Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

3rd John is another personal-letter, which is also his last letter. So short, so telling. John is writing to his friend and brother Gaius. He seems to have been a leader in the church, and even though there are other mentions of men with this name in Scripture, it was a very common name; we can’t be sure if he has other mentions or not. Gaius was obviously serving others, and sharing God’s love with them. He was hosting a group of missionaries, and these workers were people he didn’t know.

You Walk in the Truth
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

As we saw also in 2nd John, his personal greetings are warm and tender. Wishing “prosperity” and “good health” was a common Greek greeting, so we should not be surprised that John greets Gaius this way, but what wasn’t “common” was tying physical prosperity and health together with spiritual-health, so in that regard, this is no “ordinary” letter. Messengers have brought news to John that Gaius is acting in an exemplary-manner, which brings great joy to the Apostle.

5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Gaius is the kind of Christian who is worthy of imitation. He is serving in love, he is putting others first, he is doing the kinds of things we should be doing. John encourages Gaius to keep up the good work. But there is another guy who comes up in the letter…

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Uh-oh! Looks like John had a wannabe “big-shot” on his hands, a “big-shot” who thought that he knew more than John, who was an Apostle.

This dude Diotrephes is all too common in our day, and obviously they had this sort of nonsense going on even in John’s day. Did you catch what John said about him at the beginning? He said that Diotrephes “loves to be first.” Well that about sums it up! Do you know others who love to be first? They are the important ones, they are the ones who can’t be inconvenienced, they are the ones who always have the last word, who always get their way, and who must always be in charge. They want to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. No doubt we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “the first will be last and the last will be first!

Diotrephes won’t welcome the Apostle to the church, and kicks others out for welcoming the strangers that Gaius has taken in. Diotrephes seems to have much to say about others. A bunch of nonsense (or gossip) is being spread about people like John himself, who should be given the respect they are due. I wonder if Diotrephes is doing this because he must be in the spotlight, and just can’t handle it when someone else gets attention.

I cringe when I see a ministry named after its founding-father and guiding-light, even though I know that there are many GOOD ministries so-named. All I can ask is “Why?

Maybe we’ll never know the exact motivation, but I think we recognize the person, and John is telling us not to emulate them or their behavior. Who can argue with that advice?

People follow all kinds of “role models” these days, but unfortunately, many people are following the wrong kinds of “role models“. We see big-name sports-stars get rewarded with even juicier contracts after an episode of wrong-behavior. What is wrong with that picture? Who do you know who would be a GOODrole model” for people to follow?

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Finally, another good guy is mentioned: Demetrius. So there you have it, two brothers who are serving faithfully, and one bad apple. It seems that the bad apple makes the most noise, but the faithful servants are making a difference for the Gospel. I’d say there might be a lesson in this for us!

13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

As we saw in 2nd John, the Apostle had many more things to say, but he wanted to say them in person. We read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and read the Apostle’s writings, and yet, if Jesus or one of the Apostles walked through the door of this room, we would turn our attention to them and would be all-ears for what they had to say. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Jesus and the Apostles said many things which were never recorded, but as John wrote in John 20:30, we have a very-adequate record for our needs and purposes, and while the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles only reached a few people during their lifetimes; countless millions of people have been reached by the written word they left behind.

15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

As John is closing this personal letter, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and Gaius would know who else to greet by name.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!

A Creational-Approach to Missions

Has the church been doing missions “wrong” for almost two-thousand years? No, but I believe that we can deepen our passion for missions by going back and asking “Why did God make man?” This also relates-directly to the greatest philosophical and theological question of all time, “Why am I here?

As I have worked on my message for the Sunday morning service during the 2017 CNA Spring Conference, I have been drawn to ponder more deeply what the foundation of that message should be. I believe that this must be rooted in what God has revealed about Himself in His Word, the Bible. Lest you think that I have finally lost my mind, bare with me and it should all start making sense.

Creation…
The first four words of the Bible are “In the beginning, God…” Our Creator-God pre-existed all of creation, so He decreed the “beginning“. The first two chapters of Genesis are the story of creation, what God did, and how He did it. As great as the cosmos is, they weren’t God’s ultimate-acts of creation. God simply spoke the cosmos into being, ex nihilo, out of nothing, but when He was ready to create man, He attended to that project personally.

Scientists love to talk about the “big-bang“, as if all matter coalesced into one place and exploded. Where did THAT matter come from? Matter isn’t self-generating. I also believe in a “big-bang“, a God-ordained “big-bang“, because when God said “let there be light“, and the nuclear-fires of a gazillion stars lit as one, releasing an enormous burst of light and energy, that WAS an unimaginably BIG BANG.

We pick up the story of man’s creation from Genesis 1:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

From Genesis 1:
Man is created in God’s image.

That “image” is both male and female. We are neither one a “greater-image-bearer‘ than the other.

God gave two commands, “be fruitful and multiply“, and “subdue and rule over the earth“. God gave us the reasons for our existence from the very beginning, our “why’s“.

God created mankind to co-create more bearers of His image, and to continue His work in the world.

7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:7, 15-25)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

From Genesis 2:
God got His hands dirty, because He hand-formed the man from the dust of the ground.

God performed the first “artificial-respiration“. God didn’t “snap His fingers” to bring His creature to life, He breathed His OWN breathe into the man.

There was only one restriction; do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Man needed companionship.

God performed the first “anesthesia” and the first “surgery“, making God the first Doctor.

The “companion” God created was NOT another man; it was a woman, the perfect-complement to the man. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Naked and not ashamed“: Adam and Eve had perfect-fellowship with God, just as God intended.

Why did God make man?
We often have trouble separating our “needs” from our “wants“, but God doesn’t have that problem. People have lived for thousands of years, and still do, in “improvised-shelters“, “shelters” that do what “shelters” are intended to do, “shelter” them from the elements. “Shelter” is a basic “need“, and yet, particularly here in the US, most of us aren’t content with “basic-shelter“. WE WANT MORE! We WANT homes with all the “amenities“, even when we could get by with much less. That is only one example of how we have inflated our “needs” into often-overblown WANTS.

Does God “need” anything? God has been totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining for all eternity. To put it more succinctly, God didn’t “need” to make man. The Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit ARE the PERFECT-FAMILY. There is no tension, strife or discord within the Trinity. As God told Moses from the burning-bush, He is the great I AM. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

What if God “wanted” something He didn’t have? What if God wanted a larger family, a “forever-family“? One of the few things God CAN’T do is procreate or replicate Himself. There always have been three persons in the Godhead, and there will always be three persons in the Godhead, because God is unchangeable.

If we want a larger family, we have two options, procreation and adoption. Many couples don’t have the option of procreation for a variety of reasons, one being endometriosis. Endometriosis runs in my first wife’s family, and even though Connie didn’t have that problem, our oldest daughter does, and has had since she was about thirteen. After trying for several years, she and her husband adopted a baby boy. She got pregnant shortly thereafter. They have two boys, and a “blended-family“, including ethnically-blended, because the boy they adopted is black, and she and her husband are white. I am button-popping proud of them as parents, and of both boys as my grandsons. A couple in my church has three children naturally, and they adopted three siblings. The youngest, a boy, is autistic.

For God to have a larger family, His ONLYoption” was “adoption“, which is why the theme of “adoption” comes up frequently in the New Testament. That, my friends, I believe, is why God created mankind, so He could have the larger family He desires.

What happened?
We have seen God’s plan to create and adopt a larger family, but something got in the way.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:1-15)

Something happened, and it wasn’t good. Satan attempted to usurp God’s place to build his OWNfamily“. While it appears that Satan succeeded in the short-run, God wasn’t having any part of it.

Did this turn of events catch God off-guard? If it did, God isn’t God. The reality is that God knew this was going to happen before He even began creation. God’s “plan of redemption” was NOT some “Plan-B“, and the rest of the Old Testament is the unfolding-story leading up the coming of the promised “the seed of the woman“.

Redemption…
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (and daughters). 6 Because you are sons (and daughters), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son (or daughter); and if a son (or daughter), then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Notice that glorious word “ADOPTION“. “Adoption” means that we are part of God’s “forever-family“, furthermore, we can call Him “daddy (Abba)“, and we have become “heirs” of God’s kingdom.

Jesus Christ was that long-promised “seed of the woman” who “crushed the serpent’s head” at Calvary, so that we could become part of God’s “forever-family“.

Why am I here?
For most of us, it is quite easy for us to determine “why” we are doing what we are doing at a particular moment in time, but when we get to the overarching question of “Why am I here?”, we are stumped. We don’t have a clue, UNLESS we have developed a Biblical view of our meaning in life.

About 350 years ago, a group of Bible scholars and theologians met in Westminster Abbey to scour the Scriptures for the most important doctrines of our faith. They summarized those doctrines in short, concise statements, in what became the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many churches and denominations still subscribe to that Confession, including my home church, Cypress Ridge Pres. I also subscribe to that Confession.

From that Confession of Faith, they set out to formulate teaching-tools so that those great doctrines could be taught to the masses. They produced two Catechisms, a Larger, more detailed Catechism, and a Shorter, or more simplified Catechism, which is suitable for even young children.

The very first question they asked was “Why am I here?” Thus, question and answer one is:
Q – What is the chief end of man?

A – Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.

If you are thinking that this question sounds suspiciously like “Why am I here?”, you are right, because the Bible should inform our understanding of “why” we are here, the “meaning of life“. If it doesn’t, we are looking for “meaning” in all the wrong places.

Why am I here? To be part of God’s “forever-family“.

Family rules…
For a family to function smoothly, there have to be rules, rules about how the children are to interact with their parents, and rules for now the children are to interact with each other. God’s family is no different; hence God gave us the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments tell us how we are to interact with God. The other six commandments tell us how we are to interact with one another.

20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [e]stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:1-17)

By the time Jesus came to earth, the number of rules and regulations in the Torah had blossomed to over six-hundred, covering virtually every aspect of life. If the Pharisees thought that God hadn’t been “detailed-enough“, they added even more rules and regulations. They were always trying to pick a fight with Jesus, but they ALWAYS lost. Not surprisingly, they kept trying, because He made them look like the idiots they were. Anything to save-face…

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

We can certainly think of many ways we can show love for our neighbor, and all of them are valid, however, what is our neighbor’s GREATESTneed“? Think about that “need” for a few moments before we go on.

God gave me a “love-project” for over three years, a sickly, injury-prone neighbor. She needed MANY things, many of which I was able to help her with, but since she thought that she had gotten her “ticket punched” when she was a young girl, she thought that she “had it made“, and had no interest in the things of the Lord. Her lifestyle reflects that belief. She ONLY goes to church when she thinks it will be “advantageous” to her. She has a great “need“, even though she thinks she doesn’t.

There are MANY like her in this world, for whom God may only be a “useful-accessory“, it at all. We see them everywhere we turn.

Every person belongs to one of two families, either God’s family, or Satan’s family. There is NOmiddle-ground“. They are also going to either Heaven, or Hell. Again, there is NOmiddle-ground“.

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

Mankind’s greatest “need” is to be restored to a right-relationship with God, and to become part of God’s “forever-family“. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ IS the GOOD NEWS that we can be restored to a right-relationship with God, and join His “forever-family

God has given US the awesome-privilege of being part of His “adoption-agency“, so doesn’t it make sense for us to share the Good News of the Gospel so that others can become part of His “forever-family“, and participate in His ultimate-plan for mankind? I sure think so.

That, my friends, is how we can “love our neighbor” in the very-best-way possible.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Call Me “Ambassador”

No, I don’t represent the US to a foreign government, nor do I represent a foreign government to the US, or do I? In a very-real sense, as a Christian, I DO represent a foreign government, the kingdom of God, to people here and abroad. I come bearing God’s revealed Word, the Bible.

You may be thinking, “Steve, where did you get the idea that you are an Ambassador?“, and that would be a fair question if I had just pulled that idea out of my hat, but I didn’t. That idea isn’t original with me, but came from the Apostle Paul.

You may be thinking, “Where did I get the idea that I represent a foreign government?“, and that would also be a fair question if I just pulled that idea out of my hat, but I didn’t. Jesus told His disciples, and us, that we are NOT of this world, and the Apostle Paul reiterated that to his readers. As believers, we are NOTcitizens” of this world, even though we live in it. Our “tenure“, our “journey” here is only temporary. Hence, as political envoys, Ambassadors serve for a limited time and may be “recalled” at any time, we may also be “recalled” at any time if our Lord sees-fit to call us HOME.

Another fair question would be “Who sent you?” That question was answered by Jesus in the Great Commission, and contrary to popular-opinion, it was given to ALL believers, not just a “chosen-few“.

SO, after we look at what an Ambassador is, we will look at the applicable Scriptures. This may even change your mind about who you are in Christ, and I pray it does.

What IS an Ambassador?
Full Definition of ambassador (from Webster’s Dictionary)
1 : an official envoy; especially : a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment

2a: an authorized representative or messenger

An Ambassador is an official envoy, sent by a foreign sovereign, to be his official-messenger. This description fits all believers in Jesus Christ.

Our commission:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Our Authority (sending-agent) is Jesus Christ, our Commission is “Go and make disciples”, and our Message is “Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”.

Our citizenship:
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

We are citizens of Heaven even though we reside on the earth. When we are “recalled” (taken home), we will realize the full-benefits of our heavenly-citizenship.

Our job-title and message:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

We are Ambassadors for Christ, bearing a message of reconciliation with God, which is summed-up in the Gospel.

As a minister of the Gospel, I am an Ambassador for Christ. Will you join me in this endeavor?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Christian Naturist Festival 2016 Lake Como Resort

We had another great weekend! Many kudos to Pam and her crew for putting together a delightful and inspiring weekend. While it was called a “Festival“, “Retreat” might be a better way to describe it. In spite of all the evil in the world, it was a time for us to “retreat“, to put aside the cares and concerns of what was going on outside, and concentrate on what the Lord was in our midst to teach us and encourage us with.

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20)

We were certainly more than “two or three“, more like 20 to 25, and there was a lot of Christian unity and love in our gathering. Our featured speaker was Matthew Neal, author of The Biblical Naturist, and he came well-prepared. The theme for the weekend was “The Image Matters“.

Friday evening…
We gathered Friday evening for fellowship, ice-cream and to worship and adore our awesome God. Matthew introduced us to the need for Christian Naturists to impact the textile Christian Theology and Culture.

He asked five questions:
* What does the church say about porn?
* What does the church say about sexual-objectification?
* What does the church say about homosexuality?
* What does the church say about transgenderism?
* What does the church say about marriage?

The sad fact is that the church has lost its biblical understanding of mankind being created in God’s image, and replaced that with the Gnostic heresy that the body is “evil“. Thus, a “pornographic“, “hypersexualized” view of the body has arisen from that false doctrine. Is it any wonder that the church has lost its prophetic-voice in our culture, that porn consumption is rampant among church members and leaders, because if there is no “real” reason behind “Thou shalt not…“, why not; “If it feels good, do it“? If there is no “reason” for the rules, why not chuck them in the garbage?

The bottom line is that the church’s answers fall far-short of the truth of the Bible.

Saturday…
Our morning began with a catered breakfast provided by CNA (Christian Naturists of America). After a time for fellowship, we sang a couple of praise songs to get our hearts and minds ready to concentrate on God and His Word.

The topic for the morning session was: The Importance of the Imago Dei as a foundational Theological Concept and the culturally-relevent implications for reclaiming a Biblical understanding in the doctrine of the Church.

1) We have a hole in our Theology:
*We give lip-service to this doctrine
*Imago Dei – in the image of God
*We acknowledge “likeness” – moral, volitional, emotional, intellectual and relational.

2) We have neglected “image
*Image means “looks alike
*Our neglect has caused a big hole in our understanding of Imago Dei.

3) We have actively rejected “likeness
*God has no body??? God is “spirit“???
*We use anthropormorphisms to “explain” God’s appearances
*Imago Dei does NOT restrict God

4) God presents Himself:
*Walking in the Garden: 8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. ( Genesis 3:8)

*Talking to Aaron and Miriam: With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:8)

*Moses: 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-32)

5) God reveals Himself in human form
*General, special and personal revelation
*If we deny the Imago Dei, we miss what our bodies mean.
*Our Theology is defective

6) We need a Biblical Theology of the Body
*What does the body tell us about God?
*What does the Imago Dei mean to the purpose of our bodies, mankind?

7) The Church does have a Theology of the Body, but it is wrong.

Is the body an aid, or is it an impediment to righteousness?

* Temple of the Holy Spirit: 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

* Glorify God with your body: 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:20)

* Present your bodies as living sacrifices: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

* Present yourselves to God: But present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. ( Rom: 6:13b)

8) What is the purpose of sex in marriage?
*Procreation
*Strengthening the marriage bond
*Recreation

9) What are we expected to think when we see the exposed human form?
*Disgust?
*Give glory to God?

10) “Modesty doctrine”
*The church has it all wrong.
*Biblical “modesty” refers to carriage and demeanor, not clothing

11) What is the source of the current Theology of the Body?
*Satan loves to twist and pervert the truth
*This Theology of the Body has failed the church
*It has been a failure for many generations

We are called to expose this lie!

12) We must recover the glory of God
*As revealed in our bodies
*We must proclaim this truth

13) Theology of the Body
*Our visible bodies reveal how God has proclaimed Himself

Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. (Psalm 96:6)

Strength and beauty are not mutually-exclusive, which is why God has revealed Himself in the strength of a man and the beauty of a woman. There is also a certain beauty in the strength of a man, because the physique of the masculine body has its own functional-beauty. While nobody will deny that women are the most beautiful of all of God’s creatures, they aren’t left out of displaying strength either. Men who tackle the job of being “Mr. Mom” marvel at how seemingly effortlessly women do what they struggle with. Why? Because God has gifted them with strength also.

Have you ever known any women who were both beautiful and strong? I have.

After the morning session, we had a time of prayer before lunch.

Lunch was provided by Garden of Eden Church, and while we ate, Cameron Bennett presented the Vision, Purpose and Mission of CNA. After his presentation, all of the pastors and ministry leaders who were present gathered around him to commission him to a new ministry at Rock Haven. He was commissioned by the laying on of hands and prayers, and then the pastors and ministry leaders offered him the right hand of fellowship.

The afternoon session focused on how we can impact others in our Christian Communities (without using the N-words), and how we can live the truth in a way that challenges other’s preconceptions.

How to influence the Church
1) Recognize that it is a Theological issue.
* Without a Biblical understanding of the Imago Dei, the Church can’t get its Theology straight.

2) Be alert for the many ways that the lie is expressed.
* “Modesty” rules – seeking to “protect” men from lust by laying the blame for men’s lust on women, and shaming them into “mitigating” men’s lust by dressing “modestly“.

* Double-standards – Men can dress almost any way they want, but women have to dress “modestly”.

* Jesus specifically refuted this false “modesty-dogma” in Mark 7:14-21, by teaching that lust and sexual sin come from the heart, not from what a person sees with their eyes.

3) We must remember that NO-ONE can convince ANYONE. That is the Holy Spirit’s job, so all we can do is present the Biblical “evidence“.

4) We must be ready to speak.

5) We must trust God with the results AND the consequences. There may be consequences for believing and proclaiming the truth.

Sunday…
A few hardy souls gathered early to walk come of the nature trails at Lake Como.

Morning worship…
We opened the service with several praise and worship hymns.

Pastor Dan shared some thoughts on 1 Cor. 1:26-31:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We were NOT wise, we were NOT mighty, we were NOT noble, and we were, in fact, FOOLISH, however God sees us as being “in Christ“, who is everything that we are not. We didn’t contribute ANYTHINGgood” to our salvation, God did it ALL, so our only boasting must be in the Lord.

The topic for the message was: The Body and Redemption
1) To be human is to have a body.

2) We will have a body for all eternity: 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20-22)

3) Jesus was fully-human: 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Col. 2:9)

Why did Jesus need a human body to redeem us?

* Incarnation: 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

* Anticipation: 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:22-28)

* Substitution: 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:4-7)

* Propitiation: 24 And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24), 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2), 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19, 20)

* Intercession: 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)

* Resurrection: 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

* Ascension: 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

* This is what Jesus did: 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, who, 6 being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Communion:
While the Bread was being passed around, one of the ministry leaders served the Cup to each person. After everything was distributed, we all partook together.

We sang two more hymns before we were dismissed with prayer by Pastor Dan.

The worship service concluded another rewarding Christian Naturists Festival, and there is already talk about having another Festival next year.

Final thoughts…
Besides being able to spend two full days au naturel, it was a great weekend. The fellowship was wonderful, and being able to worship our God naturally was an awesome experience. That is the epitome of coming to God “Just as I am”.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

In Christ,
Steve

Feed My Sheep

This simple, yet profound command, which was given to Peter after the Resurrection of our Lord, shows both our relationship with our Lord and clearly lays-out the duties and responsibilities of those who are called to be His under-shepherds. To set the stage, we will look at this command in its context.

Breakfast by the Sea
21 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.

7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. 9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.

14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

Jesus Restores Peter
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. (John 21:1-17)

Peter had fallen HARD! He had denied his Lord, not just once, but three times, and the weight of his sin had come crashing down on him. Jesus had been crucified, and Peter hadn’t even had the guts to be there for Him. Peter couldn’t see how Jesus could ever forgive him, let alone restore him to fellowship, so after the resurrection, he went back home to Capernaum…and went fishing. Even if he couldn’t be one of Jesus’s inner-circle again, at least he could still fish. Then, Jesus appeared on the shore…

1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

“Children, have you any food?” We can feel His love and compassion for those men who had been with Him for over three years, and for their struggles as they tried to find answers to what they had experienced during the last few days. They were like orphans who had lost their best friend, and Jesus was there to bring them back “home“. Even though they had probably fished all night, they were empty-handed.

They answered Him, “No.”

6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Jesus was Lord over all creation, so He had the power to summon a multitude of fish into their net. This should remind us of when Jesus called the four fishermen back in Luke 51:1-11. They got another net-busting catch of fish, except that their net didn’t bust.

7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. 9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

When was the last time Jesus fed His disciples, and why? Just before He was crucified, Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples, and after that meal, they had the Last Supper, which we know as the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal of remembrance, to remind us of the awful cost of our salvation. As we eat, we remember that His body was broken for us, and that His blood was shed for us, so that we can be saved.

This breakfast by the sea was a meal of restoration. Peter, who had denied His Lord, was being restored to full fellowship with Jesus Christ. This meal should have rich significance for us also, because after our sins have been forgiven, we are restored to a right relationship with God.

Jesus Restores Peter
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

Jesus uses two metaphors for His people, “lambs” and “sheep“. “Lambs” are those who are new to their faith or immature in their knowledge of God and His Word. “Sheep” are more mature Christians. He also issues two commands, “feed” and “tend“. “Feed” carries with it the connotation of leading God’s people to where they may feed on His Word and proclaiming and explaining His Word. “Tend” carries with it the connotation of caring for the other needs of God’s people. Under-shepherds are to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel as pastor-teachers, and to love, pray-for, comfort and counsel those who are under his care.

This should remind us that there is a LOT more to being a pastor than just preaching or teaching every Sunday. Part of our task is to build relationships with the people God has entrusted to our care. We are to be there for them when they need us. I haven’t felt the full weight of this responsibility yet, but that time will come. I haven’t been called to the bedside of a dying loved-one, or called to pray for someone in the hospital…yet, but I minister in a community with a lot of elderly people. One member of our group was in the hospital recently, but he forgot that he could call me to come be with him. I would have been delighted to go visit him in the hospital.

As those who have been called to be under-shepherds under our Great Shepherd, we have the awesome privilege of serving in God’s kingdom, and an incredible responsibility to minister properly because we are accountable to Jesus Christ for how we do our work. We are under-shepherds, and He is the Great Shepherd. We work for Him!

In Christ,
Steve

The Biblical Model For Ministry

I have been thinking about how I can best serve my little flock at Cypress Cove, both now and in the future, because as a servant-leader, I am doing kingdom-work. Since my dad was a pastor for several years, I am quite familiar with the responsibilities of a pastor, which include preaching the Word, baptizing new Believers, and serving Communion. Does the Bible have anything to say that will shed light on my responsibilities and the authority to carry them out?

Fulfill the Great Commission…
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The Great Commission is so important that God saw fit to have it included in all four Gospels and Acts. Extending His kingdom in this world is very important to God, and He has given us a way for that mission to be accomplished. There are four mandates in the Great Commission, go to all of the nations, make disciples, baptize them and teach them. Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and He is the commissioning and sending authority, and He promised to be by our side as we do His work in the world.

There is no exclusion-clause in “all of the nations“. There is also no evidence in the Bible that this Commission was only given to a “chosen-few“. No, it was given to ALL Believers. That includes ME, and that includes YOU.

The Great Commission is also found in Luke 24:44-49.

Disciple-making takes ministers…
13 “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-15, 17)

Radio, television and written-word ministries are wonderful, as far as they go, but they can’t replace a “boots-on-the-ground” minister who is serving God in a specific community.

Commissioned by a local church…
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)

Here we see, in Acts 13, that Paul and Barnabas were commissioned and sent by a local church to do ministry. In Acts 15, Paul and Silas were commissioned by a local church for what became Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. Do you see a pattern here?

Why aren’t more churches sending more of their members out on missions? I read recently that the measure of a church’s success should be its “sending-capacity“, not its “seating-capacity“. Too many churches are filled with “pew-warmers” every Sunday who have forgotten that their “mission-field” is outside the doors of the church. We should be seeking opportunities for ministry where we live, where we work, and where we play.

We should also note that Jesus ministered in Sychar to “unclean” Samaritans (John 4:1-42), and also in a couple of Gentile cities (Mark 7:24-37). He later commissioned Paul, a Pharisee, to be the Apostle and missionary to the Gentiles (acts 9:1-19). Paul went to the far-reaches of the Roman world, and also he wrote the majority of what we call the New Testament.

Where are YOU sharing the love of Christ and helping to spread His kingdom? You have already been commissioned and you have all the authority you need to minister in His name.

In Christ,
Steve

Jars Of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the
surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Christian ministry is humbling, because God has entrusted His message to us, unworthy as we are. As I work on each week’s Bible study, I am reminded of the awesome responsibility I have to open the Word and rightly and accurately proclaim it because God will hold me accountable for any mishandling of His Word. This isn’t just any book, it is God’s Word.

God has given us two particularly-encouraging promises which we know that we can take to the bank. Jesus Christ is building His church, not us, and He is the power behind His Word, not us.

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18b)

I am nothing special. In fact, I am just another fallen man who has been saved by His grace alone, and commissioned to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know why He chose me, but He did. That Jesus came to save sinners IS GOOD NEWS!!!

Paul was probably the most educated of the Apostles, having been educated as a Pharisee under Gamaliel, but he still recognized his own inadequacies when it came to proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, which led him to pen the words of our opening verse. Why should I think any more of myself?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the
surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

In Christ,
Steve

We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations…

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Our commission is unambiguous and our field of operations is all-inclusive. Our Supreme-Commander has not only been given the authority to carry out this mission, but has given us that authority as well. We have been given the responsibility to go deep into enemy-held territory and liberate captives and bring them back to Headquarters, and then to recruit them to join this mission also. Whether your specific mission is next door or on the other side of the world, all missions are equally-important.

We will face opposition, because the enemy will not give up his captives without a fight. The enemy will do everything in his power to dissuade us from our mission, including turning friends and family against us. The enemy will even try to convince us to join his side instead, but we must not be dissuaded from advancing towards our goal. Our mission is that important.

Do you feel inadequate for the task? You are not alone, because this mission wasn’t intended to be accomplished by “lone-rangers“. This mission requires teamwork, partnerships of like-minded individuals committed to working together. We have the sure-promise that our Commander will accompany us on this mission, and we have another Helper who is pledged to us also, the Holy Spirit.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

I have been blown-away by how God has provided ministry-partners for the Cypress Cove ministry, godly men who have come alongside me to help and encourage me in this ministry. They “get-it“, and they understand how vitally-important it is for us to carry-out the tasks God has given us to do for His kingdom and glory.

We’ve a story to tell to the nations…
1 We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

2 We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil
and shatter the spear and sword,
and shatter the spear and sword. [Refrain]

3 We’ve a message to give to the nations,
that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us,
and show us that God is love,
and show us that God is love. [Refrain]

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
may come to the truth of God,
may come to the truth of God. [Refrain]

I invite you to prayerfully ask God where and how He can use you for the furtherance of His kingdom, and while you are at it, ask Him to provide faithful companions and fellow-laborers for your mission. We bring Good News, because the Gospel IS Good News!

In Christ,
Steve