Thursday, September 20, 2018

Contentment

 
There are times that we, as Christians stand guilty of finding contentment in many things except God.  Contentment can be sought in our titles, our jobs, our possessions, our relationships, our intellects, our reputations, and even our egos.  There is a real temptation for us to strive to find satisfaction in these things apart from God.  However, what if we had nothing but food and clothing; could we truly be content?  Could we be content living at the local rescue mission or living in an apartment versus our private, furnished homes?  What if we didn’t have cable television, the Internet, or Netflix?  Most of us love our things and life’s small amenities that keep us comfy and happy.  I’m concerned that life’s luxuries have become our necessities in order for us to be happy and content.
God encourages His people through His Word to find contentment in Christ alone plus nothing else.  The Apostle Paul said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  (NIV, 1 Tim. 6:6-11)
According to Scripture, there is a real danger in being desirous of the things of this world.  God’s Word says that those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap that leads to many harmful desires for us.  Although it is impossible to identify what all those dangers might be, a part of this danger is finding satisfaction apart from God and seeking things that God has not willed for His children to have. Some people allow money and material things to drive their lives and motivate them.  Some Christians would consider their lives very good, while they have very little substance in their relationship with God.  Could we be so bold as Christians to ask God to help us to loosen our grip on the things that we have become used to and that we find important to us?  Could we be so bold as to ask God to remove anything in our life that is keeping us from knowing, loving, and serving Him better?  Please know this type of bold prayer to God could be very painful.
Ultimately, are we willing to get back to the basics of finding contentment in the person of God alone for all of our joy and contentment.  Have we slowly drifted over the years only to find ourselves docked at the wrong harbor where God cannot be found?  Could we lay everything before our great God and ask Him what He would have us to pick back up?  May we find contentment in the goodness of His character and in His love for us.





Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Meaning of Abba Father


Throughout the Bible there are many names ascribed to God that are used to describe the character of God and the relationship that He has with His people.  I’m not choosing one name over another; however, I was recently studying the name “Abba Father” as found in Romans 8:15 which says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  The words Abba Father are found two other places in Scripture.  Jesus addresses His Father as “Abba Father” in His prayer at Gethsemane (Mark 14:36).  Paul, in Galatians 4:6, uses the words “Abba Father” in a similar manner to that of Romans 8:15.
The word Abba is an Aramaic word that means Father.  In its context, it was a common term that expressed affection and confidence and trust in ones own earthly father.  Abba signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father to his child, as well as the childlike trust that a young child puts in his father.  In Scripture the Aramaic word Abba is always followed by the Greek word for Father. Together, the terms Abba and Father particularly emphasize the fatherhood of God.  In two different languages God’s children are assured of His great care and protection that He has for them.  The use of these two words together should remove any fear in our hearts because God holds His children secure now and for always.  He welcomes them in His presence. 
The name Abba Father is also very significant in terms of how God relates to His children.  The right to be called a child of God and to call God Abba Father belongs only to those who have become believers in Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13).  When a sinner is born again they are adopted into the family of God (John 3:1-8—Christ explains this to Nicodemus) and are then made heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).  This means that we, along with Christ, will be the recipients of God’s full expression of glory in the future.  This truth brings great significance in the fact that we are full members of an eternal family in which God is our Father and Jesus Christ is our elder brother (Hebrews 2:11–12).
Practically, it means that we can live this life with confidence that God has provided and desires an intimate relationship with His redeemed children.  It means that Christians have all the privileges of a fully adopted child of God and that they now wear His name.  Becoming a child of God is the most humbling and honoring of privileges.  Because of this new relationship with our Abba Father, God no longer deals with us as enemies; now, we can approach Him with “boldness” (Hebrews 10:19) and in “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22) that we are welcomed.  As a child of God we have been given “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).  Calling God our Abba Father is not to make light of His divine nature.  It helps those who have been born again to understand their new relationship with God, their Heavenly Father.  



Thursday, August 23, 2018

Living With a Clear Conscience


Two words that can be used incorrectly in a sentence are the words conscious and conscience.  These words are very different and not interchangeable. The definition of the word conscience is “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior.”  Scripture says much about having a God-honoring conscience.  The following are thoughts taken from Scripture about a clear conscience:

1.     Keep a Clear Conscience:  “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
2.     Keep a Clear Conscience Before God and Man:  “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:16)
3.     Our Conscience Can Be Seared:  “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”  (1 Timothy 4:2)
4.     A Clear Conscience Allows a Restful Heart:  My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” (Proverbs 3:21-26)
5.     Christ Can Give Us a Clear Conscience:  “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14)
6.     A Guilty Conscience Can Be Cleansed by God:  “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  (Hebrews 10:22)



Thursday, August 16, 2018

7 Traits of Healthy Churches


Not long ago one of my favorite authors, Thom Rainer, wrote about various character traits of healthy churches.  Rainer studied some 30 churches that were having great ministry impact, whose members regularly had Gospel conversations, and whose leaders faithfully preached the Word with power every week.  As a result of that study Rainer identified nearly 50 different traits that made those churches rise above the others.  He then summarized those traits into seven categories that I’ll now share.
1.     They truly believe in the power of the Gospel.  Many church members and leaders would certainly affirm their own belief in the power of the Gospel.  However, few would actually act on that belief and allow it to dictate their days.  Few members would seek to share the Gospel with others throughout their week.  Sadly enough, for most churches, it’s lip service only.  But not so for these healthy churches.  These churches were driven for the sake of the Gospel.
2.     They have courageous leaders. They could be called “Joshua leaders” who step out in great faith.  They are ready to lead the people into the community and storm the gates of hell. They remind the members to be courageous, even as they themselves are courageous.  They have pastors who lead with great vision.
3.     They embrace change.  Most church members, and some church leaders, fiercely resist change. They idolize the past, the way we’ve always done it. The healthy churches on Rainer’s watch list embrace change as long as it does not go counter to Biblical truth. These churches don’t spend their energies and resources trying to convince people to move forward. They are ready to go! 
4.     They are not nostalgic. These church members honor and respect the past but they don’t live there (or worship the past).  According to Rainer, they are constantly anticipating what God will do in the present and the future. They don’t have time to be nostalgic, because they are too busy moving forward for the sake of the Gospel.
5.     They see reality. It is reported that these churches make highly intentional efforts to see reality more clearly.  They may have secret guests evaluate their churches and allow them the freedom to share where the church might be dropping the ball. They use tools to help them improve and do not feel threatened by them.  They don’t fear finding something negative with their churches, because those findings become areas for improvement.
6.     They intentionally intersect their lives with non-Christians.  They see their weekday vocation as a mission field; each member serves in full-time ministry right where God has planted them. They see their neighborhoods as their own Jerusalem.  They intentionally work and do business with non-Christians in order to share the Gospel. They are highly intentional about inviting people to church.
7.     They accept responsibility.  Healthy churches see the changes in culture as opportunities and not barriers.  Healthy churches accept their own responsibility for impacting the community.  Healthy churches realize the fields are truly white unto harvest.  They believe other churches are partners in mission, not competitors.
In essence, Rainer reports that healthy churches understand that it is the entire churches’ responsibility to take the Gospel forward to the lost even though it demands their own preferences being set aside.  These churches are churches that are consumed with the Gospel for the glory of God.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

No Gossip Zone


More recently it was necessary to address a situation concerning gossip.  Many people, even Christians, do not feel that sharing true information about others is actually gossiping.  However, any information shared about another individual that does not involve the person sharing the news could be considered as gossip.  Some slanderous news about others can even be shared as prayer requests and can even be shared as someone who is just very concerned, which is why they are telling others.
Too often, information is shared about others that is destructive and defaming in nature.  This can happen intentionally and even unintentionally.  Those who are not part of the problem or the solution should allow those who are involved to work matters out in a way that honors Christ.  At times it may be necessary to talk to a pastor about the direction a matter should be handled.  Our job is not to go out of our way to inform others about situations that we have no business talking about since it does not involve us. 
Scripture cautions us to avoid “meddlers” who like to complicate and destroy life (Proverbs 26:17, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.”)
Take the time to read and pray some of Scripture’s admonitions to us:
·      1 Thesselonians 4:11, “And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,”
·      Proverbs 26:20, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”
·      Jeremiah 17:10, ““I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
·      Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
·      Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!”
·      Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
·      Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”



Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Truth About Baptism


Some today teach baptism as an option for Christians who really want to “own their faith.”  However, did not their faith become their own the day they believed Jesus to be the Son of God who washes away the sins of the world?   It was Jesus Christ who instituted baptism and commissioned the church to practice baptism until He returned (Matt. 28:19-20).  Those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ are to identify with Him in the waters of baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).  Even beyond obedience to Christ’s command to be baptized there is great spiritual significance to the practice of baptism.
Baptism is a public declaration of an inward renewal that has taken place in a believer.  This is why it is called believer’s baptism since it is believers who are to be baptized.  To be baptized apart from belief in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins only gets one wet. 
There are two significant lessons to be learned about baptism.  The first lesson is that baptism is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ who was nailed to the cross for the payment for the believer’s sin.  Not only did he die on the cross but He also rose from the grave showing victory over sin and death.  Both Christ’s death and resurrection were necessary for our salvation.  When a believer is baptized they are stating that they are now dead to their sins in the same way that Jesus Christ died for our sins.  It means that the believer has put the sinful man to death~~never to live any longer.  (Romans 6:1-11)
The second lesson is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the same way that Christ rose from the dead we as Christians are raised to new life in Christ.  This is also pictured in the waters of baptism as the Christian comes forth out of the water.  What this means is that Christians are raised to a “new kind” of life or a “superior” life than what was put to death.  For Christians, this is a life that now magnifies and represents Jesus Christ~~it is a life of righteousness.  Jesus Christ was raised for the believer’s justification and sanctification.  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brought us back into relationship with God and allows the believer to become more and more Christ-like each day that they live.  (Romans 6:1-11)
It could be said that baptism is three things:  obedience to Jesus Christ; a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and a public declaration that as a believer we are now dead to our sins and risen to a life of righteousness (alive unto Christ). 
Our response due to our salvation and baptism should be, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14)


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Does God Change His Mind?


As God’s people can we truly petition God to change His mind about a situation if He is all-wise?  There are various passages of Scripture that speak about God’s character and His nature.

Malachi 3:6 says, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

Numbers 23:19 reads, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”

James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

According to these verses God does not change His mind and He is totally wise all of the time.  However, there are some verses in Scripture that are difficult to make sense of such as:  Genesis 6:6, “The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.”  There is also Exodus 32:14, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened.”  A final example would be in Jonah 3 where God told Jonah to prophecy that the great city of Nineveh would be overthrown unless the Assyrians repented. 

In Scripture God has made conditional declarations that if someone repented then God would relent.  When people abide by God’s operating principles then they can expect relief and at times even blessing.  In the book of Jonah that is exactly what happened with the Assyrians~~they repented and then God relented the punishment that He was going to deliver to them.  We can also learn that in Genesis 6:6 God helps us to understand his sadness and frustration with His creation that chose to rebel. 

It is also worth noting in James 4:2-3 that we have not because we do not ask God and sometimes we ask with wrong motives of selfishness.  Apparently God does hear us and grant us the desires of our hearts.  However, at times when our motives are not pure then He withholds.  Similarly, Christ told his followers in Mark 11:24 that they don’t have because they lack faith in what they ask for.  God sets the standards of criteria for blessing and not blessing His people.  Many times things are conditional contingent on the Christians obedience.

So, does God change~~the answer is definitely no.  However, God works from the principles of sowing and reaping with His people.  God also fulfills His end of the deal~~always.  In fact, when a sinner (called an enemy of God in Romans 8:7) places their faith in trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are then called God’s beloved children (1 John 1:12).  What or who changed~~we do.  God’s moral character and His righteous judgments always stay the same.