Monday, October 22, 2012

Sojourners, Waiting for the City Built by God

Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:14-15)

Joshua tells Israel to serve God in sincerity and truth. I have found that I must keep myself very close to Jesus in prayer and worship to continue serving Him faithfully and with a sincere heart of love for others. And, I must stay in His Word to know and to speak His truth. I know there are many times that I am lacking in one, if not all four of these imperatives given in Joshua. Fear the LORD, serve, serve in sincerity, serve in truth. The justice of God is severe, but the grace of God abounds more. Lord, may we walk in your love, in the sincerity of a changed heart. May we know and speak the truth in love. Jesus said to love one another and that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, comforting and teaching us as we walk with Him. May our hearts be comforted, so that we may comfort those in need. And may we be led and taught by the Lord, so that we may teach those in darkness.

Joshua also exhorted the children of Israel to put away the gods which their fathers served on the other side of the Jordan and in Egypt. Let us not fall back to our old life before Christ, still walking in the ways of this world. Let us not slide back into the old ways, in which we lived in sin without the light of Christ. Empower me to love and serve You with all of my heart, soul and mind, Lord. Joshua said to choose this day who you will serve.

Peter says we are sojourners here on earth. Our home is with our God. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). Whatever country we live in is not our home. This world is not our home. God bless America and the freedom we have everyday to worship and serve Him. But America is not our home and it is not the best nation that will ever exist. Under David and Solomon, Israel was as close to a Theocracy as they would ever get. But a Theocracy is the government we are waiting for, the one that God describes through Isaiah.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Like Abraham, who waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

Sojourner, do you feel at home? We are not at home here in this world. We are looking for a New City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), whose builder and maker is God. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Equipping of the Saints

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Eph. 4:11-15).

I've noticed this tendency in many churches today: an overly exhortative attempt to move Christians (or even just church attendees) into action without the balance of regular, in-depth Bible teaching. While the motive seems genuine, this strategy to bring about real and lasting change is ineffective. In fact, I would argue that pressuring people into good works that are not led of the Spirit is detrimental to a Christian's growth in their relationship with Jesus Christ. This false, fleshly exhortation amounts to nothing more than moral cheer-leading or motivational like hoopla. If solid Bible teaching and the moving of the Holy Spirit is lacking, exhortation is lowered from its Spirit led heights to the slums of personal understanding, will, strength and ability. While Christ has given some the gift of exhortation (1 Cor. 14:3), we must be careful to use it exclusively at the Holy Spirit's prompting, and only in love and to build each other up, not to tear each other down (see 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14). And how can we expect people to change if we just keep telling them to change without equipping them? Exhortation is an aspect of prophecy, which also includes encouragement and comfort. But Paul lists three other ministries within the church that need to go hand-in-hand with prophecy; apostleship, evangelism and teaching.

In Ephesians 4:11-15, Paul tells us how the saints of God (all believers) are to be equipped, and for what purpose. The Apostle Paul tells us that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers have been given to the Church by Christ Himself for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying (the building up) of the body of Christ, the Church. If missing one or more of these aspects, how well is a church going to build up the body of Christ? And how well will we do on our own, without the Holy Spirit?

To bring real change in the heart of the Church, we must teach God's word by His Spirit, consistently and with depth- verse by verse and chapter by chapter, week in and week out. We must exhort each other to spend more time with the Lord in our daily prayer and personal study of the Scripture. We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and teach us, to guide and empower us in our lives. This kind of day in and day out relationship with Jesus, in His Word, is the only way to bring about lasting and biblical change in any of us. As Peter, we exhort you to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This “growing” is a progressive process that takes place over our lifetimes if we, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1).” The decision to stay planted at Jesus’ feet, taking in His presence and Word like Mary, is one that we must make several times a day. And, as we are connected to each other in our churches, we are ministered to by Christ’s apostles, prophets and pastor/teachers. According to 1 Corinthians 14:3, “he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort...” And all of God’s servants are to serve by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and “as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11).” The ministry of the church must include teaching and prophecy. And, the apostleship, prophecy, evangelism and teaching must be by the giving of Christ Himself.

Instead of beating each other up about what we think someone else should be doing, let us build each other up in God's love and in truth, in His word and by His Spirit, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head- Christ. Let’s allow the Spirit of God Himself, through His Word and His gifts to the Church, to teach and guide each of us personally in our unique and Spirit gifted service.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bite-Sized Bible Studies: True Hearts

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).” 

What does Jesus mean? The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was limited to an outward code of conduct, but their hearts were not sincerely devoted to God and their will was opposed to God's will. Our righteousness exceeds their righteousness when our hearts are truly yielded to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We are accounted right with God by our faith in Jesus. 

When our hearts are true to God then our righteousness exceeds that of the self-righteous, who only do works for show and not from a true heart.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bite-Sized Bible Studies: For Christians, All Things Work Together For Good

Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest verses in the Bible.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

All things work together for good! I’ve committed my life to Jesus, so I know with all assurance that everything that happens to me in this life is in His hands. He knows, He is present and He is working out His perfect plan in my life. As I have turned my will over to His, I pray that He is glorified in my life, whether in good times or bad.

In Acts 16 it is recorded that Paul and Silas get thrown into jail for preaching Jesus. Verse 25 says, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Paul and Silas weren’t complaining or despairing, they were trusting God to do something incredible through these circumstances- and He did! The Philippian jailer got saved, “he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (Acts 16:30-34).” Amazing! As I submit to God’s plan in my life, He works all things out for His glory, and for good!

“Nothing will ever separate us from God’s everlasting and endless love and mercy in Jesus Christ (from Rom. 8:39).”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Keys to an Abundant Life in Christ

There are three things that we need to do, day in and day out as children of God, to stay close to the Lord, to hear from Him, to be empowered by Him and to know how to serve Him. The three areas we will look at are: prayer, Bible study and fellowship.

I. Prayer

First of all, we need to be in prayer daily. We spend time with our Lord, we offer worship to God (Ps. 29:2), we petition Him for our needs (Ps. 22:19) and we make intercession for others (John 17:20). Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In our fast paced society we tend to rush around and expect everything to just fall into place quickly. We forget that we need to wait on the Lord. Find a quiet space and take some time every day to just sit with the Lord. Like Mary, who sat at His feet listening to Him speak, stop all the rushing around and wait on the Lord.

Remember, prayer doesn’t just go one way. Prayer isn’t a monologue, it is a dialogue. It is our time to be with the Lord, communing with Him. He is always present with us (John 14:23), but we need to stop sometimes and just wait on the Lord to hear from Him and receive from Him directly. Wait on Him with your heart and Bible open. Let Him speak to your heart through the Holy Spirit in you and through His Word. As you begin to confess sin and thank the Lord for who He is and all He is doing, as you worship, have your Bible there with you. Turn to a Psalm or another prayer in the Bible for guidance. The Lord will lead you and will speak to you from His word. It is His word, and He is alive, so His eternal, living word will come to life as He uses it to speak to you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

II. Bible Study

Be in the Word of God daily. The Word is alive and active, and God uses it to teach us about Himself and His ways. He speaks to us personally through His Word. If you’re pretty new to in- depth Bible study, you may want to start in Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the Gospel of John, but definitely work your way through the whole New Testament as soon and as often as you possibly can. It is vital that you “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).” You should be in the Psalms often, and as the Lord leads you, get into the Old Testament, too. Let the Lord lead you through His Word. This will be a lifelong journey.

There are many ways to approach the Bible. The most common way is to just open it up to somewhere that we feel the Lord is leading us to and to just start reading. But, always pray for the Lord to lead you into the passage He wants you to be in, and pray for the Holy Spirit (who resides in you if you have received the Lord) to teach you what it means and reveal to you His message for you through that word. This devotional type of study is an informal way to spend time with the Lord and to have Him speak right into our daily lives and situations, right where we are now. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Church, every Sunday or midweek studies, should be a place where you are hearing the word of God read and expounded on, also. Pastor/teachers are to give the sense of the Scripture to us as they are gifted by the Lord to teach their congregation His word (Neh. 8:8). A home fellowship is another type of Bible study. In Acts 2:42, we see the believers meeting together in homes, teaching and discussing the Apostle’s doctrine and fellow-shipping together in the breaking of bread and in prayers.

Bible study can be done in many ways and settings, but two types of study should be done on a regular basis by all Christians. As Peter exhorted us, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).”

First, chapter by chapter study, both alone and by a teacher, as you move through the whole Bible, will give you a true and deeper understanding of what the Bible actually says and teaches. As you make your way through a book of the Bible, you will begin to see passages in light of the greater context of the whole book. As you make your way through several books of the Bible like this, you will begin to see the greater context of the whole Scripture as it relates to the specific passage you are looking at that day. There are many wonderful teachers out there today, and many from the past whose teachings are available. On the radio, in print and online you will find commentaries by people like J. Vernon McGee, Warren Wiersbe, John Walvoord, F. F. Bruce, Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie and Jon Courson, just to mention a few.

And secondly, verse by verse study will allow you to dig even deeper by looking more closely at things like the context, the cultural/geographical setting and the original language. Paul told young Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).” And Peter said, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia, from which we get apologetics) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence... (1 Pet. 3:15).”

III. Fellowship

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the group of people that have given their lives to Jesus, the church. We are all connected together as the church, and we depend on each other just like the individual body parts depend on other parts of the body and the body as a whole. As we gather, we gather as Christians, Christ in us, and us in Christ. We gather together in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God with and in us. We desire everything that we do or say to be done by the Lord working through us. We let Him guide, teach and empower us as individuals and as a church. How does this happen? How is it that we can do the work of the Lord!? We do this only through the gifts that are distributed throughout the body by the Holy Spirit. Christian fellowship is more than just Christians getting together. It is the body of Christ; united, moved and directed by Christ’s Spirit in us. There are various gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit, as He wills. Every Christian has at least one gift, and most of us have several. The gifts begin to operate mostly when we are together. They are to be used in love and to help and build each other and others up in the Lord (for more on the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to the Bible, see 1 Cor. 12-14, Rom. 12, Eph. 4, among others).

We should fellowship with other Christians as often as possible. Think of the time we spent in our lives doing the things that we are now ashamed of! We ought to spend even more time with the Lord, the things of the Lord and with the people of the Lord.

Jesus said to love one another, and there is nothing better than sharing in the love of Jesus with our brothers and sisters in Christ and in serving one another and others in Christ’s strength and love. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We fellowship as we reach out to our non-Christian communities, as we serve each other and others. We fellowship together at our home fellowships and at church on Sunday. We are told to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16).” We fellowship at baptisms, while evangelizing and at outreach events, like concerts and revivals.

As long as we keep Jesus the center of our prayer life, our Bible study and our fellowship, we will see tremendous growth and power in our new life with the Lord. Just like any relationship, our relationship with Jesus must be nurtured and attended to. As we grow in His grace and knowledge, may He pour out His Holy Spirit upon us, more and more, for the grace and power to be followers of Christ that please Him and glorify His name. May the love of Christ overflow from our lives to all those hurting and in need around us.