Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chapter 9: Stewardship...On Loan From God


The following was originally posted on Aug. 23. 
Do you remember Dr. Randy Wallace’s illustration from Sunday about the rancher who gave him the keys to the ranch? We don’t have the ownership to the kingdom of God, but we do have the keys! We have access of what gates get opened and what gates get closed.

That is an excellent illustration not only of the keys to the kingdom, which Randy preached from in Jesus’ encounter with Peter in Matthew 16:15-19, but also with all of our possessions and talents. A certain radio personality says that he has “Talent on loan from God.” You may or not like the personality, but isn’t it true that ALL of our talents are merely loaned to us from God and by God and only maintained by His grace?

Last week a person came in for benevolence help and when I asked where she went to church, she indignantly replied, “I don’t go to church! Churches don’t help anybody.” To which I replied, “We can only help other as people give to us.”

We don’t get government grants. We don’t charge admission to come to church. We don’t have dues. And we can’t just print money, that would be counterfeiting and that is illegal. Everything that you see and every employee at the church is because people of the church see that they are stewards of God’s possessions and give back to Him a portion of what He has provided.

The following devotional comes from Zondervan as we prepare for Chapter 9, to be taught on Nov. 6. 

KEY QUESTION: How much does God want of me?
God created the earth and the cosmos. Everything belongs to him. But people are given a special role to play in creation. It is both an honor and a great responsibility.

Since God created everything, including humans, how do we fit into the created order? What is our role in this reality? The parable below instructs us on the importance of seeing ourselves not as owners but as managers of our lives and gifts. The bags of gold represent any resource God, the master, gives us. He ultimately owns the resource, but we are charged with caring for it and investing it in ways that yield results for the sake of the kingdom of God.

God's People Are Managers
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14–30)

KEY VERSE
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2)

KEY IDEA
I believe everything I am and everything I own belong to God.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
If we choose to show compassion to people as God does, then we move from owner to manager. My central question now becomes, “What does God want me to do with all the resources he has put into my care?”

YOUR TURN

List some of the things God has entrusted to you to manage. How are you doing in these areas? How can you deepen your stewardship of them?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Why must I love everyone if God "hates" Esau?

   If God wants me to be compassionate, isn’t God saying “do as I say, not as I do?” (See page 128, BELIEVE). Didn’t God say, “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated” (twice in fact, in Mal. 1:2-3 and in Rom. 9:13).  Why does God command us to meet the needs of people when He Himself doesn’t do it?

    If you were to spend some time on these passages in Malachi and Romans, you would see that the Bible does not say that God “hated” the actual person of Esau, but rather the nation of Edom, descendants of Esau, and to a broader sense, any nation other than Jacob, also known as Israel. Furthermore, the word “hate” is a relative term when used in comparison and contrast of the word “love.”

    Jesus did a similar thing when he said the following (see Luke 14:26-27, and Matt. 10:37-38):


26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.


    He also says something similar in John 12:25, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

     Is Jesus contradicting Himself and telling us to hate our father, mother siblings, spouses, children and even ourselves? Of course not, except by way of comparison and contrast, that our love for God should be so much greater.

    So what about Esau? In both Romans and in Malachi, the Bible is not speaking about individuals but rather about the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom (and any nation other than His chosen people).

    Furthermore, God does not hate even a nation of people but in relative comparison of God’s love for the people of Israel (Jacob’s redeemed name) and also for His people who are chosen in Christ, that is, the Christian believers.

     God’s plan from the beginning was that His chosen and elect people (nation) would be a source of blessings for all the nations of the world. This can be seen in Gen. 18:18 “since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” that is, the nations will be blessed by the nation which God loves.

    That plan was repeated again in Gen. 26:4, “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

    God loves Israel and He loves all those who are in Christ; that is, the Church. We, as His beloved, are to be a blessing to others. We are chosen or elected because we are in Christ. It is as though that God has a ship called Jesus Christ and everyone in the ship are “loved” and all of those who are not in the ship Jesus Christ are “hated” by comparison because they are not in the vessel of Jesus Christ.

    But (and this is the most compassionate part) this chosen vessel of Jesus Christ is sailing the seven seas of the world, calling “whosoever will” (Rev. 22:17) to get into the ship. Once they come on board, they too are loved and blessed by God and chosen to be blessing to others.

     This is the ultimate good news. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why is Compassion so important?

     Jesus wants to shock us into caring with compassion. Many Christians simply will not show compassion and mercy and forgiveness, even though Jesus strongly and repeatedly commanded us to love as He loved us.

     As I mentioned on Wednesday night in the Believe class, it has been hard to write anything on Compassion. Yes I have had a busier than normal week. But I believe it’s more than that. I am truly pondering the lavishness of God’s love and compassion on me and us as sinners, both redeemed and unredeemed.
 
     I also ponder that many of those whom we show compassion on do not always respond with faith, repentance, change, or with a more godly lifestyle.

     I also know that often times, my heart becomes jaded against being compassionate on those who are only wanting a hand out and not wanting to really allow God to change them.

     “So, if you need food, go to a grocery store,” I could and have said. “If you need money, go to the bank. Need gas? Go to the gas station. Why come to the church for things beyond spiritual help?”

     One simple reason they come to the church: Jesus commanded us to help those in need. There are too many passages to overlook this. In fact, one of the most theologically disturbing passages is found in our reading in BELIEVE this week (page 139, Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus almost puts what we do as the reason why He separates the sheep and the goats. He describes the sheep as those who fed, satisfied, invited, clothed, cared for the sick and visited in prison. And the goats did none of those things.

     I say it is theologically disturbing for two reasons:
1)He implies that doing something is the cause for their good and bad judgment and
2) He implies those who are sheep will do those things and those who are goats will not do those things.

     So why does Jesus make such a blurring of lines on whether salvation is based on faith or is it based on works, as implied in Matthew 25?
I believe it is because Jesus wants to impress and shock us into caring with compassion. So many Christians will not show compassion and mercy and forgiveness, even with these strong and often repeated commands.
     Now in Matthew 25, Jesus never says that sheep are sheep because they do those things He describes. He divides the sheep and goats because quite frankly they are sheep and goats. And those whom He divides are “all the nations” and could be a sign that Jesus will judge nations based on how the nations of the world treated “the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters,” either Christians or Jews or both.

     But the ultimate and most recurring command of Christ cannot be overlooked or explained away: we as Christians and the church are commanded to love others, especially those who are in the greatest of need.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Chapter 8: The Relevance of Compassion

This blog was originally posted on Aug. 22.

  In Sunday’s sermon (Aug. 21), Dr. Randy Wallace, pastor of FBC Killeen, preached on “Who Cares?” from Matthew 16:15-19. Without compassion we as a church are not relevant to those who pass by. He quoted our youth minister Matt Cornelius, who had said last year at D-Now, “God doesn’t need you. You need God.”

    What is interesting about that is that it is true God doesn’t need us in order to show God’s compassion. But the fact that he does use us may be is even more profound! He doesn’t NEED us, but He chooses us to be His instruments of compassion.

    As we prepare for BELIEVE, we will see in week 8, Oct 30, that our LifeGroups are the mobilization, organization and functioning of the church in action. When we do OCLOC (Our Church Loves Our Community) at our Trunk or Treat on Monday, Oct. 31, we are proving our relevance to our community by reaching out and being a blessing of God to our community.

    One final nugget from Sunday’s sermon: Randy asked, “If you neighbor walked into the church, would you be surprised to see him/her?” But also, based on how you have shown compassion to your community, my question would also be, “Would your neighbor be surprised to see you?”

    The following devotional is from Zondervan for BELIEVE.

KEY QUESTION: What is my responsibility to other people?

    Compassion literally means “suffer with.” God calls us to come alongside of people who are suffering and suffer with them so they are not alone. It doesn’t mean we can fix the problem, but it does mean we can enter into their pain. Before we act on or practice this belief, we must believe it is God’s call on the life of all Christ followers. When we believe this in our heart, we will show compassion to all people, especially to those in need.

    Throughout history God has graciously shown compassion for his people, with the ultimate demonstration being the sacrifice of his only Son, Jesus Christ. Because the only just response to the sins of humankind was death, our just God, according to his righteousness, issued the death penalty on us. Then, out of his grand compassion, he offered Jesus as a “substitutionary atonement” — that is, Jesus took humanity’s place. Through this one act God demonstrated his complete compassion without budging an inch on his complete justice. We who are guilty are made just by the sacrifice of the only person who was completely righteous.

    Jesus: Model of Compassion – Read Luke 10:25-37.

KEY VERSE

    Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3–4)

KEY IDEA
    I believe God calls all Christians to show compassion to people in need.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
    If we choose to show compassion to people as God does, then ...
•             we will change our priorities and how we use our time
•             we are set free to give, because we trust God for our needs
•             people who have been forgotten by society will be cared for and restored
•             we will truly reach our neighborhoods and our cities
•             the Spirit of Christ will be alive and well in our lives

    The oft-quoted phrase “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” will come to life. As people see how much we care and ask us what we know, we may respond with, “It’s not what we know, but who we know. His name is Jesus, and he would love to meet you.”


Friday, October 21, 2016

Believe that God is loving AND righteous to humanity



When does all not mean all? When does whoever not mean whoever? When does world mean part of the world?

Do you take the Bible for what it says? BELIEVE on pages 121 through 123 shows that “Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and restoration to God for eternity is for everyone.” Yet some do not believe that all means all, whoever means whoever means whoever and world means the world.

All will not believe, but the Bible does say that all might believe, meaning they could believe. Many have questioned how could God create people that He foreknew would not believe. What about those enemies of Israel whom God commanded Israel to kill, including the babies?

Last week, we read in Gen. 15:16 that Abraham was told that “in the fourth generation (Israel) shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. God was patient with the Amorites, even sending His chosen people to Egypt for 400 years until the sin of the Amorites was complete. By the time Israel returned to the Promised Land, the residents there were completely evil.

God created hell for the “devil and his angels,” obviously the fallen angels (see Matt. 25:41). And yet, the nations will be separated to inherit the kingdom prepare for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:35), and others will be cast into the everlasting fire prepared for the Satan and his demons. Ephesians 1:4 says we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world. Hebrews 4:3 says that only those who believe enter into the rest and that the works were already finished before the foundation of the world.

God knows from the beginning who would and would not be written in the Book of Life (Rev. 13:8, 17:8). Furthermore, God knows from the beginning not only what would happen but what could happen. A righteous God can render a righteous verdict and sentence on the guilty and still love the convicted, just as a truly righteous judge in the criminal system would have to do, even if the convicted person was his own flesh and blood.

Finally, what righteous and loving father would NOT defend his child from an enemy, even if that enemy was someone whom he loved, such as a family friend or relative? How much more would God command Saul in 1 Sam. 15:3 to kill all those who according to God’s perfect foreknowledge most certainly would and actually did afflict and attack His own children, the nation of Israel. We do not have the right to commit genocide, and God has not sanctioned that same act for today. But we also do not have the right to reject God from being God and from doing what was perfectly righteous at that time.

Does God love all people? Indeed He does, and He has prepared a kingdom for those who believe in Christ.
What if they do not believe? If you have ever read the story of the rich man in hell and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, notice two things. Even though the rich man was in hell, he did not want to be in paradise, but only that his tongue be cooled in his torment (Luke 16:24). And the rich man’s brothers had enough in Abraham and the Prophets to believe.

We are empowered enough to tell people God’s good news of salvation. With God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit and the commissioning of Christ’s commands for us to go and proclaim, we have all that we need let all in the world know that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Believe that Humanity Has Fallen Short of God's Glory

 
    Last week, at the Bell County Expo, we heard at the annual meeting of the J.A.I.L. Ministry a wonderful and emotional testimony of a mother whose son, a Navy officer, committed and was convicted of murder. Carol Kent’s story of a mother’s heartache over the sinfulness of her child and the overcoming love of a mother was moving to say the least.
     Imagine Adam and Eve, knowing that their own sinfulness was now living out in their offspring, and that they were to blame. They lost one son to death at the hands of his brother, and then they lost the other son, who was banished to the east of Eden.
    All of humanity is fallen and we as Christians need to see how horrific our sin is in order to truly understand how great God’s love and forgiveness is and how greatly we are in need of receiving and giving that same type of love and forgiveness.
    Love for the unlovely, unlovable, and unloving in no way excuses the sins of others, nor is it our place to overlook the call for justice when evil occurs. In Carol Kent’s story, her son is now active in prison, witnessing and leading others to the same love and forgiveness that he received as a murderer.
     When we look at humanity, God’s call is not first to look outward, but inward. We need to admit that there is no greater sin than my sin. Our sin, and no one else's sin, is the only sin that God will hold us accountable for. We need to clearly see that God loved us when we were totally and inescapably sinful.
     Secondly our call is to look upward. We need to put our faith and trust that not only are we in sin and in great need of forgiveness, but we are also greatly loved by God. He has sought us and saved us when we were lost and helpless. Our salvation does not come based on how good we are (we are not that good) but how good He is.
    How good is God? “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. Our salvation is not automatic, we must call on the name of the Lord to be saved.
    Once we have called on God and placed our faith in Christ, it is then and only then that we should look outward, but not to condemn but to show the same love which God showed us through Christ.
     The past few days we have been thinking and pondering about God’s love for humanity. If you are wondering and even confused on how God saves the lost, whether you should be a Calvinist, an Amyraldist, or an Arminian, perhaps you should do what Jesus told Peter who was wondering about John.
     21Peter, seeing (John), said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”  22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
     God is God and He will judge the wicked. He has not called us to be judge nor jury on the guilty. That is, as they say, “above our paygrade.” He has called us to love and be the proclaimer of God’s glory which is extended to humanity and to be merciful as He is merciful, to forgive as He has forgiven, and to love as He has loved us.
The following is an outline of Believe, Chapter 7 on Humanity.
1.      Created in the Image of the Lord .................................. Gen. 1:1-21
2.      Cain’s Inherited Lostness ........................... Gen 4:1-16, Jude 1:1-16
3.      Creation indicted by the Law ..... Rom. 1:18-32, Rom 2:17-24, Rom 3:9-20
4.      Compassion’s Invincible Love  ................. Hos 1:1-3, 3:1-3, 11:1-11
5.      Christ’s Invitation is Limitless ...................... Various John passages
6.      Christ Illustrates the Lost ............................................Matt 18:1-14
7.      Christians Instructed to Love and Forgive ... Luke 6:27-36, Philemon 1:1-25


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Believe in God's Power of Love


     When I think about “all people are loved by God and are in need of a Savior,” I think of the rich young ruler, found in Luke 18: 18-23, Matt. 19:16–22 and Mark 10:17–22. The man (who by the way is never called “young”) was seeking eternal life. Even though he had lived an outwardly moral life and had been blessed with great riches, he felt like he was missing something.

    “What more do I lack?” he asked Jesus. The point today is not Jesus’ answer but rather that Jesus
1) loved the man who rejected His call to eternal life and
2) that the man was the man who was responsible for rejecting Jesus’ call.

     When the man walked away from Jesus, the Bible records an interesting comment about Christ. Mark and Matthew both say that Jesus loved the man who was rejecting His call. God loves us but He doesn’t love because of us. He loves because He is love.

     People often have a hard time thinking about a loving God and a literal “Gehenna” (the Biblical word for hell). Because it is hard to reconcile those two truths, some people either disbelieve in hell or disbelieve that God really loves all of humanity. And yet both are absolutely true. But just because God loves everyone, that does not mean that everyone will be saved.

     An illustration of God’s love can be seen in the power company sending electricity to your house. Just because the power is available, not every switch is turned on in your house. The access is available, but your receptivity to that power is not turned on.

    God’s love for all of humanity supplies the power of salvation, which was empowered by the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s grace is the light switch which turns on that power. It is our faith (which even that comes from God) that actually activates the switch to turn on the power to light up our eternal life.

     God’s power of love is not wasted or squandered simply because some people choose not to turn on the light. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

    Don’t blame the power company if your lights are not on because the problem is not the power source. Don’t blame the electrician if your lights are not on if you have not turned on the switch. And it’s not the owner’s manual’s fault if you don’t have the faith to believe it when it says, “turn switch up for on.”

    “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” found in Romans 10:13, means God has generated the loving power, the gracious supply and the trusted mechanism for you to walk in the Light, and even supplied the faith through His instructions in His Word for you to believe you can walk in the Light. But you have to turn on the switch.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Believe God's Love for Humanity -- even if they are not saved


 There are some Christians (a lot of Christians) who believe that Jesus did not die for all of the people in the world but only for those whom God pre-chose.
    There are others (again, a number of Christians) who believe God pre-selected those who would believe but only because He, in His perfect power and knowledge, looked ahead in time and knew who would and who would not answer the call to receive salvation. And there are others who believe salvation is like a lost lottery ticket or check, which could otherwise bring great riches, but since it is unclaimed, there are no effectual benefit.
    As we learn about humanity and compassion, I hope we will think through what we believe about God, His love and how we should respond in compassion based on what we believe.
    There is room for good people to disagree with certain elements of what we believe. God is infinite and when there are some Scriptures that seemingly “conflict but not contradict” with other Scriptures, the result can cause conflict between believers with finite understanding. Those areas certainly provoke thought.
    What we can agree with (I hope this threads the needle in what we all believe) is that God loves all people, but love can be in different proportions and with different end results.
     A case in point is that I can say I love all of humanity. And yet I love my family more than a stranger, like a man I have seen late at night on the corner of W.S. Young and the expressway. If that were my son or my brother, I would demonstrate my love differently than I do to a man I don’t even know other. And yet he is someone’s son and possibly someone’s brother.
     I truly do love this man, but he may see the times I have passed him and may not perceive my love. By comparison to the way I would treat him if he were my son or brother, my “love” could be considered as indifference or even “hatred” because I did not respond.

    These next few weeks will be where BELIEVE gets deep, and as we go through this, I hope that our love gets deeper too as we seek to not only love our neighbors as ourselves (Jesus’ second greatest commandment), but also that we love one another as Christ loves us (Jesus’ new commandment).

Monday, October 17, 2016

Believe in God's Love for Humanity--Despite our Flaws




     I have been thinking of the “depravity of humanity” lately (seriously, I have been. Just watch the news and you can’t escape it), and this week we are studying humanity, both our depravity and also the love God has for us.


    Have you ever thought about out of all of us seven billion people, none of us, not one, are perfect? Do you every think that maybe God has some responsibility in the defect of our design? Have you ever wondered like Paul says, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will? … Why have You made me like this?”


    (I am treading lightly on this because Paul’s inspired response was “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? … Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”) See Romans 9:19-20 (NKJV).


    Why are we humans so depraved, so sinful, so mean and evil to one another? There is a biblical answer and hopefully by the end of the week, we will have a deeper understanding of our wickedness…and how God still loves us.


    When my two sons were younger, one of them asked me this question, why did God create us so prone to sin? It was a good question and like all good questions, it made me think to come up with an answer.


    If we go all the way back to the beginning to Adam and Eve, they were created sinless and innocent, but they were not perfect. They were still given the freedom of choice. In fact, you might think it was careless for God to place the forbidden fruit “in the midst” (or in my translation “the smack-dab middle”) of the garden of Eden. Why was the tree so tempting and why did the fruit look so appealing (pardon the pun if you think it was an apple).


     And while we are asking, who let that smooth-talking serpent come into the garden?


    Going even further back, the Bible doesn’t talk a lot about how Satan and the demons were formed, but from Genesis to Revelation, there is no mistaking it, there is a real and literal devil and his entourage of fallen angels. We can surmise that Satan was created not just sinless and innocent like Adam and Eve, but he was created without having a tempter to tempt the one who would become the ultimate tempter.


     When Satan or Lucifer fell, he was not tempted by a choice or a forbidden fruit or by some design flaw, but rather he fell because he was created so perfectly and so beautifully that he thought he could ascend to become like the Most High (I base this on Isa. 14:13-14).


    Getting back to my sons’ question, I turned it around to them. “Which would be better?...

…to be born perfect (or in the angels’ case, created) and if you sinned once, you would be forever damned to torment in hell…

or

…to be born as a sinner (as all of us born after Adam and Eve) and if you did just one thing right by accepting God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, you would be forever blessed with eternal life.”


    I and my two boys agreed that it is far better to be in the latter category than the former with the fallen angels and that smooth talking serpent.


    This week we will be looking at humanity and ponder the musings of one of my favorite hymns which says, “and wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned unclean.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Believe God's Love for Humanity--God was serious when He said that "love others" thing


    “I love humanity,” someone once said, “it’s people I don’t like.” (I think it was Linus Van Pelt!)
     In our world, we sometimes get bogged down by reality, by the nitty gritty, when it comes to actually putting things in practice.

    It’s easy in my daily quiet time to wax eloquent and write devotionals and espouse all the virtues of Christianity.


    But then, the sun rises, people wake up, and I have to deal with them! I don’t know how many times I had to apologize the other day, but apologies are best made beforehand by not doing something that you know that you know that you know that you are going to having to walk back later on and apologize for!


    One day our church’s assistant administrator, Kay, came into my office and I was smiling.

    “What?” she asked.
    “What, what?” I replied.
    “Why are you smiling?” she responded, a little hesitantly.
    “I am just trying to be pleasant!” I defended.
    Maybe it is because I need to smile more and it shocked her. Maybe it was because I was forcing myself to be pleasant. Maybe I was smiling like a guy I saw at Lowe’s the other day: every time I went down the aisle, I could see him before he even saw anyone else, he was smiling, smiling, smiling, at nothing in particular. Kind of creepy if you ask me, you know, to be that happy at Lowe’s!

    Or, maybe I (and I don’t think I am the only one) need to be reminded from time to time that God loves all of us and we need to be like Him. Loving God by loving people.


   Every human is a naturally born sinner and we need to accept that in others and accept it in ourselves. 


   If we are not perfect, we should not expect that of others. We need to see that all people are loved by God and need Jesus Christ as their Savior.
   Now I better end this devotional. The sun is about to rise and I got to deal with people!
    For some reason, Zondervan didn't send out a Devotional for Chapter 7 but here are the highlights.


Chapter 7: Humanity


KEY QUESTION:
How does God see us?



KEY VERSE
For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)



KEY IDEA
I believe all people are loved by God and need Jesus Christ as their Savior.



KEY APPLICATION:
I value all human life and see people the way God sees them. As a result, I am compelled to tell all people about Jesus.



YOUR TURN

In your own words, describe how love for God and love for others are related. (You’ll find some ideas in Luke 10:25-37.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Believe in the Church as a Place for Grace


     Sometimes (often times?) the church gets a bad rap because it does not operate perfectly. But can you point to any entity that is operated by humans that functions perfectly?

     How about the school system? Hospitals and even doctors have huge insurance policies for malpractice. We are seeing airbags that are supposedly designed to protect us being recalled.

     Are police departments without criticisms? What about our city or county governments? No? 

     Well, surely our national government and election process, that runs like a well-oiled machine, right?

     OK, please stop snickering. Since we can agree that no organization operates without some degree of dysfunction, can we make a higher call for our organizations, including the church? Can we ask for some grace?

     Grace. No I don’t mean saying a prayer of “grace,” like you would before a meal, although all of the entities I’ve listed could definitely use more prayer. No, I mean can we imperfect people give a little more grace and mercy to those who need it?

     You have surely heard of marital spats and family feuds and church splits over the most mundane of causes. Divisions and divisiveness could possibly be avoided and certainly lessened if we all had a little more grace and mercy in our hearts for others who are less than perfect.

     The story is told that a young man was sentenced to hanging and his mother came before Napoleon, pleading for mercy. “Mercy?” came Napoleon’s cold, incredulous response. “This boy has stolen from my palace twice. He doesn’t deserve mercy!”

     “But sir,” the mother begged, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it.” Moved by the mother’s passion and persuasion, Napoleon relented and the boy was released.

     Tolerance is not what is needed today, for tolerance implies that all views are equal in value and merit, when clearly that is not the case.

     Grace is defined as unmerited favor, an undeserved gift, recognizing a wrong has been done but a greater gift of grace can be given to balance out the wrong.

    In fact, grace exceeds and overcompensates the wrong.
The Apostle Paul knew about grace and the need of it within the church. He began every epistle which is recorded in the Bible with these words, “Grace to you and peace.”

     Paul wrote more about grace than any other person in the Bible, including Jesus Himself. Paul knew he needed grace and had received grace and mercy from God.

     Are you upset with the church or someone in the church? Have you been hurt by someone? Have you chosen to stop going to church because it has failed in your expectations? 

     Are you holding a grudge or unforgiveness because of someone who “doesn’t deserve” to be forgiven?

     The church is far from perfect. As surely as you can walk into a hospital and find people who are in need of healing, when you walk into a church, you will find people who are in need of grace. That is why we who are called Christians need to be the biggest dispensers of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.

     God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and did not spare his grace when we needed it. As the woman pleaded for mercy for her son who needed it, I ask you to be a dispenser of grace, mercy and forgiveness today to those who need it the most.
     Even to those who don’t deserve it.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Believe in the Church as a Fellowship


The Church Fellowship

            Fellowship means community
     The local church is to be a fellowship in that we are to love one another, be at one with one another, and to walk in harmony with one another. Someone defined fellowship as “two fellows being in the same ship, going in the same direction.”  In order to be a Christian, you must commit yourself to Christ, and in order to be a church member, you must commit yourself to the  fellowship.

            To be a Christian without being a part of a fellowship is like a man who wants an intimate relationship with a woman, but not willing to commit to marriage.  In a marriage, commitment is not only going through a ceremony, signing a license or wearing a ring. It is also seen in a daily devotion to joyfully show loyalty to the person to whom you are committed.

            Both the wedding ceremony and the daily devotion are necessary to build a committed life together. In a church fellowship, you cannot have true interdependency among the members of the fellowship if there is no commitment. Commitment begins with uniting formally and officially through church membership. It continues with unity.

Fellowship means unity 
     In addition to commitment, the Bible says if you have divisions and quarrels and disagreement, you do not have fellowship. Paul said he would not praise the Corinthian church because there were divisions among the people (1 Cor. 11:17). Membership in the local church is to be characterized as having one mind and judgment.

       Repeatedly the Bible calls to church to “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Second Corinthians ends with the command to “be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

       Paul wanted to hear the church at Philippi was of one mind and one spirit, a conduct which would be “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” If there is to be “any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy”  (Philippians 2:1-2), we should have a good fellowship together.

       Philippians 3:16 says a unified fellowship comes with the maturity “to the degree that we have already attained.” The church fellowship can have disagreements without divisions and without losing its call for unity. There should be no sharp bitterness or divisiveness. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul underscores the necessity of different ministries within the church, a topic we will discuss in Week 6 “Membership Means Individuality.” Unity does not mean uniformity and Christians can have differences without being divisive.

           Ephesians 4:3 says “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” A good fellowship promotes unity and appreciates differences as sources of strength.

Fellowship means continuity
     We also have the responsibility to continue in fellowship together as an encouragement to one another (Hebrews 10:24, 25). This is not anything new, as the early church was characterized by its fellowship of harmony, joy, worship, witness and numerical growth (Acts 2:46-47).

            The Apostle John is often called the Apostle of Love, since he wrote so much on it in his letters and in his gospel. Yet he boldly stated that church members “went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19) Again in his second letter, he wrote, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)


            Clearly we are to continue in fellowship. Once you leave the fellowship of one church, members should immediately seek to be united with another fellowship as soon as possible. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Believe in the Church: We are the original politically incorrect people


    Who doesn’t love the birth of a baby? On the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, we see the birth of the church. In our reading in BELIEVE, we see four elements in Acts about the church:

  •     The community emerges (Acts 1:1-11; 2:1-41). 
  •     The commission of the church enlarges to include Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-8, 14-17, 25; 9:31). 
  •      The congregation expands to even the Gentiles as seen in Acts 11:1-18). 
  •      And ultimately, conversions to ends of the earth “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “’I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” See Acts 13:47 and Acts 13:1-3, 38-52.


   The church, or God’s called out ones (which is what the word church in the New Testament language really means), is called out to be independent from the world. In other words, the church was the original politically incorrect society of believers. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that if only we were more like the world that the world would like us.

     Jesus said the world will hate us because it first hated Him. We are to come out from among them (2 Cor. 6:17. The most common word for Christians in the Bible is “saints” and no that is not just for a select few of holy dead people. All of us who are born again are saints and that word means “set apart ones.”

     The final three analogies of the church (see the first trio here and second trio here) found in the Bible shows that we are to be:

3. Independent from the World.
  1.      The Church is a Priesthood, holy and set apart from the World (1 Peter 2:9)
  2.      The Church is a People, royally set out of the World (1 Peter 2:9)
  3.      The Church is a Proclamation to the World (Acts 2:42-47). We are to be a city set on a hill (Matthew 5).

    When Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth, His first sermon was out of Isaiah, in which he quoted, ​​“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, ​​because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”(Luke 18-19).


    Babies are sure a lot of fun. But they are messy, loud, unpredictable, cranky, needy, and a host of other things, which when we describe them, that sounds a whole lot like the church. It’s been 2,000 years almost since the Day of Pentecost. It is far past the time when we need to grow up as a church and become the full measure and stature of what God has called us “out” to be: saints, who are set apart for the work of the Lord. To God be the glory. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Believe in the Church: Christ is the big picture

    The proverb of “You can’t see the forest because of the trees” means that we often miss the overall picture because of the details. The Lordship of Jesus Christ in the church is paramount. The needs of the individual members, though important, must come under the direction of the overall leadership of Christ in accomplishing His purpose.

     Believe it or not, not everyone is always happy about everything that goes on at the church. Sometimes people stop giving. Sometimes people start griping. Others stop coming. Paul said we need to not be infants but rather mature, speaking the truth, but in love so that we can grow and build up the body in love, all under the headship of Christ (Eph. 4:15-16).

     Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, found in Matt 16:13-19, is the first reference by Christ to the church. The centrality of Christ is the rock on which Jesus built the church. Just as there were three analogies to the church on our interdependence on each other, there are three analogies to our dependency on Christ--He is the Head, He is the Bridegroom, and He is the Cornerstone. 
  
     While evangelism and ministry are important, our chief end is to bring glory to Jesus Christ through His church.

          In the previous devotional, we saw the interdependence we have as a church--we need each other. More importantly, we are dependent on Christ, and we obviously need Him. Continuing the analogies of the church, our dependence on Christ shows:
1. The Church is a Body (1 Cor. 12) with Christ the Head.
2. The Church is a Bride (Eph. 5) with Christ the Bridegroom.
3. The Church is a Building (1 Corinthians 3) with Christ the Cornerstone.
      

Chapter 6 Believe Outline 
(pages 92-109)

   1. Covenant Established (Gen. 12:1-9, 15:1-21)
   2. Confession Expressed (Matt. 16:13-19)
   3. Community Emerges (Acts 1:1-11; 2:1-41)
   4. Commission Enlarges (Acts 8:1-8, 14-17, 25; 9:31)
   5. Congregation Expands To Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18)
   6. Conversions to Ends of the Earth (Acts 13:1-3, 38-52)
   7. Call to Church Explained (Eph. 4:1-16)
.....and Evaluated (Rev. 2:1-7)