Christ our Healer, part 2

pexel healingMovies like “Fletch Lives” and “Leap of Faith” poked fun at the stereotypical, televangelist, faith-healing frauds, but for many people the images in those movies are what we picture when we hear someone talk about healing.  There have been a lot of abuses and misuses of healing in the church and on television and for that reason many people have abandoned the idea of healing altogether.

In James 5:13-16 we find a very clear outline of what healing is supposed to look like within the Church. “13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16, ESV)

There are a lot of different responses we might have when we are suffering.  We might whine, complain, grumble worry or get discouraged, but James is suggesting that when we are suffering we should turn it over to God in prayer.

Then James moves on to good times.  So often we are quick to blame God for the bad things in life and yet very slow to give him credit for the good things.  It is almost like we expect things to always be good and so we only really take notice when something goes wrong.  Making a point to give praise to God for the good things helps us maintain a right focus on him.

After talking about times of suffering and times when we are cheerful, James moves on to talk about what we are to do when we are sick. He tells us that we are to call for the elders to pray for us.  Notice that there is a difference between what we are to do when we are suffering compared to when we are sick.  I don’t believe that James is saying that we are to sit and try and deliberate about what our trouble is so that we can decide whether we are to pray for ourselves or call for the elders.  I believe that James is suggesting a next step that we can take.

The word that James uses here to talk about those who are sick can also mean weak.  Regardless of why we are suffering we should bring our needs before God in prayer.  We also might reach out to our relatives and friends or put something on the prayer chain so the church can be praying for us.  But James seems to be suggesting a next step we can take when those problems continue or we need a special touch.  He tells us to call on the elders.  This is not simply referring to those who are older than us, but to those who have been specifically set aside for a position of authority within the church.  These people are called to be overseers who care for the spiritual needs of those within the church.

In this passage James points out a very specific process for seeking Christ for healing.  He says that we are to call the elders to pray for the person and anoint them with oil.  This is not some kind of magical spell or incantation.  There is not some specific maneuver that needs to be done in the right way to bring healing.  Healing does not come from using the right kind of oil, or saying the right words in the prayer, or having the oil applied in the right way or anything like that.  The healing comes from Christ.

Notice how James specifically points out praying and anointing in the Name of the Lord and that it is the Lord who will raise him up.  The Lord is the one who does the work.  Healing should focus us on Christ, not on some person and not even on our own ability to believe strongly enough.  Any healing service that takes the focus off of Christ and puts it on some person or some special process is a problem.  Christ is our healer.

Notice also that confessing our sins is mentioned in this passage.  Sometimes our sickness or suffering is a direct result of our sin.  There are very real consequences for our sin and sometimes God might allow bad things to happen to us as discipline or just as a natural consequence of a wrong we have done.  God also may allow sickness into our lives in order to get our attention and to help us see something in our lives that needs to change.  So if we are refusing to acknowledge our sin and are determined to ignore what God wants for us, then there is no way we should expect his healing.  So it is important to take the time and see if there is some sin that needs to be dealt when we seek healing.

However, sometimes sickness is not related specifically to some sin in our life that has not been dealt with.  Notice that James says if he has sinned he will be forgiven.  That word “if” suggests that we can be sick and not have some sin that needs to be forgiven.  Sometimes we just get sick, because we are living in a broken world.  Even when we are healed from a sickness we will eventually get sick again and eventually we will die.  Sickness, pain and death are a natural part of living in this broken world.  That means that sometimes we just get sick.  But when we are sick it is a good time to pause and seek God and to let him reveal to us anything he might want to reveal to us.

This process for healing includes examining our hearts and confessing sin and having the elders pray for us and anoint us with oil.  That is the process, but notice that it begins with a request from the one who is sick.  This, in and of itself is an act of faith, so let’s not take it lightly.  It is not simply a last ditch effort or a whim, it is a specific decision to trust in Christ as our healer.

James gives us a clear process for approaching Christ for healing and it looks very different from what was pictured in the movies I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.  We do not need to abandon healing because of the abuses we have seen, we simply need to get back to the biblical foundation for healing like we see in this passage.  So my challenge for us is to utilize this process that God has laid out for us.  If we are sick, we should call for the elders of the church to pray over us and anoint us with oil in the name of the Lord.

Christ our Healer

pexel hand outIn the Christian and Missionary Alliance Statement of Faith we find this sentence: “Provision is made in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the mortal body.”

To understand the Biblical foundation for this belief we turn to Matthew 8 and find a story of healing. “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” (Matt. 8:14-16, ESV)

Notice that when Jesus touches Peter’s mother-in-law not only is she healed immediately, but she is also healed completely.  Apparently in this area of Israel Malaria was common.  We do not know if that is what she was suffering from or not, but imagine if she did have Malaria.  Even if she had been healed of the fever it still would have taken her some time to recuperate.  But in this story she immediately gets up and starts to serve them.  That is amazing.  Jesus didn’t just take away the sickness, he gave her complete health and rejuvenation and strength to the point where she was immediately able to get up and start serving her guests like a good Jewish mother in law would probably do.

There is a completeness to the healing work of Jesus that is powerfully shown in this example.  Jesus doesn’t just take away what is wrong, he brings life.  And word must have spread because soon a crowd had gathered to seek a healing touch from the Lord.

That is a powerful story, but it also provides important context for verse 17: “17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:17, ESV)

This verse suggests that there is more to this scene than just the healings that are taking place.  This is the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah.  This is a declaration of who Jesus is.  And it is referring to Isaiah 53, which is known as the passage on the suffering servant.

“1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a] And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men; a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e] and as one from whom men hide their faces[f] he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6, ESV)

This passage is a prophecy about the coming Messiah and it is easy to see Jesus in these words. Nobody would have looked at Jesus as he was growing up in Nazareth and said, look there is the Messiah.  There was no pomp and circumstance.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  And after he came out and began his ministry he was despised and rejected.  He had his life threatened and he was constantly under attack from the religious leaders of the day.  Eventually he was arrested and unjustly tried and convicted.  Then he was beaten and placed on a cross where they drove nails into his hands and feet and hung him up to die.  And on that cross he took our sins upon himself and died as a sacrifice for the world.

This passage in Isaiah 53 seems to be focusing on what Christ would do on the cross when he was beaten and pierced and killed while carrying the sins of the world on his shoulders.  Even the phrase “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows” from verse 4, has us picturing the cross.

But if Isaiah 53 is pointing toward Christ’s work on the cross, why is it connected to Matthew 8 which is a story about Jesus’ healing ministry?

When we look at verses 4-5 of Isaiah 53, we see that it is our sicknesses and our pain and our sin and our punishment that he takes upon himself, while he is stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded.  And it is because he went through what he went through, while carrying all of our stuff that we get to enjoy what we see at the end of verse 5 which says, by his wounds we are healed.  That healing is complete.  Christ died and rose again in victory over sin and the curse that sin brought.

Now let me point out that because of sin, we are living in a broken world.  We treat sickness as if it is the main problem, but sickness is actually a symptom of the brokenness that has come as part of the curse of sin.  Healing sickness is actually like healing a symptom.  In Matthew 8, Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, but she would have gotten sick again after that and eventually she still died.  Sickness is simply a symptom of the brokenness caused by sin.

While he walked this earth Jesus chose to care for the symptoms of living in a broken world, like hunger, sickness, and evil spirits.  But while he chose to address some of the symptoms he was always moving toward the main focus, which was the victory he would bring through his work on the cross and through the grave.  Things are not going to be perfect until Christ returns and wipes away this broken world and brings a new heaven and new earth.

In Revelation 21 we read: “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4, ESV)

That is what we look forward to.  One day sickness and death will be no more. But what about today? What do we do with the stuff we face right now in this broken world?  Are we stuck just looking forward to our future in Heaven?

Christ could have just walked this earth, completely focused on the cross, and ignored the symptoms of this broken world that were all around him.  But he didn’t.  He chose to stop and listen and touch and heal those in need.  Even though those healings were just temporary and he was just addressing the symptoms, Jesus still chose to heal.  Why?

Last week I was at a national youth convention for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  As part of that convention my son Jacob and I attended a seminar led by Ken Castor.  During that seminar Ken asked the audience to shout out some things as volunteers wrote them on a giant white board.  One of the things he asked for them to shout out was things that Christ does for us.  People yelled out: he healed; he forgave; he died; and other things Christ has done.  My son Jacob just quietly said, he stopped.  And I turned to him and asked what he meant by that.  He told me that when people cried out to Jesus as he was passing by, he would stop and listen to their need and touch and heal them.  And I was like, you know what, he’s right.  That’s something that Christ did.  He stopped.  Why did he stop?  He stopped because he loved them.  He had compassion on them.  And that is still true today.  When we cry out to him Christ still stops and listens to us and touches us.

As we continue on through Scripture we see that healing was an active part of the ministry of the early church.  And down through history that has continued.  Sure there have been plenty of abuses and we have gotten off track from what it was intended to be along the way, but Christ is still our healer.

He still stops when we cry out to him.  He listens and cares about what we are going through and he touches us.  I don’t know why he sometimes chooses not to heal.  But I do know that Christ loves us and he is still our healer.  It is not our faith that heals us, it is not some guy in a fancy suit, it is not prayer or oil or the ability we have to believe, it is Christ who heals.  Through the cross he established victory over sin and death and everything that goes with it.  He came to bring us life.  And even though he no longer walks on this earth in flesh and blood, when we cry out to him, he still stops because he loves us.  Christ is still our Healer.

 

 

Christ our Sanctifier, Part I

pexel bible1Did you know that Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”  In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, saying “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”  In response to David Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”

Sometimes really smart people make poor decisions simply because they think some really great idea is foolish.  In I Corinthians 1:17-31 Paul talks about how the gospel seems like foolishness to those who have rejected it, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

From an earthly perspective the message of the cross makes no sense.  How could a man who was put to death on a cross be of benefit to anyone?  Why should someone stop going their own way and follow this Christ who had been put to death?  But the message of the cross is not just some instruction about how to live, it is about accepting the sacrifice of someone who died, to bring us abundant life.

Actually the way this is written in the Greek suggests that those who are perishing are destroying themselves, while those who are being saved are saved not by what they do, but by what is being done for them.  The message of the cross is not instruction for how to live, but life-giving power for those who believe.

Paul talks about how the Jews were looking for signs and yet when Christ came they missed him because he was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.  So to the Jews, Jesus was a stumbling block.  They thought there was no way he could be the Messiah.  So they killed him.  Meanwhile, the Greeks were seeking wisdom.  They had the great philosophers of the day desiring to know answers to the great questions of life and the universe.  These great philosophers studied the world and applied their wisdom to life. To them the idea of Jesus was folly.

Man is very arrogant.  We naturally think we know everything and can handle anything.  We are taught from an early age to be independent.  But God turned things upside down when he sent Christ.  Through the work of Jesus Christ our sins can be forgiven and we can receive eternal life and this is a free gift that we simply receive by faith. To those who are willing respond to this seemingly foolish message and to proclaim their need for a Savior, God gives abundant life.

And notice what Paul says in verses 30-31, “30 And because of him[e] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:30-31, ESV)

So Paul is writing to a Christian group.  He is addressing the church.  And he reminds them of what has happened in their lives through Christ.  He speaks of Jesus Christ becoming wisdom from God to us.  This contrasts with the wisdom of the world.  The wisdom of the world does not have the power to save us, but Christ does, and therein lies true wisdom.

Then Paul talks about what happens in us through Christ by using three words: righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The word righteousness basically means to be put in right standing with God.  We are declared righteous by God, because of the sacrifice of Christ.  The word redemption refers to being bought back.  It suggests a ransom and that a price was paid for us.  It has ties to the concept of slavery and being bought out of that.  The word sanctification means to be separate or set apart.  Specifically in this context it would be set apart from sin and set apart to God.  It refers to our holiness or the process of holiness in our lives.

I want to dig into this word a little more.  So let me try and illustrate it visually for us.

sanctifier

 

 

Imagine if this graph represented our sanctification, as if we could quantify it.  The top is 100% fully sanctified and down at the bottom is 0, representing someone who is going their own way, doing their own thing, not set apart for God at all.  That doesn’t mean that they are a bad or good person, but specifically whether or not they are set apart from sin and to God.

At the point of conversion, when we receive Christ into our lives, there are some things that happen to us immediately.  One of those things is that we are declared righteous, justified, or sanctified in God’s eyes because of the work of Christ.

In other words, when God looks at us, he sees us as clothed in Christ’s righteousness rather than covered in our sin.  So at that moment we are placed in the position of sanctified based on Christ’s work in our lives.  One day when we get to Heaven, we will be given new resurrected bodies and things will be like God intended, completely perfect and we will be glorified.

But between now and then, if we are honest with ourselves, while we may realize that God sees us right now positionally as sanctified, that is not the actual condition of our lives.   We know that we are not perfect.  We still sin, we still mess up, we are still not fully set apart from sin and set apart for God all the time.  If we looked at the actual condition of our lives, and how much we are living like Christ, it would probably be more along the lines of a rocky up and down kind of following of God.

The question is, do we want more than that?  I think in the church today we almost treat Christianity as if it is about praying a prayer so that when we die we will go to Heaven rather than Hell, but it does not really make that much difference in our day to day lives.  So we are okay with an up and down following of Christ.  However, if we are truly disciples of Christ, then that means that we are supposed to be in the process of becoming like the one we are following.  That is what Christ has called us toward.

And we are not just looking ahead to eternal life in Heaven, God has promised us abundant life right now.  He wants us to be victorious as we walk through this life, experiencing victory over sin, receiving his blessing and best for us today.  He wants us to be walking in a newness of life that he has for us that I think many times we fail to grasp as Christians.  And the only way for us to walk in that newness of life is by relying on the work of Christ who sanctifies us.  Sanctification is not about cleaning up our lives and doing a better job of being a good Christian it is about relying upon the work of Christ in us.  He is our sanctifier.

Think about the context of this passage.  Paul has been pointing out throughout the preceding verses, the folly of man’s wisdom compared to the power of God.  Just as we could never save ourselves we also cannot transform our lives into Christ-likeness.  We need Christ to do that in us.  Christ is not done with us at the point of conversion.  He doesn’t stop with salvation, but continues on in our lives.  He is our Sanctifier.

That flies in the face of earthly wisdom.  This world would say that it’s up to you.  You need to work hard.  You need to get it done.  You need to try harder.  It is foolishness in the world’s eyes to rely upon Christ as Savior or Sanctifier, but that is exactly what we need to do.

So what is our response?  If Christ is our Sanctifier, how do we respond to him?  That’s a great question.  Check out the next blog to find out more.

Christ our Savior

pexel cross 1For the last forty years the Heimlich maneuver has been synonymous with the abdominal thrust procedure for saving someone from choking. This method is named after a surgeon from Cincinnati named Dr. Henry Heimlich who apparently published this idea in an essay in the Emergency Medicine journal in June, 1974.  Over the years this maneuver has been used to save the lives of many people who were choking.

But did you know that Dr. Heimlich never actually used the maneuver to save someone from choking until just a few weeks ago at the age of 96?  He was apparently having dinner at his retirement home when a woman nearby began chocking and for the first time he used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of this 87 year old woman.

What does it mean to save someone?  It basically means to rescue someone from harm.  In Titus 3:3-7, we read: “3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7, ESV)

Notice that Paul begins with the words we were.  He doesn’t say they are, but we were.  We were foolish, we were disobedient and so on.  He is describing himself and Titus, and all followers of Christ, before we became followers of Christ. This helps us identify ourselves with those around us who do not know Christ and reminds us of who we are without grace.

And then we see one of the most wonderful words in all of Scripture.  The word “but.”  That word carries with it a whole lot of implication.   Paul says this is who we were, but then Christ came into the picture. And he connects the word “but” with the goodness and loving kindness of God.  He points out all of the stuff about who we used to be and then the word “but” is there because God loves mankind so much and he is so good that he worked redemptively for us by sending Jesus.

Then Paul points out that we are saved not by what we do, but by what has been done for us.  We could never earn salvation.  We could never have been good enough on our own.  Actually without Christ we were enemies of God, going our own way, as if he didn’t even exist.  But God saved us, because of his mercy.

God rescued us from sin, from guilt, from death, from hell, but he also saved us from being separated from him.  We were created to live in fellowship with God.  Sin messed that up, but through Christ God restored the opportunity for that relationship to be restored.

Paul points out that we are saved through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.   That’s kind of confusing, so lets break it down.  We were unclean because of our sin, and that separated us from God, so we needed to be washed.  But that washing is combined with regeneration and renewal.  The word regeneration basically means rebirth.  It implies something that was old being reborn.  Renewal refers to being made new.  The Holy spirit washes our sins away and gives us new life in Christ.

This is not something we could ever have done in our own lives.  We cannot wash ourselves from sin.  We cannot give birth to a new nature in us.  We need to have this done for us. And that is what the Holy Spirit does.

It is also beautiful to see that phrase poured out on us richly.  That gives us the image of a generous God who is lavishing us with his love, kindness, and mercy.  He is not being stingy.  He is not holding back.  He is not treating us as our sins deserve or giving us just a little bit of grace, he pours out this amazing grace on our lives.

And then in verse 7 Paul brings in the word justified.  This is a legal term that basically means to be declared righteous.  It is as if we are standing in a courtroom awaiting a guilty verdict that we deserve and the judge declares us not guilty. One of the things that happens in our lives through the work of Christ is that his sacrifice covers our sins, so that when God looks at us, rather than seeing our sin, he sees Christ’s righteousness and we are declared justified in his sight. We also become heirs who are welcomed in to the family of God and are given the inheritance of eternity with him in Heaven.

So when we talk about Christ our Savior, this is what we are referring to.  Jesus died on the cross in order for us to be saved.  And make no doubt about it, we needed rescuing.  We could not save ourselves.  Christ is our Savior.

Let me illustrate it this way…

savior1Way back in the beginning with Adam and Eve, God created things good and perfect.  We even get the sense from the book of Genesis that God walked with man in the Garden.  God created man to live forever in fellowship with him.

 

 

Butsavior2 sin entered the picture and broke that fellowship.  Sin wrecked the perfect good reality that God had
created.  And man was separated from God.  Like verse 3 said, we were going our own way, astray from God, slaves to sin separated from God.  And as we know from Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. We were faced with an eternity of separation from God.

 

savior3But god loved us so much that he sent us a Savior.  Jesus died on the cross, so that our sins could be washed away, we could be declared righteous, and we could be made new, brought back to a right relationship with God and given the hope of eternal life.

 

 

savior4So how do we receive this gift?  How do we respond to this message?  In Romans 10:9,10 we read,  “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9,10, ESV)  

 

That is our response.  We need to admit that we believe that Christ came to save us and that we want him to be our Savior.  That’s it.  If you are reading this post and have some questions or if you have responded to this Gospel message and would like to talk with someone about it, please email me at office@riveralliance.com

 

Father Abraham

pexel faithAbraham is one of the most famous fathers mentioned in the Bible.  According to my best calculations, Abraham or Abram as he is first called is mentioned 287 times in the Bible, including about 73 times in the New Testament alone.  He is all over the place.  Typically when talking about him we might turn to the book of Genesis which chronicles his life, his early calling from God and the way he followed God toward the promised land.  Or we might check out the book of Hebrews where he is talked about in several verses in chapter 11, which is considered the faith hall of fame.  But I want to look instead at a letter from Paul to the church in Galatia where Paul mentions Abraham a few times as he talks about faith.

Apparently the Galatian church had run into a problem.  Some Jewish teachers had infiltrated the church with some bad theology.  They were encouraging the people that in order to be Christians, they not only had to accept Christ as Savior, but also had to conform to the Mosaic law.  It is like they were combining salvation by Grace with salvation by works.  But in Galatians 3 Paul is challenging them to not go back to trying to be justified by the law after having been justified by faith.

Paul actually calls them foolish.  He is not saying that they were mentally challenged or that their IQ was not high enough.  That would actually be a different Greek word.  The word he chooses to use suggests that they had the capacity to understand, but were choosing to act in a way that didn’t make sense.  They were being irrational.  He even asked who bewitched them.  As if they must have been hypnotized or someone cast a spell on them for them to believe something so confounding.

Paul was fighting a battle in the early days of Christianity.  The church was struggling to define their theology of salvation.  When the Gospel was being spread solely among the Jews it was a different kind of battle.  They were already in the tradition of following the Mosaic law and they recognized that the law could not save them, but that Christ could.  So they responded to the Gospel.  But then when the Gospel started to be taken to the Gentiles and they began to believe, some of the Jews were taken aback by the way that the Gentiles lived.  The Jews wanted the Gentiles to change their behaviors in order to be saved.

So what is so bad about that?  Is it wrong to expect that when someone becomes a Christian that they should be living differently?  The problem is that the church in Galatia was in danger of moving in the direction of a doctrine that combined grace and works.  But if we can work hard enough to earn salvation, then it is no longer grace.  Grace is receiving something that we didn’t or couldn’t earn.

We need to recognize the importance of sound doctrine.  As Christians we do not all need to go to seminary or become theologians, but we all need to know what we believe.  There are plenty of theological points that we can ponder and debate, but there are some, like our doctrine on salvation, that form the foundation of what we believe.  We need to protect those foundational points because others might seek to tear them down by adding or taking away from what we believe.   For the church in Galatia it was legalism, for us it might be universalism. We need to hold on to the Gospel and not waiver from sound doctrine.

Paul is setting the Galatians straight and he uses Abraham as an example.  Take a look at verses 6-9:  “6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)

Notice that the verse says counted to him as righteousness.  That word doesn’t mean earned, but more like credited.  Paul is saying that Abraham wasn’t declared righteous because of circumcision or following the law.  Abraham didn’t even have the Mosaic law yet.  That law wouldn’t come for hundreds of years.  Abraham was declared righteous because of faith, not because of what he did or didn’t do.

And the same is true of us.  Look at how Paul says that those of faith are sons of Abraham.  Have you ever thought of yourself as a son or daughter of Abraham?  When I was growing up I sang the song, “Father Abraham” at camp.  I knew the song, but nobody ever explained it to me.  It didn’t make any sense.  As far as I know I am not even part Jewish, so how am I a son of Abraham?

Notice that in verse 8 Paul uses the phrase, “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.”  This is a very important verse for the Biblical Foundation of the Gospel.  I teach on this verse in day three of my Biblical Evangelism class at Crown College.   This verse references a passage that is a well-known point in Abraham’s life.  It is referencing Genesis 12:1-3 where God calls Abram to follow him and gives him some promises.

One of the promises that God makes is that he will bless all the families of the earth through Abram.  So from early on God set aside Abraham and his descendants to use them to declare himself to the world.  And in Galatians 3:8 Paul refers to that and calls it the Gospel.  Down through the ages one of Abraham’s descendants would be the messiah, Jesus.  And through him salvation would be offered to the whole world.

So often we treat the Old Testament and New Testament as if they are not part of the same story.  But God has one story throughout Scripture.  This passage shows us that even way back in Genesis 12 God had a plan for saving all of mankind through the work of Christ, a descendant of Abraham.

And as Paul points out in Galatians 3:9, if we have faith in Christ and are followers of his, then we have this connection with Abraham.  He is our father too.  He is the father of all those who would one day, eventually believe in Christ.  That is how we are sons and daughters of Abraham.

And as sons of Abraham, we too should carry on that role of being a blessing to all nations. We are God’s people and he wants to use us to declare himself to this world.

And like Abraham, we are declared righteous because of our faith not because of what we do.  Abraham is an amazing example of obedience.  But he was declared righteous because of his faith and the same is true of us.

That is why Christianity stands out so much from all of the other religions in the world.  Everyone else is expected to earn their salvation, but we are expected to receive our salvation by grace recognizing that we could never earn it.

So let’s stop trying so hard to earn it.  I know so many Christians who are worn out and tired and who feel like failures.  I want to remind us today, that we don’t earn a thing.  Christ is our Savior.  He is the one who did the work, and he is the one who is still at work transforming our lives.  We can stop striving so hard to be good Christians.  We can stop judging ourselves so harshly and comparing ourselves with those around us.  We are saved by Grace that is received through faith, not by works.  Christ is our Savior!

 

 

 

Traps and Snares

pexel trapOne of my best friends in college was a kid named Eric.  He was a country boy from the farmlands around Lancaster, PA.  We were very different.  He grew up hunting and fishing, hanging out in the woods and living on a chicken farm and I grew up playing games at the video arcade and hanging out at the mall.

At one point Eric had to take a speech class and one of the assignments was to give a persuasive speech.  Eric came up with the bright idea to do a speech on trapping animals.  He wanted to talk about how using traps to catch animals was actually a very humane way of capturing them.

He decided that the best way to do that was to bring a trap to class and during his speech he would set it off on his own hand to show that it was not that bad.  Unfortunately he did not practice that part and so he found out in the middle of the speech that it hurt a lot worse than he thought it would.

No doubt there are some traps that are much more humane than that trap that Eric used in speech class.  But no matter how non-lethal a trap is, the purpose is still the same.  The purpose of a trap is to lure and ensnare an unsuspecting victim.

In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus talks about traps.  He is not talking about the physical ones like Eric was referring to in his speech, but about spiritual traps and snares in the form of temptation and false teaching.

In verse 1 Jesus tells his disciples that temptations to sin are sure to come.  That means that we should expect temptation to be a normal and regular part of our lives.  The original Greek version of the phrase “temptations to sin” in this passage actually uses the word skandala which means something along the lines of a snare or a trap.  It is translated as stumbling blocks in the New American Standard Bible.  In other words it is referring to the things that trip us up and cause us to fall.

That is an accurate word picture for us.   Think about it like a snare laid out on the ground in our path that is specifically there with the purpose of tripping us up.  Because of our sin nature we see those traps as desirable, or harmless, but the concept of a trap or a snare is that it’s very purpose is to cause us to fall.  We need to recognize temptation for what it is.

We also need to realize that Satan wants us to trip and fall and that he is actively trying to destroy our relationship with God.  We need to be aware of his schemes and the traps and snares that he intentionally puts in our way.

When those temptations arise we have the opportunity to choose to follow what we know to be God’s will for us or we can embrace the temptation and move into sin.  The more we choose to follow God’s will and turn away from sin, the more we are going to get to know God’s will and be able to recognize those stumbling blocks and snares for what they are.  Unfortunately the opposite is also true. The more we choose to ignore God’s will and choose to give our bodies over to sin, the less we are going to be able to understand God’s will and the more likely we are going to be fall into those tempting traps.

While we are saved by grace and not by our ability to stay away from bad things, choosing to ignore God’s will and give ourselves to sin, leads us down a path away from God.  Sin is a harsh slave master.  Temptation looks all nice and pretty and desirable, but it is a snare and it leads to slavery.

Jesus goes on in verse 1 to specifically challenge us to not be the ones leading people into those snares.  When I was younger I watched movies that contained nudity.  Over the years I started specifically staying away from those kind of movies because I know that is a temptation that I should avoid.  However, when I was younger, not only did I watch those movies, I also watched them with friends or with my younger brother.  That means that I was not just exposing myself to temptation, I was exposing them to it as well.  And in this verse Jesus is saying woe to those who would do that.

In verse 2 he goes on to point out that it would be better to have a millstone hung around his neck than to cause a little one to sin.  A millstone was a heavy, flat stone that was used to crush grain.  Imagine for a moment the terrible death these words are illustrating.  And yet Jesus is saying that it would be better for that to happen than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

I look back at my life with a lot of regrets for what I was like in high school, college, and early adult life.  It was not that I was terrible, but I probably had more bad influence on people than I had good influence and I didn’t even realize it.  I probably had heard this verse, but I never really connected the dots to myself.

We need to recognize the role we play in the temptation of others.  In verses 3 and 4 Jesus goes on to point out that it is not even enough for us to just not have a negative influence on others, we have to take it a step further.  Jesus challenges us to confront our brothers when they sin.  This means that if we see one another sinning we are not supposed to ignore it, we are to confront one another.  We don’t do this to condemn them, but to lead them to repentance.  And if they repent we are to forgive them, even if we have been wronged in the process.

These verses are a powerful reminder of the important role we play in one another’s lives.  Imagine us all walking on a path together like some kind of giant nature hike.  As we walk, we need to recognize that there are traps and snares all over the place that would trip us up and cause us to fall.  We need to be watching out for them, not just for us, but for one another as well.  We need to point out the traps as we walk and we need to be especially making sure that we are not the ones leading people into those traps.   Then, if one of our brothers falls into a trap, we should be there alongside them to help them out and to help them get back on their feet.  It is like we are walking this path together, and we care for one another along the way, helping each other on this journey of following the Lord.

 

Rahab’s Example

pexel window2Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho when the people of Israel showed up with the command from God to go in and take the promised land.  The Israelites sent in spies to check things out and they wound up at the home of Rahab in Jericho and she went out of her way to hide and protect them when they were in danger.  Even though she was not an Israelite she believed in the stories she had heard of their God and chose to align herself with him rather than with her own people.  And she and her family were spared when God destroyed the city.  You can read more about the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

Later on Rahab is mentioned in Matthew 1:5 as part of the genealogy of Jesus.  She was David’s great, great grandmother.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as part of the faith hall of fame.  And she is given as an example of faith showing itself in works in James 2.

In that passage James poses a very interesting question in verse 14: 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

This is a strong challenge.  He is questioning people’s salvation.  But notice that James is not comparing those who have faith to those who have works.  That is not really the point.  He is comparing those who say they have faith, but it doesn’t show in the way they live their life, compared to those who are visibly demonstrating their faith by how they live.

He gives an example in verses 15 and 16: 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

In this specific example James is not talking about a stranger, but about a brother or sister in Christ.  He is talking about someone within the body of Christ who is in obvious need.  This implies that the person who says they have faith knows the person in need, knows their need, and rather than helping them out, simply says “go in peace, be warm and well fed.”  This almost seems sarcastic, because the words they say are in direct correlation to the specific needs of the person.  But rather than help them, they just say some words.  This is the exact issue that James has with their so-called faith.  It is nothing more than words.

James calls that kind of faith dead in verse 17: 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James is calling for our faith to be alive.  Our faith should be evident in our lives.  People should be able to see Christ in us.  Our testimony cannot just be a testimony of words, it needs to be a testimony of life.

In verses 20-23 James points to the example of Abraham and how his faith showed up in what he did and then he shares a controversial statement in verse 24: 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

In this verse it seems like James is kind of contradicting the belief that we are saved by grace through faith, rather than works.  But we need to understand verse 24 in light of the rest of what James is saying.  He is not comparing faith to works, he is not even saying it is faith plus works, he is saying that true faith is shown in works.  If we really have faith, then it should be evident in our lives.

And then James points to the example of Rahab and ends with a strong challenge in verses 25 and 26: 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

So like the example of Abraham, Rahab is commended here for her actions or works.  That does not mean that she was saved by her works, but rather that her works were a response of faith.  The work that James is referring to is that she harbored the spies and hid them and went out of her way to help them.  Why do you think she did that?

In Joshua 2:8 – 13 Rahab actually answers that question for us.  She tells the spies about how word of the Lord had spread and fear of him had fallen on the land and then she testifies to what she believes at the end of verse 11: for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

The reason she helped the spies is because she believed in their God.  She believed that he was who he said he was and that he would do what he said he would do.  That is faith.  She had faith and so she did what she did.  Her works were her response of faith.

I believe the example of Rahab is very poignant.  Notice that James refers to her not just as Rahab, but as Rahab the prostitute or Rahab the harlot.  Her life was so defined by prostitution that that is how she is known.  And yet James refers to her being justified by her works.  He is not talking about her work as a prostitute, but by what she did when she took care of the spies.  So even though she is known as Rahab the prostitute, with that stigma attached to her for her whole life, she is described here and in the book of Hebrews as a woman of faith.  She could have let her past define her and continued along that path, but she stepped out in faith and followed God.

I think that is a powerful reminder to us.  We may often look back at our lives with feelings of failure and discouragement.  We may even feel defined by things that are not flattering.  But while we can’t change the past, we don’t have to let it define how we are going to move forward.  I am not calling on us to focus on the work we haven’t done, or the things we have messed up or done wrong.  I am calling us forward from this point on, that our faith would be alive and that we would step out in faith and follow God.

 

 

Bear With Me

pexel bearIn Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

When I think of bearing with one another, I tend to think of putting up with someone.  When I was growing up and we had to do something that I didn’t really want to do, I was supposed to grin and bear it.  And when someone is talking about or doing something boring or tiresome they might say “bear with me.”  So along those lines, when I hear the phrase “bearing with one another,” I get the image of putting up with one another.

However, I think Paul is challenging us to do more than just put up with one another.  I think he is challenging us to choose to be in relationship with one another regardless of how comfortable or easy that relationship might be.  I believe that “bearing with one another” is a choice to make the relationship important enough that we will work at it.

I think in typical church society today it is easy for us to have the kind of relationships where as long as things are good, we are good, but as soon as things get tough we drop the relationship.  We do that because it is easier to drop the relationship than to bear with one another and make it work when it is no longer easy.

And that means that we need to forgive one another.  We need to be willing to let go of the stuff that separates us, and stop being offended so easily.  Sometimes we can be so petty that it seems like we are just looking for people to offend us.  We need to have thicker skin and assume the best about one another.

And then when real problems come up or when there is a legitimate complaint, we need to be willing to make things right.  We need to seek and grant forgiveness and do everything we can to work things out so that our relationships stay intact.

Let’s face it, if we are really going to go as deep with one another as we are talking about.  If we are really going to develop that level of intimacy, then we are going to annoy one another and step on each other’s toes.  And if we are not committed to making this relationship work, or if we are not willing to forgive, then we are going to just give up and walk away.

And notice also what Paul says in verse 16: 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

There is something incredible that is happening when we are together.  It is supernatural.  As followers of Christ we have the Holy Spirit alive inside of us and so when we talk with one another, we have the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to allow us to communicate on a whole different level.  When we share our struggles with someone else from church we are not just relying upon their ability to understand our problem or give us advice from some great life lesson that they have learned.  We are providing an opportunity for God to speak to us through one another.

We need to understand that church is God’s gift to us.  He has brought us together to make our lives here on earth better as we help one another follow him and walk through this life together.  Let’s put a priority on these relationships and be the church he is calling us to be.

Garden of God’s

So my family and I recently got back from vacation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  We were out there for about 10 days visiting family.  If you have never been to Colorado Springs, it is one of the most beautiful places in the country.  It is nestled right at the base of Pikes Peak in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  One of the main attractions in the area is Garden of the Gods Park.  It is a registered National Natural Landmark and is known for it’s breathtaking red rock formations.  You can check it out at http://www.gardenofgods.com/home/index.cfm

Colorado Springs is the city where my wife and I were married and since my family still live there we get back to visit every couple of years.  One of the traditions that my son and I have established is that every time we get back for a visit, we go for a hike at Garden of the Gods. 

Now if you have ever been to Garden of the Gods you know that there are several rock formations that are tourist favorites like “The Kissing Camels”, or “Balanced Rock.”  But for Jacob and I, our favorite place to visit is the “Siamese Twins.”  It is a little bit off the beaten path, and if you didn’t know it was there  you might easily miss it.  But each time we visit, that is one of the places we like to go.  I believe it offers the most wonderful view in the park.  There are two giant rock towers that are connected together in such a way as to form a window right in the middle that allows you to look through the formation and see Pike’s Peak off in the distance.  It is an amazing view that I marvel at everytime I visit the “Twins.”

This year Jacob and I took the entire family back to our special place.  It is not a long hike and not too difficult.  Our 2-year old, Makenna, even made the hike holding on to my hand.  But while it is not a hard hike it is still not a place that is visited by many.  Actually I have never been there when there have been more than 2 or three other families visiting it at the same time.  And many times Jacob and I have been there all by ourselves.  Maybe that is part of the reason I like it so much.  It is quiter and less distracting than some of the other overcrowded areas in the park.  Which gives you an opportunity to stop and really enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

I love this park, and I look forward to visiting everytime we get back to Colorado Springs, but one thing that I have always struggled with is the name.  You see, I know that there are not many gods, but only One.  And this park is not a playground for man-made gods to roam, it is a testament to the One True God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 4:39, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.”

Garden of the Gods Park should more accurately be called Garden of God’s, because there is only One God and He made that amazing park with all of it’s breathtaking views as well as the rest of this incredible universe in which we live. 

If you ever get out to visit Colorado Springs I encourage you to visit this Garden of God’s and hike back up to the Siamese Twins, take a moment and gaze through the window of the towers at the beautiful Peak in the background and I trust that you, like me, will be reminded of the awesome, amazing, infinite power of our Creator!

Underlines

Do you like to underline verses in your Bible or do you prefer your Bible to be clean and unmarked? Either way is fine, but let me give you a little nudge toward underlining by sharing with you a couple of reasons why I do it. Obviously Scripture is powerful all the time, since it is God’s Word. But there are times when I am reading or hearing a speaker share from a particular passage, and certain verses just jump out. When that happens, I want to highlight them in some way. It allows me to focus in on the verses as I take extra time to consider them once again and it gives me a visual reference for the future when I go back to look those verses up again. A highlighted or underlined Bible is a constant reminder of those verses that God has specifically used in your life to challenge you, teach you, encourage you, inspire you, or remind you of something. It is powerful to go back years later and read those verses that you underlined so long ago. At times I have spent so much time with some particular verses that I have underlined them, circled or double underlined parts of them, and written notes in the margin. And going back and visiting those verses again is a sweet time.

This year for my devotions I am doing something new. I am reading through the Bible in a year. That is not new. I have done that before. But this year I am doing something a little bit different with it. For each chapter that I read, I am underlining one and only one verse from that chapter. And I am underlining in a different color than I normally use. That is not an easy concept. I suspect there will be times when there is not a verse that I would normally underline and there will be other times when I would like to underline many more than just one verse. But this will help me to focus on these chapters in a new way.

You don’t have to underline your Bible. You can keep it clean. I’m not telling you what to do. But beginning this Sunday, at The River, we are going to be taking a journey together, examining some of those verses and passages from Scripture that we may already have underlined in our Bibles, or that we might want to consider underlining if we don’t have them already. I want to invite you to join us. If you are wondering what verses I will be preaching on each week, you can find out by going to our calendar page. There, if you scroll over the Sunday Morning Worship Time in the calendar you will see a short synopsis of what I will be preaching about that week. I encourage you to go and check out those passages. And consider if they are worth doing some of your own underlining.

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