Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Exactly Is The Grace of God?

I think this is an important question for Christians to answer.  I say that because much confusion and misunderstanding has arisen from short statements that include the word 'grace'.  If a person cannot accurately define what God's grace is, he could end up coming to a drastically wrong conclusion, particularly on the issue of salvation (soteriology).  I've given a good bit of thought to this issue lately, mainly because I've debated with some friends over "sola fide" ("by faith alone"), and I've come to realize that there is a major biblical truth that doesn't get covered in so many churches today.  That biblical truth is the answer to the question of what God's grace is.

If you were to ask average Christians what the grace of God is, you would probably get answers like "forgiveness of sins" or "acceptance into heaven" or "everyday blessings".  Its not that these answers are wrong exactly, but you probably would not hear the answer that is entirely right.  You would probably hear nothing of regeneration (being born again), because so many Christian churches have not taught regeneration.  Being born again really is everything.  For anyone who may not know what it is, being born again is what happens when the Holy Spirit comes and dwells inside of a person.  It literally is God Himself living inside of a human being.  It is the union of God and man.  It is the union of Christ and Christ's church (John 14:20).

The misunderstanding comes when people think that eternal life begins after death.  Those who hold to "sola fide" usually think this: We are saved by grace through faith, and grace is a gift of God, therefore there is no deeds required to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Salvation is eternal life, and that part they understand, but they fail to understand that eternal life does not begin after death; eternal life begins when a person is born again (born of the Spirit).  The difference between believing that eternal life begins after death and believing that it begins at regeneration drastically changes the meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9.  If you keep reading, you see that Paul includes good works in verse 10.  The reason is because of what the grace of God is: The grace of God is the Holy Spirit poured out on a believer, and dwelling in a believer, who absolutely and necessarily produces good works through the believer.  So thinking that good works are not necessary for salvation is quite wrong, and it contradicts a number of verses that make it clear that a person must do the will of God to enter heaven (Matthew 7:21 and Matthew 25, for example).  If a person has received salvation, meaning that he has received the Holy Spirit, then that person will necessarily do good works.  Anyone who does not do good works is not saved, and has not received the grace of God (Matthew 12:33, good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit).  Anyone who does not receive the grace of God before he dies should not expect to receive the grace of God after he dies (eternal life does not begin after death).  It all comes down to whether a person has been born again - born of the Spirit.  The way we know if a person, ourselves or someone else, has been born again is to see the fruit.  This is what Peter is talking about in 2Peter 1:5-11.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Critical Ability: Discernment

Discernment is a gift from God, and with any gift, it helps to ask for the gift (Matthew 7:7).  Every gift from God is good, but I believe some gifts are more important than others.  I cannot say exactly where discernment ranks among other gifts of the Spirit, but I think it ranks rather high in importance.  I believe this for practical reasons.  Our ability to discern is our ability to know what God is doing in the world.  If we know what God is doing in the world, then we are in a much better position to join in God's work.  But if we are blind to what God is doing in the world, then who knows, we might end up working against God, and its better to beat your head with a sledgehammer than to try to work against God.

Without the ability to discern the truth from falsehood, would any of us even be a Christian?  Clearly it took discernment to know that Christ Jesus is truly God's Son, and religions which deny that are false.  We had to search the evidence, consider the arguments, read the Bible and meditate on all of it.  So if it takes discernment to even know the basic truths that lead towards heaven, then we must accept that discernment is a critical ability, important to gaining eternal life in Christ Jesus.  In this note I want to talk about discernment as it relates to the various Christian churches and denominations.  Just as discerning the basic truths leads us to follow Christ as the Son of God, discernment is critical in joining a church that is truly following Christ, and potentially with the same eternal consequence.

The church of Jesus Christ is the body of Jesus Christ, and a follower of Christ must be a part of that body in spirit, and as much as possible, should be in presence too.  But with so many different Christian churches and denominations it can be difficult to know which particular one to join.  To know the extent to which each church is truly following the Lord Jesus Christ we must discern the truthfulness of their teaching and the faithfulness of their actions.  I cannot say with certainty that joining a bad church will lead a person to hell, but I will say that there is the potential for it, and because of that, I do think that it is very important for each Christian to discern how well their church is following Christ.  If a certain Christian's church is not truly following Christ and His word, then that Christian must either do everything he can to change the church, or he must leave the church.  For a fuller understanding on this, I want to expound on what it means to discern the truthfulness of a church's teaching and the faithfulness of a church's actions.

The truthfulness of a church's teaching
What a church preaches and teaches is definitely important.  You may think its no big deal if you cannot agree with some of the preaching at your church, but if that's the case, will you feel inclined to invite someone to your church to hear that preaching?  The truthfulness of the preaching and teaching is definitely important; even if you're not affected by it, you will be associated with it.  So how do we discern that?  The first and most important thing is to know the Bible well.  There is a very good evidential basis for believing the Bible, so that seems like a good place to start.  Does the church in question teach in accordance with what is written in the Bible?  Do they teach everything in the Bible?  Do you know the Bible well enough to answer these questions?  The person who knows the Bible well can immediately spot a teaching that isn't right, and if he really knows the Bible well, he can go ahead and publicly refute that teaching (depending on his level of courage and the setting).  But for anyone who has grown up in a church, you must beware of your own biases that have come from spending years in that church.  You must use exegesis when studying the Bible and avoid eisegesis.  Do not confuse the teaching of Scripture (what comes straight from the Bible) with the teaching of any particular pastor or denomination (what comes often from tradition and personal views).

The faithfulness of a church's action
Maybe you know with certainty that the teaching of your church is right on, and there's no worries there.  But just as important as a church's teaching, and maybe even more important, is how faithful that church is in carrying out the commands of Christ.  A church that believes all the right things but doesn't act on those beliefs is no good to the world, and no good to God's kingdom.  What good would a witness to a crime be if that witness refused to testify?  He might know exactly what happened, but if he remains silent, he is no good to anyone.  Is your church actively carrying out Christ's command to love one another (John 15:12)?  Is your church loving the surrounding community, as Christ commanded us to do like the good Samaritan (Luke 10:37)?  Is your church publicly acknowledging Christ (Matthew 10:32)?  Is your church making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)?  Is your church maintaining holiness among its members (1Corinthians 5:11)?  In short, is your church actively doing what it can to bring glory to God?  Be honest with yourself on this one.  You may like your church, and you may feel comfortable there, but that's all the more reason to question whether your church is truly alive.  Compare each church with other churches, both near and far.  Compare your church with the Christian church throughout history.  And do not accept mediocrity, because Christ has never called His church to be just somewhat good (Matthew 5:48).  If your church is not living up to God's calling, then there is two options for you: Either change the church for the better or find a new church.

I pray that God gives you the discernment necessary to find the way through all the confusion.  May God's grace and peace be with all the brothers and sisters.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Increasing Importance of Revelation

The book of Revelation is meant to do just that: reveal.  Its a shame that so many Christians today disregard the book of Revelation.  What has happened, it seems, is that there have been many false interpretations and loose readings of this book, with a lot of crazy ideas, and from that has risen a reactionary caution towards the book of Revelation that dismisses all interpretations of the book.  One thing is clear, the book of Revelation does need to be interpreted because of its many metaphors and figurative language.  Many people have judged this to be a hard thing to do, but they make that judgment before ever really trying to understand Revelation.  They see the wild interpretations and immediately think that this is dangerous ground.  But like I said, the book of Revelation is meant to reveal things.  Its not meant to keep things secret or be hard to understand, but meant to reveal things.

Its should be noted that the book of Revelation is the only book of the Bible that comes with an explicit blessing to the reader (1:3).  It cannot be denied that Revelation is an important book of the Bible.  And it cannot be denied that the person who reads Revelation and understands Revelation is blessed, because John himself says the person is blessed.  You see, knowing and understanding the book of Revelation is the last piece of the puzzle; its the piece that makes everything else make sense.  It is particularly important for the people living in the end times, increasingly important as we get closer to the day Jesus returns.  The person who knows and understands the book of Revelation will know exactly what is going on when those events unfold, and he will know what comes next.  He will be well prepared.  But the person who does not know the book of Revelation, or does not understand it, is not going to be prepared.  He is going into the future blind.  You see, the book of Revelation is explicitly (1:3) a book of prophecy.  The things recorded in this book foretell of future events from the time that John wrote it (about ad95).  If a person knows and understands Revelation, then he can know of at least some things that will happen in the future.  He can know a good bit of future events, in fact, even things that are happening currently.

This is why I'm talking about the increasing importance of Revelation.  As we get closer and closer to the second coming of Christ, the things recorded in Revelation become more and more relevant.  And in one specific way, which I want to focus on.

Over the years many wholehearted Christians have found it really difficult to find a church to be part of.  The Roman Catholic Church teaches many things contrary to Scripture, and the many Protestant churches are so divided, as well as being largely superficial.  It seems there really is no perfect church.  At this point, of course some people will say that perfection is impossible and we should just settle for the best there is, but I completely disagree with that.  All the different denominations have left sincere Christians with little to be satisfied with.  And there is now people who hold to the idea that there is only one true church, and of course its the church that they have started or are part of.  The one true church mentality has an exclusive flare (some would say cult) to it.  "If you don't belong to us, then you are not part of Christ's church and are therefore not saved."  That doesn't sit well with sincere Christians either.  So how does a sincere Christian make sense of the church situation that we find ourselves in?  The answer is found in Revelation.

I shouldn't have to remind any Christian that there are seven churches described in Revelation.  On the surface these are seven physical churches located in seven cities in Asia Minor in John's day.  But if you read carefully what John sees in his first vision (1:12-16) and what Jesus says about this vision (1:19), you can see that these seven churches are definitely more than just the seven physical churches of John's time.  Jesus said in 1:19 "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later."  Again, if you go back to verses 12-16, you see what John has seen, and Jesus among the seven angels (stars) and seven churches (lampstands) is all that John has seen up until this point.  This is "what is now and what will take place later."  And those seven physical churches in John's day no longer exist, so its clear that there is a foretelling message in the seven churches.

If you look at church history, you can see the first five churches (possibly 6) in the history.  The first three churches (Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum) describe Christianity up until about the 6th or 7th century.  Ephesus is the most difficult to distinguish because it is the most distant in time, but it does describe a lot of how the apostle's generation of Christians were, along with the next generation.  The Smyrna letter describes a persecuted church, and that's exactly what you see from about ad50 to ad313.  There is, however, some overlap with these churches; there is no definite time in which one church ceased to exist and another church came into existence, but there are times when each church was the most prominent.  The church in Pergamum, the mixed church, perfectly describes the church from about 313 (the edict of Milan) till about the 6th century or so.  These are the early churches.  I would encourage anyone interested to really take a closer look at these churches described in Revelation and the early church history.  I can't go into all the detail with this note.

The next church, the church in Thyatira, I believe is the Roman Catholic Church, which was most prominent from the 6th century (or around then) till the Reformation (16th century).  Consider for yourself what Jezebel might be (here's a hint: many Protestants consider him, or this office, to be the antichrist).  But you can see for yourself that Roman Catholics have a history of hard work and perseverance, and that's exactly what Jesus commends the church in Thyatira for.  The church after that, the church in Sardis, I believe is the Protestant churches as a whole.  We all know what a reputation the reformers have (3:1), but if you take a close look at Protestant churches from the time of the Reformation, you'll see that the churches do not live up to their reputation.  Jesus says that He has not found their deeds complete in the sight of God, and we all know how much Protestants go on and on about being saved by "faith alone".  If you take an objective look (because there's a good chance that you, the reader, come from a Protestant church), you will find that Protestant churches have done very little over the years, as far obeying the commands of Christ, in proportion to the opportunity given them.

Now that gets us to where we are today, which I believe is nearing the end of the Sardis (Protestant) age and the rise of the church in Philadelphia.  The church of Philadelphia really cannot be described outside of what's written in 3:7-13, because this church is just now emerging.  I don't think there is an official church or Christian name (like there is with Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics) for the church of Philadelphia.  Its an invisible church.  I believe there are some Christians that have the Philadelphia spirit - they have kept the word and have not denied Jesus' name - but for at least some of these Christians a home has not yet been found.  I believe some of them are in churches where they feel like a fish in the wrong pond.  As time progresses this church should unite and become more visible and more prevalent in the Christian world.  Some people may think I'm crazy, and they may think this is a weird interpretation of Revelation, but it is an interpretation that makes sense with church history, and it gives a reason for the many different Christian churches that we see.  If what I'm saying is wrong, then there must be one true church out there somewhere, and every sincere Christian must continue his search for that true church.  But if what I'm saying is right, then it is clear that there are some Christian churches that truly are Christian, but they have problems that Jesus rebukes them for.  If what I'm saying is wrong, then it will become apparent over time, and there really isn't all that much importance in knowing Revelation, particularly the letters to the seven churches.  But if what I'm saying is right, then that too will become apparent over time, and it is true that knowing and understanding Revelation will become more and more important as it is the final piece of the puzzle to make sense of all the rest.  I ask simply that you consider it objectively.

By the way, if you're wondering what the open door is that Jesus speaks about, you're using it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Got To Get Down To Get Up

Its a cycle in life.  There's a reason I don't see hardship as a bad thing.  I can mourn for things while my heart is still glad.  A subtle joy sets in when things are bad, not because of the situation but contrary to it, because of what I know and who I trust in.  Our faith wouldn't be tested if the valleys didn't exist.  In fact, a faith in God might not exist at all if a person never experiences a valley.  That's what this note is about.

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.  -Jesus in Matthew 21:44

Notice how no one escapes being broken.  Those who are never broken to pieces in this life have nothing but a fearful expectation of being crushed in the next life.  So don't regret the fact that you are broken, but be glad.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  -Jesus in Matthew 5:4

Many of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) describe the people who come to the Lord, and some after having come to the Lord.  When someone is poor in spirit or mourning or meek there is nothing to lose.  Its these people who are desperate for a Savior, and they seek and they find.  That's why these people are blessed.  Before anyone will come to the Lord with a broken heart, a humble spirit and desperate desire to be taken, that person has to be broken - he must be down in life.  God does a work in the lowliest people to demonstrate His own power - He takes them from the lowest depths to the highest place, heaven.  That's why a person must get down - be broken - to get up.  But its not getting back up, because its not about getting back to where we were.  Its about getting up as a new person heading to a new place.  The person who never gets down in life is the most cursed person of all.  He thinks everything is fine and is therefore not desperate for God to save him.  There is no need for faith simply because there is no need.  But he who is broken is blessed.  If he puts his trust in the Lord, because there is great need for that person and therefore great reason to trust in the Most High, then God will make him anew.  He is blessed because Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  In this way Jesus turns the world upside-down.  What might seem like a blessing is truly an eternal curse, and what might seem like a curse is truly an eternal blessing.

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life  -Jesus in John 12:25

Monday, August 22, 2011

Soteriology Pt2

In my previous note I talked about faith and doing the will of God as they relate to salvation.  Now I want to share the key to doing the will of God - the source of power which enables someone to do the will of God.  If we were on our own, without any help from God, there would be no chance that we could do the will of God and be pleasing to Him.  But we are not on our own.  In John 14 and 15 Jesus promises that the Counselor - the Spirit of truth - would come after Him and would teach them and remind them of everything Jesus said.  This is the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit comes on a person He dwells in that person.  This is why it is said that our bodies are God's temple (1Corinthians 6:19).  When this happens a person is "born again" (John 3:3).  This is also called regeneration - being born of the Holy Spirit.  Being born again is the thing that separates the good from the bad (Matthew 7:17), the wheat from the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), and the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  Whenever someone does the will of God, he does it because he has been born of the Spirit.  Whenever someone is godly, he is godly because he has God living inside him.  The fruit mentioned in Matthew 7:17 is fruit produced by the Spirit.

Now this raises the question: How or when is a person born again?  I have heard some people say that a person is born again at baptism.  I think this is wrong for a couple reasons.  They base this belief off of Acts 2:38 where Peter commands the first converts to be baptized and then tells them they will receive the promised Holy Spirit.  But baptism cannot be a condition of receiving the Holy Spirit, because in Acts 10 the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit before being baptized with water, and in Acts 8 the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, but only after having hands laid on them.  The other reason I do not believe that regeneration is tied to baptism is simply because the Bible never says that it is.  No where in the Bible is regeneration associated with baptism, and if something that important were true, then certainly someone would have made mention of it somewhere.  But its nowhere to be found.  Now as for the question of when a person is born again, I do not think that we can answer that.  In Acts all the examples of the Holy Spirit visibly coming on a person, being a sign that they're born again, have no consistent pattern.  It seems to happen whenever it happens for no rhyme or reason other than the will of God.  And it makes sense when we look at John 3:8.  Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit comes and goes as He pleases, and we do not know where He comes from or where He is going.  If a person is born again at baptism, then what Jesus said in John 3:8 is not true, because we could tell from where He comes.  Therefore it cannot be true that a person is born again at baptism.

Then we may wonder: Is there anything we can do to receive the Holy Spirit or is it just by the will of God?  This question primarily deals with the issue of predestination.  On the one side some will say, "It is our own free will that makes us Christians."  On the other side some will say, "Christians were chosen before the creation of earth."  Is it a matter of God's eternal will, or is it a matter of our own free will?  I believe its both.  That may not be satisfactory to some people, but the Bible leaves us with this paradox.  The Bible clearly teaches the truth of predestination (read John 6), and the Bible clearly teaches that we must choose to follow Him (if we didn't need to make that choice, then most of what the apostles wrote would be pointless).  The thing to keep in mind, as predestination goes, is that none of us have a clue who is predestined.  We will only know at the end (Romans 8:19), once people have chosen to follow Christ and continue faithful till the end (Colossians 1:23, Matthew 10:22).  So with the question of being born again, I believe it happens both by what God has chosen and by what we choose.  There is an element of it that is totally beyond our control, but that which is within our control is largely based on accepting the word of God (James 1:18, 1Peter 1:23), which can only happen through faith.  The receiving of the Holy Spirit is the grace which Paul speaks of (Ephesians 2:8), a grace that necessarily produces good works (Ephesians 2:10).

It is fitting that I should finish off a note on soteriology with the cross of Christ.  At this point you are probably, and rightly, thinking, "where does the cross fit into all this?"  This is where some people jump to talking about propitiation, a fancy word that simply means 'atoning sacrifice'.  Its the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, where His blood paid for our sins and purchased our souls (1Peter 1:18-19, 1Corinthians 6:20).  This is true, but the cross is not just a propitiation.  When Jesus died on the cross He set an example for all of His followers.  We too must die on a cross, in a sense, just like Jesus did.  Jesus said that unless a person deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him, he is not a disciple (Mark 8:34).  When we crucify our old selves - all of our sins and desires and personal aspirations - we are following the example set by Christ on the cross.  And just as we are dying with Him, so we will also be raised with Him (Romans 6:3-7).  We are united with Christ, both in crucifixion and in resurrection.  The old man is crucified, but a new man is resurrected.

This subject is often contentious.  If anyone disagrees with anything stated in this note or the previous note on soteriology, there is a comment section for discussion.  Feel free to use it, but keep in mind that your arguments should be supported by Scripture.

Friday, August 19, 2011


There never seems to be enough hot air spent on this issue.  Pretty much all Christians agree that salvation is a critical issue, but we can't seem to agree on the particulars of salvation.  Since this is a fundamental issue, why is it so difficult to come to agreement over it?  Well, I don't know if I can answer that question, but I will do my best to exegete the issue of salvation from the Bible.

Before I go into the details and particular views of salvation, I feel compelled to point out one fundamental principle: It all boils down to the relationship between man and God.  I'm not talking about having a relationship with God, as the popular catchphrase goes, I'm talking about the kind of relationship.  People have a relationship with their dog, so saying that a person must have a relationship with God is meaningless.  Even the sinner damned to hell has a relationship with God, but not a good one.  The relationship that saints have with God, and the one mentioned in the Bible (John 3:29), is marriage.  All of salvation really comes down to that: Do you have the right relationship with God?  All of salvation is really about that: Jesus bought us with His blood so that His Church would be united with Him in marriage.  The marriage of Jesus and His saints is the beginning and end of salvation; that's what its all about.

Now getting into the details of salvation, I want to start off with faith.  Faith is essential.  Without faith it would be pointless to even talk about salvation or the aspects of God.  Before any two people can talk about the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit they have to believe that they actually do exist.  Christians do not disagree on this point - that faith is an essential element of salvation.  What Christians disagree on is what comes after faith, or what must come after faith.  Some Christians, Protestants in particular, say that a person is saved by faith alone.  Its often unclear as to what they really mean, because some will also say things like: "Saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone."  What they mean by this is that true faith will always be accompanied by works, but that faith is the only necessity of salvation, or put another way, that faith merits the salvation.  Some people may understand the intent of this wording, but especially among those that hold to a "faith alone" dogma, there are many who do not.  I say this is dogma, because there is no where in the Bible that actually says a person is saved by faith alone, or uses synonymous terms.  You can go to Paul's letters and find that he says a person is saved by grace, through faith, but he never actually says "faith alone".  Therefore I would contend that faith by itself is not enough, and that a person who has faith, but does not do the will of God, is in danger of hell.  As James writes in 2:19, even demons have faith in one God, but clearly they're not going to heaven.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21 that only the person who does the will of God can enter heaven.  So what does it mean to do the will of God?  Following the commands/teachings of Jesus and the apostles is the obvious answer.  To avoid being ambiguous, let me give a list of actions relating to salvation.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents  -Jesus in Luke 15:10

Now that is a powerful verse.  Jesus shows us just how important repentance is.  Its no wonder John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to prepare the way for Jesus.

Call on the Lord 
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  -Jesus in Matthew 7:7

Another way to put this: pray.  I'm sure you've heard about the "sinners prayer" or "pray Jesus into your heart".  It is true that these are ways to call on the Lord, but simple short statements like these tend to trivialize the whole process.  Calling on the Lord is not something you do once and done, but something you do over and over.  Just because you've said the sinners prayer does not make you a Christian

Publicly proclaim Jesus as Christ and Lord
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.  -Jesus in Matthew 10:32-33

Be careful what you say
For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.  -Jesus in Matthew 12:37

Help the needy
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  -Jesus in Matthew 25:40

Receive the kingdom (the word of God) like a little child
I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it  -Jesus in Mark 10:15

Love the Lord your God with everything, and love your neighbor as yourself
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these.  -Jesus in Mark 12:30-31

Be baptized
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  -Jesus in Mark 16:16

I don't think Jesus is excluding the unbaptized from heaven (He does exclude the unbeliever), but certainly He highlights the importance of baptism with this verse.

Make disciples of all nations
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit  -Jesus in Matthew 28:19

Now that's certainly not everything.  I could have mentioned the sermon on the mount, John 15:12, Mark 8:35, Mark 7:21-22, Matthew 19:6, Revelation 22:15, Luke 17:4, Luke 16:13, Luke 14:26, Mark 10:44, Matthew 12:35, Luke 12:10, Mark 9:45-47, or many things written in the epistles.  The will of God is not simply one thing, but there is one thing clear about it: You must read the Bible to find out what the will of God is.

That leaves me with the last thing to cover in this note, but I will cover more in a sequel note.  I want to talk about the importance of reading the Bible.  Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."  The key to having eternal life is reading and knowing the word of God - the Bible.  Think of it as a park map you receive at the welcome center.  Before doing anything in the park, if its a big park unfamiliar to you, you need to get a map so you know what's out there and don't get lost.  Without it you would be blindly walking around without a clue what you're doing or where you're going.  To try to be a Christian without knowing the Bible is just like that: a blind stumbling around in the dark.  So I take it to be a necessary thing in salvation, except for those who do not have the Bible available (Paul states that those who do not receive the law will be judged apart from the law - Romans 2:12-15).  If a person has the ability to read, and has no trouble obtaining a Bible (true for everyone in the western world), but does not read the Bible to receive the word of God, then he is rejecting what God had written.  That is, in essence, the same as rejecting God.  So yes, I do say that it is necessary for a person to read the Bible to be a Christian (unless they have a really good excuse).

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Must Crucify Yourself to be a Christian

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be  -Jesus in John 12:26

Does it escape our notice that the one we follow was brutally tortured, spat on, mocked and killed in the most painful way possible?  Yet some people think they can follow Jesus without having to lose themselves.  You cannot be a Christ-follower - you cannot be a Christian - without crucifying yourself.

Crucify your pride.  Pride that is obvious is often the pride that people vilify.  The pride that people won't let go of is the pride of being right; of somehow being dignified - a pride that is less obvious.  People will not let go of their false beliefs when confronted with what the Bible says.  They have too much pride to do so.  To let go of their false beliefs would be to admit to having believed false things.  So they stubbornly go on in their false beliefs, not realizing that it puts them in danger of hell.

Crucify your desires.  Living for Christ means giving Him everything - every thought, action, minute, dollar and word from your mouth.  If you haven't given your entire life to Christ (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength), then you have no right to call yourself a Christian.  You must give up the idea of being a millionaire.  You must give up the idea of having the perfect spouse with the perfect house and the perfect family.  You must give up the idea of being the most popular, well known and well liked.  If you are a Christian, many people will hate you.

Crucify the lusts of your flesh.  Jesus tells us to cut off body parts if they cause us to sin (Mark 9:43-48).  That's how serious hell is and that's how serious sin is.  There is no measure taken to quit sinning that is too extreme.  Whatever a person has to do to destroy the sins of the flesh, if he wants to be a disciple of Christ, he must do so.

Crucify your status.  You are nothing.  You were made from dust, dust is all you are, and to dust you will return.  If you're in some fancy position - maybe you're a professor or manager or president - it only means you're closer to hell.  These positions give people the illusion of being somebody.  These positions tell the person in them that that person is something special when in fact that person is nothing.  If that's you, then you must crucify your status, at least in your head if not in reality.  You must accept that you are nothing and live accordingly.  You must accept that you desperately need God no matter what your status on earth is.

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  -Jesus in Matthew 10:37-39

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don't Let Estrogen Take Over The Church!

Before I dive into the meat of this note, I should make one thing clear: I am not a misogynist.  I do not hate women.  I do not think women are worth less than men.  I think women are beautiful, lovely, sweet and make the world a much better place.  I think there are things women are good at that men aren't, and there are things men are good at that women aren't.

I said that women are sweet and lovely and make the world a much better place, and I believe that's owing to their nurturing nature.  Women have an abundant compassion, which I think is a gift from God.  But its also a good reason why Christ did not assign women to be leaders in His church.  Leaders have to be tough, and being tough is not something that women are known for.  I'm being honest here, brutally honest if need be, because this is not some sappy feel-good movie where we get to make up our own reality.  We could pretend that women have the steel to take on leadership roles, but reality is going to come and bite us in the butt if we do.

To prove my point in regards to Christ's church, and God ordaining men to leadership, I'll just point out a few facts.  Out of the twelve apostles chosen by Christ to be the leaders of His church, there were zero women.  Paul plainly states that women are to be in submission in the church in 1Corinthians 14:34, and this is reinforced by 1Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18.  Peter affirms what Paul says in 1Peter 3:1.  Going back to Adam and Eve, we can see that God had given Adam authority over Eve before the fall.  People often claim that it was only after the curse that God set man over woman, but in fact authority was given before the fall.  The law was given to Adam before Eve was made.  This made it necessary for Adam to teach Eve the law, or put another way, to disciple her.  Then there's the fact that God made Eve to be Adam's "helper".  And Adam was allowed to name Eve, whereas Adam was apparently named by God (though it doesn't tell us exactly how Adam got his name).  All of these things are clear signs that God gave Adam authority over Eve before the fall.  What the fall did was to exaggerate this authority to where men dominate (rather than lead) women.

Despite these facts, there are a number of Protestant churches that are increasingly handing over church leadership to women.  And where the men are in charge, its often the kind of men that act a bit like women anyways.  I believe this is largely the cause of Protestant churches being so weak, so mediocre, and so accepting of immorality.  Women have a natural tendency to be loving and kind to a person even when that person needs a kick in the butt.  Women are most often the ones pushing for "loving the sinner" while largely ignoring the "hate the sin".  I've seen "Christian" women go so far as to justify certain sins in an effort to reach out to those sinners.  Its the snake-fruit-Eve episode all over again.  These things should not be happening, because women are not supposed to be in leadership positions, or be proclaiming things to the world on behalf of the church.  That is the task given to men.

Now to show just how manly Christianity is, and to show how much Christ welcomes the manly men.  When He called His disciples He said "follow me".  No nonsense there; gotta love it.  Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days.  That's no half-ass wimp we're following.  When Jesus saw the corruption in His temple, He overturned the tables and drove out the traders with a whip that He fashioned Himself.  Hoorah!  To James and John He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder.  Not Sons of the Kumbaya.  In Mark 8:35 Jesus makes it plain that a person must be willing to die for Him and the gospel.  To victory or death!  In Matthew 11:12 Jesus states that the kingdom of heaven advances forcefully and forceful men lay hold of it.  I think that's why Chuck Norris is a Christian.  Clearly, as anyone can see, Christianity was made for the manly men.  Its for men who won't back down (Luke 9:62).  Its for men who fear nothing but God (Luke 12:4).  Its for men who plan on turning the world upside-down (John 14:12).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Evangelizing and Making Disciples of All Nations

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it gives people the ability to communicate like never before, more efficiently than ever before, instantaneously, and in more various ways.  What this means for Christians is a tool for evangelizing, for making disciples, and for fighting the lies.  And it means that we can tell who is serious about their faith and who is not.  Because many will go to church these days, say a few churchy things in the company of Christians, but have no actual intention of obeying Jesus' commands.  Here Jesus has set before us a wide open door, now who is going to use it?

But what can I do to evangelize over the internet?
Well, chances are you have a Facebook (everybody does).  Here are some things you can do on Facebook:
1.  Post Bible verses as your status, or any other kind of pertinent message leading people to Christ
2.  Write notes, just like the one I'm writing now.  There are so many issues to address, if you can't think of one, just open your Bible, find some verses and expound on them.
3.  Post Bible verses or short messages on page walls, friend's walls or any other kind of wall you can think of.  Be reasonable, respectful and make it pertinent.  This is what I call "holy graffiti".... Paint it up!
4.  Post pictures with a message and tag your friends
5.  Post videos and links.  Go searching, there is so much out there.  Get connected to Christian pages and Christian friends, and when you see something good click the 'share' button below.
6.  Send friend requests to people in Muslim areas of the world, or areas largely unreached by the gospel.  There are tens of millions of Muslims and Hindus and other nonbelievers on Facebook from all over the world.  Friend them!
7.  Start your own page.  Promote your page.  Use your page as a hub for Christian debate, prayer and encouragement.  Disseminate relevant news and information.  Use your page in whatever way you think will bring glory and honor to God.

And if you have a video camera and a Youtube account, make use of that too.  Be creative, make videos that are interesting and communicate a message.  Find different ways of reading out Scripture, or possibly acting out Scripture.  Make your own Christian art, make poems and songs.  There are so many possibilities with Youtube.

If you're on Twitter or Blogspot or have a blog somewhere else, use them as well.  Think about starting your own blog if you haven't yet.  Expound on Bible passages.  Write about whatever issues are on your mind.  Expose the false doctrines and cults.  Write apologetic blogs or evangelistic blogs.  There are so many things a Christian can write about and bring glory and honor to God with.  Another good thing, for on Facebook or any other social networking site, is that anytime you find yourself in a debate with a nonbeliever, and suppose you know a little to back up your faith but you're not an expert apologist, there are so many resources you can take advantage of.  You can look up Bible verses and keywords in the Bible at a place like Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible.  You can find information and apologetic arguments at places like carm.org or 4Truth.net or faithfacts.org or any of the many other Christian sites.  You can use Google to find what you need to know.  There is nothing wrong with Googling something.  You have tons of resources available right at your fingertips, use them.

So now I've given plenty of ideas, ways of evangelizing and making disciples of all nations, and I'm sure there's plenty of ideas I've never thought of.  I don't want to hear someone say "I just don't know what I should do to fulfill the great commission."  Its all right there, its all very simple and easy.  Anyone that would say that Facebook is not a good tool for evangelism is mentally insane.  Anyone that would acknowledge its usefulness, but won't do anything about it, is the lazy servant written about in Matthew 25.  Of course not everyone is meant to do the same things, and women are not called to preach or teach over men, but even just doing the most simple thing - posting Bible verses as status updates - will turn the world upside-down.  Scripture has that kind of power.

There are no excuses now.  We are going to see who actually believes in Jesus and who is lying through their teeth on Sunday.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.  -Jesus in Mark 8:38

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Return to Childlike Simplicity

This is something I've given thought to recently.  I'm going to say this, and try to articulate it with the same simplicity that I'm arguing for, because I firmly believe this is biblical.  I'll show you what I mean.

It seems that Christians say a lot of things that are rather confusing.  If we put these statements together, even statements from one person, we sometimes find contradictions and nonsensical conclusions.  And often these statements run contrary to our natural intuitions.  Let me give some examples.  Its been said: "all sins are equal".  That would mean that murder is equal with telling a lie.  It not only runs contrary to our intuition, but it also happens to be unbiblical.  Its also been said: "Christianity is not about being good".  Again, that seems counter-intuitive, but we just accept that it must somehow be true.  We believe the people speaking for Christianity, but are we comparing their words with Christ's words to see if we should?  One extraordinary aspect of Christ's words is that they're very simple and easy to understand.  He talks about the most profound things, but talks in such a way that a 10 year old could understand Him.  I'll quote some things written in the gospels, and I'll start with this one:

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  Mark 10:15

This verse is a very good reason for believing that Jesus speaks things simply for a good reason.  A 10 year could understand Him, because all of us are supposed to receive Jesus' words like a 10 year old.  The more you try to intellectualize and complicate Jesus' words, the harder it will be for you to understand Him.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  Matthew 12:35

The next time you hear a Christian say "its not about being good" remind him of this verse.  Being a Christian is about being good man.  Call me crazy, but it seems obvious to me that being good is good.

Do to others as you would have them do to you  Luke 6:31

How does a good man bring good things out of the good stored up in him?  Answer: Luke 6:31

I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:5

How does a good man have good stored up in him?  If Jesus is in him, and Jesus is perfect, then certainly that man has good stored up in him.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  John 15:10

It is a very precious thing to be in Christ's love - to be loved by Him.  Obey His commands and you will remain in His love.  Its very straight-forward

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  John 14:15

Again, very straight-forward

Anyone reading the gospels can see that Jesus makes many claims that are straight-forward, simple and easy to understand.  If all we did was to read the four gospels, it would not be hard at all to come to an understanding of what Jesus is saying.  But when we add all of the modern Christianese - all the Christian catchphrases, sermons and general chatter - it becomes much much more complicated and confusing.  We are forced to reconcile things that are said from the pulpit that seem to contradict things that Jesus said very simply, and indeed they sometimes do contradict.  I would caution someone with this: Always remember that Christianity is to be accepted like a little child, so if it seems too confusing for a little child to accept, then you may want to question whether you're actually hearing Christianity or hearing a jumbled mess of fine sounding lies.  Bottom line: What Jesus said is very easy to understand and He never lied.  Don't let the chatter of men confuse you.  Read the Bible, specifically the gospels.

Now when we try to communicate the truth to other people, how about we try this: Lets present the same simple truths that Jesus presented to us.  And we can even speak of these truths with the exact same words that Jesus used.  Getting back to childlike simplicity, I believe, is getting back to our foundational truths - truths that seem to have been ignored.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Menorah's Significance

There are many neat connections and meanings hidden throughout the Bible.  One of them involves the Menorah described in Exodus.  Before I go further and describe this connection, I must give credit to my friend Jeff for pointing this out to me.  Its nothing new but it seems that not many people know about it.

The Menorah is described in Exodus 25:31-40.  It is one lampstand with three branches on one side and three on the other, making it able to hold seven lamps.  On each of the six branches there are three cups shaped like almond flowers, three buds and three blossoms.  If you take the ornaments, the cups, buds and blossoms, from one side of the lampstand, they add up to 27 (3+3+3=9 x 3=27).  On the center shaft there are four of each kind, cups, buds and blossoms.  That makes 12 on the center shaft.  If you add up all the ornaments on the whole Menorah, you end up with 66.  There is 27 on the one side, 12 in the center and 27 on the other side.  27 plus 12 is 39, and 39 plus 27 is 66.  Now what else do we know that has that same numerical pattern?  The Bible is 66 books.  The Old Testament is 39 books.  The New Testament is 27 books.  There are the 12 minor prophets at the end of the Old Testament.  Before them is 27 books.  So we see that there are 27 books before the 12 minor prophets, then the 12 minor prophets, and then the 27 books of the New Testament.

Clearly there is a connection between the Menorah and the Bible - the Menorah is somehow a picture of the Bible.  It made me think of what it might mean, and then I realized what the purpose for a lampstand is.  A lampstand holds the lamp, which is the light.  Another way to say it, the lampstand carries the light.  With the Bible we have a lampstand that carries the light of Jesus.  In John 8:12 Jesus says "I am the light of the world".  The lampstand is not the light itself, but the lampstand carries the light.  Now this may confuse some people because Jesus is called the Word in John 1:1 (also in Revelation 19:13).  The Bible is also called the word of God, so a person may make the mistake of thinking that the Bible and Jesus are one in the same.  But that would be absurd; the Bible can't literally be Jesus.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe that when John calls Jesus the Word of God, he is saying that Jesus in the complete Word.  While Jesus is the complete Word (uppercase W), the Bible is not, but the Bible is a means for receiving the complete Word.  Of course that's not to say that anything should be added to the Bible, except the Holy Spirit, but just to make it clear that the Bible is not God Himself (it would be tragic if we made that mistake).  Taking the picture of the Menorah into consideration, the Bible is the lampstand and Jesus is the light that that lampstand holds.  In other words, the Bible is the means by which the light of the world (Jesus) is brought into the world.

This made me think of something else.  The lampstand in Exodus, the Menorah, isn't the only lampstand mentioned in the Bible.  The Menorah has seven lamps, but in Revelation there are seven lampstands.  The seven lampstands in Revelation 1:12 represent the seven churches.  These are also pure gold, just as the Menorah is.  And I believe that the meaning of these lampstands is very similar.  As the Menorah represents the Bible, and is a means for carrying the light (Jesus) into the world, so the seven lampstands represent the seven churches, and are the means for carrying the light into the world.  We, as the church of Christ, are tasked with the mission of shining the light of Jesus.  We are called to take the word of God (the Bible) to every corner of the earth.  In doing so we are a lampstand (church) that carries the lampstand (Bible) that holds the light (Jesus).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Doing The Will of God

Doing the will of God is incredibly important.  In fact, its necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus said this in Matthew 7:21: Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  But to do the will of God we have to know what the will of God is.

Knowing the will of God
I've often heard people talk about knowing the will of God for their lives, and they're usually talking about specific stuff: going to college or not, what man to marry, going on a mission or not.  Along with that they seem to add an element of mysticism.  They'll talk about interpreting this sign or that.  I have heard people talking about some voice in their head.  I have heard people say "God spoke to my heart".  Now I can't rule out the possibility of signs, or the possibility of a person sensing God's will, and I think it has happened in some cases, but most of the time I'm skeptical.  But besides the fact that I think most of this stuff is phony baloney, I believe the will of God that Jesus speaks about is not the specifics mentioned above.  The will of God is obeying the commands of God.  To know the commands of the Father we must look at the commands of Jesus.  Jesus said: For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it (John 12:49).  And in John 14:24 He said: He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.  So the Father's will is that we obey the commands of the Son.  Now lets look at some of those commands

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  Matthew 22:37-40

So we must love God with all our heart and soul and mind (Mark's gospel includes strength).  I think this means that we show our love through worship, service, prayer, trusting and, very importantly, reverence (of course there's other stuff that I can't think of right now).  The second command involves our interaction with other people.  We must love others - treat them as we would like to be treated.  This, I believe, does not always mean simply being nice or kind, but wanting the ultimate good of the other person, even if it may be painful in the short run.  Jesus gives us an excellent example of loving our neighbor with the story of the good Samaritan, and along with that another command

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."  Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."  Luke 10:36-37

That means that we look for every opportunity to help other people, especially those people who we would otherwise avoid: strangers, poor, different than us, etc etc.  Here's another command from Jesus

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Matthew 28:18-20

This is the great commission.  The first part of this is making disciples and that requires sharing the gospel - the word of truth - with people.  We cannot make disciples by being silent; that whole "relationship evangelism" nonsense is completely ineffective.  We must speak up about God's word.  Then, after a person accepts the gospel, we are commanded to baptize them.  Then we are commanded to continue teaching them; continue discipling, a process that never ends.

Now I realize that I did not cover everything that Jesus commanded, and of course there are teachings/commands from the apostles as well, which convey the will of God.  So a person must read the Bible to find everything else, but there is a selection of God's will.  Now I want to point out something else.  A person may be thinking that we do the will of God as a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that we get the Holy Spirit first and doing God's will follows.  That is true, but I believe its only half of the truth.  One way for us to get the Spirit (if there is anything we can do to get the Holy Spirit, and I believe there is) is to do the will of God.  We know, based on Matthew 4:4, that the word of God gives us spiritual nourishment, but that is not all that gives us spiritual nourishment. In John 4:34 Jesus said: My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.  So if Jesus is nourished, just as He replied to Satan in Matthew 4:4, by doing the will of God, then wouldn't we also be nourished by doing the will of God?  I submit to you that I believe that doing God's will is actually one way (among others, like reading the Bible) to gain the Holy Spirit.  Of course some will argue that there is nothing we can do to gain the Holy Spirit, and in a sense they're right, the Holy Spirit comes and goes as He pleases, but certainly the things we do have a major impact on our spiritual life.  So there are two reasons for doing the will of God: 1) The obvious reason, which is that its the will of God, and He has the power to send us to heaven or hell; and 2) as a way for us to nourish and strengthen our spiritual being.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Christianity Is Not

Christianity is not

a man-made institution
full of aging tradition and empty dogma
a denomination built on a man's reputation
barely surviving by the schemes of men
under the watch of apathetic leaders
taken as far as a church sign
faded letters that the passerby sees
subdued like a mute
less intense than a game night
for the purpose of your safety
a vacation
for amusing the brain-dead
a defeat
for the lazy half-hearted
barely surviving the century
losing the next generation
empty preaching that puts men to sleep
found only Sunday morning from 10 till 12
safety for the coward
a pointless parade lacking in deeds
the temporary pretense of men without the Holy Spirit
meaningless, empty conventions by men for men

Christianity Is

Christianity is

the kingdom of God
alive and here to stay
a religion built on the holy word of God
established by the only Son of God
taken hold of by forceful men
advancing until it dominates the world
larger than anything you could see
grander than anything you could imagine
more explosive than dynamite
more radical than a kamikaze
a battle
for the most zealous
a victory
for the most diligent
resurrecting every century
renewing every generation
the inspiration of great men
found through reading the Bible
displayed with courage
a symphony of glorious deeds
the eternal treasure that cannot be bought with any amount of money
God indwelling the heart, soul and mind


About Me

Unimpressive in person. But always praying that these letters I write will be weighty and forceful. I serve the Almighty as a servant of Christ. I strive to conquer hearts and minds with the word of God. I am nothing, but the Holy Spirit living inside me is omnipotent. By Him I can run and not grow weary, or walk and not be faint. All glory and honor be to God and to Jesus the Christ.