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

Category: New Covenant (Page 1 of 2)

How important is the church?

Recent polls have revealed that church attendance in America is going down drastically. It is reported that an estimated 4,000 churches close their doors every year, and that about 3,500 people are leaving the church every day!

What does this say about our triumphant Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Is He failing to build His Church – the one that He declared that the very gates of hell could not withstand?

Or are we really looking at the same church He spoke of, the one depicted in the New Testament?

First let’s look at the word “church.” In our English translations of the New Testament, this word is translated from the Greek word, “ekklessia.” In the First Century it was used to describe an assembly of people that was called together for various occasions. In one example from Acts 19:32 we see the word used to describe an angry mob. Then in verse 39 the crowd is told to return later to meet in a lawful, “ekklessia” or assembly.

In time then, we see how this word ekklessia came to be the common word used to describe gatherings of the people of God in different cities or locations. These are local expressions of the one Church which Jesus calls His own, that Universal Church which encompasses all locations and periods of time! When we read the various passages, it is important that we discern from the context if they refer to the Universal Church, or to specific local churches.

What constitutes a church? In Acts we see a brief portrait of the early days of the Church at Jerusalem in Acts 2:41-47:

“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
NASU

Churches in other locations are described in Acts 14:21-23:
“After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
NASU

So, in a very practical sense, New Testament churches are gatherings of believers, who are in fact a community within the society where ever they happen to live. Because they were all saved by the same faith in Christ, they cared for one another, strengthened one another in the faith, and simply wanted to be together because of Him!

But don’t let the simplicity of this picture mislead you! These simple gatherings of humble believers in Christ are God’s means of transforming the world! Within the first 3 centuries after the appearing of Christ, the Roman Empire was largely converted to Christianity, or at the least greatly influenced by the values of Christ.

Today we have orphanages, hospitals, and a greater sense of equality among people mainly because of the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ!

Some of us even need a greater revelation of Jesus and His purpose for His people in the earth….Ephesians 1:15-23:

“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,”

There might be several reasons that so many today are abandoning the churches they attend. This passage challenges me, however, to wonder how many both in and out of these churches actually have a revelation of the riches of the glory of His inheritance IN THE SAINTS.

Continuing in verse 19:
“and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
NASU

Paul states boldly, confidently, that the community of believers together are a body, a physical representation of Christ in this earth, revealing His fullness as the Head of that body! To be clear, the church is the body of Christ, whose hands, feet, arms legs, eyes and ears are actually His redeemed, born-again, Spirit-filled individual people who are connected together in Him.

Then he explains how the Church is ultimately coming to fulfill this ideal that God has in mind.

Ephesians 4:11-16:
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
NASU

Unity as we often understand it seems to be totally unattainable for the Church of Jesus Christ. However the all-powerful King of the Universe is not bound to our limitations!

Ephesians 3:7-11:
“Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
NIV

God has a plan for the ages, and a time ordained for His manifold wisdom to be revealed through His Church. That time is now, and is continuing to unfold, if our eyes only could be open to see it!

So, how important is the Church to Jesus? He loved her as a man loves his bride, and gave Himself for Her. He has also prepared us to be His army, battling against the gates of hell, proving the wisdom of God to the evil authorities in high places.
God is calling us to a fresh look at our heritage as His people, and a greater sense of value in one another. Our motivation must be that of His, His love for His people and for the world which he came to save. Only that fiery, passionate love can motivate us to fulfill our heavenly calling in Christ.

What is the result of not understanding the value that Christ holds for His Church? Well, in the book of Haggai we have a good example of that situation. After 70 years in Babylon, the people of Judah were allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple and the city. They started out with great enthusiasm, but when difficulties arose, their enthusiasm waned. Even after conditions improved, they assumed that perhaps the need for the Temple was not so urgent. Instead they focused on their own material needs.

Hag 1:1-12:
“In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.”‘” Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. “I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD.”
NASU

Have you ever been in this place where little, if anything results from your efforts? I know I have. Jesus put it this way, He said when we seek to save our lives, we will lose them. It is only when we seek first to lose them for Him that we find the life that we were intended to live.

Many years ago I came upon Matthew 6:33. At the time, the harder I had been trying to fix my problems, the worse they became. Upon reading this passage, the Holy Spirit inspired and enabled me to act on what Jesus said, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I was given the faith to believe that the things I really needed would then be added to me by God’s grace. God proved this to be true, and I have lived by that principle ever since.

Where do we find the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? We find it in the Gospel, which is continually and practically lived out in the church of Jesus Christ. Maybe thousands of people are finding out that their churches were not truly Gospel-centered churches. Maybe they are right to leave organizations that do not present or even believe the Truth of Jesus and His life.

However, among gatherings of true believers in Jesus, there is the danger that we can become distracted away from his priorities. It is also easy to take the reality of the true riches that we have together in Christ for granted. Like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, we begin to think our private interests are more important than who we are together as the New Covenant Temple of the Holy Spirit!

The greater reality is that our investment in the Kingdom of God returns to us in a multitude of ways. Beyond the fact that our material needs are provided for, the riches in Christ we enjoy are eternal and imperishable riches in love and friendship, peace and joy, satisfaction and purpose, and most of all a relationship with Jesus himself!

To seek first the Kingdom of God means more than setting aside a few hours on Sunday morning. But for me 40 years ago, that was a start. From there Christ began filling up my life day by day with more of His wonderful presence. The things I worried about most before became less and less significant. His work in the world and among His people has become a wonderful adventure, an adventure which would make even Indiana Jones jealous!

Lord Jesus, may the Holy Spirit reveal Your purpose to all of us, that the eyes of our understanding will be opened, that we may see and become consumed with Your desire for Your Church, Your Bride, that we might freely pour our lives, our resources, even our finances into her, for the betterment of our families, our communities and our nations and for your glory.
In Your precious Name, Amen!

The Bigger Picture

The Universal Church is the body of Jesus Christ. Every person who has been baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit is a member of that body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

When the members of His body gather together to celebrate and worship Him, that is a meeting of the local church and it is an important aspect of the Kingdom of God in the earth.

It is also true that the Kingdom of God is manifested everywhere it’s citizens are, whether in their homes, schools, places of employment, or the marketplace. The power of His grace at work in them testifies to the reality of His reign!

We all need close relationships in Christ to thrive and to encourage others. At the same time, nowhere in the scripture do we find any indication that an individual can only be a member of one local congregation. In fact, the closest relationships are often outside the regular place of meeting, along with some of the greatest opportunities to serve.

These days I am thinking about how wonderful it is to be a part of the world-wide community of God’s family. We are greatly diversified in our patterns of worship and thinking, and yet one in Him. I do not have to reject one part of His family in favor of another. I do need to find the areas of service that Christ has prepared for me. It is His pleasure that I live for!

The Breath of God

2 Tim 3:14-17:
“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”
NIV

Like Timothy, I was blessed to have been taught the Holy Scriptures, the Bible from childhood. It is interesting that when Paul wrote this, he was referring to the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, which Christians call the Old Testament. The latter part of our Bible which begins with the title, “The New Testament” had not yet been completed at the time.

Here is the apostle Paul, who wrote more and more emphatic about the grace of God in Christ, and our freedom from the letter of the law, than any other.

It might surprise some today, who mock others who still read and value the Old Testament, that their hero Paul would endorse it so heartily. He would even find it useful for rebuking and correcting believers, which practice many of the same folks find to be unnecessary. In fact they teach that repentance and confession of sin is not a part of the New Covenant in Christ. They say we are only to confess our righteousness in Christ.

As for me, I will take Jesus, Peter, Paul, and James over many popular modern teachers any day!

The Fullness of Joy!

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:1-4)

There is a fullness of joy available to those who have trusted their lives into the loving care of our Lord Jesus Christ. But do all believers experience this joy as fully as they should? John’s purpose in writing to these first century believers, and to those in every century which followed, was to express his desire for them.

He deeply desired for their joy — our joy to be full!

John also wrote of the reality that he and others had experienced in Christ. Their hands had handled, they had seen and heard, they had experienced the reality of a personal encounter with eternity!

That life that existed before all time was manifested in time! Jesus! The eternal Word of God is a person that can be known — Jesus! This message was entrusted to the apostle John and others, the Good News of Jesus Christ — the presence of God’s Kingdom on earth! Glory!

Many had already heard and believed, but John was not wholly satisfied. He knew there was more of Christ for us to experience. He longed for all to fully know the joy that he had found in fellowship with God. He desired for believers and non-believers alike to come to know that fellowship. All of us together in the Father and the Son!

This is the fullness of joy!

But what does it mean? How do we come to know it? John further elaborates:

1 John 1:5-7: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.

There can be no mistake in this: the fullness of His joy depends upon both our exposure to other believers, and on our ongoing trust in the atoning work of the Cross of Christ. Our openness to Him and the brotherhood of believers, our confession of our need for forgiveness of sin —  all of which could not even be possible if not for His Grace — these all imply our participation. We must WALK in the light!

In fact, the Greek word for fellowship here actually means “a partnership, a participation.” Of course John goes on to make many other important statements concerning the fullness of joy in the life of the believer, but for now, I would like to discuss this matter of fellowship or partnership WITH GOD.

Notice the various aspects of participation here. First there is the fellowship or partnership of God with His messengers, John and the others. Then they are seen communicating to all who receive and believe the Good News. Now those responding to the Word are also called into fellowship, communion, participation with God Himself!

Oh how awesome! How mysterious! How wonderful to be involved with God! How many of us understand or even take for granted this indescribable privilege! Do we really know of God’s desire to interact with us, not only verbally, but also in the working out of His marvelous purposes?

These are the dynamics of relationship! It is about our Father! It is about the truth that we are now His children, and are expected to grow up in Him! It is about learning to walk — not of course on the natural sidewalk, but on the highway of holiness!

It is an adventure of learning and making mistakes, of listening to and following His Voice, of getting to really know the Lord! This brings the fullness of His joy into our daily Christian experience!

It all begins at the Cross of Christ, where you and I died with Him, where He bore our sins that were nailed to the Tree. But in our fellowship with one another, our walking in the light together, we are experientially cleansed from all sin by His blood! We then freely and even joyfully confess them to God, becoming continually and increasingly free!

But there is more! Oh, so much more! Our participation with God extends even beyond our personal purification, as important and needful that is! Read the words of Paul to the Ephesians, beginning in chapter 3, starting in verse 8:

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:”
(Ephesians 3:8-11)

From this powerful portion of Paul’s letter to the churches we can see that this fellowship with God is available for all mankind. We can also see how the powers that have been working against the fullness of our joy will soon be put to shame and that by the living church of Jesus Christ, His Bride who is joined — one with Him in heart and purpose!

Not only that, but this sharing or participation with God, this involvement in His sacred secret is connected with the purpose of all the ages! How’s that for a standing back and getting the panoramic view of the universe and all history? And this is all made possible by His amazing grace!

It is God’s desire for you that your joy be full! It is His desire for you to participate with Him in His plan of the ages! Does that overwhelm you? Do you perceive yourself as too insignificant or lacking in special abilities? We must never forget that our partner in this is God! He will equip us for the job at hand, no matter how great or small!

He is not here to place a heavy load on your back, but to lift your load as you reconnect with Him. Our fellowship is with the Father, and His Son Christ Jesus — the Lord of the universe! He works on our behalf. Our part is to walk in His light, and to have fellowship with one another!

Here is another place where the cross enters in. There is a crucifixion of my will, my personal ambitions and often my preferences as I walk in His light. I must learn to participate with you and you with me. I cannot walk as an independent spirit. We are members one of another.

The Cup of Blessing

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
(1 Corinthians 10:16-17 NIV)

In the Lord’s supper we have a wonderful picture of our interdependence, our participation in the nature and purposes of God together. Both His death and resurrection become a corporate experience. We reflect upon it together, we anticipate Him together, we experience Him together! Here is where we derive our fullness of joy!

It should also be mentioned here that our participation with God is not limited to things of a religious nature. In His wisdom He designed our bodies, the functioning of activities inherent to humans such as work, rest and play. All of these become acts of worship as we interact with God each day. He lifts them up into a truly higher dimension wherein even they are used to accomplish His Kingdom purposes!

“Oh, that I might know Him!”

Paul and John of course had one thing in common. They both were obsessed with the Lord Jesus Christ! They both recognized that eternal life was not simply something that they receive after laying these bodies down in death. They both affirmed that Knowing Him is possessing eternal life, for He is life!

Phil 3:10-11: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”

How few today place a high premium to our participation in the sufferings of Christ! How few understand that this is an integral part of our fully experiencing the Life of God in Christ! Every day is filled with opportunities for us to participate with Christ! And every act of obedience carries with it the possibility of experiencing deep personal pain. But each of these painful experiences can only bring us into closer union with Him.

We can then begin to know the pain that He knew. He suffered rejection and brutality for His righteous loving acts, and so will we. But how sweet is His presence and even His joy become within us as we continue to touch Him, to draw nearer to Him, to be comforted by Him!

There is an intimacy in the fellowship of His sufferings. There is also a sharing of His joy when others are brought from death to life through our patient endurance. We are participating with God in the purpose of the ages! What a privilege! What a joy!

“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Pet 2:20-25)

Heavenly Father,

We rejoice today that you have redeemed us by the blood of your Son. But our freedom from sin alone cannot compare to the wonder of our fellowship with you. Give us a fresh appreciation of our relationship with you and an even a deeper revelation of our participation with you in your eternal purpose.

Show us how to the live the abundant, joy-filled life by allowing your life and wisdom to enter into our daily routines. And help us to see the eternal significance of our ongoing fellowship with you and your wonderful family.

In the Name of Jesus our Saviour and Lord,

Amen

The Ultimate Adventure

From the beginning of time every culture has had its heroes to inspire them. People have always been thrilled to tell and listen to stories of adventures both real and fictional. These are our heroes who have overcome impossible odds with courage, skill, and character that are almost superhuman. There is something about this desire in us to imagine far away places and exciting events that lift us out of the routine of our every day existence. Perhaps they serve us by encouraging us in the challenges we face in normal living.

One day, I was listening to a college professor discussing the many religions of the world. He noted that many of the great religions of the east were contemplative and generally were in pursuit of tranquility, but that Christianity was more heroic. This set off a line of thinking in me that I had never considered before. From that time on I began to see heroism as an element that is very central to the Christian Faith.

The message of the Good News of the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ brought to mankind goes to the very core of human need. The love that He expressed and the forgiveness He brought is commonly known to us as the salvation experience. The peace that follows our surrender to God our Father, and our reunion with Him is described in many ways, depending upon our religious and cultural backgrounds, but the desire and need for it is universal. The title of “Savior of the World,” has appropriately been given to Jesus, but today the phrase has become so worn out that to some it has lost its meaning.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, has indeed become the Great Rescuer of the world, in that He has delivered us all from guilt, sin, failure and defeat and death! You and I have simply to believe and submit to the truth of what He purchased for us by His death, burial and resurrection. By it we can obtain great peace of mind, but there is even more awaiting us than that! He can and will also fill us with a great sense of purpose and adventure! Besides needing love, forgiveness, acceptance, peace and security, human beings have another great need. That need is to live in an atmosphere of excitement, enthusiasm and exuberance for life itself! We all need a reason to be here! Some might be satisfied to say that our reason for being is God, but what does that actually mean? It is my contention that living, moving and having our being in God includes possessing His passion and enthusiasm for His Creation as well!

Jesus sent His 12 disciples, and the others who followed Him, out on the greatest adventure of all. They were to tell the world the Good News that the Kingdom of God had come and was continuing to come upon the earth. They were to be ambassadors sent by God Himself to demonstrate how this rule was to take place. In a short time, they became living examples to the world of God’s forgiveness and love, and it was easy for people to see it by the harmony in which they lived. Among other things, Church life became as environment where disciples were developed and equipped to witnesses to this reality. Then they were sent forth out into the workplaces and marketplaces of the world to share this Good News to others in their own unique way. These people were by no means perfect, and we can read about their weaknesses in the New Testament, but this did not hinder their mission. In fact this only enhanced their relationships with God and kept them together in their need for Him. Therefor His power and grace became even more abundant in their lives!

These fisherman, rebels and tax collectors obviously met with great opposition from the religious and political leaders of that day. Because their economic security was at risk and their authority was being challenged, some of the more fanatic religionists even risked their lives to stop this message from being preached! Now the excitement is really building up, and these nobodies from Galilee were going to begin calling up courage from within themselves that they did not know they had! The Holy Spirit which had empowered them from the birth of God’s Church proved to be sufficient in every test, and by His Strength the Early Church drove back the gates of Hell!

These early Christians were not content to be “the rescued. “Having been well instructed by their Master, they knew the art of becoming rescuers, and because they were on fire with their love for Him, they were driven to save anyone they could. Some of them faced the most viscous hatred that men could muster, all the while revealing the fullness of Jesus’ grace and love. Many laid down their physical lives in order that many more could be translated into the Kingdom of God’s righteousness, peace, and joy. The Reign of God that started in them began to expand, as the prophets foretold, until less than 300 years later Christianity became the dominant faith in Europe.

Over the centuries, Christians have developed a false sense of security, with the material prosperity and acceptance the institution of Christianity has enjoyed. But God has always had His flame burning in some of the nobodies of each age. The modern church in North America tends to forget about the flaming messengers of the New Testament times. Sure we can usually work up some excitement in our services, and many are out there actually living the Jesus Life, but we as a whole need liberated from our sleepy Sunday morning thinking! What we don’t need, is more motivation by guilt that often quenches our enthusiasm. The only answer is a renewing of our original sense of adventure that only Jesus Himself can impart, and He has come to bring it to us all today!

Are you up to the challenge of the ages? Is your heart crying out for new meaning and purpose? Then just say “YES, YES, YES!” to the Lord, for He is calling us to rise up today, and be empowered in His Quest! The only thing you need is a willing heart. He will do the rest. He will take you out of your boring routine and transplant you into the work that He Himself has designed you for. Many of you are already prepared, but if not, don’t worry. Being prepared by God and going to His School is an adventure in itself! I won’t guarantee He will relocate you physically, or even change your natural vocation. I do know that your days of being a “Pew Potato” will be over and you will begin experience a sense of mission in everything you do!

Every day I am learning of more individuals and groups who are through with the boring routine of “going to church” that has dominated us for centuries. Thousands are coming together today in large and small groups to learn more of Him and His Glorious Church, the Many-Membered Body of Christ. In this Body every individual is absolutely crucial to the health and well-being of the whole body. God has given us leadership whose desire is to equip every saint for the work he/she is called by God to do. As you find your place to function in God’s economy, all of us will benefit, and the wall of sickness and death will be driven back! I am talking about coming into a riotous, rowdy, informal family of believers in Jesus Christ! These people know about laughter and pain, success and failure, pressure and challenge, but they have said good-bye forever to falling asleep in “church” on Sunday morning!

No Longer Church As Usual

This past weekend my wife Brenda and I were very blessed to meet and worship with Tim and Carolyn Kurtz and their church family in Albion, Michigan. This trip came about after I read his book entitled, “No Longer Church As Usual, Restoring First Century Values and Structure to the 21st Century Church.”

The book was so interesting and encouraging, that I wanted to discuss it with the author, and if possible, meet face to face. Upon contacting him I discovered that he was as enthused about meeting me as I was him! So we both arranged our schedules so that we could talk about the book and Brenda and I could attend two of their meetings.

Without exaggeration I can honestly say that it was like getting together with old friends rather than making new ones. The Saturday night meeting in their home was exciting, with plenty of discussion and participation. What I did not expect when coming to Michigan took place on Sunday morning. Instead of listening to preaching, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion with Tim, with his brother Joseph moderating. Again, even though we were in a new environment, we felt right at home. The response was encouraging, and actually I was able to freely share some things the Lord had placed on my heart for some time.

We are definitely looking forward to what the Lord Jesus has in mind regarding our family and the saints at New Life Ministries International!

What is Hyper-Grace?

In early 1999 I had begun to consider some of the themes that were common to all of the apostolic writings and records we have of their teachings. One thing I found was that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was very important to them all. At that time I posted an article on my web site entitled “Superabounding Grace!”

The title was taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verse, 20: “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

More recently I have become aware of objections that some have concerning the way grace is being understood and taught in our day. They are concerned over what they call “hypergrace.” When people use the word “hyper,” they often use it negatively. When a child is “hyperactive,” doctors often prescribe drugs to calm the child down to make it easier for him to sit still and learn in school. When advertisers exaggerate the value of the product they are selling we call it “hype,” or when a point is stretched in an argument too far, we call it “hyperbole.” It seems that “hypergrace” is when the message of the grace of God is taken to the extreme.

But wait: the Bible actually uses the Greek equivalent to the English word “hyper,” when referring to the grace of God in Christ! In Romans 5:20, the Greek word that has been translated “much more abound” is “huperpleonazo” The “huper” in the word sounds like our English word, “super,” and is the basis for the way hyper is used in our language. It means “over, above, beyond, exceedingly, to excess.” That is where the title for my earlier article “Superabounding Grace,” came from.

God’s grace is over, above, beyond, exceeding and excessive! Sin abounded to all humanity but God’s grace is far greater, more than enough to save and restore humanity back to holiness, righteousness and fellowship with Him!

Ephesians 1:7-8:
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” NASU

Ephesians 2:4-7
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” NASU

God’s love and grace towards us is lavish, excessive, abounding, superabounding, overwhelming. His riches in Christ are unsearchable! It will take all of time and eternity for us to fully appreciate it!

From the earliest times there existed the danger that people would distort and misuse the message of salvation by grace through faith. Paul was fully aware of this danger and took pains to make his message clear. True grace is what it is. We can fail in our ability to explain it. We can misrepresent it. But we cannot change the very nature of God and His grace towards us. It is pure and without mixture.

Receive it as it has been offered to you in Christ Jesus.

The safest place for us to abide is in the whole counsel of God. The entire New Testament is about Christ and His grace. Even the warnings, rebukes and exhortations to live up to the calling wherein we have been called by Christ are expressions of His grace and love for us.

Titus 2:11-14

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” NASU

The true grace of God cannot be overemphasized. But be sure you are in the true grace of God. Any teaching that minimizes the importance of Godly living is not fully emphasizing grace, but putting limits on it. Anyone who twists other scriptures to fit their version of the Gospel of grace has misunderstood Christ and His grace. Those who love the Word of God receive it as it has been given. They are empowered and transformed by it, and equipped to discern any erroneous, however well intentioned teachings.

We do not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that proceeds from the mouth of God!

What is Hyper Grace?

In early 1999 I had begun to consider some of the themes that were common to all of the apostolic writings and records we have of their teachings. One thing I found was that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was very important to them all. At that time I posted an article on my web site entitled “Superabounding Grace!”

The title was taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verse, 20: “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

More recently I have become aware of objections that some have concerning the way grace is being understood and taught in our day. They are concerned over what they call “hypergrace.” When people use the word “hyper,” they often use it negatively. When a child is “hyperactive,” doctors often prescribe drugs to calm the child down to make it easier for him to sit still and learn in school. When advertisers exaggerate the value of the product they are selling we call it “hype,” or when a point is stretched in an argument too far, we call it “hyperbole.” It seems that “hypergrace” is when the message of the grace of God is taken to the extreme.

But wait: the Bible actually uses the Greek equivalent to the English word “hyper,” when referring to the grace of God in Christ! In Romans 5:20, the Greek word that has been translated “much more abound” is “huperpleonazo” The “huper” in the word sounds like our English word, “super,” and is the basis for the way hyper is used in our language. It means “over, above, beyond, exceedingly, to excess.” That is where the title for my earlier article “Superabounding Grace,” came from.

God’s grace is over, above, beyond, exceeding and excessive! Sin abounded to all humanity but God’s grace is far greater, more than enough to save and restore humanity back to holiness, righteousness and fellowship with Him!

Ephesians 1:7-8:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. NASU

Ephesians 2:4-7:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. NASU

God’s love and grace towards us is lavish, excessive, abounding, superabounding, overwhelming. His riches in Christ are unsearchable! It will take all of time and eternity for us to fully appreciate it!

From the earliest times there existed the danger that people would distort and misuse the message of salvation by grace through faith. Paul was fully aware of this danger and took pains to make his message clear. True grace is what it is. We can fail in our ability to explain it. We can misrepresent it. But we cannot change the very nature of God and His grace towards us. It is pure and without mixture.

Receive it as it has been offered to you in Christ Jesus.

The safest place for us to abide is in the whole counsel of God. The entire New Testament is about Christ and His grace. Even the warnings, rebukes and exhortations to live up to the calling wherein we have been called by Christ are expressions of His grace and love for us.

Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. NASU

The true grace of God cannot be overemphasized. But be sure you are in the true grace of God. Any teaching that minimizes the importance of Godly living is not fully emphasizing grace, but putting limits on it. Anyone who twists other scriptures to fit their version of the Gospel of grace has misunderstood Christ and His grace. Those who love the Word of God receive it as it has been given. They are empowered and transformed by it, and equipped to discern any erroneous, however well intentioned teachings.

We do not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that proceeds from the mouth of God!

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.

A New and Living Way, continued

The apostle John, in his account of the life of Jesus, made an interesting statement:

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)

So here we are, making another attempt to write about a person who is beyond description, and about His accomplishments all of which no individual can fathom! The best we can do is to bear witness and attempt to tell others what He means to us and what He has done for us personally. There was once a blind man who at first was not sure of the identity of Jesus. He could be certain however of one thing: before he met Jesus he was blind — afterward he could see! (John 9:25). So whether we can tell it perfectly or not, we are compelled to describe Him and His work in our lives as best as we can!

Likewise there have been many attempts to explain the change that takes place in the life of an individual who trusts in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. There are also many efforts to understand what happens when believers struggle against their past lives for longer than is to be expected. In fact, we have many lines in the New Testament that deal with problems in the life of the believing community. So for myself, I see this as a worthwhile endeavor.

A better understanding of the Bible, the historical background and the way people thought in those days can help us to more fully understand the teachings of Christ and His apostles. It is the Holy Spirit most of all Who illuminates our understanding of the Scriptures, but even He prompts us to probe deeper for a mature understanding of these events. The fact that the Bible incorporates so much history in its message to us should also indicate that these facts are there for a good reason.

In Acts chapter 17, we find a group of lazy Jews who rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ as explained by Paul without even considering the Scriptures on the matter. They immediately opposed him and his associates, forcing them to go to another city. In the synagogue at Berea the people were not so lazy and quick to form an opinion against the Lord.

Luke tells us in Acts 17:11-12 that:

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.”

So while I believe in the simplicity of the Gospel to transform the lives of people of all ages, walks of life and levels of education, it is a noble thing indeed to search out the depths of His wisdom, to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. This wisdom with not only equip us to better serve Him, but to help us encourage those who still struggle in their walk with Him.

Our day is a day of quick fixes and clichés. Paul foresaw a time when many would flock to those who tell them what they want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Our political leaders know that is the way to gain power, and too often our church leaders do as well. Paul pleaded with the church in Ephesis to examine his life and teachings, not on the basis of how good they made them feel, but on the basis of how honest and truthful they were. (Acts 20:18-27).

He also urged the young Timothy towards diligence and accurate handing of the Word of Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15). In 2 Timothy 3:12-17 his charge to the young minister could encourage us equally today.

“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASU)

Today we must keep in mind that our New Testament was just at that time being written. The inspired scriptures that Timothy knew from childhood, which can give wisdom that leads to salvation and equipment for every good work were the Hebrew Scriptures. Christians refer to them as the Old Testament, in reference to the Old Covenant. The New Testament is so titled to emphasize the reality of the New Covenant established by Christ.

Why do you suppose that Paul placed such a high value to knowing the contents of the Old Testament and the teachings of the Old Covenant? Here is a question that is answered in many and often disparate ways. First let me say that I do not believe anyone is more excited and committed to the New Covenant than I am. My very existence is wholly dependent upon the grace of Christ as revealed therein. I do believe that our zeal for the New Covenant has led to some confusion on this question. Only recently I have found the need to take a closer look at these issues.

To fully understand the reason for Paul’s words both here and elsewhere will take some time and effort. I would prefer a quick and easy answer myself. To do that I would have to either erase or ignore large portions of Paul’s letters to his fellow Christians. No, all of his statements must be considered if we are to grasp the weight of his instructions and the depth of the convictions standing behind them. Above all we should heed his direct instructions to Timothy as applicable to all would-be leaders in the church. We all need to know what God has said to the people of ancient times and how His words to them could help us please Him today.

The New Testament itself cannot be fully understood without the background of the events and prophecies of the Old Testament that came before. Consider another statement that Paul made concerning the Hebrew scriptures. After quoting from the Old Testament, he says:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)NASU

For hundreds of years, believers have known the truth of this statement. Not in theory, but in practice. Some of the words were difficult to understand, yet they were revered and trusted just the same. Many could not explain the finer points relating to the old and new covenants, the law and grace, Israel and the Church. But somehow they lived and died unto the glory of God and left us a marvelous legacy of faith through their love for Christ and His Written Word.

From time to time the Old Testament has been misunderstood and misapplied by Christians with disastrous results. Jesus proved that even the Israelites of His day had done so. Paul, a former Pharisee who met the risen Christ developed a keen sense in this area. After having been steeped in legalism for many years, he was liberated by the life of Christ in a very dramatic way. This might explain why he was more sensitive to the problem than his fellow apostles in Jerusalem.

When Christians were tempted to revert to trusting their own good works, Paul responded with strong and intense words. In the past, his status as a law-abiding Pharisee was no comfort to his soul. In fact his hate-filled heart brought him in direct conflict with the very God he sought to please. That heart was softened by the love, mercy and grace of God in Christ, making him a champion of the Good News of Jesus Christ and one of His greatest missionaries. It would be difficult to find a person whose life was more impacted by a revelation of the glory and grace of Jesus Christ!

Paul could communicate to gentiles the same message that Jesus brought to the Jews, in an extremely efficient way. No one could be justified before God by their own good works. Only by trusting in the righteous, holy sacrifice of Christ can our sins be forgiven and removed. By His grace we are saved and have peace with God!

The Battlefield of the mind

Satan can afflict the Christian in two basic ways. One is to appeal to the desires of our flesh. The other is to deceive us into thinking that the Cross of Christ is insufficient to fully redeem us. Then we might foolishly try to earn favor with God by performing some form of ritual or service, when that favor has already been offered in Christ.

Some of these ideas come from our church traditions, and so we rail against their customs and teachings. Lately I have come to realize that the problem goes much deeper than that. Even the least religiously minded operate on false assumptions about God and our situation with Him. The concept of right and wrong is built into our very nature. When we do the right thing we instinctively feel good about ourselves. When we participate in evil we sense the reality of our guilt. In the first instance we are tempted to a level of self-righteousness and become judgmental of others. In the second we might try to ignore our guilt or cover it ourselves like our ancient ancestors Adam and Eve, who thought fig leaves would cover their shame.

The world is full of attempts to balance our sins and errors with positive actions. Both spiritual and natural death is always the result.

Even in the Old Covenant there were those who understood the problem. Hebrews chapter eleven lists a huge number of individuals, both men and women whose trust and confidence in their Lord and Savior brought them salvation and peace with God. Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and others called us back to that kind of faith, and showed us that the Old Covenant system of animal sacrifices only pointed to the full and final sacrifice of Jesus, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God offered for us.

Rom 11:33-36:

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

There are groups of Christians who are fascinated with Jewish traditions and their significance. Some even observe the Sabbath Day and avoid non- kosher foods. I have no quarrel with them, unless they begin teaching that these practices are their means for right standing with God. At the same time a number of Christian groups have developed another standard that is nowhere found in the teachings of Christ or His apostles. They might even have a life style that is more profitable than my own. However, if they teach that all Christians are bound by their standard, and that theirs is the only way to heaven, I will declare this to be heresy, and an affront to the Finished Work of Christ on the Cross!

But who am I to judge? Well, only one who also has the Spirit and Word of God, and charged by Him to preach the word, be instant in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking and exhorting with all long suffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2).

The Curse of the Law

Paul’s negative comments on God’s covenant with Israel under Moses is not at all in conflict with his exhortations to study the Old Testament. He carefully presented the fact that the New Covenant had come and that the Old was fulfilled in Christ. His harsh and bold statements were necessary to move people from the Old to the New.

“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Romans 7:12-14 NASB)

His argument was to convince us that the problem is not with the law, or even religion. The problem is in us. It is in the weakness of our fallen nature. It is in our determination to justify ourselves and our actions. When ever we attempt to establish our own righteousness, we show our ignorance of the righteousness of God. Those who surrender to Christ have submitted to the righteousness of God so His righteousness can be fulfilled in them! (Romans 10:3-4, 8:4).

It is truly a wonderful day for those who receive Christ as their righteousness. They can have peace with God, be filled with His Spirit, which illuminates their minds to understand and obey His Word. They can love His law because He gave it out of love. Those who seek by their own ability to justify themselves by the law will find it has become a curse to them.

Our pure, holy, and loving Savior deserves only our love, devotion, praise, honor and obedience. Instead He received hatred, spite, abuse, beatings and a humiliating death on the Cross. The very thought of this injustice sickens my heart. And yet, my greatest hope, joy and freedom is the result of His willingness to die for me, receiving my curse upon Himself.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-18) NASB

The New and Living Way

If you all can bear with me, I would like to share another aspect of my earlier personal experience with the Lord Jesus Christ. I do believe many will relate to what I am about to describe. My mother was deeply devoted to the Lord, and was a powerful influence in my life. It seems I always had a sense that God was real, but often had the impression that He was against things that I thought were fun, like going to the movies and listening to rock and roll, etc. I also had the impression that suffering and persecution characterized the Christian life often more than peace and joy.

At the age of 12 I felt the call to commit myself to Him and was baptized. The problem with the timing of this event was I would soon enter my teenage years and the changes that come during that period of life. The Lord would fall to the background of my mind for some time, and I rebelled against my mother as well. Around graduation time my consciousness of God began to return, but I continued to withhold the reins of my heart in many ways.

It wasn’t until age 21 that I would return to Him during a personal crisis. There was a gradual surrender at first. I began attending my mother’s church again and renewing fellowship with other believers. There came a point in time where I saw myself and my need for Him more clearly than ever before. At the same time I realized how much He really cared for me. It was not only a moment of surrendering my will but also the huge weight of guilt from my past and worry for my future! At that point I truly experienced what it meant to be a new creation in Christ!

In the past I had small glimpses in this kind of life in Christ, but this was the full reality! Very early on I began to wonder why I had missed this all along, and also why some other Christians seemed to be missing this dimension as well. In this way I had hoped to avoid falling into a formalized and dead kind of religion that lacks the vital relationship that I had recently found in my Lord and Savior Jesus.

The New Covenant……..

The great news is that the Bible has much to say about this very thing. In the four Gospels we learn of what Jesus had to say about my concerns. And the apostles Peter, Paul and John were not only examples of what an exiting, vital relationship with God was like, but they also had much to say about this prevailing problem.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews expended a tremendous about ink to warn his fellow Christians of the dangers of depending more upon laws and rituals than on the very person of Christ Himself. He tells us of the Old Testament prophecies from Ezekiel and Jeremiah that were fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

To the people of God in Ezekiel’s day, He says:

“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh . And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Jeremiah 31:31-34:
“Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband unto them, says the LORD:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

On the night of His death, Jesus declared that this New Covenant was being inaugurated with the shedding of His own blood. His also detailed to them how the Holy Spirit would come to live within them, leading them and guiding them into all truth. According to His instructions, they waited in Jerusalem until they were “endued with power from on high,” and “were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Luke 24:49, Acts 2:4).

Immediately they understood things that were before unclear, for now they possessed the same Spirit that empowered Jesus in His earthly ministry. This same experience was then offered to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior and King, not only to the House of Israel, but to all nations as well! Do you realize what this means? Now we can possess more than the knowledge to live right and pleasing to God, but the desire and ability as well! This new heart, this new spirit He gives is the grace by which we are transformed from sinful humans and into the very children of God. Born of the Spirit! Born of God!

All of this sounds fairly simple, and yet we often struggle with all the implications involved. Most of us have realized that we are not under the Old Covenant of Moses, but the New Covenant in Christ. But it is still easy to think in terms of laws and rituals. If not the Old Covenant rituals then maybe the rituals that have been developed over the past two thousand years. If you are like me, then you might have at one time decided to abandon all commandments and rituals after discovering the reality which they represent.

The fact is that rituals, principles, traditions are not always wrong in themselves. They can and do often serve a purpose if they remind us of the things that are the most important. The most important thing is that we love, honor and trust in Christ to be our righteousness, peace and joy. To live His life through us. There is a real difference between the Old and New Covenants, but there are some things they have in common. For one thing a covenant, whether old or new is still a covenant, that is an agreement between two parties. This one is more like a traditional marriage covenant than a simple business agreement. The two parties in this covenant belong to one another.

When people embrace the Christian faith with the idea of trying it out for a while, they miss the entire point. Christ has given His all for you and to you, now you belong to Him alone. Not a bad deal, really. In fact the greatest rip off of all is to cheat yourself out of the wonder, the glory, the transcendent reality of the Lord of the whole universe by withholding part of you heart from Him.

In the first covenant the law of God was written in stone, and placed into the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle in the wilderness. In the New Covenant the Law of God is written in our hearts. Furthermore this law that originally was summed up in ten sayings, is now summed up in two.

Matthew 22:37-40:
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB

Paul put it this way:

“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10). NASB

Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He did this by love! (Matthew 5:17, John 15:13).

Please hear me! We are not saved by the keeping of commandments, but by trusting in Christ, who fulfills the law in us! “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5) And this divine love will bring forth all the fruits of the Holy Spirit which demonstrate and fulfill the true meaning of God’s holy law.

Gal 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

New Covenant, born-again believers are not “lawless ones” like those whom Jesus rejected. They have His “royal law,” the “perfect law of liberty” written in their hearts. Also known as the “law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” it is ultimately the perfect love of God. (Matthew 7:23, James 2:8, Romans 8:2).

If they heed the warnings of all His apostles and New Testament writings, they can avoid the traps of man-made philosophies and religions and the temptation to depend upon their own good works. They will also receive wisdom to correctly understand How God used the original covenant and what we can learn from it. They will know how to live by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God in both the Old and New Testaments, and continue to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. (Luke 4:4, 2 Peter 3:18).

God Himself has invested enormously in us. He gave His only Son. What kind of investment are we willing to make for a relationship with the most awesome being in the universe? We have so little to offer Him, but oh so much to win. The greatest risk is to seek an easier route, to limit our commitment to a few hours on Sunday, or a financial contribution to a church.

He has so much better things in mind for us all! A New and a Living Way!

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).

The True Church


Many of us have grown up from different backgrounds. Some are more dogmatic than others. The tradition of my grandparents was very narrow-minded yet passionately sincere. My mother’s view was somewhat different. She wanted to love everyone, and to fellowship with anyone who loved God. I am very grateful for her influence. We were criticized by the family because we attended so many different churches. In the summer we went to vacation bible school at the Church of Christ, and often we went to the Baptist Church with our friends, even though we were saved at a large Pentecostal Church. In spite of the fact that we were raised in the message of Oneness, we attended a wonderful Trinity Pentecostal Church regularly for several years. This did not please the family much either, but Mom simply followed the Lord.

As a young man I became more strongly committed to one particular viewpoint, and to one specific group of people. We always sought for the truth, but we tried to be more tolerant to others than we were expected to be. Over the years our views changed gradually, and we liked to think we had progressed in God together. This group of people became a family to me. I could not imagine life without them.

After a certain period of time, a person develops a sense of responsibility for his or her spiritual family. Often we can become very protective of what we perceive are its interests. These protective walls exist around many groups of believers around the world, and in some cases people are protected from what they need the most.

Jesus Christ established His Church upon a Living, vital relationship with Him, and the only thing we need to guard against is what threatens that relationship. Paul’s greatest fear was that we would lose the simplicity and purity of our devotion to Christ, and the liberty that it brings us. Built upon this Rock, no power of hell can prevail against us. (II Corinthians 11:2,3; Galatians 5:1; Matthew 16:18)

Looking around us, we rarely find the powerful Church that Jesus described, even though many claim to be His true Church. I am here to declare to you that Jesus does have a true Church, and that He lives and walks the earth every day in those who know Him.

God has placed Shepherds to watch over, feed and protect His Sheep, but too often we have been defending the wrong thing. His Church is a living organism, composed of regenerated people who love and know Him. It was never an organization or institution or building. A Church meeting has become to us a regularly scheduled gathering where a planned program is witnessed, but the Church is more than that. Christ’s Body does attend organized meetings that are designed for specific purposes, but these cannot fully define the nature of Christ in His Church. In these days, we might either weep or rejoice — or both, as centuries of tradition are being peeled away from our understanding concerning the Body of Christ.

We are warned to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but what does that actually mean? Shouldn’t the building of meaningful relationships with each member in the group be one our priorities? Couldn’t this scripture be applied in the countless ways in which we relate to each other on a day to day basis? Jesus stated that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name and in His purpose, He would be in the midst. This is the true Church. If a hundred or a thousand gather in His Name, He is also there, but His Presence must always be the most important factor. Whether we gather with many or few, we must never, ever lose that central focus. He is the one, solitary purpose that unites us and fuses us together into the one glorious body that is His Church. Where we meet is not the real issue. The more important factor is how we see the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ assembles in homes, in coffee houses, in restaurants, or wherever they happen to be when the Christ that is in them is embraced. They join hearts by phone, or letters and their prayers for each other if they are separated by physical distance. Their meetings might be planned or spontaneous, but they are characterized by love, friendship, prayer, and worshiping Him. They carry with them an environment of excitement and expectancy that is contagious. He is in their midst. Unbelievers are drawn to Him and the love of His Word, because they see evidence of His Life. They should see no need to compete for numbers, for they are part of the largest and most ever-expanding fellowship on this earth.

Be thankful if you have a building to meet in, and even an organization that serves your needs, but this is not the Church. It has been said that 60% of all Christians are un-churched. How could this be if you ARE THE CHURCH? Many of these people have been cast off by the so-called church. Thousands have been isolated from other believers because of well-meaning efforts to preserve what some thought was God’s order, but Jesus is speaking to them today. He is raising up the weak and cast-down and sending them true shepherds who are laying down their religious fantasies. They are finding others who love Jesus and are sharing Him regularly. They are becoming strong as each joint supplies nourishment to the body, and soon they will love into liberty those who have yet to experience the fullness of true Church life.

Some established groups have seen home meetings as a threat to what they are building, and this may be true if they are building their own kingdom. However, there are a large number of leaders today who see the need for the one-on-one contact that small meetings provide. When I first came into the body of Christ, the people were meeting in homes for prayer and Bible studies several times a week. Most of these meetings were unscheduled but they were filled with His Presence. Some times we were drawn together out of a deep sense of need for change in our lives. Other times we were searching for answers in His Word. Regardless of the reason, we developed a closeness that was evident as we came together on Sunday, when the power of God exploded in every prayer, sermon and song!

Thank God, that as we pray and look to Him for a fresh anointing of His Spirit in us, these days are returning. We have not seen anything yet! There is a tremendous churning going on in the lives of believers around the world, and multitudes are crying out for reality. As our Heavenly Father begins to answer this cry, we all are beginning to see Jesus as we have never seen Him before!

There is no reason that cell groups and organized meetings cannot work together to build up the members of Christ’s Body. Each has a specialized purpose to accomplish if they work together. The problem arises when the need to control is found instead of the need to help. We do not need to fear that one will weaken the other. The true Church belongs to God anyway. His people will be where He places them, and they will be drawn to where ever they are fed and can feed others. Sure there are flaws in home meetings just as in the organized Church. Wherever people are you will find flaws, but as Christ is glorified in all of our gatherings He will be seen more and more.

In the past, when people would leave our group, I would sometimes feel hurt and a sense of separation. When others would miss a few meetings we would be concerned with their walk in God. This type of thinking is often rooted more in religious tradition than in spiritual reality. Sure I miss the physical presence of those I love, but we do not need to add unnecessary grief to the situation. Those who love and serve a Living Christ are never truly separated — unless we actually do forsake our fellowship with Him and His people.

We are talking about God’s people who should be following God. The body of Christ is a living organism that is connected by His Spirit and Love, not by a commitment to an institution. If the institution does not serve the purpose of God for His people, let it fall. God’s Church will stand.

On the other hand, God loves the people who are part of a system too. It has brought them to where they are, and He can reveal Himself more fully to them. The only cry of my heart today is that all people of all races, nationalities and creeds be set free to truly know and worship our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. My prayer is that all of our leaders will find the freedom of serving Him and His people, equipping them for service in His glorious Cause. By leaving the constraints of man-made religion, we can truly give our lives more fully to His Will. The care and feeding of an institution has distracted many of us from the gifts and callings He has placed in us. Today we are committed only to following Him, and to leading others into His Heavenly Kingdom.

In this effort we look to see the building up of the truth Church, His Body, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ Himself! (Ephesians 4:14)

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