Proclaiming a Message of Good News and Hope to our generation!

Month: October 2013

Confessions

From the earliest times the people of God have been pressed to express their deepest convictions. 1 Corinthians 12:3, 15:3-4, Philippians 2:6-10, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 John 4:2 reveal confessions of faith that were important to the Early Church. In fact many lost their lives during periods of persecution for refusing to recant from the essential Christian confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

As a spiritually dynamic entity, the Early Church had to deal with many strange ideas that crept in from the philosophies and religions of that time. Truths that were long taken for granted had to eventually be protected in formal statements of faith. One of the most important of such statements is known as “The Apostle’s Creed.” It effectively affirms the core beliefs that hold believers together and at the same time avoids minor points over which they differ.

The Apostle’s Creed was commonly used by new converts at baptism in the Second Century. It has since been recognized by most Christian groups.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; rose again the third day; ascended into heaven; from thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic*(universal) Church; the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body and life eternal.”

(*catholic here is not a denomination. The word means “universal” and refers to the unity of all true believers of all times and places.)

While most of us can agree on the earliest form of the Apostle’s Creed, Christians have added to this list of essential beliefs over the centuries. It is differences over these additions that often come between us. That is why perhaps my previous statement of beliefs was so basic. In an effort to avoid division maybe I was too vague. Somehow I hope to convey that I respect the honest convictions of others while at the same time I have strong convictions of my own. Some of those convictions reflect deep concerns over what to me are serious errors threatening the Church of Jesus Christ.

Some of the pertinent issues of our time are not addressed in the Apostle’s Creed. The following are points that I urge all believers to consider:

1) The authority of Scripture.
The testimony of the 66 books of the Bible have been proven time and time again to be “God-breathed,” that is that “Holy men of old spoke, as they were moved on by the Holy Spirit of God.” Furthermore, if the men who Jesus personally chose to carry on His mission cannot be trusted, what do we have to go on? His apostles both affirmed the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures and those that later became our New Testament. (Matthew 5:18, Luke 24:44-45, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 3:15-16).

Most every cult and crazy person out there claims to hear from God. By what other criteria are we to discern the Truth but by these words of Scripture which have been carefully preserved for us?

Attempts to undermine the witness of the apostles has not ceased since the beginning. Modern Liberalism has asserted that the Bible is not historical, but an allegory. Today, a more subtle effort is found in the use of “Dispensational” teachings. We recognize the various covenants established by God first in Eden, then one He gave to Noah, then to Israel through Moses, and finally through Christ to His Church. However, seeing that God Himself was behind each one and in each situation, we should never dismiss the value of any of them. As New Covenant believers, we need to understand His intention for that time, and to not miss the lesson for our time! He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His values and character will never change! (Romans 14:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Most recently even the four Gospels have been marginalized under the assumption that they were addressed to those under the law, not today’s Christians. By what authority I ask was this decision made, when Jesus, after His death, burial and resurrection commanded that everything He taught His disciples as recorded in the Gospels be taught to all people everywhere? (Matthew 28:19-20).

2) The power of the Holy Ghost.
In this modern era the trend is both towards a silly spiritualism as well as a crass materialism. One extreme in the church is to accept without question every strange idea or experience, while the other is to look for a scientific explanation for everything. Many are too eager to use human methods to solve problems, rather than to look for divine help.

The Author and Finisher of our Faith, Jesus Christ, clearly demonstrated that God’s power to work miracles was available to His people. The power of the Holy Ghost serves His purpose, and His purpose only. He desires our confidence that He will cleanse and transform our lives and the lives of others in ways that cannot always be explained. He will advance his Kingdom through gifts of supernatural wisdom, knowledge, healings and miracles.

Every believer needs to experience His power to effectively witness for Him. (Acts 1:8)

3) Repentance.
Modern relativistic ideas have so crept into the church today that discussions on sin and repentance are becoming taboo. All of us have sinned and need forgiveness. There is such a thing as right and wrong. The Good News is that Christ has paid the debt we owe and all that is necessary for us to do is to accept His gift of salvation. Anyone who turns from trusting in his or her own good works, and trusts in the power of Christ alone to save, is a believer. The Holy Spirit does the rest, that is, He will come into you through the New Birth, and fill you with His Life and power to live a holy life.

Repentance and confession of sin are powerful keys to maintaining victory over sin in the life of every believer! (Luke 11:4, 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, 12:21, 1 John 1:9).

4) The Church as a Family.
One of the most important characteristics of the abundant, Spirit-filled life is the Love of God we have towards others. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ by building them up in the faith. (Ephesians 4:16). We love unbelievers not only by showing them kindness, but also by demonstrating a loving community life. (John 13:35, 17:21).

So many forms, traditions and organizational activities work against community life these days. All of these need to be re-evaluated in light of the priorities of Christ Himself for His Church.

5) A Vision for the Future.
Over the past 40 years I have sought a clear understanding of what we call the “end-time prophecies” in the Bible. Many questions still remain. I hope our minds never become so made up or that we become so committed to one point of view that we cannot hear and act on the Word of God to our generation!

All of us are called to live as citizens of heaven now. (Philippians 3:20). We are to live in anticipation of greater victories in Christ, and to see ourselves as “more than conquerors” in Him. There is no room for pessimism in the life of a true child of God. Equipped with the “whole armor of God,” we will not be moved from our confidence in His ultimate victory, no matter the circumstances.

He instructed us to pray that His Kingdom would come, and that His will be done on earth as in heaven! (Matthew 6:10).

6) We are at War.
In keeping with popular materialistic and relativistic views, more are denying the urgency of the hour. There does indeed exist, according to the entire New Testament witness, a very powerful enemy. “That ancient serpent, the Devil, who is called Satan” is not simply an allegory or myth. (Revelations 12:9, 20:2). He was in fact, defeated by Christ on the Cross two thousand years ago. For most of the human race, however, that defeat has not yet come down to their experience.

This is not the gruesome entity of popular horror movies, but an evil being who often appears to humans as “an angel of light.” He entices people with promises of freedom and happiness, only to enslave them with the very things that were supposed to make them free. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 1 Peter 2:18-20).

Is it possible that many Christians are unaware of this enemy, or at least have underestimated him? Why else are so many divorcing one another, becoming addicted to drugs, money, sex and other destructive activities? Believers must understand that we are not overcomers in ourselves, but only IN HIM Who loves us! A better knowledge of the Scriptures can help us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of HIS MIGHT!” (Romans 8:37, Ephesians 6:10).

7) Finally, we need to keep Jesus Christ at the center of everything. We desire a clearer understanding of the Truth because He is the Truth! There is absolutely no value in being smarter or more precise in our theology without the simplicity of single-minded devotion to Him! (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Strong in the Lord

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13)

These are days of amazing scientific advancements. Technology has changed our lives considerably, especially in the area of communication. Events both public and private can be immediately witnessed from almost anywhere in the world. As prophesied in the book of Daniel, many are going to and fro and knowledge has increased in these latter days. (Daniel 12:4)

Things that were once attributed to unseen spiritual forces are now commonly explained by the laws of physics. Even every aspect of human behavior is interpreted as simple reactions of chemistry and electrons. Not all of us are willing to look at life in terms of such cold, mathematical calculations, but we are more inclined to think of life in material, rather than spiritual terms these days.

Modern Christians, especially in the West are much less concerned about the devil than the Christians of the First Century. The concept of an evil being who works behind the scenes to trip us up seems to belong more in the area of horror and fantasy stories than the real world of our daily lives.

While a significant number attribute almost any problem in life to the devil, more are reluctant to discuss the subject altogether. But how are true Bible-believing Christians to deal with the subject? Are we to relegate the Scriptures concerning him to a more superstitious time in the life of the Church? Or are we to take a more sober, clear-minded look at the Scriptures and real life, and realize that we too need to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might!

An honest look at our lives and the lives of those around us should confirm that we do have an adversary, the devil, who really does roam about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour! (1 Peter 5:8) Consider the power of the human instinct for survival. People will struggle against impossible odds to live, with seemingly superhuman efforts, and yet some unseen force can draw others to suicidal habits and actions. Even some Christians who know the love of God have become so blinded by his lies as to enslave themselves to things that destroy their health, their families and their peace of mind.

The Christian has no cause to fear this adversary. The apostle John clearly announced that “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world!” (1 John 4:4). Satan is absolutely no match for God, Who lives within us! But wait, does that mean that we on our own can deal with him? We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us! (Philippians 4:13). That is why Paul urged believers to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might! Only by actively engaging His armor can we stand against Satan’s powerful deceptions.

Some would tend to overexaggerate the powers of this adversary. But it is a great mistake in any war to underestimate one’s enemy. The New Testament gives us the reality of the situation.

In Christ we are more than conquerors in every situation. (Romans 8:37).
Yet we are called stand against the devils schemes. (Ephesians 6:11).
We are to submit ourselves to God, to resist the devil and he will flee from us. (James 4:7).
And to be sober, vigilant, watching as if for a dangerous animal, resisting him in steadfast faith and humility, knowing how our Lord truly cares for us. (1 Peter 5:6-9)
A new convert must guard against pride, or he will fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6).
An elder might even fall into the devils trap. (1 Timothy 3:7).
A humble, wise and patient servant of the Lord can be used by Him to advise those who are already slaves to the devil, so they too can escape his control. (2 Timothy 2:26).
Satan can trouble marriages. (1 Corinthians 7:5).
He can take advantage of unforgiving believers. (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).
He can transform himself into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14).
He even physically buffeted and hindered the apostle Paul. (2 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:18).
And cast other saints into prison. (Revelation 2:10).
But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11).

The focus of our warfare is in our thought life.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

The greatest weapon we have is our relationship with Christ. We obey Him because we love Him. We are powerful because we put Him above the desires of our flesh. Our delight is His delight! We love every Word that He speaks to us through the Written Word. That knowledge if Him makes us stronger every day, and even enables us to defeat the enemy’s power in the lives others!

Christ’s victory is our victory! Praise His wonderful Name!

Words to Live by

Growing up in Columbus’ South side I had my comic book heroes: Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Iron Man, and others. As a scrawny kid these fellows inspired my imagination for big and exciting things. In church I also learned about some mighty heroes like David, whose faith in God enabled him to bring down a giant when he was still an insignificant boy like me. And then there was Samson, who destroyed an entire building full of Philistines with his bare hands. Of course I had to read about Daniel, for I had the same name. He and his friends had the courage to withstand the greatest king on the earth, and was vindicated by God against lions and a raging fire.

At the same time I had difficulty connecting these great stories with Christianity as I then understood it. My mom’s family, she was one of 13 children, were mostly in the church. Some of them liked to debate on some of the minor issues of the day, like the appropriate dress of women in the church. It then seemed to be more about what I cannot do than anything else. This was really no fault of the church. Now I fully realize that the don’ts in life are the real sticky points for all of us. Adam and Eve had the freedom to eat of every tree in the garden but one. That one restriction was the one that got their attention.

Some of us eventually found what it was really all about. Christ came to save us from our messed up way of thinking and living. He desires true fellowship with us. When we truly have an encounter with Him, the limitations become less of an issue. We realize how much He loves us and we want to return that love that He has placed in our hearts. This is what it means to be “born-again.” This is what it means to be a New Covenant Christian, a child of the Living God!

Now that we know that it is not about rule-keeping, the rest should be easy, right? Well, sort of…. As I look at myself and others who have come into this great experience, some problems still exist. Born-again Christians sometimes tell lies, get angry and even hate, become addicted to harmful substances, commit adultery and other actions that are contrary to the nature of Christ. Some are still tempted to do things they have turned away from because of Christ. Yes, forgiveness for all these things is readily available from Him, but the damage we do to ourselves and others in the process is very real.

Now that we are not under rules, we tend to forget how much we still need the words they contain. Sometimes I chuckle under my breath when I hear people say that they don’t live by a set of principles. They think they only follow their consciences, or the Spirit of God, or their instincts. The fact is that anyone who says, “I only follow what my heart tells me,” has already established a principle or a set of words that they live by. There is even a code among the most lawless in society. To turn in a fellow thief is unforgivable to the other thieves. Some intellectuals today with the most “liberated” thinking can get very heated when their rules are violated!

People can even get very legalistic about their not being under law!

So far I have not found anyone who does not hold to words that they live by. You can hear the clich├ęs most every day. In Early America, we had, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Standing up for the American Revolution, Patrick Henry cried, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Later revolutionaries stated that all men are created equal, with certain unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That concept of equality is even more powerful today. How about later slogans, like “Make love, not war!” Or “Give peace a chance?” A common and popular statement in our time in essence is “there are no absolutes,” which in itself states an absolute.

There is even a creedal quality to “we are not under the law, but under grace!”

The point is, we are going to live by someone’s word’s. Whose words are we going to live by? What works for me is to find those individuals who have been listening to the Voice of the Lord, and to glean from their words. They are those who have taught me how to listen to God for myself, how to dig into the Scriptures and to allow the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to embed the very words of God into my heart and life.

Words from God are not to hinder or limit us. They empower us to resist the pull of destructive habits and behavior. As bread nourishes our physical bodies, the Word of God is bread to our inner life. It builds up the New Man that He has made us to be. God’s Word is a creative force. When He says, “Let there be light,” there is light! When He says “You shall not steal,” there is power in that word when mixed with faith to make me into a giver rather than a taker. When we read, Galatians 5:22-23: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law,” we are reminded of the virtuous life that results from the Spirit-filled life.

The Psalmist said, “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalms 119:11).

It is evident that Jesus in His humanity had the word of God hidden in His heart. When visited by the tempter, He resisted him with the very words of Scripture in the proper context. In Him there was no disconnect between the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The two resonated together within Him and propelled Him forward in His mission.

In us, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We need for these wholesome words to become flesh. We need the Living Word of God to transform our thoughts and emotions, bringing them in line with our spiritual life. “For the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” If we need our daily physical bread, how much more do we need our daily spiritual food, for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 26:41, Romans 8:6, Matthew 4:4).

The Increase of the Kingdom

In an earlier podcast I shared an experience I had forty years ago from which I have never recovered. Like so many others, I had caught a small glimpse of what God has in mind for all of humanity. Remembering the garden in Eden that Adam and Eve once enjoyed, it seems to us like paradise. And there seems to be a sense in the heart of all people that there is such a place, or at least a desire that paradise would be real.

Where does this desire come from? If many modern theories about our origin are true, there is no basis for such a hope. How could a one-celled life form, or even an ape pass down a memory of a blissful existence? How could an accident of nature conjure up in its imagination a world such as the one described in nearly every ancient culture? A wise man, whose words are preserved for us in the Bible, noted that God Himself has placed eternity in our hearts! (Eccl. 3:11 NIV)

While some are satisfied to simply picture heaven in their minds, Jesus set forth that His mission was to proclaim the coming of heaven to earth! He also challenged anyone who had ears to hear, that they should ready themselves for it. Only those who repent of their sins and trust in Him to deliver them can be truly “born from above,” and gain an entrance into this Kingdom. It is truly an experience, but one that literally transports us from one realm of existence, the kingdom of darkness, into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. (John 3:3-5, Cols. 1:13).

In this Kingdom there is a different set of values and even a different way of seeing things. Instead of self-preservation, there is self-sacrifice. Instead of coercion there is serving others. There is both an immediate transformation and a progressive one. Now the Kingdom of God is within us, changing our hearts and attitudes as we intentionally confess Jesus as Lord of all things. Not only does He give the desire, but also the power to live a life of goodness, holiness and joy as citizens of heaven! (Phil. 2:13, 3:20).

Jesus told his dear friend Martha that anyone who lived and believed in Him would never die. Those who have gone before us in physical death are alive and with Him now, but they too, will be a part of heaven on earth. He will bring them back at the climax of the ages! (1 Thess. 4:13-14).

This Kingdom that we can experience now is on the move. Like yeast in flour, it permeates society, one heart at a time. (Matthew 13:33). The exciting thing as that we get to participate in the increase of His Kingdom. As we follow the example of Christ, going about doing good, showing kindness to others, telling them about His gracious love for us, the Good News of the Kingdom becomes contagious. It has been spreading for two thousand years now. It began with only twelve disciples, and has grown to untold billions since then!

Within a few days after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, a community of believers became the first expression of His Kingdom on the earth. It was the mighty Holy Spirit that descended like a hurricane upon them that empowered them to live together and to love one another so.

Christ is bringing the work that He began back then unto a climax in our day. He is calling for a fresh new wineskin to contain and preserve the New Wine of the Spirit that will duplicate the glory of that first assembly in Jerusalem. This new wineskin is actually a simple, humble, flexible community of people who love God more than their own pride and power. It is to be led by those who love serving more than being served.

The central focus is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who was truly the Servant of all. It is all about Him! While there will always be great diversity in our worship, He is bringing us into a greater unity than we have ever known. This is all for our good and His glory, in order that all the world will truly know that He is Lord! (Phil 2:10-11).

For in Christ we have a glorious past, a marvelous present, but also a future that is beyond words!

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