Keeping Commandments

Yesterday I touched on a description of those who overcome the Devil in Revelation 12. He goes a step further later in the chapter, verse 17, to describe who the overcomers are, those “which keep the commandments of God, and have [or “hold”] the testimony of Jesus Christ”

Having the testimony of Jesus Christ goes along with keeping the commandments of God. Those who have the testimony of Jesus Christ do not think God’s commands are grievous.

It’s a pleasure to follow them, especially since we’re the only ones who know what they mean–love is the fulfilling of the Law. Christ is the ultimate example of love.

Holding to the testimony of Jesus Christ means letting love rule in your life. When love rules, the commandments of God are done.

It’s amazing how many fight against the Commandments of God as being unneccessary and or a hindrance to some notion of freedom.

Keeping God’s commandments simply means love. Love God. Love neighbor. Love enemy. Love. It’s what Christ did for you. No longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me means that love, keeping God’s commandments, is what life is about.

Overcome By Faith Plus Something

Revelation 12 is an interesting passage. There is a red dragon, Satan, chasing around a woman giving birth to a man-child who will rule the nations. Fascinating behind the scenes look at God’s plan and Satan’s opposition.

Near the end, John describes the people who defeat Satan by saying (12:11), “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

They overcome “by” and the word “by” means “because of, or on the grounds of.” They overcome Satan on the grounds of the Lamb’s blood AND on the grounds of the word of their testimony–the fact that they did not value their own lives.

In other words, near as I can tell, it was the blood of the Lamb AND their testimony in completely trusting the blood of the Lamb with their lives.

Sort of makes you grasp what God means by “faith” a little more doesn’t it? Faith without works is dead, y’all.

Merry Christmas

Don’t forget: He’s coming back.

And next time He won’t be a baby.

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

The Gifts of Grace

Grace is not just an opinion, it’s an action. God being gracious to us does not mean that God who formerly thought we were bad now thinks we are good.

Grace is much greater than that. Grace is a favorable disposition towards someone followed by gifts. God does not leave us down here flailing around on our own, just thinking happier thoughts about us.

God gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness. His grace actively provides all we need.

If grace is a gift and grace never shows up without a gift, what are the gifts we receive by God’s grace?

John 4:10–the gift of living water–Holy Spirit/salvation/new life
Acts 2:38; 10:45–the gift of the Holy Spirit
Romans 5:17–the gift of righteousness
Romans 6:23–gift of eternal life
1 Corinthians 12,13–spiritual gifts of service to the Body of Christ
2 Corinthians 5:5–gift of the down payment of the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 5:18–gift of the ministry of reconciliation
2 Corinthians 12:7–gift of thorns in the flesh!
Ephesians 2:8; 3:7; 4:7–gift of grace
Ephesians 5:2–gift of Christ Himself
Philippians 1:29–gift of believing with suffering
2 Thessalonians 2:16–gift of everlasting consolation
2 Timothy 1:7–gift of power, love and sound mind
2 Timothy 1:9–gift of purpose and grace
James 1:17–the gift of every good and perfect gift
2 Peter 1:3–gift of all things that pertain to life and godliness
2 Peter 1:4–gift of exceeding great and precious promises
1 John 5:20–gift of understanding

Grace gives!

Grace is a Gift

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.” Grace is a gift.

Some have argued from this passage that faith is the gift, I don’t think so. Grace is the gift. I know this primarily because Ephesians 3:7 and 4:7 both seem to correlate grace as a gift.

As I said yesterday–you can give without grace, but you can’t have grace without a gift. Grace brings stuff with it. It’s not just a happy disposition, it’s an imparting of gifts.

Since we have been given so much by God’s grace, as recipients of this generous grace, we are to then give to others. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Grace has very little to do with Christmas presents. Most Christmas giving is duty and, at best, a trade with those who give you something in return.

Gracious giving is giving to those who cannot repay, that’s how we know we have the gracious, loving gift of Christ. It’s what He did for us; it’s what we now do for others.

Grace and Giving

I do not like the biblical character, Jacob. He’s a weasel. He gives me the creeps. I’m glad God loved him, and Jacob should be glad I’m not God.

Jacob fled from Esau after stealing his birthright and blessing. When Jacob comes back with all his riches, he sends gifts ahead of him so Esau would be “gracious” toward him.

In Genesis 32 and 33, grace shows up a number of times and always in light of a gift.

32:5–Jacob shows his stuff to get grace with Esau
33:8–Esau asks what the stuff is for–that Jacob might find grace.
33:10–Jacob insists that Esau take the present if he has found grace
33:11–Jacob says God has been gracious with him, that’s why he has stuff
33:15–Jacob denies Esau’s loan of people to help move Jacob’s stuff because Jacob has found grace with Esau

There is a definite connection with giving and grace. This is one passage where we see two guys talking about being gracious, nothing to do with salvation or anything like that. Just two guys being gracious.

They each show grace by their gifts.

Salvation is a gift of God, it is given by Grace. Grace is not just a happy feeling toward someone, grace is an action word that conveys giving.

Up in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul interchanges a gift of money with the word “grace.” Grace is giving. There can be giving without grace; but there can never be grace without giving.

Jacob Prophesies About Israel’s Sacrifices?

Isaac is getting ready to die. Before departing, he wants to bestow blessings on his favored son, Esau. He loves Esau because Esau makes him steak, which is a fine reason to favor a kid.

Jacob is set up by his dear ol’ ma to go in and fool his father into thinking he is the favored son, deserving of blessings. One problem–Esau is hairy and Jacob is suave.

So dear ol’ ma devises a plan to put animal skins on Jacob’s hands and neck to deceive poor ol’ pa into blessing Jacob. It works, much to Esau’s chagrin.

Jacob does not have a flattering biography in the Bible. He doesn’t come across well. But Jacob is like much of humanity.

We know we’re not favored by our Father, so instead of listening to our Father, we dress ourselves up externally, thinking that we can fool Him.

“I know I don’t trust God, but maybe I can fool Him by looking like I trust Him. Quick, go kill me an animal.” Jacob is perhaps a prophecy concerning Israel’s approach to sacrifices?

Dumber Than Rocks

I was walking on our frozen lake yesterday, enjoying the sunset and the quiet of a winter lake, when it dawned on me how incredible it all was.

Everything I saw–the clouds, the sun, the trees, the birds and even the ice– do exactly what God told them to do. They all obey God’s laws He has put in place for creation, even if sin has tainted creation and warped those laws, all creation obeys them.

Water doesn’t get up one day and say, “I know I usually freeze at 32 degrees, but I don’t feel like it today. I’m not going to freeze until it gets to be 27.” Or maybe, “I feel chilled today, I know it’s only 37 degrees, but I’m going to turn into ice.”

Day in and day out, water freezes solid at 32 degrees whether it feels like it or not. Trees keep sending roots down and branches up. The sun keeps rising and setting.

Then there’s us.

Do we have any idea how out-of-place we are here? How brazen we are to flaunt God’s Laws? The trees look at us in wonder–how come those people don’t listen to God?

Success of the Early Church

Discussions on the Early Church often annoy me. They are highly romanticized.

Frequently I’m told that Jesus employed brilliant business strategy by having 12 disciples and an inner circle of three. These men then went out and made other disciples to carry on the message.

This all sounds fantastic and since it is so fantastic, all our churches should do the same. Pastors should get a small group of people, get real friendly with three, teach others who will have their own groups etc.

The problem with this model is that it completely undermines two BIG things:

1) Attributing the success of the Early Church to brilliant marketing completely ignores the Holy Spirit’s work. The “success” of the Early Church is the Spirit’s work and nothing else. You can have as many groups and inner groups and even inner, inner groups, but if you don’t have the Spirit, you aint gonna do nothing of eternal value.

2) Thinking that doctrine was passed down from the higher-ups to their inner group undermines this thing called Scripture. God wrote stuff down so we didn’t need a group to interpret for us. Look how swimmingly the Catholic Church used this thinking in the Dark Ages.

Furthermore, to say that the Early Church was “succesful” is a stretch. I recently read “The Apostle Paul was indisputably Jesus’ most brilliant student in disciple making.”

Allow Scripture to argue. From the Apostle “Best Disciple Maker” Paul:

“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me.”

“For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”

Never mind, I disagree with myself now. I guess Paul was a disciple maker like Jesus–they were each left alone.

The Church is the work of God, not man. Stop giving men credit for it, it’s not really worth bragging about. It’s the foolishness of the world.

Accountability, Small Groups and the World

One of the main ways “accountability” occurs in the modern church is through “small groups.” Huge churches have smaller meetings where about 10 people get together in someone’s house and discuss issues.

I’ve always had a problem with dividing churches into small groups. It’s fine if you don’t, I do. You keep small grouping all you want. But here are some issues I have with them:

1) They are not scriptural. I know Jesus had 12 disciples, but that’s not what any small group I’ve seen is doing. Which of your small group members is the treasurer? Which is the Messiah?

2) It’s a worldly system borrowed by the world. I’ll let Malcolm Gladwell, in an article on Saddleback Church, explain. “The small group as an instrument of community is initially how Communism spread, and in the postwar years Alcoholics Anonymous and its twelve-step progeny perfected the small-group technique.”

3) They are prone to cliqueshness and some lead to church splits. Once a group of people isolates themselves they begin to think they are right. People who think they are right usually aren’t, but will act as if they are. Look out church unity.

4) They are not scriptural. I know the early church met in houses, but in the early church, usually each town had one church, not what modern small groups are.

5) James says, “Let not many be teachers among you.” In my humble, yet true to life, experience, most small group leaders are folks who desire “to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”

6) They are not Scriptural.

This all leads me to believe that small groups are a human-wisdom invention applied to the church. I know many people say they benefit from them. That’s fine. Many people say they have benefited from Islam, too.

Small groups are one branch of “church accountability” that smacks more of humanly divised psychology than Scriptural obedience. But that’s just my opinion, which is worth as much as a feather at a chicken kicking festival.

Accountability and Pride

Yesterday I voiced my opinion about the lack of biblical support for our oft mentioned need for “accountability.”

In order to conquer sin, we are told, we need to regularly meet with someone to go through our sin roster and report how well we are doing. We do our best to talk ourselves up as horrible rotten sinners, that way it’s easier to show progress.

As we meet regularly to share how well the battle goes, we are to show ourselves to be conquering sin, getting better. When we are tempted to sin, we are to think of the horrors of admitting our sin to our accountability partner.

Alas, this works for many. It works for vain, proud people anyway.

The Church is great at defeating sin with other sins. In order to get people to quit adultery we shame them into stopping. We then claim a huge spiritual victory took place.

Actually, a man just replaced adultery with pride–the desire to look good in front of others. Has the heart changed? Who knows, time tells.

Beware Satan’s subtle traps. He deceives people into thinking they’re making progress in depending on God when in reality, they are merely getting stronger in another area of the flesh.

Biblical Support for Accountability

I hear all the time that the Church is supposed to keep people accountable. Leadership Journal, a magazine for pastors, had a link the other day to a Barna study that showed that most people think their churches are failures in providing accountability.

What? People think their church is a failure? No way. Come on. Get out of here. Anyway. . .

Furthermore, outside of “confess your faults one to another” (which, according to the context, has to do with healing people physically, not accountability groups), there isn’t much in Scripture about accountability groups. You will also notice exactly zero verses telling churches they need to keep people accountable.

Yet I keep hearing how men need to get together with men to keep accountable. Do we see this with the apostles in Acts? Do we see the disciples do this? Do we ever see Jesus praying with anyone, asking them how much wine they had at supper?

In all honesty, if you want to keep accountable with someone, that’s fine, I don’t think it’s wrong, I am amazed though how often we’re told to do this with so little backup from Scripture about it.

Anytime lots of people want to do something it’s probably not God’s idea. Talking about ourselves is what drives us, most experiences I’ve had with “accountability groups” is merely whining about yourself incessantly.

There is a person we will give an account to–Our Creator and Savior. There is plenty of biblical teaching on being accountable to God, very little about being accountable to man.

Perhaps our accountability groups become one more hurdle to keep us safe from that pesky Holy Spirit? We never see Jesus praying with an individual, but we see Him praying to His Father regularly. I’m probably just a cynic here, but show me from Scripture and I’ll reconsider.

Does Sin Make Baby Jesus Cry?

“Sin makes Baby Jesus cry.” Many parents use logic like this to guilt their kids into not sinning. It might work, I don’t know, I’ve never used it.

Is it theologically accurate? I don’t think so, as we know from our hymnody, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” I’d like to see a kid use that one with his parents. Answer that one, dad.

I think Jesus cried when He was a baby seeing as how He cried when He was an adult. “Away in a Manger” is not Scripture. However, I doubt the baby Jesus cries when people sin, primarily because the baby Jesus no longer exists, as in–He got bigger.

Rather than wondering if Jesus cries when we sin, it might be more fruitful to use a biblical statement that actually mentions Jesus and crying. Try on Revelation 1:7,

“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”

Worry about Jesus’ second coming. Get Jesus out of the manger and on His throne where He is at the right hand of the Father. He is to be feared. You’ll be crying if you’re not ready when He comes.

The Sin Unto Death

The wages of sin is death. Hell is reserved for the unrighteous, the sinners. Sinners go to hell.

Except not all of em! Some sinners go to heaven! Therefore, we must conclude that a man does not go to hell because he sins, because many have sinned and not gone to hell.

What determines who goes to hell? It is not whether we sinned, it’s whether we’ve rejected  the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rejecting Christ is the sin unto death. There is no hope for the unrepentant sinner who rejects Christ and is yet in his sin.

When men are judged they will be shown their sin. If a man did not have faith in Jesus Christ, his sin abides and the wrath of God abides as well.

Being a sinner does not send men to hell; staying an unforgiven sinner does.

Entitlement and Church Attendance

WORLD Magazine has a post about teaching the “entitlement generation.” They do poor work but feel they are entitled to an A anyway. When they don’t get their A’s, they quit.

Feeling you are entitled to good for doing bad is nothing new, but it does explain much of human behavior.

Preaching about sin annoys people. Telling people they should, you know, like, “depart from iniquity” and “put to death the deeds of the body” makes people feel bad :(

Instead of dealing with the Gospel, people leave. They just up and quit. And there are plenty of other churches who will sweep them up to hear pleasant words that soothe the soul of the sinner.

Judgment day is coming, it’s unavoidable, one might say all men are entitled to judgment. God won’t care that you want to feel good for being bad. He’s not interested. God is not mocked, you reap what you sow.

Deal.

Jesus, Paul and Progressive Revelation

Christianity Today had an article on Jesus and Paul that attempted to show how Jesus and Paul are unified. The article points out that Jesus often stresses The Kingdom, while Paul stresses Justification By Faith.

Trying to make Jesus stress justification to fit in with Paul, or make Paul stress kingdom to fit with Jesus is to misinterpret both.

I agree to an extent. But his answer was to say that really, what they both taught was the death and resurrection of Christ–that is the center of The Kingdom and Justification.

His point is that Paul only talks about the Kingdom 15 times so we can see this isn’t a big deal for Paul. However, how often does Jesus talk about His death in any Gospel? Not 15 times.

I think this is classic American thinking–what a guy talks about most is most important, so if he talks about something 3 more times than something else, we can determine the lesser talked of thing is not as important.

This is not an accurate way to handle Scripture, I don’t think. If God says something one time, it’s pretty important. Like, “love your neighbor” is the second main point of the Law. Guess how many times the Law says to “love your neighbor?”

Go ahead, guess.

Yup, one time. Yet this one time mention is foundational truth according to Jesus–and Paul, for that matter.

The way Paul and Jesus Christ fit together is by understanding progressive revelation. The apostles and prophets are building the foundation off the cornerstone–Jesus Christ. Walls don’t look like floors. Roofs don’t look like walls.

They don’t talk about exactly the same stuff because they have a different audience who had differing levels of information. If one understands Christ, one can understand Paul. Progressive revelation explains a lot.

Dumb Songs

There is a “Christmas” song called “It Snowed.” It’s not a bad song, it has a catchy tune and the female voice is not bad, I’ve heard more irritating songs. But it has a line in it, which honestly bothers me.

The song is about how wonderful a snow day is. It ends by longing for another snow day tomorrow and then it flops out this bothersome lyric:

“Wish upon a star
It snows again tonight.”

Let’s think this through: “Wish upon a star.” When do stars come out? At night. If it “snows again tonight” there has to be clouds, cuz see, snow comes from clouds. If there are clouds you won’t see a star to wish upon.

That bothers me. It does. It just does.

It also makes me feel better knowing that Christians do not have a monopoly on writing incredible illogical songs.

Should Churches Die?

Fast Company has a short post on the immortality of charities. For profit businesses go out of business frequently, while non-profits, even ones that achieve their purpose, remain forever, become directionless and an inefficient use of resources.

I’ve often wondered if churches should have expiration dates. They should be established and then the doors should be closed when they’ve lasted long enough.

How long is “long enough?” Not sure, but I do know that too often our institutions that were created for a purpose just limp along doing nothing in particular. Should we kill em?

Evangelizing Stupid People–Part 2

Biblical illiteracy is trumped-up as being bigger than ever these days and this fact makes evangelism harder. Even though I disagree that biblical illiteracy is bigger today, I’ll grant the point, but does this assumed fact really make evangelism harder?

In my experience, the more biblically literate a person is, the harder it is to convince them they need salvation.

Again, remember the Pharisees? They were more biblically literate than anyone around them, yet Christ said they were all going to hell with all their knowledge.

Prostitutes and tax-collectors would enter before these biblically literate morons would. Biblical literacy gives people faith in their knowledge. “I know all that stuff, move on already.”

I have a kid in our youth program who whines every week about how he already knows everything I am teaching. However, half of what he says is wrong when he answers my questions. He believes he is biblically literate, and he does know more than most kids, but it’s his biblical literacy that may be his biggest hurdle to true faith.

Leo Tolstoy, who writes better than I, makes the point for me. Leo, take it away:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”