that means you’re His child!

Verses 14 and 15 remind us to be holy and live in peace: 14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

And at the end of Hebrews 12, it says, “28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.””

God is a consuming fire. So we should reverence and fear Him, and let us be thankful for the Lord we serve.

In conclusion today, the book of Hebrews is a rich, theologically deep and beautiful book of the Bible that reminds us that the history of Israel, the Old Testament is inexorably connected to all the new testament and of course to Jesus Christ our savior. It’s all connected. And we’re part of that story today. It all fits together as one concise narrative telling us who we are, what our history is, what our present is, and what our future is. And all of it put together is all about Jesus Christ our savior. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

What is Holiness Theology?

In a nutshell, what is holiness theology? Very simply holiness theology involves two distinctives: One, falling away/losing one’s salvation is possible through apostasy (departing the faith) or through willful sin (refusing to repent of active sin the Holy Spirit convicts a believer to turn from). Arminians would tend to affirm this concept, Calvinists would tend to deny this perspective. Two, holiness theology affirms the concept of “entire sanctification.” This is broadly, the idea that believers can be mature, pure, and victorious over sin in Christ. They can be preserved blameless until the coming of Jesus Christ. This tends to be the view of some Arminians, and tends to be a view disputed by Calvinists. ‘

Holiness or sin? That is the question for Christian experience post-conversion. The classic fundamental divide, between the views of George Whitefield and John Wesley, two champions of these divergent views was that Whitefield and the reformed crowd believed that Christians could never stop sinning in this life, and John Wesley and the Methodists believed that Christians could overcome all sin and live pure in Christ in this life.

Of course there are a broad range of views within these theological traditions, with much complexity and debate. But the crux of the issue is sanctification. Both sides would generally agree on what constitutes justification. Justification is the work of Christ in the believer that removes the stain of sin, regenerates the believer, and makes them new. But sanctification, the process by which a new believer is slowly over their lives transformed into the likeness of Christ, is the issue of debate. A Calvinist would be more likely to say that sanctification is a process that continues throughout the whole life of a believer and is never finished in this life, while a Wesleyan would likely say sanctification is a lifelong process, but a point comes in the future where sin has been overcome by the believer and they are living in a state of mature faith. 

Holiness theology would be placed as part of the Arminian theological tradition, a subset of which is called Wesleyanism. However, various groups of churches and independent churches consider themselves “holiness movement churches” not necessarily within the realm of Wesleyanism. Common church denominations identifying with these beliefs include Methodists, Wesleyans, Salvation Army, Pentecostals, some Baptists, and others.

Holiness movement churches, like the one I pastor, affirm all major theological perspectives of evangelicalism, including inerrancy/infallibility, the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, total depravity, penal substitutionary atonement, and heaven and hell. The two distinctives of holiness theology are of course again, conditional security in Christ (falling away is possible) and entire sanctification (Christians can live holy in Christ).

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Book of Titus: Paul writes to the young Pastor in Crete

“A television program preceding the 1988 Winter Olympics featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing, impossible as that sounds. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting, "Left!" and "Right!" As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers' word. It was either complete trust or catastrophe.

What a vivid picture of the Christian life! In this world, we are in reality blind about what course to take. We must rely solely on the Word of the only One who is truly sighted--God Himself. His Word gives us the direction we need to finish the course.”
-Robert W. Sutton

And that is what we’ll see in the book of Titus today, is that the Apostle Paul is writing to his young pastor friend Titus, giving him guidance, left and right, faith, obedience, and living out what we they believe on the corrupt little island of Crete.

The book of Titus was written in AD 65 or 66, near the end of Paul’s ministry, right around the same time that Paul wrote 1st and 2nd Timothy, the classic pastoral letters. So these 3 letters today, are really letters written by a senior leader, to more junior leaders. So like a letter written by the head pastor, or the deacon, over many churches, to local pastors throughout their mission field. And the mission field we see here on the screen, which included the ancient middle east, all connected by the Mediterranean Sea.

Paul is writing from a city called Nicopolis in Greece, to give instructions to Titus about issues within the church. Titus us pastoring a small church on the island of Crete, a very corrupt little island with lots of problems and already in the church there are false teachers and problems that must be addressed.

So let’s just dive into it. We get Paul’s opening words and opening greeting and he gets right into instructions for elders in the church. What is an elder? An elder is someone who is a senior leader in the church. Generally, you have a pastor, or a group of pastors, and then you have a senior committee or group of elders or leaders who advise and consent on the development of the church.

So here’s what Paul says. Titus 1:6-9 “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

In the Salvation Army our “elders” are what we call the corps council, made up of senior soldiers in the church who display a maturity to make decisions for the good of the body. The elders, or senior soldiers help care for the needs of the church, and help serve those in need. But they also lead the church, and mentor the younger believers.

Faithful elders are not easy to find, and we can see from the list of requirements for elders that they must be mature believers, self controlled, holding firmly to the truth, blameless, faith, and so on. A group of elders is really the backbone of the church. And that’s something we’ve really lacked at the Owosso salvation army. And apparently it was still a need for the church in Crete because we see Paul giving instructions about what elders ought to be like.

I want to point out a few of the requirements here:
-Must not be over-bearing – So can’t be someone who enjoys power

-Must not be quick-tempered – can’t be someone who gets angry easily

-Must not pursue dishonest gain – can’t be a sort of used car salesman attitude about ministry

-Must not be violent – obviously someone who isn’t violent cant be an elder

-Must be Self controlled - self control is all about being able to moderate our lifestyle

-Must be Upright and holy - being upright implies a sense of divine accountability, a lifestyle that matches our talk

-Must be Disciplined - an elder has developed prayer time, bible reading, spiritual disciplines, they've crafted their lives to seek God

These are all not simply guidelines, but requirements for elders in the church. But it’s also just generally good teaching for how to live as a mature Christian.

A bit later in Titus, we hear about the moral corruption of the people of Crete. It says,

Titus 1:12-14 "One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.”

Paul calls on Titus to rebuke his congregation sharply, so that they will turn away from lying, brutality, laziness, and gluttony. He also challenges them not to become legalistic followers of the Jewish law of Moses. He says teach them not to be ruled by Jewish myths or human commands, which were both common with old testament law of Moses ideas. Many of the churches were influenced by Jewish communities with these sort of ideas.

You can flip in your Bibles to Titus chapter 2. In chapter 2 we see Paul shifting to instructions about different groups generally within the church, he gives input for how older men should live, how older women should live, how younger men should live, how slaves should live, and then he closes out chapter two with the following powerful and beautiful statement that I want to read to you:

Titus 2:11-15 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.”

I love love love studying 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus because these are words that apply to me very much as a pastor. Paul is writing as a pastor to a pastor, and that is really helpful for me to understand what my job is. But it’s also very powerful to see how God sums up the message of salvation here.

He says the grace of God has appeared, that’s Jesus, and there’s this open offer of salvation to everybody, everywhere. It’s blanket, open, to anyone. And what does that message say? It’s important to communicate to the Cretans, that it means saying “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. And I think the same can be said and must be said to America today: That’s what it means to be a Christian, it means to say no to worldly passions. We’ve become a very decadent country, focused on our pleasure, pills, drugs, entertainment, fine foods, and we need to be challenged to set aside the passions of this world, and embrace self-control and godly living.

In fact Jesus Christ came to purify us, to make us a people for Himself, a special, set apart people, who are eager to good things, good works for Him, as we await the return of Jesus, the hope of eternal life in paradise.

Paul commands Titus to encourage and rebuke with all authority. Don’t let anyone treat you disrespectfully. Probably because Titus is a younger leader. Two keys: encouragement. Give people encouragement, help them to stay encouraged as Christians. But also, rebuke when necessary. Correct believers who are off course or need some correction.

Flip to chapter 3, and it says, Titus 3:1-2, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

We see Paul commanding believers to be subject to the government authorities. To be obedient in general. That’s something we struggle with, right? We don’t like obedience. But obedience to God and society is generally a good thing. Be ready to do good. Slander no one. Be considerate. And Be gentle.

Then Paul gives this incredibly powerful description of our past, our present, and our future, all in Christ, in Titus 3:3-8:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

In this depiction of the gospel, we see that we’re saved not by anything we did, or because we were specially worthy, but because of God’s desire to show mercy to us. We see that our past lives were based on hatred, malice, and envy. We were enslaved to empty desires. But we see Paul emphasize being born again, being washed in rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Why is he emphasizing this? He’s talking to Cretans who excel in debauchery and worldly pleasures, so he knows he has to emphasize the new birth and the new way. And he concludes by saying we have become heirs, with the hope of eternal life.

So in conclusion today, let’s review what we learned from the book of Titus:

1. Elders must be mature Christians, upright in the faith

2. Believers should say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to worldly pleasures

3. We need to be encouraged and rebuked as believers

4. Believers should be subject to government and to each other

5. We are justified by grace and his mercy, through regeneration in the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Luther's View of Christian Liberty

Martin Luther's view of Christian liberty can best be summed up in this way; "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one" (Luther, 1520).  Luther balances Christian liberty with service by indicating that there are two natures within the man, the spiritual and the sinful flesh. They are combating each other, so these sort of paradoxes come into play, where one is both completely free and also a dutiful servant of all.

But of course Luther indicates that one cannot have anything, such as freedom or duty, aside from in Christ Jesus the savior.  And there can be no hope or faith put in works to find a basis for liberty. Luther sees good works as those things which do not justify anyone before God, but are works that build toward the subjection of the fleshly nature to Christ. Also, he refers to fulfilling our call to please God in response to God's gift of salvation in Christ.

Martin Luther (1520) characterizes the joy of Christian liberty in this way: "Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fulness and riches of his own faith."

So Martin Luther views Christian liberty as being completely and totally justified in Christ Jesus from beginning to end by faith. And thus the Christian is completely free to do anything. But a real Christian will want to do good works and is under duty to do good works, but these works do not in any way threaten or improve their justification in Christ.

I would evaluate this in the following way: Obviously this is a ground breaking doctrine that changed how the entire world viewed salvation.  But as a Christian who values holiness theology I can't help but feel that he neglects the importance of holiness, which makes holiness not just a shove in the back for a Christian, but a necessity, a requirement for a Christian. And thus though justification is by Christ alone, a laziness to live in sin is possible and would threaten the salvation of the one living this way.  Luther's famous equation leaves no stark command to holiness, only a vague urge that you should do it, but leaves no requirement for it to be done.  This is where holiness theology succeeds, in more than just encouraging it, but making holiness a requirement of the faith, one must live it out and cooperate with the Spirit in obtaining entire sanctification. Instead Luther and Calvinists after left only a vague stand to suggest that sinning must continue until death, an unbiblical position in my view. Holiness theology offers us this great divine window to see, "Yes, you can be free from sin in this life, yes you can be holy." This to me is the essence of the conclusion of Luther's equation.  It is completed by holiness theology.

The Relationship between Scripture and Tradition

Martin Luther the famed reformer, understood the balance between scripture and tradition as scripture and tradition walking along side each other, as long as tradition doesn't violate scripture.

I would articulate my own understanding between tradition and scripture in this way: Scripture is the infallible, inerrant word of God. Scripture's application in the historic church and to the present is expressed through tradition. Tradition then is fundamentally a good thing, an expression of the various acceptable forms in which scripture may be lived out. There are many different forms in which true worship to God and adherence can be lived out. Some churches emphasize contemplation, other churches emphasize experience, other churches emphasize doctrinal purity, still other churches emphasize ritual. These are all legitimate expressions of scriptural Christianity. But there is a zone outside this bubble which ought to be considered perverted tradition, or traditions that contradict the scriptures. Examples would include churches in which the tradition is to reject the scriptures, or lower the view of the scriptures to being simply symbolic and not historical. Another example would be pluralistic churches that attempt to mesh Christianity with other world religions. Still another example would be churches that ordain homosexual pastors.

In defense of this position, it seems clear that scripture is our guide to living out biblical tradition. The scriptures are useful for teaching, exhortation, and rebuking. The scriptures are our guide to God. But the expressions of these principles are left open to us. The Bible does not specifically prescribe what instruments to use in worship, or what rituals must be performed, or how sermons should be preached. So there is an open area for tradition to function in a diverse and biblical way. But the Bible as a razor's edge also "cuts off" certain forms of worship and preaching and doctrine, as outside the realm of biblical Christianity.

The best objection I've heard to this idea of scripture being superior to tradition is from Catholic apologists who indicate that this principle of "sola scriptura" is stated nowhere in the Bible. And they would also cite apostolic succession passed from Jesus to Peter. I would counter by stating that Christ was not passing on the authority to dictate truth but the authority to pass on truth from Jesus to Peter. And the concept of sola scriptura could be indicated in Revelation 22 when the word says that anyone who adds or takes away from the account in Revelation will face punishment from the Lord. This principle could be applied to the entire Bible.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Book of Romans: Justification by Faith, Life in the Spirit, Weak & Strong Believers

Romans is a systematic presentation of what it means to be a Christian. Romans was written by Paul during his stay at Corinth, to the early church forming in Rome. It really outlines a deep dive into the overall theology of our faith. 

This is the beloved book of the Bible that helped transform Martin Luther’s life. Luther was obsessed with justification, how could he be right with God? He was a catholic priest, who struggled greatly to understand what salvation is. He spent time in the monastery as a monk, and he would go the priest to confess his sins multiple times a day, because he was so obsessively concerned that he might’ve done something to offend God. He would beat himself with whips, he would fast for days, he would repent all day long, and it was never quite enough. But later when he traveled to university, he at last began to study the new testament, and he found in the book of Romans, the incredible concept that we are justified by God not through our own works, but by grace given by God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Our sins, are forgiven, wiped out, and this is what grace means, to receive something we don’t deserve, we receive forgiveness, and are justified before God by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s realization completely changed the religious landscape of the time in which he lived. A new movement broke away from the catholic church, and it became known as Protestantism. Because Luther protested against the doctrines of the catholic church.

Luther developed some base beliefs that challenged the prevailing views of the day, famously documented as the 5 solas:

Faith alone

Grace alone

Christ alone

Scripture alone

To the glory of God alone

But as much as I’d love to delve deeply into Martin Luther and the reformation, that is not our purpose today.

One of my favorite scriptures is from Romans chapter 5. It’s so incredibly beautiful. One of the hallmarks of my life as a Christian, was understanding salvation from this perspective, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-5

One of the most important factors of the book of Romans is the way of salvation in Christ being explained so clearly. In fact “the Romans road” has long been a road map for explaining how to be receive Jesus as savior. Let’s take a look at some of those scriptures:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

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

Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

That is the Romans road of salvation, used in evangelism. But when I read that I wonder to myself, what’s missing there? There’s something missing. Well, several things are missing. First, repentance is missing, there’s no clear call to turn away from our sins and put our faith in Christ. Both of those aspects are important. Secondly, there’s no explanation of continuance in the faith. Is it just one and done? From that explanation, one might think, well, alright, I’m done here, I prayed a prayer, I confessed with my mouth, I’m done, I can go back to whatever I was doing before. But that’s not true. The Christian life is just beginning at this moment of salvation. So we have to be careful about oversimplifying the salvation equation.

But let’s dive into several concepts from Romans. First the concept of our identity:

Romans teaches that every individual's identity is with God, through Christ, if indeed they’ve been saved. Romans teaches that we are all sinners and deserve death (Romans 3:10). There is no way humanity can earn eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift from Jesus Christ, through our faith in him (Romans 3:22). Humanity could not fulfill the requirement of the law and all fall short of God's standard (Romans 3:23). All humans are sinners in identity but find true identity through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:21). Before I had my identity in Christ, I believed what the world said about me. The world constantly told me I wasn't attractive enough. It told me I needed more money, more stuff, and more power. Now I understand that I have great value through the eyes of my God. I am chosen, loved, and protected by the living God.

Second, the concept of fallen creation due to Adam’s sin

Romans 8:19-21 (NLT) says " For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay." All of creation awaits the return of Jesus Christ. It all draws from the sin of Adam, that lead to the curse of sin being placed on all mankind (Romans 5:12). This curse of sin is why there is so much suffering and disaster in the world. Civilization crumbles due to it's own sin.

And that brings us to Romans 8, the classic so often referenced chapter of Romans.

Romans 8 deals with salvation in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit not by the desires of the flesh.

It says, Romans 8:1-2, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

And Romans 8:12-13 says, “12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Those two scriptures from Romans 8 really balance what Paul is talking about as what salvation is. We’ll get back to that in a second.

Several of the following chapters deal with holy living and Paul’s great desire to see the nation of Israel come to know Jesus. Romans 12 deals with holy living, unity in the body of Christ, and love as tangible actions. Romans 13 deals with submission to government authorities, love as fulfilling the law, and a challenge to live out our faith, because the hour is late for the return of Jesus

It says in Romans 13, “13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

There it is again, that dual focus of Paul’s letter. There is a constant referencing to this equation of salvation: Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore live your life in step with the Holy Spirit, and resist the desire to gratify your fleshly desires. Paul repeats it many times, and give instructions along these lines, explaining how both concepts work in daily practice. Remember that, grace through faith in Jesus, and living by the Spirit not the flesh.

Chapter 14 is very interesting it deals with basically what sin is, and the difference between “strong believers” and “weak believers.” This is not to say that they are physically weak or weak in faith, but it goes to a difference in appetites.

Paul draws a powerful distinction between those who are able to moderate their choices, and those who have what we might call today “an addictive personality.” You’ve probably noticed this in society and in yourself in various areas. Some people are very good at only having one serving of something, maybe ice cream, maybe one drink, maybe someone who has a strong self control in regard to most decisions they make. Paul would call this person strong.

Then there is the weak believer, this would be more characteristic of myself. These people struggle to moderate. If they have one drink, they feel a strong urge to take more and more and more drinks. If they have one cupcake, they tend to crave more and more. If they get into exercise, pretty soon they’re exercising too much and getting sick from it. So, this “weaker” believer simply abstains from many things. They abstain from sweets. They abstain from alcohol. They abstain from anything that threatens to take control of their appetites and become addictive, which is sin.

Paul writes in Romans 14, “2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?”

Me, I can’t eat anything, it becomes out of control for me. But someone who can moderate their eating shouldn’t judge me. And I shouldn’t judge them if I see them eating an ice cream Sunday or something. They have the ability to moderate in that area when I don’t.

Paul indicates this applies to other areas as well, some people think certain days of special, some Christians will practice certain Jewish holidays, others think of everyday as the same. Either way, don’t judge the other. A lot of this probably had to do with the fact that the body of Christ was at this time made up of Jews and gentiles. Jews must’ve felt much more prone to practice special days, and gentiles did not. Jews must’ve felt a desire to only eat certain foods, but gentiles ate anything, and it wasn’t a big deal for them. Or vice versa.

The last two chapters Romans 15 and 16 deal with unity in the church, serving one another out of love, and Paul’s closing remarks and greetings to the church in Rome.

In conclusion today, there is so much more we could’ve gone into in Romans. It’s so hard to go through a whole book in one sermon, so read it for yourself! Go through the book of Romans, read a chapter or half a chapter a night. It’s amazing to see the depth of theology in Romans. Truly inspiring.

My final point though is this, we shouldn’t over-emphasize the book of Romans, as if it’s more important than any other book in the new testament. That is sometimes a problem we face in protestant theology. We take everything from Romans as our way, but we don’t incorporate the gospels or the other letters or revelation into that theological perspective. That is a mistake, and it can even become idolatry, where we focus on Romans so much, we make an idol out of God, by excluding the things we don’t like from other books that don’t match our theology as drawn from Romans. Romans is no more or less important than any other book in the Bible. Always remember that. We want to understand God as he depicts himself in the entire Bible, not just the feel good verses or the books that we prefer. Amen? Amen.

Remember it’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but your response to that is to live the most holy life, realizing that if we live to indulge the sin of the flesh, we will not be saved in the end. The way of the flesh is death, but the way of the Spirit is life and peace. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

According to the Christian Worldview, you do actually live in the Matrix

"Who are we!?" cried out the man in the military uniform. He and four strangers, a clown, a ballerina, a hobo and a bagpiper found themselves in a strange cylindrical area. Little did they know, they were simply toys, at the bottom of a salvation army toy donation bin.  

But is our experience so different? The cylindrical drum we find ourselves in is simply bigger and wider with more amenities. Yet we all have those moments in life where we look up into the sky and wonder, who am I?  

Honest moments are rare, for humans like you and I. We keep ourselves busy. We avoid the big questions. We delight in the good things of life and endure the bad things. 

But there are desperate moments in our lives, when we call out, "Who am I? What is this place?"  It's not such a far cry from the twilight zone. 

There are terrifying moments, moments we shove away into the darkness, that make us dread the fires below that await us. It is too horrifying to fathom, the danger we are in. So we hide quite expertly from it. 

I used to run. I ran and I ran. I ran day and night. I even dreamt of running. But there is nowhere to run. The sphere we find ourselves in goes in a big circle, walk far enough and we'll come around to ourselves once again. 

This is a temporary matrix we find ourselves in. It will not exist forever. It is only a temporary construct, a distorted, darkened, shadowed reality, a squirrel cage, surrounded by a forest. This life is nothing.  It is nothing, aside from, a last chance for every human who lives on it. 

It is our last chance to choose life, and live in peace with God.  Or to choose death, and eternal sorrow.  Choice.  It's all about holiness, purity, righteousness, an objective moral standard that God upholds, and we choose to come to God, through Jesus Christ, for liberty, purity, holiness, or to reject God, and receive judgment and condemnation as a result.  It is a temporary, tangent construct, designed by God, in it's fallen state, to exist as a last chance for humans to reject the rebellion of Satan, which many have joined, and to embrace the road home in Christ.  

You live in the matrix right now.  And everything here is designed to either draw to Christ or deceive you to destruction. Why is it all set up just like the way it is? I have no idea, I'm sorry. I can't explain every detail.  All I know is that God is just, I trust that, so the present construct must be just, despite all the evil, and in delight of all the good. Glory to God. Choose Life. Choose Jesus. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Origen's approach to interpreting scripture

Origen's approach to interpreting scripture is quite a unique and interesting approach.  I can't say I've ever read anything quite like his approach to scripture, though Origen was known for having some rather odd perspectives on the scriptures, the universe, and the cycle of time, to name a few.

Origen quotes Proverb 22:20-21 (KJV) referencing a threefold approach to wisdom given by King Solomon. What's interesting is that if you look at a more accurate translation, such as the NIV, the "threefold" is translated "thirty."  The ESV also renders it thirty.  In any case, Origen is at least correct in that scripture tends to divide the person up into three main areas, body, soul, and spirit (Kerr, p. 47). So Origen regards the scriptures in the same way, to be properly considered as threefold, body, soul, and spirit.  He considers the body of the scriptures to be the plain basic truths in the scriptures.  He considers the soul to be the medium level truths of the scriptures, that which are deeper.  And he regards the spirit of the scriptures to be those hidden truths that are discerned properly by the perfect believer. 

As a wesleyan holiness theology advocate, I certainly appreciate the reference to Christian perfection.  And I think there is at least some merit to the idea of basic truths, and deeper truths discerned from the scriptures.  It brings to mind Jesus' statement that he spoke in parables so that some would perceive the deeper reality and others would find it to be a stumbling block.  Origen mentions that he believes certain fantastical elements, or impossibilities are included in the scriptures for the simple purpose of being stumbling blocks to the haughty.  Once again, I find this an appealing concept.  I tend to see something similar, when I read certain passages in the scriptures, I have this sneaking suspicion that God may have placed these accounts that seem so fantastical for the simple purpose of being a stumbling block to the proud.  Of course that's just an idea, I can't really prove it. 

The intellectual framework of Christianity is absolutely vital to Origen because he is dealing with arguments from attackers like Celsus that suggest Christians are ignorant and stupid.  How incredibly ironic, as we read the great minds of church history, and how incredibly brilliant they were.  And as I think of so many great modern Christian minds, to think that people like Celsus, and to today, Richard Dawkins, and many others, so often regard Christians as ignorant rubes, is indeed, quite ironic. The memes never die over the centuries, do they? The Satan has no new attacks, only ancient ones.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Galatians & Thessalonians: Faith in Jesus, Encouragement for Trials, & the End Times

“A duck hunter was with a friend in the wide-open land of southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a brushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.

The law is like a brushfire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair of my head will be singed. Christ's death has disarmed it. “

Adapted from Who Will Deliver Us? by Paul F. M. Zahl.

The message of the book of Galatians is very clear: You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the works of the law.

The letter to the Galatians was at it’s heart, a letter to Christians who were being infiltrated by Jewish Christians who felt that it was important to obey the old testament law of Moses. They were insisting Christians be circumcised, which was part of the law of Moses, and that they would need to follow all the commands of the Old Testament. And from Paul’s letter it appears that some in the church had fallen to this idea.

He wrote to them extremely frustrated saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”

Let’s take a look at Galatians chapter 3 verses 3 through 6, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”-Galatians 3:3-6

So Paul is citing the example of Abraham, that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And he compares that to us believing that Jesus really is real and our savior, and then it is credited to us as righteousness.

You get the picture from that of it being credited to their account, sort of a transaction.

But what’s interesting is that actually in the book of James it says something very similar: “20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Very interesting, two different letters, two boundary lines. That’s generally how I see it, when two scriptures outline two different perspectives, I’m seeing the outer boundaries of what justification means. It is by faith, and yet the faith is completed and lived out through obedience. One edge is from James the other edge is from Paul, we want to be in between those two points in our understanding.

But returning to Galatians, we see Paul very upset with this group of churches in Galatia. He writes to them in Chapter 5, 4-6, “4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” -Galatians 5:4-6

The book of Galatians is very important and powerful, challenging us to understand that our salvation comes through faith in Christ, not through trying to obey the law of Moses. But I was talking with another pastor recently about a month ago, and we were talking about how the book of Galatians is sometimes abused and misused in our day and age.

Galatians is unfortunately sometimes used as Christians to claim that any challenge to live in purity in Christ, to live out sanctification, and to practice holy living is simply “legalism.”

Now legalism is the concern of the letter that Paul writes here, but legalism based on attempting to obey the law to be justified.

But Paul rightly indicates in numerous places in Galatians that one who understands that Jesus Christ is their savior alone, should be living the most pure and holy life in response to that. Paul very expertly balances Christian freedom in Christ, with total obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a look at a big chunk of Galatians chapter 5, and listen in these words for commands to holy living.

Galatians 5:13-26 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Walk by the Spirit not by the flesh.

These are the acts of the flesh that you must avoid at all costs.

These are the fruits of the Spirit that you ought to practice.

If that wasn’t enough we get another explicit command in Galatians, the flagship book often misinterpreted to mean “you can do whatever you want in Christ” and it says this, Galatians 6:7-9 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The book of Galatians teaches grace through faith in Christ, yet it also teaches a radical obedience to Christ, a practice of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses daily, this is the book in which Paul famously wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, the life I live now I live by faith in the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me.”

Praise God. Let’s turn to 1st and 2nd Thessalonians today. These were very early letters of Paul, the earliest letters of Paul that we have on record, from about 52 AD. Galatians is actually a bit later, around 55 AD. These are letters written to a church under severe persecution, which was common for the early church during this time.

They are being persecuted, killed, and tortured by the authorities in Italy, and this causes many of them to worry and fret about the return of Jesus. So these two letters get into end times topics quite a bit. Very interesting. Some of the believers in Thessalonica are seeing such severe suffering that they worry that perhaps Jesus has already come and they’ve been left behind. But Paul encourages them to continue to have faith in Jesus and realize that day has not come yet. Thankfully the church is Thessalonica is flourishing since Paul planted it. And through the persecution they only continue to flourish.

The first three chapters contain encouragement for the Thessalonians, a report from Timothy from his visit, a challenge to live sexually moral lives, and then in chapter 4 we hear a bit about the end times, which is what I want to focus in on today.

It says in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

The Lord reminds us that it hasn’t already happened. There will come a day when Jesus returns, and the dead in Christ will rise, and if we happen to be alive at that time, we will rise as well.

Then in chapter 5 we hear about this dreadful moment when all humanity will be judged, call the “Day of the Lord.” It says, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Second Thessalonians is a short letter, only 3 chapters, and Paul is dealing with false teachers who are once again leading the Thessalonians astray about the end times. In fact Paul signs this letter with his own signature because false letters are being circulated as well.

But once again in 2nd Thessalonians we see Paul addressing concerns about the end times, and particularly the day of the Lord.

2nd Thessalonians chapter 2:1-4 says ,”Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”

So apparently this anti-Christ figure will gather all religions under one tent, a sort of universalism, and claim to be the god of all. And he will demand to be worshiped. Truly shocking. But we see the seeds of it in the world today, don’t we?

Then it says in verse 7-8 “7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”

Some think that the one holding back the lawlessness in the world is the Holy Spirit, some say it’s the body of Christ itself holding it back, and when we’re taken away, that is the rapture event. But in any case, the anti-Christ will have his time, and then Jesus will defeat him by simply speaking.

To conclude the letter, Paul deals with reports that some of the believer in Thessalonica are becoming idle and disruptive.

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” -2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

Some of the believers began to use the concept that the day of the Lord had already come to be lazy and stop working, and they started just living off the church’s generosity. Bad idea. Paul writes, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

In conclusion today, we see the Lord sharing with us about how to understand our salvation in Christ, as grace through faith in Jesus. And we see God commanding us to stand firm during trials and difficulties, and to have a biblical understanding of the end times.

Friday, September 17, 2021

My Hell Testimony: Two Horrible Visions I Experienced

For several years now I've felt the Lord tugging at my heart to share this testimony about things I saw. But I was afraid to share those things, because I didn't want people to think I was "one of those people" who talk about dreams and visions.  There are Christians, many in fact out there who are very critical of the spiritual aspect of Christianity, things like healings, dreams, visions, miracles, tongues, and so on are actually offensive to some Christians. And you'll be brutally criticized.  So I kept quiet. I'm a pastor. And I need to be fearless for the Lord.  And that includes sharing what the Lord calls me to share.  So finally, recently, I said, you know what, I don't care what people say. I'm going to share what I saw. And I give God all the glory.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

CS Lewis style observations about Reality

No one is really Old
If I may make a CS Lewis'esc observation about humanity: No one is really old. Every person ever born was always intended to be forever young, and has a soul which feels a natural inclination to always exist, thus aging and death is a profound surprise to us. If you see an old woman, she is really simply a young woman in a fallen body that is aging. If you see an old man, he is really truly a young man in a fallen body that is aging. That is the untold secret of growing old, you never really feel old. You always want eternal life, and in Christ you can have it.

Who am I really?
I was in the parking lot at Wal Mart, and it came upon me, that I am a child of God. Everything around me is temporary. God is the only permanent reality. All of this world, this Earth, will disappear one day, and I'll be with God in paradise. I realized, I have not fallen short of it. I'm on the road home, in right standing with God thanks to Jesus. I'm really a child of God, heart and mind, connected. It's real. Wow. I'm so incredibly lucky, so incredibly blessed. Many are not on this road, but on the broad road to destruction. Tragic. But I am on the road of life. Praise God!

The Power of Nostalgia
I think I say this every year, but the fall season brings out such powerful emotions for me. The smells, the sounds, the colors, the cold air, the orange sky at night, it brings out memories, nostalgia, stirring up deep feelings from past relationships, childhood, and family. It brings out a sort of melancholy reflection on the present fall of man, but also this powerful sense of the grace of God that calls us to restoration. Maybe it's just a tiny piece of a half forgotten memory, of a moment at the beginning of time, when all of us were "in Adam" and we recall the great fret and sorrow of the fall, yet also the great hope of a future. A piece of the fall, a fragment deep in my soul, remains to this day, and I remember in the fall, the great fall. 

The Body of Christ fulfills an Old Promise
On the night of Sept 15th 2018 I had the following dream: I had this dream last night, that suddenly I appeared in a giant church full of thousands of people. There was no roof on the church, and there were no walls. It expanded out to both sides and far back beyond where I could see. And I was there with other adults, but there were tons and tons of children of various ages. And I knew we were waiting for Christ to enter. There was anticipation and joy. And as we waited I looked up, and the heavens were above, beautiful stars, thousands of stars, and at that moment I thought of the promise God made to Abram, when He said, "Look up at the sky, and count the stars." Then I woke up. I realized later, reflecting on the dream, God was saying, the church today, millions and millions of lights in the darkness, are a fulfillment of the ancient promise given to Abraham: "Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars." 

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God
We all know of the famous scripture in Psalm 19 which declares that the stars of the heavens indicate to us the amazing power and infinite beauty of God.  That promise was observed  by many of the thousands of years of humanity by looking up into the sky. But as man developed, as inspired by God, more and more powerful telescopes, did we find that the universe was less majestic that we'd first realized? No. We discovered it was infinitely more majectic that we could've imagined. Some in the past tried to count the number of stars in the sky, some thought a few thousand, some thought less, others thought more, today they estimate over 100 billion. But if you want to see the heavens declare the glory of God is a deeper way, check out pictures taken by the Hubble telescope, and you'll realize the heaven's are more glorious than we could've possibly imagined. 

Die to Self
Sometimes I look around and think to myself, "this isn't my life." I've realized this is quite true. I've given my entire life, without reservation to Jesus Christ. My life is not my own, it belongs to Him. And he paints a completely different journey around me, than what I might've chosen for myself. I am where God has sent me. If one is to save their life, they must lose it, if one tries to save their life, they will lose it, but if they lose their life for Jesus and the gospel, they will find eternal life.

The Worldview Shock
You ever have a worldview shock moment? Like you're walking to the bathroom or something, thinking to yourself, and something deep within yourself is penetrated by the reality of truth, and you realize, woah, God is really real. And it shocks you. Because you understood that belief intellectually, but over time as you take it to heart, it breaks through to your inner most self that these things are really real. I believed a lie for so many years, that the universe and Earth came about through random chaos and darkness. Today the truth is known and my heart and soul is shocked by it still!

Will this be Forever?
Have you ever seen those videos of kids after they get their wisdom teeth out? And they're funny, slurring their words, well, I watched one and the kid was scared and asked his mom, "Will this be forever?" And his mom said no, of course, we know as adults that the drugs will wear off and he will feel normal again. But he was wondering if he would be in this altered state forever. I was thinking about that the other day. You know, when someone dies, and they don't have Jesus as savior, they'll find themselves in a place of suffering, sorrow, darkness. And they'll look around and think I must be dreaming, this can't be real, and I'll bet they'll be wondering, "Will this be forever?" And they'll realize with horror, yes, this will be forever. There is no way to get out. And someone who has Christ, when they die and come to heaven, I bet they'll ask, with excitement, "Will this be forever!? Can I really stay!?" And the answer will also be yes, you get to stay forever. Life after death is forever, heaven or hell, your choice. Choose Jesus.

Laying in the Road
This hit me hard, when I heard it, given I had preached about laying in the road many years ago, wishing for death at the last dinner church.. Late last night, listening to the audio Bible, it came to Isaiah 51, it said, "21 Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.
22 This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.
23 I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you,
‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
like a street to be walked on.”
Demons once had their way with me. They had authority over me, to torment me for all those years that I rejected Christ. Yes, it was my poor choice, my rejection of Christ, yet the Lord cares deeply about it, and the suffering I went through. He promises that those he called me to fall prostrate on my back on the road, they will be required to drink of the cup of wrath that I will never drink from again. 

Why are we always leaving?
I was watching a Dennis Prager show episode and he talked about how you don't have to agree with everything something does to support it. He was talking about the United States, putting the flag outside your house, and then talked about churches as well. It's really true. I don't agree with everything The Salvation Army does or believes. but I still love The Salvation Army and be it everyday! But guess what, no one believes everything that their church or country does! Dennis says "So what!" Does that mean I leave the religion? Just because I don't agree with everything? Then you'll be part of NOTHING, since the only thing you ever agree with 100% of the time is yourself." -Dennis Prager. My generation really needs to learn this. You can disagree with certain things in an organization, country, church, or movement and you can still stick around and be part of it! Otherwise you'll just be alone. And honestly that's where many in my generation are. They've got so many opinions they are just utterly alone. Well, even if you don't agree with 100%, you can still be a part of. I promise, it'll be OK!

You're doing it wrong if it's Boring
Many seem to think of God and church as boring. They've been to boring mass, or boring services, and they don't want a boring church life. Friends, that is not what Christianity is really about. I'm sorry if that was your experience. But a real, deep relationship with God through Jesus Christ is exciting. It's emotional. It's adventurous. it's a daily on going dialogue. The Sunday meeting is just a chance to gather with others and worship God together. But it's what happens during the week, the prayer times, the Bible reading, the walks, the conversations, the books, the deep talks with friends, the fasting and praying, the going where God sends us, it's exciting, it's intense, it's a challenge, it's a bold new way of life. Maybe you tried it once, but try it again, do it differently. Go all in with Jesus Christ, and I think you'll be amazed at how your life will be transformed.

Faithful Love Placed There
I was praying last night, just generally troubled by what I had seen in myself over the last 8 months bubbling to the surface. The Lord had departed me for a time in there to see what was in my heart, I sensed (2 Chronicles 32:31). The Lord had been refining me like gold and as the impurities bubbled to the surface he had scraped them off over and over. But last night I asked him, what is in my heart? Because in the fallen state there is just so much sinfulness abounding, wrong attitudes, and he pointed me to a scripture which said "faithful love." This was shocking. But that is what God is placing within me. Praise the Lord, Glory to God.

Dark Midnight of the Soul
Two years ago I launched out in the calling of ministry to fight a desperate battle against a massively superior foe. I felt like Aragorn at the battle of Amon Hen, launching into the massive enemy forces, believing God goes with me and I will be victorious.
Today, two years later, I feel like Boromir at that same battle, fallen with multiple arrow hits. I feel disheartened, a bit discouraged, that the battle has been too much, the arrows, too many.
But I know this is only a moment in the journey. It is not the end, it is the beginning, from defeat, comes victory, so is the paradoxical victory pattern that Jesus Christ set for us on the cross, by total defeat, comes total victory. We are constantly poured out, then refilled, so we may pour ourselves out again. God will raise me up, weakness, will become strength, hope will be renewed, and I will soar on wings like eagles.

Divine Appointment
I was driving to Devries and I had just turned from main street. The Lord indicated to me I should stop at Curwood park. Sometimes I'll drop a Bible in the mini free library there. I went by and thought to myself, I'll do that after I go to Devries. But the Lord again communicated to me, that it was urgent. I thought to myself, how exactly is that urgent? But I turned the car around and pulled in by Curwood castle. So I get out and start walking over to the mini free library. And there is this guy watching me, crossing the bridge over the river, and he's like locked eyes with me, the whole time as I'm approaching the mini library. So I drop the Bible and tracts in the thing, and the guy walks by staring right at me. Then I circle around and walk back to my car. I turn around as I'm leaving and I see the guy rummaging through the mini free library. And I thought to myself... Just in time. Divine appointment. Epic

Cast them Out
I had a dream early last summer in which I was told, "These three demons have been assigned to attack your ministry." I looked at them and they seemed to snarl at me. I could feel their hatred for me. In the dream I looked up to God and said, "Lord, what is stopping me from casting them out?" The Lord simply nodded. And I cast them out in the dream. In the last few weeks I've certainly felt the impact of these attacks. I made a list of the issues and problems we've faced over the last few weeks. I stopped counting at 21. But I sense God's presence right now, and he seems to be saying, "Stand still, and I will fight for you." So I'm standing firm.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Book of James: A Gut Punch for Christian Hypocrisy

I’ve heard the book of James described as a gut punch to Christians. I like that. The book of James, written by Jesus’ brother, somebody who grew up with Jesus, and saw Jesus’ during his whole ministry, writes to us, challenging us to really practice what we believe. That is one of the main themes of James.

Theologians and historians believe James was written at about AD 50. So about 50 years after death and resurrection of Jesus. This letter is not directed to a particular ancient church, but seems to be more generally written to Jewish Christians who are suffering persecution across the ancient world. The opening of James focuses in on the concept of suffering, and how we should view suffering as a gift in our lives that is making us more like Jesus. 

Then we see the theme of living what we say, in James 1:22-25 which says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22-25

This is one of those things that keeps me up at night, about each of you. I always wonder to myself, are they living the faith during the week. Are they really praying everyday? Are they really reading their bibles everyday? Are they really helping others and loving others? It drives me crazy because there’s just no way for me to know. Unless I followed you around all day. That wouldn’t work though. So, live it.

We all as humans struggle with this, the concept of consistency. We struggle to take the list of things we believe and then live that way. This is easy to see in others right. If someone is talking about how much they love Jesus, but they’re insanely drunk as they do, we think, ok, there’s a problem here, they aren’t being consistent. If someone claims to love Jesus, but then treats people rudely, is rude to the waiter at the restaurant, or if they’re neglectful of their family, or friends. We think to ourselves, they’re a hypocrite. They aren’t consistent. 

But guess what, as much as we judge others, which we shouldn’t do, it’s hardest to see ourselves, and where we’re being inconsistent in our lives. So as we’re going through James, I want you to keep that in your mind: How can I make my faith life more consistent?

So in Chapter 2, we find the next concept that James wants us to understand about being a Jesus follower: Don’t show favoritism. Keep equal balances. I have scales of justice up at my house, to remind me to treat people equally. 

James 2:1-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

This is harder than it sounds. How do I treat someone who can’t help me in anyway? How do I treat someone who doesn’t have a car or a job or any money or any way to do good for me? What about someone who has money, influence, power, and can help me? I have to treat them equally. And not give special attention or time to someone with greater influence or power or wealth.

Also, I can’t give special privileges or special attention to someone just because they are poor, or because they are oppressed, or something. That’s becoming more common in our society today, where we give special privileges, special legal rights, special attention to people who were oppressed or harmed in the past, almost as a sort of revenge for the past, and that is also wrong according to scripture.

We can’t give special favoritism to the rich or the poor, to the sick or to the healthy, to the oppressed or to the favored. The biblical standard is equal treatment. Remember that.

Now does this mean that I legalistically spend exactly the same amount of time with everyone in my life? No. If I’m married obviously I’m going to spend more time with my wife, if I have kids, I’m going to spend more time with them than others, if I have close friends, I’m going to spend more time with them than others, but generally within the body of Christ, I treat everyone equally.

James 2:12-13 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Another concept James focuses in on is mercy. Once again this is an issue of being consistent as a believer. God has shown me huge mercy by forgiving all my sins. That’s amazing grace. And what God tells me in response is that I need to show mercy to people around me.

So What if I owe somebody $500.00. And they come to me one day and say Justin about this $500, don’t even worry about it. We’re good. I’ll be super happy about that. But what if I then go to someone who owes me 20 bucks and start yelling at them saying where's my money, screaming at them yelling at them. That’s hypocrisy!

Your sins have been forgiven in Christ. So you’ve gotta forgive people who have done terrible things to you. Who haven’t you forgiven in your heart? Forgive them right now. I dare ya. Do it right now, in your mind, pause for a second, and forgive them. Family? Mom, dad, brother, sister? Friends? Enemies? They all must be forgiven in your heart.

If you’ve not been merciful in your life, and you’ve held grudges and condemned people in your heart, you’ll be judged as a lawbreaker on judgment day. So please be cautious to be quick to show mercy and quick to forgive.

Alright, ready for a punch in the gut? In chapter 4 we get a big punch in the gut from James.

It says in James 4:4-10, “4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Pride is of the this world, worldly pride, all pride is sin. Constantly the Bible commands us to stay humble, stay humble, be submissive to God, submit to God.

We talked about this in recovery group a few weeks back, but the answer to any trial or temptation we’re going through is to turn to God and submit ourselves to God. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

But often during a trial or struggle we’re angry, confused, upset, complaining, hurting, and we’re under demonic attack, and instead of resisting the devil and submitting to God, we start questioning God, and trying to figure it all out instead of simply trusting God, and submitting to Him. Stop the philosophizing in your mind, stop the questioning God, and simply trust Him and submit to Him.

We don’t like the idea of submission in our society. But it’s biblical. We should be totally submitted to God. And submitting to one another in love. Once again, consistency, do I live what I say I believe? Easy to say, to submit, but harder to do, right?

More wisdom we find in James chapter 5. Really everything James is teaching us is essentially how to live a wise life by, living consistently between our faith and our lifestyle.

James 5:7-9 says, “7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

Patience is a virtue, as they say, right? I’m not a particularly patient person. But I’m learning to be more and more patient. God teaches us so much through waiting. He teaches us all about ourselves when we wait, weeks, months, years, I’ve waited almost 9 years now, praying everyday for something special, and I’m waiting still. So be it. Are you learning to be a good waiter? Hope so. God likes to make us wait.

Meanwhile, as you wait, can you take massive amounts of lemons, bad luck, difficulties, trials whatever you wanna call it, and turn them into lemonade? And do it with a smile on your face? Now that’s tough.

And our final point today from the conclusion of James chapter 5:13-20, “13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Are you in trouble? Then pray! Are you happy? Sing worship songs to God! Are you sick? Get prayer from church members. Have you sinned? Confess it to someone you trust. Tell someone. Tell a friend. Tell your pastor. Get it out, and you’ll be blessed, as you repent and turn away from that sin, to have success. Pray for each other, because those prayers are powerful and effective. Prayer really does change things. Remember that. 

Now, should you see someone drifting away from the truth, a Christian who is going astray, falling away, backsliding, whatever you want to call it, go after them. Go talk to them. Encourage them to return. Pray for them. Talk to them. Love them. Spent time with them (but be careful to not be tempted by whatever sins they may be in) Why? Because if you are able by God’s help to bring them back from their error, as they turn again to Jesus, it will cover over all those sins, and they’ll be saved from hell. And that’s a big deal. God loves that. That is beautiful to God.

Why? Because that’s what Jesus did for us. Me, I was the black sheep, who left the 99, and went out on a ledge and got stuck in a rocky crevice, and Jesus came, found me, jumped down on the ledge, grabbed me, pulled me out, and brought me back to safety. And how beautiful it is indeed if we mimic Jesus in that way, by going after someone who has drifted away? It’s lovely to God.

So in conclusion today, we return to the prime question: How can I be more consistent in my faith walk? That is the question I leave you with today. The book of James is all about consistency, practicing what we preach, faith without works is dead, am I living it? That is true wisdom brothers and sisters, if you really want to be a wise Christian in this life, you must learn to take what you believe in your heart and mind, and live it on a daily basis. If you aren’t able to do that, then you’ll be a fool, like proverbs says, but if you can learn to practice what you preach, you’ll be a wise man, a wise woman, who builds their life on the rock of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, what will it matter at all if we claimed to have faith in Jesus, but we never really lived it in our lives? Is God going to accept that faith? No. That faith is dead. It doesn’t exist, because it wasn’t lived. Therefore, live out your faith, that’s the only way for your faith to be truly alive and active in the world. Amen.

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