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wHY YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO NEGLECT YOUR CHURCH

Every pastor encounters people who have given up, or are tempted to give up, meeting together with God’s people. At any given time just about every church has some people who are in danger of drifting away, and no longer participating in the life of the church. To do so is to directly disobey Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage warns us not to neglect local church fellowship and participation, and also hints at the reasons we may do so.

Here are two reasons you may be tempted to neglect meeting together with God’s people.

You Forget What You Bring

Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians against leaving local church fellowship, and the verse immediately prior gives the reason. As Christians, we all equally bear the responsibility to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to provoke one another to act in love and we are to provoke one another to promote good works. And the simple fact is that we cannot do these things if we are not together.

There are no superfluous body parts, and there are no superfluous Christians.

In the background of the book of Hebrews is the New Testament teaching that we, as Christians, are like a body—Christ’s body. In Romans 12 Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” In some way God looks upon Christians just like we look upon the many parts of one body—many parts, but one person. In some way God looks upon the local church as many parts but one body. Paul explains the same theme in 1 Corinthians and in both of these passages he draws the same application—that just as each part of the body has an important function, each Christian has an important gift. Just as each part of the body makes the body function well and as a whole, each Christian’s gift is meant to make the church function well and as a whole. There are no superfluous body parts, and there are no superfluous Christians.

When you are tempted to disassociate from the local church, whether permanently or semi-permanently or even for a lazy Sunday where you just can’t be bothered, you have forgotten what you bring to the people of your church. You have neglected to understand or believe that you, yes you!, are a crucial part of the body of Christ. You have a gift to bring, and the church is only complete when you bring it and use it.

God has made you part of the body, and the body needs you to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny them the gifts he has given you—gifts that bring him glory when you use them for the good of others.

You Forget What You Need

If it is true that God has gifted you to be a part of the whole, there is an important implication: God has gifted them as well. You are incomplete without your church. God has not so gifted you of all people that you can thrive and grow without the gifts he has given to others. You are part of the body, but only a small and singular part of it. Unless you can imagine your thumb striking off on its own and building a life for itself, or unless you can imagine your appendix seceding from the body and thriving, you shouldn’t imagine yourself leaving local church fellowship.

In this way neglecting to meet with God’s people is a sign of overwhelming and outrageous pride. You have somehow determined either that the gifts God has given others are of no real consequence to you, or you have determined that you are so gifted that you can happily survive without. The reality, of course, is that God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community. Lone Christians are dead Christians.

God has made you part of a body, and you need the rest of that body to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny yourself the gifts he has given them—gifts that bring him glory when they use them for your good.

In those times where it just seems to hard to be part of a local church, and in those times where neglecting the church seems so attractive, you are forgetting what you bring and what you need. Of course you’ve also neglected to consider how badly you need the preaching of God’s Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the witnessing of baptisms and the other beautifully ordinary means of grace that God dispenses through his gathered church. But first you’ve forgotten that you are part of a body—a body you need, and a body that needs you.

Church, Have it your way?

Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce
Special orders, don’t upset us
All we ask is that you let us serve it your way
Have it your way

Ah a company who cares! Burger King ran this commercial around 1974. Battling McDonald’s with the “Have it your way” campaign in 1973, Burger King put their service in the spotlight with the jingle, “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us.” The campaign increased ad awareness by 50%. The Little King was retired, and “Have it your way” was adapted to target children with ad efforts tagged “All kids are different” and “Pickle-less Nicholas.”

And now…almost 50 years later… we have a church population that wants Church their way! 

There have been differences in worship styles from different denominations as long as I can remember. Different hymns, different clothing styles, different theological emphasis.  But never held hostage by the visitor and membership like today.  Churches are having to rely on gimmicks to appease the crowds.  Coffee bars, rock bands, carefully worded sermons to make people happy. 

1974 was the “coming out” of the “have it your way” cultural revolution, and it is in full swing and hitting us like a tsunami.  People are leaving the church because it does not cater to their desires.

The purpose of Worship is not to attain an emotional high, to placate the flesh, or be entertained. It is not a theater stage for dramatics or performance. The purpose of worship is to honor, glorify, and praise our holy God. John 4:23-24; Mark 7:6-13.

10 Things You Should Know about Missions and the Local Church

10 Things You Should Know about Missions and the Local Church

1. The mission of missions is primarily spiritual.

I hope we can agree that the church should especially care about eternal suffering. The church is that unique gospel community chartered by Jesus Christ himself. Consequently, it should especially labor to fulfill its unique mission to guard the gospel, proclaim the gospel, and disciple those who respond in repentance and faith to the gospel.

God intends not only that his mission would go forward but that it would go forward on his terms.

If our churches fail at that mission, no matter what other good things we do, we will have failed in the unique mandate that Christ has given us as churches. It is good to do other good things, and our churches may make different decisions about engaging in good works and social action. But it is the stewardship of the gospel that remains utterly unique to the Christian church. We must keep first things first. That is the priority of Christian missions.

2. The mission belongs to God, for his glory, on his terms.

God intends not only that his mission would go forward but that it would go forward on his terms. He means to get glory by showing that the mission is his and that his power sustains it. Any effort on our part to change or broaden the mission, or to substitute our ideas for God’s, runs the risk of trying to rob God of his rightful glory. And trying to rob an all-knowing and all-powerful God of the thing he is most passionate about in all the universe is breathtakingly stupid and ultimately pointless. God says:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isa. 48:9–11)

3. Global missions is primarily through the local church.

In one sense the commission to missions was given to every individual Christian. But in another sense, it was given primarily to local churches. Each of us individually is called to obey Christ’s command to make disciples who know and obey his Word. But how does he intend us to do that? His Word is clear—normally we are to pursue obedience, build up disciples, and plant other churches through the local church. The local church makes clear who is and who is not a disciple through baptism and membership in the body (Acts 2:41). The local church is where most discipling naturally takes place (Heb. 10:24–25). The local church sends out missionaries (Acts 13:3) and cares for missionaries after they are sent (Phil. 4:15–163 John 1–8). And healthy, reproducing local churches are normally the aim and end of our missionary effort (Acts 15:41Titus 1:5).

4. The Bible says a lot about how to approach missions.

It would be cruel for God to know what he wants, but then leave us to figure it all out. God would never treat his children that way. Throughout his Word, God has given us a treasury of instructions on the global mission of the church—what it is and how to approach the mission in faithfulness and joyful confidence. We love and honor him not merely by working toward the final goal he’s given—worshipers from every language, tribe, people, and nation—but also by using the means he has decreed. And he has told us that his global mission will advance through holy lives, faithful prayer, gospel proclamation, and healthy reproducing churches.

5. The local church can equip missionaries.

The role of the local church is not merely to assess but also to actively equip missionaries. We may not know a lot about specific cultures, learning languages, or even historical issues that shape a people’s attitudes toward the gospel. But the local church is the perfect place—God’s appointed place—to grow Christian character, encourage general fruitfulness, and transmit sound Bible doctrine. We shouldn’t let a few things we might not know keep us from faithfully and assertively stewarding the responsibility for missions God has given churches. Churches are where faithful missionaries are made. If our churches do a good job in our basic responsibilities, then we have all we need to raise up godly missionaries.

6. The church should support those it sends.

Not only should our churches send missionaries wisely, but we should support them appropriately. And our support for workers should be as ample as God’s Word enjoins. As we commit to send or support missionaries, we should expect our giving to be serious, significant, and sacrificial. Whether we give directly to missionaries or through some cooperative sending agency, our goal should be workers amply supplied so that they lack nothing.

7. The church can care for missionaries by keeping in touch.

The foundation of a congregation’s ability to care for its missionaries is regular communication. We can’t meet needs we don’t know about, and it’s hard to meet pastoral needs if relationships atrophy. Thankfully, it’s probably never been easier to keep up relationships from afar. With email and Skype, there is generally no reason to fall out of touch with workers. But it still takes effort. Busyness, time-zone differences, and sometimes security concerns can push these calls off the agenda. Church leaders should consider setting a regular monthly time when they will call each supported worker. In addition, they might find another member of the church who is willing to keep in regular contact with each missionary and occasionally report back to the congregation.

8. Hospitality goes a long way.

One of the best ways to care for missionaries is literally to do what the Bible says to do: show hospitality to them (3 John 8). I wish biblical application were always this straightforward. Hospitality is important during brief visits, but even more important during the months-long returns most missionaries make from time to time. During those longer visits home, consider what your church can do to offer free housing to the workers you support. Plan and budget ahead for this. And don’t stop with housing. Look for ways to help them be a meaningful part of the congregation. We want our workers to be able to rest, be refreshed, and reconnect with friends and church leaders. They won’t be able to do this if financial concerns force them to live far away with relatives or with another church more willing to provide the housing they need.

9. Short-term help isn’t always helpful.

Supporting workers well also means being sensitive about how, when, and whether to send short-term teams to work with them. It’s worth noting that not all short-term teams are a help. Sending people at the wrong time or with the wrong skills, or just sending the wrong kind of people, will not help your long-term workers. The best way to make sure short-term work is genuinely helpful is to send teams that your overseas workers request. Make it clear to your long-term missionaries that receiving short-term teams is not a condition of your support. Rather, give them the freedom to direct who should come, when they should come, and even if they should come or not. Anything else is likely to lead to short-term projects that serve your own ends, but at the considerable expense to the workers you claim to want to help.

10.  Do it.

What does it mean to be Church?

The mission of the Church in Light of Three Biblical Images

When theologians speak of the “mission of the Church” they usually try to describe what the Church is to do in the particular environment in which it is found. Of course, there are many biblical texts that provide direction for this: the Church is to make disciples by baptizing people from all nations and teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20); the Church is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to all people (Luke 24:47); the Church is to practice justice, mercy, and faith (Matt. 23:23); the Church is to witness for Jesus to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8); and so forth.1 Any concept of mission, however, will be informed by a basic ecclesiology. What does it mean to be “Church” in the first place? I would like to offer a few thoughts on how the question of the Church’s mission might be framed or re-framed in consideration of three prominent biblical images for Church.2

The Church as the Bride of Christ.

In the Gospels, Jesus identifies himself as “the Bridegroom” (Mark 2:19) and in Ephesians, Paul interprets marital relations as “a great mystery” that can be applied to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-33). Likewise, in Revelation, the Church is identified as the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9; 22:17).

What is perhaps most compelling about this image is that it defines the Church in terms of its relationship to Jesus Christ and specifically defines that relationship as an intimate bond of love. The Church, according to this image, consists of those people who are loved by Jesus Christ and who love Jesus Christ in return.

The basic mission of the Church seems to be simply to love Jesus. We must ask what that means and how we do that-and, again, the Bible will give us a lot of help: Jesus says, “Those who love me keep my commandments” (John 14:21). Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” and Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Many other directives can be found regarding how people who love Jesus should act and what they should do.3

The significant point, however, may be that “feeding sheep,” “keeping commandments,” and other such directives are strategic initiatives that flow from a primary mission statement. The basic mission of the bride of Christ is to love the Bridegroom; everything else is just strategy.

I admit now to a level of discomfort with language that seeks to prioritize certain matters over others, indicating that one thing is primary and other things are secondary. Who am I to make such determinations? Well, I would not dare not do so myself, but there was a time when someone came up to Jesus and asked him, “What is the greatest commandment of all?” He did not say, “There are lots of commandments and they are all equally important.” He had a straightforward answer:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.” That is the prime directive. Everything else flows from it, including the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”4 Note also that, in the book of Revelation, the Church at Ephesus gets in trouble not for failing to carry out any specific directive, but for faltering with regard to what appears to have been the primary expectation: “You do not love me as you did at first” (Rev. 2:4).

What this means for our modern context, I think, is that the worship life of the Church is an essential part of its mission. We love our Bridegroom Jesus most obviously when we worship. Whatever else we do “as Church” is to flow out of that worship as an extension of it. We exist as a Church to worship God and love Jesus and one way that we worship God and love Jesus is by living the way that God wants us to live and doing the work that Jesus would have us do.

This understanding of Church and mission is compatible with Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism begins its explanations for each of the Ten Commandments with the words, “we are to fear and love God, so that we . . . .” Thus, Luther treats the ethical life of the Church as an expression of its doxological and liturgical life. Worship is not just conceived of as an occasion for Christian nurture (through Word and Sacrament) but as an essential element of the Church’s raison d’ etre.

It is common for some congregations to identify worship with the internal life of the Church, as opposed to its external life of service to the world. Mission, which is definitively external, is then equated with the latter. One problem with this paradigm is that worship is external as well, for the focus is properly on God, not self. A more biblical model might describe the external mission of the Church as being to love God (through worship) and to love neighbor (through service).

The Church as Branches on a Vine

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” This verse exemplifies but also expands upon an image that is used repeatedly throughout the New Testament, namely the metaphor of “fruit-bearing.” The Bible often describes the work of the Church as being to “bear fruit” (e.g., Matt. 13:23; 21:43). In itself, such a metaphor implies a natural activity, something that one does simply because of what one is-indeed, the fruit that one bears reveals one’s true nature and character (Matt. 7:16-18).

We see some development of this image throughout the canon. In one memorable parable, believers are likened to the soil in which the seed of the Gospel is planted (Mark 4:8). If they are good soil, the plants that take root in them will bear much fruit. But elsewhere the Synoptic Gospels do not allow believers such a generative role: they are not soil, but plants. Still, the bearing of fruit testifies to the quality of these believers: good Christians are like trees that bear good fruit and bad Christians (e.g., false prophets) are like trees that bear bad fruit (Matt. 7:15-20; Matt. 12:33).

In John’s writings, believers receive a further demotion: no longer are they the tree or plant (much less the soil), but only the branches.  In John, disciples are not simply told that they should bear fruit (John 15:8; cf. Luke 3:8) and threatened with what will happen if they don’t (John 15:2, 6; cf. Matt. 7:19; Luke 13:9); they are also assured that if they remain in Christ they will bear fruit, for Christ will produce it within them. Thus, the bearing of fruit testifies more to the quality of Christ than to that of the believers themselves.5

The image of the Church as branches on a vine prompts some re-consideration of the tendency for theologians to equate mission with “what the Church does in the world.” According to the Johannine projection, the essential mission of the Church would be to bear the fruit that Christ produces. This implies an ecclesiology defined more by being than by doing. In a fundamental sense, the Church fulfills its calling and mission simply by being the people whom God creates in Christ.

Another way of putting this would be to say that the Church’s mission is to bear the fruit of Christ’s mission. The Church is the recipient and beneficiary of Christ’s mission and its essential calling is to be the people in whom Christ’s mission is fulfilled. Accordingly, we might begin reflection on “the mission of the Church” by analyzing any number of scriptural texts that define the mission of Christ.

  • According to Matthew 1:21, the mission of Christ is “to save his people from their sins”; the mission of the Church, then, is to be people who are saved from their sins.
  • According to Mark 10:45, the mission of Christ is to serve people and give his life as a ransom for many; the mission of the Church, then, is to be people who are served by Christ and ransomed by the giving of his life.
  • According to Luke 4:18, the mission of Christ is to liberate the oppressed and set captives free; the mission of the Church, then, is to be people who have been liberated and set free.
  • According to John 10:10, the mission of Christ is to bring people to a full recognition and experience of the value of life; the mission of the Church, then, is to be people who fully recognize and experience the value of life.

In every instance (and there could be many more), the first calling of the Church is to be people in whom Christ’s mission is fulfilled. A natural tendency of believers, however, may be to follow the examples of Peter or Martha in viewing themselves primarily as ministers rather than as recipients of ministry. Peter would rather wash his Lord’s feet than allow his Lord to wash him (John 13:6-8).  On the mount of Transfiguration, he feels a need to justify his presence by doing something (indeed by building something) rather than recognizing that he is simply there to experience an epiphany (Mark 9:5-6). Likewise, Martha is distracted by much serving at a time when the only thing necessary is to receive what Christ would offer her (Luke 10:38-42). She misses this essential point: the one she wishes to serve came “not to be served but to serve” (Luke 22:27; cf. Mark 10:45).

The Church as the Body of Christ

Another very prominent image for the Church in the New Testament is that of “the body of Christ.” This is explicated especially in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul uses the metaphor to emphasize the unity of the Church: individual Christians are like the many parts of one body, with Christ as the head, directing them all (see also Ephesians 1:22-23).

This image brings out the dynamic of unity-in-diversity that seems so relevant for the Church in its present context. The many parts of the body are all different from each other, yet all are necessary. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you” and even the members that seem weaker are indispensable (1 Cor. 12:21-22).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that the unity of the Church as the Body of Christ is “not an ideal which we must realize but a reality created by God in Christ in which we are invited to participate.”6 We do not have to strive to become the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We are all part of one body, whether we realize it or not. What happens to one of us affects the whole body, whether we realize it or not. The mission of the Church according to this image is not to achieve unity but to act as the unified entity that it is.

This image implies that the Church embodies Christ’s continuing presence in the world and so acts as Christ in the world. The Church serves and suffers for the world as Christ served and suffered for the world. In many ways, the mission of the Church as the Body of Christ is simply to continue doing what Jesus did.

In this regard, we might note that the primary work of the earthly Jesus according to the Gospels was to proclaim the rule of God. He did this by a) preaching that God’s kingdom was near; b) teaching people the will of God, so that God could rule in their lives; and c) delivering people from disease and demons. Matthew 4:23 offers a convenient summary of these three components of Jesus’ typical ministry. Furthermore, though Jesus encourages his followers to do many things (give alms, pray, love their enemies, etc.), he specifically commissions those who are called apostles to do the same three things mentioned above: preach the kingdom of God, teach people the will of God, and deliver people from disease and demons (see Matthew 10:7-8 and 28:16-20). Those three activities, then, should probably receive special attention in any expression of the Church’s mission, when the latter is conceived as an ongoing expression of the work of Jesus.

The image of the Church as the body of Christ, however, implies something more than imitation. The Church does not simply ask “What would Jesus do?” and then seek to follow his example. Rather, the Church becomes the physical medium through which the risen Lord continues to do what the earthly Jesus did. The risen Lord Jesus Christ acts and speaks through the Church.

This image is compatible with that of the Church as bride of Christ and as branches on a vine, but seems to reference what must be chronologically secondary. The mission of the Church is, first, to be the people in whom Christ’s mission is fulfilled and, then, to be the people through whom Christ’s mission is fulfilled for others. The image of the Church as the body of Christ develops this second aspect of its calling. Thus, with reference to points made above, the mission of the Church might also include:

  • offering people salvation from their sins
  • serving people and testifying to Christ’s ransom for the many
  • liberating the oppressed and setting captives free
  • bringing people to a full recognition and experience of the value of life.

Yet in all of these activities (and many others) the Church functions as the body of Christ, as an agent through which the risen Lord Jesus continues to minister to the world.

Conclusion

The richness of biblical imagery for the Church helps to move theological conceptions of mission beyond pedantic descriptions that focus on delineating appropriate or even necessary activities. As a community of people justified by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), the Church should never be described in terms of its “works.” It is more properly defined with reference to what Christ does. The three images we have examined indicate that the Church is a) those people who have been wed to Christ in a relationship of love; b) those people who are joined to Christ in such a way that the fruit of his ongoing ministry is produced in them; and c) those people who are so closely identified with Christ that they have become the medium through which he continues to minister to others. 

Notably, all three images are intensely relational. Further, the three images describe the Church’s relationship to Christ in terms that are progressively intimate. In the first image (bride to bridegroom), the Church retains a separate identity, choosing freely to respond to Christ’s love. In the second (branches to vine), the Church’s identity is joined to that of Christ, such that the Church is now intrinsically dependent upon Christ in a way that makes “choice” nonsensical (a bride may long for her bridegroom, but branches cannot even survive apart from the vine). With the third image (body to head), the relationship becomes even more intimate in that this intrinsic dependence is now mutual (the head requires a body in a way that a vine does not require branches). With this image, the point is not simply that the Church can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5), but that, normatively, Christ does nothing apart from the Church. The Church is the physical manifestation through which Christ operates in the world.7

With regard to mission, the image of the Church as the bride of Christ suggests that its first and primary calling is to worship God and love Jesus; all activities that the Church’s mission might entail should be construed as expressions of such worship and love. Alternatively, the image of the Church as branches on a vine suggests that its calling is to be the beneficiaries of Christ’s work, the people in whom Christ’s mission is fulfilled; specific activities associated with the Church’s mission should be equated with the expected results of such fulfillment, with the words and deeds of people whose lives are sustained by Christ. Finally, the image of the Church as the body of Christ suggests that its essential mission is to continue the work of Jesus in the world, not simply by doing what he would do, but by actually becoming the people through whom he continues to act; various activities of the Church’s mission should be understood as the works of the risen Lord Jesus, who chooses to manifest his continued presence in this world through his people.

End Notes

1  On the various biblical construals of mission, see David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996); Wayne Stumme, ed., Bible and Mission: Biblical Foundations and Working Models for Congregational Ministry (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986).

2  There are of course many other images: the Church as a family (Matt. 12:50; Rom. 8:29); the Church as a sheepfold (John 10:1-16) or flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2); the Church as a field or building (1 Cor. 3:9); the Church as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21-22) or temple pillar (Rev. 3:12; cf. 1 Tim. 3:15); the Church as lively stones (1 Pet. 2:5); the Church as an assembly of citizens (Eph. 2:19); the Church as adopted children (Rom. 15; Gal. 4:5) and thus heirs (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:7); the Church as salt (Matt. 5:13) or light (Matt. 5:14); the Church as a kingdom or priesthood (1 Pet. 2:4) or both (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10); the Church as a chosen race or holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9); the Church as aliens and exiles (1 Pet. 5:11); the Church as the elect (Matt. 24:22); the Church as a pregnant woman (Rev. 12:1-2); and no doubt many more.

3   For example, we might surmise from 1 Peter 1:8 that the primary mission of the Church is to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” since that, above all, is what people who love Jesus do. Or, we might reason from Luke 16:13 that the primary mission of the Church is to despise (resist and condemn) mammon, since being devoted to mammon is diametrically opposed to loving God. Or, we might conclude from Romans 12:1 that the mission of the Church is fulfilled when its members present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice, since this constitutes a supreme act of love for God (what Paul calls “spiritual worship”).

4  In Mark 12:28-31, the two commands are presented with clear priority for “first” and “second.” In Matthew 22:37-39, this priority is preserved but its significance is lessened by the contention that the second command is “like” the first. In Luke 10:27, any notion of prioritization is removed and the commands are collapsed into a single one. This development within the Synoptic tradition illustrates a consistent perspective that regards love for God as best expressed through love for neighbor, and conversely, regards love for neighbor as best practiced when it is an expression of love for God.

5  We might also consider the Pauline notion of fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in believers (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul explicates such fruit as internal virtues rather than as the external good deeds that seem to interest Matthew (5:16). We cannot be sure what John would identify as the “fruit” that Christ produces in believers-moral virtue, good works, and even doctrinal purity are all possibilities and, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

6.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954), p. 30.

7.Of course, these are only images and can not be pressed too far. We know that Christ has an existence apart from the Church, as a part of the Triune Godhead manifest specifically through the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. Nevertheless, the imagery of the body of Christ does convey a certain intention of Christ to depend upon the Church to do his work on earth, just as the Church must depend upon Christ for its sustenance and viability.

The absence of discernment

When people ask me, “What’s the biggest problem in the church?”  I always say the same thing:  The absence of discernment.  That is the biggest problem in the church because if you can’t discern the truth with the Word of God in your hand, with the Bible in your hand, if you can’t discern the truth, you can die of 1,000 heresies.  It’s like having spiritual AIDS.  People who have a deficient immune system can die of 1,000 illnesses.  The church can die of 1,000 heresies if it can’t exercise discernment.  This is always the issue.

And part of the responsibility of ministry is the positive side to instruct with great patience, as Paul said to Timothy.  But the other side is to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, and use the Word of God to do that.  And to exercise discernment is at the very heart of Christian living because Christian living is a reflection of Christian thinking, and Christian thinking must be attached to sound doctrine, and that’s where discernment begins.

It is very evident that a massive part of professing Christianity lacks discernment.  And so the effort is to help you to be discerning.  We know there are people who are deceivers, and they know they’re deceivers.  They’re false teachers, and they know they’re false teachers.  They’re in it for the money, and they know they’re in it for the money.

We also know there are people caught up in the movement who are deceived and may not know they are deceived.  They are brands that need to be snatched from the burning, to borrow the words from Jude.  There are leaders who need to be confronted and exposed, and there are unwitting leaders who need to be helped and encouraged and know the truth.

We want to be like the noble Bereans.  We want to search the Scripture and see if these things are so, measuring everything against the Word of God.  And as I said a minute ago, you really are the chosen.  You have a special call for this Time.  This has never happened to my knowledge in the church in my lifetime, where people have come together to think about this issue.

How big is it?   It’s a massive issue. 

So what we want to do in these days together, and to do it faithfully, and to do it lovingly, and to do it compassionately, but to do it in a very straightforward way, is to help you see the issues for what they are and be discerning.  And you then become a force of folks who can help other people to see the light.

I want you to open your Bible to Leviticus chapter 10.  It is in Leviticus 10 that we find the portion of Scripture which is the source for the title of the conference, “Strange Fire.”  The highest duty and the highest privilege, the most essential behavior, and the supreme responsibility for humanity is to worship God.  Let me say that again because you may have been distracted in turning to your passage.  The highest duty and privilege, the most essential behavior, and the supreme responsibility for humanity is to worship God. 

The Father seeks true worshipers.  Believers in the gospel, in the Lord Jesus Christ, are those true worshipers.  This is, then, our eternal duty, and privilege, and priority.  In fact, any glimpse into heaven in the book of Revelation will reveal that all who are there, both saints and angels, are glorifying God, giving Him honor.  The most serious activity anyone will ever do is worship.  The most serious activity anyone will ever do is worship.  

And not only in heaven, but even on earth.  When you come together and you say it is for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just pronounced upon yourself an urgency, and a severity, and a seriousness in the very activity in which you engage.  Nothing is more serious than worship.  I’m afraid in our culture, worship has become frivolous, superficial, shallow, trivialized.

This is the most serious activity anyone will ever do, worship God.  We are called to worship in spirit.  That means with our emotions and with our human faculties.  But we also are to worship in truth, and that is according to revealed Scripture.  We are to worship with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  We are to worship in love, because we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The whole being, everything we are, is to be wrapped up in loving worship of God according to His revealed truth.

God established worship in Israel right here in the book of Leviticus.  The early leaders of worship who came before God on behalf of the people were priests.  And it really officially started with Aaron in the economy of Israel.  Aaron is first called in Exodus chapter 29.  He is consecrated in Leviticus chapter 8.  And he is going to be the head of a priestly family, and they will have the responsibility of being the worship leaders for God’s people. 

In chapter 9 of Leviticus, Aaron offers a sacrifice for the people to God according to God’s prescription.  Aaron was told that God would respond positively when he offered that sacrifice according to the mandate that God had given.  In Leviticus 9:6, “Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the Lord has commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.’  Moses then said to Aaron, ‘Come near to the altar, offer your sin offering, your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the Lord has commanded.’ ”  God had given command and Aaron was to follow that command and make that offering.  And if he did it according to the plan that God had revealed, the glory of the Lord would appear as a response.

If you drop down to verse 22 of that same chapter, “Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, blessed them, stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.  Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting.  When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.  Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” 

Aaron did what he was told and what God promised happened.  If he did what God told him to do in the offering of the sacrifice, the glory of God would appear.  He did that, “the glory of the Lord – ” verse 23 “ – appeared to all the people.”  And then God Himself sent down fire to consume the sacrifice because God was pleased with that sacrifice.

That brings us to chapter 10.  “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.  And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.  Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people, I will be honored.” ’  So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.”

He had just seen his two sons incinerated.  “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the Lord spoke saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people, I will be honored.” ’  Moses also called to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’  So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said.  Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so you will not die and he will not become wrathful against all the congregation.  But your kinsmen, and the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the Lord has brought about.”  Called to national mourning over this.  “You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent meeting or you will die; – ” the tabernacle, “ – for the Lord’s anointing oil is upon you.’  So they did according to the word of Moses.”

Aaron was obedient and God consumed the sacrifice.  His two sons were disobedient, and God consumed them.  I don’t want to go into all the detail of this.  Suffice it to say that when you come before the Lord, you better honor the Lord.  You better come in a way that is consistent with His will and revelation.  This is what it means to worship in truth.

Now the sons of Aaron were very honored men, very respected men.  They were priests of the one true God.  The oldest was right in line for the high priest’s responsibility, next in line.  Moses was their uncle.  Their names headed the list of nobles of Israel in Exodus 24.  They were very respected men.  Apart from Abraham and Moses, they are the only ones named in Scripture the first time Scripture refers to the leaders of Israel.  They were really – apart from Aaron and Moses, I mean – they were the only ones named, these two sons, when the first list of the leaders of Israel were named.  And that’s in Numbers and that was really the Sanhedrin, the first 70 elders.  They were not sinister.  They were not wicked.  They were not usurpers.  They were honored men.

With the 70, they were given the privilege of coming up Sinai part way to watch from a distance as God spoke with Moses.  That is a great privilege because the people were not allowed to go near the mountain, even the animals were not allowed to go near the mountain, according to Exodus chapter 19.  Everybody was to stay very, very far away.  People off in the desert watching the fire and smoke on the mountain while Nadab and Abihu were invited to come up.  And according to Exodus 24, they saw God and they ate and drank.  Privileged men, closer to God than anyone else.  Only Moses would be considered closer.  They seemed so secure, so secure.

And then it happened, verse 2, “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”  Moses said, “Because they had come before Him in an unholy way and offered strange fire.”  We don’t know what the strange fire is particularly.  I think the best assumption that it’s fire from another source than the required brazen altar which God Himself from heaven had ignited.  They were to take their fire from the brazen altar which God had personally lit in some supernatural way.  Obviously, they brought fire from some other place, some other source.  It might seem like a minor matter.  It might seem to the carnal, casual, self-indulgent, flippant generation like ours that this is really a severe overreaction.  Well, why does God care where the fire came from?  Isn’t that a minor detail?

The same fire that ignited the sacrifice in 9:24, torched them in the 10th chapter.  This is sobering and this is terrifying.  It’s reminiscent of God killing Ananias and Sapphira in front of the congregation in Acts 5 because they lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money they got when they sold their property.  That also might seem to a casual, carnal culture a little overreaction, or a great overreaction.  But let me just make it simple for you.  The most serious crimes against God occur in corrupt worship.  The most serious signs, the most serious crimes, rather, against God occur in corrupt worship.

Turn, if you will, just for a minute back to the 32nd chapter of Exodus, Exodus chapter 32.  I have so many things to say, we’re going to ramp up and go a little fast here.  But I know you remember the story of Exodus chapter 32 because it’s the story of the golden calf.  Verse 4 of that chapter, this is Aaron now who has led this. 

“He took from their hand, and fashioned with a graving tool and made into a molten calf; – ” all the gold the people had brought “ – and they said, ‘This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ”  The golden calf was a false representation of the true God.  And the people, as it tells us in verse 6, “rose up, offered burnt offerings, peace offerings; sat down to eat and drink, rose up to play.”  They were worshiping the true God in a false form, transforming the glory of God into a blasphemous misrepresentation and image.

And you know how the story went.  It was a disaster for them.  There was a massive slaughter.  People were killed on the spot.  Brother rose up against brother with a sword and hacked his own family member to death, carrying out the mandate of God to punish the worshipers who had corrupted worship.

I just want to repeat that again.  The most serious crimes ever committed against God are committed in corrupt worship.  That takes us to the point where we need to say the modern movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship.  It dishonors the Father.  It dishonors the Son.  But most specifically, it dishonors the Holy Spirit.  Irreverent ideas, irreverent actions, untrue beliefs, false claims, false promises, fleshly behaviors, all these things are attributed to the Holy Spirit, but they are a dishonor to Him that they would even be identified with His name.  It’s more strange fire and the sad thing is it’s ground for judgment.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the triune God is not to be trifled with.  It is dangerous to all who offer strange fire.  It is dangerous to all who offer corrupt worship.  It is dangerous to declare things that the Holy Spirit has not done, has not said, would not participate in as works of the Holy Spirit.  That is not a small matter.  It is a radical seriousness in dishonoring the Holy Spirit that apparently escapes these people.

It’s a tragic thing.   In some ways it’s so ridiculous you might laugh at it.  It is a tragic and agonizing irony, frankly, that those who claim to be most devoted to the Holy Spirit, those who claim to have a corner on His power, those who claim to be experiencing His presence are following patterns that blaspheme His name, and that are the same as those who are engaged with demons. 

Attributing to the Holy Spirit deeds He did not do, words He did not say, experiences He does not author is a very serious crime, a very serious crime. 

Am I discrediting everyone in the modern church movement?  No.  I think there are people in the movement who desire to worship God in a true way.  They may be caught up in this false worship, as well, because intention is not enough.  The movement itself – listen carefully – offers nothing to true worship.  Can I say that again?  The movement itself has brought us nothing to enrich true worship.

Why do I say that?  Because the new movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity.  It has made no contribution to biblical interpretation.  It has made no contribution to sound doctrine.  We have had an accurate biblical interpretation long before the 21st century started.  We have had strong doctrine long before.  We have had going back in the steady stream of faithful men, all the way to the apostles, a clear stream of truth that gives us a full rich understanding of the Word of God. 

That is why a Christian today can go back and read the apostles, and then go back and read the Reformers, and read the Puritans, and follow the flow of the truth through history, and find richness, and understanding, and clarity on every issue going all the way back.  They didn’t add anything to that.  They brought in chaos, confusion, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding.

Do some in the new church apostacy believe the truth?  They do.  Do some hold a sound theology on some issues?  They do.  But none of those true understandings have come to them through that movement.  The true understandings have always been there in the long line of godly preachers and teachers that God has used to keep the truth and to keep the church on track.  The movement adds nothing to that.  It detracts and it confuses.  It is not a source for any advancement of our understanding of Scripture or sound doctrine.

What is the Mission of the Church?

The church is a creation of God (Acts 20:281 Corinthians 3:91715:9), founded and owned by Jesus Christ—“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)—and directed and energized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:1712:5–27Romans 12:4–5). Therefore, it is the church’s joy to look to God to explain His design for the church and His mission for it. God’s mission for the church proves to have several parts.

1. The mission of the church is to make disciples. Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He commissioned His disciples this way: “Going into all the world, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you” (literal translation of Matthew 28:19–20a). A disciple is a follower, someone who attaches himself to his leader. Therefore, we reason, Jesus sent the church on its mission to acquaint people in every place with Himself. As the church makes disciples, people can admire, worship, trust, follow, and obey Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The church’s members, having become enamored of Jesus Christ, assemble around Him as Master, Leader, Savior, and Friend. Our joyful mission is to put Him on display to every nation.

2. The mission of the church is to glorify Christ. Paul wrote, “In Christ we were also chosen … in order that we … might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). Part of God’s purpose for the church is to exalt Jesus Christ by the way that the church lives and by what it does. Christ designed His church to represent His supernatural, life-saving work to the world. In His church, Christ shows to the world what a freed and forgiven people can be—people who are satisfied with God as the result of Christ’s joyful, triumphant self-sacrifice. He has planned the church’s values to be His values. He expects its lifestyle to reflect His character (2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1Ephesians 5:23–32Colossians 1:13181 Timothy 3:15). As the moon reflects the sun, so the church is to reflect the glory of God to a dark world.

3. The mission of the church is to build up the saints. The church is to encourage and comfort its individual members (1 Thessalonians 5:112 Corinthians 13:11). “There should be no division in the body, but . . . its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25). Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and the church is likened to a building “joined together and [rising] to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22; see also 4:4–25). Jesus Christ designed His Church to showcase God’s family on earth, so that the pagan world can see how God builds His family around Jesus Christ and how that family cares for one another (see Mark 3:35 and John 13:35).

The mission of the church is to know and love Christ so supremely as to represent Him and His values accurately and vividly to the world and serve people’s deepest needs in the way Christ Himself would meet them. As W. C. Robinson says in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the sun about which the whole mission of the church revolves. Public worship is the encounter of the risen Redeemer with His people; evangelism is calling men to the Savior; publishing the law of God is proclaiming His lordship; Christian nurture is feeding His lambs and disciplining His flock; ministering to the needs of men is continuing the work of the Great Physician.” The church’s mission is to present Jesus Christ to the world, while He presents to the same world His rescuing work in and through His church.

Spiritual Vision

Spiritual Vision :: By Grant Phillips

Published by RRadmin7  Grant Phillips

If we were to take a spiritual eye exam, what would the Great Physician tell us of our vision? Would we need spiritual glasses to improve our vision at a distance or close up, or is our spiritual vision at 20/20?

Most of the world has a severe problem seeing at a distance … spiritually. They are spiritually nearsighted, in other words. What I mean by that is that there is little thought given to our eternal state, the far-off factor. We are only interested in what is happening in our lives today. The future can take care of itself … so we think.

Only the wise realize there is an eternal state determined for every soul, and that eternal state may not be as far away as we think. It could be just around the corner. It could be today. The gamblers will take a chance. The wise will deal with it now.

Even Christians, true born-again Christians, may need their spiritual vision corrected. For example, some Christians want nothing to do with prophecy, even though about 30% of the Bible is prophecy. Others may concentrate only on prophecy and ignore the “Go ye therefore” command of our Lord.

Jesus expects His followers to feed on all of His Word (100%), not just the portion we choose. God’s Word, the Bible, is not a buffet where we just pick and choose what appeals to us. For our spiritual vision to be 20/20, we need to see well at a distance and also close up.

Going back to the eternal thought, consider that the Bible, in the King James Translation (KJV), uses the words eternal or everlasting a total of 144 times. Eternal and everlasting both come from the Greek word aionios. The definition of aionios is:

  1. without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be
  2. without beginning
  3. without end, never to cease, everlasting

Since only God is “without beginning,” numbers one and two cannot apply to anyone other than God. Therefore, only number three concerns mankind.

Every person born will spend eternity in one of two places after the physical life ends, either Heaven or Hell. Due to that Biblical fact, eternity (aionios #3 above) should be foremost in all our minds. Unfortunately, and sadly, that is rarely the case.

Those without Christ are nearsighted when it comes to their soul. Their eyes are set on the here and now, and little if any thought is given to eternity. They live like they will never die and have to face their Creator, but none of us are exempt. They shrug God off and give little thought about what awaits them down the road.

The clock ticks as time marches on, but what lies ahead is never brought into focus. Only the present matters. As little children who live from minute to minute, so are those who are only interested in this world and its siren call. What happens at the end of life is ignored, “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: …” (Luke 12:20).

The one who has placed his faith in Jesus looks off to eternity, knowing that life is short. He does not play the fool but considers the welfare of his soul. He looks down the corridor of time and knows he needs to secure his place in Heaven now and not depend on tomorrow.

“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’

Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:13-17, NLT).

Many will follow the broad road and never trust Jesus to save them. The future is too far off in the distance to look upon it, and today is just another day of misery in their fallen world. Nothing appeals to them, either in the present or down the road. They just exist.

Only the wise have secured their eternal future by recognizing they are a sinner and asking Jesus for His saving grace. They have everything to look forward to, and they enjoy each day serving their Savior and Lord. They can say with the Apostle Paul, “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live” (Philippians 1:23-24 NLT).

How is our spiritual vision? Are we looking toward eternity, or are we too involved in this world to care? The worldly man mistakenly thinks the man of God must deny all pleasure while in the flesh to reap an everlasting life with God. If they only knew. Actually, the man of God will enjoy this life many times more with Jesus Christ living within him. The Godly man gets the best of both worlds, but the fool just doesn’t see it … until it’s too late.

Following are just a few verses among many that each man, woman, boy and girl need to seriously consider:

“And these shall go away into everlasting [aionios] punishment: but the righteous into life eternal [aionios]” (Matthew 25:46).

If you do not have Jesus in your life, the never-ending punishment of hell awaits you. That can be resolved in an instant by simply recognizing that you are a sinner and need a Savior, and asking Jesus Christ to save you.

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

Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten Son, paid with His blood the price we will never be able to pay. We will not perish if we turn to Him, but instead, we will live forever with Him in Heaven.

“Who shall be punished with everlasting [aionios] destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

To deny Jesus is to spend eternity apart from Him in hell.

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting [aionios] life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

God is love, and He is also holy. No one can enter His presence unless they are 100% righteous. In Jesus, we can be just that because He clothes us with HIS righteousness. He will judge sin, but if we belong to Jesus, all of our sins are paid, and we will never be condemned.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal [aionios] life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This last verse is only dark and gloomy for those who refuse to come to Jesus and be saved. However, for those who follow Jesus Christ, there is nothing but joy. This age is quickly coming to an end. In just one heartbeat, we could be standing before Him. Don’t wait.

Grant Phillips

Email: Phillip5769@twc.com

Pre-Rapture Commentary: http://grant-phillips.blogspot.com

RaptureReady: https://www.raptureready.com/featured/phillips/phillips.html

How to find (and fix) your theological blindspots

How to find (and fix) your theological blindspots

WE ALL HOLD SYSTEMS OF THEOLOGY THAT ARE PRONE TO PARTICULAR DOCTRINAL DEFICIENCIES.

By  Juan R. Sanchez • June 12, 2020

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at LifeWay Voices. 

Imagine for a moment that your church is looking for a pastor. After carefully and prayerfully working through the process, the search team presents its candidate to the church. “He is eloquent in speech, competent in the Scriptures, educated in the way of the Lord, passionate in spirit, and accurate in the way he speaks and teaches all things concerning Jesus.” Too good to be true? Perhaps. But that is precisely how Luke describes Apollos in Acts 18:24-25.

Apollos had a blind spot

While Apollos sounds like the perfect pastoral candidate, there is one problem. He has one glaring deficiency, except he can’t see it. That’s what we call a blind spot. Apollos only knew the baptism of John the Baptist (Acts 18:25). John’s baptism was a preparatory baptism. He called all Israel to repent from their sins and receive forgiveness in order to prepare for the coming Messiah. John baptized with water, but the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). More than likely, Apollos had received John’s baptism and led others to receive it as well, since that’s all he knew.

There’s lots to unpack, and even debate, in what it means that Apollos only knew John’s baptism, but let’s not lose sight of Luke’s point. It is crystal clear: It’s not enough to be an eloquent, competent, educated, passionate, and accurate teacher. 

To be useful in ministry, the gospel we share must be complete. Gifted teachers may wow and win audiences, but because of their theological blind spots, they may also lead them away from Christ and his gospel. Incomplete theological teaching stunts Christian growth, harms spiritual well-being, and, as we see in many cases on social media and in our churches, causes division.

Everyone has blind spots 

Sadly, because of all the media options available to us, we have access to many eloquent, competent, educated, passionate teachers who accurately teach the things concerning Jesus but are unaware they possess some theological deficiencies. 

Some emphasize repentance to the neglect of faith and grace, crushing those with tender consciences who think they can never repent enough to be accepted by a holy God. Others stress faith and grace to the exclusion of repentance, leading immature believers to think they can go on living like the world. 

Some exhort you to unhitch the Old Testament from the New, unknowingly giving life to an old heresy condemned long ago. Others actually unhitch the Old Testament from the New, neglecting to preach the Old Testament as Christ and the apostles did. Be vigilant! Just because a Christian teacher has written dozens of books and has tens of thousands of Twitter followers does not mean they are accurate in all areas of theology.

Blind spots are not false teaching

Notice that I am not talking about false teachers. I’m speaking of Christian teachers with theological blind spots. I understand Apollos to have been a Christian teacher. The major clue to his Christian faith is that Aquila and Priscilla did not ask him to be baptized—the public identification of membership in the new covenant community, the community of the Spirit. 

Instead, because they saw him as a Christian, Aquila and Priscilla took him under their wings. Apollos taught the things concerning Jesus accurately (Acts 18:25). Aquila and Priscilla discipled Apollos that he may teach the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).

We have much to learn from Aquila and Priscilla. Because they saw Apollos as a fellow brother in Christ, they didn’t call him out publicly and wave the “heretic” flag. Neither did they gossip to the members of the synagogue about his teaching, calling him a false teacher in order to get him removed. No! Instead, they upheld his dignity, taking him aside privately to disciple him, showing him his theological blind spot.

Of course, we have much to learn from Apollos as well. Because he was eloquent, competent, educated, passionate, and already accurately teaching the things concerning Jesus, he could have brushed Aquila and Priscilla aside. Instead, he humbled himself and received their instruction.

We all have theological blind spots. Just admitting that fact will begin to humble us, I hope. We all hold systems of theology that are prone to particular doctrinal deficiencies. Acknowledging that fact will begin to allow Scripture to reshape our systems wherever necessary, I trust. 

Of course, it’s hard to do that alone, or in an echo chamber. That’s why we need our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree. May we humble ourselves and learn from one another instead of waving the “heretic” or “liberal” or “false-teacher” flags prematurely. If we cry “heretic” every time we meet someone we disagree with, no one will listen when we actually need to warn the church of false teachers.

Like Apollos, we all need brothers and sisters in our lives like Aquila and Priscilla who are more mature in the faith and can expose our theological blind spots.  So, let’s humble ourselves. Let’s lovingly disciple one another, that we may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and be more useful in gospel ministry (Acts 18:27-28).

Contentment

Author unknown

The Key to Contentment: When Your Best Yes Isn’t Enough

I navigated my way out of the clogged grocery store parking lot and was almost free when I noticed his car.

Parked in the far reaches of the lot, it was solitary yet strategic, at rest in the shade of a small tree.

The car had to be nearly as old as I am. It showed. A station wagon sprinkled with scratches and scars, it had stories.

And then I saw him – a man about my dad’s age, slightly disheveled, a little overweight, seated comfortably behind the steering wheel with a neatly folded newspaper in hand, window down. He was reading.

But none of that was worth noticing until I saw his face.

His lips were parted into the faintest smile, his eyes were happy. He looked so comfortable and relaxed. I was captivated.

An old guy. In a crappy car. In the corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot. And he appeared to be so…content.

I measured his posture against my own. My hands gripped the steering wheel a little too tightly, lips pressed together as my mind skipped three stops ahead.

What time is it? Am I running late? These kids are so noisy? Did I tell my girl to pack her ballet things? Did I tell the other to grab her basketball gear? And did I check if either of them listened to me? What am I making for dinner tonight? WHY are these kids so noisy?

Everything about me was a little too tight, tense, terse, racing. For a moment I wanted to trade places with that guy in the clunky car. And I wondered how I got here – envying an old man in the corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot.

But it’s true.

I have no idea what that man’s story was. He could have been procrastinating the real work he should have been doing. He may have escaped the pile of medical bills and withering bank statement waiting for him at home. Maybe he was waiting for his wife to finish the grocery shopping or maybe this was his daily habit, his way of pressing pause. I don’t know. But God used him to paint a picture of contentment in my mind that morning, to whisper quietly in unsuspecting places, capture my all-too-quick and darting gaze and remind me, there are better ways to do this, Katie.

Maybe you need that reminder as well?

I live in a season of busy. As much as I fight the crazy and try to reign in the hustle that frays the edges of our family, as much as I love being home and prefer a slow and quieter family pace, I would be lying if I said this season of life isn’t still busy much of the time. It just is.

I have four kids. We do stuff. They are always hungry. We serve. We like to be with friends and family. It’s busy.

But we choose this quite intentionally. We weigh our crazy carefully and seek the best yes. However, I am learning, that alone may not be enough. I’m still missing something here.

In Philippians Paul writes:

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  (4:12 NLT)

Whatever Paul is talking about here, this “secret of living in every situation” – truly thriving while parked in a quiet corner at Wal-mart or in my full and noisy car taxiing little people to the next stop – hit me with it, Paul. I want this.

But before we crack that open, let me set the stage here. Paul is not writing these words from a parking lot or as a mother weighed down with all of the obligations of a busy household. No, Paul is penning encouragement, dishing out this hope of what he has struggled through and by God’s grace come out on the other side of (because that is what learning mostly looks like, right?), while behind bars. He is incarcerated.

A little perspective is humbling, no?

Thankfully, Paul’s words shine some light as to how he arrived at this “secret of living in every situation”. Here are 4 insights he shares with us.

Eternal mindset

In verse 12 Paul tells us “not that I have attained, or am already perfected;”

This is hope for the rest of us, right? We’re right there with you, Paul.

but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (NKJV)

I love that picture. I’m a work in progress here, but I keep going. Like Peter on the water, when my eyes are on Him I can keep walking because His eyes are on me. Yes.

And then in verse 14 he tells us what he is pressing on for, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)

Paul presses on with eternity in mind. His actions and reactions in the present are not a result of his circumstances, but his eternal perspective.

Pray and give thanks

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:6-7)

My favorite phrase here is “in every situation”This is what intimacy looks like. Sometimes we reserve prayer for the big and heavy things of life, but this verse speaks of more than that. In a busy Wal-Mart parking lot with noisy kids, my petition, my prayer, my thanksgiving, invites His peace.

There is joy here!

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4)

The book of Acts provides us with the account of Paul’s life at this time. Incarcerated for years, held in hopes of a bribe, he had every reason for discontentment and yet he holds a hope that is greater than his present circumstances. It is in that Hope that he finds joy. This is a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5).

The fact that this verse repeats itself is the most gentle wake-up to the tired and rushing amongst us all. Wake up! We have something to rejoice about.

Be careful where you park your mind.

In chapter 4 verse 8 Paul give us the words I feed my kids (and myself) almost daily.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The power of positive thinking has gotten a bad rap and it’s important to note that while Paul is thinking about all of these noble and right and pure things – he’s still in prison. His mindset didn’t change his circumstances, it changed his heart.

Even while employing our best yes, there are seasons of life that are busy and demanding. There are seasons that are lonely and quieter than we wish. There are valleys and mountains, desserts and floods. The fruit grows slow and the daily maintenance can feel grinding. I’m learning this, seeing this, living this.

Paul understood all that, but he fixed his heart, his joy, his contentment on something entirely different than changing seasons and fickle circumstances. He set his heart, found his peace, in the One who is unchanging.

In a parking lot, a loud and crowded car or in prison, He is forever the same. That is where I want to park my heart and mind as well. Choose contentment today. I’m choosing it right along with you.

BE YE SEPARATE

BE YE SEPARATE
2 Corinthians 6:17

17) Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

As Christians we are told by the Bible to live Holy lives that reflect the nature of God. We are to separate ourselves from actions, influences, or people that will hinder our service to God.

Do you understand that as a Christian you are to live differently from those in the world? Sounds simple, but there are a lot of people who think they can get saved and still hang out with the same crowd, they think they can still go to the same places, but you can’t.

The Bible tells Christians to be separate from the world. That means when you get saved you change your life, you change your friends, and you change your hangouts. But, that doesn’t mean you abandon your lost friends. You still talk to your old friends after you get saved, you just change the topic of your conversations. You can still hang out with your old friends, you just change the location. Instead of going out with them, bring them to church with you.

My point is, you don’t abandon sinners, but you don’t join them either. As a Christian, you are to bring them up to your level, not let them bring you down to theirs.  Eccl. 4:9-12

A Christian is directed by God’s word to apply the biblical principles of separation and avoid a few things:

1) We are to steer clear of anything that goes against biblical standards.

If the Bible  said it was a sin 2000 years ago, then it’s still a sin today, the Bible does not change to fit the changing culture.

2) Avoid any association that will hinder your spiritual life:

Teenagers, that means if your boyfriend or girlfriend won’t come to church with you, then find you a new one, one that will. Not only boyfriends and girlfriends, but any of your friends.

2 Corinthians 6:14, 16

14) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?

16) And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

3) Avoid any situation that you are unsure of:

There are some sins that are plainly spelled out in the bible, and then there are sins that are your own personal convictions. If you have your doubts as to whether or not something is a sin, then for you it is a sin. Because God’s word says in Romans 14:23 that… for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. In other words if you aren’t sure if it’s a sin, then for you it is a sin.

4) Just do the right thing:

James 4:17 says

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

When you know it’s the right thing to do, then do it. If not then it’s a sin

If you are not living a life separate from the world, then how does the world know you’re different? If you can still go out and commit the same sins as before you were saved, then I hate to tell you, you didn’t get saved.

I’m not saying a Christian is never going to sin, God saved my soul, but I still live in the flesh, anyone who says that they never sin is calling God a liar, according 1 John 1:10 –

10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

But I’m not talking about the slip-ups, I’m talking about when we intentionally sin.

Ephesians 4:30 tells us that we are sealed unto the day of redemption, meaning that God saves you once and then you’re saved forever, but there are some who want to twist this verse to excuse their sinful lifestyle. They think they can go to the altar and say a little prayer, and go out and live any way they want to and still go to heaven, well folks, if that’s how you are living, then you need to come and really get saved.

Paul says in Romans 6:15 that Christians are under grace and no longer under the law, so does that give you the freedom to sin at will? Paul said

God Forbid. Even though Christians are no longer in danger of God’s condemnation, we will still answer to Him for the sins we commit.

Romans 6:12 says we are not to let sin reign in our bodies, there is a big difference in an intentional sin and the daily struggles of the flesh. Paul says in Romans chapter 7, There is none of us who are perfect, and we never will be as long as we’re on this Earth. Even though we aren’t perfect, We are to strive to be perfect. If you think you can have it both ways, you’re wrong.

In Romans 6:16, Paul said that to whom ye yield yourselves to obey, his servants ye are. If you are allowing your life to be controlled by habitual sin, then sin is your master. And Jesus Christ himself said that you can’t serve two masters, you’ll love one and hate the other. Once you accept Christ as your Savior, you’re life will change, you’ll want to separate yourself from the old life you had. Will you completely change right away?

Of course not, but you will change, the Holy Ghost will guide you and when you sin you’ll feel convicted in your heart immediately, and you’ll know you need to repent. But if you can get up from the altar and go right back to the same sinful lifestyle, then you’d better get back to that altar and get right with God.

You may ask, I know I’m saved but I still have a problem with sin in my life, how do I avoid those sins? As a Christian, when you sin, it’s not the spirit that sins but the flesh and Paul said in Galatians 5:16 – 17

16) ..Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17) For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

Some of the lusts of the flesh are

1) Adultery – any sexual contact outside of the bonds of Holy Marriage is a sin. – PERIOD – there’s been alot said to these teenagers about their conduct, about keeping their hands off of each other, well, the same goes for the adults. If you are not married to them, keep your hands off of them.

2) Fornication – any sexual perversions inside of marriage

3) Idolatry – any thing that comes between you and your worship of God is an idol – your job, your family, your favorite football team, ANYTHING

4) Witchcraft – Harry Potter

5) Jealousy

6) Wrath

7) Envy

8) Murder – abortion

9) Hatred – racism

9) Drunkenness

And they which do these things shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.

How do you avoid the lusts of the flesh, by walking in the Spirit. Any sin you commit gives the devil the ammo he needs to shoot your spiritual life down, and the one way to avoid this is to apply the words of Galatians 5:25

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Can you walk in the Spirit and the world too? Not a chance, that’s why we are to be separated from this sinful world. Remember, you can’t serve two masters. Is Jesus your master, or are you a slave to this world and its master? You can’t have it both ways, get off the fence and choose today which master you will serve. Remember the words of Joshua chapter 24, choose ye this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.