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March 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Come check out my new blog: Jeff’s Devotional Blog!

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Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 4 – Rhetoric

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. Romans 3:10-11

This is a favorite scripture of Calvinists, and is used almost exclusively to defend their “Total Depravity” doctrine. Using this as a proof-text, Calvinists say, “See! There is no one who has the ability to seek after God! There is no one who will, of himself, turn to God or believe in him!” What they fail to take into consideration is the fact that this is quoted from a psalm – Psalm 14. Now for those who may not know it, the Psalms are poems not instructional lectures. That is, they use creative phrases, word pictures and all sorts of rhetorical devices to present their information in an interesting way. Let me provide an example from another famous Psalm that should not be taken literally, but understood as using rhetoric to make a theological point.

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110:1

This is a Messianic Psalm, speaking of Christ’s reign with the Father “at the Father’s right hand.” This became a favorite phrase for New Testament writers, as it illustrated the extent of the exaltation of Christ. He couldn’t go any higher!

Image

Many assume this verse presents a literal reality – that Christ is seated upon a throne in heaven that is placed to the right of the throne of God, something like this picture to the right. (I feel kinda bad for the Holy Spirit in this picture – He apparently doesn’t get a throne, and He apparently is a bird).

But isn’t God a Spirit (John 4:24), and isn’t He omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:24)? So how far did Jesus have to travel before He got to the “right hand” of God? Furthermore, are we to take the second part of the verse literally? Are we to assume that Jesus is actually up in heaven with his feet propped up on the backs of his enemies? We all understand intuitively that this verse is representing a theological reality in poetic terms. So what is the theological message? That Jesus Christ is highly exalted and utterly victorious! Amen!

Let’s look at a couple of Jesus’ own statements that use rhetorical devices.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… Matthew 5:29

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

In all of these verses Jesus is using a very common figure of speech – hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggeration in order to emphasize a point. We use hyperbole all the time in our daily lives: “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” “You scared me to death!” “I’m starving!”

Now if exaggeration/hyperbole is a normal part of everyday speech for us, isn’t it reasonable to assume it was also a common form of speech for people in the first century? Obviously from these, and other statements by Jesus (and others in the Bible), we can easily see that it was. Jesus didn’t not want people to pluck out their eyes. Jesus wasn’t saying that rich people could never be saved (cf. Barnabas). Jesus was not telling us to literally hate our parents and siblings. All of these statements are exaggerations to make a point. “Pluck out your eye,” was a way of saying “Personal holiness ought to be worth any sacrifice.” The statement “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” was a way of saying that those who trust in their riches will have a difficult time transferring that trust to God. And “hating father and mother” was a way of saying that Jesus needs to be the supreme love in our lives, far above even our familial love.

So what’s my point in all of this? The verse above, quoted from Psalm 14 was hyperbole. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Are we really supposed to believe that there is literally not a single righteous person on the earth? Are we to believe in all of human history there has never been a person who sought after God or desired Him? The Calvinist insists we must, otherwise their theology falls flat. I would say that reason and scripture together prove this notion – that no one has ever sought God – is patently false. Countless Jews under the Old Testament sought and loved God. “Yeah, but they were the elect!” the Calvinist will say. Well, there were also many Gentiles, known widely as “God-fearers” and “God-worshipers” who chose to leave their false religions and gods to worship the one true God. Such were the Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip found reading scripture in his chariot and the Roman Centurion to whom Peter was sent by a vision. These were Gentiles, non-elect individuals, who sought God.

So what is Psalm 14, and consequently Romans 3, trying to say? That sin is rampant and wide-spread, and that everyone needs God. In fact, if we will be honest with the context of Romans 3, we will find that Paul’s ultimate argument is that Jews and Gentiles are equally in need of God’s salvation. In fact, the verse immediately preceding Paul’s quotation of Psalm 14 is this:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…  Romans 3:9

Sorry Calvinists, Romans 3 and Psalm 14 are using hyperbole to illustrate that every person needs salvation because every person is sinful, not that man is unable to seek God or to respond to the Gospel message. Once again, taking the simple, obvious meaning of the text thwarts your doctrine.

If You Go, They Will Come

November 26, 2012 1 comment

My wife and I recently made a commitment to be more intentional and proactive in ministry. We decided to make a weekly commitment to go somewhere – so far it’s been a local park – and try to find at least one person with whom to share Christ.

The first week, we met Junior. He grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, but hadn’t been to church in years. We invited him to our church and to our Life Group and encouraged him to seek the Lord for himself, and told him that God had an awesome plan for him. Though I believe he was encouraged, and though I know I planted a seed, he has not come to church or our Life Group.

The next week we went back to the same park, this time with an infant and a two-year-old in tow. This made things more challenging. We didn’t get a chance to share Jesus specifically with anyone, but we met a lady and her granddaughter who come to the park often, and we felt we may have made a connection that would pay off in the future.

This last week, we weren’t able to make it out to the park, but we met someone at church who had come for the first time, so we decided to invite him out to lunch. He never showed.

I chronicle all of this to show that, quite frankly, I don’t feel our efforts have been particularly fruitful. Honestly, its been a bit discouraging. Of course, as an  optimistic young preacher, I assumed that the second I opened my mouth, the heavens would open and the audible voice of God would boom out, “This is my servant! Hear him!” None of that happened.

Then there was this morning. As I am leaving my house to go to work, my next door neighbor was rolling out her trash to the curb (kinda weird because trash day is tomorrow). Anyway, I say hello and start getting into my car. All of a sudden, she’s knocking on my window. She proceeds to tell me that her husband is in the hospital having problems with his heart, and since she knows we are Christians (they are Catholic), she asks us to remember him in our prayers. I say, “Let’s pray right now!” So we grab hands, and I pray the prayer of faith for her husband. When I look up there are tears in her eyes, and she thanks me profusely. Tomorrow, Lauren and I will knock on her door and follow up. Maybe she’ll even come to Life Group.

Here’s my point in all of this – and it’s something I’ve experienced in the past, but somehow forgot. When we begin to step out in faith, when we leave the comforts of our couches and homes to try and advance the Kingdom of God, God sees. Even though it seemed that I was not having much of an effect, I was out there, trying my best, doing my part. Then, lo and behold, God brings someone to me!

There’s a reality that the more willing we are, the more we will be used. I remember the story of Philip. He started a city-wide revival in Samaria. Then, for some strange reason, the Holy Spirit led him away from the revival out into the wilderness to minister to one man. That man turned to Christ and believed, and Philip baptized him. Then, something weird happened. Philip vanished and appeared a few miles away in the city of Azotus preaching the Gospel.

As freaky as this incident may be, I think it tells us something about Philip, and about God’s attitude toward us when we are obedient. Think about this man. First, he is a faithful member of the Jerusalem church, which lands him a position serving tables for widows. Then, when persecution hits, he flees the city, preaching Jesus as he goes. Then he gets to Samaria, and God moves powerfully, and many in the city turn to Jesus. Then when God tells him to leave and go preach to one man, Philip obeys without question. Here’s a story of a faithful and committed Christian, determined to advance the Kingdom wherever he goes, even willing to leave the revival he started, to preach to a single man who needed Jesus. I think God saw the faithfulness of Philip and said, “Now here’s a man I can use! No need for him to waste time walking to the next town, I’ll just beam him up!”

Similarly, I think that when God sees our faithfulness, He will give us opportunities we would never have otherwise had. How often do we have people literally knocking on our door asking for our ministry? I know it doesn’t happen too often to me – maybe its because I am only now gathering up the courage to step outside of myself and make a difference for Jesus.

What are you doing for the Kingdom of God these days?

 

Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 3 – Grammar

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

This is one the great verses of the Bible. In many ways this is our spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. It tells us that we are no longer obligated to earn God’s favor, but that only through faith may we be accepted in Him. What freedom!

However, those pesky Calvinists have to come in and ruin it! They interpret this verse differently than most, and it is all based on their understanding of the grammar in this verse. Their whole understanding hinges on one word in the verse. Believe it or not, that one word is “it.” No, really. When you come to that part of the passage which says, “it is the gift of God,” Calvinists will tell you that you’ve misunderstood the passage all along. Let’s parse this verse out, shall we?

For by grace you have been saved…

This is the main proposition of the passage, the statement which guides the rest of the context. This defining concept – that you have been saved by grace – is the cornerstone of our understanding for the rest of the passage. Until this basic premise is understood, none of the rest of the passage may be understood.

“Grace,” in its most basic definition means simply “a gift.” Thus, our salvation is a gift – not earned, but simply received or accepted.

…through faith…

Secondly, this whole process occurs through faith. That is, this transaction which we call “salvation” occurs through our faith, our believing. God (the giver) extends this gift of salvation to us (the receivers) and we accept the gift through faith.

It’s the next part that gets tricky (well, it’s tricky for the Calvinists…to the rest of us the plain meaning works just fine).

…And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

We must define here what “this” and “it” are referring to. That is, when it says “this is not your own doing,” we must ask, what is not your own doing. And when it says, “it is the gift of God,” we must ask, what is the gift of God.

For the typical Christian who prefers not to over-complicate or over-explain things, we understand immediately that the  “this” and the “it” refer to salvation. Thus the verse may be rendered as follows:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [salvation] is not from yourselves; [salvation] is the gift of God.”

But the Calvinists disagree. They say that the “this” and the “it” refer to faith. Thus the verse should read:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [faith] is not from yourselves; [faith] is the gift of God.”

Clever though it may be, this kind of grammatical chicanery serves only to obfuscate its syntactical perspicuity.

Okay, I was showing off there. But it actually had a purpose. If you understood that sentence, good for you. But for the rest of you, all I said was that they made something that is simple, complicated. I made that simple sentence complicated by using a thesaurus. The Calvinists make this verse complicated by using grammar.

The idea that it is faith itself which is the gift of God, is a concept which is foreign to the rest of scripture. Thus, if this is the true meaning of this verse, then it, at best, becomes one of those troubling verses we would prefer not to talk about – like the verse about baptizing for the dead.

However, if interpreted rightly, it fits in perfectly with the rest of Paul’s (yea, the whole Bible’s) teachings about salvation as a free gift not obtained through works. Take the following verses as examples:

Galatians 2:16, 21 – “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Romans 3:20-24 – “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Thus, the clear and sensible interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 is the correct one, following in the clear theology of Paul that salvation (not faith) is the free gift of God, and not received by works.

Sin Nature or Divine Nature? part 2

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

In my previous blog I showed that for Christians, our continuing sinful desires are attributable, not to a sinful nature, but an unrenewed mind. That is, we do not have two equal forces within us battling for control – one that desires evil, the other good. Instead, we have the righteousness of Christ in all its perfection, but a mind that is struggling to catch up with the spiritual reality of our righteousness.

I am aware that many will still struggle with this concept, but I urge you to take seriously the scriptures which clearly show our freedom from sin, primarily in Romans 6. If you continue to believe in your heart that you are still a captive of sin, then you will continue to live as if this is true. It reminds me of a memorable scene from Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies. The movie is about a group of prisoners in Shawshank Penitentiary. In a pivotal scene, the character Red (played by Morgan Freeman) says the following:

These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s institutionalized.

There are a lot of “institutionalized” Christians out there. They’ve become so used to the walls and bars that keep them imprisoned, that they can’t imagine life without them. Even though Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the chains that kept us bound, and flung open the prison doors that kept us restrained, many of us have chosen to remain in our prison cells, sleeping in confinement rather than living in the freedom that has been purchased for us.

Yet there is a continuing struggle to get our thoughts into perfect alignment with the spiritual reality that already is, as the previous analogy indicates. The problem is not that we are in need of freedom, the problem is that we need to recognize that we are already free! Let’s delve a little deeper into this:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Galatians 5:17

Some see this verse  as evidence of a dual nature within us – there is our sin nature (i.e. flesh) and the divine nature (i.e. the Spirit). In fact, this concept is so embedded in many people’s minds, that there are even some translations (namely, the NLT) that use the words “sinful nature” here instead of “flesh.” However, the word “flesh” here is not referring to a sinful nature, but simply sinful desires. Thus our sinful desires are in contradiction to the desires of the Spirit of God who lives in us. Really, the pivotal verse in this passage is the one that comes before this one:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:16

If there were two equal but opposing “natures” in us, then there would be no hope of ever truly overcoming the desires of the sin nature. Yet here, Paul gives a very simple solution – walk by the Spirit. That is, direct your life, guide your steps, give yourself wholly to the divine nature which now exists in you, and it will utterly conquer any sinful desire in you.

This brings up another point. Many assume that their sinful desires are evidence of a continuing sinful nature. Many feel that if there was no continuing sinful nature, then those struggles would not exist. Though this may sound surprising, I believe this struggle is quite possibly the best evidence that your nature has in fact changed! When you were a sinner, there was no struggle at all when you sinned. However, now that you are righteous, your momentary lapse in judgment, your reversion to what was creates a sharp dissonance that is troubling to you. Everything in you screams that this is not right, that you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing and a great sorrow and remorse sets in. If your nature had not changed to desire righteousness instead of sin, you simply would not have this experience.

But again, so many are “institutionalized” to believe that they can never be free, that they can never break loose from the grip of sin on their lives. There is simply nothing sadder than a Christian continuing to live in bondage when such a glorious freedom has been purchased for them and placed at their fingertips.

Whatever sin you are struggling with today, simply lay it down. Acknowledge that God has something far better for you, trust him. You are already free! Whatever you once were, whatever sins you once committed, whatever failures you once endured, know that you are these things no longer.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:11

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Sin Nature or Divine Nature?

August 29, 2012 2 comments

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 2:3

 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:4

A generally accepted perspective on the Christian life is that we, even after we have been born again, maintain a “sin nature” which compels us to sin, to turn from God and to desire what is evil. A line from a famous hymn echoes this belief:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

But is the Christian truly prone to wander, in the sense that he will always have an unconscious and uncontrollable urge to sin? The above verses seem to indicate otherwise. The first, Ephesians 2:3, shows that we once lived “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” implying that we no longer live in that state. Similarly, Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,” once again indicating a drastic change from what was, to a now Christ-centered life. Another popular verse says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The second verse from above, 2 Peter 1:4, tells us that we “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” So, if we once lived in the passions of our flesh, and we have now escaped the corruption of sinful desire, then we are no longer under the curse of sin.

Furthermore, not only the curse, but the power of sin is broken in our lives, as Romans 6 says repeatedly:

6 We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set freefrom sin…14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace…18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Again in Romans 8:2, Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” It’s funny that one of the scriptures that is often used to support the idea of a continuing sin nature, is found in Romans 7, sandwiched between these several verses about our freedom from sin. The verses often used from Romans 7 are:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Though these sentiments are often shared by well-meaning Christians, we must read the whole context to understand what Paul was truly saying. In this chapter Paul deals with the relationship of sin and the Law. However, according to chapter 6, we are under neither, for “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” In fact, Romans 7 tells us the same thing in verses 4-6:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Thus, the statements about not doing what I want to do, and doing the things I hate, were a projection of the mind of the man still serving the Law, and bound by his own sin. But we have died to the Law, we are free from sin, and we now live by the Spirit! Thus the “law of sin and death” is broken by the “law of the Spirit of life.”

So then, from where do our sinful desires come? In order to answer this question more fully, we must understand the process of salvation a little better. Man consists of three parts–spirit, soul, and body–and thus salvation happens in three stages or phases:

SPIRIT
At the instant a person believes in Jesus and is born-again, their spirit, which was previously “dead in trespasses and sins” is made alive, and that person now has a perfect, spotless “inner man” bearing the image and likeness of Jesus. Inwardly, that person is now perfectly acceptable and pleasing to God – not based on his own works, but on the works of Jesus who gave His perfect righteousness to us as a gift.

BODY
We also have a promise that one day our bodies will be transformed into glorious, resurrected bodies, like the one Jesus now has. Sickness, disease, pain and suffering of any kind will not be known in these new bodies. This will occur when Jesus returns.

SOUL
The soul, or the mind, is the intermediary between the spirit and body, and is in a process of sanctification. Though our spirits are transformed instantaneously, our minds must be renewed gradually, as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse presents two potential paths – conformity with the world, or transformation into the image of Christ. The two are mutually exclusive. As we grow in faith and in the knowledge of God’s will, our minds (and thus our lives) come into alignment with the perfect righteousness of Jesus which we already possess. Our actions do not affect our standing with God, only our faith does. However, our actions do affect our human relationships, the law of sowing and reaping affects many of the circumstances and situations we face.

Thus, our continuing struggles with sin are not due to a sin nature, but to an unrenewed mind. Before you came to Christ, perhaps you were addicted to drugs or alcohol, but now you realize that God has something better for your life, and that such addictions are not pleasing to Him. Thus, by the power of the Spirit, you change your life. This happened because you began to think God’s thoughts about your situation. You acknowledged His word, and followed the leading of the Spirit and were transformed by the renewing of your mind. In fact it was the new nature within you that caused a conflict regarding the sin in your life, and compelled you to change.  The conflict is not between two opposing natures within you, one that desires to be righteous, and the other that desires sin. Rather, the conflict is between your renewed spirit, and your unrenewed thoughts.

Okay, this one’s long enough, I’ll have to make it a two-parter…

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The Mountain and the Valley

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I heard an awesome message at church yesterday. Listen here if you like. In it, my Pastor spoke briefly about the story in Matthew 17 in which Jesus took Peter, James and John up onto a mountain and was transfigured before them. What I never realized before, was how this story overlapped with another familiar story – one in which Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast out a demon.

Here’s the short version:

Jesus took three of his disciples up onto the mountain, and left the other nine behind. While on the mountain, Peter, James and John had the most significant experience with God I’m sure they ever had. God’s glory descended in a cloud, Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus, and God’s voice boomed out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!”

Meanwhile in the valley, the other nine were approached by a man needing a miracle for his son who was demon possessed. Though they did their best, they were unable to cast the demon out. After Jesus had come back down and cast the demon out, his disciples asked why they were unable, and He said, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Here’s the thought that occurred to me: maybe the nine would have been more equipped to meet the need had they been up on the mountain and seen the glory of God. Maybe their faith would have been stronger after such an experience. But then, had they been up on the mountain, would they have even known about the need?

This is where it all hit me – we need the mountain, and we need the valley. Many Christians, understandably, want to remain up on the mountain, just like Peter who suggested they pitch a couple of tents and camp out up there. Though I think every Christian who has experienced God’s glory, His manifest presence, would similarly be inclined to camp out wherever the glory falls, it must be understood that we are not given such experiences solely for our own benefit. As tempting as it may be to stay on the mountain, soaking up God’s presence, eventually we are called to take that glory from the mountain down into the valley where it is needed.

In this story, there was a boy with a need – a need only God’s glory could meet. This boy needed a miracle, and for whatever reason, those nine disciples didn’t have enough–of whatever–to meet the boy’s need. However, had they been up on the mountain with the others, who knows if they would have ever known about the need?! Here’s my point, as Christians, we need the glory of God in our lives. We need to have, both personally and corporately, experiences in which the presence of God overwhelms us and we are filled anew with the Spirit of God. But we need to take those experiences, and go find a need and meet it, then come back to be filled again.

Some people labor, admirably and honorably, in ministry, serving others, but rarely find their way into God’s presence to be filled and strengthened. Such people toil much, strain and push in ministry, meeting every need they can. Often, such people are only minimally successful. They try, but accomplish little. Their efforts are commendable, but not their results. These are like the nine in the valley. They see the need and are willing, but unable to find the necessary spiritual strength.

There are others who become so addicted to the experience of God’s presence, that they are never motivated to do anything but worship or pray. I’ve known such people. Ever eager to gather in someone’s living room with a guitar, ever eager to attend a meeting, often able to spend hours in prayer and worship before God. Though their spiritual focus is commendable, even enviable, I have found that such are often unconcerned with reaching the lost, and sense no responsibility to anyone but themselves, they know no ministry except to the Lord. Such are like the three on the mountain, rightly amazed and in awe of God’s presence, and willing to camp there forever.

The wisdom of Jesus prevails, however. The Master went up onto the mountain, and He came back down from the mountain, bringing the glory and the power with Him. It is in the valley, not on the mountain, where the need is. But it is on the mountain, not in the valley, where the power is.

So my question to you is simple – which are you? Are you a mountain climber, or a valley dweller? And what are you going to do to find the proper balance?

Blessings.

Jeff

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Romans 8:26

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

While in prayer this morning, I was reminded how blessed I am to have received from the Lord this gift of speaking in tongues. I literally experience a miracle every day when I open my mouth and utter prayers in a language I’ve never learned. The Bible tells me that when I pray in tongues I am “uttering mysteries in the Spirit.” The Bible also tells me that I am able to build myself up through the Spirit by this gift. Furthermore, this language is one my spirit speaks, but which my mind doesn’t understand. Strange as it may sound, I am grateful for this. My mind gets in the way more often than not, and so I am thankful that God has provided me a means of communication that can bypass my mind.

Several years ago, I was living with a friend in Philadelphia, working for his dad’s business while he went to school during the day. One day he came home and told me one of the coolest stories I have ever heard. He told me that over the past several weeks he had become friendly with a Muslim kid in his school. On this particular day, my friend was apparently feeling rather bold, and told this Arabic-speaking friend that he might know a few words in his language. My friend then proceeded to speak a phrase or two in tongues. –Now to be clear, I do not think this is the proper usage of the gift, and I do not recommend anyone doing this. Apparently, God had moved my friend to do something crazy. and he followed the Spirit’s lead– After my friend finished speaking, his Arabic friend indicated that he didn’t recognize any of the words. My friend continued, “How about this…” and proceeded to speak a few more phrases in his prayer-language. Again, nothing. A third time my friend spoke, and his Arabic acquaintance said. “Oh yeah, that I understand. You were praising God and fighting against the devil.”

I was as blown away as my friend was! This was not a sympathetic Christian, but a Muslim who had no idea that my friend was speaking in tongues. Furthermore, my friend had no idea what he was saying. None at all! And yet unbeknownst to him, his vocal chords and lips were forming intelligible and intelligent words in which he was honoring God and resisting the devil. This morning as I remembered this story, I was encouraged to know that even though I cannot understand the words that I speak in the Spirit, they are nevertheless intelligible to God, and that I am in fact honoring God with my lips, and quite possibly often doing warfare! Truly “the Spirit interceded for us” and He does so “according to the will of God.”

Church, we need to be encouraged and never grow dull-minded in our pursuit of God. It is so easy to become complacent, to forget the glorious truths which once excited us. We need to stir ourselves up and remember the miracles which God has performed and is performing in our lives. Let us remember that we serve a supernatural God and that we are a supernatural people.

Lastly, I want to encourage you Christian, if you do not know the power of God in this way, if you’ve never experienced the overflowing of His Spirit in your life to where you began to speak in other tongues, “the promise is for you” (Acts  2:39). Trust God, seek his face, ask him to fill you completely with His Spirit, surrender your life to Him completely and have faith.

 

Blessings.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Work and the Glory

So I read a good chunk of Exodus today as part of my “Through the Bible in 90 Days” plan. I am about a week behind where I should be, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, today I found myself slogging through the section in which the precise instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle were laid out. That was a little tough to get through. Measurements of gold, silver, bronze and acacia wood; purple, scarlet, goat’s hair, grating, poles, rings, curtains, “fine-twined linen” and the like. And just when I thought it was over, then comes the section in which the skilled workers come in and construct everything “according to the pattern.” To my dismay, the whole list is repeated – every blessed detail gone over a second time! I hate to admit that I was bored by the Bible, but in this particular instance, I was.

Then came chapter 40. In verse 34 it starts:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

I was reminded of my first experience serving in full time ministry as a Youth Pastor. You come in fired up and ready to take on the world. You are expecting glory and excitement around every corner. They don’t tell you that much of your time in ministry is spent in an office, or on the phone, or in meetings, or planning events, or desperately trying to figure out why your painstaking efforts time and again seem to yield so little fruit.

I was also reminded of a discussion we had last night at Life Group about the importance of faithfulness. Matthew 25:23 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Promotion in the Kingdom comes through our faithfulness. That is, when we are consistent and content with the task to which we have been entrusted, we are counted worthy of greater responsibility and a wider sphere of influence.

At the beginning of a new project or ministry endeavor, motivation is easy and excitement is high. It usually only takes a couple of weeks before that’s gone, and all you’re left with is the work. I would have to imagine that’s how it felt in the construction of the tabernacle. First of all, all the gold and silver came in the form of earrings and bracelets. It had to be melted down and fashioned. Everything was from scratch. There was no Lowe’s or Home Depot. Add to that the probability that Moses was walking around all day going, “No! Not like that! This has to be PERFECT! God said so!” Yeah, I’ve had bosses like that…

But after all the work was done, after the countless painstaking hours, after a million mistakes, bruises, scrapes and cuts – the glory came. After frustration upon frustration, and failure upon failure – the glory came. After many long days and sleepless nights – the glory came. This is the reality of ministry. Nothing just happens. My Pastor once said, “It takes about 15 years to become an overnight success.” We can be assured that our work in the Lord is never in vain, we can know that after all the work is done, the glory will come. It’s interesting that when God’s glory came, Moses’ couldn’t do anything. I believe that’s the goal of ministry. To toil to make sure our ministry is a place where the presence and glory of God is welcomed, and then, when He shows up, we just sit back and watch God work.

The moral of the story. If you want the glory, you’ll have to do the work.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

Why the Legalization of Gay Marriage Doesn’t Matter – A Christian Perspective

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Homosexuality is a sin. If you believe the Bible is actually true, than you believe that Homosexuality is a sin. I believe it is a sin.

When a state legalizes Gay Marriage, it is society’s stamp of approval on something God calls a sin. That is disturbing, without question. But is there a single Christian out there who didn’t already know that society at large completely embraces homosexuality? Regardless of the fact that our laws here in AZ forbid gay marriage, in general, homosexuality is embraced as a perfectly legitimate lifestyle. The legalization of marriage for gay couples does not change anything, it simply indicates what was already present in the psyche of the people.

Abortion is legal. It is legal to drink till you pass out (so long as you are doing it at home). It’s legal to cheat on your spouse, or to have sex before marriage. All of these things we also acknowledge as sin, and yet our laws are permissive of these, and many others.

Here’s my point. Christians have a sad tendency (especially around election time) to believe that the political process is the end-all, and the primary means by which God will transform the world – it isn’t. Many Christians seem to believe that if we can just get the right person into office (or out of office) then all our problems will be solved – they won’t. We believe that if we get the right laws passed, or the right ones overturned, then our country will be more “Christian” – this is foolishness.

I’m all for voting. I’m all for making my opinions and beliefs known through the ballot. But my faith is not in the ballot box, or in some law being passed or overturned, or in any person in political office.

The Gospel made its entrance into the world during a time of intense political oppression and persecution. Nothing about the government of that day was amenable to the Gospel. Yet the Gospel flourished, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5: 14). The early disciples did not need the government on their side for the kingdom of God to advance. In fact, history has proven that the kingdom advances to a far greater degree under persecution than in times when Church and Government are on happier terms.

Many argue that the passage of laws such as those legalizing same-sex marriage, is an indication that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Again, does this actually come as a surprise to you? Such laws are simply indicators of a greater, deeper, more profound spiritual sickness. Changing a law does not change the ultimate spiritual condition of a nation. These laws are simply hydra-heads (pardon the obscure reference), which if defeated simply strengthen the resolve of those who demand them. The only hope for this nation is Jesus Christ – not Obama, not Ron Paul nor any other candidate.

Church, we need to recognize that the Gospel is ultimately for the individual, not the nation. If the nation is to be changed, it will happen because individuals are transformed by the miracle of being born-again, not by the passage of the perfect law or the election of the perfect president. Revelation 11:15 says, “…The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” We are ultimately looking forward to a day, not when our worldly governments are perfected, but when they are surrendered to the already perfect kingdom of Christ. Thus, our efforts in this world are best spent conforming ourselves to His perfect reign, not in trying desperately to fix an unfixable system.

//end rant

Categories: Politics