Studies In John’s Epistles – 1 John 2

John continues his theme of sin and forgiveness which he began in chapter 1. While it is inevitable that Christians WILL sin, we have God’s guarantee of forgiveness and restoration, mediated through the finished work of Christ on our behalf and Christ himself, as our Advocate.

This passage covers several “mini-topics” which we will examine in more detail as we move through it.

Christ Is Our Advocate
2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

The Test Of Knowing Him
3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Love and Hate; Light and Darkness
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Their Spiritual State
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Do Not Love the World
15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Deceptions Of The Last Hour
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Let Truth Abide In You
24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

Warnings
26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

The Children Of God
28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2)

***********************************************************************Christ is our Advocate
My little children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Here at the beginning of the second chapter, John restates what came at the end of chapter one about the forgiveness of sins, although here, he adds a different vantage point. Rather than simply saying that if we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful to forgive them, thus putting forgiveness in a covenant context, (faithful being a covenant term) now John reminds us of how this is accomplished. It is because of the death and finished-work of our “Advocate“, Jesus Christ.

He has also spoken as the Elder, starting out with the words “my little children.” John is the last of the Apostles of Christ remaining alive in the body, and his writings in this vein are filled with truth, grace and love for his “children.” His desire is that we shouldn’t sin, thus he compares and contrasts light and darkness that we might clearly understand the difference as we journey through this life. Knowing that we will all stumble, he gives us the reassurance that all will be made right, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ… and this is always a comfort to me, I don’t know about you, for I am prone to stumbling.

I also would mention that at the end of verse two, John tells us that Jesus has paved the way for our sins to be forgiven, just as He has for the sins of the entire world. Sometimes, I think that many of us might have the feeling that Jesus has enabled us to have been forgiven, and then we look at the world, and the forgiveness of the world. We share this with others that they too can be forgiven, and then we stumble ourselves again and forget that our new sin is forgiven also, just like our previous sins. In fact, I have watched many faithful followers struggle with this concept, and if this is ever our plight, take heart with John’s words here in verse 2.

The Test Of Knowing Him
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)

I read with interest, and sometimes sadness, when people write that we need never do anything as Christians because there are no conditions in the New Covenant. They seem to suggest that since grace is free, if we accept it, and then we’re set for life, so to speak, with no obligation to ever do anything or behave in any particular way. Most of the time, I conclude that they are probably just wording things a little bit wrong, and don’t really mean to go quite that far, but sometimes, I think they entirely misunderstand the Christian walk. John makes it quite clear in these verses that we are to obey the commands that Jesus gave us. In fact, Jesus commanded that we should teach others to obey Him also. (Matt. 28:18-20)

The overriding standard in this obedience is to live our lives as Jesus lived. How is that? Love your neighbor; serve others by putting their interests ahead of our own. Spread the Good News to the lost.

Love God, and place His priorities above our own, and to love our brother. John seems to me to be pretty clear that we must live as Jesus did, and if we are not willing to do so, we may have a serious problem.

Love and Hate; Light and Dark
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (1 John 2:7-11)

In these verses, John gives one more comparison and contrast. This time it is love and hate, light and darkness. If we are in Christ, then we must love our brothers and sisters. If we claim to be in Christ, yet we hate our brother or sister, then we cannot be in Christ; I think this is a fair summary of John’s point.

In the opening sections of this letter, John has made the point that if we are in Christ, we must live our lives like Christ. In fact he has made this point several times in various ways, but recall in particular 2:3-6. Where in the Gospels can we find any indication whatsoever that Jesus ever hated anyone? Far from it! We see Him showing love in all cases, even when He let the Pharisees have it with the seven woes. Remember, right after that, Jesus is lamenting the fact that despite all that God has done, they insisted on turning against Him; Jesus was clearly grieved by this. (Matt. 23:37 ff.) When you reduce the Christian faith down to its simplest form, and I am a fan of doing this, its central idea is love God; love your neighbor. There is no room for hate in that formula.

Our brother may irritate us now and then, and may even let us down. In truth, our brother may well be every bit as imperfect as we are, but we are to love him anyway, just as he is to love us anyway, just as Jesus loves all of us anyway. Remember that love means that we put the interests of the other person ahead of our own.

To this message from John, I’d like to add my own observation: How much damage do you suppose has been done over the years to the Gospel by people who call themselves Christians, but who fail to demonstrate His love to others? How many thousands have said “no” to Christ because of some so-called believers who show an attitude of hatred for other people? How many have left the faith because of this behavior in the church?

Those who hate rather than love can call themselves whatever they like, they may fool many people, but they cannot fool God, and I would respectfully suggest they repent, and do so quickly.

I Write to You Because…
This is a transitional passage between John’s introductory section and the rest of the letter. In verses 1:1-2:11, John has been going through this comparison and contrast which shows his readers who is and who is not in Christ. Great section, lots of insight! Now, he is giving the reasons he has written the letter, and after this he gets into some very deep thoughts. We often just blow by this little transition and wade into the content that begins in verse 15, but hold on a minute; the transition is amazing!

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, little children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:12-14)

Do you see what this is? It isn’t so much about the “who” John is addressing, it’s the “why” that is important, contrary to so much that has been written and discussed over the years! Let’s restructure these verses:

If you are in Christ, John is writing to you BECAUSE:
1. YOUR sins have been forgiven on account of His name.

2. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

3. YOU have overcome the evil one.

4. YOU know the Father.

5. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

6. YOU are strong.

7. The Word of God lives in YOU.

8. YOU have overcome the evil one.

Did you notice the tense used here? Each of these “because” statements is either in present or past tense, indicating that they are facts at this very moment, not something to come in the future. I’m sure that I need not mention that there are no “buts” in any of these statements. Now, as for the “who,” there are three “who’s” in the passage, “little children“, “fathers” and “young men.”

Little children“, as we have already seen, is one of the ways that John addressed the community of believers; is an inclusive term. “Fathers” can either be literally a father of children, or it can refer to the heads of the households, and in Scripture this is often the case; certainly it is when referring to a patriarch. In those cases, something that is true of the father is true of the household. It seems to me that here, because of the inclusive reference at the beginning, the inclusive meaning is also true of fathers, particularly since there is nothing in the text that would indicate specificity of intent. It could also refer to those we call “church fathers”. “Young men” are the heads of households yet to be born, and I think we can take this reference to mean that not only are these things true in believing households of today, but they will also be true of future generations of believing households. You might wonder about a household of one, but remember that in John’s day, households of one were extremely unusual if not non-existent; they are actually quite a modern development. Looking at the list of statements again, it seems that we can take them to refer to all of us who are in Christ. That is also the context of the previous and following sections…

Notice that there is some repetition. Numbers 2 and 5 are the same, but 2 comes after a reference to the Son, while 5 comes after a reference to the Father. If you know Jesus, then you also know the Father. Having overcome the evil one is mentioned twice also, numbers 3 and 8. Both are directed to young men, and it seems to me interesting that it is repeated the second time in a series of three statements made to young men. Now if we have an accurate understanding of “young men,” then let’s consider these future heads of household. They are the future, but they are also young. They are the ones who need encouragement and the mentoring of the Elder Apostle the most, and so they, who will bear the spiritual battle in the future need a little more instruction than those who are experienced, the veterans. Here, John gives an extra assurance that they are strong, filled with the Word, and have overcome. I would guess that this is as much comfort to John’s “young men” in their day, as this whole list should be to us in our day. This is particularly true when we get into the rest of this letter; John is getting his readers prepared for what is coming.

What About This World?
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Now that John has shown us who we are in Christ, and what the realities of life in Christ are supposed to be, he turns to the world around us. John isn’t referring to the natural world, God’s creation, rather he is referring to the world of Mankind; the culture, society, the impulses, the way things are here. John isn’t speaking of “culture” in the sense that he is against literature, or art, or music, or opera; the things which enrich our lives. Instead, he is referring to the impulses and ways of men and society. If we were to say that we live in a “dog eat dog world“, we would be referring to the impulses and ways of this world; that is more like what John is getting at. John is telling us that we are not to love the world or anything in it and if we do, we have a spiritual problem for sure.

The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” are often cited as the three main categories of sin. Clearly these do not come from God, for as John puts it, they come from the world. If you think about it, so much of what people consider important has more to do with impressing others than with anything else. Why are we so often driven by career advancement? Why do we need so much stuff? Why is your living room fancier than your bedrooms? Why do you need the fancy car instead of the economy car? Must I spend $100.00 on a tie? Why do we want what somebody else has? Our knee-jerk answer to these kinds of questions might be sin, but John goes deeper than that; this comes from the world. Jesus nailed that down when He said that we “prefer the praise of men.”

In the final analysis, this world, its ways, and everything in it will pass away, but the love of God endures forever. Our Lord showed us a life that was lived for the love of God. Isn’t that where our love should be? I’ve heard people say that we are here to fix the world, but I must state clearly that this is a mistake. We were never commanded to fix the world. The world is passing away! We are commanded to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with people, so that they may be saved from the world’s fate.

Deceptions Of The Last Hour
So far in this letter, John has given us a reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He is, what He has done, and His nature. John gave us a comparison and contrast of what the “Light” is, and who is and who is not “in the light.” Then John reminded us of who we are in Christ and how amazing that is. In the previous section, John warns us not to love this world, and now John is taking us to the front lines on a battlefield, where it becomes plain why he has taken us on this journey to show us just who we are, and just who “they” are.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18-19)

This is the first mention of the term “Antichrist” in the Bible. It means someone who is against or in place of the Messiah. In these verses, John mentions twice that we are in the “last hour“, which is interesting when you consider that many will suggest today that there are more hours to come.

On the Cross, Jesus accomplished two very-important things; He paid the price of our sins and purchased our redemption, and, He sealed the eternal-destiny of Satan and his followers. In that sense, the “last hour” began at the Cross, because Satan’s days are numbered. “What” and “who” we are in Christ is the result of His shed-blood and finished-work on the Cross. When He said “it is finished”, those results were a “done-deal”.

Whoever these Antichrists were, or are, they appear to have been hanging around us, and then to have gone rogue. If nothing else, in these two verses, we can be sure that these rogues were hanging around, but they were never “us“. Recall the descriptions of in the light and in the darkness in vv. 1:5-2:11… These characters were the ones in darkness.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the Antichrist, denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:20-23)

Now we have a little more information: The rogues John is talking about deny that Jesus is the Messiah. That is a bald-faced lie, and those who are in the truth would never make such an assertion, so these guys were not in the light. No person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is in the Son, and if a person is not in the Son, they are also not in the Father. They are Antichrist, and there are many of those in the world. Virtually every pseudo-Christian cult that is in existence today has redefined who and what Jesus is. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are glaring examples of this heresy. Both cults, NOT coincidently, were formed by disaffected “Christians” who rejected the clear teachings and doctrines of the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that their doctrines of Christ are seriously-flawed.

Let Truth Abide In You
As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

These two verses are the warning: Make sure that you hang on to what you know about Jesus Christ. If you do, you will remain in Him and inherit eternal life. Do not listen to the rogues. By the way, this is why I said above that John has taken us to the front lines on a battlefield. It is a spiritual battlefield in a spiritual war, where the Antichrists in our midst will attempt to pry us away from the Truth. Resist, and do not listen to their lies!

Warnings
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in Him. (1 John 2:26-27)

John invokes the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit in urging us to remain in Christ in these verses. Consider this: Here is a warning that there are those who will try to lead us astray, to turn our backs on our Lord. They are fighting against us in a spiritual war, and this can sound really scary.

Take heart! John is pointing out to us that we have within us, at our disposal, greater firepower by tenfold! It is the very Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Godhead! If we are focused on our relationship with our Lord, and we take these “battles” to Him, there isn’t even a contest, for “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.”

One of the vital-functions of the Church is to provide a “spiritual-support-system” to us when we engage in spiritual-warfare. No soldier in his right-mind goes into combat alone because he is easy-pickings if he does. Instead, he goes with his unit, even if his “unit” is a rag-tag band of survivors from other units. “Lone-ranger” Christians are also much easier to “pick-off” by Satan and his minions than are well-connected Christians, those who avail themselves of the teaching and means of grace of a local church.

Peter, in 1 Peter 5:8, gives this warning; “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour.” Our adversary is vigilant and persistent in trying to trip us up, so we must likewise be vigilant. We have a solution; stand on the truth of the Word of God, and reject the lies. We also have the Holy Spirit to remind us of the truth and apply it to our hearts.

As simple as this is, many will be so creeped out by the stories and the idea of spiritual warfare, that it almost makes me wonder if these stories of myth, legend and popular fiction are actually part of the lie itself, so that we won’t fight back, and our superior firepower will never be brought to bear on our foe. Hmmm… Do you think we need to have a healthy relationship with the Lord? I do!

Continue in Him
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. (1 John 2:28-29)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I sit back and think about everything involved in following our Lord and it all just seems a bit overwhelming. Thinking about who He is, what He is, His love for us, His call to us… and all of the implications of these things… Wow! I don’t want to mess this all up!

Oh sure, I’m confident in forgiveness for sins, and I understand that He is loving, merciful and not interested in a “gotcha” moment, no that isn’t it at all; I don’t want to grieve Him or let Him down. In the text we’ve been looking at, John seems to sense the same kind of thing. He’s taken us through all of these amazing attributes, and he’s taken us through the facts of life in a spiritual battlefield, and now suddenly, he seems to take a little step back to survey the scene, and just as though he were reading our minds, he writes these two verses.

Wow! What do we do now? John’s answer is “continue in Him.” Yes, that’s right; continue in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unscathed by this world of ours. By “continue in Him,” I think John means that we should simply keep on living in Christ’s image, as He taught us, doing what He did, following His Father’s purpose and not being distracted. We do know that He is righteous; so then, we do know that everyone who does right is born of Him. By “right,” John must mean that they do the things that He would do, so while Jesus is the Model for all of us to follow, when those around us follow His model, we have someone to show us the way when we are confused.

Wow! Once again, even though the answer is simple, it isn’t always exactly easy.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – The Great Commission and Christ’s Ascension

We have already seen John’s account of the Great Commission in John 20:21-23, but we are going to look at the Great Commission in more detail from all four Gospels and Acts. While some of the Gospels place the Great Commission immediately-before Christ ascended back into heaven, others placed it as part of other discourses. The important thing is that God chose to have it included in all of the Gospels as well as in Acts 1. If the Great Commission was that important to God that must mean that it should be important to us also. This will also wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel.

Jesus only came to earth for a brief time, and when His mission on earth was completed, He ascended back into Heaven where He rules and reigns at the Father’s right hand. While He could have done more here on earth, He had done all He needed to do. We have been given the mission of spreading God’s kingdom, of continuing the work Jesus began.

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)

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

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)

Two recurring-themes should jump-out at us:
1) The disciples were called to be “witnesses“. They had spent over three years with Jesus before His crucifixion, and they had walked, talked and eaten with Him after His resurrection. None of this was “hear-say“. They had seen and heard it with their own eyes and ears. They were also given the task of recording what Jesus said and taught for us.

2) They weren’t to keep it to themselves, they were to GO and tell others. 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:
1) Go to all of the nations: Note that there is no exclusion-clause in “all of the nations“, and in order to further-explain what He meant by “all the nations“, Jesus expanded on this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus also knew that there would be “push-back” about the “all” because His disciples were “red-blooded” Jews, and there was. Peter never became “comfortable” with ministering to Gentiles. The four facets of “all the nations” are:

a) Jerusalem: Our “home-town“, where we live, work, play and shop.

b) Judea: The surrounding-area, perhaps our county.

c) Samaria: Go to those who are “different” than we are. Nudist resorts are a “Samaria” to the mainstream church, thus the majority of ministry in Nudist resorts is done be fellow-nudists.

d) To the ends of the earth: There is no place too “out-of-the-way” or “obscure“. Five missionaries were murdered in Ecuador in 1956 as they attempted to contact a tribe of indigenous people (known as the Aucas) deep in the Amazon basin. Some of their widows and families subsequently were able to make peaceful contact with them and eventually established a mission in their village. The Bible has been translated into their language, and some of them are now faithful “God-followers“. That is going “to the ends of the earth“.

2) Make disciples: While part of the task of disciple-making IS teaching, the initial-step must be helping people come to faith in Jesus Christ, what we commonly call that “evangelism“.

3) Baptize them: While baptism isn’t “necessary” for our salvation, it is a means whereby a person publicly-identifies with the faith-community. Baptism must always be preceded by a person’s credible profession of faith.

4) Teach them: A new believer can’t be left to merely “fend for themselves“; they need to be taught the Word of God. The ultimate goal of disciple-making isn’t to make a bunch of “spiritual-consumers“, but to grow them in their faith and start equipping them to also become disciple-makers. Far too many churches are busy “getting people saved” (filling the pews) without teaching them, and far too few churches are diligent about equipping saints for serving the Lord.

One Bible teacher I read recently wrote, “The “success” of a church shouldn’t be measured by its seating-capacity, but by its SENDING-CAPACITY.”

Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He is the commissioning and sending authority. He promised to be by our side as we do His work in the world, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 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 Ascension
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53)

Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, left His glory in Heaven to be Emmanuel, God with us, and came as a baby, not born in a palace, but in a nasty, smelly stable. He grew up, not in wealth, but in poverty, to walk among us, to experience first-hand the depths of human misery and suffering. He ministered, not to the “holy” and “religious“, but to sinners, like me, and like you. Nobody who needed Him was ever turned-away. He was touchable, approachable, and His unfailing-love drew people to Him.

He was destined, not to earthly-glory to wear a crown of gold and jewels, but to suffer and die. The only “crown” He ever wore was a “crown of thorns“. He, who knew no sin, was judged and condemned by sinners, condemned to die the death of a common-criminal, on a cross. A cross-shaped shadow hovered-over Him from the cradle to the cross. He was here for a reason, to purchase our redemption, to satisfy God’s righteous-judgment on sin, and to live a sinless-life so that we may become sinless before God.

Death and the grave couldn’t hold Him, so He was gloriously-resurrected on the third day. Having fulfilled His mission on earth, He ascended back to Heaven, back to the glory He had had from all eternity, to become King of kings and Lord of lords, to sit at the Father’s right-hand.

Someday He WILL return, not as a baby in a manger, but as Conquering-King, when He will vanquish ALL of His enemies and reward those who have followed Him in spirit and in truth. Then we will join Him, not as servants, but as heirs of God’s kingdom. What He has earned for us will be ours for all eternity.

Final thoughts…
As we wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel, it has been a long journey, covering almost a year, and I have learned a lot as I prepared each study. I have endeavored to be as thorough and accurate to the text as I can be, while keeping each study to a manageable-length. We took a few “side-trips” for Christmas and Easter during the appropriate times of the year. I pray that your walk with the Lord has been enriched, and that you have come to a deeper-appreciation of God’s holy Word.

We are moving on to Studies in Ruth for our next study-series. Please join us.

Sola Deo Gloria!!!

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

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

Trusting God In The “Rest-Areas”…

God’s plan for our lives is like a road-map, but He doesn’t show it all to us at once. He will only show us our next step when He is ready, not when we are. Like all good road-maps, ours includes turns, intersections, and even “rest-areas“. I LOVE rest-areas when I am traveling because I can’t drive for over two hours at a time and need to stop and stretch my legs periodically, but I don’t always like it when God places me in a “rest-area“. Maybe some examples will help illustrate what I am referring to.

A missionary couple comes home on furlough, and when they prepare to return to the country they were serving in, their way is blocked by the political situation in that country. Are they no longer missionaries? Of course they are, but their area of ministry may change dramatically.

A pastor I used to know, while he was without a church to pastor, took a job as the mail-clerk and telephone switchboard operator for his brother-in-law’s business. My mom was the owner’s executive-assistant, and she introduced me to Pastor John. I got to know Pastor John, and he was very instrumental in helping me through my wife’s suicide and the subsequent destruction of my family. He was also by my side during her funeral service, as was another Pastor, a Catholic Priest I had also gotten to know. Pastor John may have been in a “rest-area“, but God used his pastoral skills and loving heart to help me through a very-difficult time in my life. He also performed the wedding when my second wife and I got married. Just a few weeks later, he received a call to a church in another part of the country, and I haven’t seen him or heard from him since.

Another pastor I met a few years ago, while he was between churches, was the “substitute-preacher” when the church’s pastor was out of town, and he also taught at a private Christian school. When he was called to another church, he and his wife moved on.

From about 1981 til about 1991, I served in several different capacities in three different churches. I was on the building-committee of the first church. I taught Sunday School, sang in the choir and was a deacon in the second church, and I was in the band/orchestra in the third church. When we moved to a different part of the country in 1993, there was a brief “rest-area” period.

In 1994, I was elected, ordained and installed as an Elder in a small church. After I left that church in 1997, I went to another church where I was invited to sing in the choir. That only lasted for a few months until I remarried and we went to a different church. Our roles may change, but that doesn’t mean that our new role isn’t ministry.

After my second wife and I moved to Florida in 2000, I became involved in the music ministry of yet another church, and eventually became the Music Director. That lasted until I got cross-ways with the pastor’s mother-in-law who had very different ideas about what and how we should sing. Rather than fighting it, we moved on to another church.

Thanks to an invitation to participate in the church’s ground-breaking celebration, we immediately found our new church-home. I joined the choir, even though I decided to keep a low-profile otherwise. I also participated when we dedicated the new sanctuary. That lasted for about two years until we decided to move to another state in late 2006.

I have managed to keep a low-profile in every church I have been in since 2006, and I haven’t even joined the praise-team in the church I belong to now. I did offer to help out with the sound-system, but they haven’t even taken my up on that offer. The musical talent runs very deep in that church, so I enjoy just being there. When it comes to music-ministry, I am in a “rest-area“. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy singing, and He may yet use me in the music-ministry, but all in His good time.

God has kept me in a public-ministry “rest-area” for almost ten years, but has He? I felt led to start this blog on December 31, 2013, and I have been writing and posting regularly since then. With regular readers as far away as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, this ministry is pretty “public“.

A few months ago, I received the “call” to begin a ministry at Cypress Cove. This may be the most ambitious “project” I have ever taken on, but God is still in control. This isn’t about me. It is about spreading God’s kingdom into a part of His world where it hasn’t been before. I am simply His servant, and God calls the shots. If this ministry thrives, it won’t be because I am so great. It will be because God is great and awesome and doing His work through me.

While I have been in a “rest-area” from teaching and church-leadership since 1997, God hasn’t left me idle. He has directed me into other avenues for ministry. For those who are lamenting that God doesn’t seem to be using you for an obvious ministry, all I can say is “Trust Him” and see what else He may have for you to do. God alone knows His plans for you, and He is working everything out for your good and His glory. Oh, and by-the-way, loving your neighbor in tangible ways IS ministry, and you ARE serving God by showing His love to that person.

In Christ,
Steve

Would John the Baptist Be Welcome?

God had been silent for about 400 years when He sent the last Old Testament prophet to Israel to proclaim the eminent arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. That prophet was the man we know as John the Baptist. John, who was born to quite elderly parents, was empowered by the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. If John the Baptist were to reappear today, would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?

John didn’t appear in a three-piece-suit with shiny shoes and slicked-back hair. He lived off the land in the wilderness, had long hair and a beard, and looked like what many would call a “bum“. He didn’t “look good” and he probably didn’t smell much better. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?

John didn’t come proclaiming a “gospel” of prosperity or “name-it-and-claim-it” religion. He came proclaiming repentance from old ways of living and self-righteous ways of thinking, and that the kingdom of God was at hand. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit? Would you welcome and heed his message? What was his message?
7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”
11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”  13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:7-17)

Does this message seem vaguely-familiar? John the Baptist was giving applications to the “Tall Orders” God gave through Micah the prophet almost eight-hundred years earlier:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Jesus Christ would later sum up these “orders” when some Pharisees confronted Him:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

The Jews staked their claim on being children of Abraham, but that wasn’t good enough. Injustice was rampant in Israel, and even though God had condemned it almost eight-hundred years earlier, things still hadn’t changed. John’s message of repentance required more than just mere words, it required concrete actions.

We can show our love for God by loving our neighbor, not just in word-only, but by tangible actions. When my neighbor-gal came home at 11:30 one night and couldn’t walk into her home by herself because of the pain in her broken foot, she needed REAL help. She also needed to borrow my walker again, so real help was both helping her get into her home and putting my walker into the trunk of her car. Mere words of consolation would not have done for her what she needed done. Help required action. I am no “shining-star” in this, but I do try to do what I can, when I can.

John baptized people in the Jordan River in the same way new converts to Judaism had been baptized for hundreds of years, naked, and all the way under. Would you allow him to baptize you?

If John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcome in your church, you are in “good company“, because the religious-establishment of his day didn’t like him or his message either. They were particularly incensed that he was baptizing people. He hadn’t graduated from “Jerusalem Theological Seminary” and hadn’t gone through all the steps to become a “recognized” preacher. He didn’t have the right “credentials“, even though he was a prophet, and he was operating outside of their “system“. Of course Jesus Christ didn’t have the right “credentials” either, even though He was the Incarnate Son of God.

Even if we wouldn’t welcome John the Baptist into our church and pulpit, we should welcome his message. We can learn a lot from John’s simple message of repentance:
Abandon our self-righteous attitudes and admit that we can’t fix ourselves.
Love God with all of our being.
Truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

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

Time-Out…

Sports teams take them in the middle of big games, and they may play a major role in a team’s game-winning strategy, but when was the last time you took a “time-out“? We live in a fast-paced society where we are expected to give it all we have, and then some, but as the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“. We are dulled by our constant activity such that we are never really at our best. This is called “burn-out“…

In Mark 6, after two very stressful events, Jesus recognized that His disciples needed a “time-out“. His disciples had just returned from their first short-term missions trip, and they had just learned of the death of John the Baptist. They were physically-exhausted and emotionally and spiritually spent. They had been subsisting on “fast-food” and hadn’t even had time for a family-meal. They needed more than just a huddle with the Coach and a couple of sips of Gatorade. They needed a break…

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. (Mark 6:30-32)

As usual, their “time-out” was short-lived, because as soon as the crowds figured out where they were, they were mobbed again.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. (Mark 6:33-42)

After they fed the five-thousand, Jesus called another “time-out“…

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. (Mark 6:45-47)

Jesus took His own “time-out” to commune with His Father, because He too grew tired and needed a time of refreshing.

Our “time-outs”…
We need “time-outs” also, because we can’t be at our best or give our best when we are worn-out. Vacations are wonderful, but how often do you take one? For some people, even taking a long weekend is hard to do. That is one of the reasons why I like, no…LOVE to be in church every Sunday morning. I need that untouchable “timeout“.

The pastor of my church is preaching a series of sermons on “Worship“, and this past Sunday, he invited one of the men to give his testimony about what “Worship” means to him. Dave was in the US Navy for several years, and he served aboard a nuclear submarine. The submarine’s primary power-source was a small nuclear reactor, but if they had to shut down the reactor for some reason, they could run on battery-power…for a while. If they ran the batteries down too far, they couldn’t restart the reactor, leaving them dead in the water. Dave likened “Worship” to being our primary-power-source. We can only run on our spiritual-batteries for just so long before we need to reconnect in a meaningful way to God, our spiritual power-source. Dave’s testimony is mine also, because I REALLY miss going to church when I can’t go for whatever reason.

Another of my “time-outs” is my devotional time every night before I go to bed. When I miss this time because I am too tired, I really do miss it. My devotional-time is when God and His word get my undivided-attention, because even when I am working on an article, it doesn’t even get my undivided-attention.

Retreats…
Why does the church think that retreats are only for young-people? Christian retreats are a wonderful way to recharge our “spiritual-batteries“. When I went to the Christian Naturist Festival a few weeks ago, it felt like a Retreat and an extended “time-out“. Even though it went almost non-stop, it wasn’t tiring, because we were studying God’s word and the Holy Spirit was working in our midst. There is also no substitute for Christian fellowship. Even though I missed being in my home church, it wasn’t the same as missing church entirely.

Your “time-outs”…
When was the last time you had a meaningful “time-out“? Jesus wasn’t just speaking to His disciples when He said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”, that message is for us also.

Come away and rest. Take a “time-out”.
Steve

Unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

The more the New Testament church spread, the less unity it exhibited. By the time the Apostle Paul came back to Jerusalem in Acts 15, the seeds of discord had already been sown.

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

What followed that was the Jerusalem Council, which was convened to iron out their differences and formulate a uniform “standard“. The legalists were already making their voices heard and their presence felt.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

If the legalists had their way, “salvation by grace through faith” would have been replaced by “Get circumcised, and keep the Law of Moses” so you can be saved. Do you remember the Pharisees from “Traditions…”?

“Issues”…
There are a lot if “issues” which divide Christians, even though we claim to read and believe the same Bible, and first “issue” is about which translation/Bible is the “real” Bible.

Bibles…
How can we have so many “Bibles” when they are all supposedly translated from the same “original” documents? Do the same original words mean different things to different people? Every church and denomination has its favorite. A few of the more familiar ones are:

King James (KJV) – because the “Apostles spoke King James English“. Many Baptist churches are KJV-only.

New King James (NKJV) – King James without the obsolete language.

New American Standard (NASB) – an updated translation using more modern English, and favored by many Reformed churches.

New International Version (NIV) – an updated translation done by an international group of scholars.

English Standard Version (ESV) – came on the scene recently, and is favored by many Reformed churches.

Even though this should be a “non-issue“, many churches and denominational-groups make it one.

Baptism…
I heard a “Reformed-Baptist” pastor say “Every time the word “baptize” is used, it should be translated “immerse”. Is how a person was baptized more important than that they WERE baptized? Many churches, particularly Baptist Churches, believe that it IS a BIGDEAL how a person was baptized, because they believe that a person hasn’t really been baptized until they have been immersed. I could never be a “member” of one of those Baptist churches because I was sprinkled, rather than being immersed.

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) churches accept all modes of baptism as valid, even though they traditionally use sprinkling for baptisms. Is it any wonder that many PCA churches are “melting-pots“, welcoming people from many different religious-backgrounds?

Eschatology…
Why do so many churches and Bible-scholars think it is SO important to analyze every scrap of prophesy to pin down “exactly” how and when the End-times events are going to happen? Do they not have anything better to do, such as spreading the Good News of the Gospel? Can’t we accept that Jesus said that He didn’t even know the time-line? Can’t we just allow God to be God, and leave it to Him to determine how and when?

The Evangelical-Free Church has their eschatology-position as the last point in their ten-point Statement of Faith, and every candidate for church office must agree to all ten points. My wife and I were members of an E-Free church for a while, but I didn’t agree with that last point, so I couldn’t be an officer. The E-Free denomination courted my dad to become an E-Free pastor, but he also didn’t agree with their eschatology position. They missed-out on a very well-studied and scholarly pastor.

God’s desire for unity…

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
(Psalm 133)

The reference here is to the special oil which God commanded His people to make and use ONLY for holy purposes. Aaron, the first High Priest, was anointed with this special oil when God ushered-in worship in the just-completed Tabernacle in the wilderness.

The “dew of Herman falling on Mount Zion” represents God’s blessing when His people live together in unity. That is how much God values unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

Isn’t it time we quit bickering about things that don’t matter and get on with fulfilling the Great Commission?

In Christ,
Steve

Traditions…

We all love our family traditions, particularly those traditions that we observe during the major holidays. We dress in our finest spring outfits for Easter. We have a big family cookout before popping of a lot of fireworks for 4th of July. We gather around the family table for Thanksgiving. We go to a candle-light service on Christmas Eve before polishing off a couple of rounds of spiked eggnog. Our kids wake up early on Christmas morning to open a mound of presents before we gather around the family table for another feast. We stay up late on New Year’s Eve to watch the great ball in Times Square drop signaling the ringing-in of a new year. These all seem like beautiful traditions, but what if there was a dark-side to each of these events? Would we really still love these traditions in spite of the dark-side?

Two thousand years ago, our Lord’s favorite pests, the scribes and Pharisees, came to Him and asked Him why His disciples didn’t keep their traditions. It seems that they “forgot” to wash their hands before they ate. He pointed out an even bigger problem with their traditions to them.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Matthew 15:1-9)

The Pharisees…
The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect that emphasized “personal-holiness” based on law-keeping. God had given a fairly-detailed set of laws through Moses known as the Torah. The Pharisees weren’t content with merely keeping the laws in the Torah, they thought that God had left quite a few “important” things out, so they compiled an even more detailed set of laws known as the Oral Torah, alias “the traditions of the Elders“. A couple of problems with “the traditions of the Elders” was that the Pharisees thought that their laws were on par with God’s laws, and if there was a conflict between “the traditions of the elders” and God’s laws, their “traditions” always won out. They saw no problem with disobeying God’s law to keep theirs, and this is the problem Jesus pointed out in this passage.

They would count out spice-leaves for their tithe while their brothers and sisters went hungry, and they expected Jesus and His disciple to wash their hands before dinner while their ignored their responsibility to take care of their parents. Neither counting spice-leaves nor washing their hands before dinner were in God’s laws, but feeding the hungry and taking care of their parents definitely was.

Traditions…
The Pharisees are still alive and well today, although very few are Jewish. They can be found in almost every Evangelical church and they have made their presence felt even in the chambers of city councils and county commissions. I grew up in a very legalistic church environment, and since my dad was a pastor, I saw the worst of it. Do any of these ring a bell?

Ladies – Keep your necklines high and your hemlines low.

Ladies – You may only wear a skirt or a dress to church.

Ladies – You must wear some kind of head-covering in church.

Girls and ladies are forbidden to wear any type of two-piece bathing-suit, and all bathing suits must be “modest”. Swimwear from http://www.swimsuitmodest.com/ would fit their prescription.

Men – You are expected to be in a suit and tie, or at least a sport-coat and tie when you come to church.

Members may NOT drink any alcoholic beverage. The ONLY exception is the Communion wine.

Members may NOT use any tobacco product.

Dancing is sex standing-up.

Playing pool is sinful.

Gambling is sinful.

Rock music is evil.

If you think that I am making this stuff up, this was just the tip of the iceberg when I was growing up, and many church have an even more extensive set of rules. The anti-nudity ordinance in Polk County, Florida, where I live, even has a “bikiniregulation” which specifies how much of a woman’s anatomy must be covered up to be “legal“. The purpose behind all these rules and regulations is to enforce/protect the “morality” of either church-members or county residents. Churches and county commissions have taken it upon themselves to be “morality-police“, and all of this is based on “the traditions of the elders“, because none of it is in the Bible.

Final thoughts…
I am thankful that I belong to a church which affirms that the Bible is our ONLY guide for faith and life. Legalism never brings about true holiness. Only God, working in our lives, can truly make us holy.

Which is more important to you, “the traditions of the elders“, or the Bible?

In Christ,
Steve