Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Inner Heart of Fellowship

One can never replace the internal reality of the love of God shed abroad in one's heart with the outward rituals of religion. In the book of Galatians, Paul made a big issue of this.
In Galatia there were Judean people who accepted Christ, but mixed Judean rituals with their acceptance to help avoid criticism of other Judeans who could not accept the spiritual accomplishment and grace of the cross. Getting new believers to undergo circumcision was a feather in their cap and made them look good in the eyes of other law-abiding Judeans.
Galatians 6:12-13 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory (boast) in your flesh.
Circumcision was an outward show of religion (religion can hurt!) and in Judaism, the most pious was treated with esteem and honor.  It was a false glorying, however, just as today the outward appearances and worldly boasts of education, wealth, status, position, respect, honor and titles mean nothing. The more we look into the Word of God, the more we can see though the setups of the world that try to trap us into slavery and work to distract us from looking to God for answers. That is why Paul said the world was crucified unto him and he to the world.
Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory( boast), save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Paul had a lot of worldly credentials to boast about, but he saw right through the meaning of outward honors and said later that he bore the impress of the Lord Jesus Christ and what the cross of Christ meant. It meant he was a new creation. No one could bother him anymore because he knew Jesus Christ. That as his claim to peace.

The same thing is true today in our world, maybe not with the push for circumcision, but with other outward religious practices. True godliness comes from a vital, energized relationship with God. Godliness is about our inner life that radiates out through everything despite what's going on.

No one person has mastered all the truth of God, we are constantly learning. Truly enjoyable fellowship occurs with people who honestly continue to seek God's answers and have true humility based on the grace of God.  When Jesus Christ said "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst" (Matthew 18: 20) he meant something more than just a meeting, he was talking about a spiritual reality. Two or three people could sit in Starbucks talking about the Bible and it may just be like talking about the latest novel. When two or three get together in the name of Christ, it is different. It celebrates God and that is what Jesus Christ is all about.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Big Picture in the Book of Job

The book of Job is an interesting book. It is widely written about, quoted, and sermonized in many different ways. It is a great book and the more I read it the simpler it becomes. The big picture of Job is as important as each verse. Here is an example of a verse that needs to be understood in light of the 'big picture' in the King James translation:
Job 32:1 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.
Job was a great man in the East. He was devout. In the beginning of the book, there was a conversation between God and the devil about him. Remembering that God has foreknowledge, helps to keep one from attributing evil to God in this conversation. God asked the devil where he had been (as if God didn't know). He answered God he had been out and about. It reminds me of Genesis 3 when Adam hid from God after the whole serpent incident and God asked "Where art thou?. God would be a difficult person to play hide-n-seek with since he is all-knowing too!

God spoke highly of Job in the first two chapters of Job:
Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
Job 1:8 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil
Job 2:3 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
At the end of the book of Job when God delivered Job out of the challenges he was bombarded with, God said:
Job 42: 7 And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.       8 Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.
Twice God established that Job had spoken right and 3 times God called Job His servant!

So what's with Job 32:1? In the Adam Clarke commentary, regarding this verse, it says:
Because he was righteous tn his own eyes - The Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, and Chaldee, all read, "Because he was righteous in Their eyes;" intimating, that they were now convinced that he was a holy man, and that they had charged him foolishly. The reading of these ancient versions is supported by a MS. of the thirteenth century, in Dr. Kennicott's collections; which, instead of בעיניו beeinaiv, in His eyes, has בעיניהם beeineyhem, in Their eyes. This is a reading of considerable importance, but it is not noticed by De Rossi. Symmachus translates nearly in the same way: Δια τον αυτον δικαιον φαινεσθαι επ' αυτων; Because he appeared more righteous than themselves. Clarke [Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, [1831], at sacred-texts.com]


The 3 miserable comforters said many negative things about Job. It was all miserable comfort! God asked Job to pray for them in the end. The lesson learned is that:
It really helps to read the whole book to get the big picture.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The First Century Church

Click on map to enlarge
What should the church look like today? To find the answer to this, it is necessary to look to the book of Acts to see how churches were started and maintained. The book of Acts records the influence of the holy spirit that came on the day of Pentecost as a result of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Every person who desired to know God received the spirit of God when they confessed Jesus as Lord and believed that God raised him from the dead. This is all summed up in the name above all names, Jesus Christ.  The name 'Christ' is significant.  It represents the designated savior and Lord. He is the risen one. When we accept this, we receive the priceless gift of holy spirit to utilize.

As the book of Acts unfolds, things changed from a works-orientated Judean religion, with all it's oral traditions and laws, to a powerful dynamic new way of life. As the apostles and disciples grew and Gentiles became part of the church, we can look at a center of activity in Antioch of Syria where Judeans and Gentiles melded together to form a local first century church. In this church, according to Acts 13, there were prophets and teachers actively involved in its growth. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas needed to travel to other areas to start new groups.  After prayer and consideration of this, they believed and agreed this is what the spirit had laid on their hearts. At that point, these two men  functioned as apostles (apostolos in Greek means - he that is sent) and set out to travel around sharing about what Jesus Christ really meant to their lives. Apostles have very unique functions in this regard and it is important to understand, they don't send themselves, their call is from God. Without God the mission is fruitless.

Acts 13:1-4 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

The church at Antioch would have no lack. Not only did those who made the decision to send Paul  continue to function, but all the believers in Antioch functioned to fulfill and minister the life in the body of which they were spiritual members. We are not talking about an organization or a denomination here, we are talking about living life in the body of Christ with Jesus Christ as the head. The holy spirit was the energizing and inspiration for every person to function.  All too often in today's churches, the spiritual matters of a person are relegated to someone else thus taking away the individual's growth in walking by the spirit in a relationship with God.

We see this same principle as Paul went out to various cities and taught. He did not stay long as local groups came together. Paul taught them to rely on God and work together in true unity. Paul did not try to replace holy spirit for them. They tried to make Paul and Barnabas into gods themselves but Paul taught them plainly about going to God. He did circle back and check on them and sent communications to them from time to time. He also appointed elders to watch over  the groups. The elders were from the locale area and rose up naturally as seasoned leaders and laborers. Paul was instrumental in allowing this to happen. He was humble enough to rely on God to recognize holy spirit working in others lives. The point of all of their teaching was that it was the same spirit of Christ from God that worked in all of them powerfully.

There are many gems to mine in Acts 13 and 14 to see the action of the spirit of God in setting up the church. Antioch was the first place disciples were called 'Christians'(Acts 11:26b). This church was so different from anything that had ever existed before. 'Christians' today would do well to look at this model. What was dynamic about the first century church was not the absence of bricks and stained glass. It was about the power of God manifested in everyday life in each disciple.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Good Works For Necessary Uses

It is fun to get excited over a great song, a good book, TV show, or new computer app. However, there is nothing more exciting  than coming across a verse you've read over a thousand times in the Bible before and realize it applies to your life succinctly in real living technicolor with the clearest resolution ever!  

The Bible is a book that can just sit on the coffee table or book shelf. It is has chapters like any other book. It also has verses and punctuation. A page usually has two columns with some margin notes in between. Some bibles have italics.  Some bibles are written in old english and some in modern english. All these attributes were added to make the bible more readable! The bible is supposed to present the heart of God and between it's covers the Word of God can be found.

The Word of God that is in the Bible is so sharp and clear. When applied it has a heart-bubbling effect to those who read it and understand its purpose and reality. It is by far more than just print on a page. It is life in it's fullest and is totally applicable to anything we come up against in this world.

I have been reading through the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus very slowly.  I have stumbled across verses that I just ran over when reading before, but by just focusing on one or two verses in light of what circumstances they were originally penned under, can yield a lot of understanding.

Here's one little verse at the end of Titus I read today that got me to thinking about what is fruitful and what is unfruitful:
And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary (link anagkaios) uses, that they be not unfruitful:(Titus 3:14)
The phrase "good works for necessary uses" caught my attention! So what are 'necessary uses' and what makes them good? Hmmm-mmm-m!

Psalm 119:162
I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Be of Good Cheer


Peter's walking on water incident is quite  frequently used as a motivational illustration. It is found recorded in Matthew 14:23-32 after a great day of  healing and feeding 5000 people from 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! Afterwards Jesus went to a mountain top to pray. The apostles set out to sail across the sea of Galilee.   As they set sail a big wind caught them.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
When they saw Jesus walking on the water, they were scared as if he were a spirit they did not want to tangle with.  Jesus told them to be of good cheer. The greek word for 'be of good cheer' is the word 'tharseo', which means have  have courage!  Fear is a very real emotion. At times it is valuable in that it warns our human system of something dangerous so that we either fight or flee. In this dialogue, he tells them to take courage, and identifies himself and then he tells them be not afraid. The order of words is interesting.  So many people have used this passage to get people to do things they ordinarily wouldn't do and focus the response on themselves. Instead he said "it is I" and gets them to realize he was on the scene.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Peter's response was interesting. He called Jesus 'Lord' ,and said 'if it is you", and asked if he could come to him on the water.  Jesus beckons him.  Peter didn't just say, "I am going to walk on water", he asked if he could walk out to him. Humans cannot normally walk on water, it is a supernatural ability which is given by God.  Man does not appropriate things like this. The next time Peter went fishing, he still would have to use a boat.

Peter trusted the Lord and hopped out of the boat. He looked at Jesus and started walking toward him. When the wind got boisterous, he got side-tracked by seeing its force and he started to sink.  Jesus pulled him out, but it is clear that he was to focus on the Lord and not his ability to walk on water in the middle of a storm.

Too often, we as humans take on life's storms with the 'no fear' attitude first. It is where we focus in times of challenge that really counts. Our courage comes in acknowledging God as our sufficiency and keeping our eyes in the right place. It is not about our own ability to make something happen on our own volition.  

Peter is the one who asked so Peter was the one who got to walk on water. His goal was to get to Jesus, so despite the fear, he was eventually successful because of what he looked at and walked towards. Later on Peter, who was no stranger to fear, would deny Christ, but eventually he would stand for him because he kept going in the right direction. Peter was the one who stood up and delivered a bold, confident sermon on the day of Pentecost after he received the powerful holy spirit right smack dab in the middle of the Jerusalem temple for everyone to hear and see!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Spiritual Connectedness

 I and II Timothy and Titus were written towards the end of the apostle Paul's life. They are often called the 'Pastoral' epistles as their subject matter deals with the spiritual administration of the church.  I Timothy records simple instructions as to  the orderly conduct of the first century church. Our Western approach to the structure of the church is not at all based on the 1st century model.  Even those churches today that tend toward the home church miss the mark of the dynamic churches  of the early Christians.  The early church was to represent God's desire to have every believer fully functioning on all cylinders of power.

Paul was essentially responsible to teach what God had freely given in the gift of holy spirit and its effect on the newly formed church. In the 7 church epistles (Romans through Thessalonians), Paul plainly paints a complete picture of the administration of God's grace where every believer has a significant part to play. God had kept quiet about this age until he was ready to reveal it and the responsibility of revealing it was given to Paul.
Ephesians 3:9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
Heresies started immediately emerging as the grace age started unfolding and continued to grow and it was important to maintain and preach the pure word of God. In II Timothy the heresies had grown to a proportion that it effected the church. People were losing the true understanding of what God had revealed. It is easy to teach the doctrine of the revealed grace administration, but getting one's head really into it is another story. This is so true today. Our culture, especially our religious culture overshadows and pulls Christianity in another direction. Most of what we see in today's churches has roots in the 3rd-5th century A.D.

All religion tends to categorize and divide people into groups. There are over 38,000 religious sects today. There are spiritual walls thrown up between clergy and laity, pew and pulpit, and altar rails and altars. People get bogged down in the physical structure of the church and lose sight of the spiritual blueprint. Unity is not in activities, meetings and simply social hanging out. The true church is based the spiritual reality of God and what it means to live in this age of grace.

It is up to each individual to have the a vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Everyone has direct access and it is proved over and over again when people start to interact with each other. God feeds one heart here and another there and when they interact it seems like amazing coincidence when it is actually the hot line from God in both.

The energized church, consisting of Judeans and Gentiles equally, is a spiritual body growing together into the true spiritual temple of the Lord.  It consists of children, young adults, middle ager and seniors operating together and not in distinct separate groups. When a mixture of people associate through operation of the spiritual gift, needs get met and it is a vibrant and alive family of faith. Signs, miracles and wonders occurring is commonplace because God is in it.



R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend and we got to talking about respect and the current culture. He made a statement to me t...