Do We Go Straight to Heaven?

In this first article in the series what does the Bible say about it we are asking the question; do we go straight to heaven when we die? Before we answer that question, we should know what the options are. Some say yes absolutely, when we die, our bodies are transported to heaven and we rest with the Savior. Some say that when we die our bodies go into the ground, but our souls go to heaven. Some argue that we just go to sleep and wake up when Jesus comes back. But the question is what does the Bible say?

I should point out that we will primarily be looking at what the New Testament says because while the idea and concept of the afterlife is present in the Old Testament it is not as developed as the New Testament. The New Testament has a great deal to say about the matter because we have Christ who has conquered death and ascended into heaven and the promise for believers is that we will join Him.

First, we should look at the term sleep because the Bible uses this term to talk about death. It is one thing to talk about death in an abstract way but if you have lost someone you love then death feels a little harsh so to soften it the Bible uses the word sleep a fair amount of the time. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 when Paul talks about taking Communion in an improper way, he says some have fallen asleep. In 1 Thessalonian 4:13-14, Paul talks about the brothers and sisters in the church who sleep in death. The church in Thessalonica was facing this very question about what happens when someone dies. Paul lets them know that we as believers in Christ have hope. Psalm 139:8 says that even if we make our bead in Sheol or the depths we are not out of God’s field of vision. Death is sleeping but what kind of sleeping is it?

We could look at each option and prove or disprove them, but this is not a scholarly paper. I think the best approach is to look at what the Bible says concerning our question and look at 1 Corinthians chapter 15 because there is a lot of information for us there. The thing we have to understand is the resurrection and as N.T. Wright often says we have to go back to the resurrection. The first thing is that Jesus was raised from the dead. He was dead and now He is not. He was put in the ground and now He lives. He was buried and now He sits at the right hand of the Father. This tells us something very important; there is a bodily resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says that if Christ was not raised neither are we. If Jesus was only a spirited resurrection, then we are still in our sins. There is no hope, no freedom, no way out from sin in this life but He was raised. The resurrection of Christ was God’s stamp of approval on Christ’s sacrifice saying yes, the debt is paid in full! It is a marvelous and wonderful thing. Oh, how I could get sidetracked here but the important thing for this discussion is to remember that Jesus was raised from the dead and was raised in His body.

The next thing to take notice of is that we will be raised in a different type of body. This is a point when many get confused and have questions. Sadly, the Bible is silent on exactly what type of body, but it will be different in some way. What we do know is that what is sown in corruption will be raised in incorruption (1 Cor 15:42). What does this mean? Again, we do not exactly know but what we do know is that the new body will not die, decay, or ache. My body aches all the time (mostly at night) but the new body will be perfected and not have the same problems because it will be made new. Here is an example of how you can be in a body, but it is a different body. My wife has stomach issues. She felt her stomach all the time. She switched to a gluten-free diet and remarked the other day that she does not feel her stomach anymore. She knows she has one, but she does not feel it. Get the picture. In this life and in this body, you might have an ailment of some kind but in the new resurrected body it will be free.

Jesus looked the same but still had the crucifixion scars but at the same time, it was different. He could still eat but He could also walk-through walls. He walked but still disappeared and reappeared somewhere else. He was still in a body, but it was different. Will ours be the same? I have no idea, but I do know that Revelation talks about the new city, and Revelation 19 it uses banquet feast language so maybe there is food (although I lean towards a vegetarian meal). The important thing to note and remember is you will have a perfected body when Jesus raises you from the dead.

So where does this leave us? 2 Corinthians 5:8 says that to be present with the Lord is to be absent from the body. Death sends us straight to heaven. When we tie that into what we just looked at we get a picture of what it looks like when we die. Our bodies go into the ground sleeping until the resurrection and then when Christ returns, we are reunited with our bodies which are now perfected and no longer die, decay, or ache. We will be with Him forever. There are other aspects of this we could look at like what is it like in heaven or what do we do. The Sadducees tried to trip Jesus up with these questions (Matt 22:30) but Jesus moved on to the more important topic.

Death happens (for now) but for the believer, it is not the end, it is a switch in the mode of being. Those who confess with their mouth and believe in their hearts that Christ was raised from the dead temporarily lose their bodies when they die but they live in heaven with Christ. When Jesus comes back, and He is coming, they will be reunited with their bodies, and it will be amazing. If you are worried about cremation, or those lost at sea don’t be worried. God is going to do what He does best which is more than we can ask think or imagine.

Just a thought,

Mike

Sowing and Reaping – Six Month Challenge

Video Version can be found here

I think in general we all want something more or different out of life. It might not be huge changes or monumental differences but there is probably some change you want in your life. There is a good chance that somethings in your life need to change. I am not talking about things you just need to learn to be content with, I am talking about when things need to change. Serious things like losing weight, saving money, getting a good job, building healthy relationships, and so on. Important things in life that you should want to be changed. Because we can all have areas and things that need to change, I want to give you two tools from the Bible that will help you do this but first a word about time.

Time is going to move forward whether we like it or not. Time moves regardless of personal desire or preference. Time moves forward. I am going to say something that right now does not sound profound or all that clever but in six months it will be six months from now. I know what you are thinking “well duh.” But think about that for a second, what if six months ago you decided to make a change. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to lose weight? By now you might have hit your target. What if six months ago you decided you wanted a better relationship with your spouse? By now you would have a better relationship. What if six months ago you decided you wanted to be in a better job? Chances are by now; you would have that job. Six months is going to go by whether we like it or not. But what does six months have to do with changing your life?

We think about changing our lives but what if instead, we thought about changing the next six months? What if instead of focusing on something so monumental as changing our life we thought about being in a different place in six months? Would that help? Would that make a difference? Would it do anything? I say yes, yes it would because six months is manageable, and six months is attainable. Six months is something we can see. Six months is something that can grow. I am going to give you two tools from the Bible that can help you change the next six months. Also, I should note that these two things are really two pieces of the same tool.

The first is that you reap what you sow (Gal 6:7). This is sometimes thought about in a negative sense. You find yourself in trouble and someone says “well, you reap what you sow.” They mean you got what you deserve, and this is partially true. Sometimes this is used when talking about finances. We talk about sowing and reaping in church and we are talking about giving and receiving. This is also partially true. However, the bigger principle is that you get out what you put in. If you sow (plant) corn you get corn. The thing is sowing (planting) takes time. You don’t just plant some corn and boom you get a harvest. Corn takes between 60 and 100 days to grow so you need to plant, water, and wait. You need to plant, nourish the thing planted, and wait.

If we pick weight loss for example, then we need to do things now that will help us achieve our goal later. The weight loss is the goal or the fruit, but the planting is what we do beforehand. we change our eating habits, we exercise, we do what it takes now to see the fruit later. If we want a better relationship with our child or children in six months, we need to start planting different things now to reap better things later. We will get in what we put out. If you keep eating Oreos (I love Oreos) you get an Oreo body. If you keep ignoring your children, you get children who don’t want to spend time with you. You get out what you put in. Change what you put in the ground now and you will get something different in six months.

The second tool is that things reproduce after their own kind (Gen 1:11). God has designed the world that things reproduce after their own kind. Again, corn kernels make corn stocks. Humans reproduce and make little humans (babies). Dogs make dogs. Peace makes peace. Laughter makes laughter. Things reproduce after their own kind. So not only do we get out what we put in but what we get out reproduces and makes more of the same. If we make changes now to see different results in six months, then in six months we have something new that will reproduce after its own kind. The small seeds we plant now to make changes start to compound and reproduce after their own kind.

If we decided that in six months, we want a better job and we planted the seed for a better job (change in work ethics, determination, applying, studying) then we not only end up with a better job we are different as a person with different habits, motivations, and goals. Those things reproduce after their own kind and a new system has been created that creates other changes as well. If you want a better relationship with your kids and you put in the work to make that happen then your kids will more than likely also have a better relationship with their kids. Things will reproduce after their own kind but first, we must plant the right seed.

This can all happen in six months. Whether we like it or not six months is going to go by. In six months from today, it will be September 8th, 2021. It does not matter if you want it to be something different you don’t get a choice. What we do get to decide is what will be different in six months. What will be different for a lifetime after that?

Just a thought,

Mike

Seeking and Pruning

(Video version can be seen here)

Have you seen the video about the sheep named Barrack that was found? It is pretty cool and if you have not seen it, I recommend checking out one of the videos. Barrack was lost in the Australian wilderness for about 5 years and when he was found he had about 77lbs of extra wool. He could barely see, drank water from puddles, and his wool was full of twigs, dirt, and insects. It took them about an hour to cut away all of the wool that was weighing him down. They found this sheep, cleaned him up, and he is on the road to recovery. It is a very cool story and one that made me think about Luke 19:10 and John 15:2-5 among other things.

In Luke 19:10 Jesus says that He has come to seek and save the lost. Jesus says His mission is to find those who are lost and then make them unlost. He says the whole point of His coming is to look for those who are missing and then make them found. In John 15:2-5 Jesus says that we are the vine, and He is the branch but before this, He says that the Father prunes us to make us more fruitful. We get this picture that we are pruned or that we have bad things cut back so we can produce more fruit. First, we are found and then we are pruned. That is the process. The hard part is that like the lost sheep Barrack when we are found we often have a lot that needs to be pruned.

Some people come to Christ and have less that needs to be pruned and some people have more. The point is that we all have pruning that needs to occur. With Barrack, the initial pruning (shearing) took over an hour, and all that extra was cut off. The external had changed but he still needs to heal from 5 years in the wilderness. When you and I come to Christ there is an initial pruning that happens in the way of the Holy Spirit coming in and changing us from the inside. We are forgiven of sin and made new. Sometimes, like in my case, there is a lot that He removes right away but even if that happens there is more and continual pruning that needs to occur.

Coming to Christ and finding freedom and salvation requires nothing from us except to accept it. He has done all of the work because we cannot. Salvation is a free gift. The pruning takes work. The pruning takes time. The pruning takes cooperation on our part. This is because pruning requires that you submit to what God is doing for it to be effective. God can remove things in your life that are holding you back but if you keep returning to them or trading them for new versions of the same vices then the pruning is not effective. Your submission to the will and leading of the Lord is needed. What if tomorrow Barrack decides he does not like being kept in a pen and then heads back out to the wilderness? He will be covered in mud, dirt, and weighed down again. The pruning that freed him will not be effective because he will once again be the same as he was. What if after coming to Christ you decide forgiveness from past sins is enough and you just want to go out and do as you please again? You will get weighed down, covered in mud, and need heavy pruning again. The pruning process of God is non-negotiable. It must occur.

What does this mean for us? How do we get the pruning, how do we respond in the pruning, how do we cope? Hebrews 7:25 says, Therefore, He (Jesus) is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. Jesus is always able to save because He lives to intercede for us. This saving is not just the initial salvation either. Jesus can save us daily. When we are being pruned and unsure how we will move forward Jesus saves us and intercedes for us. He owes us nothing, but He chooses to live for us. What can He not do? Who can He not save? What is beyond His ability? The Lord of all the universe, the Word of God, the Author of Life chooses to intercede for you and me. Whatever you require, whatever you lack He can provide and make a way for! In the pruning, we must move forward and push towards Jesus. That is how we get through it, that is respond, that is how we cope. We push towards the one who is available and able to save us. 

There is so much more we could talk about with this, but I would just encourage you today that if you are in the midst of a pruning season, and you know when you are, that you submit to the pruning and seek Christ. Press into Him because that is the only way you will get through it with the fruit you were meant to bear. Be pruned and be changed. Embrace the process and welcome His direction. Maybe it means you let things go, maybe it means you move, maybe it means you admit something. Whatever it is, however hard it is be pruned and see how you can be made new today. 

Just a thought,

Mike

What is Partnership?

Sometimes I think it is important to clarify terms because words find their meaning in context. We can say words have concrete definitions but that is only because we have agreed that specific sounds in specific contexts mean certain things. If you have studied communication, then you know this goes even deeper. Generally, we agree on the definitions, but we do allow for a certain amount variation as long as it is not too different. For example, when I say black, I might include a range of dark blue and purple colors because they are all dark. You might have a better understanding of color and give each a different name. We can discuss the differences but, in most cases, it will not make a huge difference. Sometimes however the slight differences we give to words make an important difference. Today I thought I would define some words as I use them because I use them a lot in the context of missions and other ministry work. The word I want to look at today is partnership because a lot is going on in those three syllables.

What is great about this word is that whether you use the biblical word (koinōne) or you look at the standard English meaning you can still roughly get the same idea. The biblical meaning of this word just carries additional meaning and fills in some gaps. In general, the word means two or more people engaged in the same activity. That is pretty good. If you think of a team you need all the players working together to reach the desired goal of winning. That is not bad. So, if we decided to define the word this way then when I ask you to partner with us you can think “OK we want the same thing.” The problem is you can be partners to work towards the same goal without intimacy. I can play on the same team as someone and not like them. You can work with me but you might have a sub agenda and I might not be working towards that agenda. We can work together and not be together.

Koinōne comes to the rescue and fills in the gaps. This word means partnership but adds intimacy. It means we are not only working together towards the same goal but for the same reasons and we care for each other. This word gives additional responsibilities to each person on the team saying they need to look out for one another. They need to have the interest of the other as their own and that is what I mean when I say partnership. I am asking you to join with us for the same goal, with the same motives, and have my back. In turn, I am promising to have yours. I am saying that I want to work with you towards your goal and I care for you. It is not a light thing to join in partnership or koinōne with someone. This, by the way, is why the Bible talks about not partnering with sinful things. But that’s another story.

So, what makes up a team with this understanding? If we have defined partnership as working together towards the same goal, with the same motives, and having each other’s interest at heart, then who does what on a team? Well in missions and ministry there generally two roles: goers and senders. Each one has a different job, but both are vital and important.

Before we look at goers and senders let us first clarify one more thing. Prayer is the one thing that we all do on the team. I pray for you and you pray for me. I love prayer and believe it to be vital to life. It is life and breath, food and drink, comfort and request. Prayer is the beginning, middle, and end of everything we do. I will sprinkle that idea through the rest of this because it is that important.

Ok, on to the goers. That is us. We are going somewhere to do something. This is exciting and great and terrifying and a host of other things. It means giving up everything we know and moving to something we do not. It is exciting but it is also a loss of so many things. A loss of comfort and meeting with friends. A loss of knowing how to do even the most basic of things that we instinctively know how to do like who to acknowledge in public and who to avoid eye contact with. Going means leaving and leaving means loss but also means learning and sharing.

As we go into a new thing, we get the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We get to bring light into darkness and hope into hopelessness. We get to bring truth. It is an honor and a privilege and a command. It is worth the loss because of what we are doing. In this one thing that we do is pray and we pray a lot. But we do not just pray for the things we are doing or the people we are interreacting with we pray for you, our friends and family. Your churches, your children, your small groups, your jobs, all of it. We do this for two reasons. First, because you are worth it. We want you to be blessed and walk into all that God has for you. Second, because it keeps us connected to you and ensures we have your best interest at heart. We as goers do not just go, we pray for those who send.

Senders are such an important part of the team. If we did not have senders, we would not have much of the New Testament. The letter to the Philippians is Paul writing to a group of people who sent him out to plant more churches. The letter is Paul giving them an update and talking to his friends. It is like a newsletter. In Philippians 4:15 Paul writes to his friends who sent him.

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only

Paul is acknowledging the partnership and at the beginning of the letter, he tells them that he prays for them often and tells them what he is praying. This, by the way, is why I text people that I am praying for them. I think it is so amazing when we pray for each other and then let the other person know. It does something to you and breathes life into your day. It tells you in an instant that you are important to someone and they have your back.

So just like the goers, senders pray. When we say we want you to be praying or us it is not a plow or a subtle plea to then ask for money. No, we want and need prayer. I am not subtle about asking for finances.

We need finances to go. There are no two ways about it. Money is required in ministry because while God owns the cattle on a thousand hills a lot of that cattle is under someone else’s care. Money is not a dirty word or a wicked thing. It is a tool that is to be used. Enjoy it, spend it, buy stuff, but also use it for greater things. There is something amazing that happens to your prayers when you are financially tied to the mission. You are now connected to it in a new and deep way. It moves from being something someone else is doing to something you are doing as well.

Some will say, I can only pray. First, let me say there is nothing only about prayer. I think by now you know I think prayer is powerful and important. Second, that is OK because we need people praying. If you want, I can add you to Julie’s prayer emails. She sends out emails more often than the newsletter and gives more specifics about things we are praying for. We want to be praying for you too so let us know. Prayer partners are partners and important ones.

Others can partner financially in addition to praying, and this is needed. We have people we partner with financially and it has made a huge difference in the way we pray for them and the way we pray in general. It takes that prayer to another level because you are literally invested into it. You are tied to it differently. You rejoice differently and you mourn differently. When we give to something with our finances, we want to see it happen, so we talk about it more, we give to it more, we pray more, and when it happens, we are so excited.

So that is what I mean when I say partnership. It is not just working towards the same goal, I am asking you to join with us for the same goal, with the same motives, to have my back, and to know that I have yours.

So am asking you for money? Yes. No two ways around it. But more than that I am asking you to partner with us as we move towards a common goal, to have each others backs, and be in this thing together.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time?

Frank Sinatra sang that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. According to the song, one belongs to the other and any attempt to separate them is an illusion. In the Western world, we marry because of love and those in love will, ideally, get married. Why must evangelism and discipleship happen at the same time, because you can’t have one without the other. Evangelism is the telling of the Gospel or the good news. The gospel among other things includes that the Lord Jesus came bringing the kingdom of God. Evangelism is telling people about Christ death and resurrection and relating how it is relevant to their life now. Discipleship is not only helping accept this reality but submitting to the Lordship of Christ because the kingdom is here now. If the Gospel includes the fact that Christ is Lord, then submission or discipleship is included in the message of the Evangelism.

The goal is not church growth or numbers. At best we can understand that each number represents a life that Jesus cares about deeply. Our mission as the church is to spread the message of the Gospel and help people become obedient to that message and as Rick Wood says, “everything we do as a church must be evaluated on [that] basis.”[1] To say that a church is growing with discipleship is to say my marriage is growing without love. The two are connected because they require one another. Discipling people with mere information or facts apart from faith is like someone in the Western world marring without love. The two go hand in hand because “discipleship is transformational, not informational.”[2] Trying to separate the two puts the carriage before the horse or worse it forgets the carriage and the people inside at home.

 

[1] Rick Wood, “A Call to Radical Disciple-making,” Mission Frontiers, 2010.

[2] Eric Geiger, “Discipleship: More than Information,” 2012.

Acts 19 – Four Responses to the Gospel

In Acts chapter 19 we are given four responses to the Gospel message. It is sort of a unique chapter in that regard because it shows how different people or people groups can react to the message of the God’s love and grace in one short space.

The first group that is presented with the Gospel is a group of John’s former disciples. These were ones who knew of the message of repentance that was taught by John the Baptist and they had participated in John’s baptism. They had some knowledge of Jesus and desired to do the will of God but they were missing some key parts of the message. When Paul heard this, he explained to them what they were missing and baptized them into Christ and they received the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to me that they worked with what they knew and were humble enough to admit they did not know what they did not know. I think we can all agree that we only know so much after all 1 Cor 13:9 says we know in part so we should be humble enough to admit that. The question is not do we know in part but what do we do with that fact. We should not believe every spirit but we should be willing to listen to those who are experienced in the faith and learn because there is much to learn. More importantly, we should learn that when God brings new knowledge to us we need to walk in that knowledge. We are called to learn and grow in Christ and part of the growing is walking out the new things God brings to us.

The second group was the members of the synagogue. Paul went and preached to them for three months and their response was to harden their hearts and become angry. They had no desire to turn from what they knew and instead spoke evil of the Way (Christianity).

There are some people who no matter what will not want to hear that God loves them. They have their own ideas and preconceived notions of who God is and anything outside of that is wrong. Maybe they have been hurt by the church or maybe they are just bitter but for whatever reason, they do not want to hear the Gospel. Like Paul, I would suggest you tell them anyway because some water and some reap but God gives the increase. Our job is not to decide who gets to the hear Gods message of love and reconciliation but to tell everyone. We are not in a position to decide but to deliver.

The third group is interesting because they knew the power of the Gospel and the power of Jesus but it had no place in their hearts. There was a group of men trying to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name and the demon essentially jumped them. This demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I acknowledge but who are you?” Jesus was known by the demon. Paul was known to belong to Jesus but these men were unknown because they were just using the name.

For the Gospel to have any power in your life, it has to be something that is in you not just known by you. I can know that cold medicine will help my cold but if I don’t get it in me then nothing changes. You can know all about God but if the love of the Father is not in you then you have nothing. James says, you believe in God good, even the demons believe that and shudder. It is not enough to know the stories or to know about God, you need to know Him and be known by Him. You can say God all day long but the question is do you respond when He says your name?

The last group just got mad because it messed with their livelihood. These men where makers of idols and for someone to walk around talking about a God who exists without human hands or intervention was not good for them. The message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on a cross taking our sin and shame and then rose again three days later claiming victory over sin and the grave. This message gives you no wiggle room to please God on your own and idol worship is all about pleasing God and yourself on your own.

To move it to today you could say these men were like pimps, hustlers, and charlatans. They made their living off people trying to please themselves through self-fulfilled worship. You need this to make you happy because you are the one who needs to feel that connection. Take this drug to feel good. Take this stuff to feel better. Take this person to feel powerful. Take this to please yourself. Listen to my great wisdom to be better. Anytime you come across someone peddling that message you are going to run a high risk of making them mad telling them that you cannot please God and you cannot find satisfaction in your efforts to feel better.

Again, I would reiterate that our job is not to judge who is worthy of the message but to deliver it and to pray for all those we share it with. I would also suggest that sharing the good news is not always about giving a full presentation of the Gospel message and trying to get someone to “say the prayer.” Sometimes if not most times it is just about being real and being true. It is about letting people know that God loves them and you love them. It is about praying for people and letting them know you will pray for them. We need to be real with people and in turn, I think we will find they will be real with you.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

A Call to Death

I have noticed that I share on the topic of discipleship a bit more than I thought. I wonder why that is, though. Maybe it is due to the lack of my own discipleship training. Maybe it is because of the lack discipleship training I see in popular Christianity. Maybe it is a part of a calling. I really don’t know but either way, I was thinking about discipleship.

The call of Christian discipleship is first and foremost a call to death and denial of oneself. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 that we must carry our cross and deny ourselves daily. Luke records it in his Gospel by saying whoever does not carry their cross cannot be Jesus’ disciple (14:27). Paul further clarifies in Galatians 2:20 that we have died and now live in Christ. Paul’s point about death to self and life in Christ is found throughout his writings and give us the clearest picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

It is a hard road to be sure and there will be times of wrestling, fighting, and rejection. Times when wrestle with our decision to obey Jesus. Times when our flesh fights back and tries once again to lead our lives. Times when we reject the notion that death is required. These are to be expected and to be endured. James writes that the testing of our faith is necessary to produce maturity (1:3-4). This is to be expected, but in that we can also expect victory. If we are being tested, then it is because we are in Christ. Testing is not for those who are not disciples. Testing is for the elect. Simply put we are tested because we are His.

The call to be a disciple of Christ is a hard call. It is not for the faint of heart. It is hard because it requires all of us. It requires our total commitment. 1 Peter 3:8-9 says that we as disciples are to be like-minded, sympathetic, love believers, be compassionate and humble, not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but to give a blessing. The call to be a disciple is a call to live opposite of your natural self. It is a call to live counterculturally. It is a call to live in Christ so that He can live out through you. In that others, will see Him and then they, in turn, can die to self and live in Christ. It is not simply a call to live selflessly. Anyone can try and live selflessly. I can try and live for my family or friends but to what end? So, that they might love me? So, that they might respect me? What a short goal. No, the call to be a disciple of Christ is to live for Him so that others receive eternal life.

But even in that, there is a balance that must be maintained. We are to live for Christ yet in that He desires us to live abundantly. We are to live for Christ yet we are to take the time to rest and reflect on our lives. We are to live for Christ but we are also to enjoy the life we have. At times that feels like a contradiction. We are to be wholly dedicated to Jesus yet at the same time He is wholly dedicated to us. It is a symbiotic relationship where we live in Him and have our being and at the same time He dwells in us and says He will give us the desires of or hearts. It is in Jesus that we find our lives and that is the catch. Jesus says He is the vine and we are the branches. If we want to produce fruit, we must do it in Him. We must make the commitment to die to ourselves and live in Him.

Just a thought,

Mike

Love Like Jesus

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Of all the things Jesus talks about and does this one is not on my list of things I like. I like when Jesus talks about asking by faith in His name because it gives me confidence that He hears my little prayers. I like reading about Jesus walking on water or calming the waves because it reminds me my Lord is above creation. I like reading that Jesus fulfilled the Law because it lets me know I don’t have to try and meet the tedious commands of it. I don’t like reading that I need to forgive those who harm me or that I need to turn my cheek to those who have slapped me because that is hard.

Jesus says to forgive because on the cross He forgave. He says to turn the other cheek because He turned His. Jesus did not come to give us a bunch of rules to follow instead He came, partly, to give us an example to follow. He is patient and we should be patient. He is gentle and we should be gentle. He is love and we should be love. Our task is simple…We are to walk as He walked.

 

 

Reasoned Faith and the Gospel

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus says that He has not seen a faith in Israel that matches that of the centurion soldier who comes to Him to seek healing for his servant. What provoked this strong commendation from Jesus was that the man understood authority. He understood how it worked and that presence was not required for power to move. His faith was founded in his understanding of how things worked. This man was able to grasp the concept of authority in his mind and exercise his faith because of this.

Anti-intellectualism has impacted the church in at least five ways according to J.P. Moreland, and two of them will be discussed here. The first is a misunderstanding of faith’s relationship to reason and the second is the spawning of an irrelevant gospel.[1] These two things are not that far from each other when you examine what they result in, namely a weakened Christian presence in the community and in the world. The lack of one’s ability to link reason or knowledge to faith causes them to withhold their testimony with others because often times it is feared they cannot answer the questions posed to them. While the irrelevant gospel, when shared, is based on feeling or a perceived need and if someone is “feeling” fine then there is no need for the message.

One effect resulting in the lack of reasoned faith in the church can be seen in the high number of children who grow up and lose their faith. David Kinnaman says in his book You Lost Me that there is a forty-three percent or nearly eight million people who while they were active in the church in their teens do not participate in the church by their early thirties.[2] Now it should not be assumed that the entire cause for this is a lack of reasoned faith but it does play a large part. People are more and more unsure why they believe what they believe and if understanding is not present then the natural progression is to not believe it anymore. The world is becoming more and more post-Christian and with that, the old system of following your parent’s faith is diminishing.

One of the most effective ways that church leaders whether they be youth pastors, senior pastors or lay leaders can combat this is by becoming “dedicate[d] to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically”[3] This is in no way a condemnation of any particular church, pastor, or group of churches but an overall encouragement that Christians do and will desire deep theological teaching. Instead of having youth groups that play games and hang out we should teach them the Scriptures and answer their hard questions. For adults not only should we be edifying them for the work of God on Sunday’s but instilling in them and understanding of Biblical truths that go beyond being a good spouse and neighbor.

Perhaps it is time to use the vast resources of technology to do virtual classes via email or web chats. Often times people must be pushed to ask the hard questions they have. Individuals can feel scared of asking such questions as is the whole Bible true, do we have proof Jesus rose from the dead, are the six days in Genesis six actual days, and so on. Non-Christians ask these questions often but more than a few believers are scared to push for such answers so we must be willing to give them chances to ask these questions. We must be willing to not only learn about what we believe but what others believed as well.

This will cause the pushing of an irrelevant gospel to almost disappear. The gospel as it is presented at times now is you need Jesus to make you better and happier. The problem arises when people feel just fine. They have no perceived need in their lives so the solution for a happier life is a non-necessity to them. They are quite happy where they are at, however, this approach is not the tradition that we see in the Bible. An important aspect of sharing the true Gospel is understanding the community you are in. Paul when speaking to the people in the Areopagus in Acts 17 not only shared the truth of God from Scripture but also from what they already thought to be true. He was able to bring in things they knew and show them how they already had some understanding of what he was saying.

Moreland suggests in his book that the more we grow intellectually in other areas the more we will understand the Bible. This will not only “enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation” but in turn, it will give us understanding into the world God created.[4] If I want to properly share the Gospel with a Muslim then it serves me well to understand the Muslim position. By doing this I not only have a better knowledge in the truth of my faith but what they believe as well. I can then meet them where are at and in doing so I open doors.

The challenge before the church is great and task daunting but the rewards are greater. By better understanding our faith and how it is built upon reason we not only secure our own thinking but also find that the world around us changes as well. Expanding our knowledge should not be feared because while it is true that “knowledge by acquaintance is an important foundation” it must be remembered that we are commanded in the Bible to grow not only in grace but also the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).[5]

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 19; 24.

[2] David Kennaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books), 22.

[3] Moreland, 51

[4] Moreland, 93

[5] Moreland, 59

When your best isn’t good enough

 

I think that everyone should know how to use a concordance with a dictionary (herein just called a concordance) whether you own one or use one on the internet. I own a Strong’s but I typically use BlueLetterBible.com because I am too lazy to move the eight feet where my copy is. I believe that one of the most valuable tools you can have in your arsenal when studying the Bible is a concordance. Knowing how and when to use a concordance is so helpful that I am willing to say you are cheating yourself by not using one. I know that is a bold statement but it’s my website.

I do not recommend using a concordance all the time because you don’t always need to look up the definition of a word. However, we must always remember the Bible was not written in English and those translating it did the best they could. The Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew (more or less) so sometimes a word has a stronger meaning than was applied when translated to English. That does not necessarily mean the English translation you are using is wrong but it does not capture the full weight of the word.

Such is the case with Philippians 3:8 where Paul says “I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth.” To make sure we capture the context Paul is talking about all the things that he used to count as good to him and made him something special. He was a circumcised on the eighth day meaning his parents kept the law, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews meaning his line was pure, he was a Pharisee meaning he was righteous by their standards, and so on. By first century Jewish standards Paul had it going on and he could tell you about it. Paul now says that because he follows Christ he considered those things loss and filth. Paul is saying that he now knows what is right and true and that is righteousness comes by faith in Christ alone. This is a bold statement in and of itself and we might look at that at some point, but right now I want to take a closer look at how Paul views his former status in view of this revelation of justification by faith alone.

Paul calls the old things filth. The Greek word is skybalon and it usually translated filth, rubbish, trash, dung, or some variation thereof. These are all pretty good but when we look at the literal definition of skybalon it means; any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs. Just let that sink in for a minute. When compared to what we receive by faith in Christ what we “accomplished” or bring to the table on our own is like “the excrement of animals.” I cannot even think of a way to compare that to anything. That is the comparison you use when trying to contrast two things. I have animal excrements and Jesus has glory, righteousness, and power. Do you see the madness that is involved in thinking you can earn His love? What could you possibly offer to Him? You have nothing to offer Him. What could you bribe Him with? We come to Him and want to flaunt our animal excrement thinking He will pat us on the head and say “good job.” Are we insane?

Paul is even being more gentle than Isaiah was. Click here and read what the word ‘iddah means in Isaiah 64:6. This is what your “righteous” acts are compared to. How can we think that we can make God pleased with us when are best is ‘iddah or skybalon? If that is what are best is what is our worst? We do not get to God because we are good enough, and we do not stay in God because we are good enough. We have Christ and are in Him because He is good enough. He is more than enough. Jesus came to us when we sinners. He did not wait for you to get cleaned up because if He was going to wait for that He would still be waiting. God came down to us because He is love and love moves.

We have to shake off this idea that we can earn God’s love or blessings. He blesses because He wants to, He loves because He wants to, and He called you because He wants to. He does not need you but He chooses you. He says that one the drunk I want them. I want the prostitute, I want the liar, I want the crack head, I want the cheater, I want the adulter, I want the one thinks they are useless, I want the weak one, I want the slow one, I want my children. He does not wait for you to get good enough because you can’t be. He just wants you.

When we walk with Jesus for a while we start to think that we need to earn our keep. That somehow the love that saved us is not enough to sustain us but that is a lie. Yes as a child you have responsibilities, but those responsibilities do not make you a child they are yours because you are a child of God. Jesus says that we should be yoked to Him and that His burden is light. That means we are tied to Him and He will teach us how to do the work and that He will carry the weight. We just have to walk with Him in the same love that He gave to us, to begin with. So walk with Him and find peace.

Jesus promises to never leave you nor abandon you but that promise is conditional one one thing; that you accept Him and place your faith in Him. So put down your filth and all those things that you think make you a “good person” and trust in the One who has the goods.

Just a thought,

Mike