A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Two)

Acts 14:21-23

Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22 CSB).

We continue our theme of what churches ought to do in their ministry. However, we must always be aware of a trap, the checklist trap. This wrong idea makes us suppose that if our behavior conforms to a series of actions (rules, laws, standards, steps in mission, etc.) that we therefore have a godly local church. But God is more concerned about the internal matters of our hearts, including a collective heart of a church, which will lead to godly action. God’s work is always a matter of what Paul states elsewhere. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6 CSB). In addition, joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) and the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:16) are essential. With that reminder, let us continue to look at this pattern for church ministry.

Strengthening the disciples. This is usually referred to as “disciple making” by many writers. I will not talk in detail about that misstatement, except to say that we make disciples by telling the good news of Jesus. Every believer in the Lord Jesus is a disciple (or learner) of him. Notice what the Lord said in Matthew 28:19-20a (NIV): Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. First, a disciple is made, next baptized, and then taught. What is usually called “disciple making” is in reality simply teaching disciples to obey what the Lord has commanded us.

Why is it important to know this? I will suggest a couple reasons.

  • We ought to use Bible names and phrases to teach whenever possible, unless we clearly explain the theological substitute. Sometimes, for the sake of simplicity, teachers use theological words for the sake of clarity. We can call get lost in a long string of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. But we should never do this when their use confuses the subject. Consider the use of “ordinances” or “sacraments” to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “Ordinances” sounds like you’re in a town council meeting, and “sacraments” is simply a theologically loaded bomb that misleads people, including those who use it. When we use the words and phrases that the Bible uses, we can simply direct learners to the texts of Scripture, without expecting them to wade through a theological swamp.
  • It provides better insight into the disciple making process. Too often, it degenerates into giving a mass of information. But simply being told things does not make a follower of Jesus stronger. In the church, we live in a time of reaction against Biblical information. Most churches have dropped Sunday School programs, and many small group meetings are only a time for “fellowship” (whatever that means varies from place to place). This results in little training in Bible knowledge, and it is important! Having said that, people have walked away from Bible training because it seemed unrelated to their way of life. Surely, we can teach Biblical content in a way that provides good thoughts and intentions (ideas, values) to the inner person of the heart, explains how these ought to be lived out, which then results in the active practice of a Biblical world and life view. This is how we strengthen someone, regardless of their maturity level. The Spirit then uses the thoughts and intentions that we receive from the word of God to produce transformation according to Christ.

So then, are you being strengthened in your local church? Are you part of the process of strengthening others with the truth that you have been taught by God? Use your life for the benefit of others. You’ll discover how God uses you in his plan.

Grace and peace, David

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part One)

Acts 14:21-23

After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch… (14:21 CSB)

The book of Acts shows the continuing acts of Jesus the Messiah by the Holy Spirit through the apostles (sent ones). Much of this work concerned the starting and building up churches (local gatherings of followers of Jesus Christ). Paul and Barnabas had gone out from Antioch on what proved to be a hazardous journey to labor with the Lord in this good work. After several trials, they were able to start a couple churches. From those churches, the message of salvation would spread throughout the interior of Asia Minor. Luke gives us the bullet points of what they did to help us in what we ought to do to spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). We need to take these verses to heart, because our churches seem to lack any Biblical idea of what they are supposed to do.

Real life ministry. The apostles entered Derbe after a narrow escape in Lystra. Opposition to their message was intense, even more, it was vicious. The point is that it was not an easy situation. At church picnics we used to play ballgames with plastic balls and bats. That is not what Barnabas and Paul were involved in. This was major league hardball where the opponents were cutthroat. The Lord did not put them in places set up for their success, which some suppose was the case. They went where the situation could turn deadly (cf. Acts 14:19). This provides us with hope. Many local churches feel defeated when their outreach initiatives are rejected by the community. The apostles continued when people were throwing rocks at them. We must expect setbacks; we need to persevere in faith.

Preaching. This is the means that contemporary people assume cannot work any longer. Some say, it might have worked for the apostles and men like Calvin, Whitefield, and Spurgeon when there were far less distractions. It might have worked for Billy Graham in the last century when people were still fascinated by large religious crowds and television. But not today. And so the church walks away from the means the Holy Spirit uses. To preach is to proclaim God’s word, the Bible, and to call people to respond by changing their minds and believing the truth of the word. I do a lot of small group ministry where there is much discussion. I think that is also a valid and important means that the Spirit of God wants us to use. But he also tells us to Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV).

The gospel—the good news. This is the message of salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord and what he accomplished through his death and resurrection. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2-4 ESV). When we tell people the good news, we speak of a person, God’s Anointed One (Christ or Messiah) that he sent to deal with the most important issue separating us from God; namely our sins (our rejection of the living God as our God, our refusal to love him, and our rebellion against him and his commands). This is a message of grace. God took the initiative and did what was necessary. Now, we can be right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We have Christ’s righteousness credited to our account (Romans 3:21-4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). Since we are united to Christ, God fully accepts us for Jesus’ sake. Rejoice in that!

They made disciples. This is our mission, our purpose, our goal (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 1:17). A local church does not exist to build a building to seat people to collect money from them, so that the church can build a bigger or nicer building! The church is not a place you go to, but people in Christ with whom you share new life in Christ. We seek to make people learners (disciples) of Christ, so that they can glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s learn from the example of the apostles. They were concerned about the glory of God and the good of people. Let’s get involved in the mission that the Lord Jesus has given to us.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Three)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory (63:2 NIV).

Verses two through eight presents five vital experiences of the saints (those set apart for God, which is a basic idea about true believers.) Each of us should seek to know each of these experiences in an increasing measure. Salvation is not some kind of “fire insurance policy” but the experience of eternal life with God that begins now. Each ideally will develop in an increasing measure. The five experiences are:

  • God’s glory
  • Praise
  • Satisfaction
  • Meditation
  • Trust

Unfortunately, some approach the Bible and its message with mere intellectual curiosity. They like to hear “steps for successful living” or how to be prosperous or moral or have a happy family or whatever quest they’re into. The Bible becomes a manual that provides a philosophy for life or counsel about how to get through their problems. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said years ago, they have “taken up” Christianity, but Christianity has never taken hold of them. To them, it is practical information without spiritual transformation. This psalm does not permit such an approach. It speaks of the person whom the true and living God has “taken up”. Against a barren assent or knowledge, this psalm tells us of spiritual experience with God as the center, as the great desire of the heart. King David’s purpose in this song is to shout out that God himself may be known!

It is important to remember that David lived during the time when the law or old covenant governed a person’s approach to God. His worship had to be through physical means like sacrifices offered at an altar at the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle. We must think about the means he needed to use in worship. Certainly, all believers in God in all ages know God himself through faith. My point does not concern the reality of fellowship with God, or even whether any particular believer in one age of redemptive history had a greater desire for or intimacy with God than a believer in a different age. Everything is in proportion to one’s faith. But we ought to keep in mind the historical setting of this psalm.

When David wrote “in the sanctuary”, he meant that physical place chosen by God as the home of the Ark of the Covenant. Earlier in Israel’s history, this had been the tabernacle built in the time of Moses; later it would be the temple constructed by Solomon. David lived in a transitional period, and he meant the tent he had erected to house the Ark. During the law covenant, God revealed his glory in connection with the Ark. The old covenant people could see the cloud of glory arising from above the gold mercy seat of the Ark, between “the wings of the cherubim”. Part of David’s experience was very physical.

In the new covenant, believers in Jesus the Messiah are God’s temple or sanctuary. For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people (2 Corinthians 6:17 NIV; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:4-5; etc.) We do not go to a place to see a physical appearance of God’s glory, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14 NIV). When we are with other believers in Jesus, we form the temple of God that we already are. The Lord Jesus is present in such gatherings (Matthew 18:20). This truth should cause us to worship together with reverence and awe! By faith we can see the Living One in our sanctuary! Since we are God’s temple, we can know his spiritual presence (which is very real; something does not have to be material to be real, witness God himself.) In our gatherings, we should see his power and glory. We should see his power in the transformation of lives. We should realize that there is shining spiritual glory in our meetings. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Two)

SAMSUNG

Luke 3:7-9

He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (CSB).

John the Baptist did what the Lord called him to do. He went out in the desert and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB). It seemed like an unlikely and unpromising place to start a great work of God, such as the coming of the Messiah was promised to be (cf. Isaiah 35.) However, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Who would go out into the desert to hear a preacher? The Lord did everything to make sure that John’s ministry would not rest in the power of man but the power of God. This is what most contemporary churches need to hear, because their “back door is as big as their front door.” Human schemes are no substitute for God’s word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches will do some sort of “40 Days of Prayer” program, be excited during it, and then… “We prayed for forty days, revival didn’t come, so let’s try something else.” That was not what John the Baptist did. He went out to the desert, preached the Lord’s message, and God sent the people. Crowds came to be baptized by him with a baptism of repentance. So then, what were John’s sermons like?

He did not try to please people (3:7). You do not please people by calling them a brood of vipers! Imagine entering any contemporary church and being a viper, which is clearly symbolic of being an evil person. The crowds in our time would not stay; they would walk out. Contemporary churches are ashamed of sin and afraid to call people sinners. They want everyone to feel comfortable. They want to be thought well of in their local community. They want everyone to like them. John the Baptist lacked such concerns. Please listen carefully. I am not talking about being rude and obnoxious. We ought to welcome people with joy. But that must never obscure the truth of the sinfulness of all people everywhere. We must tell people who they are in the presence of the holy God. That is what John was doing as he preached to his people. He was not afraid to challenge people “in his church” that they might actually be a brood of vipers! How would you react if your pastor dared to say something similar in your local church this Sunday?

He told people to change (3:8). Repentance is a change of mind, as we said in our previous post in this series. Repentant people think differently in their hearts about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. This inward turn produces changes in people, both internally (ideas, attitudes, expectations, etc.) and externally in the behavior. The repentant person changes the way they walk and talk. By the way, many professing Christians need to stop using the substitute obscene and profane language they use to color their speech. So that no one misses the point, I mean all the substitute “F” words and “bathroom” words. Consider Ephesians 4:29; 5:4; Colossians 3:8. Crude speech is not the right means to lead others in godly ways. The fruit of repentance is godliness, the character that shows that a person is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10 NIV). It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and “the new clothing” of the new person (Colossians 3:12-17). It is what we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV).

He turned people from false hopes (3:8). As the last of the old covenant prophets and the forerunner of the new age, John warned the people not to trust in their ethnic heritage. Far too many rely on their descent for assurance that God accepts them. The people of God in the new covenant are only repentant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your physical heritage counts for nothing in God’s sight (John 1:11-13; Romans 2:9; 3:23; 9:6-8; Colossians 3:11). What does count is the grace of God freely given through Jesus Christ. In him, you can be part of the people of God!

He warned them of the wrath to come (3:9). Yes, John did not make people feel comfortable. He wanted all outside of God’s grace to feel very uncomfortable! Again, the contemporary church doesn’t want to offend anyone. Political correctness rules the day, unless it is something distasteful to their own political agenda, but that is another subject. People do not want to hear of the fires of the wrath of God. They are like people whistling as they pass a cemetery, but in this case, it is not a cemetery but hell itself. The are like toddlers playing “peekaboo”, assuming that if they don’t hear about hell, it doesn’t exist. John told the crowds the truth. We do not help people by failing to tell them their very serious problem before the throne of God.

John the Baptist was faithful to his mission. May we be faithful to the mission the Lord Jesus has given us (Luke 24:45-47).

Grace and peace, David

Consistency

Colossians 1:29

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (NIV).

My wife and I each have a car, which we need to get to the places God has called us to go. This is hardly an amazing fact, but the cars have different keys. My key will not start hers and vice versa. I carry both sets of keys on one ring, and this provides a time for contemplation, since when I’m in my car, I have a push button start. Her car requires the insertion of the key into the ignition switch. Since I drive my car more often, it is easy to reach for the button rather than inserting the key when I’m in her car. Habit is a good gift from God, but it doesn’t replace thinking.

We live in a world in which we are taught from infancy to do things for ourselves and to be self-reliant. This also is good, because Sharon and I expected our children to tie their own shoes, as soon as possible. But self-reliance can easily become twisted by sin to become reliance on ourselves, instead of trust in God. There is a “fine line” where this happens. You cannot draw it on a map or describe it in a book. We might talk about this a long time in a small group and not reach a definite conclusion. Life is not lived by acting in conformity with manuals for behavior. But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, it concerns more simply serving the Lord consistent with his glorious person.

It is far too easy to carry the “keys” of worldly self-reliance into service for the Lord. Programs, the performance of “worship teams”, form of “church government”, rituals, buildings, training for ministry leaders, and so on occupy center stage in the conversations and planning meetings of local churches. “If we would do what that successful church does, then we would enjoy the same success” is a widespread attitude, regardless of how it is nuanced. I am not arguing for untrained leaders, dirty and uncomfortable buildings, and woeful music. However, I am addressing an attitude that is far too pervasive and dominant.

Our Lord invested time in training the apostles for the work he called them to do. He gave instructions on how to do it. But part of his instruction concerned the need to rely on him for spiritual power. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV). We all need to return to “Christ-reliance”. We all need to… excuse me while I use a ‘four-letter-word’… We need to pray.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides examples of prayer to that church. He began that short letter with along section on thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-14). He asked for prayer (4:2-4). He pointed out how the founder of their church wrestled in prayer for them (4:12). What does prayer have to do with all this?

Prayer is a believer’s conversation with his or her God. We come as his adult children, friends, and coworkers. We acknowledge to accomplish spiritual good that we require his almighty power. We want to serve the Lord with all the energy Christ so powerfully works. There is simply no other way that we can accomplish anything of spiritual and eternal value. It brings great joy to see the Lord at work in the lives of many people. When a person begins to live according to Christ (cf. Col 2:8 ESV), it is an artwork of spiritual beauty. Godly ideas, attitudes, words, and actions flow out from him or her, as the Spirit forms Christ in them. This is what we long for, but it is beyond our ability. Only the power of God can produce godliness.

We must pray.

Grace and peace, David

Rejected

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem (NIV).

Most people can understand the bitter pain of rejection. It is often experienced in childhood on various levels. We might have felt rejection in being the last person picked for kickball or because we wore glasses at a young age. Teen years might have brought the rejection of being “shot down” or never asked regarding dates, being excluded from the “in” social groups. Young adulthood might have brought rejections by colleges and employers, or even the rejection of a broken engagement. Adults experience a multitude of rejections, until finally, older adults sit alone in nursing homes, rejected by most everyone. If you feel rejected, you may weep.

Our verse, however, points us not to what bitterness we might feel from rejection, but to one who came into this world to be rejected, in order that his people might be accepted. The bitter cup of rejection he accepted for our benefit. Take a few minutes to ponder the depths of rejection that Jesus the Messiah felt to bring us salvation and joy. The baby in the manger became the despised man and held in low esteem on the cross. If you sense somewhat of the rejection he received, you may weep.

I wish that his rejection had ended, and that all people everywhere might accept him, bowing before the Lord Christ in repentance and faith. But most of the world prefers to reject him continually, despising both him and his offer of saving grace. Father in heaven, pour out your Holy Spirit, that people might see the glory of your dearly loved Son and turn to him!

While we pray that fervently, we must face the ways that we his people still reject him. This is ugly, but we must understand this ugliness, in order to turn from it.

  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the theological systems people build. Our knowledge of God and the story of his glory ought to be built on and formed by the Lord and his work. Yet too often, the church’s viewpoints have been crafted around things like covenants, dispensations, rituals and rules, and church structures. I am glad for a few recent books about seeing Christ in the whole Bible, but most fall woefully short in presenting the Bible in line with the Lord of glory.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the way we worship. Someone will object, “But we sing about Jesus in our songs and say, ‘in Jesus name’ when we close our prayers.” Yes, I know that, and I also know that most cannot explain what ‘in Jesus name’ means. Worse still, Christ is our high priest and mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:1; 9:11; etc.), but we do not consciously worship the living God through him. When was the last time that your church was called to worship God through Jesus Christ our mediator? Jesus is the latest forgotten member of the Trinity.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our goals and purposes, both individually and corporately. I’m not talking about church mission statements, which are crafted by people who know they ought to say such things like, “Our mission is to make followers of Jesus Christ.” I’m speaking of the attitude of the local congregation. Too often, a church caters to the whims of church shoppers that want their perceived needs satisfied. We ought to say and to mean, “We gather to make you think like Christ, have his attitudes, and make choices that express his glory and goodness.” Philippians 2:1-11 might be preached and admired, but it is rarely performed.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our love. Listen to what Jesus himself said to the church at Ephesus long ago. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4 NIV). It is one thing to sing, “O come, let us adore him.” It is another to adore him with the choices you make. Will we choose to love Jesus today in our hearts and way of life? He desires our love, and he wants us to share his love with others. Let us return to him today.

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

Grace and peace, David

Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David