Friday, June 30, 2017

Don’t Forget Your Calling

Our American schools are failing badly.  Even those with advanced college degrees find it hard to find employment, because as numerous employers have stated, graduates lack even the most basic skills needed for employment.  Many cannot read or write intelligibly or lack even basic math and arithmetic skills.  Most have only a superficial understanding of basic scientific principles, hardly any have basic critical thinking skills, and many have little or no sense of personal responsibility.  While many complain about immigrants taking away the jobs, many employers have found that those immigrants usually make more satisfactory employees because they have the necessary skills to do the job even though they have far less education.

In an effort to correct the problems, federal and state governments, and numerous educational organizations have developed various programs, including the No Child Left Behind program, Common Core, standardized testing programs and annual teacher and school evaluations.    Schools regularly switch curriculums, in an effort to find a more satisfactory program, and introduce special reading, math or special education programs to help those who are behind catch up.  Kids begin preschool at younger ages and more have college degrees than at any time in history, yet things continue to get worse.  Why?

Over the last few years, our society has changed dramatically, from a society where most people had strong connections to farms and agriculture to a society where a majority live in towns and cities and make their living in other occupations.  We can travel around the world in a matter of hours, and can see what is happening anywhere in the world thanks to satellite communications.  We can talk to people thousands of miles away on cellphones and can make purchases or do research in libraries around the world from our homes thanks to the internet.  Doctors do brain surgery, and open heart surgery on a regular basis, and we are able to locate and extract oil from far below the earth’s surface.  Political systems, moral codes and fashions have all changed.

As a result, our society has largely forgotten the old scientific laws principles in their rush to keep up with the new technologies, fashions and standards.  So called scientific writers state that we have overcome the law of gravity for example, and their statement is accepted without question.  While it is true that we can send a spaceship to other planets, it is because we have a better understanding of the laws of science and can use the principles of gravity in conjunction with other laws to make it happen, not because we have overcome the law of gravity.  Al Gore could predict, incorrectly as it turned out, that the glaciers would all be melted by 2020, because people forgot that as the sea warmed, evaporation would increase,, and increased evaporation would result in cooling the water, and ultimately the atmosphere.  Periods of global warming have been followed by periods of cooling throughout the earth’s existence, as geological and archaeological evidence proves.  Unfortunately people fall for such false claims because they have not learned the basic principles of science. 

Similarly, because we have ignored the basic principles of genetics, we are told that homosexuality is a genetic trait and cannot be helped, and that a transgender man can be a woman even though they are genetically male.  A major newssource recently reported that a man is pregnant.   Checking out the story, it was discovered that in fact, a woman who claims she is a man was having a baby.  Her claims did not change the fact that she is a woman, whether she believes them or not.   The changes in our world are superficial, and have not affected the underlying scientific principles. 

Unfortunately, many in the church have adopted the world’s attitude, and assume the old rules no longer apply.  We need to remember what God said in Malachi 3:5-6.  “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”  If God changed, he would have destroyed al  mankind for their sin, but because he loves us he does not. 

God has not and will not change.  His plans and principles are the same as they were when the world was created.  In Matthew 5:18, Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  Because Jesus Christ does not change we need to make sure we do not follow different teachings according to Hebrews 13:8-9.  “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.  Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines…”

We need to recognize the job we have been given, of telling the world about God’s unchangeable plan, as Paul describes in Ephesians 3:8-11.  “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finding Rest

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus told his disciples, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   This is in direct contradiction with the experience of many, who tell us how hard it is to be a Christian.  They struggle with various sins, and trying to live up to the standard their particular church or group has set, and many live in constant doubt of their salvation.  Some give vast amounts of money to the charitable causes, or devote their life to some ministry, constantly struggling to do more for the Lord.  As a result, many give up after a few years, convinced they will never be able to satisfy God.  They live their Christian life like someone who has a parent or a mate who is very demanding and constantly angry at them. 

There are two things which cause this sense.  The first is that they don’t know the Lord very well, and thus do not understand his love.  The problem is compounded because, as Galatians 5:17 tells us, “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.”  The result is an ongoing conflict and frustration.   Sadly, many church leaders are caught up in the same struggle and are unable to help their people. 

I Corinthians 13:6 tells us charity, or love “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”  Real love is based on accepting the person as they really are, rather than some idealistic picture of them.  Unfortunately some churches present a one or two dimensional God, focusing on one aspect while neglecting other things about him.  Some Focus strictly on his love and Grace, while others focus on his judgment and hatred of sin.  This results in some people having a superficial view of God and his love, leaving them fearful that they cannot measure up to what he expects.  Others are left with the view that nothing really matters, but when they do wrong, their conscience convicts them, leaving them feeling guilty and unlovable.   

Real strong love comes from getting to know a person intimately in a variety of different situations and accepting their actions.  We get to know God by studying the scriptures and seeing how he reacted and what he demanded in different situations throughout the scriptures.  Only as we study all the scriptures can we get a complete and accurate view of what God is really like.  When we neglect any part, our hearers get a superficial and distorted view of God. 

II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  Our spiritual life is directly related to how well we know the Lord.  The more completely we get to know him through the scriptures, the more like him we will become, and the less we will struggle with being what we should be as Christians.  As Galatians 5:16 says, “…Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

It is the Holy Spirit that changes us, making us more like Christ.  It is not the result of our own efforts to love people more, to live a sinless life or to do more for God.  As we get to know him and our love grows, the Holy Spirit causes our attitudes to change, transforming us by giving us a new mind as Romans 12:1-2 describes.  We simply present ourselves as a living sacrifice and allow the Holy Spirit to do what he wants in us.  When we do, the Holy Spirit will produce his fruit in us. As described in Galatians 5:22-24  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” 

Sadly, many Christians are trying to develop these things in their life by their own efforts, resulting in frustration and fear they will not measure up to what God wants.  If, instead, we present our bodies a living sacrifice, obeying what he teaches us, the Holy Spirit will produce them in us, making us like Christ.  When we accepted Christ, we were made alive by the Spirit.  Since that is true, as Galatians 5:25-26 says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.  Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Instead of comparing ourselves to others or competing with them, we need to just let the Holy Spirit have control.  When we do, we will finally learn what Christ meant when he said, “… my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why God’s Plan Matters

As we have already seen, we are only laborers in building the church.  God is both the architect and general contractor.  Our responsibility is to do our job in accordance with his plans, so that the finished construction will be suitable for what it was intended.  When properly done, every part should fit seamlessly together with each part complimenting and blending smoothly, much like a properly designed house.   For example, if the electrician has done his job properly, one should be able to find the light switch when he steps through the door, without having to feel around for several feet or reach around the door.  Such problems arise because the electrician or other laborers did not take time to work with other craftsmen or the builder.

Sadly, in the modern church, there are many who have decided how they want things to be and begun to do their own thing without concern for God wants or has planned.  As a result, we find conflicts between the various aspects of the church.  For example, they may talk about having their sins taken away, while ignoring overt things God has expressly condemned, such as homosexuality or promiscuity, or condemning things he said nothing against, such as using a particular version of scripture. 

In Isaiah 55:9-11, God said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”   God planned the moisture cycle so that water from the ocean would evaporate and be carried overe the dry land where it would condense and fall as rain or snow to water the seeds and plants enabling them to grow and produce fruit.  In a similar fashion, he planned that even seemingly unrelated teachings and actions in the church would work together to make the church grow and productive in a particular manner. 

By cutting down the rainforest, reshaping the surface of the land, or damming the rivers, man can affect where the rain falls, how the water is absorbed, and change the amount of water available to different areas, causing flooding or erosion.  While God knows exactly what the effects of his actions will be, people seldom understand all the consequences until after the action is taken and end up spending a lot of time and energy trying to fix the problems they have caused. 

Through his apostles and prophets, God has given specific instructions as to how things are to be done, as I Corinthians 2:6-16 tells us.  Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.  For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 

We can only begin to understand what God is doing through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and trust that obeying him will produce the proper results.   When we begin to think we know a better way we only demonstrate our own lack of understanding.  I Corinthians 8:2-3 tells us, And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if any man love God, the same is known of him.”  Only those who are obedient to God truly understand him and what he is trying to accomplish as John 14:21 tells us.  “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  

When we don’t obey God’s plan, we cause serious problems in the church.  We condone sin, and cause people to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  We hinder the Holy Spirit by distracting people from what he is teaching them, even turning people away from God’s plan to follow their own ideas, as Jesus described the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13.  “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”  He describes how they were doing these things in Matthew 23, 14-33. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Is There so Much Difference Between Churches?

People trying to find a church are often amazed at the amount of difference between different churches.   Some insist that if the church is not named “The Church of God,” or The Church of Christ,” the church could not be a valid church and should be avoided.  Others insist that only members of their group can go to heaven while others do not believe God would allow anyone to go to hell.   Some enforce strict moral codes while others believe God will forgive all sin.  Some reject any Bible version except the King James as Satanic while others consider the Bible irrelevant to today’s church.   One can find a “church” which believes almost anything he might choose to believe. 

The diversity of beliefs causes a great deal of confusion, and as I Corinthians 14:33 tells us, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”    Ephesians 4:4-6 tells us, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”  Clearly, the conflicts, and much of what is passed off as Christian today is no from God.  Where has it all come from?

I Timothy 4:1-3 warns, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”  Literally, most of the different doctrines are the result of people who have turned away from God’s truth, following false spirits and Satanic doctrines.  Many of them knowingly lie about what their teachings, pretending to be proclaiming the truth. They establish their own moral and ethical codes, and doctrinal beliefs.    

In Matthew 15:7-9, Jesus accused the Jewish leaders of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy by doing the same thing.  “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”  Like many churches today. They made a big show of their love for God while substituting their own human teachings for what God commanded.   In reality they were wasting their efforts because they had replaced God’s commands with their own.   As John 14:23-24 tells us, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.”

The problem is very widespread, affecting every group.  II Peter 2:1-3 warns, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”  Every group has teachers and leaders who try to use their religion for their own benefit, leading people away from God.   Even the early church at Jerusalem had false teachers who tried to change their beliefs, according to Galatians 2:4.  “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:.”  The best way to avoid being caught up in these false teachers is to find a church with a pastor who teaches the Word of God just as it was given.

 Titus 1:7-11 describes the importance of the pastor’s moral and doctrinal position.  “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;  Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.” 

If the pastor does not have the necessary moral and doctrinal standards, he will be unable to stand against the false teachings or sinful practices that false teachers bring into the church, and especially those traditional beliefs that have been widely accepted.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is The Bible Dependable?

II Peter 1:19-21 tells us, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.   For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 

Clearly we can trust what God has said.  Unfortunately, we do not have the original manuscripts of any of the scriptures.  How can we be sure what we know as the scriptures teach the same things as the original manuscripts say?  Other ancient manuscripts emerge occasionally, so how are we to know they are not also part of scripture.  To answer these questions, we will start with some historical information about when and where it was given.  While Bishop Ussher dated the Exodus in 1491 BC, the Biblical record and Archaeological evidence indicate it was nearly two hundred years earlier.  The evidence indicates that all of Genesis, and part of Exodus was written before that time. 

The Old Testament was written over a long period of time.  Contrary to tradition, there is evidence the most of the first five books were not written by Moses, although they may have been compiled in his day.  Several different writing styles are found in in these books, indicating They were written by several writers at various times in history.  The last part of Deuteronomy could not have been written by Moses, as it took place after his death. 

Historical records from Babylon indicate that the book of Daniel was written between about 565 and 495 BC.  Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were all written after Daniel’s day, with Malachi probably being written about 175 BC, or about the time of the Maccabees.  During the same period, the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language, and the Greek version became known as the Septuagint.  Later versions of the Septuagint contain 14 Apocryphal books not found in the earliest Greek or Hebrew manuscripts.  They appear to have been adopted by various Rabbinical counsels and were not accepted by all Jewish scholars or included in many of the later Hebrew manuscripts.

Traditionally we have been taught that the New Testament was written in Greek.  Papias, writing about 90 Ad quoted John as saying Matthew and John were originally written in Hebrew, as was James, by the authors they are named after, before 37 AD.  Mark and Luke were written later, around  45-53 AD, and were probably in Greek to make them readily available to the Gentile Christians as the church spread.  One fragment of the book of mark dates back to that time period, but cannot be proven to be part fo the original document.  Around 70-75 AD, Matthew, John and James were also translated into Greek.  John wrote the Revelation in Greek about 95 AD. 

The scriptures were translate into various local languages, with a complete Latin version appearing around 200 BC, and the Latin Vulgate appearing about 350 AD. The Greek Codex Sinaiaticus and Codex Vaticanus copies of the complete New Testament date from about the same time.  Today about 5800 Greek manuscripts or portions of Greek manuscripts exist along with over 10,000 Latin ones.  In addition, there are about 25,000 manuscripts in almost five hundred other languages.    While some manuscripts contain only a few words, scholars claim the average is nearly 450 hand written pages.  In addition, almost the entire New Testament Text can be found in writings of the early church fathers. 

The differences between those ancient manuscripts and the King James Version are very small.  The codex Sinaiaticus, is the most complete manuscript of the New Testament ever found.  There are only eight places where it differs materially from the King James Bible, The most important, in Matthew 16 leaves out 8 verses.  It appears the eight verses were simply overlooked.  The other differences involve only a verse or a single phrase from a verse.  With the exception of the Apocrypha, studies indicate that the differences between all the manuscripts amount to less than one percent of the whole, and that most of those are considered unviable because they only appear in one or two manuscripts.  Most of the other differences are the result of differences between languages or spelling mistakes. 

In 1453 AD, Constantinople fell and the Greek manuscripts held there became available for the first time since it had been conquered by the Muslim forces.  In 1516 AD, Erasmus completed the Textus Receptus based on eight of those Greek manuscripts.  Wycliffe had completed his English New Testament nearly a hundred years before based on different manuscripts.  The Tyndale and Coverdale versions were based on the Textus Receptus but the King James Version of 1611 was based on those earlier texts but drew heavily on Tyndale and Coverdale’s .translations.  Certain verses in the King James are not found in the Textus Receptus but are found in the Wescot- Hort text.  They are also found in many of the earlier texts.  While quality of translation varies among different modern versions, only a few have been deliberately changed
There are no records of other manuscripts as part of scripture in the early writings of the church fathers, and many contain factual errors or other mistakes that indicate they were not written at the time or by the author they claim to have been written by.  They are not considered part of scripture. 

All the evidence indicates the Bible teaches essentially the same thing as the original manuscripts by the various authors and can be trusted as God’s Word.  .    Perhaps the most important thing is that the church all use the same version during services to avoid confusion, because as I Corinthians 14:33 tells us, “…God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints…”

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Local Church

There is a great deal of confusion about just what is involved in the church.  Many believe in a universal church of which all believers are members.   In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  When the Roman Empire split, with the western Empire centered at Rome and the Eastern Empire centered in Constantinople.  Constantine had made the Catholic or “universal church the official Roman religion, interpreting the verses to mean the church was founded on Peter, and that Peter started the Church at Rome.   Religious centers were established in both Rome and Constantinople. 

Later the Roman Empire became so unwieldy it split, with the Western Empire centered in Rome and the Eastern Empire centered in Constantinople,  Conflicts between the two empires led to conflict between the two religious centers and the formation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern or Greek Orthodox churches.  Based on the belief that possession of the Keys gave Peter the authority to decide who would be saved and that he had been the first Bishop of the church in Rome, The Catholic Church claimed they were the only true church and had received Peter’s authority. 

Centuries later, protests against corruption in the Roman Catholic Church led to the Reformation and the formation of various Protestant churches. While they rejected the Idea that the Bishop of rome, otherwise known as the Pope had the authority to decide who could be saved, they retained the universal church concept.  From the very beginning there had been groups who rejected the Idea that the church was founded on Peter, believing it was founded on Christ instead.  These groups were usually called Anabaptists because they did not believe that being baptized by the Catholic church automatically made one a Christian.  After the Reformation some of the Anabaptists etained their particular doctrinal stances, while others joined with various Protestant groups, adopting some of their doctrines and rejecting others, and leading to wide variety of so-called Christian groups we see today. 

The concept of the universal church is one of the most widely held doctrines and forms the basis for trying to reunite all the churches.  Unfortunately, as we saw in the previous post, doctrinal conflicts hinder true worship of God and need to be corrected so that we can worship in true unity.  In fact, in romans 16:17-18, Paul instructs, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”  Our focus is to be on doing what God said, rather than on getting along with other groups. 

The Greek word translated church is έκκλησία, and means a calling out, a popular meeting or assembly.  Literally, there can be no church which does not assemble together as a body.  As a result many speak of it as a universal invisible church, meeting together spiritually.  In reality, that universal church will only meet together when the Lord returns, and does not exist as a church in this present age.  We are commanded to separate ourselves from those who teach things contrary to what the scriptures teach because as Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” 

Since the word Church means an assembly, for practical purposes, there can only be local churches in the present world, even if people travel half way around the world to attend it unless we have some kind of video conference.  Since that was not possible until just a few years ago, I do not think that is what the scriptures are referring to.  It is significant that the scriptures refer to various locan churches in the following references.  The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house,” in I Corinthians 16:19.  Acts 9:31 says, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”   They were not a single church at that time nor will they be until we meet together with the Lord. 

With this understanding, we need to focus more on developing the local Christians to become the best followers of Christ they can be, rather than on trying to cater to those of differing beliefs in an effort to unite various doctrinal positions into a huge regional church.  We can trust God to unite the various local churches at the proper time in the proper manner.  We need to concentrate on doing our Job and allow God to do his. 

 Far too many have construed Paul’s statement about magnifying his office in Romans 11:13 as referring to trying to expand the ministry.   In fact, the word translated magnify means to honor or esteem the ministry we have as being glorious,  If we consider it such we will have no need to expand it to something larger.  Romans 11:13-14 says, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”  Paul was magnifying or respecting his office by trying to develop Christians who would believe and follow Christ like he did, by just doing the job he had been given.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Unity in the Church

In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  In an effort to show their tolerance and love for others, many churches have focused on building unity among various doctrinal groups.  A church in Farmington, New Mexico will allow anyone who claims to be a Christian to join as a member of whatever group they choose, whether Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, or some other group, with no concern for their differing beliefs.   Various other groups do not even limit themselves to those who claim to be Christians, accepting Moslems, Buddhists, etc., in the belief that understanding and unity is the most important thing. 

In I Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul condemns such practices.  “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.  For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.  For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.  For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.  What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” 

The conflicts or heresies between the different groups prove that some have no real love for God or they would obey him.  Joining together and overlooking those differences weaken the church, leaving people confused about what is needed to serve God, often leading to more conflict over what practices will be used in the church.  It would actually be better for them to go back to their own home church than to try to try to unify despite the differences. 

Acts 15:1-2 describes the first major conflict in the early church.  “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.  When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”   The teachers from Judea were teaching that grace through faith was not enough to save a person, one also had to keep the Law. 

In Galatians 2:4-5 Paul said that these teachers were pretending to be Christians in an effort to gain control of the churches and change their beliefs.  “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. “  The apostles and elders refused to allow them to bring such doctrine into the church even temporarily. 

In Titus 1:7-11, Paul is specific that bishops or pastors and church leaders need to be sound in their doctrine so that they can deal with the various attempts by false teachers to pervert the gospel and lead people away from the truth.  “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.”

 Unity ought to be the byproduct of sound doctrine, not the primary goal.  Good, sound biblical teaching will eliminate the doctrinal disagreements, as people begin to understand what God has said.  To ignore or treat those differences as unimportant implies we really don’t care about God and are only concerned with the emotional high we get from being part of a group.  It is really no different than taking part in a rock concert, a political rally, or some protest movement, and really has nothing to do with God or the Holy Spirit.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Motivating People to Reach Others

In our present world, a great deal of effort is spent on advertising the church in hopes of gaining new members.  Ads appear on television and radio, on billboards and in flyers everywhere.  Visitation programs, revivals and soul winning campaigns and membership drives are promoted to try to draw people to the church.  Every Christian is taught that it is his responsibility to reach out to others. 

Interestingly, Jesus used none of these techniques in spreading the gospel.  In fact he frequently instructed people not to tell anyone about him.  This included the leper who was healed in Matthew 8, the parents of the girl who was restored to life in Luke 8, and the disciples in Matthew 16:20.  His own brothers insisted he needed to do more to publicize himself if he was to gain a following in John 7. People flocked to hear Jesus despite his not trying to publicize himself, when they saw the difference he made in other people’s lives.   Even his enemies could not deny that the changes were real, although they refused to believe on him.   Those who benefitted from his miracles found it almost impossible not to share what he had done. 

In today’s world, almost every grandparent is eager to talk about their wonderful grandchildren and their accomplishments, and teenagers drive their friends to distraction talking about their boyfriend or girlfriend.  Because they love their grandchildren or their boyfriend or girlfriend so much they want everyone to know about them.  Nobody has to tell them to talk about them, but may have to ask them to talk about something else. 

Similarly, if Christians love the Lord and appreciate what he has done for them, they will not need to be instructed to go out witnessing.  Jesus will be the most important subjec6t on their mind and they will naturally talk about him.   If we want to motivate our people to witness, instead of spending time on motivational programs, we need to spend time teaching them who Jesus is and how much he loved them, encouraging them to fall in love with him.  As they do so, witnessing will come as naturally and easily as telling about one’s grandchildren or boyfriend or girlfriend.   It will no longer be a chore or a duty, but a pleasure. 

At the same time, the better they get to know him the more like Christ they will become, according to II Corinthians 3:18.  “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”   As the people see the changes in their lives they will begin to understand That Christ has made a real difference and be drawn to learn more in hopes of seeing similar changes in their own lives.   This will have a far greater impact than any amount of advertising or church building campaigns could ever have. 

This approach has another important effect on the church.  The pastors and teachers will be free to spend the time that otherwise would be spent on motivation on teaching the church instead.  The people will not experience the frustration of hearing similar motivational messages repeatedly, but will be constantly learning and growing closer to Christ and becoming more like him, making them more effective as witnesses. 

It is the method Jesus used, but it also the method Paul used in starting numerous churches.  Initially the results may take a little longer, because it takes time for people to grow, but ultimately, they will be far more productive.   A person may be able to get fruit sooner by grafting and trimming a tree to cause it to become a dwarf, but maximum fruit will result by taking the time to help it grow to full size.     

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Focus on the Basics

Several months ago I read a study of why some churches remained comparatively small while others went on to become mega churches.  They concluded that, in general, smaller church leaders focused on relationships.  Medium sized church leaders tended to focus on programs such as the music program, youth programs, senior programs, etc.  Leaders of large churches tended to focus on organization, much like the leaders of major corporations.   Leaders of small and medium congregations were encouraged to become more focused on building their organization in order to grow their churches. 

Unfortunately, such an approach overlooks the most basic principle of Christianity.  Christianity is about developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.   As the relationship with Christ grows, it begins to affect relationships with one’s family, coworkers, and other Christians.  Without the relationship with Christ, the other relationships are merely human relationships having nothing to do with Christianity.  Even a small church can lose their Christian nature if the focus shifts to other relationships, rather than the relationship with Christ.  Medium and larger churches need to make a special effort to focus on that relationship with Christ if they are to avoid becoming merely a religious business. 

To build a church that is pleasing to God we must start with the understanding that God created mankind and that he loves them as we see in John 3:16-17.  “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.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”  The depth of his love is sown by the fact that his demonstration did not depend on our response to his sacrifice, according to I John 4:10.  “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

The depth of our love for God is based on our understanding of his love for us, as I John 4:19 tells us.  “We love him, because he first loved us.”   Real love requires getting to know even the unpleasant sides of a person.  I Corinthians 13:6 tells us real love “Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”  Infatuation produces an unrealistic picture of a person but real love wants the truth.  We must understand that not only is God a God of love and mercy, he is also a God of justice and wrath, and will not ignore sin.  Ephesians 5:5-6 warns, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”

Only as we understand how much God hates sin can we begin to understand how much he loves us, that he is willing to forgive us and cleanse us from all our sin.  As we begin to appreciate the depth of his love for us, we begin to want to show our love by pleasing him.  In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”    We will begin to focus on what he wants, not to gain his favor, but to show our appreciation.  John 14:24 warns, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.”

Jesus and God will manifest themselves to those who love him in miraculous way, and II Corinthians 3:18 promises that as a result, we will become increasingly like him. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 

Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us.   “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: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

For God’s purpose to be fulfilled, Pastors and teachers will have to help us get a complete understanding of who Christ is and how much he loved us.  They will have to teach about his love, mercy, and grace but also about his judgment and wrath against those who reject him and his standards.  The focus will have to be on building a relationship with Christ rather than on other things.  If we focus on our job of edifying or building the Christians, God will build the church. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Purpose Of The Church

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave what is known as the Great Commission, a brief statement about the purpose of Christians and the church in the world.   “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” 

The word teach in verse 18 is translated from a Greek word meaning to disciple, to cause to become a student, and speaks of winning a person to Christ.   That the KJV translates it “teach is especially significant, indicating that we win people by demonstrating and teaching them certain basic principles and causing them to want to be followers of Christ, not just to avoid eternal damnation.  This is exactly what is indicated in Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Once they have become believers,  we are to baptize, or immerse them in the basic doctrines so that they understand the roles of each member of the trinity in their salvation. 

Finally, we have to go beyond the basic doctrines listed in Hebrews 6:1-2 in our teaching.  “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. “   Only then will the church be fully prepared to fulfil the Great Commission, according to Hebrews 5:12-13.  “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.  For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.”

To enable the church to reach this point, God has provided various positions in the church, as Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us.   “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: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us the teachings of the Apostles and prophets provided the basic foundation for the church, centered around Jesus Christ and his teachings.  “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

Once the doctrinal foundation had been laid, evangelists, or as we call them today, missionaries carried the gospel to peoples who had never heard, laying a foundation for local churches.  Pastors and teachers then build on that foundation, to finish the job.  The goal is to bring every Christian to such a relationship with  Christ that they are fully equipped to live the Christian life and to win and teach others, so that the church is able to edify or grow itself without having to depend on other churches for leadership or support.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Building the Church

In our modern Christian circles we are often told it is our responsibility to build the kingdom.  Christian leaders work constantly to build the biggest ministry or church they possibly can.  We attend seminars and read countless books on how to build the church.  Unfortunately, it seems we have forgotten some very important facts.   

For twenty years, I worked as a plumber.  Time after time I was given a floor plan and the keys to a partially finished house and asked to install the plumbing.  The walls were framed up and the roof trusses were in place.  The plans told me where the various fixtures went  and what kind were to be used.   My job was to install the water, sewer and gas piping in the walls so that everything would work properly when the building was finished.  In the process, I had to be careful not to weaken any of the structural members in an unacceptable manner.    I was only the plumber and could not change the floor plan to make it easier for me, or just put the pipes where I felt like.  I had to do my job according to the builder’s plans.  The same was true for the framing carpenters, the electricians, the roofers, and the drywall installers.    

In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”   Jesus is the builder.  He has given us the keys so that we have access to the kingdom so we can get in to do our job, but he has not given us freedom to change the building, to suit ourselves.  He is depending on us to do our job properly so that everything will work when the job is done.  Unfortunately, many have assumed that his giving us the keys gave us the authority to do whatever we pleased without concern for what he intended. 

Paul used similar imagery in I Corinthians 3:10-15, referring to himself as a master stone worker and concrete worker, who has laid the foundation according to the builders plans.  “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.  For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;  Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.  If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” 

While Paul had laid the foundation, it was crucial that each tradesman who followed him build according to the builders specifications, hot according to their own plans and ideas.  Ultimately, all of the work will be inspected and tested and anything which doesn’t meet the specifications or pass the test will be destroyed, just as any of my plumbing which did not meet the builder’s specifications had to be cut out and replaced.   If we want to be rewarded for our work, we are going to have to follow God’s specifications and plans rather than those of the “experts” who sponsor the seminars or write the books telling us how to build a bigger church.   We must realize he is the builder, not us. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Understanding Prophecy VII

As we have gone through Daniel 11,it has been apparent that various portions of the prophecy refer to different periods in history.  In fact, Daniel 11 has already given us a general outline of history from about 500 BC until the time the Anti-Christ assumes power during the Tribulation period.  As we have seen, some of those prophecies have already been fulfilled, some are in the process of being fulfilled, and others are to be fulfilled in the future.  The remainder of Daniel 11 describes the actions of the Anti-Christ during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation. 

Many other prophecies refer to a single time period or to single region of the world.  By taking time to compare the different prophecies, we can get a better idea of where they fit into the overall picture and how they relate to us.  For example, Matthew 24:1-15 refers to the same period we have looked at in Daniel 11, while Matthew 24:16-31 refers to the Tribulation period itself.  Revelation 2:1-3:22 is devoted to the church age, from the time of the Apostles to the start of the Tribulation.  Revelation 4:1-19:31 primarily details the events during the tribulation period, while Revelation 20:1-4 talks about the Millennial Period and the rest of the book talks about the new earth and the eternal kingdom. 

Many of Isaiah’s prophecies relate to different countries, telling what will happen to them in particular period, while others describe the coming of Christ, or what things will be like during the Millennium.  By taking the time to learn who the prophecies apply to, and when they are to happen, we learn a great deal about what to expect in different situations and can prepare accordingly.

Prophecy makes up about one fourth of the entire Bible, and since all Scripture is from God and has value to us as II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, it is crucial to take the time to understand what those prophecies teach us.  Sadly, many prophets and prophecy teachers have interpreted the prophecies to support and advance their own agenda with little or no concern for whether they are interpreting it properly, depending on people ignorance to allow them to get by with their false interpretations. 

Many teachers use prophecy and fear of the Lord’s return to get people to make professions of faith in Christ.  We need to remember that as Romans 10:17 tells us, “…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Real faith will only come from what God has said, not a human interpretation, and as 1 John 2:21 tells us, “…no lie is of the truth.”  Exciting as the false interpretations may be, they actually prevent people from developing true faith. 

By applying the principles we have learned, we can get an accurate understanding of What God desires us to know, but it will require us to spend the time studying for ourselves rather than simply accepting what others tell us.  In the process, we are very likely to find that some of the things we have been taught are incorrect and need to be changed.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Understanding Prophecy VI

We can be sure of the details of the prophecies that have already taken place, because we see many details that were not included in the prophecy.  Similarly, we can have a pretty clear understanding of the prophecies that are happening around us, such as the Islamic efforts to take over other countries.  As we look into the future, however, we have only the prophecies themselves to base our understanding on.  While we know certain events will happen, we have only limited understanding of the events leading up to them or the exact details of those events.  A detailed understanding will not be possible until we see some of those events unfold. 

Even inspired prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel or Daniel had limited understanding of the prophecies they made as we see in Matthew 13:16-17.  “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.  For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”  While we have a general and in some cases quite detailed outline we do not know everything about what it will be like.  Let’s look at Daniel 11 again for an example.

“He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do: and he shall give him the daughter of women, corrupting her: but she shall not stand on his side, neither be for him.  After this shall he turn his face unto the isles, and shall take many: but a prince for his own behalf shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; without his own reproach he shall cause it to turn upon him.  Then he shall turn his face toward the fort of his own land: but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found.” (Daniel 11:17-19)

As we have already seen, efforts by Islamic forces to take over other countries will lead to a major war involving an alliance of many nations in an effort to limit their aggression, but it is unclear whether the alliance will be one of several already in existence, such as the UN, NATO, the EU, or some completely new alliance that does not yet exist.    Daniel tells us, that whatever alliance this may be will conquer the Middle East and force Israel to accept a treaty they do not want. 

Once the Middle East has been subjugated, the alliance will turn its attention to the islands.  Since most of the world’s islands lie off the coast of Asia, including those of japan, Indonesia, Micronesia, etc. it is probable that they will turn to that region, successfully conquering some of them.   A single nation, possibly China, will stand against them, and decimate their army, and cause the alliance to collapse. 

The collapse of the alliance will result in union of nations to protect themselves, according to Daniel 11:20.  “Then shall stand up in his estate a raiser of taxes in the glory of the kingdom: but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle.”  Their efforts to raise money for a strong government will result in an economic collapse, just as efforts to rebuild countries after a war have caused economic collapse in the past.  Throughout history, such economic collapses have often led to revolution and enabled dictators to take power, and this time will be no different.  

Daniel 11:21-24 describes this.  “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.  And with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant.  And after the league made with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people.  He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers' fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time.”

This final ruler is the one Christians refer to as the Anti-Christ.  Our knowledge of history enables us to understand the prophecies as to how he will come to power, but they do not tell us who he will be or when he will come to power.    When we have spent the time studying the scriptures, and the history, and meditating on them, the Holy Spirit enables us to comprehend some of what the prophecies mean, but that does not mean we will understand every detail.  He does not want us to be distracted by details that are not relevant to our Christian life, but it is critical that Christians know things are going according to God’s plan.  H has given us an overview so that we can understand his plan and have an understanding of what to expect in the future, as it affects our daily Christian lives.  He does not need to constantly give new prophecies to bring us up to date.