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.”