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

Month: January 2014

Real Manhood

“This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.” (Genesis 5:1-2 NKJV)

Contrary to modern pop-psychology, men and women are not from different planets! However, the One Who created them definitely established a distinction between them. Together they become a wonderful picture of their Father God. Being an invisible Spirit, He has chosen to reveal Himself through the amazing form of these human beings He has created!

It did eventually happen, however, that we humans fell from that lofty estate through disobedience. (Romans 4:12). This set in motion God’s plan of redemption wherein He sent His only Son to die in our place, and live again to restore our union with Him. (Romans 5:8-11). Nearly two thousand years have passed since Jesus reconciled mankind to God, and yet the struggle against sin and death continues.

It has always been so, that when we turn from our own way, believe the truth of the Gospel, trust in Him and receive His gracious gift of eternal life, everything changes. With this clean slate, both males and females of this once fallen race now have this fantastic opportunity to resume the original quest for which we were created. There is much lost time to recover, and many old patterns and habits to forsake. For this, we His redeemed people need the constant renewing or our minds.

Because of the Fall, the roles which God designed for men and women have become greatly distorted. The resulting image has been a poor representation of the image of our wonderful Lord. The abuses that men have heaped upon women and women upon men have scarred humanity in many ways. Sin takes a serious and deadly toll upon us all. The scars are often deep and not often recognized, but they powerfully shape our thoughts, feelings and actions.

Thank the Lord that healing has come! No longer do we have to live in the pain of the past, and in the false conceptions of this fallen world. Christ has set us free, and we are truly free!

Men are now free to be men as God intended, and women can truly pursue their deepest desires in Him as well. Those characteristics that were once designed for good and the glory of God have been twisted and distorted. The boldness and strength He placed in man have been used for evil and oppression, and the sensitivity and gentleness He created in women has been used to seduce and manipulate.

There is an equally damaging and sinful reaction to these situations today. Our modern culture seeks a solution in blurring the differences between the sexes that God had wisely designed. Men are being feminized and women are being masculinized in extremely subtle and deceptive ways, even in the Church. While Jesus did teach us to be meek, He did not say for us to be weak. Jesus was a real man. He stood for righteousness and truth always, without abusing His authority. He was infinitely loving and kind, but also uncompromising in the Truth.

He sent other men out into the world like Peter, James, John, Paul, Luke, Timothy, Apollos and others, to make the same stand for His Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Ours is a different world and a different time, and yet this very same adventure continues. In opposition to this, our adversary the devil has used the succeeding centuries to develop more distractions to consume our time. He has benched millions by simply convincing them they are not needed. Their efforts are useless. Their lives do not matter.

Many try to affirm their masculinity by big talk, coarse attitudes, and rude behavior. Others by the accumulation of things. Some succumb to the culture by becoming passive, nice guys who would not dare to confront evil or even face controversy. Others test their bravery in heated battles over the pettiest of issues and opinions, destroying the unity and harmony in the community and the Church.

Jesus is calling us to be real men. There is a battle worth fighting and a war worth winning. But this one is not with flesh and blood. Real men resist passivity. They take responsibility for themselves and those whom God has placed in their care. They can do all this through Christ who strengthens them! They resist selfishness and self-indulgence. If they are married they learn to love their wives as Christ loves His Church. If they are single they keep themselves pure for His sake.

They are willing to endure hardness, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3) They understand the true Grace of God that empowers them and teaches them to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age. (Titus 2:12). Instead of running from the battle, their true inner manhood motivates them to engage it. With a renewed mind they set out to prove that good, acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2). Excuses are not for real men. This cowardess is unnecessary because of the indwelling power of Christ.

Real men admit to failure and repent. Real men confess their faults one to another and are healed. Real men do not try to fall back on an easy, armchair religion or blame others for their mistakes. Real men receive correction from the Lord and those He sends to them. Real men get back up and fight the good fight of faith. When tempted to feel sorry for themselves, they seek out other men for encouragement. They cultivate a thankful heart.

Is there something inside of you that cries out to break free from the constraints of fallen humanity? Do you sense that there is more than simply accepting and coping with life as it is? The fact is that the freedom you seek is only found in submission. Your submission to Christ and the challenge to manhood that He presented is the answer. His offer is one of a dangerous and challenging existence, and yet one that is exhilarating and fulfilling!

It is time for many of us to give up the complacent, purposeless life of one who has lowered his expectations to fit his circumstances. No. Christ came to change everyone’s circumstances, by first changing our hearts. His compassion will never be satisfied to leave us unchanged, and the circumstances of others unchanged either. It is the Lord’s to decide what should be changed and when, but real men are ready when He is. Every simple act of obedience to Christ becomes a courageous challenge to the gates of hell! No command from their Commander and Chief is too small or too large to them.

They can truly hold their heads up high before the world as they humbly bow before their Savior and Lord, Who has given them their true dignity, and Who awaits to crown them with His Crown of Life. (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10).

Because they have surrendered their lives and their future to Christ, they will be able to stand with our beloved Paul, who near the end of his life wrote these compelling words:

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

The Case for House Church

Around 18 years ago my wife and I were having fellowship with some friends that we hadn’t seen for some time. That evening we found we had many things in common, especially in our desire for a more simplistic approach to gathering with other believers. During the course of time, the phrase “house church” came up. If I had ever heard it before, it never impacted me like it had then. I already knew that the First Century Church often met in homes, but at this point in my life I envied the them more for this very reason.

From that time on, I began to learn more about various movements in recent history where home meetings were more than home Bible studies and prayer meetings. The people in these groups saw their meetings as legitimate expressions of the Church of Jesus Christ. They did not feel the need to build or purchase a building to meet in. They knew that Christ would be present in their gatherings as they prayed, worshipped, read His Word and ate together

Like the First Century Church!

It was the mid-nineties, and the internet was coming into more widespread use. It was there that I found many others who were rediscovering the New Testament Church and finding out about each other. It was an exciting time, and expectations were high. Several families joined with us, and we began a journey that lasted for over 15 years. In retrospect, I can see how things could have been better for many of us during those years, but also how blessed we were to have experienced Christ together in this way.

One of the downfalls of that movement was the tendency to build a case for the existence of House Churches, by building a case against traditional churches that meet in buildings and are more organized. What I want to do today is to build a case for the Biblical church, and how the House Church can be one among other practical ways to experience the Biblical, New Testament Church.

First, what do I mean by Biblical? When Jesus walked as a man on this earth, He made disciples and trained them as sort of “apprentices” in the Gospel. These were to carry the baton, so to speak, which He had passed down to them. Following His example, they preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and gathered the believers together as a community. They are the best resource we have for the message and life of Jesus. As He had commanded them, they spread His teachings to many nations, and also passed them down to later generations verbally and in writings.

This Written Word, the New Testament is more important today than it was back then because we no longer have the original eyewitnesses with us. But the power of the words they left are so self-evident that they have been precious to believers for over two thousand years. Not all following generations stayed true to the pure message of Christ, therefore, we continually go back to the Bible as our standard. Some would say, that the Holy Spirit is all they need. My answer to that statement is that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, and I am thankful that I have a way to test any impression or “spirit” to see if it is truly from God!

The same Holy Spirit that lived in the apostles, lives in us today, and when we are in agreement with those sent by Christ, we are in agreement with Him. That agreement produces the power to change lives, communities, and nations for the glory of God. Why would we not want that?

So when we speak of the Biblical Church, or Biblical Christianity, we are talking about that which is faithful to Jesus Christ Himself. He is responsible for what has been written in the New Testament. Without Him, His coming as a baby in Bethlehem, His sinless life, His preaching and teaching of the Kingdom of God, His miracles, His death on the Cross, His Resurrection, His Ascension to the throne on high, and His sending forth the Holy Spirit to fill His people, there would be no Church. Without the faithfulness of the men and women that He discipled, we would have no New Testament, no Twenty-first Century Church.

The Biblical Church is found in a multitude of nations, languages and cultures. There are many differences in the way they dress, in the songs they sing together, and in the way they meet. The one thing that they have in common is their faithfulness to the Words of Christ. They can gather in homes, hotel meeting facilities, and traditional buildings designed for Church meetings. I have attended meetings in all of these settings, as well as in a straw hut with a dirt floor in India. The important thing is that Jesus Christ is loved, honored, worshipped and obeyed.

The case I am attempting to make is not that other settings cannot be Biblical. In fact, I have been in House Church meetings that were frankly less Biblical in many ways than other meetings in traditional settings. However, I do believe there are advantages to meeting in homes. Those who love the Word of God and seek to follow Christ together can find a great freedom to do so in believer’s homes.

Consider the “one anothers” written in the New Testament. All of them are important to a rich, genuine Christian experience that is faithful to the call of Christ for every believer.

We are instructed to:

. . . be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)

. . . wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)

. . . love one another (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 17, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians. 3:12, 4:9, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12, 2 John 5)

……deeply, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22)

. . . realize that we are members of one another (Romans. 12:5)

. . . be devoted to one another in love (Romans. 12:10)

. . . honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)

. . . live in harmony with one another (Romans. 12:16)

. . . stop passing judgment on one another (Romans. 14:13)

. . . edify one another (Romans. 14:19)

. . . be like minded one toward another (Romans. 15:5)

. . . admonish one another (Romans. 15:14).

. . . wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33)

. . . have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)

. . . greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans. 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14)

. . . serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13)

. . . bear with one another in love (Ephesians. 4:2, Colossians 3:13)

. . . speak truth for we are members of one another (Ephesians. 4:25)

. . . be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians. 4:32)

. . . submit to one another (Ephesians. 5:21)

. . . not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)

. . . forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
. . . comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

. . . incite one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)

. . . encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25)

. . . not speak evil of one another (James 4:11)

. . . not make complaints against one another (James 5:9)

. . . confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)

. . . pray for one another (James 5:16)

. . . offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)

. . . clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).

. . . have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)

All of these exhortations must be responded to in the context of personal relationships. It would be difficult to visualize any of them outside of that context. Each of them implies that we know each other. Of course there are ways that people get to know one another outside of the church gathering. But a more informal House Church setting can facilitate the process. Whereas, a person could attend a large mega-church meeting for some time without getting to know the other believers, let alone the leaders. Thankfully, many larger churches are becoming more intentional about relationships within the local church, by organizing various small groups.

However, my concern is that far too many believers view the relationship side as secondary, while they understand their primary service to be passively observing a lovely program performed on a stage. Certainly there is a time to sit quietly and learn. I have learned tremendously from sitting under inspired, Godly teachers during my lifetime. But some things I probably would not have learned outside of an environment that is characterized by interaction. Many of those who look to the New Testament have come to see that the stage performance resulted more from the Greek culture than the less formal synagogue style from which the New Testament meeting evolved.

Love is the highest priority for believers in Christ. Anything else we do is meaningless without it! (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). This is not the kind of casual, convenient love that is common today. The love that God has for us and that we are to give to one another includes loving even when faults are known.

Another important advantage to the Biblical style house meeting is the checks and balances available. Scriptures concerning leadership become immensely practical, when your leaders are not standing above the people. It is much easier to question a strange doctrine in a personal, close, relationship-oriented gathering. The same goes for strange and spooky manifestations of “the Spirit.” I have found that it is not as easy to get into grandstanding and showmanship in a meeting where everyone knows one another personally. Again, there is less intimidation and more freedom to question what goes on.

Over the years I have met with believers from many theological backgrounds. I have come to appreciate the perspectives of both sides of the free-will verses election debate, as well as those who do not agree with my view of the charismatic experience. Leaders in House Churches are less likely to become isolated from the others in the church – if they are using the New Testament as their model. Other respected and mature members of the congregation can help them to avoid extremes in their teachings which damage the unity we have in Christ.

Another advantage for House Church and other small group meetings is in the area of discipleship and mentoring. The older women can be responsible for the younger women, and the older men for the younger men. The fundamentals of the faith can be transmitted to faithful men, who in turn personally teach other faithful men. (Titus 2:3-5 1 Peter 5:5, 2 Timothy 2:2). The House Church is more like a family than a business or political organization. There is order, but an order based upon proven relationships and the degree of care and concern we have for one another.

The one great disadvantage to House Church/Simple Church is the tendency to see everyone else as completely wrong. The Cross of Christ must continue to work in us a humility and willingness to honor Christ in all of those who love Him. Ultimately, it is only by His power at work within us that we can demonstrate His True Church, His body to the world!

Maybe God has called you to serve in a denominational church or a mega-church. That is between you and the Lord. I personally do not envy that position. May He grant His grace to avoid the pitfalls of such a situation as well as to those who need to avoid the pitfalls of House Church. We all need to be careful that we are not pressed into situations by people, or traditions, rather than the Holy Spirit of God.

Are You Sanctified?

For as long as I can remember, conversations about the Bible have included statements about how it contradicts itself. In my experience, I have found that most of the contradictions are be easily explained. Usually there is a difference in situation or context. A little bit of research or common sense can usually clear up much of the confusion. Those few verses that cannot be easily reconciled are usually minor points. We face similar contradictions in life every day and somehow get by.

Yet, there are statements in the Bible on subjects of vital importance that have become the source of debate even among Christians. Some of these issues may not be resolved for some time, but a resolution does exist – in the mind of God. The Bible only contradicts itself when it is misunderstood. The good news is, that there are enough clear, unambiguous teachings in the Bible to keep us on track, until we figure out the rest.

Consider the subject of salvation. We can find evidence that it is instantaneous, and also that it is ongoing. Some explain that the believer “has been saved, is being saved, and will yet be saved.” Here is a scripture that I once used to show this view:

“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 NKJV)

Eventually I realized that Paul was actually talking about being delivered from physical peril in his missionary work.

There are better ways to understand the various Scriptures concerning the work of Christ in saving us. In the Bible the word “salvation” is used in many ways. Sometimes people are being saved from starvation, military aggression, disease, and even physical death. The sense that is most often used in the New Testament is to be saved from sin, and separation from God. Of course salvation from sin will ultimately alleviate its dreadful consequences in this life and the life to come. Peace with God is truly a wonderful thing!

Today is the Day…

There is truly an instantaneous aspect of our salvation. When Jesus hung on the Cross, crying “It is finished,” at the least He was referring to the end of that horrible and humiliating experience. (John 19:30). But Christians understand the significance of that event more fully. We have a debt for our wrong doings that we can never pay. These last words of Christ were often used in business transactions back then. In this context our equivalent would be something like: “paid in full.” We believe that Jesus paid the price for all sins ever committed by His sacrifice on the Cross. (1 John 2:1-2).

All of the apostles of Jesus Christ and other New Testament writers agree that we are justified before God by a work of His grace in our heart. This grace instills faith in us to believe that Jesus is both Lord of all and also the perfect sacrifice which cleanses us from all sin. This justification is immediate upon our confession of faith and the placing of our trust in Him.

“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification .

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 4:25-5:2).

Romans 10:8-10:
“But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART” – that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” NASU

It was Paul who vehemently opposed those in his day who would attempt to add anything to this simple Gospel. No amount of good deeds or rituals will prove sufficient to justify sinners. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews both saw any attempt to justify ourselves by our own works as a rejection of the perfect and finished work of Christ in the Cross for our redemption! Not good!

The only change demanded of the individual for justification, is a change in allegiance. This is the meaning of repentance. When I turn from trusting in my own righteousness, to trusting in Him for every area of my life, God Himself accepts Christ’s death as payment for my sins and counts me as righteous. This is the righteousness of God by faith. The heart believes, resulting in righteousness, and the verbal confession results in deliverance from guilt and sin!

Working Out Your Salvation?

Paul also made it plain in his letters that he did not consider himself as perfect. (Philippians 3:12) However, neither he nor any other of Christ’s apostles were content to be only counted righteous. This fresh start and glorious acceptance into the family of God only inspired them to be more like their elder brother Jesus! This is the high calling of God! God’s goal for every one of His children is for them to grow up unto spiritual maturity, being conformed to the very image of Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3). Our justification is like a springboard that can propel us forward into this marvelous destiny!

Paul was enthusiastic for himself and every believer to see a continuous growth in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. He has encouraged us all with these words written to the church at Philippi: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6-7 NASB)

One way this process is described in the Bible is in the word, sanctification. God is holy, and His desire for His people is for them to be holy, even as He is. (1 Peter 1:15-16), that is why He fills us with His Holy Spirit! To be holy is to be separate or distinct from the corruption that is in the world. It is not just looking or acting different but to have a different heart and a different set of values. From the moment we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit. The old person that loved sin and selfishness is replaced by the new person who loves God and desires to please Him. We call that being born again. (John 3:3-7, 1 Peter 1:23).

Being born is not everything. There is so much progress to be made in this new life. There is an initial sanctification and also a progressive aspect. All of this is still the work of God in our lives.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” NASU

Paul also emphatically declared in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” NASU

There is the passive aspect of our salvation, where everything depends upon Christ and His work of redemption on the Cross. Our justification is by faith in Christ alone. But in the process of sanctification, we have a significant part to play and a personal responsibility.

Philippians 2:12-15:
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,” NASU

We are not saved by good works, but for good works! These do not just happen. They are the direct result of our response to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, and a deliberate rejection of the world’s point of view. It is God working in us, but our willingness is required for the outworking of His grace in our daily lives.

Paul reminds us:
“For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

‘I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord.
And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,
Says the Lord Almighty.’

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 NASB)

The life of faith in Christ is one of spiritual growth and continual change. One extreme view is that we are to become like Christ in our own self effort, by various laws, rules, techniques. The other is that we are to apply no effort on our part at all. The former view is repudiated by the entire New Testament. If the latter was true, the entire New Testament would have been unnecessary.

Some groups emphasize human effort to the extent that they become more focused on themselves than on the love and grace of God. Others take on the “name it and claim it position.” If I can confess it, it is so. Forget the many exhortations of the apostle to go on to maturity, we are already a finished work!

The Bible does not really contradict itself. All the passages affirming the finished work of Christ point to our justification. God, Who calls things that are not yet, as though they already are, has counted us righteous before the Court of Heaven! Likewise, the numerous passages exhorting us to seek God, obey Him, fight the good fight of faith, go on to maturity, grow in grace, resist temptation, build up one another, pray, confess our faults etc., are referring to the ongoing process of our sanctification.

You are already free because Christ has made you free! There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit! Hallelujah! So we must stand fast in that liberty, walking in the power of the Spirit so we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh. We are to keep our attention fixed on Jesus, His glory, His love, His power, His perfection. By beholding Him in the Scriptures and allowing His word to abide in us richly we are sanctified, purified and transformed into the very same image from glory to glory! (John 17:17, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 3:15-18.)

By God’s grace we are accepted into His family. Those who labor to earn His love are under a terrible and unnecessary load, which actually hinders spiritual growth. They might tend to measure themselves by others or become overly self conscious. Sound teaching concerning justification can make a huge difference in one’s sense of security in Christ. Sound teaching concerning sanctification can help us to maintain the joy of our salvation and bring greater glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

After all, it is all about Him!

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