Uniting Is Needed More Than Ever

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“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Heb 10:23–25 (ESV)

This verse is famous for its use in sermons encouraging the people to not neglect their church attendance. It is an exhortation to not neglect to attend a fellowship of like believers where you can learn from each other, be encouraged from each other, and not lose hope. By fellowshipping together we “hold fast the confession of our hope.”
But this is not the only application.

Recently I wrote about persecution and my belief that it is coming to the West. It is on the horizon. The one thing that I believe will help us weather the storm is by being in unity.

“The faithful Underground Church…In formerly Communist Russia, no one remembered anymore the arguments for or against child or adult baptism, for or against papal infallibility. They were not pre- or post-millennialists. They could not interpret prophecies and didn’t quarrel about them.” ~ Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ.

Persecution has a way of bringing the body of Christ together. During Communist Russia, many Christians were imprisoned for their faith. In the prison, there were no denominational lines that separated them. They came together as one, preached to each other, shared scriptures, and sang hymns to one another.

Should we wait for the persecution in order to come together as one body?
Hebrews tells us to “not neglecting to meet together.” This is not just for your local church, but for all local churches. This is meant for the whole body of Christ, all the local churches, to meet together. This is how we will encourage one another. This is how we will build each other up. For when the storm comes we will lean on each other and our love will get us through.

Prepare for Persecution?

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“ Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” Jn 15:20. (ESV)

Is the American Church ready for persecution? Some people scoff at the idea Christians will see persecution. Some say persecution will never come. We have the Constitution to protect us. There is no way our rights can be violated.

Recent history has shown us the gap that is between this world’s religion and our own faith, Christianity. Several cases have come up that have pitted Christian faith against the laws of this land. And many times the cases have gone through the courts siding on the side of the law and special interest groups against the religious freedom of the defenders. It wasn’t until the case went to the Supreme Court did we see some respite.

The Gospel Coalition has an article that comes out of Australia. The events there are not dissimilar to our own. Campbell Markham argues, in light of certain people losing their jobs over their faith and their beliefs regarding marriage, the church needs to prepare itself for more persecution. He is calling all churches in Australia to prepare their people for persecution. I’d suggest you read the whole article. It paints a picture not only of the grim reality we live in but also of the glory of keeping the faith even during trials and persecution.

I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be legally restricted in their ability to speak out and live out their faith in the public sphere. ~ Campbell Markham pastors Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Hobart.

Even though Markham is speaking to Australia specifically, I think he speaks to all the Church in the West. We’ve not seen the persecution that the Church has endured in its history. The promise of Jesus is we will see persecution. We in the West have been blessed not to see what our forefathers witnessed and endured.

Will this blessing turn into a curse? Will we bend to the will of our state, our tormentors, when they demand we turn away from our faith, the teaching of our Lord? Will we endure losing our jobs for our faith? Our homes? Our church buildings?

The Church’s Ups and Downs

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Habakkuk 3:2 says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.”

“The history of the Church has a history of ups and downs. It is there to be seen on the surface. When you read the history of the past you find that there have been periods in the history of the Church when she has been full of life, and vigour, and power. The statistics prove that people crowded to the house of God, whole numbers of people who were anxious and eager to belong to the Christian Church. Then the Church was filled with life, and she had great power; the Gospel was preached with authority, large numbers of people were converted regularly, day by day, and week by week. Christian people delighted in prayer. You did not have to whip them up to prayer meetings, you could not keep them away. They did not want to go home, they would stay all night praying. The whole Church was alive and full of power, and of vigour, and of might. And men and women were able to tell of rich experiences of the grace of God, visitations of his Spirit, a knowledge of the love of God that thrilled them, and moved them, and made them feel that it was more precious than the whole world. And, as a consequence of all that, the whole life of the country was affected and changed.” Martin Lloyd-Jones in Revival (Crossway, 1987), 26

Father, we remember the great miracles you’ve done in the past. Repeat those same miracles today!

The Second Greatest Commandment

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Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29–31 (ESV)

Every follower of Jesus knows these two commandments. They are the foundation of the whole life in Jesus. But what happens when the second commandment gets in the way of the first?

What I mean is what do you do when loving your neighbor would mean not loving God?

In this world we are told to tell someone their sins will keep them out of the kingdom of God is unloving and uncaring. Especially when they love their sin or even identify themselves with their sin. We are branded as hateful and bigots. Therefore, they say we should accept them for who they are, what they do, and that only God can judge them.

But our love for God must come first. Being the “greatest” commandment supersedes all other commands. We must love God first before we can begin to love our neighbors.

In loving God we come to find we are called to warn our neighbors of the coming judgment fo God. He will judge the living and the dead by Jesus Christ who was sinless. Those that continue to practice sin with unrepentance will not be part of the kingdom of God. They will find themselves outside the city walls separated from God and his protection.

Really the most loving thing we can do is warn people of their sin and its consequences. The most hateful thing we can do to our neighbors is not warning them of sin and judgment. To keep quiet is hateful, bigoted, and selfish.

We cannot truly begin to love our neighbors until we have come to love God and his Word.

Pray For Revival

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And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” Mk 9:28–29.

I am reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Revival.” It is a book that J.I. Packer said, “I do not think that our age has seen any more powerful or profound treatment of revival than this book.” With such an endorsement I felt the need to buy the book to see for myself.

Right away he begins, with what I believe, is the heart of every revival: prayer. Speaking from the verse above he emphasizes being able to discern the time that we live in and see that we need something more than our day-in-day-out practices within our faith communities. Praying and fasting is the way in which we can ascertain the condition of our culture and act accordingly.

But, Lloyd-Jones doesn’t go into how to “fix” our culture. Rather he goes on to “fixing” the church. With so many leaving the church during his time, we are seeing the same things happen in our country with church attendance has dramatically dropped in the last 20-30 years.

He says the disciples who asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demon were relying upon the power they had received earlier. When Jesus chose his 12 Apostles he sends them out and gave them “authority over the unclean spirits.” Now they are attempting to use the same power to cast out a demon from a boy. But they were unable to. Lloyd-Jones speaking as Jesus, “You have not sufficient power. I did what you could not because I have power because I am filled with the power that God gives me by the Holy Spirit.”

The disciples had confidence in their abilities and even rejoiced in them. They came to rely upon themselves and not upon the Spirit of God. This is why Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” This demon required a greater power. Humans alone cannot wield this power. Only through the Holy Spirit can they wield this power.

“We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organization, and in all our slickness. We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.” ~ Martin Lloyd-Jones

How we tap into this power is through prayer. There is no other way to obtain the power of God. Jesus instructs us to pray for the Spirit. To wait for the Spirit. To be Filled with the Spirit. The way to revival is through prayer. Prayer that “can enter the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them new.” Without the Christian being renewed, we will not see revival, and our communities to know Jesus Christ.

Could Denominations Be A Good Thing?

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Co 12:14 (ESV)

Kenneth Samples at Reasons to Believe has a five-part article answering the skeptic’s question, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth-claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Our disunity is an embarrassment. It hinders our witness and does not completely represent the image of Jesus Christ. Because of this some will complain and criticize denominations. They have gotten a bad rap through the years. But could there be a good side to denominations? Samples gives us positive reasons for denominations: the fullness of the faith, critique, and protest.

“Fullness of the Faith”

We are fallen human beings. Our thoughts and desires are mired by sin. We are not perfect, therefore, our thinking, our theology, and our interpretation of the Bible are imperfect. This is why we have many denominations. But the positive side to this is with all the churches together we get a more full view of the faith. Where one denomination is lacking the other will fill in. Because we all are different, together, our diversity shows the whole picture of Jesus Christ that no one denomination can full show.

“Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective”

Because we are imperfect we need the diversity of the body of Christ in order to give correction when needed. I’ve often seen the blogosphere be ignited in a firestorm over certain issues. There are many voices and several good arguments. They buffet and correct each other. The key in this is humility and the patience to hear correction. By having multiple denominations and traditions we can discuss, challenge, and perhaps even shape each other closer to the image of Jesus Christ.

“Principled Protest Has Its Place”

There are times with denominations do go well outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. When a denomination changes its creed, teaches a different gospel, or denounces essential elements of the faith, they have fallen away. This leaves many faithful people within that denomination no choice but to splinter off. They are separating in protest. Much like the Protestant Reformation, when the doctrines of the faith are lost, we need to seek our reformation, and maybe even separation.

In spite of our differences, we can still be united in the essentials. We can come together, work together, and grow each other in the faith.

Be Faithful For Revival

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“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Luke 16:11 (ESV)

Ray Ortlund gives insight into this verse I had not seen before. This verse comes on the heels of Jesus parable usually called, “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.” Some Bibles, like the ESV and the CSB now call it, “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.” The different titles come from the difficulty of interpreting this strange story.

There is a rich man who had a manager who oversaw the rich man’s possessions. It was found out the manager was “wasting possessions.” The rich man called him looking to hold him accountable. He told him to turn in his books for he was fired. The manager was beside himself wondering what he was going to do for a living.

His idea: approach the rich man’s clients, offer them a smaller payout to clear their debt. This shrewd manager was the manager’s attempt to make friends with the rich man’s clients. When he is no longer working for the rich man, perhaps they will hire him, or support him. In the end, the rich man commended the manager for his shrewdness in spite of his dishonesty.

Then Jesus says something curious. He says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

The point of this story has been interpreted in many ways. However, the point that Ortlund makes concerns in verse 11 where Jesus says, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”

Ortland says the unrighteous wealth is the money of this world. How we deal with money determines how we will be entrusted with the spiritual things of the kingdom. He quotes Francis Schaeffer,

“The church is constantly saying, ‘Where’s our power? Where’s our power?’ Jesus’ statement here gives us at least part of the answer. We must use money with a view to what counts in eternity.”

Perhaps one of the reasons the church has not seen a revival in a long time is we are mishandling the resources that God has given us. If we think we can misuse the material things God has given us, how will he entrust us with the spiritual things? How can we handle a revival, a powerful move of the living God, if we can’t handle the dead materials of this world?

God expects us to be faithful with the little we receive. Then he will give us revival.

Unity By The Spirit

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

Are you “eager to maintain the unity fo the Spirit”?

We all need to ask ourselves this question. I’ve always heard unity preached through the years. But I wonder if we really want unity in the Church. Do we really want unity with those brothers and sisters we disagree with?

I want to note the translators of the ESV version chose to capitalize the word “Spirit” in verse 3. Most every modern Bible translations follows suit. In other words, verse 3 is referring to the Holy Spirit. This means, the unity of the Church is brought and worked out by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this interesting is the fact many churches are divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work today. How is it that the very means of unity of the Church now has become the means of division?

A recent article on The Exchange speaks of a time after WWII where there was an explosion of missionary agencies that brought together different traditions in hopes of reaching the lost in our world. This brought together Charismatics with Cessationist in efforts to reach the world.

“Mission agencies of all kinds became new voices – InterVarsity, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade, to name a few – bringing young people together in new kinds of missions and understandings. This generated inter-church activity, mixing those from Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities, breaking down walls.” – Brian Stiller

The Holy Spirit brought together people hungry to see lost people saved. Because of their faithfulness God moved in a huge way. A way that many said did not happen and could not happen. People’s doctrines were shook up.

“Into that mix came missionaries returning home and giving accounts of healings, deliverance from demonic oppression and miracles, this often to churches that assumed such manifestations had ceased. Deeply divided churches were about to discover what they had in common.” – Brian Stiller

What they had in common was the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

It is said, there are no atheist in foxholes. In other words, in the midst of war, in the trenches where the battle is most fierce, everyone begins to pray. When it seems all is lost many being to pray to the god they don’t believe in.

It is the same in the mission field: there are no Cessationists in the front lines of the mission field. In the mission field you will find out you are praying healing and miracles. When faced with a real enemy you will be praying to cast out demons. You’ll want to see God move in a miraculous and supernatural way. In the mission field there are no Charismatics or Cessationists. There are only people of God living out the kingdom in a powerful way.

Paul tells us humility, gentleness, and patience, as we all strive towards unity.

Are you eager for the unity of the Spirit?

Religious? You’ll Probably Live Longer

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Ohio State University has conducted a study of obituaries nationwide. The obituaries gives us a unique insight into a persons life and their lifespan.
Obituaries usually have the age of the person, the size and extent of their families, what they were known for, hobbies, and religious affiliations.

What they found was interesting. They found that religious affiliation gives a person an extra four-year boost in life. On average, a person who is involved religiously lived 4 years longer than someone who did not.

“The study provides persuasive evidence that there is a relationship between religious participation and how long a person lives,” ~ Baldwin Way, associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

Let’s not be too hasty to wave the, “See, Christianity is right!” flag. There were other religions in this study that had the same life extension.
Except for snake-handling churches for some reason.
What we can learn from this study is the necessity to continue to work in unity and in a community. Coupled with religious norms that promote a healthier lifestyle (avoidance of drunkenness, drugs, and promiscuous sex) and stress-reliving practices (prayer, meditation, fasting) there is a communal aspect that is also a factor.

“Many studies have shown that people who volunteer and participate in social groups tend to live longer than others.”
Though, those who ONLY volunteer and participate in social groups did not live as long as those who were religious. Nonetheless, it is an aspect of religion we should not neglect.

When we come together as a Church we are doing more than doing our duty. We are actually helping each other live longer. By encouraging one another, building each other up, comforting those who are hurting, helping those in need. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us not to forsake coming together. It’s not to keep the pews full. It is so that we all can benefit from each other.

Individual Spirituality

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I read an interesting article in the LA Times a few weeks ago. The headline: “Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community.

The category of “nones,” those who check the “none” box when asked what religion they are, has increased from 10% in the 80s to over 23% today. It is the Millennial generation that is the driving force for this increase recently.
However, it is not that they are not religious. They are very spiritual in their thoughts and actions. Contrary to the sexy secular utopia promised by the New Atheist of the last decade, the “nones” are turning to other forms of mysticism and spirituality.

“Rather, they are turning toward more individual forms of spiritualism, including yoga, meditation, healing stones, Wiccan spell casting and astrology.”

The individualism is reaching its peak in our culture. Religion and spirituality is no different. Picking your own beliefs, your own truths leaves you free from the judgments from others. It lets you be you, no matter how greedy or envious you are. There is no need to change because you are OK just the way you are.

When people look at the Church, they see judgmental, oppressive, and controlling entity that is a huge kill-joy. What they don’t see is the love, the compassion, and the family that can be found in Jesus Christ.

The challenge of the Church today is to show the love that God has for his people. The way in which that love is shown is how the Body of Christ loves each other. Several places in the Bible the unity of the people of God is a witness to God’s work and God’s love. When we are united we show the true image of Christ on earth.

As long as we continue down the road of disunity we will continue to push away those who need God the most.