Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and Crimes Against Humanity

P12_0Crimes against humanity are usually categorized as war crimes that targeted civilians or genocide. They can happen in a time of war or peace, and are when there is a wholesale policy of dehumanizing a certain group of people and taking action against that group. The title for the crime is because we believe, as a human race, that when one part of us suffers in this manner, it is an attack and a crime against us all.

While Paul did not have in mind the International Criminal Court, he did detail a crime against humanity:

They don’t please God, and they are hostile to the entire human race 16 when they try to stop us from speaking to the Gentiles so they can be saved.

Paul was speaking here about the non-believing Jewish people in Judea who were opposed to the Gospel. By attacking the prophets, killing Jesus, and seeking to prevent the spread of the Gospel to Jews as well as Gentiles, they were hostile to the entire human race. This is because only the Christian Gospel message can truly bring healing and wholeness to the brokenness of the world and in each one of us.

In this line of reasoning, anyone who impedes the spread of the Christian message is an enemy of humanity and has committed a crime against humanity. This is not to say that those who oppose the spread of the Christian faith would ever be brought up on charges at the Hague. Our society has decided that it can do well without any one religion being promoted. Ironically, that is a crime against humanity as well, from this biblical point of view.

Do not be complicit in this crime. Do not be a co-conspirator with those who seek to keep the Christian message marginalized. Share your faith and the reason for the hope in you with others around you. Some may think you are weird or strange. Others may think you are judgmental and self-righteous. Yet those uninformed slanders are nothing compared to the charge of being an enemy of the entire human race. Do not commit a crime against humanity. Tell people about Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

Mark 15:29-32 and Unexpected Prophecy

Peter_Gertner_-_Crucifixion_-_Walters_37246It is no surprise to Christians that most of Jesus’ life and ministry were the fulfillment of prophecy. You can find books, charts, pamphlets, and web pages dedicated to showing how many different prophecies Jesus fulfilled during his ministry and how many are still yet to be fulfilled at the Second Coming. Some may debate exactly on which list certain prophecies should be, but all agree Jesus’ ministry was foretold well before it happened.

Here is an unexpected prophecy, because it came from an unexpected source:

29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

This is from Mark and his telling of the crucifixion. Now look at this passage from an older source:

12 ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13 He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
16 We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
17 Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18 for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19 Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’

21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,

for their wickedness blinded them,
22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
23 for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

If you are not familiar with this passage, that is because it is from The Wisdom of Solomon, a book that was written sometime between 20-200 years before Jesus was born. This book was included in the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, which was the version of the Old Testament used by the Early Church. This version of the Old Testament had a few extra books that were originally composed in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic, and is the basis of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. This is why they have “extra books” in their Bibles.

For most Protestants, these books are considered either deutrocanonical–a second canon of Scripture which are not a part of the original canon of Old Testament Scripture (this is actually the Roman Catholic understanding as well)– or apocryphal–books that are outside of the canon all together and may or may not be of value to read.

I like to see this passage as proof that the Holy Spirit can speak in ways and places in which we do not always think, and yet the Truth is always the same. More often than not, God is bigger than we think and uses any means possible to prepare people for the reality of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah 2:10-11 and The International Scope of the Church

Bible Series ZechariahI love when I see clear references to the Church in the Old Testament. There are so many different prophecies that may or may not be interpreted to be the Church, and then there are some that are obvious upon first reading. Take this section from Zechariah:

10 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Zion,
        because I am about to come and dwell among you, says the Lord.
11 Many nations will be joined to the Lord on that day.
        They will become my people,
            and I will dwell among you
            so you will know that the Lord of heavenly forces sent me to you.”

Jesus, God the Son, dwelt among us. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, continues to dwell among us. The Church opened up the Covenant People of God to all nations, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a view of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Covenant People beyond the scope of what most Jewish people would have thought, and it is given around 500 years before Jesus was born.

I love how God prepares and foreshadows what he is going to do well in advance!

Psalm 47 and The Joy of the Lord

Many of the psalms are very depressing. They cry out to God about being persecuted or forgotten or trampled under foot. Then there are other psalms that are absolutely joyous and wonderful and celebratory. Psalm 47 fits into this latter category.

Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!
Because the Lord Most High is awesome,
    he is the great king of the whole world.
He subdues the nations under us,
    subdues all people beneath our feet.
He chooses our inheritance for us:
    the heights of Jacob, which he loves.    Selah

God has gone up with a joyous shout—
    the Lord with the blast of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God! Sing praises!
    Sing praises to our king! Sing praises
    because God is king of the whole world!
    Sing praises with a song of instruction!

God is king over the nations.
    God sits on his holy throne.
The leaders of all people are gathered
    with the people of Abraham’s God
    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;
        God is exalted beyond all.

This psalm really captures the attitude of the messianic age, when all peoples are united with the descendants of Abraham in worshiping the one, true God. This is the vision of the Church, which has people redeemed from every tribe, nation, and language all worshiping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–the Trinity, the one, true, Living God. When this happens, we can do little else but sing praises!

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Deuteronomy 28:38-41 and Prophecy of Desolation

sow-seed-irri-images-2-flickrWhen I read much of the Old Testament prophecies concerning judgment and desolation, I usually think how grateful I am not to be living in Israel during that time.  I look forward to the recorded blessings after they come back from exile, but the foretelling of punishment and destruction are not my favorite reading material in the Bible.  Much of this is because I know these do not pertain to me in my current situation.  They are not relevant.  Or are they?

You might scatter a lot of seed on the field, but you will gather almost nothing because the locusts will eat it all.  You might plant lots of vineyards and work hard in them, but you won’t drink any wine or harvest the grapes because worms will devour them.  You might have many olive trees throughout your territories, but you won’t cover yourself with their oil because your olive trees will fail.  You might have sons and daughters, but they won’t be yours for long because they will be taken away as prisoners.

This comes in a large section of curses and judgment on Israel for falling away from the covenant and worshiping false gods.  Usually I gloss over these sections, but the imagery in these four verses struck me as very relevant for the Church, especially the Church in the West (the First World nations).  Jesus uses the metaphor of scattering seed (Mark 4:1-20).  The vineyard is a typical image of the covenant people in God (Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 20:9-19; John 15:1-8, 16).  Olive trees symbolize leaders in the fellowship (Zechariah 4:11-12; Revelation 11:3-4).

In other words, every part of this warning could be applied to the Church today.  If we fall away from the Lord, ignore his call to the holy life, and worship false gods: our evangelism will fail, our discipleship efforts will not produce disciples, our leaders will be ineffective, and as a result we will lose our children to those outside the Church.

Is this not the state of Christianity in the West?  Yes, I know there are many individual congregations to which one can point in order to say God is at work.  Thank God for them!  But the history of the Church and the example in the Bible is one of much more power and success in spreading the Good News.  These faithful congregations ought not be the exception, but the norm.  In America the Church is losing her children and it is shrinking.

Yet this curse and prophecy of desolation is not without hope.  There is always a message of redemption and restoration–if we repent and turn to the Lord with our whole being in love.  Perhaps the time has come to ask ourselves seriously how we have corrupted the message of Christ or abandoned it all together, to ask God honestly what false gods we have gone after in our worship and devotion, and to cry out for his forgiveness and mercy.

The Church in many parts of the world, often the parts that are the most hostile to the faith, is growing and thriving.  Their scattered seed produces thirty, sixty, and one hundred fold harvest.  Their vineyards produce fruit that lasts.  Their oil from their olive trees anoint followers and bring healing and health to the community.  Their children and grandchildren grow in the faith.  May they pray for us in the West, that we would have the same singular devotion to the Lord that we had long ago and they have now.