Monthly Archives: March 2015

Liberty or Legalism

Galatians is unlike any other epistle of Paul’s authorship. Usually he gives the audiences praises and encouragements. But here we find that Paul doesn’t give a glowing salutation, but a condemnation. He immediately speaks to the Galatians as foolish. The foolishness is contained in the “easily being bewitched” to another Gospel. Galatians is a good example of the opposition that Paul dealt with in trying to start and build up churches. The Judaizers were still telling “believers” that the LAW of Moses was still effective and must be observed.  Paul and Barnabas addressed some of the issues about observing the LAW in Acts 15 Council. The Jewish believers felt that the LAW still stood, and needed to be observed by the Gentiles, to included specifically being circumcised. This could be looked at just a transition from Judaism to Christianity, but the implications were deeper than that alone.

Paul instructs the Galatians that there isn’t another Gospel; and if someone [even them] preaches another Gospel that they are to be cursed. [anathema]  The point of argument comes down to simply – are we saved by the Law or Grace? The liberty found in the Gospel of Grace often gets shackled by “religiosity” even today. The  point of Paul is God has redeemed you from the tyranny of the Law. The Law is beneficial, only as a schoolmaster; in other words to teach us that we are sinners and in great need of salvation. The Law is no longer needed after is has brought the true repentance necessary for salvation. Once a person has confessed and repented of sin, and are saved under Grace, the Law is set aside. The issue here is not salvation but sanctification. Sanctification is what we do after we are saved. The Jews were incarcerated to a works mentality.

In Christ we have freedom, we have been set free from the “righteousness by works.” This does not mean we are free to violate the Word of God; it means that we are no longer under rituals and regulations in “attempt to gain favor with God.”  The Council at Jerusalem did not find any fault with Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles, in fact they added nothing to his message of salvation to the Gentiles.

Paul also had to defend his Apostleship to the Galatian believers. The Judaizers were trying to discredit Paul and his preaching. Paul in his defense tells that his Gospel did not come from the Apostles or the “men of reputation” in Jerusalem, but from God.  The contention of trying to make the Gentile believers become Jews hits a high point when Paul had to confront Peter’s hypocrisy. Peter would engage in the freedom of eating and fellowshipping with Gentile believers, yet separated himself from them when prominent men from Jerusalem came down.

Paul comes straight to the point – “Oh foolish Galatians having begun in the Spirit are you now going to walk in the Flesh?” If we have been set free from the “works of the Law” at salvation, why would we want to be re-shackled to”performance oriented Christianity?

We have died to the Law, so we can live in the joy of Faith!

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Evidence that Demands Faithfulness

In our reading of Hebrews we find that the writer is convincing the Jewish believers to stay the course. He uses the Old Testament understanding of sacrificial Law and the Greater provision found in Christ Jesus.

Jesus is the Greater High Priest; after the “Order of Melchizedek” , the one whom Abraham gave homage and tithe too. In that Abraham gave tithe to Melchizedek, while Levi was still in His loins so to speak, reveals that Abraham was lesser than This High Priest and King of Salem.  Just as Melchizedek did not have a beginning or end, even so Jesus Was in the beginning and will be in the end. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first & Last. To return back to the Levitical Law/Priesthood, would be returning to a lesser Priesthood.

Jesus was a greater High Priest, in that He didn’t have to offer a blood sacrifice for His sins, before entering in the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for the people. Also Jesus was a Greater, better sacrifice, in that He did not have to repeat His sacrifice, in that His blood was greater for His blood Cleansed sin, not just covered.

The work of Jesus was based on a Better Covenant.  Better Promises were the result. The Old Covenant, was conditional on the actions of the Israelites; we have a New covenant ]written in our hearts] based upon unconditional love.

Jesus has a greater ministry – for His ministry was not bound to earth like the Priests on earth [whose ministry was but a shadow of things in Heaven], whereas Jesus ministry was just that the ministry in, to and of Heaven.

Hebrews 10:19; the Therefore; since all these things are true, what manner of people should we be? We should “draw near” with a confidence and boldness to the Throne of God in prayer; we should “Hold Fast the confession of hope;”finally we should “consider how to stimulate each other” towards love and good deeds.

It is odd that the “Light affliction” was causing them to want to go backwards; especially in light of Hebrews 10:32-35. The had already endured suffering, public spectacle, reproaches and tribulations. They had partnered with others who were going through hardship as well. Chapter 11 is a wonderful passage; it gives a short historical narrative about those who had gone before and had endured “through faith” the adversity and tribulation which accompanies the Gospel when lived out. When I read Hebrews 11:32-40; I get emotional; for those who lived not their own lives for the furtherance of the Gospel; enduring great human atrocities, yet did not waiver. We hear of persecution today in other parts of the world; we pray for them, but also pray we won’t have to go through such things.  How very selfish and cowardly we are!

Hebrews 12:4-6 and James 1:2-4 explains the reason we have tribulations in our lives. Will we let the “perfecting of our faith” be accomplished? Will we let the Father “prune” us for greater fruit for the Kingdom of God, or will we like many fall away from the “real living of the Christian life?”

Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 12:9 ff, that he would rather boast about his weakness, that the Glory of God would dwell in Him.

May we say as Paul, “Phil 3:10 -11,  that I may know Him and the fellowship of His suffering being conformed to His death, that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead!”


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What is the Answer?

What is the Answer?
What is the answer to decline and death of a continuing multitude of churches across all denominations in America? Now that you have the full question; I wonder what you have heard is the answer? Recently I have been fixated on what could possibly be done to turn the tide for Churches.
I recent heard that churches are closing their doors at a rate of 4000-6000 annually. I have heard that upwards to 91% of all churches are plateaued, declining or dying. I read that the halo effect when conducting surveys has distorted the true numbers of committed Christ followers. There is debate even among researchers as to whether the church is really dying.
If we couple with these facts the increase in crime, immorality, apathy and just plain rebellion against authority in our cities; it seems that America has a crisis on its hands.
What the answer is depends on who is seen as the cause; some are toting a political cause to the nation’s woes. Others are blaming the bent toward immorality such as homosexual marriages as the problem. Still others would look at the Church itself as the problem.
Reports outside of “Western” Christianity do not indicate Christianity as dying. While there is great conflict in other regions of the world, with many becoming martyrs; faith in Christ is anything but dead. The Church is the Bride of Christ; He said “He would build the Church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18] I do agree that the Church will not be gone from the pages of history. However I do believe that there is a cleansing of the Church; a winnowing of the wheat and chaff.
I put forth a number of suggested answers based on the theory that the Churches are the problem. Please note I said churches are the problem. It is no secret that the church has gone through many changes recently, not all for the good. The desire for “entertainment” seems to be the order of the day. Evangelism efforts are minimal, with upwards to 70% of all churches adding no one to the Kingdom of God. I often tell my church “there is too much world in the church and not enough church in the world.”
I have agonized over the condition of evangelical churches. Many in the mainline denominations have waned for years, but now that the problem [closing churches] has moved into the Southern Baptist ranks, many are seeking answers.
One answer could be Reformation. There are some that think that the Church is on the cusp of a Reformation like in the days of Martin Luther. It can be argued that the Church has lost its relevance and identity and that a full blown Reformation is the answer.
Another possibly answer is Replanting. Replanting is basically placing another congregation in a failed church. This answer could also be coupled together with the emphasis that continues to grow of planting as many new churches as possible. If the hope is plant more churches than the number that is closing; this would not be an answer but a soothing of the conscience. There is an attrition rate even within new church starts; estimates indicates that in five years after a church start, a little over half will still be open. Replanting a church in a failed area is usually done with a different ethnicity. While this might sound good, to put a beginning work in a failed area, to include giving it an old building doesn’t address the problem.
A third possibility is Return. Many books and articles have promoted the soon Return of Christ as the problem. This view holds that all the problems in the world [America] that this indicates Christ’s soon return. This has taken a stronghold on many in the Churches; especially the elderly. I am saddened that more people in American churches are looking for the second coming of Christ, while others outside Western Christianity are waiting to hear of Christ’s first coming. It is easy to think of the church at Thessalonica, and how many had quit their jobs just to wait for the soon return of Jesus. It cannot be denied that Jesus’ return in eminent, but still that is no reason to quit working.
A fourth work called Revitalization is put forth as a viable solution. Revitalization is the work of the Holy Spirit to renew the Churches who have languished in the more recent past. It requires that there was a time when the church was alive and accomplishing the Kingdom of God in their community. There is a problem with this solution; with such a high number of churches needing immediate revitalization; where do we get the people for the work? If there is only a select few for church planting and revitalization, it seems like a losing battle. Revitalization is what I believe was the work of Jesus in His writings to the Seven Churches of Revelation. Once thriving ministries, these churches were warned to “repent and remember,” and to “to wake up and strengthen that which remains.” The church then and now were experiencing gross immorality and heresy. The churches appeared to relax their faith and befriend the World around them. This is not new, for Israel did the same in the Promised Land. Both examples failed, Israel went into captivity and many of the churches, although warned – died.
Lastly, there is the option of Revival. Revival is for the Church, not the Lost. One familiar with Church history in the Western world will recall the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, along with the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. The condition of the churches and the community were deplorable. It took men like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, The Wesley brothers, Evan Roberts and Jeremiah Lanphier, to bring such a spiritual renewal. Western Christian is a mirror of the conditions then. It is obvious that America needs a revival. I have a saying; revive the people revitalize the church.
In conclusion, it is this writers opinion that Western Christianity needs both Revival in the Pews/Pulpits and People. But it also needs Revitalization in the Church. There must be clear preaching of the Gospel, there must be brokenness in the people. But there also needs to be a return to being the Church of God, not culture.
The Churches are dying because they are filled with dead, carnal Christians. Judgment must begin at the house of God. The world is the way it is because Churches/Christians are the way they are! When we quit crying out about everything else being the problem and admit our own sin, repentance and restoration become real. A restored, revived and revitalized church will change the world we live in.

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Like eating Cheese Cake

I know that is probably a weird title, but I don’t know how else to describe what I feel when reading the book of Hebrews! It is so rich, I feel it is a masterpiece within the New Testament.

I will get right to the question that everyone will ask me – who wrote Hebrews?

That is a question that has been debated over and over again. I have researched this a few times, the bottom line is we just don’t know. There are possibilities, but nothing is conclusive. We know that whoever it was had a command of the Jewish practice of worship and Temple service. The writing within the book is some of the most eloquent Greek found. So the person had to be an educated person. The writer is fully acquainted with both the Old Testament and New Testament, and has the great ability to draw substantial references to back up his writings.

Some of the candidates for writing the book are, Barnabas, Paul, Luke, Priscilla or Aquila, or Apollos.

If you must know I cast my vote for Apollos.

Now with the book. Hebrews was written to a predominant Jewish congregation. The problem was that they had been experiencing a mild persecution [boy is that conflict in terms!]. Anyway they were seriously contemplating returning back to their Jewish ways to get out of the persecution lime light. These Jewish believers were withering under the heat of opposition from possibly Judiazers or pagan rulers.

The book’s central message is “press on” – the mild persecution can and should be expected for anyone who wants to live godly. [2 Tim 3:12] We have to be careful not to judge too harshly or quickly. I am sure many of us can think of times when we may have shrank back from giving testimony for Jesus because of fear of repercussions from others.

The writer is eloquent in the first chapter in describing God’s work in history, specifically how that Jesus is the Messiah, His only begotten son. Parallel passages of interest are : 1 John 1:1-4; Col 1:15-18; John 1:1-12.  The writer establishes Jesus as the promised Messiah, and God’s Son. He will for the next 10 chapters establish how that Jesus is Superior to anything that the Jewish religious practices had to offer. The word “Better” will be used again and again. For Jesus is a better sacrifice, High Priest, and administrator of a superior covenant.

The Jewish believers were in danger of drifting away from the truths of scripture and the salvation they professed. We might call it backsliding, but this was far worse, they were going to renounce Christ for comfort while on earth. The writer let them know that they hadn’t suffered unto blood yet. In other words, they hadn’t really experienced anything, and if they were going to fall back after such a mild persecution, then they really were not up for the task of serving the Lord. He is not trying to beat them up and guilt trip them. But he was trying to encourage and challenge them to live for Christ who was far superior to anything they thought of returning too.

In chapter 4, we find a very interesting presentation of “rest” – if the Jewish believers thought they could find rest by going back, the writer wanted them to know that rest was not to be found there. Joshua did not give them rest by entering the Promise Land.  In chapters 3 and 4, we find the repeated phrase – ” Today if you hear His voice, Do Not harden your hearts.”

The case made of Jesus being far superior is a message we must remember today; often I have had to counsel with people who withered under the “heat” of the world.

We will have to tackle a few questions along the way in this book, but it is so rich in apologetics of Jesus as the Christ – the only Way – John 14:6!

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Felix, Festus, Fathoms and Finality

It is good to be back with everyone. I had a great time in East Asia. Quite an experience.

This week we finish up with the missionary journey’s of Paul. The three trips have been marked by great outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit in many places. However while Paul was ministering the Word, the nemeses Judiazers were always just a few steps behind.

We know that Paul was driven by the Spirit to return to Jerusalem, carrying with him the offering for the home church in their time of famine and persecution  {see 1 Cor 16 and 2 Cor 8&9]. Even as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem against the begging of the disciples, so Paul travels to Jerusalem. Waiting for him are his adversaries. With trumped up charges and inciting riots, they enemies of the Gospel seem to have won the day.

It is interesting that both Jesus and Paul are condemned for doing the will of God; the problem in each case was the Jewish rulers were indicted.  Paul was called a “Pest” [Acts 24:5], interesting characterization to say the least.

The believers were called the sect “the Way” so if you think through that, if you follow Christ, you probably are in the “way” also. The issue is the same for Paul; he is in the way of the religious rulers and must be killed; doesn’t that sound familiar! Paul gets audience with Felix,  but Felix is no slouch, he can see right through the tactics of the Jews. Paul winds up teaching/preaching to Felix and Drusilla for two years; however rather than make a decision, Felix leaves Paul in prison for the new guy Festus [almost sounds like a western movie with names like those!]

Festus, mind you it has been two years, and no decision on Paul, finally a tribunal is held, and the Jews show up in force. Paul gives testimony that he has done no wrong, refusing to go back to Jerusalem, but pleads an audience with Caesar as a Roman citizen. In the meantime King Agrippa and wife Bernice get called into the saga.  It appears that Paul is a hockey puck the way everyone is bouncing him around, without taking a stand of whether is guilty of a crime or not. Acts 25:18-19 spell out the charges against Paul. He was preaching that a dead man was in fact alive; hardly a crime worthy of death.

I was taken by the defense that Paul makes to King Agrippa in Acts 26:6-8; “the hope of the promise.” All that the Jews had hoped to see come, had come about in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But blinded by their own ideas of what God would do, they missed the Messiah.  Acts 26 is the third time in the book that Paul recounts his conversion.  Paul is a gifted orator, entertaining rulers and kings. Persuasive in his words – King Agrippa says ” Paul in a short time you will persuade me to become a christian.” Paul tells him that’s what I have been called to do, this is why I’m on trial.  Finally, after all the bouncing around and waiting, Paul is found to be innocent of anything. But because he has requested appeal to Rome, that is where he will go.  Paul had wanted to visit Rome, but under completely different circumstances. I was captured by the ship’s voyage that Paul went through in Acts 27; i couldn’t help but think of Romans 8:31-39! Paul really knew that He was safe in the Will of God no matter what was going on around him.

finally, Paul makes it to Rome – he will meet his death there, but not after some two full years under house arrest. When we read the “prison Epistles” we get a glimpse into what Paul did during those two years. I am amazed at the tenacity of Paul, he wouldn’t be silenced even in prison! oh that we would be passionate about the Gospel, and in every circumstance to preach the Word! For while he was in prison many cam to faith in Christ.

Paul in his prison letter to the Philippians, reveals that the Gospel was making  greater progress while he was in prison. He might have been in prison, but the Gospel was not. [Phil 1:12-14, 4:22]

Next week we will be looking at the book of Hebrews. It is highly filled book with the Jewish thought and practices. However whoever the writer, goes on to establish the “superiority of Christ in all things.

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