Thursday, September 15, 2016

1 John 3:4 observations

This morning a brother and I continued our study of 1 John. We go very slowly hoping to glean as much as possible. The NKJV of 1 John 3:4 reads "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. The brother asked what law that the Bible is discussing in verse 4. The word "law" is used in several different ways in the Bible. Predominantly it is used of the law of Moses, the 613 old covenant commands including the 10 commandments. In rare instances it could refer to Roman or other secular law, and in the new covenant it can refer to the law of Christ. Other expressions for the law of Christ are the royal law or the law of liberty. So what is happening here. We went to Hebrews 8 and looked at verses 6,10, 11 and 12. Verse six indicates the change of covenants inaugurated by Jesus. Verse ten speaks of the new laws being written on the hearts of God's people. One way to understand this is a contrast between external law and internal law. Moses was instructed to write down the laws that God gave the people. In Hebrews 8:10 God says He will write the law in minds and hearts. Let's use a modern day example. Suppose I go into a convenience store. I go to pay for my purchase and discover that the cashier has accidentally left the cash drawer open and gone away to take care of some emergency. There is $1,000 in the drawer. The state law says that if I steal I could be arrested, tried, convicted and sent to jail. This is an external law. Perhaps i can get away with the theft and no one knows who did it. The internal law is something that God has done where even if there is $10,000 in the drawer I won't take it because i believe that this would displease Him rather than show my love for Him. ( The greatest commandment) Stealing would also violate the second most important commandment of loving my neighbor as myself. Would i want my neighbor to steal my money? If not then i should not steal his money. In effect then whenever i sin I am turning a blind eye towards the law of God written on my heart, taking an eraser and wiping it away. This is lawlessness.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Spiritual Barometer

Writing to the church of believers in Colosse Paul says, "Continue steadfastly in PRAYEr, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." ( 4:2 ESV) The first believers devoted themselves to the "apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the PRAYERS." ( Acts 2:42 ESV) "And when they had PRAYED, the place in which they (note the plural) were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." ( Acts 4:31) Many more verses could be cited. I have come to believe that the most accurate barometer of the spiritual healthiness of any local congregation or similar group is their prayer meeting. A church can have great preaching but you can also find this in abundance on the Internet. There can be multitudes of people attending but many may be there for social reasons or not even be regenerate. There may be a great worship team but one can also listen and respond torecorded worship music. Am i thinking of a generic prayer group? In my experience most groups that actually come together for prayer spend most of their time discussing their prayer requests, which God already knows, and very little time actually praying. The vast majority of the prayer requests that I have heard in the past 45 years have to do with physical healing, which is ironic since much of the Church in America really doesn't believe that God still does that today or they have never seen this happen. Certainly testimonies of people receiving physical healing are quite rare. Take some time to examine Biblical prayers like those of Paul the apostle for the churches. Examples include Romans 15:13, Ephesians 3:14-21, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 1: 9-12. You will discover a very different focus in these prayers. The type of prayer group that I am writing about meets regularly, in absolute dependence on God, and prays far more than the people talk to one another, and more in the manner that Paul prayed. How unusual this is. I have a fervent friend who belonged to a church of 500 or more evangelical believers who could get hundreds to other events but only seven or eight to a once a month prayer meeting. I personally know of another large church with a similar reality and other churches that have no prayer groups at all. Now I agree that individual prayer is crucial both for ourselves and those we care about but we show our true priorities when we have time for anything but prayer. It is hard for me to conceive that even our supremely gracious God takes us seriously when we don't seek Him. As Hebrews 11;^ says, "Whoever comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Church in America

In the past I have indulged myself with continual criticism of the Church in America. I confess and repent of it. In recent times i have been led to begin my daily time of intercession by praying for the Church here. The verses that convicted me on this are the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." (ESV) How easy it is to read over His words. The reality is that the church in America is His church, and Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:18 that "I will build my church." On the individual level it is also so easy to criticize because only Jesus is perfect; the rest of us are deeply flawed. anything that we hear or read except for the Bible has some mixture of error, and we cannot claim to intepret and practice the Scripture perfectly. Another reality is that it is far easier to criticize someone else... until we try to do what they are doing. I had a lot of criticism of pastors until I tried to shepherd God's people and learned how difficult it is. I see that i have not posted for almost two months. In this period i have tried to concentrate on doing God's will rather than writing about it. Am very thankful that He is faithful in my life. Yesterday morning I had something that I will call a vision. This is unusual for me. I saw myself standing alone before Jesus at the great white throne judgment. ( Revelation 20:11) My eyes were on the ground and I felt like the man in Luke 18:13 who cried out "God be merciful to me, a sinner" although I said nothing. I saw Jesus come down from His throne, advance toward and hug me. I wept and thought, "God is hugging me." I don't know what will happen on that day but this gave me wonderful comfort.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Discipleship or Rebellion

In Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus tells his apostles that He has all authority and that they are to make disciples. He has made disciples of them; they are to make disciples of others. He instructs them to baptize the disciples that they make, and to teach them to observe everything that Jesus has commanded them. This passage shows that some people make disciples of others. It is not a process solely between Jesus and an individual. For a genuine believer discipleship is not optional. Was this command given only to the original apostles? Paul instructs Timothy to instruct what Paul has told him to "faithful men who will teach others also." ( 2 Timothy 2:2 ESv) Peter tells his readers to "remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles." ( 2 Peter 3:2) Does the mere act of attending a "Bible believing church" and listening to the Word of God being taught on a regular basis sufficient? James says "Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." ( James 1:22) When we examine how Jesus ministered to his disciples or Paul to men like Timothy or Titus, we see this discipleship is all encompassing. The disciplemaker is showing through his life how the disciple can become more like Jesus. The reality that we will not be perfected in this life ( 2 Cor. 3:18) shows that the necessity of discipleship is life long. If we truly want to be like Jesus, conformed to His image ( Romans 8:29, cf. Gen. 1:26) then we will desire someone to help us. Some will go this far and want a mentor who will give them advice if they ask. A crucial difference between mentoring and discipleship is accountability. The disciples of Jesus were accountable to Him as were Paul's to him. Jesus has all authority and Paul speaks of the authority that he has been given. ( 2 Cor. 10:8, 13:10) Paul commands his disciple Titus to "declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you." ( Titus 2:15 ESV). This accountability is where most believers, no matter how mature they may be or think that they are, get off the boat. They are simply unwilling to be accountable to anyone. Now I grant that God uses deeply flawed human beings to accomplish His purposes on the earth. This is because He has no other kind to use. I also recognize that authority can be and is abused. I have experienced this personally. The command of Jesus still stands. The choice is ours. Will we submit to discipleship or be "Christian" rebels?

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Parable of the Talents

Met with a brother this morning and we looked at the parable of the talents starting in Matthew 25:14. ( In ancient usage a talent was a weight of silver or gold of approximately 75 pounds or 34 kilos) A property owner gives various sums of money ( five talents, two talents, one talent) to his servants according to their ability. The first two engage in business ( put the talents to use) and make equivalent amounts with it. The last hides his in the ground. When one examines this through the lense of 1 John 2:3, "And by this we know that we have come to know him ( Jesus) if we obey his commandments." (ESV), it appears that the first two servants truly know their master and what he wants and do it. The third thinks that he knows the master buty as the parable unfolds it becomes clear that he has a distorted image. The first two servants are commended for putting their talents to use ( Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.) The third is excoriated and punished. Even though he received the least amount of wealth to work with, he was still supposed to put it to use. I doubt that most believers are wealthy financially but we all have been given some talent or knowledge or ability. We need to use that to bless our brothers and sisters, and to minister to those who are perishing. "For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." ( 1 Corinthians 1:18) Am I, are you using the gifts and talents that God has given you for His purposes? If we look at your life as a car, who is driving? Do we want to drive ( do what we want to do) and tell God to sit in the passenger seat? Or are we willing to give Him the keys and let Him take us where He wants to go? Or are we trying to get into the driver's seat with Him and grab the wheel?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Going to Church?

Today a friend asked my counsel about a young unsaved man that he is ministering to. The question revolved around should he have lunch one on one with his friend after the church service or go with groups. Cautioning him that my response would be radical ( he knows me quite well), I questioned whether it was beneficial for him to take his friend to "church" at all. Heresy! Let's think about this. Many people nowadays have never been in a "church service." We are asking them to do something they have probably never done before, be with people they don't know, sing songs they don't know, and listen to someone talk about a Book that they have never read. Many of us are perfectly comfortable with this because we have been doing it for decades. But newcomers may not be. We then hope that the person will respond to something and that overworked and probably underpaid pastors will take it from there. While I'm sure that any genuinely converted pastor would delight in ministering the gospel to someone, the reality is that they have a thousand other expectations to meet, whether their own or that of their congregation. The pastor is the principal player in a weekly or perhaps more often major production. Where does our new "seeker" fit into that? Is there a different model? The spiritually healthiest churches that I know meet for a general gathering once a month. Unlike us however, they are in one another's lives constantly.This can be small group, one on one discipleship or more casual encounters in their homes. A close examination of Hebrews 10:24-25, the passage always used to encourage "church" attendance says to "stir one another up to love and good works," and to "encourage one another." (ESV) Would it not be more fruitful if there were many people who had been discipled to the point where they could minister to an unsaved person, lead them to Christ, and nurture them spiritually for a season, thus preparing them for the strange rituals and traditions that they would experience in a church setting? The other reality of bringing someone to church is that we are teaching them on the practical level that the act of going, which for most people is a rather passive experience, is the core or heart of Christianity. Think about it. Isn't this what many "Christians" believe, based on their actions? What about personal relationship with Christ? Both in my own life for far too long and in that of many others that i have known, their personal relationship with Christ was shaky to minimal. Here is the question that God used to change my heart. If I don't want to spend meaningful time with Him one on one in this life, why would I want to live with Him for all eternity?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


A disciple and I have been working our way through study of the so-called Minor Prophets. This week we looked at Jonah, the most well known of them all. Several themes emerged. One was the compassion of God on those who did not believe in Him nor follow His commands. Although Jonah is one of three of the Minor prophets who were in the Northern Kingdom of Israel ( Hosea and Amos are the others), he was not sent to the people of Israel but rather to the people of Nineveh, a major city of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were infamous for their savage cruelty towards those whom they conquered, the ancient world's equivalent to Isis today. Along the way God responds to the reverential fear of the pagan sailors of the ship that was carrying Jonah away from Nineveh. The second major theme is God's extraordinary patience with Jonah. He clearly knows God's will but does the exact opposite. After being involved in a storm and then swallowed by a great fish, Jonah goes to Nineveh to preach repentance in probably the shortest sermon ever preached. "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." ( Jonah 3:4 ESV) When they respond Jonah complains angrily to God, first for God's mercy and then that the plant which God used to shelter him has withered. ( Chapter 4) Yet after all this disobedience and ungodly anger God reasons with Jonah, asking him several questions. ( 4:4,9,11) These interchanges lead to a third theme. Jonah does have a personal relationship with God and feels the freedom to be very candid and expressive with Him. This is a good example even if the sentiments expressed by Jonah are not in accordance with His nature and goodness. The story of Jonah is also convicting. Jonah did not want to get out of his personal comfort zone. He did not have compassion on the perishing but was content with his own relationship with God. Are we not often like this? Are we not unwilling to make sacrifices of our time, energy and comfort so that God might use us to usher people into His family? Last year a pastor from Nigeria mentioned to me that the greatest sin of the Church in America was that we rarely minister the gospel other than to those already saved in our comfy church buildings on Sunday.