NEW perspective for those who want to depend completely on God

The Elijah Challenge December 18, 2011

John 5:8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Jesus has just performed a miraculous healing. He proceeds to give an explanation regarding how he was able to do it.\

John 5:19 …the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing…

He reveals that in doing the miracle he was depending completely upon his Father to show him what to do. Because of this, many believers want to depend upon the Lord to lead them before they undertake anything for His kingdom.

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

But there will be even “greater things” to come. What could possibly be greater than the mighty miracles Jesus was doing? For a possible answer, let’s look at the very next verse.

21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Perhaps Jesus was referring to the authority that the Father would give him. With this authority he could give life to whomever he wished to give it. However with this we find a contradiction with Jesus’ earlier declaration that he could do nothing by himself, but only what he saw his Father doing. If this were true, how could he give life to whomever he chose to give it, even though he had not seen his Father do it?

22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.

Amazingly, Jesus goes on to declare that all judgment had been entrusted by the Father to him, and that the Father would not be passing judgment on anyone. This was so that the Son would be honored equally with the Father.

John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself.

The pattern continues as Jesus is given the authority to have life in himself, just as the God Almighty Himself.

27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Jesus repeats that the Father has given him authority to judge because he was not only the Son of God, but also the Son of Man who had humbled himself to become a human being and experienced life as a man on earth.

30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Amazingly, Jesus appears to contradict himself in the above verse. For in verse 22 he said, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” How do we reconcile this to verse 30 above?

We may not be able to resolve this completely to our satisfaction with earthly logic, for Scripture contains mysteries that will be understood only in heaven. But in the above verses we can unearth some underlying reasons for the apparent conflict. One revolves around the seemingly different goals of the Father on the one hand and the Son on the other. The Father desires that “all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.”

The Son, on the other hand, seeks “not to please myself but him who sent me.” These two different goals result in the apparent contradiction we have discovered. How does this discovery affect our ministry for the gospel?

Like Jesus, we should seek to be balanced. We should seek to be led by the Lord in what we do, yet at the same time recognize that He has given us a measure of authority to do certain things for the sake of the gospel. Being unbalanced in either direction can result in undesirable consequences. If we will not lift a finger until the Lord leads us to do so, there will be a tendency toward inaction because the Lord generally does not lead us in every single matter in life. This inaction on our part can rob God of the glory He deserves to receive through our ministry. There will be situations in which the Lord desires us to move by faith alone in His written word. On the other hand, however, if we fail to seek the Lord’s guidance and rush headlong into every ministry opportunity, we will become exposed to the danger of presumption and wasting time and strength doing things we have not been called to do.

There are commands given in Scripture concerning which we might not need a rhema or a specific word before we obey them. For example, we love our enemies, we forgive those have wronged us, without necessarily needing any specific guidance from the Holy Spirit. There are other commands which I believe have nearly the same universal applicability for us: “Preach the gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons, make disciples.” In general, we are to obey such commands “in season and out.” We should not need a specific leading or rhema from the Lord in every instance before we engage in these because they can be considered the general will of God.

There is still other light in which we can consider this balance. When Jesus woke up in the morning, often he would seek His Father in prayer. His attitude would be of humility, helplessness, and complete dependence before the Father: “the Son can do nothing of himself.” But after prayer he would rise and go forth into battle to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Authority and sovereignty from the Father would rise up from within him; he would heal whatever infirm person he wished and cast out any demon he chose: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18)

We ministers of the gospel should likewise walk in this balance. There is a time to go before the Lord in complete humility; this “pleases Him who sends us.” (John 5:30) There is also a time to march forward with assurance and boldness to destroy the works of the enemy with powerful weapons. These weapons the Lord Jesus has entrusted to us are far superior to anything the enemy has, and they consist of authority to heal the sick to prove to lost souls that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and that only he can save them. In such a way, “all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” (John 5:22)

Obviously, in ourselves, we believers have no absolute sovereignty. But in John 14:12 Jesus says that for the purpose of confirming his identity as the Son of God “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing…”

Easter traditions

This Easter, I really sat back and watched all the various groups celebrating (or not celebrating) the holiday. Different groups have different traditions. I think I can quote the arguments for and against each.

But what keeps coming to mind is the verse in John.

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple, in Solomon’s porch”
John 10:22-3

Jesus celebrated a “HOLIDAY” that wasnt “Biblical”.

Many are surprised that the only Bible verse mentioning Hanukkah is found in the New Testament. Perhaps it is simply because the holiday commemorates an event that occurred during the inter-Testamental period, approximately 165 BC. …But if it is “authentic” they argue, it would have been mentioned somewhere else in the New Testiment.

Sola Scripture is the rallying cry against observing Easter.

Sola scriptura is not as much of an argument against tradition as it is an argument against unbiblical, extra-biblical and/or anti-biblical doctrines. (Is Easter celebration a Doctrine?)

Now I am not wanting to argue Hannakkah, but in the same way it is not a “Prescribed” Bible taught, religious holiday, perhaps Easter might not be so bad either.

Perhaps we should rethink what is worth dividing God’s people, and what is really worth arguing about. So if one chooses to celebrate the Resurrection, who am I to disagree?

Knowing God

If I were to ask a group of people what’s the greatest thing in life, I would probably get as many answers as there were people. Certainly many things contribute to a full and happy life, but I hope all believers would agree that knowing God is absolutely the greatest and most important of all. Without that, everything else loses meaning.

The Apostle Paul put it this way in Philippians 3:8:

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Think of this: Paul wasn’t a loser. He hadn’t hit rock bottom with nowhere else to go. He wasn’t turning from a life of failure and counting that as “dung.” He was one of the most educated and accomplished men of his day. He was the elite of the religious class. People knew him and they wanted to be like him.

Paul wasn’t writing just about the time before he was born again. He had been a Christian for decades at the time he wrote this. He had traveled the world and been used of God as few men ever had or ever will be. Yet here he was still seeking to know God more (Phil. 3:10).

Paul was saying that the best life had to offer and the greatest accomplishments and pursuits of any man, when compared to knowing God, ranked in the same category as manure. He was admitting that he hadn’t arrived but that he had left and was pressing toward that goal of knowing God more (Phil. 3:12-14).

What does it say, when the man who wrote half of the New Testament was still pursuing knowing God decades after his conversion? Certainly there has to be a depth of knowing God that goes far beyond just getting saved. Paul spoke of this in Ephesians when he prayed that the Ephesian Christians would come to know the height, length, depth, and breadth of God’s love (Eph. 3:18-19).

He said something very interesting in Ephesians 3:19:

“And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

At first glance this seems confusing. How can we know something if it passes knowledge? Paul is speaking about experiencing God’s love in a way that is infinitely greater than mere intellectual knowledge. And notice that when we experience God’s love in this way, we will be filled with all the fullness of God. What a statement!

All we have to do is look at our lack of experiencing God’s fullness in order to realize we don’t know God’s love the way Paul described it. If we did, we would be filled with all His fullness. Therefore, there is a dimension to knowing God that the average Christian hasn’t experienced. How do we get there?

First of all, we have to realize that there is more to knowing God than just becoming a Christian. Multitudes of people have received salvation, and if they were to die, they would go straight into the presence of the Lord. But they don’t know God.

They don’t know that He loves them because He is love and not because they are lovely. They think they have to earn God’s favor, and they are needlessly suffering condemnation and lack of fellowship with Him because they feel unworthy. They don’t know Him as a loving heavenly Father but see Him as a harsh taskmaster.

Many Christians think our Father is the source of all their troubles and suffering. They think He uses those problems as tools to teach them something or change their behavior, even though the Word clearly proves the opposite (James 1:13). They don’t know their God as Healer or Provider, or in any other of the ways He manifests Himself to them. Truly, God’s people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge about Him (Hos. 4:6).

Much of the blame for this falls on the church. The Bible says in Romans 10:17,

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

The church, as a whole, has proclaimed that Jesus died for us to keep us from going to hell. Now, that’s true and quite a benefit. If that’s all there was to salvation, that’s more than we deserve. I would preach that message if that was all there was, but that’s not what the Scripture teaches.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

That verse specifically says the goal of salvation is “everlasting life.” And everlasting life was defined by Jesus in John 17:3, which says,

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

Knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ is eternal life. That doesn’t start when we go to heaven. Knowing God (eternal life) is something we can have right now (John 3:36). The word “know” is used in Scripture to describe the relationship between a man and his wife that produces a child (example: Gen. 4:1). It is speaking of intimacy. So “knowing God” is speaking of intimacy with Him.

To receive salvation and then stumble through life without experiencing intimacy with the Lord is to miss or ignore the most important part of what Jesus provided. Let me put it this way: if you received forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus and then continue on without an intimate, personal, close relationship with God, then according to John 3:16, you are missing the real purpose of salvation. This is where the vast majority of Christians live.

People believe they need to get saved because that’s the message they’ve heard. So they get saved and then they get stuck. They aren’t hearing that knowing God is the real goal or that it’s even attainable. They are waiting on the sweet by and by, but struggling in the rough here and now.

Knowing God in the way I’m discussing isn’t even on the radar screen of most Christians. They aren’t pursuing it and they aren’t experiencing it. It begs the question, how do we get started in our pursuit of intimacy with the Lord? We can begin by spending time getting to know Him through His Word.

The Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:3-4,

“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

It’s through the knowledge of God that we are able to receive all things that pertain to life and godliness. He has already given them, but it’s knowing Him that allows us to partake of His divine nature, to receive all His great and precious promises, and to escape the corruption of this world. What a deal! Knowing the Word is knowing God.

This is a topic that may not sound really interesting on the surface, but it is one of the most important messages I teach. If you ever want to fulfill what God has called you to do, you must know Him personally, and I believe this message will make a huge difference in your relationship with the Lord.

The Fear Of The Lord

If I was to quote the part of 1 John 4:18 that says perfect love casts out fear, I imagine I would get a hearty “Amen!” from nearly all of you. But if fear is a bad thing, then what do you do with the 300-plus scriptures that speak of fearing the Lord in a positive way?

For instance, Isaiah 11:1-2 says,

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (underline mine).

This is speaking of Jesus fearing His Father. He certainly didn’t dread His Father, nor was He terrified of His judgment. But He honored, revered, trusted, loved, and submitted to His Father. The early New Testament church walked in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31). That is the positive fear of the Lord that I want to talk to you about.

If it was important for Jesus and the early believers to fear God, then it would be a good idea for us to learn what the fear of the Lord really is. Although I can’t possibly cover that in one short letter, I want to give a few examples and illustrations.

In America today, we see a total disregard for authority. But the fear of the Lord includes respecting authority—from police officers and government officials to pastors and ministers. If people don’t like those in authority, they are being taught to “storm the castle” and overthrow those in power by any means. But that is not what the Word of God teaches, and it is contrary to the fear of the Lord.

Romans 13:1-2 says this:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive themselves damnation.”

That is a powerful passage, and it makes it very clear that God ordained governments and expects us to be subject to them. Government, even bad government, is superior to anarchy.

When the Soviet Union was at its peak, the countries they controlled basically had order. Yes, it was oppressive, there was little opportunity, and there were many injustices, but there was order that helped keep society relatively safe.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was a great vacuum of leadership and authority. In some of the countries that left the union, chaos and anarchy prevailed. The same is true in many of the African countries that were given independence to do with as they chose. In many cases, there were bloodbaths as different factions fought for control. It’s very possible that the “Muslim Spring” we witnessed this last year could have the same results.

Does this mean that communism or a dictatorship is a good form of government? No, but they still have a God-given power to govern, even if their government is not based on the principles of the Word of God.

The same is true in the church:

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).

God calls men and women into roles of leadership. Yet many Christians act like it’s open season on the leaders in the church. They feel free to criticize and speak evil of them behind their backs, spreading strife and discord among the brethren.

James 3:16 says,

“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

This is not the fear of the Lord, and it opens the door to sickness, disease, poverty, divorce, and more.

This doesn’t mean that all pastors or ministers function exactly the way God wants them to. And it doesn’t mean you have to “drink the Kool-Aid,” so to speak, just because they are in leadership. All leaders make mistakes, and there is always room for improvement. But they are still in a place of authority, and honoring them is honoring God.

There is a right way and a wrong way to approach someone in authority with a concern. With your pastor, for example, you might go to him privately and say something like this: “I love you, Pastor, and recognize that God has placed you in authority in this church. However, in good conscience, I cannot support what you are teaching.” If you do that in love, without attacking him, perhaps he will listen to your concerns. If not, then simply leave quietly without criticizing him to others on your way out. That’s what the disciples did with the religious authority over them (Acts 4:1-33). That is a godly attitude, and it is operating in the fear of the Lord.

Here is another example that might surprise you. Romans 13:7-8 says,

“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”

Verse 7 is often used to talk about staying out of debt and paying one’s bills, but in context, this is talking about paying taxes. People who won’t pay their taxes are people who don’t fear God and aren’t honoring God.

I have been writing about honoring those in authority as part of the fear of the Lord. However, that does not mean that you should compromise your beliefs or submit to something that is wrong. Proverbs 29:25 says that “the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.”

This scripture is speaking of being “afraid” of man. When we fear man more than we reverence or honor God and His Word, we do not fear the Lord. When a ministry is threatened with the loss of its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status because of its stand on a social issue, what will it do? Paul didn’t have a tax-exempt organization, and God used him to change the world.

One of our Charis Bible College (CBC) graduates who started a ministry here in Colorado Springs recently faced a very similar issue. This organization provides homes for women while they are going through rehabilitation from addictions and abuse. The women are required to attend Bible studies as part of the program. The spiritual impact of this is so great that their success rate has been nearly 80 percent, far above any government program.

They received a total of $50,000 a year from HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development), a branch of the federal government, to help fund the housing costs for these women. But when HUD found out that Bible studies were required, they asked that the policy be changed, or they would pull the funding. You may have heard about this. It made national news.

But Marilyn Vyzourek, who runs these homes, wouldn’t bow or sell out her convictions for the sake of money. She stood firm and HUD pulled her funding. When I heard about this, I helped, as did many others. Even Glen Beck had Marilyn on his program, and he personally gave her $55,000. Praise the Lord! She is much better off than she was with the government funding. Fearing God pays off.

Honoring God and fearing the Lord more than we fear man can hit pretty close to home. Some won’t speak up at work, because they don’t want to risk any criticism from their fellow employees. People might roll their eyes at them, or maybe they won’t be invited to sit with them at lunch. I am amazed at how people are so often cowed into submission over the smallest of things.

The Lord spoke to me years ago and said, “You do not have the right to reject the Truth for another person.” What that meant to me was that I was afraid to tell some people the Truth because I thought I might offend them. So, rather than speak the Truth and give them the privilege of rejecting the Word for themselves, I rejected it for them. The Lord told me I don’t have that right.

Leviticus 19:17 says, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” That says that if we don’t rebuke our neighbors, if we don’t tell them the truth, we hate them. Or it could be phrased this way: We love ourselves more than we love them, and we’re not willing to suffer even a little rejection for righteousness’ sake. God helps us to fear Him more than man.

Is it more Scriptural to pray for Revival or for the Harvest during these last days?

Author:The Elijah Challenge December 3, 2010 IndiaT

Today in various circles of the American Church there is emphasis on prayer for what is called “revival.” In our 21st Century Church the priority of most Christians is on what God can do for them and their families, and not on what they can do for God in thankfulness for what He has already done for them through His Son Jesus Christ. Most believers are primarily interested in receiving God’s blessing. “Being a blessing” is an afterthought. We might well be the Laodicean Church which was severely rebuked by Jesus Christ in Revelation 3, and therefore we must pray for “revival.”

Our opinion is that prayer to God for the harvest is far more important to God, especially during these last days. As we pray and focus on the harvest, the Lord will revive us and provide for us.

First of all, the Lord never specifically taught us to pray for “revival.” But he did clearly teach us to ask him to send out workers into his harvest field.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:1-2)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

He taught us to pray that his kingdom would come, his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven. In order words, we are to pray that his kingdom would come and be manifest on earth—a clear reference to the appearing of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth at His Second Coming. What must the Church do in order for the end to come?

Matthew 24:3  As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” …14  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Before the end at which Christ returns to reign, we must preach the gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. This must be the Church’s focus during these last days instead of “revival” for ourselves.

But how can we focus on the Great Commission unless we are first revived? That is a reasonable question. But Jesus never told us to pray for revival, he simply taught us to pray for workers to be raised up and sent into his harvest field, and for his kingdom to come on earth. If we obey him and pray in this way, he will be faithful to revive us and send us out. We must stop focusing on our own needs—whether spiritual or otherwise—and instead focus on obeying his commands.

Matthew 6:33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…

…including “our daily bread” and necessities—which come only after “your kingdom come.”

If the Church seeks first his kingdom on earth where his righteousness will reign, God will revive us, raise us up, and send us out to fulfill the Great Commission.

Let us (bury our heads in the sand and) pray

Usually the scripture for the emphasis today on prayer gatherings is taken from the Old Testament.

…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

First of all, this was a prescription for God’s people in the Old Testament—the nation of Israel. Today it is often applied to America by believers who live in the United States.

However, America is definitely not the New Testament equivalent to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Rather, the New Testament equivalent of Israel is the body of believers—the Church of Jesus Christ—found in every nation under heaven. Therefore, echoing our cessationist brethren, 2 Chronicles 7:14 should be considered by us as mere description from the Old Testament, and not prescription for what the New Testament Church should be doing today.

Moreover, it would behoove us New Testament believers—who are not Old Testament believers—to examine the Book of Acts which records the very beginning of the Church which many today would seek to emulate. Note that the title of this book is not “Prayer” but rather “Acts.” It is not the “Book of Prayer” but specifically the “Book of Acts” referring to what the apostles actually did in terms of action following Pentecost. While Acts does indeed record believers praying, it is primarily a record of what the disciples and the early church actually did—most likely after they sought the Lord in prayer. And what did they do? They preached the kingdom of God and spread the Word of God throughout the known world.

What is recorded in Acts from the New Testament is clearly a prescription for what the New Testament Church should be doing today.

Of course we acknowledge that prayer comes first. But prayer is preparation for us to actually EXECUTE and DO what God commands us to do. The disciples in the Upper Room prayed for ten days before the Spirit descended upon them on the day of Pentecost. But after that what they actually did changed the course of Western Civilization. Similarly, if all we do is come together to pray asking God to save America but after that do relatively little in reaching out to the lost with the gospel as did the disciples in Acts, little indeed will happen despite all our prayers. Can we really pray and ask God to save the lost, and after that leave the rest up to Him? Are we entitled to feel that after praying for the lost or for revival of the Church, we have done our duty to God and can go home feeling that we have done His will and have pleased God?

God will not answer such prayers. Let us instead pray as Jesus taught us:

“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)

Only when workers are sent into the harvest field is the gospel preached to the lost and the backslidden restored to the Lord. It is much easier, however, to gather together in our comfortable churches to pray than to go out to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Skipping Church

Author Unknown

More weeks than not, I think about skipping church.

“We could just take this one week off, I tell myself. We’ll be back next week. It’s cold out, anyway.

The author of the book of Hebrews wasn’t dealing with Minnesota winters when he exhorted his readers to keep “assembling together.” If he had to face sub-zero temperatures, he’d totally get why staying home sounds so good.

And anyway, I’m an introvert.

Church can feel exhausting—there are so many people to talk to, so many handshakes and hugs—and much of what happens at Sunday services seems to be designed for people who are naturally more outgoing, spontaneous and emotive than I am. I struggle to truly engage.

My rationalizations may be personal to my experience but I don’t think I’m alone in this ambivalence about showing up on Sunday, especially among people my own age. Millennials self-identify as the least religious generation in American history—yet even among young people who hang onto their faith, it seems like meaningful church involvement is increasingly optional.

And it’s not difficult to argue that that’s perfectly OK. After all, we’ve been saying for years that being a Christian is about “a relationship, not a religion.” Doing faith independently sounds like the natural extension of that principle.

If Christianity isn’t a religion, why do we need organized, religious meetings? If I’m praying, reading the Bible, volunteering in my community, listening to sermon podcasts and maybe even talking about theology with my non-Christian friends, why do I need to supplement that with a religious ritual every Sunday? Aren’t I basically doing all the important parts of church on my own?

Community is essential to Christianity.

It’s that last bit—“on my own”—that is the sticking point because church is about more than doing all these individual acts. It’s about doing them together, in community.

It’s true that our faith is fundamentally based in relationship, but it isn’t just a me-and-Jesus thing. We need other people too, and they need us.

Community is vital not simply because we’re commanded in the New Testament to keep getting together, though we are. That instruction is there for a good reason because we aren’t made to live out our faith independently. We run awry when there is no community to carry our burdens, amplify our joys, call out our nonsense and increase our self-awareness when our own reflection is obscured.

DIY faith can work for a little while, and sometimes unusual circumstances mean it must work for a little while. Still, it isn’t and cannot be a healthy approach to long-term sustenance. Discipleship is not a solo project. Committing to a church and embracing a community that is often weird, helpful, irritating and loving all at once is no magic recipe for spiritual growth, but it is necessary.

Organizing our religion isn’t a bad thing.

One advantage to the modern day wariness of organized religion is that Christians are more willing to be honest about the flaws of the church. Such humility and self-examination is valuable, but it can also be misused as an illegitimate excuse for avoiding church altogether. Yet we don’t have to defend the indefensible in church history or overlook stale and shallow church rituals to embrace the good and needful parts of organized expression of our faith.

Because when you get a bunch of people together for a specific purpose, having organization and even rituals are practical necessities. If we didn’t structure our meetings in a predictable way, community would be stunted at best, because physical proximity isn’t the same as doing things together.

We need some organization, and that’s not a bad thing. Ritual and religious practice can damage relationship, of course, but they can also facilitate it. As Paul argues in I Corinthians 11-12, church gatherings are meant to be orderly so that we can commit to coming together for better and not for worse, to engage in relationships with more spiritual heft and structure than just hanging out.

Commitment can’t be a casual thing.

I keep bringing up commitment because showing up for church—even showing up every Sunday—isn’t the same as committing to a community.

When we commit to a congregation, it should be a substantial relationship, something more demanding than signing on to a Christian-themed social club. As members of a local church, we are asking other people to shape our lives and promising to help shape theirs. We are giving a community permission to hold us accountable, to support us when we are hurting, and ask for our help when it is needed.

This intensity of commitment is a big part of what makes church so difficult. It’s why community is not to be taken lightly, and why finding a new church in a new city can be so daunting. It’s scary because it asks us to give and receive a lot, and to do it in partnership with people who also don’t have everything figured out.

This is a big reason why I think about skipping church so many Sundays—but it’s also an opportunity and why I know skipping is the last thing I should do.

Be On Your Guard

Psalms 39:1

Fellow-pilgrim, do not say in your heart, “I will go here and there, and I will not sin,” for you are never so out of danger of sinning as to boast of security. The road is very muddy; it will be hard to pick your path so as not to soil your garments. This is a dirty world, and you will need to stay alert if you are to keep your hands clean. There is a robber at every turn of the road to rob you of your jewels; there is a temptation in every mercy; there is a snare in every joy; and if you ever reach heaven, it will be a miracle of divine grace to be ascribed entirely to your Father’s power.

Be on your guard. When a man carries fireworks in his hand, he should be careful that he does not go near a candle; and you too must take care that you do not succumb to temptation. Even your everyday activities are sharp-edged tools; you must mind how you handle them.

There is nothing in this world to foster a Christian’s piety, but everything to destroy it. How concerned you should be to look up to God, that He may keep you! Your prayer should be, “Hold me up, and I shall be safe.” Having prayed, you must also watch, guarding every thought, word, and action, with holy jealousy. Do not expose yourselves unnecessarily; but if called to exposure, if you are called to go where the darts are flying, never venture forth without your shield; for if once the devil finds you without your armor, he will rejoice that his hour of triumph is come and will soon make you fall down wounded by his arrows. Although you cannot be killed, you may be wounded.

Be sober-minded; be watchful–danger may befall you at a time when everything seems to be secure. Therefore, pay attention, stay alert, watch and pray. No man ever fell into error through being too watchful. May the Holy Spirit guide us in all our ways, so they shall always please the Lord.

Family Bible reading plan

Proverbs 1

2 Corinthians 13

But as the days of Noah were

Does our wicked generation have any precedent in biblical history? Comparisons with Noah’s day are hard to deny. Judgment is coming—of that we can be sure. How should a believer react?

“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37

Regardless of how one interprets Matthew 24, there’s no doubt that Christ referred to the rebellion and judgment in Noah’s day, which He compared to mankind’s subsequent rebellion and impending judgment. It’s a sober warning for any generation to consider.

In the New Testament we read how Noah responded to the evil of his day: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Noah’s faithfulness in building the Ark and his trust in God give us an example of great faith, showing how his obedience to God actually condemned the rest of the world that had rebelled against their Creator. Noah built the Ark as God commanded, and then by faith he and his family went through the door of the Ark so they could be saved from the watery judgment.

This can be seen as a picture of salvation—just as Noah and his family went through the door, so too we need to go through a “door” to be saved. Jesus said, “‘I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture’” (John 10:9).

As we look at our Western culture today, I believe in many ways what we see reminds us of the days of Noah.1 “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

Think about what we observe today in our Western culture:

Wickedness is increasing as people become more and more self-centered and walk away from the things of God.

Evil is spreading in hearts as more and more people abandon the originally created purpose and meaning of marriage and support the abomination of homosexual behavior.

Millions of human beings are slaughtered in their mothers’ wombs—and it is legal. In America alone, since 1973, around 56 million children have been killed by abortion—making Germany’s Holocaust pale in comparison.

People increasingly worship nature rather than the God who created the world. For instance, in Colorado, USA, after an elk was shot early in 2013, people gathered together for a vigil for the elk—even holding hands and singing “Amazing Grace” in a eulogy for it. Yet on the same day in the USA, nearly 4,000 children were murdered in their mothers’ wombs—and those at the elk vigil seemed to ignore this.

We see increasing aggressiveness from the atheists as they mock Christians and try to demonize and marginalize those who adhere to the Christian faith.

People in churches, including many church leaders, are compromising God’s Word in many ways and watering down the teaching of its authority.

The Bible, prayer, creation, and the Creator God are almost totally eliminated from the government education systems.

More and more legislation protects the teaching of the anti-God religion of evolution/millions of years in schools.

The list goes on and on—truly we are in a time of great wickedness. Thankfully God is longsuffering, as we read in 2 Peter: “The Lord . . . is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But He is not going to stay silent forever. As in the days of Noah, the time will come when God closes the door of salvation and brings judgment to deal with mankind’s rebellion.

Judgment Already

In some ways, God is already judging our Western culture. For instance, Romans 1:24–26 makes it obvious that a sign God is turning a culture over to judgment is open homosexual behavior. We live in a time when the homosexual agenda has become epidemic across our Western nations. God is withdrawing the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit on these rebellious cultures, including the USA.

Romans 1 also tells us that in a culture that is rebelling against God we will see those who actively “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) and “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things . . . ; who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:23–25).

In fact, Romans 1 increasingly can be seen as a description of our world—a world that is becoming more like Noah’s generation every day.

Our Response

And just as God had Noah build an Ark that warned people of coming judgment and the grace of God in providing an Ark of salvation, we need to warn people of coming judgment (the final judgment by fire) and let them know that God has provided an “Ark” of salvation. (The Lord Jesus Christ is our “Ark” of salvation—He is the “door” through which we go to be saved.)

None of us knows when the return of Christ will be. After all, we are told in God’s Word in the context of this Second Coming and final judgment, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us” (2 Peter 3:8–9).

So there is no time to delay. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to warn people now.

Jesus Didn’t Die for Our Preferences

By Pastor Tyler Chroniger

There is an on‐going problem in a lot of churches. This might come as a shock to you—or maybe you have not even considered that this is a real thing. Let me provide an example for context. You go to a church business meeting or even a conference business meeting. In that meeting, someone has a “great” idea to change the way things are done. Maybe the organization of committees is “muddy.” Maybe some fundraising effort “needs” to happen. Maybe the “vision” is presented to move the church to a more appropriate neighborhood. Maybe the color of the carpet in the church needs to be changed. Whatever the case may be, what usually happens in these circumstances are arguments and division.

Let me pose this question to you. Did Jesus really die for these things? Did Jesus die for us to argue over budgets, organizational structure, or even carpet color? The answer is an empathic NO!

Clearly, most of us, during this season of the year, take a step back and reflect on what Jesus did on the cross. Our eyes are fixed on His sacrifice and the complete work.

The problem is that come the day after Easter we step back into our routines and get comfortable again. We focus on what is best for us and when someone interferes with that, we get mad.

We try to be open‐minded for new ideas—or at least we say we will. However, when they are presented, we complain and argue against them. What changed? What happened? Jesus didn’t die for our preferences.

When everyone takes it upon themselves to stay focused on the cross of Christ, things change. You grow. You become more and more like Christ. You stop worrying about whether your needs are being met or whether the carpet color really matters. You stop looking at the way things conflict with what you desire. You relax. You realize that preferences don’t really matter.

What matters is the will of God. What matters is our desire to become more and more like Christ. What matters is that we grow and change into better versions of ourselves. What matters is what Paul says in just about every letter he wrote in the New Testament: “Everything I do, I do for Christ.” This concept is flowing through his letters.

There is a difference between thinking we are doing something for Christ and doing something for Christ. Most of our arguments come from the fact that we think we are doing something for Christ. We think we are protecting something that simply doesn’t matter. We think we need to because it is righteous and honorable. Let me challenge that by saying that it doesn’t matter.

Our goal for ourselves should be growth—becoming more and more like Christ. If we aren’t growing, then what’s the point? What’s the point in going to church? What’s the point in reading our Bibles or praying?

The goal is growth to become more and more like Jesus. When we grow, things don’t matter. When we grow, people around us grow. When we grow, we change our narrow focus on the “stuff” to the big things God wants to do in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in our local and global body of believers. God wants His will to be done.

So while it is Easter time and we start to reflect again on Jesus, don’t let it stop there. Evaluate yourself: Does what I do measure up with what God wants to be done? Get to know Him more through worship, praise, petition, intercession, and whatever else you can think of. The more you lean into Jesus, the more you will grow. The more you learn from the Master the more you will grow. The more you meditate on Him the more you will grow. The more you let go and let God, the more your focus becomes not on preferences, but on His work, and what He can do through you.

By Pastor Tyler Chroniger  

Sometimes we need a Miracle

Are you living with an impossibility? An insurmountable challenge that you’re powerless to change? Maybe it’s a grown child straying in the wrong direction. Maybe it’s your marriage or chronic pain or perhaps a wall you’ve slammed into with your career. Whatever it is, you’ve run out of options. No pastor, no professional, no friend—not even you, yourself—can bring the change that’s needed. You’re stuck.

Am I describing your life? If so, I’ve got great news: We are all faced with a series of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.

On earth, Jesus performed miracles that proved what Scripture says: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). John records seven that perfectly illustrate Jesus’ astonishing power . . . so that YOU might believe (John 20:31). Jesus demonstrated His power over:

  1. Quality—John chapter 2, Jesus turns water into wedding wine. When the master of ceremonies tastes it, he says the bridegroom saved the best for last.
  2. Distance—chapter 4, Jesus heals a man’s son . . . from five hours away.
  3. Time—chapter 5, Jesus heals a man who had been lame for 38 years.
  4. Quantity—chapter 6, Jesus feeds over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
  5. Nature—chapter 6, Jesus walks on water.
  6. Misfortune—chapter 9, Jesus gives sight to a man born blind.
  7. Death—chapter 11, Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the grave.

Need to turn something ordinary into something of quality? God’s good at that! Got a person you need to reach who’s far away? He has no problem with distance either. Been wrestling with something so long you can’t remember what life was like before? He’s the Master of time. Need an “impossible” provision? He provides more than enough. The laws of physics say your reality can’t be changed? The Creator wrote those laws so He can change them! Limited by a lifelong disability? God will help you through every circumstance. Death itself is no match for Him!

Promises are fulfilled when God says, “Now!” At that point, He turns our impossibilities into great opportunities. I’m not saying to expect a miracle a day. For reasons we don’t know, God does not always intervene. But miracles DO happen! They’re rare and they defy explanation . . . and they’re enough to change your life.