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...and pray for those who persecute you

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

The greatest teacher of all time, the God-man Jesus, taught this timeless truth in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (ESV).

As we reel from another seemingly senseless slaughter of human life in recent days, questions swirl in our hearts and minds.  It may arise as anger in our hearts, or sometimes in guilt of our own making, taking responsibility for the evil that we witness as a way to feel as if we can then exercise control over it.  As Jesus tells us, we cannot control evil, only our response to it.

What was perpetrated by those who followed their own devices or the orders of those they represent, should not elicit a desire for a personal vendetta toward the individual.  Ultimately a human is not our real enemy; Paul the apostle wrote these words to the church in Ephesus:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, again the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

We are witnessing a spiritual battle and it must be seen with spiritual eyes.  Unfortunately, many will not see it this way.  What tragically happened in Orlando, FL will be politicized from every direction and the main point will be missed in the resulting fog.

Evil is real, and it comes from outside flesh and blood, yet is prevalent in our society as evidenced by many recent world events.  Yet, this man who laid out so much carnage is not an enemy of a Christian nor are Muslims.  Christians also must remember that homosexuals are not our enemy and there is no room for hateful words or actions.

God is the ultimate Judge in the universe and not mankind.  When man was created he was placed in a perfect world.  Yet, man thought he knew better than God and wanted more, following instead the temptations of the serpent in the perfect garden.  The result was ruin of all mankind for all time, until Jesus’ presence upon the earth as the ultimate Savior from evil in the world.

What Adam and Eve thought was a good thing ended up as ruin for the history of man, yet God had an eternal plan that neither man nor Satan could set aside.  Apart from God, life is a prison, but with God, through belief in Jesus Christ is perfect freedom.  Perfect freedom is following the Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to mankind; Adam and Eve or Satan could not thwart what was planned in eternity past.

Christians are to love God and our fellow man.  We are not to do offensive injury in any way to those we do not agree with, whether Muslim or one who designates themselves as homosexual.  It is true that much hurt has been initiated by those who call themselves followers of Jesus but when one would look at what Jesus did and what He taught it would be clear that revenge or anger or physical injury of any type is not appropriate for a Christ follower.

We must pray for those who oppose us, due to our belief, but never strike a vengeful blow.  In closing, the words of Scripture are extremely appropriate in this day and age as we see anger and spite in our world.

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21, ESV).

This is how a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus is to act towards fellow Christians and those who are not.  Before a Christian goes on a verbal rampage, or worse, go to the Book to find out how to respond to the evils of the world in which we live.

The only true answer to the evils of this world is Jesus Christ!  To begin following Him all one needs to do is believe that God raised Him from the dead and to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.  Pretty simple, but life-changing.

Bypass Everything and Go Directly to Jesus (Part 1)

By Bill Freeman

One of the greatest lessons we learn in our Christian life is to bypass the entire realm of the flesh and go directly to Jesus and make contact with Him. When we go directly to Christ, we are free from the flesh. We are free from our self. We are free from self-preoccupation. We are free from self-condemnation. We are free from anxiety. We are free from interacting with the impossible realm of the flesh (Rom. 8:8). Our relationship to the flesh is that we died to it and our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Bypass Everything and Go Directly to JesusOur interaction is not with ourselves – with self-effort and self-reformation. We bypass the self. When we bypass, Christ becomes our joy. Christ becomes our encouragement. Christ becomes our faith. Christ becomes our living (Phil. 1:21). We interact with Him in everything in our lives. We interact exclusively with Him. We enjoy Him as our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). He is “all and in all” to us (Col. 3:11).

When we receive Him, it is our spirit that is born again. Our dead spirit is begotten of the divine Spirit and comes alive (Eph. 2:1). Indeed, our newly-born spirit becomes the source from which we live as believers. It is into our regenerated spirit that Christ comes to dwell. From this place we contact Christ Himself and bypass the flesh. Thus, our relationship with the flesh is Jesus Christ as He lives in our spirit and as we walk according to spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

When we bypass the flesh, Jesus Christ becomes the Christian life. We look away to Him. Look away from yourself. Look away from your failure. Look away from your bad mood. Look away unto Jesus. Christ is the centrality of everything in our Christian life. He is the Christian life itself in every aspect.

The new birth bypasses man’s flesh

Our new birth teaches us from the very start that God intended to bypass the flesh. In other words, our initial salvation is not a matter of expecting anything to come out of the flesh. God doesn’t save man by any works of the flesh, including improving it, upgrading it, or remaking it (Gal. 2:16). No. God bypasses man’s flesh altogether and starts by leaving the flesh untouched except to terminate and crucify it (Gal. 2:20; 5:24).

In John 3:6 the Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” By using the Greek perfect tense (signifying a present, permanent state) for the word “born,” He conveyed two important facts: first, the realm of the flesh never changes; and second, the realm of the Spirit never changes. The Lord wanted to convey at the beginning of our Christian life that we should not expect any change from the source of our flesh, but always bypass it and go directly to Jesus. The new birth begins a lifelong process of bypassing the flesh, both the good and bad, to go directly to Jesus.

Bypass the “bad” flesh

There are many aspects of the flesh – the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), the will of the flesh (John1:13), the mind of the flesh (Rom. 8:6-7), and the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19), to name a few. The flesh has feelings and reactions, as well as deeds; and many times we are intimidated by these things.

Concerning his own flesh, Paul had to admit, “I am (present tense) fleshly, sold (perfect tense, indicating a present state) under sin … For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:14,18). This statement clearly reveals that the flesh is incorrigible and must be bypassed. Also, in Colossians he warns the believers that if they relate to the evil flesh with a religious flesh they will encounter certain defeat (Col. 2:18-23).

How then can we be related to our flesh, if the flesh cannot overcome the flesh? The answer to this question is found in Galatians 5:24-25: 24 “And those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” The phrase, “those who are of Christ Jesus,” tells us how we are to be related to the flesh. It is simply by our belonging to Christ Jesus that the flesh is crucified.

To be of Christ Jesus means that you do not have a separate life from Him. You are wholly identified with Him. This means you do not have a separate relationship with the flesh. Because you are of Christ Jesus, you own His relationship with the flesh. His relationship with the flesh is not a long, drawn-out battle with it; rather it is a onetime crucifixion to it. The word “crucified” in Galatians 5:24is in the aorist tense in Greek, indicating that a blow was dealt to the flesh in the past that was decisive, complete, and final. That blow was dealt to the flesh on the cross of Calvary two thousand years ago.[1]

To bypass the flesh is wrapped up in the answer to one question – Are we of Christ Jesus? That is all we need to answer. We don’t need to examine whether or not we have any potential to overcome the flesh. Neither do we need a good record or a string of victories that we can boast in. Nor do we need to look at our condition to see whether or not we feel like a crucified person. We just need to answer one question: Are we of Christ Jesus? If so, we have crucified the flesh. Paul says it – if we are of Christ Jesus then we have crucified the flesh.

In Galatians 5:24 bypassing the flesh is an established fact in Christ Jesus. Then verse 25 shows us the application and experience of this fact: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” To “live in the Spirit” in this verse is equivalent to being “of Christ Jesus” in the preceding verse. Thus Christ, in the realm of the Spirit, is our bypass route. But for this fact to become our experience over and over again in our daily life, we need to walk in the Spirit.

The Greek word for “walk” in Galatians 5:25 is a specific military word, rather than the more general word for “walk” used in other places in the New Testament. It has the sense of “keeping in step with the Spirit.” This could be likened to a group of soldiers marching down the street, keeping in step with the cadence of the drummer. Their steps are very deliberate and specific. It is the same when we walk in the spirit. Christ is dwelling in our spirit. He has already dealt a blow to the flesh. Now we must keep in step with Him whenever our flesh rises up to be fulfilled. This means we take a deliberate and specific step in spirit at the moment our flesh manifests itself. When we keep in step with the Spirit, we allow the Lord Himself to become our relationship with the reacting flesh. We just say, “Amen, Lord, I love You!” Or, call out His name, “Lord Jesus!” Or, take the Word of God as the sword of Spirit and declare it!” By interacting with Him in this way, we keep in step with the Spirit and execute the crucifixion over our flesh.

The main point in dealing with the flesh is to not interact with it. We do not dare to handle it on our own. There is only One who is qualified to handle it, and He was incarnated to do so. He became flesh (John 1:14) and lived a victorious life in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). And now in resurrection He has become a life-giving Spirit in our spirit to supply to us His victory over the flesh. All we need to do is keep in step with the Spirit – pray a little bit, call “Jesus” a little bit, shout to God a little bit, sing a little bit. Just keep in step with the Spirit, and bypass the flesh.

You may say to me, “I can’t overcome my flesh. I have already tried over and over again and failed.” I will respond by saying, “That’s right! Of course you can’t!” If you and I have a relationship with the flesh based upon ourselves, we are finished. We all must come back to Christ – learn to bypass the flesh and then just keep in step with the Spirit.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

If you know anything about herding sheep, you’ll know it isn’t as easy as it looks!  The shepherd must work hard at keeping the sheep together and when it is time to lie down they must make sure that the conditions are just right regarding proper food and water.  Apparently sheep also have a tendency to wander away and get lost, leading to a vulnerability for predator’s such as coyotes or wolves.

Now this author is not a sheepherder but he knows the Shepherd.  After watching a lesson from a sheepherder via “youtube” an experienced herder simply leads the sheep and beckons them gently to follow him.  They follow him because they know his voice and if anyone else would call out to them they would not follow.

In first century Israel, there were shallow caves called sheepfolds where the shepherds would house the sheep at night.  The sheep were protected on all sides except for the entrance.  Most entrances did not actually have doors or gates but the sheepherder would lie down at the gate and sleep.

Within that sheepfold, the sheep feel the safety and security of having the shepherd at the door.

In the gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd in 10:14. The first 21 verses are comforting music to one’s ears and soul.  Jesus begins the story about Himself by saying if anyone comes into the holding area of sheep other than the door, they are thieves and robbers.  The one who enters by the gate or door is the shepherd.

The entire chapter 10 of the gospel of John is deep and meaningful but in the first 21 verses we see two major points.  The first is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He knows whose are His and the sheep know who He is.

Jesus says something in verse 16 that has been misunderstood for years but needn’t be.  He said; “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (ESV).

Jesus is simply saying that not only will Jews believe in Him for salvation and be welcomed into eternal life but so will Gentiles.  He is not referring to Mormons or saying there is more than one way to heaven but that the Old Testament would be fulfilled hearing about Jesus and believing in Him for eternal salvation.

Jesus did not come only for the Jewish nation but the whole of creation.  Isaiah the prophet mentions that the Savior of the Jews would be a “light to the nations.”  This goes beyond the idea that Jesus is only a Jewish Savior, but actually the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis.  The idea of the Gentiles being included along with Israel, came long before Israel was settled.

And with Jesus being the door or gate to the sheepfold, He is saying that He is the only way into the “green pastures.” There is no other way to the Father except through Jesus and this is clear here and later in John 14:6 where Jesus tells His listeners that He is “the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Peter tells the Jewish leaders as he stood before them: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul the apostle writes that the wall that existing between Jews and Gentiles is now broken down.  There is one way for all to be saved and that is through what Jesus accomplished upon the cross.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He beckons all to come to Him, however, only those who hear and respond to His voice will be saved.   How does one know the voice of Jesus?  If you are thinking about Jesus right now as you read this, it is a very good indication that He is calling to you.

Four major religions claim to be the one true religion: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.  And of those, only one has God coming to man and not man going or trying to get to God.  Only Christianity offers grace and simply what that means is there is a great chasm between men and God that man cannot bridge.  God bridged it Himself by sending His Only Son so that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life.

If you are working your way to God, do you know how many good works you have to do to be accepted?  If you want your good deeds to exceed your bad deeds to enter heaven or paradise; how do you know if the good has exceeded the bad?  What is the scale that is used to determine the good works or deeds verses the bad?

Honesty would confess that you do not know if you have done enough to gain God’s approval.  God knows this and this is why He came to earth so that “all” men would have opportunity to enter heaven or paradise.

The Good Shepherd is calling out to you, do you hear His voice?  If you do, will you follow?  God has made it simple – he who believes in Jesus has life.  Those who come to Him will never be cast out but drawn into His everlasting arms.

RISEN

Christ the Lord has risen!  Alleluia!  This truth is known, shouted and rejoiced over, worldwide.  This momentous fact of history, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, is either celebrated or despised; few are merely ambivalent.  Those who don’t follow Jesus, but say they don’t despise Him, will ultimately come to despise Him.  You cannot serve two masters.  You will love one and hate the other; this is also truth.

Resurrection sets Christianity apart from all other religions.  The others were founded by men who desired worship, but Christianity has the God-man as its founder!

How do we prove this?  It begins at the beginning – with the Bible.  Christians must always start here.  To do otherwise risks misunderstanding Scripture, and what it teaches about Jesus and His blessed resurrection.

Paul the apostle teaches us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Peter echoes this truth: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

So these two giant Christians from the past ought to grab our attention and move us to celebrating the veracity of God’s word; standing firm in our confidence in the same.  Why would we ever shy away from the truth in the midst of misguided cultural antagonism?  Let us stand sure of our beliefs, and shout our convictions of the risen Christ.

Jesus Himself said: “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:22b-23a).  While He walked the earth, told His followers that the resurrection would take place.  Though the apostles were distressed by His words, they chose to deny and ignore until the day He was crucified.  They thought as men think, not as God does, and it led them to the wrong conclusion.  They were overcome with grief and fear until the third day, as Jesus had foretold.

Again in Matthew 20:17-19 we read these timeless and truthful words: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, See, we are going up to Jerusalem.  And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (ESV).

This truth was in the mind of God in eternity past, to send Jesus to be our substitute criminal on the cross and then show the power of God to overcome that which seems impossible to overcome.  Our sin was a curse that was impossible for humankind to overcome.  So Jesus came to earth motivated out of love for His created beings to stand in our place before the Judge and reconcile us to His Father.  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

In First Corinthians 15, Paul states the very foundation of the Christian faith is that Jesus did live, die and rise again as the Old Testament foretold through prophecy.  In the first eleven verses Paul teaches the four foundational pieces of the gospel, Christ died, was buried, raised and seen by His followers.  The rest of the chapter teaches that Jesus did rise from the dead; if He could not, then His death would have been for no reason.

But if we believe what the Scripture teaches as “evangelicals” then we must believe all of Scripture.  We cannot believe certain parts of the Bible, but all of it or none of it.  There are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand and swallow but we must come under God’s rule and not have God come under our rule.  We are made in God’s image; He is not made in our image.

Two major differences in religions and Christianity: first, God came to man, when we had strayed away from God.  Second, Jesus rose from the dead; in any other religion the founder, whoever or whatever it is, either died or never lived.  Jesus Christ came from heaven, became a man, died a cruel death and rose again for eternity.

One remaining fact; Jesus is coming again.  The question for the one reading is “What do you say about Christ?”  It is the most important question you must ask yourself because your answer determines your destiny.

Christ the Lord is risen today!  Alleluia!  Happy Resurrection Day!

Blessed are the Poor

How can a poor person be blessed? What does it mean to be blessed?

Believe it or not, accept or not, this is a good time to remember these seemingly incongruous words used in the same sentence. Here in the United States we are just days away from Caucus and Primary season as we begin the process of selecting candidates for President of the United States of America. In the great state of Iowa, we are being inundated ad nauseam with television, radio, and newspaper and internet advertisements on the best candidate for the job.

These ads generate many different emotions among those who see/hear them. They range from anger and frustration to excitement (not sure why) and even complacency. Those who are in the church and who are following Jesus can also get caught up in all the excitement and fervor this political season can bring.

But how can we keep our bearings or sanity at this time? By reading and heeding these powerful words of Jesus; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, ESV).

The immediate context of this famous and unsettling verse is that Jesus had just spent 40 days in the desert not eating or drinking anything and then being tempted by the devil while at His weakest physical and emotional state. Jesus defeated Satan through quoting the Word of God from the Old Testament and sent Satan away from Himself.

Then after calling His first disciples to Himself, while traveling through the northern part of Israel called Galilee, He taught and proclaimed the gospel of God. He was also healing all who were sick and brought to Him.

And then He sat down to teach them. I really wonder what they were thinking after watching all those sick people immediately healed from all their illnesses and diseases. Possibly when the new disciples saw Jesus sit down they just knew that He was about to tell them how they too could heal all those they meet and are sick. But what came out of His mouth was probably not what they were expecting.

The first of the Beatitudes as they are called and the introduction to what we call the Sermon on the Mount must have stunned the disciples. An awkward yet good way to put this is from the Amplified New Testament translation: “Blessed – happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous [that is, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions] – are the poor in spirit (the humble, rating themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”

Wait, what?

First we should probably deal with the phrase, “poor in spirit.” These are people that realize that they are in need of help; very serious help. They are spiritually bankrupt and realize it. The poor in spirit know that they are totally reliant on another for whatever needs they have, and in this instance it is God.

This becomes a tad bit clearer when we hear these words from Jesus; “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). A person who comes to the end of themselves, the end of their rope, is “poor in spirit.”

Coming to this realization is the beginning of salvation. Up to the point of becoming “poor,” they tried everything they could think of to fill up the voids in their life and have failed miserably. Now they turn to God for the filling or completing they need and it only comes to us in the person of Jesus.

When one turns to Jesus and is saved by grace, through faith alone in Christ Jesus, only then is one “Blessed,” for God’s glory.

In all of the chaos of the day there is a sure foundation and it is found only in Jesus Christ. It is not found in the political process nor a certain candidate, but only in God. He does all the work. All we have to do is lay down our selves before Him and He will take us up and allow us to walk with Him.

This is a daily task that we must put into our routines (without letting it become routine!) confessing that Jesus did all the work and we simply placed our trust in that finished work He accomplished upon the cross. It makes an election year livable by putting all the noise aside as we view the world through the perspective of God’s saving grace. We thrive as we place our simple trust in Him.

How about you? Have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? Turn to Him today and experience the blessing of being “poor in spirit.”

THE NARROW DOOR

Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?  And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).

Narrow doorways are neither convenient nor easy.  If you would take a tour of the U.S.S. York in Charleston, SC you would find the doors separating compartments are quite narrow and not very tall.  Someone over six foot could very well knock themselves out if they don’t duck and turn slightly to one side.

Two words stand out in this verse, strive and seek.  One seems aggressive and the other more passive.  If they are aggressive verses passive then we have something to wrestle with and decide as we consider following Jesus.  Could this be another cost of discipleship passage?

The word for “Strive” in verse 24, is the same word from which we get our English word “agonize.”  Its basic meaning is striving for a goal and the goal is for a few to be saved.  Another way to possibly put this term is “forcing your way into it” (Amplified version of NT).

If you read a complementary verse, 1Timothy 4:10, greater clarity is brought to Jesus’ words.  “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV).  In the context of this verse we see Paul the apostle using an energetic illustration to convey what a good servant of Jesus looks and acts like.

A few verses earlier Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness, to become more like Jesus in an intensely focused way.  When one trains his or her self for an athletic event, success comes from single-minded purpose; a fierce desire to be the best they can be.

Paul further encourages Timothy – “Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

Paul is telling Timothy to make use of the teaching and wisdom he has gained from Paul, and to serve as an example of God’s grace and power.

Many people compare the Christian life to a marathon and that’s not a bad example, but given the obstacles we face throughout life, an Ironman Triathlon might be a little more accurate comparison.

An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  And these are done back to back to back.  You would swim your 2.2 miles and then immediately run and change into your biking outfit on the run and then when you are finished with the 112 mile bike ride you immediately switch to your running shoes and run the marathon.  Whew!  It makes you sort of tired just writing about this.

The reason these extreme athletes can accomplish this is because of intense focus and much training.  For the Christian life it is the same way; there must intense focus and much time training in the Scriptures and how to live them out.

Another major difference in the illustration here, is that the training for the Ironman is individualistic whereas training for the Christian life must be done en masse.  We are to live life together, to see growth and maturity and the lessening of the devastating effects of sin in ourselves and each other.  We grow together.

This is called the church, and the church (ecclesia) is plural made one.  We definitely do not live on an island no matter how bad one would like to live like that at times, but the church is made up of many different individuals created by God for a specific purpose.

But what we do have in common is to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Let us begin living or continue living as the church and progress to greater conformity to the Author and Finisher of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Perfect Timing

When I was young I loved to watch Figure 8 racing on Wide World of Sports every Saturday.  If you have never heard of this type of racing, it is a mixture of NASCAR and Demolition Derby.  The cars race on a track that is, of course, in the figure of the number eight.

If the driver of a car gets the timing right they will never be hit and have a great probability to win the race.  But if he does not time it right he will be T-boned by another driver where the track intersects at the middle of the eight.  However, another driver and many fans may say that perfect timing is when you get to hit someone in another car slowing them down so they are unable to either finish or win the race.

Personally, not getting hit seems the wisest of the two possibilities.  Perfect timing in any area of life allows for reduction of stress and more efficient completion of an activity or chore.

In Scripture, God is always on time, still is today, and will be tomorrow.  In three different time periods God has been and will be perfect in His timing.  That is what we will see from only three passages from the Bible.

The first time period is the birth of Jesus Christ upon the earth.  In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul teaches the church of his day and ours that God’s timing is the beauty of perfection.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

What Paul the apostle and author of this letter is telling his readers and us is that at just the right time is history God shows up in the person of Jesus Christ.  And He came to deliver mankind out of sin and misery.  He did not come too early or too late but at just the right time!

God knew from before the earth was ever created that Jesus would come humbly on the world scene in the stable and be born to a couple of teenagers who were of no worldly account.  He did this exactly as He had planned in eternity past and as He proved all of this true throughout the Old Testament.  And at just the right time Jesus comes to fulfill all of the promises that God made to Israel from Genesis to Malachi.

The second time period where God shows His perfect timing is the crucifixion of His beloved Son upon a cruel cross.  Sin has devastating effects and nothing shows it more grotesquely than that of a Roman crucifixion.

Acts 2:22-24 Peter the apostle describes the perfection of timing according to God’s standards and time-table.  “Men of Israel, heart these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

Jesus’ death was pre-planned by God to take place a just the right time in history for the good of the world.  The Father sent the Son into the world because of His love for the people of the world because He knew that they could not and would not pay the penalty for their own sins.  Sin is incurable apart from Jesus and the perfect remedy for the fatal disease of sin is the person of Jesus being born at the perfect time in history and then dying at the perfect time in history.

Finally, the future time is planned perfect in God’s ultimate wisdom and foresight.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10).

The reason, according to these verses, that Jesus has not come back yet is that the time is not quite right.  When the perfect time arises God the Father will send the Son to the earth a second time to claim the church.  Not everyone that is to become a follower of Jesus or Christian has become one yet.  God is so very patient with humankind.  He still desires for people to come and believe in His Son and His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual return.

Now it’s in your ball court and the timing is perfect.  It is the perfect time for you to believe in Jesus and receive Him as your Savior and King.  Do it today for there is no time like the present and its perfect timing.

 

A CALL TO REPENTANCE!

This week’s essay is not a call from this Pastor to repentance but rather an examination of three very famous people from history who called on their people to turn to God.  The first is from a man dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt who ate food quite foreign to this Midwesterner’s palate; locusts and wild honey.  Were the locusts eaten raw, roasted, fried or sautéed?  Whatever or however, this Pastor doesn’t plan to entertain that delicacy any time soon.

We first encounter John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-2; “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ESV).  His audience intuitively understood his call and responded with curiosity, and most likely obedience, to his prophetic call.

During John the Baptist’s calling for repentance his cousin comes on the scene and preaches this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, ESV).  His name was Jesus and it was said of Him by John after being asked by many; “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27-28, ESV).

In our day the word “repent” is viewed negatively, and worse yet, many do not even know what the word means.  It is time to excise the cancer of ignorance about repentance and apply the healing balm of understanding.

The basic meaning of “Repent” is to turn or turn around.  In the American College Dictionary of 1968 defines it this way: “1. To feel self-reproach, compunction, or contrition for past conduct; change one’s mind with regard to past action in consequence of dissatisfaction with it or its results.  2. To feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life  for the better; be penitent.”

In the English Standard Version Study Bible we read this definition on page 1824; “To repent, or ‘change one’s mind’ in the OT called for a change in a person’s attitude toward God that impacted one’s actions and life choices; it involved the idea of ‘turning,’ that is, from one way of thinking and living to a different way.  Common external signs of repentance included prayers of remorse and confession and renouncing sin.”

Feeling remorse leads to turning away from our sin and toward God; as the apostle John wrote “I must decrease and He must increase.”  That two of the greatest men who ever lived implored us to do the same thing indicates how important they believe repentance to be in a Christian’s life.

God is holy and entirely without sin, while we on the other hand, are full of sin and distant from God.  We must be reconciled to Him; and the first step is to “repent.”  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and thus are in need of a Savior and repentance.

God provided the Savior in Jesus and we are to come to repentance and receive Jesus before we can appear clean before a sinless and perfect God.  Jesus provides that perfection; for though He was tempted in every way we are, yet remained without sin, He can stand between us and God and be our mediator or attorney to make His case on our behalf that we are innocent.  This is nothing we have done but it is through what Jesus accomplished upon the cross.

Jesus became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Wow, what a deal, Jesus did what we could never do, get us right before God.

However we must first repent or as Romans 10:9 states, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.”  As the saying goes; there’s no time like the present.

Oh yeah, the third sermon on repentance; after his first sermon in the book of Acts Peter states after the crowd questions him: “Brothers, what shall we do?  And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

In our day and age the plea remains; “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  It is right here, right now; recognize the sin you have committed against God and your fellow man and repent and be saved.  If you are already a Christian then repent and return to the fellowship of your Father.

God is crazy about you and desires to have that relationship restored through His Son.  He loves you and is calling to you in love at this very moment.  Respond!  Repent! Be restored!

RADICAL CHRISTIANITY

RADICAL CHRISTIANITY

The primary season is about to officially kick off here in the United States, inaugurated by the Republican Party debate this month.  Remember, it is still more than a year until the actual Presidential election.  One of the topics is sure to be radical Islam, a term that has been tossed around and denied by different sections of the populace.

As one listens to talking heads throw around the term “radical” like parade candy, one can be forgiven for suspecting they do so in order to make the message of mainstream Islam appear more tolerable.

When one talks about being “radical,” negative images come to mind and the issue denigrates into assertions that every religion has its “radicals.”

And they would be right, except for the negative characterization.  For one to find what is radical in Christianity, a good place to begin is in the gospel of Matthew, Ch. 5.  Here we find what is called the beatitudes; really they can be called the characteristics of Jesus.  If one is to follow the example of the most perfect person of their respective religion then you have to look to the best example.

For Islam one would look to the person and nature of Muhammad, just as you would look to Jesus and His nature to fathom the ideal within Christianity.

Jesus spoke to His disciples and the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, ESV).  This is likely not what the crowd was expecting to hear, immediately after seeing the mighty miracles done by Jesus.  They may have been expecting a crash course on how He healed all the people and how they too could draw huge crowds around them.

But no, Jesus taught them to completely depend on God for all things in their life.  Wait, what?  Totally deny yourself, is that what radical following of Jesus is?  In short, yes.  “When you lose, you win; that’s the way it is with Him,” (Thanks Rez Band for those lyrics!).

Jesus said it of Himself in John 5:19; “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He see the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”  And later on in the same chapter Jesus says this; “I can do nothing on My own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30, ESV).

Jesus was completely focused on the Father’s will for Himself.  If one would read the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament, they will find that Jesus never did any wrong/sin, and as a worthy and pure sacrifice, would die in our place so that the person who believed in Him would have eternal life.

So radical Christianity is not taking vengeance upon those who you consider your enemy, but following Jesus and focusing upon His perfect life.  And when someone slaps you on the right cheek then turn to him the other also (That’s also from Jesus).

In coming to faith in Jesus and believing in His name, we have the peace of God and peace with God.  Vengeance is not for us to take because we are flawed human beings. We are to trust God because He is faithful and perfect in all He does.

How should a Christian look upon Islam?  Just as Jesus did:

I
Sincerely
Love
All
Muslims.

But, the Pope is infallible…

isn’t he??

PopeIn today’s world, politics infects everything – commerce, education, entertainment, news coverage and sadly, even religion.  Both ends of the political spectrum have long sought to identify themselves with the imprimatur of religious authority, seeking validation for secular policies on religious grounds.

Each side has gone about this in different ways, with conservatives filling the pews and liberals filling the seminaries.  The result has been a steady diminution of membership among mainstream Christian denominations as the leadership of these churches veer left while their members remain fixed in the foundational beliefs of the denomination.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomena more evident than in the Catholic Church, although Protestant denominations in recent years have certainly done their best to catch up in this race to perdition.

Marxism bears a stylistic resemblance to the collective love found in a Church body and millions have been seduced by the concepts of “social justice” and other similarly crafted Marxist initiatives.

It can be quite easy for the layperson, insufficiently grounded in sound doctrine, to see the surface similarities between the legitimate expressions of Christian doctrine found in “love thy neighbor” and the entirely illegitimate Marxist doctrine of “force everyone to love as we see fit.”

It is no gain to the soul to vote for politicians who pledge to take from others to give to the poor.  Christianity is not a wealth redistribution scheme to be handed to the government to implement; yet due to the steady leftward tilt of our Seminaries, this pernicious misunderstanding of Christ’s declaration has indeed found a home within our Churches, elbowing out the honest understanding of individual sacrifice for one’s fellow man.

Now, the cause celebre of our time, “climate change,” has found a willing partner in no one less than the Pope himself, who has accepted the demonstrably false premise of anthropological climate change as “gospel.”

To be clear, no one doubts that climate changes, indeed it would be a true catastrophe if it did not.  The question is one of cause.  To the sceptics, it is a part of a natural cycle that has been ongoing as long as there has been an earth.  To the climate change proponent, it is caused by the activities of man.  Sadly, Pope Francis has become enamored of the latter.

The Pope is issuing an  “Encyclical,” which is a fancy name for a letter to the Bishops of the Church, outlining his suggestions for how the Church should respond to the question of international climate policy.  This isn’t a binding document of theology, or an interpretation of Christian doctrine – it is merely a letter outlining the thoughts of the Pope on a given subject.

Contrary to the screeching of left-wing enviro-nazis (who under any other circumstances would mock the Pope or anyone who believes in the “bearded old man in the sky!) the Pope is not infallible.

In Catholic doctrine, the Pope is NOT considered to be infallible, except when speaking “ex cathedra” on matters of faith and morals.

This is not due to any particular ability endemic to Popes, but rather is a gift from God, who ensures that in these rare and specific instances, we can rely on Him speaking through the “Vicar of Christ.”

In other words, with the rare exceptions mentioned above, the Pope can be just as wrong-headed as any of us, because God doesn’t feel a particular compulsion to intervene in matters of left-wing hoaxery.  If we’re dumb enough to believe it, we are on our own.

As the debate about climate change rages, remember that the people who will be citing the Pope’s encyclical most loudly are for the most part the same people who advocate for abortion, same-sex marriage and a religious zeal for separating all references to God from public life.

I’m Catholic, and I’ll be just fine.