Sunday, November 17, 2013

Evangelism and Discipleship

Evangelism and Discipleship
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
  -John 8:32 (NASB)

Worship – Open the Eyes of My Heart

Worship – Open the Eyes of My Heart 
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
  -John 8:32 (NASB)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

This was really hard to accept for me…

This was really hard to accept for me… 

Find out why people that preach a prosperity gospel need to be called out...

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." -John 8:32 (NASB)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The meaning of Sacrifice

\New post on The Berean Nation!  Check it out here.
The meaning of Sacrifice
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." -John 8:32 (NASB)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

FULL Salvation

FULL Salvation - New article on Berean Nation: FULL Salvation Downloadable copies available in store for $0.99 for three!
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." -John 8:32 (NASB)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Revelation 2:1-7 – The Letter to Ephesus

As we begin, I want to expand on something I said in the introduction to this section of the study.  In our reading of scripture, the Holy Spirit leads us to understand that there is often more than one level of focus than just the words of the text.  In every one of the letters, we will see that there is a local message to the named church that deals with the need that church had at that time.  However, there are things beyond that.  Notice what it says in 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, and 22:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  The word “churches” is plural!  This means that there is something for all the churches in each of the letters.  Also, notice the phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear…”  There is a homiletic application to anyone who reads the letter.  Finally, the letters are arranged in such a way as to give a prophetic type of the historical Church, the body of Christ during all the ages it has been on earth.  If the letters were arranged in any other way, this would not be true, and it has some implications we should learn, understand, and act on.
Remember from our introduction that each letter has seven categories of interest.  I suggest using a spreadsheet to keep track of them.  I turned mine into a PDF and put it here as an example:
Let us review them here.
  1. The meaning of the name of the church
  2. Christ’s chosen title of greeting
  3. Christ’s commendation of the church (if any)
  4. Christ’s concern or caution for the church (if any)
  5. Christ’s exhortation or encouragement for the church
  6. Christ’s promise to the overcomer
  7. The location of the closing of the letter
These observations have some importance in a mastery of these seven letters, and it is important that we as followers of Jesus do so.  In fact, these seven letters may be the only part of the book that directly applies to us, depending on what you think of the harpazo, or the “rapture” (from Latin).  I personally go back and forth on that issue between pre- and mid-tribulation points of view, because both make relevant arguments.  These days, I am leaning more towards pre-tribulation rapture, but that is a side issue in this letter at least.
We should also remind ourselves that there is more than one level of what the Bible says on any specific issue, and I will try to shed some light in all of these areas as I can and as the finding of resources allow.  I am aware of at least these four levels of address and I will review them here:
  1. Local and historical relevance to the church that is addressed
  2. Relevance to all the churches (the letters were all written to ALL the churches)
  3. Homiletic relevance to all believers (let the one who has an ear hear)
  4. Prophetic relevance through history (and it only works if the churches are in this specific order)
With that in mind, let us begin our consideration of the letter to Ephesus.  I’ll begin with a brief history of the city.
The city of Ephesus was an ancient Greek city that was located near the modern city of Selçuk in the Turkish province of Izmir.  The area was already inhabited as early as the Neolithic age (circa 6000 BC), but recent archaeological digs place the first evidence of an actual city there around 1500-1400 BC (Bronze Age) likely built by the Mycenaeans, an ancient Greek tribe.  In 650 BC, it was attacked by the Cimmerians, after which it was ruled by a series of tyrants, until about 560 BC, when it fell under Lydian control under king Croesus, when the city began to prosper.  Croesus was later defeated by the Persians led by Cyrus the Great (mentioned in the book of Daniel) under whom the city continued to prosper.   High taxes under succeeding rulers (including Darius from the book of Daniel) led to the Ionian revolt and the Greco-Persian wars.  The rule of Ephesus was contested until the cities were finally liberated in 334 BC by Alexander the Great.  When Alexander died in 323 BC, the city was included in the territory that was ceded to his General Lysimachus.
Ephesus had another problem, present through all this time – the natural harbours on the banks of the Cayster river kept silting up, necessitating that the city be moved to new locations either periodically or in one long development.  During the rule of Lysimachus, he ended up flooding the old city by blocking the sewers, which required the citizens to move to a new city about 2 kilometres away.  Lysimachus named this city Arsinoea after his wife, Arsinoea II of Egypt.   At some point, Ephesus revolted and gave their allegiance to King Seleucus I of Syria and Mesopotamia, and after the death of Lysimachus, retook the name Ephesus in about 281 BC.

Eventually, the Seleucid monarchy died off, and left the city open to the Roman republic, wehre it was nearly taxed and slaughtered out of existence under a series of tyrannical despots until Augustus became Caesar in 27 BC.  Augustus moved the capital of proconsular Asia from Pergamum to Ephesus and the city began to be prosperous once again.  At that time, it is estimated that the population of the city was about 250,000.
Ephesus was also known for the Temple of Artemis (Roman, Diana).  We read of this even in the book of Acts, where artisans that made their living on making images of Artemis felt threatened by the large-scale conversion to Christianity, and began a riot that culminated in an angry mob chanting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for several hours.
This is the Ephesus to whom John scribes his letter for Jesus.  The name “Ephesus” literally means “Desired One,” or if you like, “Darling.”  Given that all the letters apply in some respect to all the churches and even to all believers in the Church, the body of Christ, I think this address is from the Heavenly Groom to His Heavenly Bride in some measure.
The Lord begins His address to the Ephesian church as “the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”  These are identified in the last verse of Revelation 1 (v20) – “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”  Basically, the Lord Jesus is identifying Himself here as “the One in Charge.”  Ephesus, as we have discovered struggled over her history with jurisdictional issues.  Several times, control of the city was actually disputed, and this caused problems like the flooding of the city under Lysimachus or the high taxes under Darius resulting in a revolt.  Jesus here wants to leave no doubt – He is the one who is really in charge.
He praises the church at Ephesus as a whole for doing a great job of not only adhering to the truth of the Scriptures, but of rooting out those who would teach falsehoods and getting rid of them.  They did so consistently and repeatedly without getting complacent or lazy about it.  If the doctrine was sound, it was to found in the church at Ephesus.  But then comes a surprising criticism – they have left their first love.  This is saying a great deal, but foremost of all, I believe this is telling us all that good doctrine is not enough in the pursuit of Jesus.  Christianity, for all of the world’s classification of us, should not ever be a religion, or a systematic school of thought used in determining right and wrong thoughts, words, or behaviours.  It needs to be a relationship.  This letter was written to the “desired one,” or to “darling.”  It was written to the heavenly Bride from her heavenly Groom, and this isn’t the only place that a marriage analogy is given to describe the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Certainly, we need to find the truth – it is what sets us free – but we must also love the Lord!  This is what should motivate all our actions, not an impersonal checklist.  And we must daily cultivate that love!
Let me point you to a resource I have written that deals with the need for this.  I wrote a 35-page eBook called Practical Discipleship, and it is on sale for $2.99 on Amazon (profits are for cost recovery for the time that was put into it).  You can find it here.  (Hard link:  It talks about HOW and why to cultivate that relationship with Jesus every day.
I’ll get off my discipleship soapbox shortly and move on.  Suffice it to say that we all need to love Jesus.  I want to point out that they did not LOSE their first love.  They LEFT it.  The Greek word is ἀφίημι, or “aphiemi,” the word for “leave alone” or “neglect.”  Christ’s exhortation to them to deal with the problem?  Repent.  That word “repent” (Gk. μετανοέω or metanoeo) means to change your mind or thinking about something.  He even prescribes a method for this – remember!  Then do the first things you did.  There is more in the book I previously mentioned, but I’ll refer to a key verse for this – Acts 2:42.  This records the very first things that the very first group of believers did, starting onb the very first day that the Gospel was preached and about 3000 people became Christians.  It says that “they continually devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teachings, Fellowship, the breaking of bread (or Worship) and to Prayer.”  Then Jesus gives a terrible promise, and I confess I don’t understand everything this might mean, and I also confess I don’t want to find out.  He says that if you WILL NOT remember, repent, and obey, then He will come and remove the lampstand out of its place.  He will at the very least, remove His testimony from your midst.  I don’t know what other implications that may have, but that’s bad enough.  Enough said about the need to cultivate your walk with Christ.
Jesus then deals with a second issue after that, but in a good way.  Apparently there were a group called the Nicolaitans that the Lord hated that the Ephesian church also hated.  Who were the Nicolaitans and what did they believe that was so reprehensible?  As you  may expect, it isn’t immediately clear, but I have heard two schools of thought on this.  The first of these is that these were followers of one of the original 7 deacons named Nicolas.  His heretical teaching was that it was acceptable to live lives of unrestrained hedonism.  It was okay to eat food sacrificed to idols, it was okay to commit adultery, and it was okay to party like it was AD 99 (sorry, couldn’t resist that).  If this is so, Epicurus would have been proud.  This is seen as a seduction of the liberty that believers have because we are saved by Grace through Faith in Christ.  After all, Jesus paid it all, right?  The second school of thought comes from the grammatical construction of the word “Nicolaitans.”  The word comes from two Greek roots:  Nicos, to conquer, and Laos, the people.  Nicolaitans becomes “to conquer the people.”  Early scholars felt this was the setting up of an ecclesiastical structure of rules and a false priesthood to administer them as a governor over the simple faith that Jesus gave, instituting “sacrements” of observance and rules for conduct.  You can decide for yourself what this means, but I see no reason that they couldn’t both be applicable in some measure.  Here in Ephesus, they hated this.  In Pergamum, they practiced this, whatever it was.
After these things, the Lord says this:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  This line by itself tells us that this letter was not just for the believers in Ephesus, but the letter was for the other six churches (notice “churches,” plural), and to all believers that read the text (The one that has an ear, HEAR!).  This is important because there are issues in ALL churches that all of these letters address, and there are issues in all BELIEVERS that these letters address, at least in some measure.  This is why it is essential that we as Christians master the contents of these seven letters.  The ALL apply to us.  And depending on your views of eschatology and the harpazo (rapture, from the Latin rapio, the equivalent to the Greek harpazo), these may be the ONLY parts of Revelation that apply to us, right up until chapter 19 when the Lord returns.  I’ll touch on that more in a future study in this book.
Then, almost as a postscript to the letter, the Lord gives his promise to those that overcome the challenges presented to the Ephesian church:  “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”  If we can manage to overcome leaving our first love and cultivate our relationship with our heavenly husband Jesus, and if we can overcome the deeds of the Nicolaitans by keeping ourselves pure and humble, we get to eat some very special fruit – stuff that our forefathers were prevented from eating in the garden in Genesis 3 – fruit from the tree of Life itself.
As we have gone along, I have tried to point out some specific relevance to the local historical church, to the rest of the churches in general, and all believers in the body of Christ, but what of the prophetic relevance to the history of the church?  (Later on, I’ll be able to diagram it a bit, but I have yet to make the diagram.  I’ll try to start that for the next study.)  This is a profile for the time in the history of the church we could call the Apostolic Church.  There was a lot of searching out the truth, and standing against errors that threatened to creep in at the start.  I know what that’s like, I fellowshipped in what resembled a Brethren Assembly for 18 years or so.  Let me tell you, people there KNEW THE BIBLE!  Some of that rubbed off on me also.  However, what I have come to see over the 28 years I have been a Christian is that doctrine (which is often mistaken for and replaced with dogma) is not enough to have as a foundation for a church.  We must also have a love relationship with our heavenly husband Jesus.
I have to make an aside here.  It feels very strange for me to type the words “heavenly husband.”    I am a heterosexual man with a wife and children.  However, there are places in the Scripture that the Church, all believers throughout history, the body of Christ, that we are referred to as the Bride of Christ.  That is my reference here.  Just as Israel was the Father’s spouse, the Church is to be the Son’s spouse.  That is my only point here.
That love relationship is something we must cultivate daily.  I mentioned that I am a married man.  I have been married for more than a decade, and I must confess that I love my wife even more today than I did when we were courting, where we were engaged, or even in the first 12 years we have been married.  This is because I cultivate that love relationship with my wife.  The first thing I do is spend time with her!  Every day!  And we talk about things.  We communicate.  God has given us the best way to do that with Jesus in Acts 2:42.  Studying the Bible, Fellowshipping with God and with other believers, Worshipping Him, and Prayer!  And if we don’t do that as a collective group, God will take His testimony away from us.  (I do not think that means we lose our salvation, but that is a huge topic for another study entirely.)  However, if we DO cultivate our relationship with Him, he promises we will partake of eternal life, both in the here and now, and in that great day in the future.  The choice is ours.  Choose life.
Let’s pray – Heavenly Father, we thank you for the consideration of the letter to the church at Ephesus.  We know that we have not covered everything you have revealed in the letter, but we thank you for the revelation you have given to us.  I pray that it would have your desired effect in the heart, mind, and life of the reader so that they may enter into life in that final day.  I pray in the name of our Heavenly Husband, the matchless and mighty name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Gerry @ The Berean Nation
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Introduction to Revelation Chapters Two and Three

Welcome back to our study in the book of Revelation!  The next section of the book encompasses chapters 2 and 3, and before we begin looking at them in detail, I want to cover off some things that are important in the study of the Bible in general.
The first of these things is that there is a very contentious debate about an event that John terms “harpazo,” or the Rapture, a calling out of the church from the world into Heaven to be with Jesus there.  This is part of a larger doctrine on Millenialism, or what you consider to be the details of the Millenial reign of Christ on Earth.  There are three essential positions on this that are diagrammed below:
Millennial Eschatology in a nutshell.

Let’s discuss the views in a little detail.  As we go, I will give my own thoughts, but I will identify what I believe at the end and why I believe it.
Amillenialism is a Latin term meaning “no millennium.  This view holds that there is no millennial reign of Christ on Earth.  This view was started by an early church father by the name of Origen, and seized upon by Augustine and developed into a more allegorical understanding.  Their thinking is that Christ will come to rule in the hearts of men and that most things in Scripture should be taken allegorically, and given only spiritual application.  I personally don’t hold this view because of some of the clear contradictions or other difficulties it presents when trying to understand the scriptures and what they say and mean.
Post-millenialism is the view that the 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth has already begun.  This view, which was popular around the turn of the 20th century, has all but died out, because the 20th century was one of the bloodiest periods of human history.  There were two world wars and at least 13 major conflicts, all of which cost casualties in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.  Every hundred years or so, it pops up, but it seems to go almost as quickly as it arises.  Because Revelation 20:2 states that Satan is bound at the beginning of the 1000-year period, and if that is so, then several commentators point out that “his chain is too long.”
Pre-millenialism is the view that this 1000-year reign of Christ is a future event.  This view has three (or four perhaps) sub-groups that sort themselves out on what the Scriptures call the “harpazo,” or the Rapture, the calling out of the church from the Earth to be with the Lord in Heaven.  The first of these is what is known as the Pre-tribulation rapture, that this “harpazo” will occur for the church before the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, or the events described beginning in verse 6 of Revelation.  The second is Mid-tribulation rapture (or a variant of this position referred to as the Pre-Wrath rapture postulated by Marvin Rosenthal in his book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church), which states that this will occur about halfway through the 70th week, but either before the so-named “Great Tribulation” or at least before the actual judgements of God’s Wrath, signified in Revelation by the Bowl or Censer judgements.  The final position is the Post-tribulation rapture, and as you would expect, it happens at the end of the 70th week of Daniel, or after the seven bowl judgements.
If you will look at the arrows on the bottom that go either right or left, that is meant to indicate that where you fall on the scale of hermeneutics, or Biblical exegesis, will place you on a particular part of the diagram.  If you are softer on Biblical interpretation, that is if you view things more allegorically, you are likely to be toward the amillenial view, and if you take a more literal interpretation of Scripture, you will more likely move toward the pre-millenial position.  Once you have decided that, you can pick which version of the harpazo suits your position best.
Where do I fall on this you ask? I’m definitely more literal than allegorical in interpretation, so I think there are literal aspects of the coming 1000 years that the amillenialists and post-millenialists have difficulty accounting for in their positions (like Satan being bound at the beginning of the 1000 years for starters).  As for my views on the Rapture, I am less decided.  I have heard the arguments for all three positions, but I am more drawn toward the pre-tribulation position for a number of reasons.  I will try to express those things as we go through the study.  I have gone back and forth between this and the pre-wrath positions for a number of years.  (I very much respect all the work that Mr. Rosenthal put into his book, and I have read it.)  At present, I lean more towards pre-tribulation harpazo because of what it says in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, where it talks about the “one who restrains,” and I believe that to be the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ, the church.  Another interesting thought – in Chapter 1 of Revelation, Christ is walking on in the midst of the Lamp stands, and these according to Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, are on the Earth.  Yet in Chapter 4, we find them in Heaven around the throne of God.  There are other reasons, but those are two pretty major ones.  These thoughts are my own understanding, and they may not be yours.  I would encourage you to share your ideas with me so we can be like our Berean counterparts and examine the Scriptures to see what is so.
As we read the rest of the book, we should be aware that there is more than one level that is being addressed in the passages of Revelation 2 and 3.  I am aware of four, though there may be others.
  1. Needs of the local church addressed
  2. Needs of ALL the churches addressed
  3. Needs of all believers addressed
  4. Prophetic issues addressed
As we proceed with each letter, I will do my best to point some of this out.  Something that I found useful was making a spreadsheet (I used Excel, there are good free ones available) to keep track of some key areas and comments on each of the seven churches in one place.  Doing so helped me to realize that there were some patterns that might be important.  Each letter to each church has several things that are important to read.  Those are:
  1. The Name of the Church and the meaning of that Name
  2. How Christ identifies Himself to the church
  3. The commendations that Christ has for the church (if any)
  4. The concerns that Christ has for the church (if any)
  5. The exhortation (good and/or bad) Christ has for the church
  6. The promise to the overcomer
  7. The position of the promise to the overcomer in the letter
I also made some other comments as I researched this in some cases that I thought was worth noting on my spreadsheet.  You can find it here (you will need to zoom to about 200% to make it legible):
Once we have gone through all seven letters, I will also put some closing thoughts together for these two critical chapters of Revelation.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Revelation Chapter One

Revelation 1

Key verse 3:  Read, Hear, Heed
1-3 The Revelation of Jesus Christ
4-8 A Message to the Churches from God the Son
9-17 A Vision of Jesus Christ

As this study of the book of Revelation begins, I want to point out a few things to keep in mind.  This is what I see in the Scriptures and not necessarily the “right” belief.  I want to encourage you to do your own study and your own research from historical sources.  I want you to believe what YOU think God is saying here.  If it differs from what I have said here, that’s great!  I’m not claiming to be an authority of the book.  I am claiming to be someone that wants to know the Truth, specifically the Truth as it is in Jesus, and my views may be changed if you have a compelling enough presentation.  Beware of guys like me that have opinions – because they are just that – opinions – but based on my best ability to research the topics.

There seems to be some current debate as to the author of the book.  The classical view is that the Apostle John wrote his three letters to the churches (1 John), to quite possibly Mary and her children (the mother and siblings of Jesus) (2 John), and to Gaius (3 John), the book of Revelation, and the Gospel of John, in that order.  There are some today that dispute that the Apostle John wrote Revelation, calling this author John of Patmos to distinguish him from the Apostle.  Personally, I think this is what the Bible calls “vain strivings,” because they have no great spiritual implication for our lives – the book was written by a man named John.  (Personally, I think it was the Apostle.  The proponents of the theory it was not offer little more than hand-waving and purposeless explanations that do not make a difference in my spiritual life.  Yes, that is my opinion.  You are entitled to yours.)

The book itself was written while John was in exile on the island penal colony of Patmos.  He was sent there by Domitian, the third-to-last Caesar in the Flavian dynasty for uttering prophecy.  There were a number of offences that fell into the same category, such as the practices of magic or astrology, or mysticism in general, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Christian.  Prophecy with political implications like Revelation was especially frowned upon, because it would have been perceived as a threat to Roman authority and order.

As you read through the book, you begin to get a feeling that there is a very specific agenda for the book itself because of the promise of blessing that one has for simply reading, hearing, and heeding the words of the book.  This is the only book in scripture that comes with its own strong encouragement to read it!  All scripture is equally important, of course – but this book still says, “read me, I’m special.”  I think this has to do with the real purpose of the book.

There is a line of scripture in this book (19:10) that says, “For the Testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”  In as much as what is contained here is fascinating, please do not lose sight that the primary goal of the Christian in studying Scripture is to learn to follow Jesus more closely.  That has the important implication that all prophecy is to reveal or explain some aspect of Jesus’ work or personality or principles or the like.  This book is the culmination of all prophecy in Scripture, and as such should be regarded as a work where we can see and know more of Him and His Truth, His Way, and His Life – for it is about what we will become also:  “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

Then it says something very important:  “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  (1 John 3:3)  If we are reading this book to know Him, His Way, His Truth, His Life, better, then we should be moved in the direction of holiness in our own lives.  Because when He appears, WE will be LIKE HIM.  This places on us a critical pursuit, found here in Verse 3 of this chapter – to READ His word - to know what it says to the best of our ability with the tools He has given us, to HEAR His word – to know what it means, specifically to us, so that we might know how to HEED His word – that is, to practically apply it in our lives as we walk with Him.  With that said, let us take a look at what is in the chapter, verse by verse.

1 - The first thing we notice is the title of the book.  Notice it is the REVELATION (singular, as in only one).  Sometimes, I hear people call it "Revelations (plural), and it usually tells me that the individual has not read the book or that they are not a careful reader of Scripture, which we need to be if we are to Read, Hear, and Heed as verse 3 tells us.  I also sometimes hear "Revelation of John" or some variation of that theme, indicating the same thing.  Rather, it is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."  Notice also that it says God gave this revelation to Him - that is Jesus Christ - so that He (Jesus) could show his followers things that will take place quickly, which is one of the meanings of "tachos," the Greek word here.  (We get our word tachometer from this word, and it refers not so much to when it will occur but the speed of occurrence.)  He communicated, or "signified," or "sign-ified" these things to His servant John through his "aggelos," or "angel," the most common word usage.

2 - John bore witness (testified) to the word of God (logos, the divine expression used in John 1) and the testimony or "witness" of Jesus Christ, and to everything that he saw whether he explained it or not (and he does not always explain or reveal what he saw for whatever reason).

3 - This book is unique in that it pronounces a blessing on those that will read it, hear it, and heed (guard, watch over) it, which implies obedience of action to the instructions given.

4 - John is greeting the seven churches that are identified later that are located in the Roman province of Asia Minor, and he does so according to what I see is a clear outline of the book.  Him who is (present), who was (past), and who is to come (future), or if you like, God the Father.  An interesting point here is that according to Jewish tradition, prophecy is not so much announcement and happening, but in the pattern of the prophecy.  This could be seen as the Lord confirming the prophetic value of this book, for what that is worth.  He also gives greetings from the "seven Spirits of God," which according to Isaiah 11:2, is an expression of the Holy Spirit (some translations actually say the sevenfold Spirit of God),

5 - and from Jesus Christ, clearly identified in his office of faithful witness, firstborn of the dead (speaking of resurrection power I believe), and the ruler of the kings of the earth (King of Kings).  Why this threefold greeting?  To indicate the Trinity, if nothing else.  In fact John begins an expression of worship for the fact that this Jesus loves (agapeo) us, and has released (luo, to dissolve or put an end to) us from sin (hamartia, wrongdoing, failure to measure up) by his blood.  John here acknowledges what Jesus did for us on the Cross.
6 - This is interesting.  Jesus has made us to be literally "kings and priests" to God the Father.  There are only three references to this in Scripture - to Melchizedek, to Jesus, and to the Church.

7 - This is a reference to Daniel 7:13.  No one will miss the return of Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
8 - God seals this again with a reference to Who is, and who was, and who is to come, which references again the prophetic pattern of the book.

9 - John was on Patmos, which was a prison colony.  He was exiled there by the Roman Caesar Domitian for giving witness of Jesus, and His works.

10 - John tells us that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, or perhaps "the Day of the Lord."  This may be a reference to Sunday, or it may give reference to something else more apocalyptic in nature.  I’m not sure at this point, and I’m personally flagging this for a little more research.

11 - He is instructed here to write a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor.  Pay attention here, the order that the churches are given in may be significant.  There will be more about this as this study continues.

12 - The Seven Lamp stands - more in v. 20

13 - A Son of Man - more in vv. 17, 18

14 - Head and Hair white like wool or snow - speaks of holiness, among other things; eyes like flame or fire - speaks of judgement throughout scriptures;

15 - feet like bronze - a metal that endures fire, by association one that can render judgement; voice - like many waters, or LOUD, if you have ever heard the sea crash against the cliffs, perhaps speaking of His authority.

16 - seven stars in His hand - more in v. 20; out of His mouth, a sharp two-edged sword, Heb. 4:12 - the Word of God; face like the shining of the sun.  It is possible that Jesus in His heavenly body may be clothed in light.

17 - I would likely fall down like a dead man too.  The Voice identifies Himself as "The First and the Last."  This is a reference from Isaiah 41:4 where God identifies Himself by this name.

18 - "The Living One" is a name given to the risen Christ at the tomb on resurrection morning to the women that had gone to anoint the body of the Lord for burial.  He further identifies Himself from here.  "I was dead, and I am alive forevermore" is a reference to His own resurrection.  "I have the key of death and Hades" speaks of his overcoming death and the grave after the cross. (e.g., Eph 4:8)

19 - Here is where the Lord gives John the outline of the book, by telling him to write "The things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things," or past, present, and future.  Chapter 1 will become the immediate things which John has seen in the next verse.

20 - The Lord explains what John saw earlier - the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the lamp stands are the seven churches.

That is the first chapter of Revelation.  There is nothing particularly controversial in its wording or message yet.  That begins in Chapter two.  I intend to break chapters 2 and 3 into 7 or maybe 8 portions to get at all the fine detail in the letters to the seven churches contained therein, and as an introduction, show some important concepts to keep in the forefront of your mind as we study those letters.

As always, your questions and comments are appreciated, and in fact, invited.  I have some rules about that, and I will keep mentioning this.  First, keep the questions based in civility.  I will not answer stupidity or insults.  (I will use the delete and ban feature of Facebook if you show you cannot play nicely.)  Second, no legitimate question is dumb.  The only dumb legitimate question out there is the one you DO NOT ask. Third, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my views.  I’m not trying to “convert” you.  Please don’t try to do that with me or the other readers.  No one appreciates aggressiveness, especially in this kind of “basic belief” context.  If we can agree to disagree agreeably, we’ll do just fine – none of us have the corner of the Truth.  Finally, have fun!  If we can agree to those things, we will all enjoy studying the Scriptures together!

Gerry @ Berean Nation

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jesus, Friend of Sinners - Our Example for Life

Before I begin, I need to give a bit of background.  One of the biggest needs that I see today in Christianity is for people outside the church to see people with reality with God.  Even as I speak those words, I recognize that I hear that phrase, "reality with God," a fair bit, and it doesn’t always mean more than just mere words.  For this reason, I want to explain what I mean.  There are two groups of people inside the church as a whole.  There are the model Christians, who have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and they pray about everything they do, and they serve others in church and outside the church, they read God's Word the Bible on a regular basis, and they are always longing for fellowship with those who are of like precious faith.  Then there is the second group - and by their nature they are harder to identify.  They do many of the same things, use the same terminology - but they have to doctrinize and formalize and rationalize and legalize everything, usually to the detriment of any influence that God has in the church, His body.  These impose man-made structure on something that is meant to be more organic than they might like it.  Of old, they were called Pharisees, the religious power players of the day.  Sometimes we as believers can fall on both sides of that fence - I certainly can and do with great aplomb.  Personally, I think it is part of our fallen nature and the reason we need Jesus in the first place.  Let me give an example of what I mean.

Has anyone ever heard of Westboro Baptist Church?  Not Westboro here in Ottawa, the one in Topeka, Kansas.  This gathering is famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, for their gay-bashing, funeral picketing, anti-semitism, and generally not-nice views.  No one has any problem figuring out what they are against.  I certainly don't agree with a thing they have taken a public stand over, and I doubt anyone here does either.  But they really illustrate my point - do you realize that many people lump all Christians into that group?  The world at large thinks they know what we as “religious” or “fundamentalist” Christians are against - but no one knows, or perhaps even cares because of people like this, what it is we are FOR!  A number of you may think - oh, but they're Americans - but that has nothing to do with it.  I have heard Christians here in Canada repeat some of the really outrageous garbage that these folks believe and give mental assent to it at the same time.  How can we as a congregation avoid being seen as these kinds of people? 

We must be those who show Jesus, the friend of sinners, to the world around us.  The Apostle Paul said it like this:  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.   (1 Timothy 1:15 NASB)  We all have stories of the Lord finding us in the depths of our despair and lifting us out of our sorry state, setting us on a path to follow Him.  Sometimes that happens when you become a Christian.  Sometimes it happens AS a Christian, but the Lord has lifted us from our despair and made a real difference in our lives.  That is the message that the world needs to hear through us.  This is what I mean when I say reality with God.  Francis of Assisi had a wonderful way of saying this:  "Share the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words."  That is the inspiration, if you will, behind my topic today - Jesus, Friend of Sinners - Our Example for Life.

I have three main thoughts I will give you by way of an outline.

  1) Jesus - our example
  2) Jesus - our choice (willing or unwilling)
  3) Jesus - friend of sinners

First, let us look at Jesus and the example he left for us to follow.  Phil. 2:5 begins with the phrase "have this attitude in yourselves."  See?  He is our example in deed, certainly, but also in our motives and attitudes.  Verse 6 talks about how although He knew He was God, he didn't feel like he had to take advantage of that status, or that it somehow made him better than the rest of us.  Instead, in verse 7, it says that he emptied himself.  He instead took the form of a willing slave - the servant of all - and allowed Himself to undergo the greatest humiliation possible - Roman execution on a cross.  Some example, don't you think?  Contrast this in your minds with the alternative attitude.  Equality with God?  Oh, You bet - let me at it.  I'm better than you, I know more than you, and I deserve to be in charge of you and everything to do with you, and boy you had better watch it if you step out of line - I'll be the one doing the crucifying!  And I won't stop until you're gone!  Now I ask you humbly and honestly - what kind of attitude is that?  I don't know either, but it certainly wasn't the one Jesus had.  More often than not, though, it is the one I begin to recognize in myself.  Normally, that would depress me - but that is the very reason that Jesus came - to transform you and I, by the renewing of our minds, to make us to be in character like Jesus.  Does that happen automatically?  No - it is a choice - an act of the will.

That brings me to the second main thought I would like to share.  Following Jesus, being His disciple, having your mind renewed in that transformative way spoken of by Paul in his letter to the Romans, being changed into the image of Jesus so that we can be the representatives of God Himself in any situation He brings our way - all of that is a choice.  And as with all choices, I would be remiss in my duty if I did not inform you of the consequences of the choice.  Philippians 2:10 says that at the name of Jesus, EVERY KNEE WILL BOW.  Those in heaven, those on earth, those under the earth - every knee will bow.  Verse 11 tells us that every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  It WILL happen.  My only question isn't even when, but HOW it will happen in my own life.  Will I willingly take my knee and exclaim to the universe that owe Him everything I am and everything I have?  Or will I be forced down to my knees and spit out those words through clenched teeth?  Sobering thought, isn't it?  The good news is that we are able to choose to willingly bend that knee and speak the words as praise rather than the alternative.  Verse 13 tells us that God is even working this out in us because He wants this for us, and it pleases Him to do it.

Here is the point.  We are quick to tell people that God loves them and that Jesus died to prove it.  And it is good that we do.  However, our lives must also reflect what we say.  If our life does not reflect what we say we believe, then we are hypocrites.  I know I too often fit into that category myself.  Think of that passage in 1 Corinthians 13 on love we all like.  You know, love is patient, love is kind, all that.  Really I think I contradict that passage more than you may know or I would like to admit.  I am not patient, I am not kind, I do not always love the truth or want the best for people, especially those that cross my will.  And if I don't get my way, I will try to gain converts to my point of view.  Or I will try to engineer circumstances so I can end up on top.  Or I rail against my perceived adversary.  And if all else fails, like a child on a playground that doesn’t like what his peers have told him, I will take my ball and go home and withdraw from the people around me.  And I ask you - humbly and seriously again - where is the grace in all that?  I'll share a personal example.  I was leading a discussion group, and a person in that group attempted to "hijack" the discussion in a direction I didn't want to go.  I rebuffed the individual, and they became argumentative.  I was a split second away from literally spitting out a retort at them - when something very strange and very odd happened.  God spoke to my heart.  He actually asked me a question in that still, small voice we read about.  "What would My Son do here?"  I knew the answer - he would be gracious and extend that grace as He has done countess times to ME.  "That is how I want you to be, Gerry.  Bring GRACE here.  Be MY servant.  Be like MY Son.  Blessed are the peacemakers - for THEY shall be called the mature children of God.  LOVE them like My Son did.  Lay down your thing.  Let them continue." Friends, that AFFECTED me.  You can ask my wife.  I was more quiet, more introspective.  God really spoke to my heart and showed me the way Jesus is.   And folks, that should be what we try to share with people.

After all, we have a problem - we are separated naturally from God by our wrong thoughts, our wrong words, and our wrong deeds.  That separation isn't something God wants, it is something our forefathers chose for us and we inherited, and we are unable to pay the repair bill, so to speak.  The consequences of that choice spill over into every area of life.  Death, disease, poverty, inequality, injustice, unfairness - and worries, doubts, and fears in case I missed anything else - and every other wrong imaginable came into the world because of humankind's choice to be in charge instead of God.  These are the very things that Jesus died to fix for us because we were unable to do so.  He came to bring us peace in our hearts and joy in our lives regardless of our circumstance.  He came to heal us all.  Now - who could turn away from that kind of message?

That is the good news I have found here, and share it with anyone else who realizes that they are there with me.  The reason Jesus came and died was so that we could choose change!  We can choose hope!  We can choose life.  And then we can share it in a real way with others that may need it.  But what does that mean for our Christian behaviour?  It is worth considering.

My last main thought is how we may emulate Jesus, Friend of Sinners, and how we can learn to be followers of him.  In fact, the Greek word for "disciple" is "mathaytes" and literally means "learner" or we would say "pupil" or “student.”  We learn Him by knowing how he treated people, and we treat people the same way.  We must learn what he said. We must learn how he behaved.  We must learn his values.  We must be disciplined (a form of the word disciple) about it.  And then we must go and reflect that to the world we find around us, in relevant, practical ways.  Otherwise what good is our Christianity?  If it makes no difference for us or for those around us, then it has "lost its salt," as the scriptures say, and is good for nothing.  So I have some thoughts on that exercise I want to share with you in brief this morning.  Let me read a passage to you from the book of Acts.

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.
(Acts 2:41-47 NASB)

These practices are those of the very first group of the pupils of Jesus.  I want to focus in on verse 42 particularly here.  The first thing is says is that "they were continually devoting themselves."  This takes discipline to learn Jesus.  You know, every time I read this verse, it convicts me terribly, because my commitment to these things waxes and wanes with my moods at times.  I think that might be why there was a need to continually devote yourself to this - we are human, and I don't know about you, but I have a limited attention span for most things.  When I realize that my attention has wandered, I devote myself again to these pursuits.  I do this, well, continually!

Then it talks about four things that I quickly want to go through and define a little bit.  First, it talks about "the Apostles' Teaching."  Let me ask - have you read the Bible on your own?  This is a Baptist church - and it is our doctrinal position that the Bible is the very Word of God.  We should be learning what it says - and what that means in practical terms for us as we go through our lives day to day.  Jesus, in John 1, is identified as the Word of God.  So to be like Him, we must learn the book!

Second, it talks about "Fellowship."  Fellowship in Greek here is the word Koinonia, meaning social discourse, partnership, communication, or communion.  It speaks of how we relate to God - He wants us to be His partners, His companions, and then to share that with each other, then the world around us.

Third, it talks about "the breaking of bread," a specific ordinance of worship.  In that sharing of the great symbols of the work that Jesus did on our behalf, we give praise and honour to God Himself and are a witness that we have participated in His great work at Calvary nearly 2000 years ago and continue to do so.  Is this not the point of all worship?  We give glory to God in what we say, what we sing, what we do.

Finally, it says "Prayer."  A great deal could be said about prayer, but suffice it to say it is how God involves US in His work here on Earth.  He promises that wherever two or three of His people gather in His name, He is right there in their midst.  And He promises that if they will ask things according to His will, He will do, grant, or perform those things.  I once heard it phrased this way - God isn't looking for political activists, He wants spiritual activists.  This is how we become involved in the world around us.

Now I have to say something about all this.  When you think about this, you can do all this without ever setting foot into a church building.  In fact, there are some people that don't think they need to "go to church."  But what does this text say?  "THEY continually devoted themselves."  "All those that believed were together."  It is very clear that there is a collective aspect to this that must be practiced.  Some of you have heard me say this before - going to church makes you a Christian about as much as going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger - yet, it is essential for a lot of reasons for us to fellowship with each other.  We cannot come to maturity in Christ alone.   And there is a very specific reason for us to practice these activities, and I want to mention it here.

Certainly God wants to bring us to maturity in our faith, but there is a larger concern in this.  My focus thus far has been on our behaviour, our activity, and our maturity.  I believe that God has a purpose in all this, and that purpose is found in Matthew 28:19-20.  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  (Matthew 28:19-20 NASB)

We as a church, a local representation of the body of Christ, can become focused on what we want and need, and forget that we are commissioned to go out and share Jesus with the rest of the world.  Not by just speaking words or "going to church," and not by political activism.  Not by picketing funerals or spreading hate.  Jesus only spoke strong words to people on specific occasions, and do you know who he spoke those words to?  It was the religious people that often ignorantly hindered God's work and people with their legalism and religious pride and arrogance.

For the rest of the people He met, He was caring, tender, attentive, loving, kind, patient, and laying down His own life before He ever went to the cross for all of us.  He calls us to follow Him, to be His pupils, His disciples.  Because that is true, let us lay down our thing.  Let us lay down our lives.  Let us love the world like He did.  Instead of putting ourselves and what we want first, remaining turned inward, let us reach out to a needy world around us in love, like He reached out for us when we were in need.  It is the very least we can do.

Let us pray - Heavenly Father, we thank you for Jesus, who came to show us how to live, and how to love others in Your name.  Help us to be those that lay down our lives as He laid down His life for us, and help us to love those around us like He did.  Help us to make a difference in this world in grateful thanks for how Jesus made a difference in our own lives, for we pray in His name.  Amen.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Behaviour Modification Efforts?

"...because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit." Then His mother and His brothers *arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they *said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." Answering them, He *said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He *said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."  (Mark 3:30-35 NASB)
Have you ever had someone say something - only to you - that was meant to discourage you from acting a certain way?  Even Jesus recognized it could happen.  In the above passage, He was speaking words that were controversial, might have been a sore spot, might have made people look at things they didn't want to look at, but were absolutely necessary truth for the moment - and His family didn't like it one bit.  He was creating problems for them!

I had such an experience over the last few days.  Before I begin, let me say that I have never tried to deliberately make anyone uncomfortable with what I say or do.  If I have done so to you, then I sincerely apologize.  However, what I have shared I have done from a deep conviction of heart that what I have shared needed to be shared.  It started when I shared a picture meant to convey the extent of the Love of God on Facebook.  I didn't make the picture.  It was a picture of a man's hand with a nail through the wrist, and the caption on the picture was something like "Behold the Love of God."  That makes most Christians think about the lengths to which God went to pay the wages that our wrongdoing had earned us.

I will pause at this point to explain something about how Facebook works for me.  When I share something, and someone comments on it, I get an email from Facebook containing that comment.  You are also allowed to delete comments you make on something that someone else posts.  Doing that removes the comment from public visibility, but the author or the post still gets an email.  I got one such email from a gentleman that disagreed with what I posted, who deleted the comment from public view.  This comment told me that sharing an image of a man's hand with a nail through the wrist was "absolutely sick."

Interestingly, I happen to agree that the imagery is sick.  It was sick to put a nail through someone's wrist.  And that is the length to which God was prepared to go to pay the wages that our wrongdoings have earned us - to become a man Himself and then die in this sick and twisted way to pay that price because we could not pay it.  Such news NEEDS to be shared, if you are me or share the very deep conviction I have about what that means to humankind.  It is actually great news, that God Himself died for my wrongdoings so that I would not have to pay that price - as if I could anyway.

You can debate this all you like, but history backs me up that a man named Jesus was crucified approximately 2000 years ago, and history further defends that He ROSE from the dead and walked around, and was seen by a bunch of people!  It is not my point to debate this here (you will note the comments are closed for that reason).

Yesterday (March 12, 2013), I shared another image that must have been the straw that broke the camel's back.  It was a screen capture of the beaten and bloody Jesus hanging on the cross, complete with crown of thorns, from the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ.  The caption read, "There's only ONE hero."  I'll take responsibility to adding the caption to the photo.  I was "unfriended" on Facebook by the individual that sent the original email.  I understand this, the gentleman exercised his freedom to choose, and I am fine with that.  I certainly still respect his opinion and freedom of choice.  However, this got me thinking about what happened.

Whether anyone wants to admit this or not, this is a written/verbal attempt to modify my behaviour.  We have all done this at various times.  Jesus experienced it firsthand at the hands of his mother and half-brothers.  His response is what I find truly fascinating.  He did not let it affect Him or His actions at all.  He continued speaking the truth because people needed to hear it.  They had to kill Him to shut Him up, in fact. I realize that is pretty drastic, but as a Christian, I am called to follow His example.

Now, what has this really cost me?  It cost me a Facebook friend, but I know the gentleman outside of Facebook through a common activity, so I doubt it cost me his actual friendship.  We have stated in the past that we will simply agree to disagree on things.  It did NOT cost me any sleep, as things like this have done from my past, and I find that worthy of remark.  It also is a bit of a gain for me - it made me think about this, and how my Lord would respond to this.  I'm sure He loved His family, just as I love my friend.  However, He wasn't taking the attempt to modify (really curb) His behaviour.  He just kept right on doing what He had to do, and I will be doing the same.

May the Lord bless you all!

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

REAL Service to God

Phillippians 2:7-9 says "[Christ] emptied Himselftaking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a manHe humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of deatheven death on a cross For this reason alsoGod highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name..." (NASB)

When people serve in a church, they rarely ask for a position where nobody can see what they do.  Usually, they want to be "in charge" of something.  I don't really see a problem with that, because someone has to head the committee or the study group, or ministry.  What I want to focus on is that God calls us in those places to have the heart of a true servant.  I believe that God wishes our motive to be to give glory to Him and not ourselves.

That is the very slippery slope we face as God's servant - the moment we start to listen to the compliments and attach importance to them, the temptation is to start attaching importance to yourself.  This changes the focus of your service a little at a time so that in the end you are not working for God's glory, but for your own - and all that implies.

We must always remember that it is God that called us to serve Him, and He puts us where He wants us to serve.  Okay, I hear the objection out there that goes something like, "but you don't understand!  These people are so unreasonable!  How can this be what God wants?  How can I serve these heartless and unreasonable individuals?"  I know that particular line of reasoning too well, I have uttered those words myself on multiple occasions.  However, the Lord called these words to my memory: 

"You have heard that it was said, AN eye for an eye, and A tooth for A tooth.  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."
--Matthew 5:38-42 (NASB)

This particular passage was spoken by the Lord Himself as he taught people from the mountain.  He went on to embody every word He said here, including dying to pay for the wrongdoing of the entire world.  With this realization God allowed me to have came a question:  How can I do any less than He?  Any REAL servant of God knows the answer to that, no matter how young they are in the faith.  And with that answer comes a further revelation:  God has given us His grace to endure whatever He has called us to.

Remember those harsh, unreasonable people you were called by God to serve?  God knew all about that when He called you to serve Him there.  And he promises this:  1 Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (NASB)  That way of escape is His grace.  Like that saint of old, our brother Job, there is nothing that you are going through that God hasn't already approved for the sake of your perfection.

Servant, you are in His hands.  He sees you and knows where you are and what you are going through.  Trust Him for the outcome.  I must tell you truthfully that it may not look like a good ending.  Remember, out Lord was executed most painfully.  However out of that death came life for many!  And we, as His servants must learn the lesson of how to die to ourselves, whatever the implications of that, to bring life to many.  There is a very long list of names, beginning with Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, and includes 11 of the 12 disciples, men like John Huss, burned at the stake for translating the divine Word of God into the common language, Jim Elliot, martyred at the hands of the men of the tribe he had gone to the Amazon to reach (who were later saved by Jim's own testimony and death), right down to you and me.  

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us this in Chapter 11:  "Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;  and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill- treated  (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."

Our Lord never promised that our lives would be rosy.  He DID promise that if we would be faithful to Him, it would be WORTH IT.  Serve Him with the grace that He provides, looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith as our great example of what it means to be a Servant of God.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reach Out - or just "outreach?"

Okay, it's been a little over two months since my last post here - my life went crazy busy and I suppose I could have handled it better, but what  happened happened, and here we are.

I've been thinking recently about the concept of Christian Outreach.  The original definition I learned about it was that this was specifically to reach the unsaved with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though that is a basic definition, it cannot be divorced from the concept of reaching out to meet peoples' needs.  The scriptures say this:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
(James 2:15-17 NASB)

What good are your words if you aren't demonstrating your care by meeting peoples' needs?  I've often heard it said that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Sadly, I have been in that high-minded group of people that said, "brother, sister, be warmed and be filled" without doing one thing in the warming or filling of my brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again.  What that makes me, friends, is a very big hypocrite, God forgive me.

Many of us sit in our pews in Church, Sunday after blessed Sunday, all warm and fed, deliberately insulating ourselves from those who desperately need our help.  We comfortably invite people to "come to church with us" so that the Pastor or the Deacons can do all the work.  This is not following the example of our Lord Jesus.  Jesus did not teach in the Temple, but instead went to where the people were or where they could gather.  John the Baptist, for what it is worth, practiced the very same strategy; he went out to where he could meet peoples' needs.

We must have a greater vision of what "outreach" means.  Think of how YOU became a Christian (assuming that has happened for you).  Jesus came to you and met you on the ground of your need and dealt once and for all with your greatest need.  I do not think that He did so with the intent that you can "sit back and rest" because now you are "going to Heaven" or some such other nonsense.  (Yes, I do believe in Heaven, before all the modern-day Pharisees come for my head.  I do not believe it was the main point, and neither should any real Christian.)  I read in scriptures that He saved us - and then called us with "a holy calling" (I Tim. 2:9), which then talks about how we were not saved for our own works, but to HIS!  I once heard a song put it this way, and it made me think:  "If we are the body, why aren't His Hands reaching?  Why aren't His words healing?"  I believe it is because we have grown comfortable and have insulated ourselves so that we do not have to face the needy.

People, we need to REPENT.  That means we need to CHANGE OUR MIND about what we are doing and do the exact opposite.  Instead of sitting in our collective pews, let us rise up and actually HELP.  Because if I hear of one more needy one being lost to the church because someone said, "Welcome brother, Jesus loves you," when they really should have asked, "brother, when was the last time you have eaten" and immediately bought him food, YOU will be solely responsible for driving souls away from the Lord by your own hypocrisy.  No wonder we collectively have a bad reputation these days.

Now if you're sitting there like me, feeling like an real idiot at how you could have let this happen to you, be encouraged.  It means that God in His mercy, has called this to our attention so that we can change it for our benefit and His glory.  I don't know just how yet, but I'll be doing a lot more meeting of needs than I used to with the limited resources I have.  Leave a comment below and let me know you're going to join me in the quest to really REACH OUT instead of just "outreach."

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)