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Journeying With Jesus

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Journeying With Jesus

By Matt Hennecke

Have you ever noticed the number of journeys spoken of in Scripture? We have Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran to Canaan and on to Egypt and back. We have the exodus story as Israel journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. We have the many evangelistic journeys of Paul. In fact, the more I think about it the more I see the entire Bible as a travelogue – a book of journeys. In some cases, the journeys are physical as people travel, sometimes as captives – as when God’s people went into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity – but, perhaps in more cases, they are journeys of discovery as people learn about their sinful selves and a loving God seeking their redemption. It’s not surprising, then, that God’s people are often referred to as wayfarers, weary travelers, or pilgrims inroute to a heavenly City.

Amidst all of the stories of journeys described in the Bible, there is one that surpasses them all. It is the longest, the most arduous, and difficult journey ever undertaken. It is a journey without maps or mileage that lasted for 33 years. Of what journey do I speak? It is Jesus’ journey of humility from heaven to earth and back again. It is a journey that reveals his heart of humility. The story of his journey is told in Philippians 2:3-11. There Paul writes. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be            grasped….” Then Paul tells us the stages of Jesus’s journey of humility when he says Jesus 1) emptied himself, 2) took the form of a servant, 3) humbled himself, and 4) then died on a cross.

Has there ever been a longer more challenging journey? Jesus was (and is) God, but he travelled to earth and went from the very highest place to a tomb. Thankfully his journey wasn’t over, for then “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Here's the thing. The journey Jesus took is similar to the journey faithful Christians should be taking. We are to empty ourselves, become servants, be humble, and die to sin so we might be servants of God and exalted by Him. How’s your journey going? When the path ahead seems unclear, be sure to consult the road-map frequently (your Bible) and always consider the Pathfinder (Jesus) who showed us how to find our way Home.

Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians

By Brock Henry

If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus.

Based on the number of prophets Jesus quoted and the number of times He quoted them, it seems safe to assume that Jesus spent significant time studying the prophets. Contrary to our shying away from them, Jesus apparently immersed Himself in the prophets.

Why are these ancient texts so crucial, though? Why should we (and why did Jesus) spend so much time in them? 

The overarching answer lies in the text of Ephesians 2:19-20: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone…”

If Christ is the cornerstone of the building of which we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5), then the apostles and the prophets are the foundation on which the building is grounded. The prophets undergird the very structure in which Christ is the defining feature.

Therefore, the prophets are not incidental to who we are as Christians; they are foundational.

Consider, though, two additional reasons for us to dive deep into the messages of the prophets: First, they teach us about God, the Creator. Second, they teach us about ourselves as created beings.

Here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about God:

  • God is faithful. We will wander away from God, but He will never wander away from us. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

  • God is patient and long-suffering. In large part, God repeated the same messages over and over to His people, because He wanted to give them time to repent and to come home. “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them” (Jeremiah 7:25). God has demonstrated a willingness to endure significant rejection and great personal agony in order to give people continued opportunity to come home.

  • God is willing and able to punish obstinate sinners. God is merciful, yes, but He is also just. And a just God punishes those who willfully refuse to obey. “For I solemnly warned your fathers...yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant…” (Jeremiah 11:7-8). If we are punished by God, we will deserve it, and it will be in spite of the fact that He provide us with ample opportunity to repent. 

Second, here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about ourselves:

  • We want to go our own way even when it’s not in our best interest. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” (Isaiah 53:6). And as we know from the Proverbs, our own way can lead us straight to disaster: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

  • We are not sufficiently wise to direct our own steps. No matter how much we think we know and understand, we do not have sufficient perspective to appropriately choose a path for ourselves. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Insisting that we have sufficient wisdom to direct our own steps is equivalent to a blind man insisting he has sufficient sight to drive a car.

  • Our thoughts and ways are infinitely lower than God’s. Because of our insolent pride, our egos may be as high as the heavens, but our abilities are not. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

To recap, the prophets are crucial to us as twenty-first century Christians for at least three reasons:

  • They are foundational to our Christianity.

  • They teach us about the Creator.

  • They teach us about ourselves as created beings.

But, let’s finish where we started...with Jesus (and us).

If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus. He knew the prophets, because He studied the prophets, and He studied the prophets, because they were important.

In the end, though, Jesus studied the prophets not simply because they were important, but because they were central to His very mission: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

If that is the case, we must study the prophets then, because Jesus is central to our mission.

Showing Brotherly Affection

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Showing Brotherly Affection

By Tom Rose

It has always been that way.  You dress up in your best to go to church.  Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away.  Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.”   Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before?  “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

But the scriptures show a different picture.  Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4).  Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20.  If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.

Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.  Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him.  Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love.  In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us.  However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!

Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10).  Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts.  Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time.  A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome.  When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days.  However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him.  Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns.  Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.

Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly.  Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department?  Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?”  And why is that?  One writer offers this observation:

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1

I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity.  “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet.  He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant.  It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else.  He was born so we could be born again.  He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2

Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort.  Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright.  That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did.  Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837.  Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels.  In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy.  On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests.  At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle.  After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.”  She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils.  The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.

Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us.  For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).

1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in

            Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.

2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-

            47.

Worldliness vs. Godliness

Friday, March 03, 2017

Worldliness vs. Godliness

By Brock Henry

“You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.” (C.S. Lewis)

Few distinctions are more clearly delineated in Scripture than the one between worldliness and godliness. In no uncertain terms, Scripture indicates that the character promoted by the world is diametrically opposed to the character promoted by God.

This does not stop us from blurring the lines, though.

As Christians, we often swallow, with ravenous enthusiasm, the poisonous lie promulgated by Satan himself that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We delude ourselves into thinking that piety and frivolity are symbiotic.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Godliness and worldliness are not parallel paths; they are wholly divergent. And so we stand at a crossroads every time we make a decision.

Either we will take the path that leads to life and godliness, or we’ll take the path that leads to death and worldliness. (cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15)

There is no middle ground. Only life or death. Only hot or cold. God will vomit out of His mouth those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).

At The Heart of the Distinction

When you boil it all down, there is one defining feature that distinguishes the worldly character from the godly one: Motive.

Worldliness, at its core, is selfish. Godliness, on the other hand, at its core, is selfless. One looks inward, the other looks outward. One says, “my will be done.” The other says, “Your will be done.”

3 Biblical Analogies

Scripture uses multiple analogies to describe the drastic nature of the distinction between godliness and worldliness. Consider three of them:

Light vs. Darkness: possibly the most vivid analogy Scripture uses to describe the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of light and darkness.

John describes Christ as the “true Light” (John 1:9), and Jesus later confirms this epithet as valid when He simply states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

It’s important to note that Christ did not say that He has the light of the world; He says that He is the light of the world. Thus, light is a defining feature of Christ Himself, not just His message. (And as Christ is one with God, it’s not surprising that John later writes of God the Father, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NKJV).)

As a result, it only makes sense then that those who call themselves by Christ’s name should also be described as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and as “having the light of life” (John 8:12).

Because God defines Himself as light, and bestows this light upon all who faithfully follow Him, everything that stands in opposition to Him must necessarily be described as darkness:

• 1 John 1:6 draws a distinction between fellowship with God and “walking in darkness.”

• Christ indicates that those who follow Him “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NKJV).

• Paul indicates that we should, “Walk as children of light...and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8-13, NKJV).

• Paul also writes that the godly have been “...delivered...from the power of darkness...” (Colossians 1:13, NKJV).

• To the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV).

• Peter writes that the godly “...were called...out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In the end, godliness and worldliness are as different as day and night.

Truth vs. The Lie: a second analogy that Scripture uses to illustrate the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of truth and a lie.

Just like Christ defines Himself by light, He also defines Himself by truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” (John 14:6, NKJV). Similarly, Jesus prays to the Father that He would, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). Again, it isn’t that God’s word has truth, it’s that God’s word is truth.

Accordingly, those who align themselves with the Creator are described as “walking in truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4) and as “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7).

Because God is truth, everything that stands against Him is described as the opposite of truth. Whereas Scripture indicates that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), it describes Satan as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).

Thus, those who choose an ungodly character are described as being “...of [their] father the devil...” (John 8:44) and as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19, NKJV). When man opts for worldliness over godliness, he “...exchanges the truth of God for the lie...” (Romans 1:25).

So, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day, they are also as different as truth and a lie.

Purity vs. Defilement: a third analogy that Scripture uses to highlight the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of purity and defilement.

Purity is yet another defining feature of God Himself (1 John 3:3). As a result, everything that emanates from Him is also pure, including His words (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140), His commandments (Psalm 19:8), and His wisdom (James 3:17).

Who then is qualified to associate with God? Those who have adopted a godly character and have purified their hearts (Psalm 24:4; cf. James 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus reiterates this when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

If the godly character is described as pure, then the worldly character is described as defiled:

• Jude describes certain apostates as having “...defiled the flesh...” (Jude 8).

• The Hebrew writer equates “falling short of the grace of God” with bitterness, trouble, and “becoming defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NKJV).

• Paul, in his letter to Titus, makes a marked distinction between the “pure” and the “defiled” (Titus 1:15).

• Jesus speaks of “...evil coming from within and defiling a man” (Mark 7:23, NKJV).

Thus, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day and truth and a lie, they are also as different as purity and defilement.

The Bottom Line

If we are to be people of godly character, we cannot even so much as dabble in worldliness. Godliness and worldliness are not opposite sides of the same coin, they are in fact two entirely distinct monetary systems. What works in the kingdom of this world is not even recognized by God as valid currency in His kingdom.

“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). It’s not that doing so is a bad idea, it’s that doing so is impossible. Because we cannot be both godly and worldly, we must make a choice. No other decision has more gravity than this, as what we select will do no less than determine our eternal destiny.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Cursed are the defiled in heart, for they shall not see God.

Be Like Christ

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Be Like Christ

By Randy Case, Jr.

The life of Christ is almost incomprehensible to the mere human. Leaving Heaven, a place where we strive to go, Jesus came to earth to fulfill God's plan. He took the form of a servant and fully obeyed the Father, humbly being put to death (Philippians 2:3-8).

We must follow Christ, imitating God and walking in love (Ephesians 5:1-2). We should WANT to fully comply with this command, after all it was Christ who 'gave Himself for us' (Ephesians 5:1).  He willingly endured the pain of the cross for us to be reconciled to God upon our obedience to His plan.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and in doing so became the greatest servant...to God and to others. This was exemplified during His life even with the words He spoke while on the cross. A servant's mentality is one of seeking out the needs of others and doing what he can do to meet those needs.

Scripture records seven statements of Jesus on the cross. Looking at the order of these, we gain further insight about His character. The first statement is in Luke 23:34, where Jesus asks God to forgive those who persecuted Him. As He hung on the cross, Jesus was focused on others, showing a love and concern for them. The second statement is in Luke 23:43, where Jesus told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. Again, a love and concern for this person. The third statement is in John 19:26-27, where Jesus addresses His mother. He made provisions for her to be taken care of by John. Jesus wasn't so preoccupied with His own suffering and death that He neglected the needs of His mother. In the fifth statement, Jesus said 'I am thirsty' (John 19:28). The humanity of Jesus is evident here and throughout the New Testament, having traits that we have (hunger, fatigue, sorrow, etc). Now, He makes a personal request.

In looking at these words, we gain insight into Jesus' priorities. Serving God and being fully obedient to His word took precedence in His life. God must be our main priority (Matthew 6:33), not family, friends or the world. Second, He was concerned with others. Even in the face of death and horrific pain, He expressed a concern for others. We should be concerned about our brethren, the sick, the shut in and those who are struggling spiritually and do what we can to help.

Being a servant is a great honor. It involves humility, obedience, joy and loyalty. In a me-first society, we should learn that we come last. Matthew 20:16 tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first. It's not all about us. A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain him honor (Proverbs 29:23).

Self is the root of many problems. Selflessness is a characteristic that Christians must develop and maintain if we are to be pleasing to God. Jesus was the greatest example of a servant, lowly and humble, giving to others all that He could.

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