Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Loyalty and Your Local Church

I have been a pastor's kid for most of my life. Needless to say, I have really only attended one church in my life. As a child I would suddenly stop seeing some of my friends at Sunday-School. When I would ask where they were, the response was typically "I don't think that family is coming to our church anymore." As a child this response was lame, and it didn't excuse the present void of friendship.

Let's be honest, when it comes to local churches in first-world-countries, we have more options than might be good for us. We have all types of denominations, and the ever increasing denominational and doctrinal ambiguity of non-denominational churches. Within each denomination lies an array of movements and denominational subsidiaries. Small churches. Large churches. Jumbo churches. Buffet anyone?

The church of God isn't a buffet, but with so many options, it can feel that way. Furthermore, with the marvel of the Internet, some say a physical congregation is unnecessary.

The church is the universal body of baptised believers, with Christ as the supreme authority. For practical reasons, there are local churches, where believers meet and congregate.

She is a precious thing, and Christ Himself died to redeem her. Let us not easily and flippantly criticize the bride of Christ. Ultimate dedication is to Christ, but there is also loyalty to our local church.

Meeting in a local church is necessary, and a commandment. (Hebrews 10:24-25) The word ekklÄ“sia implies a called out local assembly. 

The church has a purpose on earth, and it is revealed in the New Testament. It is to edify and purify the believers (Eph 4:12-16), to evangelize the world with the gospel (Matt 28:19), and to act as a force of good (Gal 6:10).

The right church is the church that is Christ centered, Biblically solid, edifying and purifying the believers, evangelizing the world, acting as a force of good, and is a place where believers can fulfill these rolls. If the church you are currently attending is striving for these rolls, and is a place where you can fulfill these rolls, then this is your church. Look no further.

It is so easy to begin to hop around and run from our church "problems" because there are so many options afforded to us. 

You don't fit in? That's fine, there has to be a church in your area with people just like you. You don't agree with the churches worship style? That's fine, there are 42 other church "worship styles." You had an argument with a member? That's fine, you can find another church with a new members. 

But it's not fine. Leaving your place of work interrupts the work in the church. Leaving your place of growth interrupts growth in the church.

Preferences and lack of unity are not reasons for leaving a church. Paul continually exhorts believers to remain in unity with one another (Rom 15:5, Eph 4:3, Phil 2:1-2, ), and to love one another (Rom 12:10, Gal 5:13, 1 Thess 3:12). We may disguise our lack of unity and love as deeper and more significant issues, but rarely do deeper issues become grounds for separation when unity and love is valued at the level that Paul valued it. Let us be clear, unity is not complete agreement over every secondary issue. Unity is loving Christ, His work, and His church above the secondary issues.

Leaving churches often keeps believers from developing deeper friendships. Leaving churches often keeps a believer from being under true church leadership. Leaving churches often keeps believers from being able to exercise his/her spiritual gifts. 

Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. When we leave a church for wrong reasons, we give up the church for ourselves. We should love the church, and give ourselves (including our differences) up for her. Christ had ultimate dedication to His church, and even though He might not agree with everything that His church has done, He nonetheless gave Himself up for her.

There are no doubt several very legitimate reasons why a believer would stop meeting with a local church. However, those reasons are very few and rare when unity and love are made the central motive behind church loyalty. 

The Church of Christ is precious; let us not usurp it's work through our disloyalty and disunity. Love your church like Christ loved His. 

- Jerry

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Golden Calves

Most of us are familiar with passage in Exodus; the creation of the ten commandments. Moses was up in Mt. Sinai, meeting with God. The Israelites were at the foot of the mountain, and they could not see Moses. After some times had passed, the Israelites became impatient, and wanted to meet God. They approached Aaron, and asked him to fashion a golden calf. Aaron did. Do you recall his words to the israelites?
“This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!
The Israelites truly believed that the golden calf was God. They attributed God's works to the calf, and they offered it sacrifices. Their impatience and unwillingness for God to determine the terms of their relationship lead them to worship their creation of who they imagined God was. How short they fell! 

Rewind to about 40 days earlier. Do you remember the reaction of the Israelites to the ten commandments? 
"they trembled and stood afar off"
As if they were unwilling and fearful to accept God for who he had presented Himself to be. In this willingful ignorance was born the idea for a Golden Calf.

How did they worship this calf? 
"the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play"
Never had God prescribed such worship, but because the Israelites had a false view of God, it reflected in their worship. They had traded the thunderous, dangerous, and powerful almighty God, for a malleable calf. A calf was an animal to be sacrificed for sin. They had glorified the very thing that was meant to be sacrificed, and made it to be God.

Ironically enough, the second commandment prohibited the creation of a graven image to worship God. 

Fast forward to a few hundred years in the future. King Solomon has died, and his son, Rehoboam had just taken the throne. Rehoboam was planning to increase taxes, and be harsh ruler over the Israelites, and Jeroboam lead a revolt. There was no violence, but Rehoboam ended up in control of the tribe Judah, and Jeroboam took control the rest of Israel. Now Israel was split in two kingdoms. Naturally, the Israelites from non-Judah wanted to worship God in the new temple that Solomon had built, but there was one problem. The temple was in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was in Judah. There was a barrier between Judah, and the rest of Israel. 

Notice now what Jeroboam does to fix this problem. 

1 Kings 12:28
Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!
The same words as Aaron. A repetition of sin. Jeroboam placed these two calves of gold in two very convenient places in Israel. Now the Israelites didn't have to worship and sacrifice to God on His terms, but rather at any of the two calves that Jeroboam had set up. Jerusalem was "too much."

It was inconvenient for the Israelites to cross borders to worship God on His terms, so they  traded the thunderous, dangerous, and powerful almighty God, for a pair of malleable calves. The Israelites began to worship and sacrifice to God at their convenience, and on their terms. Remember that a calf was a sacrificial animal for the cleansing of sin. The Israelites were worshiping the very thing that was meant to be sacrificed!

These two instances are of immense importance to the believers life, and his dealing with God. 

God has revealed Himself with great explicitness. He has also delineated our obedience, worship and sacrifice to him. The life of a disciple of Christ is demanding, and goes beyond a list of ten rules. The life of a disciple of Christ requires all sacrifice, all obedience, and all worship. As Christians, we may come to a head knowledge of what it means to "deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Yet on even fewer occasions will a believer come to a spiritual understanding of what that requires. 

When God reveals this to us, it can be scary. We come to grips with how much a life wholly dedicated to Christ might cost. More often than not, our reaction might be to "tremble and stand far off" from God's will for us. We see God's jealousy, and we become willingly ignorant of his refining will in our life.

When a believer is unrepentant of sin, he is "trembling and standing afar off" from the will of God. When a believer sinfully mixes with the world, he is "trembling and standing afar off." When a believer fails to obey God's word or His spirit, he is "trembling and standing afar off." When a believer rejects the refining work of Christ in his life, he is "trembling and standing afar off."

From this unwillingness to accept Christ's refining work in us comes a golden calf. That is, a twisted and sinful perception of who God is, created for our convenience. We choose to ignore God for how He has revealed Himself to be, and then create a version of "god" that we can worship on our terms. 

These golden calves are always a spiritualized projection of our own fleshly desires. We trade the thunderous, dangerous, and powerful almighty God, for a malleable calf. We then glorify the very thing that was meant to be sacrificed, and make it to be God. Golden calves always fall short of who God really is. 

This twisted view of God is then reflected in our lives. Our worship is fake, for we sing to a fake God. Our obedience is fake, for we obey a fake God. Our actions are fleshly, for we "submit" to a "fleshly" god. 

When we trade the image of God for the image made from corruptible man, we are worshiping a golden calf. (Romans 1:23)

Our knowledge of God and His will comes strictly from his expressed and special revelation. Not from who we feel God is or wants. All other perceptions are a golden calf. 

Leviticus 9:8
Aaron therefore went to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.
I don't know what was going through Aarons head when he killed that calf for himself. However, he could have been thinking of the golden calf he was guilty of fashioning. The only way to rid ourselves of a fleshly projection of God, is to kill it. We cannot further adjust our fleshly perceptions to represent God any better than Aaron could have adjusted the golden calf to represent God better. We must fully sacrifice our desire's and perception to God, and allow Him to freely refine and will in our lives. 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Marriage of the Lamb

I recently saw a video of a man proposing to his girl. I'll tell you, there are few things that strike me as deep as proposals. There was one image that made a lasting impression. After the "yes," they were embracing, and she was still in shock of what had just happened. The man was standing with a serene, calm, and loving face, but she was engulfed in him, in complete shock. Her whole face and body was wrapped around her man. She was just holding on, and now was ready to save herself, and wait for marriage.

In the middle of Revelation, amiss war, famine, Satan, Armageddon, The Beast, the Bottomless Pit, and doom, there is a great passage.
Revelation 19:7
"Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
Christ is the groom, the church is His bride. In the future, Christ will be joined to his bride.

Perhaps one of the more popular subjects of modern Christianity is marriage/romance. Many share slight animosity toward such a commonly discussed topic. However, it's important to understand marriage because the Gospel is likened to marriage. 

In biblical times, marriages had three stages:

1: The betrothal. This was the legal binding between two individuals. When a believer is saved, he is justified and is legally binded to Christ. "You were bought with a price."

2: The coming of the Bridegroom. When the bridegroom comes for the bride. This is the rapture.

3: The marriage. When the two are made one. The is the marriage of the lamb.

Christ has done it all. He chose us, purchased us, cleansed us, and will come for us. We can take no credit in the selection, for in reality, we had nothing to do with it. It was all a doing of Christ.
Revelation 19:8-9
And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
The bride of Christ is to be adorned in the righteous acts of the saints. Christ knows that his Bride is far from perfect, but he chooses to see her in her most glorious self. He knows that the Churches imperfections are irrelevant. Even the Church's present sins are overlooked. What grace!

However, we aren't at that day, yet. What do we do in the meantime?

First of all, we wait.

The groom earned the right to have the bride, and yet He waits. The good bride saves herself for her groom. She knows not when He will come, but she waits patiently, having faith that He will surely arrive.

I'm reminded of a friend that recently married. She downloaded an app that counted down the days to her marriage. Really? Brides look up to that day in ways that I do not understand. As part of the bride of Christ, we should be eager for the day when Christ will be ours.

Secondly, we save ourselves.

In revelation, the Bride of Christ (the Church) is contrasted with the "Harlot." 
Revelation 17:1-2 - Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
The harlot is the apostate church, or the false religious system.  The 'church' that has an appearance of the Bride of Christ, and yet fundamentally has rejected Christ. Subsequently, she was not chosen. And oh, how she hates the Bride of Christ. The 'harlot' has mixed and fornicated with the world. The 'harlot' was not chosen, and as a result, her actions reflect it. She doesn't belong to Christ, and so does whatever she desires. 

Not the Church. We belong to Christ. He is the one we are reserved for, and even though we have not yet been made one with Him, we save ourselves. Just like the girl who is engaged behaves like she is married, even though she isn't married yet. How beautiful is a pure church. 

To "save ourselves" is to sanctify ourselves, which is a recurring order for believers (Eph 1:3-14 and Eph 5:25-27).

Sanctify yourself for Christ.

Christ has selected us, and we belong to Him. Our selection is then reflected in our actions. As Christians, we should be keeping ourselves for Christ, and not mixing with the world. 
1 Corinthians 6:15 - Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!

We save ourselves, and we wait.

Like that scene that is stuck in my head, we can take refuge in Christ. After the "yes," Christ stands with a serene, calm and loving face, and we are engulfed in Him. We should then eagerly wait, and zealously save ourselves for the day when we will know Him in His fullness.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Apostasy, and Falling Away

From the first verse of the second Timothy, chapter three, to the ninth verse, Paul paints a very clear and vicious picture of a particular group of people. In fact, all throughout the NT, especially the epistles, there seems to be a general description of a similar group of people.  

This group of people is also described 2 Thes 2:3. Paul pleads with the Thessalonians to resist the "falling away." The Greek word for "falling away" is apostasia. Not that I know any Greek, but we use the word 'Apostate' to describe this group of people that have "fallen away." The terms "false teacher," and "sons of Balaam" are also used to describe the same group of people. 

When reading the NT, it is key to understand this group of people, for many passages are warnings to avoid them. In fact, large portions of epistles are focused on describing and dealing with these people. It was a most weighty subject to the apostles. 

Who are they? Why are they viciously attacked? What is their end? What do they look like?

2 Tim 3:1-9 paints a clear picture of who this mysterious group of people are. 

Fundamentally, Apostates skew the deity of Christ, and skew the redemption through his sacrifice. Either deliberately rejecting these key aspects of the Gospel, or indirectly by trying to add to them, or denying it's power. Read 1 John 4:2-3, and Phil 3:18-19.

Apostates have not received salvation (2 Pet 2:12-14). They have come to a head knowledge of the gospel, but yet never received salvation. Thusly, their end is eternal separation from God.

Apostasy is not heresy, or ignorance. Heresy if a result of falling into a snare of the devil. Apostasy is a willing 'falling away' from the truth. 2 Pet 2:15 says: "They have forsaken the right way and gone astray..."

Observe how they are described. 

1. "They have a form of godliness, but deny it's power" 2 Tim 3:5

We can't make the mistake and believe that these people are far away in Salt Lake City. They look like Christians. They might sit in our churches, pews, and hang out with us.  They have an appearance of godliness, yet deny the power that comes along with godliness and the gospel. They look the part, but have not experienced the power of God in their lives; there is no transformation. No fruit. No works to back up the claim to faith.

2. "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" 2 Tim 3:4

They place their own desires and lusts above the will of God. As a result of loving themselves, their own flesh is placed on the altar and obeyed. They have no regard for the law of God. 

3. They do "not endure sound doctrine" 2 Tim 4:3

Apostates don't just reject sound doctrine, but they replace sound doctrine for teachers that satisfy their "itching ears." That is, their desires and inklings. Truth from God's word is not tolerated, and they prefer messages that make them feel good; that satisfy that desire.

On a side note, the goal of preaching is not to make people feel good, but to expose the word of God, and to bring conviction and repentance. Seeing that Apostates seem to worship their desire and will, they would naturally shy away from preaching. They seek to be satisfied instead of convicted.

4. "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." 2 Tim 3:7

They have been "learning" for a long time, but they have not graduated the class. They listen to the same sermons over and over, but can never grasp the truth. There is no spiritual progress. Apostates stay in the same 'spiritual' state, and never mature. They are destitute of any real spiritual growth. 

This is a tough group of people to think of. We don't want to associate these descriptions with anyone we know, and ultimately "the Lord knows those who are His." 

Notice their influence: "For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins," They are dangerous people, and they are aggressive. 

Apostates do not hesitate to influence the people around them.

There are many more verses and passages that speak of apostasy, and we could analyze them one by one. I simply want for us to know they exist.

I write these things to you for two reasons. 

#1. Compare your own life with this description. Obviously I am not suggesting that you are an Apostate, and don't loose time debating whether you are or aren't. We do not want our lives to represent these fake disciples in any way. The biblical description of an apostate is a description that we can diagnose ourselves with. We can compare our life with that of an Apostate. It is important to know what an Apostate is so that you can spot out any "falling away" in your own life.

#2. Be aware of the fact that this group of people exist, and that they might look like a brother or sister in Christ. Pauls commandment to Timothy is "from such people turn away!" We must be careful not to be drawn away by their message, which satisfied the flesh. 

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1 

- Jerry Jr.