Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, Bible, Christ, Christian, church, Eternal Life, eternity, Forever, God, Heaven, Hell, Jesus
From as far back as I can remember, I was taught to memorize John 3:16. I think I can still type it from memory: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Yes, that was King James. As some people consider this verse, they may be tempted to ask, “What is everlasting life? Why is that something I would want?”
Fortunately, Jesus answered this question in John 17:3 as He was praying for God’s glory in us. What? You didn’t know that Jesus prayed directly for you? In John 17:20, Jesus said, “I do not ask on behalf of these [disciples] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…” If you are a follower of Christ, how did you hear about Him? My guess is that you heard something from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or one of the other books of the New Testament. Jesus prayed for those who would believe in Him because of the words recorded in, spoken by, and shared through His disciples. As you have heard of Him and been taught in them, He was praying for you.
But, back to John 17:3 and what is this everlasting life? Jesus defines everlasting or eternal life this way, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So, what did He say? Eternal life is knowing God. The God Who created the universe and beyond. The God who sustains every living creature throughout the creation. The God who knows everything, can do anything He desires to do, and is everywhere all at the same time and throughout time. Eternal life is to know Him!
But Jesus did not stop there. He said eternal life is to know God, the only true God. It is also to know Jesus, Whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world. Eternal life is to know Jesus. Not to just know about Him. Many people in hell know about Jesus. Eternal life is to be connected to, intimate with, and growing in Christ. The One Who died so you would not have to live forever separated from God. The only One through Whom runs the way to the Father of Heaven. The only Name given under Heaven by which we must be saved. Eternal life is to live connected to Christ from now until and into forever.
So, eternal life is living in relationship with God the Father and God the Son. Jesus Himself said He would send His Holy Spirit as a comforter and helper to point us to Jesus, so we live in relationship within the Holy Community. Now THAT is living!
So, how do we receive Eternal life? According to Jesus, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3) But what does that mean? You started your physical life at conception. You started your spiritual life, if indeed you have started to live spiritually, when you surrender your life to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and begin to follow Him. You live in relationship with Him and show others the superiority of a life lived in Him. You no longer live for yourself, but for Him (2 Corinthians 5:15). He comes in and takes up residence on the throne of your heart and life and you live connected with Him from then on for eternity.
That’s eternal life.
Do YOU have eternal life? If not, why not? If you do, are you sharing it with others?
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, Bible, Christ, Christian, church, Deliverance, Forgiveness, God, Grace, Jesus, Luke 15, mercy, Prodigal, Prodigal Son, repentance, sinner
It never ceases to amaze me how I can read a passage of scripture I have read a number of times before and have it hit me in ways that it might not have all of those many times before. One such scripture is the story of the Prodigal Son. The story is found in Luke 15.
To get the setting of the story, one must read verses 1 and 2.
“Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man received sinners and eats with them.’”
So, the story of the Prodigal Son was told because the Pharisees were upset with Jesus for spending time with sinners. Jesus actually tells three stories with one lesson. We see this lesson stated in verse 10, as well as other places in this chapter,
“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus told these stories as proof of His love for and ministry to those who were far from God. When Jesus gets past the story of the lost sheep, and the story of the lost coin, he then turns to the story we know as the story of the Prodigal Son. While it is not my purpose to go through this whole story in this brief article, let’s summarize it.
A young man came to his father and basically said, “I wish you were dead already and I could my inheritance money.” Surprisingly, the father grants the inheritance. The young man quickly liquefies his assets and heads out of town to the “far country”. It doesn’t take long of living high on the hog before the man is broke and has to turn to feeding the hogs. This is something a good Hebrew simply could not abide, but the man was desperate, so he takes the job. After serving in this capacity for an undisclosed amount of time, he changed his mind about how bad his father might have been and how bad his life with his father might have been. He decides to go home.
In preparation for going home, the son comes up with a speech he is planning to deliver to his father in which he would ask not to be restored, but only to be allowed to work for his father and have a place to stay and food to eat. Here is his speech from verses 18b and 19:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”
As the son makes his way home, the father sees him coming and runs to him and starts to hug him and kiss him. Notice what speech the young man gives his father. It is found in verse 21:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
The Father, seemingly not even hearing this confession, shouts orders to his servants about restoring the young man to his position in the house as a son. What was the difference between what the young man had rehearsed so many times along the way and what he actually got to say? He did not get a chance to ask to be made a slave, but was reinstalled as a son. The Father was glad to have the son home, well, and under his protective roof once again.
The rest of the story shows the older brother upset that the father will receive the wayward son. Jesus told this story to help the religious people to see that He had come to reach the very people the religious people were upset He was reaching. They had missed the point.
So, when I read this story again, what popped out to me? The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were upset that Jesus was ministering to people who were not worthy of Him, but they did not realize that is the description of all of us. None of us are worthy of God’s love. Whether we wear a business suit, jogging suit, or loin cloth, none of us are worthy. Whether we have a billion dollars, or are in debt trillions of dollars, we are not worthy. Whether we have a doctorate degree, or dropped out of elementary school, we are not worthy. That is why it is grace!
Many of us church people forget that we are saved by God’s grace and; thus forgetting, we fail to show that same grace to others. Maybe we had better come back to God on our knees and cry, “We are not worthy to be called your sons or daughters. Make us like a hired hand.” And then, we will realize the blessings of God’s grace that, in Christ, we are called His sons and daughters.
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, bread, Christ, Christianity, church, Disciples, faith, follower, God, Guidance, help, Jesus, leadership, Lord's Prayer, Luke 11, pray, prayer, provision
That was the request of the disciples one night after they had watched Jesus praying and speaking with His Father. One of the disciples spoke up and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray just like they had seen John the Baptist teach his disciples. Basically, they saw in Jesus a means and method of communicating with the Father that looked so much more intimate and vital than the rote prayers they were used to praying and they wanted to learn how to lean in to that kind of a relationship with the Father.
Jesus began by teaching them to call God their Father. This was a new way of referring to God as through a personal relationship of love. This would assume that they believe God loved them. It would also assume that God wanted to hear from them. Not because He did not already know what they were going to say or what was going on in their lives, but because God desired relationship with them even more than they desired the relationship with God.
Next, he told them to ask that God’s Name be hallowed. Since we don’t use the word, hallowed, much, it would be helpful to think about what Jesus was saying. He was saying that His disciples should make the entire basis of their prayer and their life to be the lifting up of God’s Name as holy, awesome, powerful, mighty, and wonderful. They were to pray that people would think much of God’s Name and would want others to do the same. This prayer is hard to pray honestly, if we are not living this day to day, so asking God is also a way of asking Him to help us to live that way.
“Your Kingdom come” was the next phrase Luke recorded in Luke 11. This was to pray that God would come and rule the world like He rules in Heaven. Not meaning that He is sovereign, because that is already the case everywhere you look. God is sovereign, but what the disciples were to pray was that God’s reign would come to earth or that God’s plan for His world would be consummated. Again, this is hard to pray if we are not living this out daily.
Jesus then taught them to pray that God would give them each day their daily bread. While you and I know that all we have comes from God, Jesus wanted to make sure that they recognized God as the source of their sustenance. For those of us who do not live with a lack of resources, this is even more important because we have a tendency to take for granted that what we have comes from our hard work instead of appreciating that even our ability to live, move, breathe, and work comes daily from God.
The next part of the prayer seems to come more natural for most Christians I know. “Forgive us our sins”. But Jesus did not stop there when teaching His disciples to pray. He went on to teach them, “for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us”. Jesus taught us to daily, or even periodically, to tell God that we have forgiven those who have done us wrong. This is a tall order. Even this week, I have experienced a hurt that I am struggling with and want to be able to put it behind me, but find myself struggling. Jesus said in Matthew that if we did not forgive, we would not be forgiven. This part of the prayer sends me back to my knees to beg for God’s help.
He ended with teaching them to pray that God would not lead them into temptation. What did He mean by that? Surely God would not lead someone to sin. Would He? Of course He would not. This part of the prayer is a request that makes us aware of the times God gives us the way of escape. It reminds us that we must lean on and follow God in order to avoid the temptations or to resist the sin to which the temptation might lead us.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray that their lives would be a constant advertisement for the awesomeness of God’s Name, as an example of His rule, as a testimony to His faithfulness, and as a surrender to his leadership. When people look at your life, do they see any of that? Maybe we had better start praying like we have been taught.
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, Christ, Christian, church, CSI, evidence, God, God is at work, Handprint, help, Jesus, Lesson, Lord, Psalm, Psalm 8, Sermon, work
Many people love to watch CSI-type shows on the television. I don’t know about you, but these types of shows fascinate me. I am amazed to see how detectives can find bits of hair, rope, saliva, dirt, pollen, etc., and put together the pieces of the puzzle to determine what has happened. Probably another reason for enjoying these shows is that they almost always catch the bad guys. There is just something about justice prevailing that appeals to me.
As much as I love these shows, they are not new or original. In Psalm 8, David engages in a little CSI-type investigation of his own. He begins by saying, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth.” There is a song that begins that way. I think it was written by Michael W. Smith and is now accepted in many churches as a valid worship song. But this is the conclusion of the matter. How did he get there? That is found in many of the other 8 verses of the Psalm.
First, David says that God has displayed His splendor above the Heavens. What did he mean by that? He meant that, when you look into the sky and contemplate the stars, sun and moon, you realize there must be someone or something else out there. When you consider the stars and planets you are looking past, it shouts that this other something is other than you. This is the Bible term “holy”.
Next, David moves to a more detailed description of what you can see. He says that you can look at the way God grows up babies and strengthens infants and you understand His strength and even His adversaries cannot stand against that knowledge. Think about it. You take a human baby, apply love, care and nourishment and God grows that small child into a full-grown human man or woman. When you consider the process, it reminds us that we have a God and He is in control.
David moves from this picture, back to considering the heavens. In this, he is talking about the moon, stars, sun and planets. As immense as the universe is, David is reminded that it is the handiwork of God’s fingers. Notice David does not say it is the handiwork on His hands, but of His fingers. If God is so big that the universe is a work of His fingers, that is an amazingly big God.
He also considers man himself. Not just the physical development of men, but their position in the world. Our position in the world. God has made man to rule over creation. How amazing is that!? God created us and values us. God entrusted His creation to us. David did not live to see it, but today, we could even include that God has ordained men to carry on the work of His Church under the guidance of His Spirit.
Having considered all of the evidence, what conclusion did David come up with…if this was television, it would be time for commercial break…just where he began: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! As you and I consider this same evidence, we also have to conclude as David did that God is amazingly great and abundantly more than we can imagine. If you don’t yet know Him personally, now is the time.
Filed under: Articles, Book Review | Tags: Baptist, Bible, Christian, church, closer to God, God, God has a plan, help, Jesus, preaching
Years ago, Thabiti M. Anyabwile wrote a book with that title. On behalf of the IX Marks ministry, Dr. Anyabwile attempted to sit down and formulate what a healthy church member looks like. His findings were a challenge to me personally, for in our denomination, I am a member of our local church. Here is a synopsis of what he found.
First and foremost, a healthy church member is one who listens expositionally. What does that mean? Listening this way is akin to critical listening skills in other disciplines. A healthy church member knows their Bible and can evaluate whether or not the sermon is accurate to the text because they are familiar with the overall story of the Bible. Like the Bereans in the book of Acts, healthy church members should be able to search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
Similarly, the healthy church member should also be a Biblical Theologian. This means that they are knowledgeable enough of the character and activity of God so as to be able to critically evaluate not only the Biblical message of the church, but also the lives of their fellow members to help them with any blind spots that might exist.
The healthy church member both understands the gospel and has personally had it applied to their heart and lives and are seeking to model it as well as share it with others. A healthy church member is someone who understands that his or her sins have been forgiven and know what they deserve in separation from God. Since they have been given grace, they extend it to others without simply turning a blind eye to sin around them or in their own lives.
The healthy church member is also a committed member. Now, this does not mean just that they attend church every time the doors are open. That was the old metric. They attend, yes, but it is much more than that. They are committed to following their leaders as long as their leaders are following Christ. They are committed to sharing their gifts and talents in service to others. They are committed to give to their church financially as much more than just the required ten percent. They look for ways to help financially and even sacrifice their own plans for the sake of what God is doing through their church.
The healthy church member seeks out accountability and welcomes discipline when appropriate. No one likes discipline. (Hebrews 12:11) But the healthy church member realizes that her own heart might deceive her into thinking she is doing great when she actually is living wrongly. (Jeremiah 17:9) The healthy church member has a desire to live a holy life as a means of thanking Jesus for the cross and for the freedom we have been given. Because of this, any pain or inconvenience the discipline of others brings is worth it.
The healthy church member is hungry to continue growing. Whether it is effectiveness in prayer, understanding of scripture, development in evangelism, or discovery and deployment of spiritual gifts, the healthy church member wants to continue to grow. They want to continue to mature in their belief and practice alike. They read, study, pray, serve, and more for the purpose of growing in Christ.
The healthy church member is a humble follower who prays for their church. They put the needs of others ahead of their own in practice and in prayer. The healthy church member will embrace music that is not their style for the sake of those who might need it to connect them to ministry and the church. The healthy church member would rather than church building be worn out by teeming masses being brought in than to keep it an unstained museum to the greatness of their sacrifices to build a nice facility.
While this is only a very brief synopsis of Anyabwile’s book, What Is A Healthy Church Member?. It begs the questioning of our hearts to ask if that is healthy, am I?
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Approval, Bible, Christ, Christian, church, God, Guilt, Jesus, love, Love Others, Serve, Serve Others, Why
Okay. I know I have asked this question in an article before. But as I was reading in Nehemiah this week, I came across a curious situation I had not noted before. In Nehemiah 11, time has passed and the city of Jerusalem is not being populated by the returnees from captivity. The leaders of the people came up with a system for inhabiting David’s capitol city. They would cast lots and one out of every ten persons would be chosen and would have to move into Jerusalem from the surrounding areas. Immediately after this verse (11:1) is a short verse that almost goes overlooked.
“And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 11:2)
I found this very interesting. There were some people who were basically drafted to live in Jerusalem and then there were others who volunteered. The people praised those who volunteered.
As I thought about this situation, it dawned on me that many people go to church, give to church, and serve at church for a variety of reasons as well. For some, they feel like they have been drafted and don’t have a choice. Having pastored small churches all my life, I know what this looks like and feel like. There are some programs that we feel each church should have (Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Worship, Nursery, etc.) and in the smaller church, someone has to step up and take on this role. Now, there are some who feel called to this ministry while others do it because “someone has to” or they are drafted. If they don’t, then the ministry will suffer and no one wants to see the church suffer.
Even in the not-so-small church, this dynamic can be at play. Some people serve because they feel a divine calling to use the gifts and talents God has given them to serve in that capacity. Others serve because they feel guilty or hope that if they do enough, they will be accepted by the leadership of the church, or so they can feel like they are pulling their weight. Still others serve because they feel it gives them the right to control how that ministry performs for their children or interests. Motivations can be a many splendored thing.
So…why do you go to church? Why do you serve in church? Why do you do what you do for God? Do you do so because you are grateful to God for all He has done for you? Do you feel this so deeply because, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, you know how much you have been forgiven? Do you serve at church because you don’t want to let someone down? Do you serve because you feel an obligation to do so out of guilt or out of hoping to earn God’s favor?
I guess I must back up a bit. I might have gotten ahead of myself. Perhaps I should have started with asking the question, do you go to church? For even many who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ do not attend church with any regularity and the idea of actually committing to one church family and serving in a vital ministry would cut into their free time and their ability to pursue money, pleasure, vacation, status, etc. Even though they know that scripture commands us to assemble together (see Hebrews 10:24-25 and all the “one another” passages of the Bible), they still have no time for church or they let their feelings of being hurt or let down by a church rule over their faithfulness to the One Who died for them. While I do not intend to minimize the way some churches hurt people or let them down, I also know this should not determine our faithfulness to the One Who took our beating, or scorn, our shame, and our death and separation from God. We must continue to meet together, grow, serve, love, and forgive.
So…why do you go to church (or not go)? Why do you serve (or not serve)? Why do you give (or not give)?
Filed under: Articles | Tags: Baptist, Been There Done That, Bible, Bored, Christ, church, God, Grow, growth, Heaven, help, Jesus
I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they said something that shocked me and made me think for a while. We were talking about worship and Bible Study and this person said to me, “I don’t have time to go to church on Sunday mornings and, besides, I have read the entire Bible, what more could I learn?” Needless to say, I was shocked and surprised. I have studied the Bible for the last 24 years and 12 of those 24 years in formal theological education. I have read thousands of books on various Biblical subjects and have even written a few. I have been in Sunday School classes and seminars and have attended conferences, listened to sermons on tape, CD and the radio and I am convinced of one thing above all…I need to study more of the Bible so that I can know it and know God and obey Him!
I am not sure how we get to the point that we feel that we know all we need to know about God and the Bible. I suspect that it is because we find ourselves in circumstances in which we cannot go to church on Sunday mornings and we use it as an excuse to help us feel better about not going. I think this stems from getting further from God so that He does not seem quite as big anymore. I am just guessing that no one ever really intends to go there, but we make choices that have consequences we don’t see coming and we find ourselves hanging out in the breeze and unable to find our footing. One day, we look around and find that we cannot even remember the last time we read God’s word and it came to life and went to work right then in our lives.
I want to make sure that does not happen to anyone in my church. That is the primary reason that we offer several opportunities to study God’s word together each week. Of course, there is Sunday School. Many people think of Sunday school as only for children, but this could not be further from the truth. This is one of the best opportunities to study the Bible because we have dedicated teachers that study carefully to present each passage accurately and timely. This is also a great opportunity because you get to interact with others and with the text. If you don’t understand something, you have the opportunity to ask. If you have some great insight you have discovered, you have someone to share it with.
We also have Sunday morning worship in which we get to worship God together through music, prayer, Bible study, and sharing our gifts, talents and treasures. This is a great time because it is a time to be encouraged, challenged, corrected and directed directly from the word of God. It is a time when we can be with other believers and provides a time to respond corporately and individually to God’s activity in our hearts and in our midst.
We provide a Sunday Evening Bible Study for those who work on Sunday morning or just want another opportunity to study God’s word. Right now, we are working our way through the Life of David as we listen for God to instruct us by allowing us to view the mistakes of others and of seeing the lengths He is willing to go to reach us. This is another excellent time to interact with the Bible and is taught by the Pastor.
There is a Wednesday morning Bible study for those that rise early. It meets at 6:30 AM at a local business. We have Thursday Evening Bible study in which we are studying the Minor Prophets in the Fall and then will move on to a study of the Book of Revelation. We have a Tuesday morning study group for women, a small study group for men on Monday nights, and we have AWANA on Wednesdays to help children memorize and personalize the Bible in their own lives. We have various small group studies that go on at various times throughout the year and are always open to other studies and opportunities as they present themselves.
I hope that no person associated with this church ever gets to the point that they feel as if they no longer need to study God’s word. Even more than that, I hope that no one ever gets to the point that they feel there is no chance for them to do so. I hope that we all grow up into Christ as our Head so that we can attain to the full measure of Christ. Keep studying and keep growing.
If your church does not offer opportunities to study the Bible, maybe God would call you to volunteer to lead a group. Pastors are very busy and can’t be expected to lead every study or group that wants to study, so maybe God is calling you to help.
Whether you are asked to teach a study of the Bible or attend one, whether you feel like you know a lot about the Bible already or very little, my prayer is that we will never become satisfied with where we are at in our knowledge of God and His Word, but will keep on growing.