Monday, April 21, 2014

The Great Unifier


For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free,
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
I Corinthians 12:13


Unity is a big word today in the church…well, in the world and in "religion," as well.  According to the world and religion, unity equates to tolerance.  If we are going to unite together, we will tolerate each other.  That makes us diverse and we celebrate diversity, right?

Now, this is not going to be a blog dealing with the world's philosophy of unity, but because I can't possibly pass up this opportunity to state a few truths, here goes:

  • There is One God in three Persons - the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit
  • Sin separates us from God
  • There is one way to access Him - through Jesus Christ
  • There is one bride of Christ - His precious church
  • Hell is real and eternal
  • The Bible is the inspired, revealed and illuminated word of God 
  • Jesus literally physically died and rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is returning for His bride one day
There is enough in those seven statements to separate the believer from the world and from religion, because those statements are not up for debate.  We must not tolerate lies and we must not unite with the world.  We have been called out of the world - we are a separate people.  

That being said, the unity of the church is an incredible thing.  I have travelled all over the world and the instant bond that believers have because of Jesus Christ is hard to explain and wonderful to experience.  And you don't have to go around the world to feel it.  You should feel it when you walk into church.  And remember, it's not because a bunch of nice people are in a church - it's because the Holy Spirit has transformed the lives under that roof.

The reason the above verse is an important verse to know is because today the word "church" can be confusing.  When someone talks of church, are they talking about a local church or the universal church?  And if there is only one church, why are there so many denominations?  Which one is the true church?  Is the church a group of people or a building?  

Because the great liar is still alive and well in our world, sin has clouded the minds of man and muddied the truth about church.  So without causing too much controversy, let's clarify some truth:
  • Believers are called the church (universal) - Ephesians 5:22-25
  • Church is also individual groups of believers (local) - Col. 4:15,16; I Thess. 1:1
  • Church is also a reference to the gathering of believers - I Cor. 14:34,35
  • We are instructed not to forsake gathering together - Hebrews 10:23-25
So context defines how the word is used in scripture.  I added that fourth statement for those who say they are tired of the hypocrisy in church and are done with it.  They don't have biblical support for that mindset.  

So what about all the denominations?

Don't stress about denominations.  Denominations have been formed over the centuries because of traditions, cultural differences, personal preferences and minor doctrinal differences. We are not cookie cutter humans.  There is much diversity and creativity in the body of Christ. Although the early church was a one size fits all due to necessity, today there are many options within one city alone. The important thing is to make sure that the church stands on the truth of scripture (see the top 7 absolutes) and worships the one true God. 

I think when we focus too much on what separates us, we forget what has bound us together and that's exactly where the enemy wants us to dwell. We have to do our homework - be modern day Bereans and examine what is being taught in our churches under the scrutiny of the Word, but there is a huge harvest out there and the Lord works through many denominations to draw His children into a relationship with Him.  We need to celebrate this.

The Holy Spirit through the truth of the gospel is the great unifier - we have a large body spread out all over the world, who are daily laying down their lives for Jesus.  We are not alone. What a wonderful truth!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Power Source


…but you will receive power 
when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem,
 and in all Judea and Samaria,
and even to the remotest part of the earth.
Acts 1:8

When you read this verse, what comes to mind when you see the word "power"?  For the disciples, it literally meant the ability to perform miracles, cast out demons and give the gospel in foreign languages that they didn't know how to speak.  As they established the church, the Holy Spirit's power was evidence that they were on task from God. 

But the work of the Holy Spirit goes even deeper than this - the power that He gives believers enables us to get to the root of our hearts.  Jesus broke the chains of sin and death and the Spirit gives us the power to live righteously:
  • He leads us - Romans 8:14
  • He empowers us - Romans 15:19
  • He sanctifies us - I Peter 1:2
  • He fills us - Eph. 5:18
  • He teaches us to pray - Romans 8:26-27
  • He produces fruit in us - Galatians 5:22,23
  • He reveals the gospel to us - I Cor. 2:10-12
  • He strengthens us - Eph. 3:16
  • He moves us - II Peter 1:21
  • He comforts us - Acts 9:31
These are but a sampling of teachings on the work of the Spirit.  Here's my point this morning - we have a power source that never weakens and lives within us and yet most of us choose to try to live in our own strength.  We easily get weary and disheartened, forgetting that this world is broken and we can't fix it.  We battle in our own strength and quickly wear out.  We don't witness for Christ the way we should because we worry we'll say the wrong thing or won't be able to answer people's questions, all the while the Holy Spirit is shaking His head, wondering when we're going to tap into His power.

So, let's get practical here - how do we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit?  By developing spiritual disciplines.  Through study and meditation of the Word, prayer and memorization - the Spirit will teach, lead and strengthen us through the understanding of spiritual truths and He will mold and shape us into the image of the Son through the application of these truths in life's circumstances.  

Charles Spurgeon once said of our great Spirit:

"What a wonderful power is that which dwells in every believer, checking him when he would do wrong, encouraging him to do right, leading him in the paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake! Happy men to have such a Conductor!" 

I think a great starting place is just the realization that we have this wonderful Power Source and determining to use the unlimited power supply given to us through the saving work of Jesus Christ!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ashamed


For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words 
in this adulterous and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him 
when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Mark 8:38

The Bible clearly teaches that believers are separate from the world:  
  • We are strangers in this world - I Peter 2:10-12
  • We are sanctified (set apart) - I Cor. 6:11
  • We are to have an eternal perspective, not an earthly mind - Col. 3:1-4
  • We are going to be persecuted - II Tim. 3:12
  • We are to transform our minds through the Word, not conform to the world - Romans 12:2
Yet the church seems to struggle separating from the world. We do the pendulum swing - either we are so busy looking like the world to attract them or we work so hard at not looking like the world that present ourselves as completely out of touch, that we just can't get it right.  We think we have to either look like the world or not look like the world and we miss that it's a heart issue.   If our hearts (mind, thoughts) are being conformed into the image of Jesus, because we do what we do and feel what we feel because we think what we think, then we will separate more and more from the world because Jesus and the world cannot be further apart.

Thus we come to the ashamed issue.  In Mark 8 Jesus warns that those who are ashamed of Him and His words will be denied by Jesus when He returns.  This is an amazing warning - it gets right to the heart of the issue. If you find yourself ashamed of Jesus, it reveals where your heart truly is.

So what kind of things could we find ourselves ashamed of as followers of Jesus?  How about these for a starter:
  • the bible is the inspired Word of God
  • God created by His very spoken word in six literal days (do I see some squirming going on?)
  • Noah's flood was worldwide
  • God commanded Joshua to kill men, women and children (including babies) 
  • Jesus is God
  • Jesus literally physically died and came back to life
  • Jesus is the only way to have an eternal relationship with God
  • Hell is real - so is eternal punishment
  • Any sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sin, outside of God's plan, and has consequences
  • Jesus is physically returning as Judge
All of these points are taught clearly in scripture but when push comes to shove, we tend to back away from these premises because we don't know how to defend them or we don't want to offend anyone.  By the way, God doesn't need defending - keep that in mind.  But also, as we walk by faith, we believe that God's Word is true, it is accurate and it is sufficient to meet our every need.  Standing on the truth of the Word is something that will separate you from the world - the call to follow Jesus is one that will absolutely set you apart, as well as bring persecution into your life. 

The question is this - if you are ashamed of what God has said is true, then what does your heart truly believe?  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Body Language


Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable,
which is your spiritual service of worship.

Romans 12:1


Are these hands offering something or asking for something? I could make a good case for both.  Isn't it interesting that the same physical position can mean two complete different things?  So how can you tell which it is?  You have to look at the heart of the person whose hands are outstretched.

I could probably make a good case that often times when our hands our offering the Lord something, we're actually still taking from Him.  If I give to Him, He's obligated to bless me, right?  If I serve Him here, He will "show up in a big way."  If I obey, He'll return the favor.

Heart issue.

God is not, as my husband so eloquently stated, our magic genie who in return for obedience grants our wishes.  He is not obligated by our works to do anything.  He doesn't instruct as a test before He blesses.  And He definitely knows the difference between worship and manipulation.

So let's take this verse apart:
  • urge - to compel, force or push through begging and imploring to move to some action
  • brethren - fellow believers in Christ
  • mercies of God - the compassions and favors shown to the enemies of the Almighty Creator
  • present - to offer, give or submit
  • bodies - the vehicle of your soul, life and being
  • living - active, thriving, vigorous, strong
  • holy - set apart for the service of God
  • sacrifice - the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim
  • acceptable - pleasing to the receiver
  • spiritual - pertaining to the soul as distinguished from the physical nature
  • service - act of helpful activity
  • worship - assigning worth, laying aside your will for the will of another, reverent honor or homage
So let me expand our verse:

Therefore I forcefully beg you to act, my fellow believers, because of the compassion shown to you when you were an enemy of God (the gospel), to submit your very physical self as a thriving, vigorous, active and set apart offering, surrendered for the purposes of God's glory and will, which is pleasing to Him, because this is your spiritual act of help as a way of assigning worth, laying aside your will and doing His.

Notice the physical act of sacrificial service is the evidence of your spiritual worship.  So when you don't sacrificially serve the Lord, it shows that your spirit is worshipping self, but when you do, it reveals that your spirit is worshipping God…make sense?  

But what happens when we serve with the wrong motives?  We may be able to fool others (horizontal) but we can never fool God (vertical).  God knows our hearts and knows our motivations.  This verse is a call for us to examine ourselves, because as Jeremiah tells us, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked - they can even fool us!  

So examine your motivation - examine your service. Are you giving to the Lord with expectations or out of devotion, love and gratitude? I asked the women recently at LBS, if the cross was the only thing the Lord ever gave you, would that be enough to live a life of obedience to Him?  Or do we need more?  (a wonderful husband, obedient and brilliant children, good family relationships, a perfect past, a pain-free life, plenty of money, the perfect body shape…)  

Paul's passion was sincere - in light of the gospel, the complete sacrifice of one's total life was reasonable.