Monday, April 28, 2014

A Proper Response

This week's blog will be a little different because I didn't preach yesterday. I had a friend, Ayo Gbode (pronounced I-O boe de) from Nigeria, preach so my blog will consist of a few notes from his message - and some thoughts that came to mind as I reflected on the message. Later this week, I plan an entry on the string of "Christian" movies that have recently come out of Hollywood.

Ayo's message was on the call of Levi (Matthew) from the account of Luke (5.27-30).

5.27 is Jesus' invitation - "Follow Me"

  • We do not know what Levi thought of Jesus, but Jesus certainly giving him a chance to make a difference
  • Jesus called a tax collector. In the first century, tax collectors were tools in the hands of the oppressor (Rome). Jesus took a tax collector (and a full group of nobodys) and made them tools in the hands of a King.

5.28 is Levi's response

  • Levi left everything - Levi could not offer anything he had...he simply followed. Contrast the rich young ruler who wanted to follow, but went away sad because he would not leave what he had. Jesus said we can't serve both God and money...which do we choose?
  • Levi rose - Levi got up to follow. He was sitting at his table - the place he earned his living. It was his livelihood. Israel would have seen the table as a table of oppression. Levi left this table and truly learned to sit at the table of grace. Levi got up from the table of indulgence because Jesus gave him a reason to hope.
  • Levi followed. - Many may get up. Many may leave things behind. But will they follow? And will they follow Jesus? There are a lot of great organizations that do wonderful things to help people. These organizations are not against Christ, but are they for Him. Can a Christian engage in such organizations? Absolutely. Should a Christian feel this satisfies the call to follow Jesus? Absolutely not!

In 3 years, Jesus showed his disciples all they needed to do. Effectively Jesus said, "All I do, you will do." He left the Kingdom agenda in the hands of ordinary, or even rejected, people. Yet, He gave them a great opportunity to make a difference. He gave them purpose. He gave them hope. And believers today are the fruits of their labor 2000 years labor.

Will we respond by leaving everything, rising up, and following Him to make a difference in the generations to come?

Monday, April 21, 2014

That You May Know

Do you know, really know, you have eternal life? If you were to die this minute, would you stand before Jesus with absolute certainty that He will welcome you into His presence for all of eternity?

Personally, I think our assurance it comes down to properly understanding three words. And properly understanding two concepts. And one decision we must make.

The apostle John wrote that we can know. For starters, read 1 John 5.11-13.

The three words are below (with standard definitions):

  • Believe – to have confidence or assurance; to have conviction; but also to suppose or assume
  • Know – to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to be aware of; to understand from experience
  • Faith – confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof
Here is how the 3 words might work together

Ephesians 2.5-6 – Paul wrote that we (who are in Christ) are seated (past tense) with Christ in heaven
  • Believe – I can choose to believe that statement or not based upon the evidence before me
  • Know – I do not know this truth, because I can't say I have a consciousness about it
  • Faith – I must trust that my knowledge is incomplete, but because everything I have experienced regarding the Bible is true, I have faith that it is true.
Two Concepts: Saved vs Eternal Life

Salvation – to rescue from danger or harm (in our case from the wrath of God)
  • for Christians, salvation requires repentance (change one's mind – about sin)

Eternal Life – life that doesn't end
  • Eternal life begins now, why do people want to wait until heaven?

One Decision: Follow Me
  • Follow – to accept as a guide or leader; to give allegiance to; to imitate or copy
  • Me – Jesus
John tells his readers that they can know (understand as truth or fact). What can they know? Not that they can go to heaven, but that they have eternal life.

Let me quickly put this letter in context...

In 1 John 1.1, John wrote certain phrases like - we have heard, seen with our eyes, looked upon and touched with our hands.

This letter was written to believers who were being challenged by the Gnostics. The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “knowledge”. This group of people were puffed up because of their knowledge. They also believed that any physical matter (including flesh, etc) was evil. But gnosis is a general word for knowledge. In 1 John 5.13, John uses the Greek word eido to note that we may know. This word can mean – to perceive, to pay attention to, to observe, to experience, to know (much like the English word).

The issue here is that we use the word believe, but do we know? How many of you have heard someone (perhaps even yourself) say, “I hope I go to heaven. I believe in Jesus, but ________” That is contradictory. If you truly believe, you have eternal life. If you have eternal life, you will be w/ Jesus. If you are with Jesus, it shouldn't matter where you are.

The bigger problem for us is our use of the word Belief – we often use that word as hope. I believe such and such could happen → I hope it will happen. Words matter. We use hope as a wish, but the Bible uses hope as something certain.

John ties the words believe and know together in verse 13:

He writes these things – What things?
  • That He was with Jesus (1.1).
  • That God forgives us when we ask (1.9). 
  • That sin is in the world (2.16).
  • That trials will come (2.18).
  • That people will abandon God (2.19).
  • That God loves His children (3.1).
  • That Jesus was in the flesh (4.3).
  • That people who say they love God but hate people are liars (4.20), etc.
To you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Notice that this does not say believe in God. Nor does it say believe in Jesus. It says believe in the Name of Jesus. What's the difference? The meaning of names was very important in culture years ago. What does the name Jesus (original language – Yeshua) mean? His names means God is salvation or God saves.

At Pentecost, Peter says to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Christ means Messiah (king)).

Paul wrote to the Philippians that at the NAME of Jesus every knee would bow and confess His Lordship.

It is the importance of a is our trust not just in the man, but in the NAME. I am not saying that we are to worship the NAME alone. I am saying that the man whose NAME was Jesus is worthy to be praised because He characterized what His name means – GOD IS SALVATION. Do we believe (trust) that? If so, John continues...

That you may KNOW you have eternal life.

You say you believe in the NAME – meaning you believe in the one named Jesus not just because He existed...not just because of His name, but because of what He did AND who He is. Great, then don't worry about what others – like the gnostics say – you can KNOW your destiny.

The other word is the word "faith". This word faith is currently used almost exclusively as a noun, but through much of history it has been a verb. The Greek word here is pisteo. The word believe in 1 John 5.13 is the same word (pisteo) that is used in John 3.16 - oriiginally it would have read "whosever faiths shall not perish."

It is that faith in Jesus that provides our assurance.

So, do you believe? More importantly, do you know? And if so, how do you know?

Some might say, “Well, I asked Jesus into my heart.” Do you know that idea is not in the Bible? We are to be in Christ. And He is to be in us. Yes, Christ dwells in our hearts (Eph 3.17), but nowhere does it say to invite Jesus into our heart.

It is about faith and repentance. Faith that what God said Jesus did...He really did. And changing my mind (& heart) from following my path to following His. The idea of faith and repentance is almost interchangable. In John 3.36, John wrote that those who believe (faith) have eternal life, but those that don't obey don't have eternal life. It is more than mere belief, it is how we live our lives.

So, how can we know? John MacArthur, in his book Saved Without A Doubt, provides 11 tests to help us know. Each of these are based on 1 John. If you can answer these questions yes, or answer yes in increasing fashion, then you may find yourself moving from doubt to knowing. The tests are:
  1. Do you experience fellowship with Christ and the Father? (1 John 1.3)
  2. Are you sensitive to sin? (1 John 1.6 – John indicates many are not)
  3. Do you obey God's Word? (1 John 2.3)
  4. Do you reject this evil world? (1 John 2.15) – not the evil in this world – this world!
  5. Do you eagerly await Christ's return? (1 John 3.2-3, hope = certainty in the Bible)
  6. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life? (1 John 3.4-10)
  7. Do you love other Christians? (1 John 3.10)
  8. Do you experience answered prayer? (1 John 3.22)
  9. Do you experience the ministry of His Holy Spirit? (1 John 4.13)
  10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error? (1 John 4.1-3)
  11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? (1 John 3.13)
Ultimately, the question is: Do you trust in yourself or Jesus?

Do you trust that you have the power to make your own way, and stand before a holy God one day and make your case as to why He should let you live with Him?

Or would you rather have someone represent you knowing He has already defeated death and therefore holds the keys to life?

Jesus has already chosen you...but will you choose Jesus? He does indeed live. The question is will you?

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Friendly Reminder

At this time each year, Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday. We are reminded of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem with the highest esteem, only to be slain just a few days later. Although this week is the most important on the Christian calendar (for, indeed, our faith stems from the resurrection), the Bible is not just filled with stories of which to be reminded, but of teachings to help us live.

2 Peter 1.12 says that Peter will always remind his readers of certain qualities which they have already been taught. Peter has already established that the faith of his readers "of equal standing with ours", speaking of himself, other apostles, and any other companions of Peter. He also reminds his readers that God makes VERY great promises, having already reminding them that God called us to His own glory and excellence. Given these statements, Peter reminds his readers that they must "make every effort". It is certainly the work of the Holy Spirit within us that enables us to add the qualities listed, but Peter specifically says the work is up to us (as well).

The qualities are: 
  • Faith - the beginning of our journey with God
  • Virtue – goodness (moral excellence)
  • Knowledge – to know more
  • Self-control – to begin living by what we know
  • Steadfastness – being committed to the self-control being developed (having resolve)
  • Godliness – becoming like God
  • Brotherly affection – showing kindness toward others (to care for)
  • Love – the selfless love that God gave to us

Peter then wrote that for those that:
  • are doing this, you will not become ineffective.
  • are not doing this, they will forget the cleansing from their sins.

So, Peter reminds them. Again. Always. In fact, he admits, he always will as long as he lives.

He wants to remind them of a simple set of steps.

Why? Because Peter reminds his readers:

False teachers will come. (to deceive - Chap 2)
  • Just as people were deceived and became corrupt in the days of Noah and later Lot, it has happened many times since Peter wrote these words, and is happening again today.

Scoffers will come. (to ridicule - Chap 3, first part)
  • v. 4 - “Where is the promise of His coming?" - a phrase that was as common in Peter's day as it is in ours

Judgment will come.
  • Judgment came once in the form of water to cleanse. (Noah)
  • Judgment will come next in the form of fire to purify!

Yet God waits. His time is drawing near. If Peter and Paul thought he would return then, how much more should we think His return is near now – nearly 2000 years later.

The problem is that we are too impatient with the patience of God.

Honestly, it is fun to speculate about the future, and the timing of Christ's return. But we have a hard enough time doing what we know we are to do. And whether or not Jesus' return is imminent, we are to be doing what He has asked (or commanded) us to do.

Peter tells his readers he will constantly remind them of these qualities. We need to remind each other of these qualities and our need to be growing as well. In doing so, we will be on the road to becoming the disciples Jesus has called us to be, so we can make the disciples he has called us to make.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Two Lions

Many people like cats. They are cute, cuddly, but they are also fickle! They like you one minute and not the next. (Personally, I am allergic cats, so of course, many cats like me, but I don't like them).

But not all cats are nice. Of course, there are alley cats, but there are also wild cats. As in wildcats, cheetahs, leopards, etc. And then there is the lion. The Bible says that the devil is like a lion waiting to devour us (1 Peter 5.8). Much like a cat that wants to cuddle one minute and then leaves the next, sin is so enticing (as our friend) one minute, and then leave us distraught the next.

In his first letter, Peter gives us some practical measures for not being devoured. His advice:

1) Humble yourselves. (v. 6)


Satan's fall was due to his pride. He wanted to be exalted above God. He wanted to best God.

He led a rebellion, and God crushed it. Because God is God.

Pride is a deadly sin. But it is mostly our pride that makes us sin, thinking we know better than God. Or that we can know as well as God. Isn't that what the serpent did in the Garden? Don't you want to know more? God knows good and evil...what is He holding back from you? Here, just eat this fruit, and you can be like God!

Think about it. God had given them good. But the serpent made it sound as if evil was something to be missed.

The woman wanted more. And then the man did as well. And now, we face sin daily because of it.

So, we are to remain humble recognizing that only God is God. Because the might right hand that crushed Satan can crush us as well. But, it is also that mighty right hand that can lift us up and exalt us. If we are humble.

2) Cast our anxieties on Him. (v. 7)


Because He cares for us.

At different times in our lives, certain things concern us/bother us. But some really just stick and we can't seem to shake them. A big one for our family right now is trying to sell our house in the town in which we previously lived. Hopefully, that concern will soon pass, but then another will surely arise.

But I am not as anxious about it as I was a couple of months ago, because God has shown how He does care for me, and has cared for me during this process.

Again, like in the Garden, God has only good for me, and if I am humble before Him, it really doesn't even matter if it doesn't sell soon. I am trying to cast this completely before Him.

3) Be sober-minded and watchful.


Because when we are distracted, tired, etc we are more susceptible to sin. And instead of us calling for the kitty, the kitty comes calling for us.

This shows that we have our part to do. The first two points were more about what God can and will do.
Be humble so HE MAY exalt you.
Let Him deal with your concerns.

But watchful. And sober-minded. Basically, be about your wits.
This word (Gk – nepho) does have alcohol in mind (don't be drunk). But the greater meaning is to be calm and collected.

First, this is possible when we are not drunk. But it is also more possible when we have cast our cares on Him. Thus, we are not distracted by being intoxicated with alcohol, but nor are we overly concerned with other matters.

4) Resist him, firm in your faith.


Trouble is coming. It will be tough. Others are experiencing it right now...and you will too.

But it is temporary. And the rewards are literally out of this world.

When you have been beaten down, battered, and feel torn from limb to limb, the glory of God will:

  • Restore you – make you whole
  • Confirm you – make you know your suffering was worth it
  • Strengthen you – piece you back together better than everything
  • Establish you – you will have been proven trustworthy, and God will share greater things with you.

Does that bring you hope? It should!

Yes, Satan is prowling around like a lion ready to devour. But the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5) has already won the battle. It is just for us to realize, in our humility, that Jesus has made the way. We CANNOT do anything in our own power to defeat sin, but we CAN in Jesus' power. In fact, with your trust placed fully in Him, you already have.

So, be humble, remain alert. Cast your anxieties. And when you fail, don't be devoured. Ask God to forgive you...He is the only One who can grant it. And ask Him to strengthen you to stand firm knowing He has already won the battle for you.