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Doug Tweed

GOD’S GOAL FOR US IS THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH

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“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations….” (Romans 1:1-5)

“Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages  but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith –  to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

Paul is the divinely inspired author of thirteen books of the New Testament. Unlike the original Galilean apostles, Paul was chosen as an apostle by Jesus after His resurrection. And unlike the original apostles, Paul was highly educated in the Hebrew scriptures – our Old Testament – and both Hebrew history and Hebrew law. (Acts 5:34, 22:3; Philippians 3:4-6) This, coupled with the direct revelation Paul received from Jesus Christ, empowered him to become our apostolic theologian. (Galatians 1:11-12)

Romans is Paul’s longest and most systematic work – an explanation of the “big picture”, if you will, as to why we needed Jesus, what Jesus has done, and what God expects of us. Both at the beginning and the end of Romans, Paul uses one phrase to describe what God has called him to bring about in all the nations: “the obedience of faith”.

What is the obedience of faith? Modern theologians seem to fall into two camps. 

One group, fearing the error of “cheap grace”, wants to honor the principle of James 2:14-26 that faith without works is dead. True faith will be evidenced by obedience even though it will be flawed obedience due to our imperfect state. 

The other group, fearing the error of legalism, wants to protect the principle of Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace and not by works. The obedience of faith is primarily seen as obeying God’s command to trust what Jesus did on the cross for us. (Romans 10:9-13)

There is some truth in each of these positions, but in my opinion, both fail to capture what Paul really means.

We must first understand that God has always wanted our obedience. The fundamental prayer lesson of Jesus is that we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10) There is no disobedience in heaven!

God is God and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5) Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with scriptures calling for our obedience of God’s commands. (Exodus 19:5-6; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 10:5-6; Hebrews 5:8-10; 1 Peter 1:2, 14-15) The issue Paul is addressing in the phrase, “the obedience of faith”, is not about whether we should obey or how much we should obey. It is about our motivation for obedience.

To a Hebrew people getting to know God after centuries of Egyptian slavery, God’s covenant of the law offered two types of motivation: the obedience of fear and the obedience of quid pro quo. (Deuteronomy 28) They would be blessed in a multitude of ways if they obeyed Him, and they would be cursed in a multitude of ways if they disobeyed Him.

The obedience of quid pro quo is like the obedience of a hired servant who expects their wages if they do their job. The obedience of fear is like the obedience of a slave who fears the whip. God’s goal all along, however, was the obedience of faith: the willing and even enthusiastic obedience of children who love and trust their heavenly Father completely. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Luke 10:27; Matthew 18:1-4)

Through Jesus and all the events leading up to Jesus, God has revealed He loves us beyond measure. He is all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful and, as a result, completely trustworthy in all He does and all He commands us to do. So why would we ever want to disobey Him?

And through the sacrifice of Jesus, God has revealed He is all-merciful to His children and will forgive us when in our weakness, we fail to obey. (1 John 1:7-9)

Fear becomes reverent awe. Quid pro quo expectation of reward becomes a willingness to sacrifice on earth for treasures in heaven. (Matthew 19:21) We obey the Lord because we have complete faith in a God who is always right and never wrong, and because we love Him. (John 14:21-24)

God bless you and God bless our community.

IT’S NOT THEOLOGY – IT’S REALITY!

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At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Matthew 11:25-27)

“…You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

[As the Methodists where I began my life of ministry become the next denomination to go through a painful division over the issue of scriptural authority, I feel led to share this column from 2009.]

Soon after my return to the Lord in 1991, I heard a very helpful statement: “It’s not about religion – it’s about relationship!”

I do not remember who first spoke this truth to me, but I heard it often, and I am so grateful. As a warning, it saved me from falling into several “religious” traps. As a focus, it directed me into my own experience of fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus through the Holy Spirit. (1 John 1:3) 

Now there is another statement flowing through my spirit: “It’s not theology – it’s reality!” This truth also provides some useful warnings and focus to help us grow as God’s people.

The word, “theology”, comes from the ancient Greek word, “theologia”, which brings together the word for God (“theos”) and the word for reasoned discourse or analysis (“logos”).  A traditional definition for theology would be the reasoned analysis of who God is and how God relates to humanity and creation. 

This obviously sounds like a worthy enterprise but be aware of the trap. As we should expect from the culture of Plato and Aristotle, theology’s emphasis was even then on human intellect and observation. Man figures out who God is. This can easily lead to a violation of the 2nd Commandment by creating God in the image we want Him to be. (Exodus 20:3; 2 Timothy 4:3)    

In modern times, the problem gets even worse. Three factors have dramatically impacted the traditional concept of theology: (1) the pride of scientific thought; (2) political sensitivity to the world’s religious diversity; and (3) the confusion created by competing doctrines within each religion, including Christianity. 

A modern definition for theology would be the rational study of different religious belief systems and practices. These theologians are no longer trying to figure out who God really is. They are simply studying what different groups choose to believe about God, and thus a second trap is sprung – pluralism.  You figure out who God is for you, and I will figure out who God is for me. Our beliefs have equal merit. 

Now compare these definitions of theology to the definition of “reality”: the state of things as they actually exist. 

What is the reality of God? Is God whoever various groups believe Him to be? Is God whoever my intellect and experience determine He should be? Or is there a God who actually and “really” is? An “I AM” who reveals Himself to us! (Exodus 3:14)

My friends, our heavenly Father did not send Jesus Christ to start a religion. Jesus was sent to reveal reality – truth about God that only the Son of God could know. (Matthew 11:27) Jesus revealed them during His earthly ministry and continues to reveal them through the Holy Spirit, who inspired all scripture and leads us into all truth. (John 16:13-15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17) 

And Jesus did not come to appeal to our intellect. The truths Jesus reveals are far beyond what earth-bound mankind could ever intellectualize. Creation speaks to God’s power and majesty. (Psalm 19) The law given to Moses set forth fundamentals of right behavior already suggested, at least in part, by the natural conscience built into humanity. (Romans 2:1-23) But only Jesus could reveal the reality of a heavenly Father’s unconditional love and grace. (John 1:1-18) Only Jesus could show us what creation in the image and likeness of God really means.

Every morning we wake up as a Christian, the greatest reality in our life should be the reality of God! More real than my house is the fact I live in Christ and Christ lives in me. More real than my shortcomings is God’s unconditional love for me every moment of every day. 

More real than TV’s bad news is God’s good news: Jesus has paid the price for all sin of all people for all time.  More real than political strife is the fact Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. More real than evil is the ability of good to defeat evil – because God is for us and with us.

It’s not theology – it’s reality!  Praise the Lord!

God bless you, and God bless our community.

GOD HEALS THE BROKENHEARTED

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“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

We know God heals the brokenhearted, but who are these brokenhearted people God heals, and how does He heal them?

Dictionary.com defines “brokenhearted” as: “burdened with great sorrow, grief or disappointment”.  Our culture often connects this with romantic break-ups or the loss of close family and friendships, and God can certainly bring comfort to His people in those situations. (Matthew 5:4)

Scripture also speaks of “a broken and contrite heart” – a person who has become humbly repentant before the Lord after being convicted in their heart of pride and sin. (Psalm 51:17) God’s forgiveness of our sins through Christ can provide great comfort as He creates in us a “clean heart” and “right spirit”, restoring the joy of our salvation. (Psalm 51:1-12)

When Psalms 34 and 147 speak of the brokenhearted, however, I believe God is looking beyond those who mourn or repent. The Hebrew word used for “broken” (“shabar”) can mean “shattered” or “crippled”. The Hebrew word used for “heart” (“leb”) refers not just to emotions but to the mind and will – what we call the inner man or inner woman. 

In short, I believe these psalms reveal God’s desire to heal the crippled soul.

Our families, neighborhoods, and congregations include many people, young and old, who have been deeply traumatized, particularly in their childhood. Some were abandoned. Many were sexually or physically abused. Even more were verbally abused – living proof that the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, is a lie of the devil.  

As a result, these people struggle every day with various levels of anxiety, depression, anger, bitterness, isolation, guilt, shame, and low self-esteem.

Other children, even if not the victims of overt abuse, wrongly learned from their parents or other caregivers that you are supposed to earn love and acceptance. When they did well, they received approval, but when they made a mistake, they received condemnation or rejection. This eventually leads to the assumption that if things go wrong, it must be because you did wrong. As a result, these people struggle with fear of failure and rejection. They often become people-pleasers or perfectionists, which can disguise their pain and fear. 

God designed human beings with three basic needs: the need to belong (love), the need to feel safe (peace), and the need to know your life has value and significance (purpose). Those crippled in soul are challenged in one or more of these areas. Yet most of them will not seek healing.

When our body is crippled by injury or disease, we do not hesitate to seek help. But when we are crippled in soul, the opposite occurs. We fear the stigma of mental illness. We fear people in our churches will think we lack faith. So, we keep telling people we are fine when we really are not fine at all   

Those who do seek help from secular sources will primarily receive medication, which may help you cope but will never heal you. The fortunate ones get the benefit of empathic counselors, particularly with approaches in cognitive behavioral therapy that seek to change how you think about life, situations, and yourself. But it is difficult for secular therapists to help you take those changes in thinking to the deeper levels below your rational mind – to your memories and subconscious where the pain is rooted. You need the power of God to do that.

How does God heal the brokenhearted? Through biblically grounded Christian counselors (pastoral or clinical), loving Christian community, the experience of God’s presence, and the power of prayer, the Lord can:

1. Plant hope in your heart that you can be healed. This is where it begins.

2. Guide you through forgiveness ministry so you are free from anger, bitterness, guilt, and shame. This includes forgiveness of yourself.

3. Convince you in the depths of your being that you are incredibly loved and valued by God. The truth sets you free, and His perfect love casts out all fear! (John 8:32; 1 John 4:18)

4. Impart His eternal perspective into your memories so the power of the hurts fades away, leaving behind redemptive gifts of wisdom, humility, and empathy for others.

5. Deliver you from any demonic oppression that is aggravating your pain and obstructing your efforts to heal.

6. Set you on the path to the wonderful hope and future He has for you as His child. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Healing in part can come quickly, like surgery, even though healing in whole will usually require a time of rehabilitation. Our Lord can heal the brokenhearted if they will respond to His invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

God bless you, and God bless our community

A VINE WITHOUT BRANCHES DOES NOT BEAR FRUIT

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“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It is the source of the name my beloved Christie and I gave to our ministry: Friends of the King Ministries. (vs. 12-16) Even more important, it sets forth the all-important parable of the vine and the branches. (vs. 1-8) 

I picture Jesus leading His disciples from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal. As they walk through the Kidron Valley, He points to the vineyards around them as an illustration of how they and we must serve Him after His ascension to heaven. Like branches attached to the vine, He expects us to bear fruit for His Kingdom. To do that, we must abide in Him as He abides in us. Apart from Him, we accomplish nothing.

This parable is well-known to most Christians even though we may differ in our understanding of exactly how we “abide” in Jesus. The Greek word used for “abide” is meno, meaning to remain, stay, abide, or dwell. Through the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ abides in us. (John 16:13-16; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:17) To live fruitful Christian lives, we must avoid bouncing back and forth between occasional focus on Christ, focus on the world, and focus on our “flesh”. (Galatians 5:16-25; 1 John 2:15-17) Instead, we must stay focused on the Lord, His presence within us, and His will for our lives.

All of us struggle to stay constantly aware of Jesus throughout the day even though that would be a wonderful way to live. I believe those who struggle most are professing Christians who fail to understand how important it is for them to “bear fruit” for Christ. In the parable, Jesus stated this is how you prove you are His disciple and how you bring glory to our heavenly Father. (v. 8) Left unstated by Jesus was a truth His original disciples knew well already. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, so a vine without branches does not bear fruit at all! 

God can do anything without help, but God chose to give stewardship of the earth to mankind and has never withdrawn that assignment. (Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 8:3-8, 115:16) So God will always work with us, but rarely without us. We are all gifted and called. (1 Corinthians 12:4-27) The Vine needs His branches just as the Head needs His Body. (Ephesians 1:22-23) The purpose of what we have traditionally called church ministry – worship services, Sunday schools, and bible studies – is to equip all Christians for the real work of ministry in this broken world. (Ephesians 4:11-16) 

Our fruit is the witness of our lives every day by word and deed to the love, truth, faithfulness, grace and power of our heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, who brought us out of darkness and into His Kingdom of light. (Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 2:9) We love our neighbor and everyone God loves. (Matthew 5:43-48) We serve God and others, treating others like we wish to be treated. (John 13:1-17; Matthew 7:12) We are a house of continuous prayer. (Isaiah 56:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) 

Although not saved by works, we are saved for good works (good fruit), so our fruit has the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Ephesians 2:8-10; Luke 6:43-49; Galatians 5:22-23) The bad fruit of sexual immorality, hatred, strife, fits of anger, divisiveness, and self-centered ambition do not grow on God’s Vine. (Galatians 5:19-21) 

The vital importance of branches bearing “much fruit” for our Lord is underscored by our heavenly Father’s role as the Vinedresser. (vs. 1-2) I believe we are now living in a season of His pruning and removal of branches so His true Church can shine brightly amidst the increasing darkness. (Isaiah 60:1-3) 

Despite biblical commands to the contrary, many people are choosing long-term to forego the gathering of God’s people in favor of broadcast services or nothing at all. (Hebrews 10:24-25)   A great many local churches are shrinking or closing, and denominations are both shrinking and dividing.  

Some view these developments as a time of spiritual defeat, but what I see is a divine shaking (Hebrews 12:26-29), a refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2-3), a sifting of wheat from chaff (Luke 3:17), and, in the language of John 15, the hand of the Vinedresser pruning and removing whatever holds back the glorious fruitfulness Christ wants His Body to have. 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, be a branch that abides in the Vine and bears much fruit to the glory of God! The Vine and the Vinedresser are counting on you.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

THE PARTIALLY INFORMED ARE EASILY DECEIVED

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“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion…. An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:2, 15)

Eve was not alive when the Lord first instructed Adam that he could eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but that in the day he ate of that tree, he would surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)

After Eve’s creation, either Adam or the Lord clearly shared this prohibition with her. But it is equally clear her understanding of this instruction was only partially correct. Because she was partially informed, she was easily deceived. 

When Satan uses the serpent to tempt Eve into sin, he starts by questioning her understanding of what trees she can use for food. Eve explains she can eat from any tree except the tree in the middle of the garden, but that if she eats from that tree, or even touches its fruit, she will die. (Genesis 3:1-3)

In fact, the Lord never said anything would happen if you just touched the fruit. So, when the serpent tells Eve the fruit will make her wise like God, and she goes to the tree and sees that the fruit is sweetly scented and appealing in appearance, and she takes the fruit into her hand, and nothing adverse happens to her, she concludes the serpent must be right and the Lord wrong. (Genesis 3:4-6). She eats. Adam, who came to the tree with her, also eats. And the rest is history. Sin and death came into the world, and they are still with us today. (Romans 5:12)

Abraham was a friend of God and often talked with Him. (James 2:23) At the outset of their relationship, the Lord told Abraham He would make him the father of a great nation. (Genesis 12:2) Ten years later, in his mid-80’s and still childless, Abraham shares with the Lord his concern that his heir will have to be his household servant rather than his own son. (Genesis 15:2-6) The Lord assures Abraham that his heir will be his own son, and Abraham believes Him.

Shortly thereafter, Abraham’s elderly wife Sarah tells him that the Lord has prevented her from having children. She proposes they birth their child and heir through her Egyptian servant Hagar, and Abraham “listened to the voice of Sarah”. (Genesis 16:1-2) He did not consult the Lord as he had done in the past, and so he did not learn from the Lord until years later that God’s plan was a son and heir through Sarah. (Genesis 17:16-22) 

Abraham was partially informed, knowing his heir would be his son but not knowing it would also be Sarah’s son. As a result, Ishmael was born as Abraham’s first son – a man who as Abraham’s offspring would father his own great nation, but a man (and nation) also destined to live in conflict with everyone else, including his kin. (Genesis 16:10-12, 17:20) 

Again, the rest is history. Ishmael became the father of the Arab people. Mohammad, founder and “Great Prophet” of Islam, traces his Arab ancestry and biblical legitimacy to Abraham through Abraham’s “first son”, Ishmael. Today there are almost two billion Muslims in the world, all of whom believe God has no Son and, therefore, John 3:16 cannot be true.

Jesus is the Truth. (John 14:6) Satan is the father of lies. If he cannot deceive you with a full lie, he will deceive you with half-truths and partial information. (John 8:44) Bad choices are destructive, and that is always the devil’s goal. (John 10:10)

Our nation’s political divisiveness today is largely the result of so many Americans being partially informed. The news media are all biased one way or the other, filtering what they report, and both progressives and conservatives tend to pay attention only to news sources that support their existing opinions. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

As to the Church, most professing Christians do not personally study the Bible. They prefer to receive God’s Word “second-hand” through their denominational doctrines, their local preacher, their friends, and now even online. Because so many are partially informed and not personally informed, they often accept human doctrine and tradition as God’s Word even when the full testimony of scripture directly contradicts what they have chosen to believe. (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Colossians 2:8) The sanctity of papal decrees, cessationism, the “prosperity gospel”, and sexual permissiveness are just four examples of this.

Study the Bible personally, not just through others. Pray every day that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom and lead you into more truth. (Isaiah 11:1; James 1:5; John 16:13) As to any issue, hear both sides and be fully informed before you reach a conclusion. 

The partially informed are easily deceived. The truth sets us free. (John 8:32) 

God bless you, and God bless our community. 

THE BIBLE URGES US TO COME FURTHER UP AND FURTHER IN

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I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

 

My Lord despises spiritual pride and so my desire is always to be free of it. But I am willing to risk being labelled with it rather than remain silent about the need of our Christian community to grow up and become who we are called to be.

We are living in both the times of difficulty described in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and the times of spiritual immaturity described in Hebrews 5:13-15. Everywhere I look, the Church is failing to distinguish good from evil. One segment fails to discern sexual immorality and the sanctity of life while another fails to discern the equally unacceptable absence of humility and agape love. One ignores God’s hatred of lawlessness while the other ignores His compassion for the lost and oppressed.

Across our nation, people are being led astray by traditions and philosophies of man that are contrary to the whole counsel of the Word of God. (Matthew 15:2-9; Colossians 2:8; Acts 20:27) As a result, we are a divided house with a weak witness, and losing each upcoming generation to the world even more than we lost the last. (Mark 3:25; 1 Peter 2:9-15)

When the Lord drew me back to Him in 1991, He gave me a hunger to know ever more about Him and draw ever closer to Him. (John 16:13; James 4:8) In addition to reading and re-reading scripture, I immediately began to devour the books of wonderful teachers like Max Lucado, Philip Yancey, and C.S. Lewis. It was in the Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis that I found the phrase, “Come further up, come further in.” Amen!

As I became more aware of the importance of the Holy Spirit, I turned to charismatic teachers like Derek Prince and R.T. Kendall. Christie and I attended multi-day conferences with great speakers and great worship. We interacted in our community with devout Christian men and women from a variety of Christian faith expressions. The more we learned and experienced, the more we became aware of how much more we needed to learn and experience.

Christie has graduated to a knowledge of the Lord I cannot expect to have while I remain on earth. I am still a work in progress. But I have seen a truth in scripture that is life-changing, biblically inarguable, and yet hardly ever mentioned. If you are truly a Christian, your Lord God now lives in you! So, what are you going to do about it?

The scriptural testimony for this is set forth in my book: Be With Jesus, Be Like Jesus, Be For Jesus. All I can provide here is the “nutshell” version and point out there are hundreds of scriptures in addition to John 17:20-23 that verify what I am saying.

God creates all people, male and female, in His image and likeness, and so all have the potential to become children of God. However, sin – our failure to trust and obey God – separates us from a holy God and we are unable to bridge that gap. Therefore, God in His perfect love sent His Son Jesus to take on the form of humanity and die for the sins of the world.

When we repent of our failure to trust and obey God and put our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to Himself in the most incredible way imaginable. The Holy Spirit proceeds from God to live within us forever and become one with our human spirit. (John 15:26; Romans 8:9-17; 1 Corinthians 6:17)

What we have consistently failed to grasp is that the Holy Spirit is much more than a seal of our salvation or bestower of spiritual gifts and power. God is one God in three Persons, and the Holy Spirit is God, the third Person of the Trinity, both eternally and perfectly one with the Father and Son.

Every day we are quenching and grieving God the Holy Spirit by our compromises in trust and obedience, our lack of agape love for everyone He loves, and our lack of unity in Him. The Bible urges us to honor who He is and follow Him daily as He transforms us, fills us, and unites us with the Father, the Son, and each other. (1 John 1:1-4)

Then the world will finally be able to know and believe.

God bless you, and God bless our community.

DIVORCE IS A PREVENTABLE DISEASE

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“Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’” (Matthew 19:4-6)

 

Marriage in America is in even greater trouble now than it was when I first wrote this column thirteen years ago, so please let me resubmit it for your prayerful consideration.

The biggest problem with marriage in our nation began long before the comparatively recent controversy over homosexual marriage. It began long before the modern tendency to live together without marriage and intentionally have children outside marriage.

The core problem of marriage in our nation is divorce. Almost half of our marriages end in divorce, and despite the strong scriptural language against divorce, this failure rate applies to marriages of professing Christians as much as it does to non-believers.

Bad marriages lead to divorce. As each succeeding generation becomes more scarred by bad marriages and divorce than the one before, the respect our culture has for the institution of marriage continues to diminish. The fundamental building block of human society crumbles, our culture becomes increasingly dysfunctional and unhealthy, and tragically, most churches offer little or no help.

Folks, it does not have to be this way. We do not have to resign ourselves to this decline. Divorce is a preventable disease. Bad marriages can be healed.

I offer these key points:

  • Quality premarital counseling is extraordinarily important. The points below can all be initially covered in premarital counseling. It prepares. It eliminates unpleasant surprises.
  • Communication is a skill we can all improve. Most conflicts arise out of simple misunderstanding, and good communications eliminate misunderstanding.  The most important tip – Let understanding what your spouse is saying be more important to you than having your spouse understand what you are saying. Listen!
  • Conflict is inevitable. How you resolve conflict makes all the difference. Solve the problem while protecting the relationship. Avoidance and confrontation are poor methods that damage the relationship. Collaboration (teamwork) and compromise are both good methods.
  • Share your expectations and your dreams. Encourage each other.
  • Be quick to apologize and sure to forgive. Do not go to bed angry and give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-32) Do not keep a record of wrongs to bring back up in the next argument. (1 Corinthians 13: 5)
  •  Recognize the fundamental problem in marriage or any relationship, including our relationship with God, is selfishness. “What’s in it for me?”  For a Christian, loving service to your spouse is as important as the blessings you receive in your marriage. In fact, the greatest blessing is to be a blessing. (Acts 20:25)
  •  Men – loving your wife means more than just providing, protecting, doing things around the house, and sex. We must show our beloved every day how we cherish and value them. (Ephesians 5:25-33)
  • Women – your husbands want and need your respect as much or more than they need your love. (Ephesians 5:33) If a wife consistently communicates respect, most husbands will do everything in their power to live up to it.
  • In addition to the challenge of children, we live in a world where we will face troubles with health, work, finances, and other relationships. These are all stressors on our marriage. How we respond to them as a couple reveals the strengths and weaknesses in our marriage. Solve the problems as they come, but also use those times of struggle to celebrate your strengths and address your weaknesses so you can grow as a couple.
  • We all bring “baggage” into our marriage, including fears, unresolved anger issues, and disappointments from our life before marriage. You do not have to live with this baggage and your spouse should not have to live with it either. Seek healing and freedom from your past through the Lord.
  • Get help when you need it. Marriage is wonderful but hard. When your car engine is missing, you take it to a mechanic. When the two of you are struggling and a solution does not come quickly, seek the wisdom of a gifted pastor, a biblically grounded marriage counselor, or a godly Christian couple. Don’t let things fester!
  • Pray together every day. Christian couples who pray together daily have a divorce rate of less than one percent (1%). Living together in God’s presence is how two people become the threefold cord not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12) Spiritual intimacy can be the most incredible marital intimacy of all!
  • Every church, large and small, should have support ministries in place for both marriage and parenting. We are the family of God!

 

We can heal Christian marriage in America if we choose, starting right here in our own community. Will you do your part?

God bless you, and God bless our community.

GOD IS SEEKING SPIRIT-BORN DISCIPLES TO WORSHIP HIM

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“… The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

 

Easter Sunday is nine days away, and most churches in our region will once again experience their largest worship service attendance of the year. Attendance increase is a good thing: more people to hear God’s Word and, hopefully, experience His love. But many of us who regularly participate in the Church may find ourselves quietly asking if these rarely seen attendees are true worshipers of God or just making a token appearance.

God cautions us about judging others because, unlike the Lord, we cannot see inside someone’s heart. (Matthew 7:1-2; Jeremiah 17:10; John 2:25-26) It is, however, extremely important that we understand what it means to be a “true worshipper” of God because those are the people God seeks to worship Him. And our Lord Jesus has told us who these true worshippers are. They are the people who worship God in spirit and truth.

What did Jesus mean by “worship in spirit and truth”? Certainly, it is something more than token or even regular church attendance, or some minimum level of enthusiasm and sincerity. To answer that question, we need to understand (1) “worship”, (2) “in spirit”, and (3) “in truth”.

The Greek word used in John 4 for “worship” is “proskuneo”, which literally means to prostrate oneself or bow down before God. This word images an act of both deep reverence and full allegiance, and it should be understood in the context of the Great Commandment that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Mark 12:30)

In other words, worship is much more than songs or a church service. Worship is the heart-felt reverent love of God expressed through our praise and adoration, our gratitude, our trust and obedience, and our selfless acts of service to God and other people He loves. (Romans 12:1; John 14:21-23; Matthew 25:31-46)

To worship God as He desires, we must be “in spirit and truth”. “In spirit” refers to nothing less than the reality that every real Christian is born of the Spirit – born again, and now born of God and a child of God, because she or he has received the Holy Spirit. (John 3:1-8 and 1:12-13; Acts 2:38-39)

Perspectives on the Holy Spirit may vary widely in the many “divisions” of the One Church, but the Bible speaks clearly on the matter. You do not belong to Christ until the Holy Spirit dwells in you. (Romans 8:9) Thereafter, your human spirit and the Holy Spirit are joined and can together testify that the God you worship is your Abba Father. (1 Corinthians 6:17; Romans 8:15-17)

When Paul says only the “spiritual” person, and not the natural person, can understand spiritual truths, he is talking about people who have received the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth who leads us into all truth. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16; John 16:13) One of the greatest spiritual truths we receive is that the Holy Spirit indwelling us, who is also called the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of your Father, is the third person of the Trinity. (Luke 4:18; Romans 8:9; Matthew 10:20; John 15:26) True worshippers, no longer separated from God by sin, worship a God who sits on His heavenly throne and, additionally, lives inside them, closer than the air they breathe.

To worship “in truth” includes the recognition that Jesus Christ brought us truth and is the Truth. (John 1:17, 14:6) However, it is best understood through the words of Jesus in John 8:31-32: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Those who abide in the word of the Lord truly love Him because they learn, have, and keep His commandments. (John 14:21-23) They are disciples of the Lord, both hearers and doers of the Word, and are readily taught to obey all He has commanded so they can witness and make others into disciples as well. (Matthew 7:24-27, 28:19-20) The truth sets them free from self-centeredness and ignorance, and the eyes of their hearts are enlightened, so that they can unashamedly worship a God who is magnificent beyond measure. (Ephesians 1:16-23; Romans 1:16)

The question I need to ask myself on Easter Sunday is not whether that infrequent attender next to me is a true worshipper, but whether I am one, and what I can do to become a better one. God is seeking Spirit-born disciples to worship Him, and He is worthy of such true worship! (John 3:16; James 1:17; Revelation 4:11; Hebrews 12)

God bless you, and God bless our community.

TAKE YOUR POSITION IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

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“See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven. At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken- that is, things that have been made- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

 

God’s words leap off this page of Hebrews: “We are receiving a kingdom!”

We do not have to wait until we die. We do not have to wait for Judgment Day. We can be receiving the Kingdom of God now!

This is not what we hear in most churches, is it? Dr. Myles Munroe offers an excellent explanation: most churches preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel Jesus Christ preached.

Jesus preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) “The Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness….” (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus declared, “The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world….” (Matthew 24:14) During the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the Kingdom, and He then sent them out in power as witnesses to that Kingdom. (Acts 1:3, 8; Revelations 1:7)

The Kingdom of God is the wise, benevolent, grace-full rule of a loving God over those who trust, obey, and depend on Him. Paul also preached this Kingdom. (Acts 28:31) And for Paul as for Jesus, the Kingdom was not just talk but power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) The King of this kingdom has all authority in heaven and earth, and He delegates His authority to those who fully submit to His rule and represent Him in the earth. (Matthew 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Matthew 16:15-20) The Kingdom of God is the kingdom of light in the darkness, and darkness cannot stand against it. (Isaiah 60:1-3; Colossians 1:12-13; Acts 5:12-16))

Life in this Kingdom while still in this broken world is far from trouble-free, but it is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy in the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:23; Romans 14:17) We are to continually pray for it, live it, and offer it to others. (Matthew 6:10; 1 Peter 2:9)

So, how do we receive this Kingdom? It helps to understand the Greek word our English bibles translate as “we are receiving”. “Paralambano” is an aggressive word, not a passive word. “Lambano” means to take, grasp, seize or acquire. “Para” indicates “alongside” or “in the presence of”.  Put together, “paralambano” means to seize and take to oneself, or to take over an office, assignment, or position.

My friends, if we want to receive the Kingdom of God, we must actively take our position in that Kingdom. We must embrace our identity in Christ and our abilities and responsibilities as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, indwelled by God the Holy Spirit. We are a royal priesthood of disciples called to set self-centered agendas aside and follow our King, humbly loving and serving people while boldly standing against evil.

Hebrews 12 speaks of a divine shaking of both earth and the heavenlies. This shaking started years ago, and it is intensifying. I do not know how long it will last, how much more it will intensify, or whether it is the last one. But I know it will not stop until God has accomplished His purposes through it.

The Church is being shaken early and vigorously because the Lord needs a faithful, righteous Body of Christ to represent His Kingdom in this hour. Those in the Church who are not receiving the Kingdom will be shaken out because only those things which belong to the Kingdom will remain. Cultural Christianity and empty ritual will not survive. (Matthew 16:15-18)

After reading this column, I urge you, both as individuals and congregations, to read these scriptures, pray, search your hearts, and earnestly take your position in the Kingdom of God.

“Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!” (Psalm 24:7)

God bless you and God bless our community.

WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE TO LIVE BY FAITH

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

It brings me great comfort to know my beloved Christie is in heaven having an unimaginably wonderful time, and that I will join her one day.

The pancreatic cancer that ended Christie’s life on earth has an incredibly high mortality rate for one reason. It is usually not discovered until it is too late to do anything about it. In other words, the only thing worse than being told you have cancer is to have cancer and not know.

If it is dangerous to have cancer when you think you are healthy, then imagine how dangerous it is to think you are “saved” when you are not.

The problem, described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the teaching of “cheap grace”, arises from a misunderstanding of the beautiful grace message in Ephesians 2 and its companion verse, Romans 6:23. We have taken the biblical concept of “free gift of God” and turned it into a well-intended but false invitation to salvation through the simple “no strings attached” choice to accept Jesus as Savior.

We must understand every scripture in the context of all scripture; otherwise, we can misunderstand what God is revealing. And nothing can be more damaging than a misunderstanding about what it takes to enter an everlasting life relationship with God.

Sin, rooted in a desire to be lord of our own life, separates everyone from a holy and life-giving God, and we could never bridge that gap. (Genesis 3; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23, 6:23) So God, in His unconditional love, bridged the gap for us by sending His Son Jesus to die for all the sins of all mankind. (1 John 2:2) This is the astounding “free gift of God”!

God’s love is unconditional, but salvation is not. We must still cross the bridge God has provided. We are saved by grace “through faith” and our faith must be more than a verbal assent Jesus is who He says He is. The demons know who Jesus is, but they do not have faith. (Luke 4:41; James 2:19)

Faith is “trust” and “confident belief”.  Faith must be in your heart before you can meaningfully confess it with your mouth. (Acts 2:37; Romans 10:9-10) The following scriptures convince me that if faith is truly in your heart, there will be meaningful evidence of it in your life.

The gospel is consistently presented as “repent and believe”. (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; Luke 5:32; 2 Peter 3:9) The biblical words for “repent” mean change of heart (Hebrew, “naham”), change your mind (Greek, “metanoia”) and change your ways (Hebrew, “shub”).

At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter heaven, but only those who do the will of His Father.

John 15:1-6 says God removes branches on the Vine who do not bear fruit.

Matthew 25:31-46 says the separation of sheep and goats on Judgement Day will be based upon acts of agape love.

Multiple scriptures declare that we must be both hearers and doers of the Word. (Matthew 7:24-27, 28:18-20; James 1:22-25; John 14:21, 23)

James 2:14-26 explains in detail why faith without corresponding works (fruit) is dead and useless.

1 John says those who claim to know Jesus Christ but do not keep His commandments are liars and adds that anyone who makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. (2:4-6, 3:6-10)

Everlasting life is to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. (John 17:3) The Greek word used for “know” is “ginoskosi”, which means to know through interpersonal relationship or experience, not just “know about”. No one has everlasting life until they receive the Holy Spirit and become a new creation born of God. (John 1:12-13, 3:3-6; Romans 8:9)

This knowing should produce a witness in your heart. (Romans 8:16) It produces a change in your worldview and corresponding changes in your behavior. (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:2) Above all else, you will now know God’s love and have at least some measure of unconditional agape love for others. (1 John 4:7-12)

You cannot have Jesus as Savior without Jesus as Lord. (Philippians 2:9-11) We are saved by grace to live by faith, trusting our Lord and seeking to obey Him so we can produce those “good works, which God prepared beforehand”. (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 2:20) Grace will be there on the many occasions when we stumble. (Romans 8:34-39; 1 John 1:9) But if we truly have faith, we will at least try. And if a person’s life does not show evidence of such efforts, I urge them to reexamine what their true salvation condition is.

God bless you, and God bless our community.