Divisions

“One body in union with Christ” -Romans 12:5

Without knowing exactly how it happened, Charles was praying with the pastor, asking Jesus to come into his heart and forgive his sins. He’d been attending this church for several weeks, feeling drawn to be there each week, pulled by some strange force, which in part was the obvious love of this man. “There’s something different about Pastor Jim,” he told his friends. “You can see his love is real. I can’t explain it, really, but I know it’s there.”

As time passed, and Charles shared his experience and new-found faith in Christ with others, something strange happened, some Christians he met seemed more intent on which church he attended than the glorious fact of his salvation. It usually went in this manner: “Well, that’s wonderful, Charles, what church do you attend?”

“Berean Baptist,” he would say.

“Oh, is that American Baptist or Conservative Baptist?”

“What’s the difference, we’re all Christians aren’t we?”

“Well, of course but it’s important to know if they believe once saved always saved, don’t you think? I mean, you don’t want to think you can lose your salvation do you?”

“Lose my salvation??” he would say; which opened the door for theological ramblings bent on causing division rather than unity. “Does your church believe in the gifts of the Spirit? How about speaking in tongues? What about baptism? Do they sprinkle or dunk, is baptism essential to salvation, are people predestined for salvation; do you think it’s ok for women to wear jewelry and cut their hair? What about the Holy Spirit, what part does He play in your faith? You have to know these things to choose the right church!”

I need to talk with Pastor Jim, Charles thought. I can trust him.

“Pastor, my head is spinning. I am very confused with all the potential divisions in Christianity I’m hearing of. I thought accepting Christ as my Savior was opening a wonderful door into total forgiveness and a new life trusting my Savior.”

“You’re right, Charles. That is what happened. You must not allow the doubts and divisive thinking of some people to derail your faith. God is not a God of confusion but of unity. When you hear people telling you that you must now do this or that to be assured of your Christianity, look to God’s Word. If their statement does not line up with the Scriptures, then it is not true. God doesn’t want opposing teams in the body of Christ, tearing at the unity Christ died for. He wants us to be servants, loving and serving each other, just as He did when He was walking this earth.

“Tell me, Charles, how did you receive your salvation and forgiveness from Christ?”

Beaming with recollection, he said, “Well you know, Pastor, we prayed together and I asked Jesus into my heart!”

“Amen, my friend. I was there and we cried together as your heart was filled with God’s love. So, let me ask, do you think Christ is in heaven, at the right hand of God saying that you need to do this or that to experience the full-deal meal of Christianity? Do you believe that Christ’s death on the cross was something like step one in the process of salvation? What kind of God would we have who kept the next step dangling in front of us like a carrot on a stick. “Just one more thing to do, to learn, to prove that you are saved, to experience the fulness of God?”

“Yes, I see,” Charles said. “That sounds more like something man would say or add to what Christ has already done.”

“Let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.”

“Even though you were not aware of it, the Holy Spirit was drawing you to God. God’s grace. Now that you’ve said yes, He can reveal the good deeds He has already prepared for you to do. Our unity with Christ and other Christians accomplishes God’s plans to build His kingdom.”

Romans 12:1-2 “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”

Romans 12:5-6 “In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have.”

Romans 12:10 “Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.” 

The Election!

“Give to [the government] what is [the government’s]” Luke 20:25

It was a few days after the election and the results were still in the air. This was the closest election in recent memory with emotions running high as accusations of fraud came from both sides.

“Well I know that they’re going to expose corruption and false votes on the Democrats side of things. Our man will remain in office for sure,” said Sam, the adult Sunday School leader. The class erupted in aggressive agreement, taking them abruptly off topic.

“Just a minute friends,” said John in a loud voice. “What business do we have in bringing politics into this Bible class?” As quickly as they began, the class was brought to order.

Sam confronted John, “What are you saying? We all voted for the current president and know that the opposition would do anything to get him out of office. It’s our duty to expose any sort of lawlessness in the government. We’re not doormats, are we?”

Tumult again! Emotions ran high as some rose to their feet in adamant agreement.

“How do you know we all voted for the same man?” John said.

Stunned silence followed.

“Are you saying you voted against the president? How could you do that?”

“Who I voted for is my business. I am more concerned about our attitudes in the Bible class. When was the last time we got this excited about God’s Word or some other Biblical issue? And what does the Bible say about taking the government to task when we perceive them treating us as doormats?”

“You really voted for a Democrat?” said Sam. “I still love you, John but I admit that I’m disappointed.”

“Sam, I didn’t say who I voted for, nor do I intend to. I’m talking about our rebellious attitude because it seems our side may not win, as though God was in danger of being defeated. Christ is King, folks. This is just a political election. And if our man is defeated then that must be God’s plan, according to the Bible!

“Well, don’t you think it’s our responsibility to take the government to task when they get out of control and threaten our religious freedoms?”

“Who was the government when Jesus was teaching and preaching?”

“We all know the answer to that, the Romans were in charge.”

“And they were horribly corrupt and evil wouldn’t you say? They were especially hard on Christians weren’t they? Arresting and killing them, burning them at the stake in some instances.”

“Yes, that’s true enough,” said Sam.

“Well then, did Jesus command his followers to rise up against the evil regime?”

“No. I guess you’re right, John.”

“And when he was challenged in Luke 20:22-25, what did he reply?”

One of the class read aloud, “Now tell us, is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” Caesar’s, they replied. “Well then,” He said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

“To bring that forward to our lives, we could say, Give to the government what belongs to the government, couldn’t we?” They agreed.

“Although sinful and corrupt, this world is under God’s control and His will shall always be fulfilled no matter how it looks to us. If the current president is defeated after the final tally of votes, then that is God’s plan which also means we should be content with the result.

“Look at Romans 13:1-7,” said John:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.”

“As followers of Christ our position is to be light in a dark world; to lead people to Christ by our living example, not to set the government straight!”

“I’ve found another appropriate verse,” said a class member, “1 Peter 2:13-14, Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

“And here’s an appropriate verse,” said another person, 1 Timothy 3:1-3

“Here are my directions: Pray much for others; plead for God’s mercy upon them; give thanks for all he is going to do for them. 2 Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility, so that we can live in peace and quietness, spending our time in godly living and thinking much about the Lord. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior.”

Aside from privately asking God if He could take away His forthcoming death on the cross, what was our Lord’s demeanor during this excruciating time? It was not decrying the unjust rulings of the Roman government and Jewish religious leaders was it? No. Jesus remained focused on the “joy set before Him.” Let us remain focused on the joy set before us so others may be drawn to our light.

The Trumpet Call

“Therefore I will protect you from the time of Great Tribulation” ~Rev 3:10 

“Do you know the next great event on God’s prophetic calendar?” Chris asked his friend, Evan. 

“The tribulation?” 

“Actually this event occurs just before the tribulation.” 

“I guess I’m not sure. I often get the end times stuff mixed up.” 

“The next big prophetic event is the  Rapture!” 

“To tell you the truth, I am a little foggy on how that is supposed to work, Chris. Can you fill me in. Oh, and should I worry about being left behind?” 

“I can give you the ultimate test to see if you will be included in the rapture (if it happens before you die). Answer this question for me and we will know for sure: the Bible says, in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Evan, have you called upon the name of the Lord to save you?” 

“Yes. I have. I most certainly have.” 

“Then you will not be left behind; plain and simple.” 

“Praise God. That is a relief. So, go ahead, tell me about the Rapture.” 

“Let me quote Mark Hitchcock’s book, 101 Answers To The Most Asked Questions About The End Times 

“The Rapture is that future event when Jesus Christ will descend from heaven and, in a moment of time, resurrect the bodies of departed believers, transform the bodies of living believers immediately into His glorious presence, and then escort them to heaven to live with Him forever. The Rapture is the blessed hope of the church.” 

“When is this supposed to happen?” 

“That is the question for all the ages, Evan. Only God knows the date and time. So we are to look with expectancy— anticipating that at any moment we might hear the mighty shout and trumpet blast calling us home.” 

 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-2  

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. 

“We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.

When is all this going to happen? I really don’t need to say anything about that, dear brothers, for you know perfectly well that no one knows. That day of the Lord will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night.” 

 2 Peter 3:8-13 

“But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”

“Life in these mortal bodies often brings conflict, sadness, sorrow, uncertainty and discouragement, Evan, which is why verse 18 in 1 Thessalonians, above, is so crucial: So comfort and encourage each other with these words! When a friend, a fellow believer, is at rock-bottom, encourage them with these words! We cannot hear them too often and need the life-changing assurance God’s word brings to our souls.” 

Ephesians, Part 4

coffee cup in hand (2013_06_21 16_53_37 UTC)

“Put on your new nature and be renewed” Colossians 3:10

Ephesians Chapter 1

4 “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.”

Talk about a mind bender! How do we wrap our human minds around this simple verse? “Before He made the world, God loved us?” How can that be, we ask? First we struggle with the idea of whether or not God made everything in six literal days and now— we read that God loved us before we existed; prior to making any of the heavens or the earth. This is a stunning concept truly beyond human comprehension.

Of course it is beyond human comprehension, we are His creation and He is the Creator. Can you remember back to a time in school when you began a new class and your mind was in utter confusion, struggling to understand the necessary concepts? I can recall a class in which I was completely in the dark, ready to give up. As I shared my confusion with the professor one day he said, “Oh I know how hard it is to grasp this concept but don’t give up. I can tell that you are just about to break through. Don’t give up!” Fortunately I listened to his advice. Within that very week, the understanding exploded into  my mind. I was so joyful. I had faith in the professor’s observation.

In a way, attempting to understand all of God’s mysterious Scriptures while we are still living on earth is similar. But the complete revelation of God’s truths is yet to come. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Cor. 13:12

The first verse of the first book in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 Do we understand what this means? Can we imagine this act of creation? Absolutely not. We understand the words and the idea but not literally. We are totally dumbfounded. It is beyond human comprehension. And so is the idea that verse 4, above,  expresses. Before God made our world He loved us. God loved me personally before he created the world! Then surely I owe my allegiance to Him.

Not only has God loved us before He made everything, He “chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” Holy and without fault? Will everyone who feels holy and without fault please raise your hand! We shrink back from the very idea. If you only knew me, we think. Holy and without fault? Far from it. And yet, through the filter of Christ’s blood, God does see us as holy and without fault. Not only that, before He created the world He saw us in this way.

God says to you, “I love you and have loved you before I created anything!”

Church Meetings

Church-001

“When you meet together, one will sing. . .” 1 Corinthians 14:26

Settling into the restaurant booth after church, Sal and Phil scanned the menu, placed their order and relaxed with coffee and tea. “Well, since this was your first time in church, what did you think of the service?” asked Phil.

“Truthfully, I was surprised by how much extra stuff there is.”

“Extra stuff?”

“You know, announcements, reading of the bulletin, taking a break for coffee and snacks. And then when the pastor did come, he spent extra time joking about his hunting trip with some of the guys. But the church didn’t seem to mind, they laughed a lot.”

Phil was quiet as he thought of his reply. “I know. And I agree, Sal. Over the years men have changed the church meetings. And not for the better. Actually the bible does have an outline for church service in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33. Let’s look at it.”

Well my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together:

  1. One will sing
  2. Another will teach
  3. Another will tell some special revelation God has given
  4. One will speak in tongues
  5. Another will interpret what is said
  6. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you
  7. No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.
  8. Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop.

    In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.

“Wow, that is quite different from what happened this morning,” said Sal. “What we just read sounds exciting and filled with God’s presence. I get chills thinking of it. So, it seems that many people might contribute during the meeting, not just one.”

“According to 1 Corinthians, I think church meetings were completely different in order and how people were seated.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if several people will be sharing according to the Spirit’s leading, we would be seated in a more open format so we could all see and hear one another.”

“Are you opposed to what we call church today?”

“Oh no. Not at all. Meeting is important. But when we read this section in 1 Corinthians, how can we simply neglect what God has given us regarding meetings? Since the bible is God’s word, how can we ignore this outline of how to meet? What does 2 Timothy 3:16 say?

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

“We live in the world, Sal and satan is the ruler of this world. His influence is felt every day in countless ways. If we are not purposely focused on God’s Word and listening to the Holy Spirit, we will gradually modify God’s best purposes for our lives by polluting our choices with worldly ideas. For example, how did Christian church meetings change so dramatically?

“Many churches have small groups that meet in homes (isn’t that how the original church met?). Why not turn these groups into meetings according to 1 Corinthians 14 and watch as the Holy Spirit drives the outcome. Giving control to the Lord would prove to be scary and also exciting!”

“Trust in the Lord will all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6