Thursday, February 26, 2015

What did Paul and Peter do just before they were executed? (#TBT Post)

        No. The two apostles did not request a last meal nor were they entitled to one by the Roman courts ... even for Roman citizens who had been sentenced to death.

        I'm sure they did, even though we are not told that they did.

        They wrote letters.
        Yes, they both wrote letters. Peter wrote a letter to the Jews in the dispersion, the believing Jews who had been scattered by persecutions, and Paul wrote to his beloved son in the faith, the young and timid Timothy (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:12-15; 2 Tim. 4:6). But how could they be so composed that they could think clearly enough to write letters? And why did they write these letters? I would like to propose several ideas as to how and why they could do this.

1. They were moved by the Holy Spirit to write, praying that we would be moved by the Spirit to read.

2. They loved their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

3. They loved the church of Jesus Christ.

4. They loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and sought to preserve it.

5. They knew the forgetful nature of man.

6. They sought to guard the truth of the gospel.

7. They knew the consequences of not writing to the church and its pastors who would suffer persecution.

8. They had both seen the risen Lord Jesus.

9. They were aware of the dangers lurking within the visible church, i.e., apostates.

The writings of both apostles, of course, were inspired by the Holy Spirit and became essential and Holy Scripture for the church of Jesus Christ. And through the 66 books of our Bibles, the progress of redemption, the gospel from Genesis to Revelation, has been preserved that we might be equipped to do the work of ministry to the world that God loved in this manner, He "gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life."

Aren't we glad the apostles wrote! 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5; check it out.

*(The top picture is supposed to be Peter; the bottom picture is of Paul).

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Did Jesus Say About Hell? (Monday Link Up #3)

It is often cited that Jesus speaks more about hell than He does heaven in the gospels. This may be true (I haven't counted the verses or words) but usually this is used in a sort of "evangelistic" setting trying to get unbelievers to repent and turn to Jesus. I am certainly for unbelievers coming believers but as I work my way through the Gospels so far in 2015 a surprising observation has come to mind. Jesus spends way more time warning "religious people" about hell than He does "heathens". Consider these examples:

"then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity." Luke 13:26-27

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father." Matthew 7:21

"Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." Matthew 25:44-55

Jesus made it very clear. There will be a lot of surprised "church people" on judgment day. He never seemed to take this harsh approach with "all those sinners" that we think we are so better than because we are Christians. It's a lesson we can all learn.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Was A Sick Man Who Needed A Doctor

When Jesus heard it, he said unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Mark 2:17

I will never forget my first interview for a church position. It was early 1998 and Nikki and I were newlyweds who had just begun our studies at Columbia International University in Columbia, SC. I was pursuing a youth ministry position that I had discovered through the school's job referral service in the little town of Ridge Spring, SC.

I was new to the whole "search committee" thing and really didn't know what to expect. Having said that I thought the interview was going well until the group asked me about my conversion. I was less than four years old in my faith and at this point I still had quite a bit of that "new believer" zeal. I was ready and excited to tell everyone and anyone at a moments notice what God had done in my life through His Son Jesus.

It has always been an important part of my testimony that I wasn't raised in a "Christian home" (a fact now that is even more precious to me at times since I was protected from many of the legalistic church baggage junk that much of my generation has rightly rebelled against). So I shared my story.

I didn't get to specific but I did mention how just a few years prior I had been in some trouble with the law as a teenager. Many would have considered me a hellion, though I wasn't into drugs and I got pretty good grades through school. Nikki's dad was even warned by some of his seminary neighbors that he shouldn't let his daughter hang out with me. Nevertheless, I had a few run ins with the authorities that even led me to be assigned community service, which wasn't finished until AFTER my decision to follow Jesus (no, He doesn't magically take away the consequences of our prior sins).

After I was finished with my testimony I could tell there was some tension in the room. Finally a young lady spoke up. I could tell in her tone that she was sprinkling sarcasm and smugness all over her response. Her question was simple, "How are you going to explain that to teenagers? I am not sure you would be a good example for our kids!"

I was both shocked and hurt. I had just poured out my heart to these folks (and thus learning for the first time that many church people cannot be trusted to share your true heart) and had been shot down. Worse, it seemed that they did not care that Jesus had rescued me from my past life and that this message of good news in my life was EXACTLY what their teenagers needed to hear in the difficult world they found themselves growing up in.

I knew at this point I wasn't going to get the job, so I took advantage of the opportunity to explain Mark 2:17 to them. Jesus told the Pharisees that those who are well (or those who think they are well) have no need of a doctor, but a sick person does. He hadn't come to call the righteous (or those who think they are righteous) but sinners to repentance. This was my story. I was a sinner that Jesus loved and called to repentance.

I know we "church people" say all the time that someone doesn't need to clean themselves up first in order to come to Jesus. However, where the rubber meets the road this is often what we really believe. They wanted someone who already had their act together even before they met Jesus, someone who was morally pure and had no "skeletons in their closet" so to speak. The problem is, of course, that only one person fits that description, the Lord Jesus Himself.

Even though it has been seventeen years since that interview it left a distinct impression on my life and my wife's. I will likely never forget that moment.  This is why I tend to draw a distinction between "followers of Jesus" and "church people". I can see it in people's faces when I teach. When I talk honestly about my sin, about our sins, and not the sins of those "heathen" out there I can see "church people" cringe or make a face that clearly indicates they do not like what I am saying.

"Church people" get mad when the church sign says "Messed up people welcome here" and say they would rather the sign say, "This Sunday is wear a tie to church Sunday." If you think I am exaggerating, the previous example is a real experience that I have had in the last year, you can't make this stuff up. We wonder why people want nothing to do with our churches. Well, I don't wonder. Friends, if church is about "keeping up appearances" then we wouldn't be very happy with the people that Jesus would have brought as "visitors". Maybe we want to wear our ties and look moral on the outside because if we started serving real sinners, they would begin to remind us too much of ourselves. You know, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Disappointment With God

My review of Philip Yancey's Disappointment With God on Goodreads
Here is a review by Scott:

Father Son Fun

I have always thought it was important as a dad that I do fun things with my son...things that build lots of great memories. After school today he and I are making the trek down to Sacramento to see the Sacramento Kings take on the Boston Celtics. I am excited for numerous reasons.

These are the kinds of memories my son and I will share for a lifetime. You really can't put a price on something like that. Life can be so busy and so stressful days like this to get away and have a little fun are so important. Don't ever underestimate their importance.

Did I mention I am a lifelong Celtics fan also? In 38 years I have not one time seen the boys in green in person. Couple that with the fact that we also have a fondness for the Kings since moving to California and that legendary coach George Karl (member of the Tarheel family) is coaching is first game for the Kings tonight only adds to the excitement that my son and I are feeling.

Most of all, however, we both love to be able to get away, father and son, and simply have a little fun in the midst of a way too cluttered life. As I look back on my life as a dad now that my kids are older, I don't regret not working more, or not making more money, or spending more time with "church people". Honestly I regret not taking advantage to do more fun things with my kids just for the sake of doing fun things with my kids. Moms and dads, plan something fun with your kids this weekend if you haven't. You'll be glad you did.

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#BostonStrong #SacramentoProud

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Peter Pan, Grow Up! (#TBT Post)

Ephesians 4:14-16 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

We live in an age where "Peter Pan Syndrome" is becoming a household phrase. The "teen years" seem to be lasting well into the 40's nowadays. For many professing Christians, they are Peter Pan Christians and the church is their Neverland. In Ephesians 4:4-16, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that one of the main purposes of the church is to be the vessel by which followers of Jesus become spiritual adults. Allow me to share with you four keys of "growing up" as Christians.

First, every believer can grow up by embracing Bible doctrine. Paul warns about the danger of being tossed to and fro and carried away by every wind of doctrine. The first phrase, to and fro, carries the idea of waves crashing onto the shore. Have you ever been knocked down by a wave at the beach only to be knocked down by a second wave when you tried to stand up? This is the picture of the Christian who is not grounded in the word of God. Like the house built on the sand, they are knocked down by any weird teaching and any circumstance that comes their way.

Then Paul says that we aren't to be carried away by every wind of doctrine. Have you ever been carrying a stack of papers and dropped several of them in a high wind? Next thing you know you are chasing papers every which way. This is a picture of the Christian who follows every latest fad, thinking that "this one" will be my breakthrough! We don't need fads, or schemes, or seven step programs, or anything except the truth we find in the Bibles in our hands. Christian, you have everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Second, every believer can grow up by using loving words. Paul says that part of our growth happens when we learn the art of "speaking the truth in love." To put it simply, any effort to speak the truth without loving the person we are speaking to is out of bounds. Love is the sphere of our truth speaking. Truth and love are to be wedded together in such a way that you can't tell the difference between the two. As Christians, we may be the worst in the world about "winning the arguement." But remember, as Martin Luther King said to his volunteers (see previous blog), we are not to be first concerned with victory, but reconciliation. Ask yourself, why are you telling this person this? It may be true, but do you just want to be right about their sin or do you genuinely seek their reconciliation to God and to others?

Thirdly, every believer can grow up by recognizing Christ as Head. Paul says that he desires that we "grow up into every way into Him who is the head." Paul is talking to the church and he wants them to be mature. What we need is to remember whose Church it is. It's not my church. It's not your church (I recommend getting "my church" out of your vocabulary). It's Jesus' church. He is the Head. He is the Master. All spiritual growth finds its source in Jesus. Submission to Christ is the only path to growth. In other words, you grow as you obey.

Finally, every believer can grow up by joining together in ministry. Paul says that growth happens in the body "when each part is working properly." In verse 11-13 he deals with the importance of every member ministry, that it is the saints who are equipped for the work of ministry. Ministry is not merely the task of the ordained ministers. In fact every follower of Christ is called to be a minister. Every member of the church has his or her share in the ministry of the church, what most don't realize is that the growth of the entire body hinges on whether or not each individual member is involved actively in real ministry.
I want you to imagine your church being filled with people growing in their faith together and doing ministry together. Don't be a Peter Pan Christian. The church is not Neverland. God wants you to grow. You have no excuse and neither do I. Will you take action today? Will you commit to God your desire for spiritual maturity and then act on it? Do the things Paul tells us to do. God is with you, He is for you, and He is in you!

Monday, February 16, 2015

God Loves You...That Really Is GOOD News (Monday Link Up #2)
God loves you. You've heard it. You've probably said it. But I wonder if those three words have lost their luster? Do we take them for granted? Do we realize how amazing this truth actually is? If you're like me, then you have done some pretty horrendous things in your life, things that hurt people and hurt God. If we haven't done them, we've thought them. If you're not like me, then you are most likely lying at this moment. The truth is, God knows EVERYTHING about us and He loves us anyway.

We forget that God is a God of love. We take His love for granted. Like Jonah we really don't want Him to love and forgive certain people for what they did. But this is not the heart of God. Every person is made in the image of our Creator. Every person is someone that Jesus cared enough about to give up His place in heaven, put on skin, and sacrifice His own life so that that person's sins could be forgiven.

I am convinced that one of the biggest barriers to faith is that followers of Jesus and non-followers alike cannot believe that God really loves them. I speak from experience. There are moments in my life where I just flat out do not believe that God could love or ever has loved me. But what does His word say? God's letter to us makes it very clear about how God feels about the crown of His creation.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart..." Jeremiah 1:5

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

"But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

"Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved..." John 20:2

"He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8

"We love because God first loved us." 1 John 4:19

"But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them." Psalm 78:38

This represents a very small sampling of what we find in the Scriptures. A story of a loving God, doing whatever was necessary to redeem the people He was passionate about. That's how God feels about all of us...and He knows our deepest, darkest secrets. Embrace Him, don't turn Him away. He wants to love you.

Most people don't find out
'Till it's too late
That someone has to pay the price
You can pay it your self (Ha!)
Or let someone else
But who would be that nice
To pay a debt that isn't his
Well I know someone like that
And He's your best friend
He really is
He really loves you

  -Keith Green, Altar Call

Friday, February 13, 2015

How Have The Psalms Blessed You?

I have never taught on or through the Psalms. Lord willing, that changes Sunday. After finishing an almost nine month series on Ephesians at our church I found myself this week almost with a teaching block. I didn't know where to go. I had mixed emotions. Then I thought, "The Psalms are all of those things!"

The Psalms have been called the worship book of the Bible and they are. Written mostly by David they were originally meant to be sung. But the Psalms are so much more than that. They are almost always written when the author was at a place of life we would say was "where the rubber meets the road." David often penned Psalms on the run, when he feared for his life, or when we was even angry at God for his circumstances. Here are a few samples:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:1-2

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?" Psalm 22:1 (the Psalms also have Messianic implications as you can see)

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from sin. for I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." Psalm 51:1-3

The Psalms are honest about life and about sin. I think that's why so many people have been blessed by them and why they mean so much to believers all over the world. I was thinking, how have the Psalms blessed you? I would love to hear your story. Comment away!


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