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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 6 days 11 min ago

Why Does Historic Methodism Teach the Doctrine of Prevenient Grace?

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 11:00

The Bible quickly introduces us to the story of Adam and Eve — created by God, placed in a perfect setting, and given a task to perform. They were forbidden only one thing; they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree; but many others were accessible in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1,2)

They violated the one prohibition, and in doing so they placed themselves in rebellion against the Ruler of the universe, the God to whom they owed their existence and their ideal surroundings.

Where should the story go from there?

We can imagine two possibilities. First: In response to such disobedience the Lord God might have struck with fire all he had created, wiping it out. The second possibility: The Lord God might have turned his back on the couple, leaving them forever estranged from Him.

But possibility three is what actually happened: The Lord God came walking in the garden searching. He confronted the pair with their offense and then clothed them with animal skins. Thus begins a wondrous story of salvation.

In essence, God initiates by making himself known to sinful mankind and seeking them out.  This is called prevenient grace.

A Seventeenth Century Dutch scholar named Arminius was foremost among those who brought the term forward, and later Eighteenth Century Oxford scholar, John Wesley, and his followers embraced this understanding during a great outpouring of God’s saving mercy on the British Isles.

John Wesley wrote: “It is God who takes the initiative first to provide for our salvation in Jesus Christ and then to enable us to respond through prevenient grace.” The Apostle John writes that Jesus was “the true light that gives light to everyone” and that “We love (God) because he first loved us” (John 1:9 and 1 John 4:19).

“Prevenient” comes from a Latin word that means preceding in time or order; coming before, or anticipating. In Christian thought it is used to speak of the manifestations of God’s grace that precede repentance and spiritual awakening. Wesley presented it as “all the ‘drawings’ of ‘the Father’, the desires after God which, if we yield to them, increase more and more.”

Thus, prevenient grace is the grace that initiates our salvation. It is the grace that prompts a little child’s first sense that there is a God above, and gives that child its earliest awakening to moral responsibility.

That is, God initiates the search for sinners whom Jesus died to save and He offers them hope. As one doctrinal statement has it, “This [prevenient] grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our first transient understanding of having sinned against God.”

Luke tells us about Zacchaeus, a man rich but of apparently shady character, motivated by greed as a tax collector. He attempted, out of curiosity, to see Jesus close-up and to do so he climbed into the branches of a Sycamore tree. But Jesus saw him and called him to come down.

Jesus then went to his home as a guest and the crowds responded by muttering that Jesus had gone to be a guest in the home of a sinner. But Luke reported the move more positively.

After being with Jesus for some time that day Zacchaeus, in a great burst of generosity, pledged half of his wealth to the poor and also stated his intention to return fourfold to any he had cheated.

Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus at the end of that day were as follows: Today salvation has come to this house…. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

We cannot come to God on our own initiative because as simmers we are dead in trespasses and sins. It is by prevenient grace that we are first awakened and called.

As the Apostle Paul writes: but because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —  it is by grace you have been saved: (Ephesians 2:4,5).

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believed.

Photo credit: Kasia (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Are We Paying Enough Attention to Children in the Church?

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 11:00

When my mother saw I was serious about answering a call to the ministry, she gave me only one word of advice. She said, “Don, be sure to pay attention to the children.”

I’m sure she meant: speak to them; inquire of their well-being; make a place for them in the life of the congregation; be sure they are instructed in the basics of the faith — all of which would seem excellent counsel.

My mother’s words were consistent with our Lord’s response when Jesus’ disciples thought him too busy to be bothered with children who were brought to him.

Jesus rebuked his followers, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He then gathered the little ones around him and blessed them.

My Mother’s advice was given in the mid-forties of the Twentieth Century and we are now nearly through the second decade of the Twenty-first Century. Things have changed in fundamental ways in 70 years!

In the intervening years many subcultures on our continent have rapidly secularized. That is, they no longer have  reverence for an Unseen Presence who rules over all.   Persons who accept this cultural shift seem to be grounding all reality in the present visible world only.

Still, I would say that my Mother’s few words two generations ago and our Lord’s attitude toward children remain the pattern for us today.

And based upon my years in ministry, I offer two of many possible concrete suggestions about the children among us in these secular times.

First, a congregation should take a hard look periodically at whether the Bible is being presented to children from their early years onward. Is it foundational to all family activities and church ministries?

That is, is the Bible being read daily in Christian homes, connecting church and home in religious practice? Are children learning the Bible’s timeless stories and their lessons — like the story of David and Goliath, Ruth and Naomi, and especially the stories of Jesus, and his words and miracles?

Against the apparent increase of “sophisticated” and widespread antagonism to the Christian faith, the Bible is the first line of defense as well as our guidebook, and our children need to be more rooted than ever in the Sacred Scriptures.

My second suggestion deals with the increasingly aggressive secularization of sex education in public schools, countering, even scorning, Christian teaching.

Affirmation of sexual practices contrary to both nature and Christian moral teaching is being taught more aggressively and explicitly in public schools.  For example, it’s reported that in some places sexual practices that are neither normal nor healthy are being presented with approval and even encouraged in the teaching of young children.

At the time of writing concerned parents in Canada, the United States and Australia are being called upon to treat April 23 as a “day out.” On that day children are to be kept home from their schools in protest.

Do our Lord’s words pertain in this? Bringing the little ones to Jesus must also include protecting them insofar as possible from instruction that would counter our Lord’s teaching and the authority of Holy Scripture.

It is now many years since I served as a pastor over a congregation. In reflection I’m sure my mother’s advice affected my thinking to the benefit of my congregations and their children.

If I were returned to the assignment of pastoring a church, I would be even more committed to heed my Mother’s advice to pay attention to the children and their need for both teaching and protection.

Photo credit: Philippe Put (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Why Was the Cross of Christ Necessary?

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 11:00

In his book, The Cross of Christ, the late John R. W. Stott described the experience of an imaginary visitor to London who arrives with little understanding of Christianity. Eager to learn, he comes upon the beautiful Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Approaching the cathedral he first notices with amazement that the dome of the building is dominated by a huge golden cross. He then enters and sees that the cathedral itself is built in the shape of a cross with arms reaching to the right and left from the central nave. These arms appear to form two chapels.

Looking into each chapel he sees what appears to be a table and on each a small cross. Going below into the crypt where the remains of famous people are buried he notes that on each tomb there is engraved the form of a cross.

Back in the nave the stranger decides to stay for a service of worship about to begin. He notices that a man sitting next to him wears a miniature cross on his lapel and a woman on the other side wears one on her necklace. The service begins with a hymn beginning, We sing the praise of him who died, of him who died upon the cross.

The theme of the cross registers with him as dominant and compelling.

The cross was claimed as the symbol for Christianity as early as the second century. Other symbols had a brief life but once the cross was established it remained firm against all opposition and has endured for two millennia.

This should not be surprising. There are at least 28 references to Christ’s cross in the New Testament and these references appear across the New Testament from Matthew to the Revelation.

But why the cross, this instrument of vicious torture? Why must the punishment of sin be visited in this manner on the Holy Son of God? Simply put, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin must be punished.

Mankind’s universal offense against God’s holy laws is more serious than we, his creatures, are aware until the Holy Spirit brings the reality home to us. The Lord God, the ruler of the universe declared to Adam, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die (Genesis 3:3). Adam both touched and ate despite promised consequences.

Adam’s offenses were not like a child’s offense in taking a bit of candy from a table knowing only vaguely that to do so was wrong. Adam’s offense (and ours) was an intentional, self-conscious disobedience against a holy God, the Creator and Ruler of All. God must keep his word: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20).

But again, why must there be such suffering on God’s part in order for him to forgive the sins of his creatures? The answer in brief: God’s justice must be applied without compromise otherwise he is not just. Sin must be paid for.

And there was no one else who could pay the just penalty for sin since, as the Apostle Paul notes, all humans have sinned and do come short of God’s glorious ideal (Romans 3:23). So, God in Christ out of his great love for his sinning creatures took the penalty on himself at Calvary. It was the only way (John 3:16).

On a cross, Jesus, the Son of God, voluntarily suffered a substitutionary death and a temporary alienation from God, the Father of us all (Psalm 22). He became sin for us who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). In doing so, he paid the enormous penalty for our sins.

As the letter to the Romans declares, He did (this) to demonstrate his justice at the present time so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Thus, the cross is the ground of our salvation.

Looking deeper into this timeless moment at Calvary one sees beneath the suffering a love that will not give up on sinners. As we have travelled through the Easter season this has been brought home to us many times. As John Bowring wrote more than a century ago:

In the cross of Christ I glory,

towering o’er the wrecks of time,

All the light of sacred story,

gathers in its head sublime.

 

Photo credit: Waiting For The Word (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Do I Have a Love That Can Suffer and Persevere?

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:00

Christ on the Mount of Olives by Josef Untersberger. Public Domain.

Love is often portrayed in our culture as an overwhelming fascination attended by a romantic glow. It’s largely rooted in the feelings.

Indeed, human love can activate such emotions, but genuine love can also be costly: A mother cares without complaint for a disabled child month after month to the point of exhaustion. That is noble, suffering love.

During Holy Week, we celebrate love, but in this case God’s love — a love for his fallen creatures of such imponderable magnitude that his Son, Jesus, was willing to suffer and die on our behalf.

God’s Son came to earth in human form for that very purpose. So while Jesus healed the afflicted, fed the hungry, and blessed the children, he came for more than to express compassion and comfort.

A deeper look into the Gospel accounts shows that the Incarnate Christ knew that his love would lead him into suffering. The willingness to suffer would be one way of showing love.

I became aware of this insight many years ago when Luke 9:51 seemed to stand out from the page. It says, As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Resolutely. That was the word that held my attention. Could it mean he didn’t want to go but knew he must do so to carry out a divine plan?

Back then I was also surprised by how early in Luke’s account the sentence appears. The Gospel according to Luke is divided into 24 chapters, but already in chapter nine Luke reported that Jesus knew what was ahead and that he anticipated suffering.

Jesus had not come merely to heal the afflicted, and teach the masses about his kingdom. He had come to suffer a death that would be for others.

He must have known that the religious rulers in Jerusalem would plot his death, the throngs for Passover would be easily turned against him, his own followers would flee, and Roman soldiers would be called upon to hang him on a cross to torture him in his dying. Yet he went forward resolutely.

Much happened as Jesus made that determined journey toward Jerusalem. It was after he fed the five thousand miraculously that Peter declared him “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20).

Jesus follows Peter’s confession with clear words to his disciples about what was ahead: The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Luke 9:22).

Could anything have been clearer? Still, his disciples failed to understand that for this great teacher and miracle worker love would mean suffering and that would require deep resolve.

During the same period of time he must have felt the need to bring the matter up to his disciples again because on another occasion he said: Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men (Luke 9:44).

There is a sobering and maturing word in all this. We too, as Christians, may fall into the trap of thinking of the love we profess only in brighter and more airy terms. It’s great to be a Christian!

And so it is. But Holy Week should remind us we are also called to be resolute in facing the tests, the adversities and the unexpected surprises of the journey. We are called to be true to our commitments even when our situation is adverse and undeserved.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

If We Claim That Jesus Talks to Us, Is That a Sign of Mental Illness?

Mon, 03/19/2018 - 11:00

Recently, on ABC’s  morning show, The View, comedian Joy Behar spoke insultingly of the Christian faith which provoked widespread protests. The network reportedly received 45,000 complaints.

Behar had conducted an on-air interview with the Vice President of the United States, Michael Pence, in which he said he seeks direction from Jesus for decisions he makes and he receives answers from him.

Ms. Behar quipped on a later show that when you talk to Jesus that is one thing but when you say Jesus talks to you that may be a sign of mental illness.

She has since apologized to the vice president and, at his request, to the public at large.

This exchange raises a question believers and unbelievers alike would do well to ponder: Does the Christian faith claim that the Lord Jesus communicates with believers in an understandable way?

Jesus, who came from the Father, certainly spoke to humankind during his time on earth. Saint Mark tells us Jesus went into the region of Galilee “proclaiming” (Mark 1:14). On another occasion a leper pled with him to be made clean of his disease and Jesus said to him, “Be Clean” (Mark 1:40). To such speaking, the four Gospels testify repeatedly.

The Old Testament bears witness that even before Jesus came to live among us God did communicate with humans. God carried on an extensive dialogue with Moses (Exodus 19). He spoke to his chosen people as a whole: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says” (Jeremiah 31:23). He also spoke to individuals, e.g.: “Then God said to Jacob. (Genesis 35:1)

And to worshipers then and now God speaks through the Book of the Psalms: I sought the Lord and he answered me (Psalm 34:4). But did such communications continue after Jesus finished his ministry on earth and ascended into heaven?

A strong assurance that they did was lodged in his promise given to the Apostles on the eve of his crucifixion: And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16)

Jesus had been their Counselor. Now he would send another Counselor who would carry on a comparable ministry of communication — speaking changeless truth to them! But is this assured to all following generations, including us and Vice President Pence?

Nearly three decades after Jesus’ ascension, a Rabbi was approaching the city of Damascus. His intention was to persecute Jews he found following what he viewed as the “Jesus cult.” Suddenly he was blinded by a light so bright that he fell to the ground.

Hearing an audible voice he asked “Who are you, Lord”? With great clarity the answer he received was: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). The Living Christ spoke in human language to Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul.

There are multiplied millions of serious Christians who share Vice President Pence’s conviction that Jesus talks to his followers even today — not trivially but certainly on faith and life matters.

Such throngs believe it is not beyond God’s power to speak audibly, thought this way is not most usual. Far more, they “hear” him speaking to them through Scriptures read and preached and through his Holy Spirit’s inward promptings to an awakened conscience.

And so, without being considered mentally ill, Christians can say with reverence that Jesus does speak by whatever means he chooses and we are to listen, ponder his words, correlate them with Scripture and wise counsel, and ask for the reassuring inner witness of conscience.

Photo credit: Michael Vadon (via flickr.com)

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Protestant Equivalent to Lent (2018)

Mon, 03/12/2018 - 11:00

Lent is a season for self-denial and meditation, observed primarily in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

This year, Lent is from February 14 to March 29 and it ends Saturday after Good Friday. We’re now about half way through the season.

Those who observe Lent set apart the 40 days before Easter Sunday, but this does not include Sundays because they are days to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection year-around!

Many today who observe Lent might deprive themselves of something from a list they think important – meat, fish, television, sweets, coffee, movies, etc.

This time of self-denial calls believers to additional prayer, meditation, contrition, repentance, charity, or special services of worship to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s death and miraculous resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The observance of Lent has never in any large way made a place for itself among Protestants. It was Billy Graham speaking on discipleship who once noted that Christ did not say we were to deny ourselves of “something;” he said we were to deny “ourselves.”

This kind of denial is saying no to the self that keeps wanting to rear its ugly head and resist our full surrender to the life Christ calls us to – a life that bows fully to his Lordship and the joyful service of others.

But Lent has an element that should be appealing to all serious Christians.

During Lent the self-deprivations, little or great, are supposed to be attended by special times of self-examination, repentance prayer, and meditation. Consider the call of Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2.

Meditation does not mean setting the mind loose to wander; it is “focused reflection” and it takes serious effort.

The three special times of the day for meditation are (1) with the last thoughts before settling for sleep; (2) the first thoughts upon waking; and (3) special times of the day set aside for quietness with the Scriptures and prayer.

Christian meditation can include four stages: (1) the careful and deliberate reading of a brief Scripture passage; (2) the pondering of its content; (3) a conversation with God asking for understanding; and (4) a resting in His presence.

Disciplined pondering can be made a time for taking stock of the state of the soul, repenting as necessary, reflecting on one’s relationships, praying for a renewal in love for Christ and others, and generally resetting the inner dial to those things that matter most.

If these thoughts prompt you to increase your times of meditation and devotion leading up to Easter, I suggest you choose for pondering the Gospel accounts of the closing days of our Lord’s life and resurrection (Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 17-21).

Meditation is indeed a Christian discipline and when it engages our souls it creates focus and insight, and often repentance and joy.

Photo credit: jezobeljones (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Billy Graham Kept His Focus For a Lifetime

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 11:00

Billy Graham, evangelist, is with the Lord. He died on February 21, 2018, at 99 years of age, a widely recognized and greatly admired Christian.

We saw the outpouring of love and respect shown for him in the week following his death, both in Charlotte, North Carolina, his birthplace, and in the capitol in Washington D.C.

Despite his advanced age and his years of growing seclusion, the public had not forgotten him. Who Billy Graham was and how he would be remembered shone through most clearly at his funeral on Friday, March 2, 2018.

It is reported that 2800 invitations were sent out and more than 2000 invitees were able to be there, coming from as far away as South Korea.

Held in a large tent, erected on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library near his reconstructed childhood home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the funeral was joyful, reflecting in several ways the faith in Christ that Billy Graham, his deceased wife, Ruth, and the larger family connection shared openly.

The Gospel of the world’s Savior and its wonderful promise of eternal life for believers was celebrated at the funeral both in personal testimony, prayer, song, and Scripture reading. There was laughter and there were tears, all undergirded by the Christian hope of life everlasting.

How did Billy Graham’s journey begin? There is on record a certificate of his graduation from the beginners Sunday School class of the Graham family’s church when he was six years of age, so he had the advantage of early Christian training.

Still, he had to have his own awakening to saving grace through faith and at 16 years of age Graham had a decisive conversion to Christ under the ministry of evangelist Mordecai Ham. His interest in church that had been flagging was clearly awakened.

Later, during a late night walk around a golf course near where he was attending Bible school he prostrated himself at the eighteenth hole and answered yes to God’s call to full time ministry.

His consequent worldview must surely be attributed to his deep faith commitment to Biblical truth, grounded in the staunch Presbyterian upbringing of his early years. His adult framework for life was wholesomely moral but not moralistic.

Before his ministry developed, and after a serious struggle with the issue of the authority of the Bible, he committed himself to the Christian Scriptures — affirming their utter truthfulness and trustworthiness. The spot where that commitment was made while in California bears a marker.

He was an evangelist from the start of his ministry. His message was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord, preached with resonance and urgency.

His theme was God’s love for sinners, but within that framework he spoke with candor of Jesus’ warnings about the alternatives of heaven or hell, urgently calling sinners to repentance.

His commitment never varied or changed. His messages were punctuated constantly with the declaration, “the Bible says.”

He was not only an evangelist himself; his contributions to the cause of world evangelism are astounding: He was the founder of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Decision Magazine, Christianity Today, The International Congress on World Evangelism and much more.

In reviewing his many contributions to the cause of Christian evangelism, one must ask, how can one person do so much?

From the start he preached the Gospel under the authority of the Scriptures and worked with a team; his team members kept their focus sharp and protected one another from compromising situations; his beloved wife, Ruth, supported him in his work wholeheartedly; he made himself accountable to a governing board; he did not handle or assign campaign funds personally.

Billy Graham’s grave is next to that of his wife, Ruth, near the entrance to the library bearing his name in Charlotte. The simple headstone of his grave bears his name, Billy Graham, and with it, these simple words to describe his life:

PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. JOHN 14:6

 

Photo credit: (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Question Kathleen and I Often Ask Each Other

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 11:00

Kathleen and I have a particular question we ask each other  with some regularity. We may pose it early in the morning or as evening approaches. Our question: Do you have a song?

The answer is almost always, yes! So we then compare notes.

The tunes we report playing in our memories are most often a stanza from a favorite hymn or gospel song and quite often one we may have sung in church during our childhood. We find making the comparisons fun.

She and I experience these songs differently. In her memory Kathleen sings the words to herself. For me, it is more like a choir singing in the distance and I am the listener.

Yesterday Kathleen told me her song reached back to Sunday School in her early years, and that she couldn’t recall having sung it in ages. It was from that little song about God’s care for the sparrow. The refrain goes:

He loves me too!

He loves me too!

I know He loves me too.

Because he loves the little birds,

I know he loves me too.

It’s a confident, happy little piece, assuring the singer that we are loved by God.

In the Saskatchewan church of my childhood we sang without instrumental accompaniment but some worshipers were able to sing alto, tenor or bass. The singing seemed to fill the small sanctuary.

It was similar for Kathleen in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where she grew up. The Sunday Evening services in both of our churches featured lots of congregational singing.

It has been said that the early Methodists learned their theology through their hymns. Now these two aging Methodists find our songs and their lyrics bless us today. And we continue to review and deepen our theology in this way.

Take,  for example the following stanza from Charles Wesley’s, theology-rich, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing:

He breaks the power of canceled sin,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

“Canceled sin?” That’s justification. “Prisoner?” Our fallen nature makes us captive to sin. “Sets the prisoner free?”  That’s regeneration by the Holy Spirit. “His blood?” That’s the atoning ground for our salvation. “For me?” The efficacy of the blood of Christ is personally claimed.

In our troubled times we need faith-renewing, soul-nurturing songs playing quietly in our heads often, even much of the time. The world otherwise seems raucous and ridden with conflict.  

To counter this clamor with silent music may take concentrated effort at the start, but Kathleen and I would say cultivating the habit is abundantly worthwhile.

Photo credit: Melissa Himpe (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Do Christians Worship One God or Three?

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 11:00

Muslims charge that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same accusation. The word, Trinity, offends them.

Even some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

When God addressed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3) Moses’ world reeked with many gods and he knew that. Yet, Moses did not ask, “Which God is this now?” From the beginning, it was revealed to him that there was only one true God for all to reckon with.

Listen to the Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In that ancient world teeming with gods, the Old Testament holds Jehovah to be “the Sovereign Lord” (Hab. 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice him to worship him. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk. 4:8).

At the same time, Scriptures show that this One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is repeatedly set forth.

After the resurrection, Jesus’ Disciple, Thomas, worshiped the risen Savior. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” If this declaration had been false but Jesus had accepted it, his acceptance would have been blasphemous.

Instead, later the Apostle John reinforces Thomas’s declaration. He testifies of Jesus, “the Word was God,” period (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the early church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a gift of money, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “… you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

It is not possible to lie to a mere influence. The Holy Spirit is obviously more than a feeling. He is “personal” in several respects. He is God, the Spirit.

So, Jesus, at his baptism “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matt.3:16, 17). In that moment we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one event of revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations made in both Testaments. To give them order, they formulated this precious truth under the title of the Trinity.

They said, God is one in “essence” and three in “persons.” He must be worshiped without dividing the essence or confusing the persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our Redeemer; God the Spirit is our sanctifier.

The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

 

Laud and honor to the Father,

Laud and honor to the Son.

Laud and honor to the Spirit,

 Ever Three and Ever One.

We sing this 700-year-old hymn in praise to our God who is revealed to us as the Three-in-One – the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

If this truth still mystifies you, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father which art in Heaven” we worship the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to guide us, we entreat the one and only God. Three persons in one Godhead!

Let us worship God!

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Christian Hope: A Counter To Spiritual Anemia?

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 11:00

I know the symptoms of anemia. You feel tired all the time, weak, lacking energy. You are alive, but life is a burden.

The cause of anemia, I’m told, is not enough red blood cells in the bloodstream to carry oxygen throughout the body. Serious lack of energy may be noticed before any other evidence of the deficiency.

Is there a parallel condition we could call spiritual anemia? A person may be a believer but may have limited faith energy and may lack rooted confidence in the hope Christians have of a life everlasting.

The short supply isn’t red blood cells but rather it is Spirit-delivered Christian hope. 

Christian hope means more than wishing for good luck such as: I hope the sun will shine on our family picnic. Instead, it is a “confident expectation,” a certainty, for the future that we cannot presently know or see.

It is founded upon something we do know as believers — that God raised up Christ from the dead and he will raise us up also!

Saint Peter shows us how fundamental this word is when he writes to beleaguered Christians of the dispersion: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … (1 Peter 1:3)

Not a theoretical hope, or a fanciful hope, a living hope!

The gospel songwriter, Eliza E. Hewitt caught this certainty of the Christian hope and the energy it plays back into our present circumstances when she wrote:

Let us then be true and faithful,

Trusting, serving every day;

Just one glimpse of Him in glory

Will the toils of life repay.

Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that, before their conversion to Christ, they were without God and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). In spite of adequate resources, an abundance of this world’s excitement, and pagan religious affiliations, none of these spoke a sure word of hope about the life to come.

When we are believers but feel spiritually anemic — that is, we are short on the energy the Christian hope provides, and we have only an inner uncertainty about the promise of everlasting life — there is something we can do about it.

We can turn to those Scriptures that reinforce our confidence in the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and meditate on our promised resurrection too. These scriptures will stimulate a formation of spiritual red blood cells, so to speak, and restore our energy to love God and serve him in this world.

One such scripture recounts the conversation between Jesus and Mary when she was in the throes of grief from the loss of her brother, Lazarus (John 11:25).

He said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Then he followed with the question to Mary that all people of faith must be prepared to answer: Do you believe this?

Photo credit: tanjila ahmed (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Good Decisions Don’t Just Happen

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:00

Who doesn’t want to make good decisions? After all, our lives are shaped largely by the sum of the decisions we make.

Many of our decisions are routine and without moral significance: What shall I wear to work in the garden today? Then there are the big ones. If a proposal of marriage should come on Valentine’s Day, should I accept? Consequences either way would be long term.

Our grandson, Zach, once told me of a talk he heard on wise decision-making given by a doctor at a meeting of the Christian Medical Fellowship. What impressed him about the talk was the common sense of the doctor’s outline.

He identified two reference points for making life-shaping decisions — “righteousness” and “wisdom.”

Righteousness, the doctor said, equips us with an unshakable standard. The Ten Commandments in the Bible are a base for facing life’s most critical issues, and that standard, we find, is already written into our consciences.

For example, we are to have no other gods but the true God — the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to reverence God’s name; to show honor to our parents; and we are not to steal, or bear false witness. Issues like these are not negotiable.

According to the doctor, a second element is needed in decision making and that is wisdom. This is the application of common sense in accordance with our grasp of the above deeply rooted standard of righteousness.

We apply the two together to the specific decisions we must make. For example, God’s righteousness tells us we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1). In the light of that instruction, wisdom helps us to choose our friends wisely.

Wisdom allows us to maintain our commitments to righteousness while we wrestle with the endless variables of life. In doing so our solid footing does not give way while we tread through the process of deciding.

The doctor’s point that appealed most to Zach was this: when we take righteousness seriously as a fixed point but must make a decision unguided by chapter-and-verse, we can go forward confidently and carefully apply the best wisdom we have.

And when we go ahead, Zach continued, with the best wisdom at our disposal, we are saved from the paralysis of second-guessing ourselves. We remain staunch while we decide.

All of this reflects the wisdom of master decision number one: to follow Christ wholeheartedly. When we stay close to him we stay close to his righteousness and his wisdom.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — He is the righteousness of God to us and he is (at the same time) the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Photo credit: Richard Elzey (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Battle of the Christian Heart

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 11:00

On a visit to the Philippines, I spent part of a weekend with Pastor David Yardy in Manila. His was a newly-established church, attended by about 100 mostly young converts, many of whom were professional people.

At a steamy Sunday morning service one young man stood and spoke of his struggle with lust. At first, this seemed unusually candid to me, because during my time as pastor of a college church in the United States, sins like lust were usually confessed in private during times of counseling and prayer.

As the young man in Manila spoke I wondered how the young women present would see him from then on. However, Pastor David responded skillfully. He stood and quietly acknowledged the confession, explaining that this was among the struggles a new Christian would experience in his/her desire to be inwardly pure. He spoke clearly of the way to victory in Christ.

There was a refreshing honesty and deep seriousness about sin in that congregation that day. These Christians had recently come to faith in Christ and there was no impulse to conceal the realities of the old life.

The pastor was well aware that God willed his newborn children to be victorious not only over outward and more public sins such as stealing and lying, but also hidden “heart” sins. Pastor Yardy’s ministry was in accord with what the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians long before: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).

In that letter the Apostle Paul identifies eighteen sins of our fallen natures, and they can be divided into four groups.

Sensual sins: immorality (fornication, or sex outside of marriage), uncleanness (inner defilement produced by harboring salacious thoughts), licentiousness (a reckless disregard for public decency).

Religious sins: idolatry (whatever we allow to dominate our affections can create an element of worship, whether of possessions, status or even the world’s values), witchcraft (the use of magic in the calling up of evil spirits for information or advice).

There are interpersonal sins: enmity (hidden feelings of unbrotherliness), strife (inclination to create division or conflict), jealousy (causing rivalry with or even hatred of the fortunate), anger (hurtful rage), selfishness (self-absorption, egocentricity), dissension (open hostility), party spirit (divisiveness, wilful breach of relationships), envy (secret desire to deprive another of what he/she has), murder (hatred which could grow to the taking of another’s life).

And there are vulgar, coarse sins marked by loss of self-control: drunkenness and carousing.

What a cesspool of evil! Sins from this catalogue are often the cause of inner bondage, or at the root of conflict in families or Christian communities and organizations.

Only the enablement of the mighty Spirit of God can help us conquer the sinful nature. And his help is only possible if we are willing to acknowledge the reality of these darker exertions as elements of our fallenness. They cannot be educated out of existence. They cannot be disciplined into good behavior. The Apostle Paul’s remedy is much more radical. 

He writes: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The sinful nature must be put on the cross and by faith and the use of Christian practices kept there. These practices include honest confession of the reality of heart sin, association with healthy-minded Christians, daily Bible reading, prayer, regular communal worship, and pastoral counsel if needed.

As Saint Paul exhorted long ago: live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).

Photo credit: Claudio Ungari (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Holiness Optional?

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:00

The God who freely forgives sins is also the God who in turn calls us to be holy. God instructed Moses: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.

In the 19th chapter of Leviticus where this is found, many specific requirements of holy conduct are listed. Not every one of them remained an issue after Messiah came, but the command to be holy as God is holy did. We see this in the New Testament where Saint Peter, quoting from Leviticus, exhorted the church: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: be holy for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).

At the very outset of Leviticus 19 God declares his holiness: I am holy. Then, 15 times we have his repeated declaration: I am the Lord. The two declarations belong together: I am the Lord and I am holy.

The word, holiness, means “to set apart.” That God is holy reflects his “otherness.” He is not merely an enlarged or improved version of mankind. He is utterly pure, perfectly just, righteous, loving, and in this passage his holiness is the quintessential attribute of his being.

In Christian experience, therefore, seeking and demonstrating the holiness of God is not optional, it is fundamental: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Consider four features of his holiness in Leviticus 19 that the whole assembly was expected to display as his chosen people — features that are relevant today.

The passage begins with this command: Each of you must respect his mother and father (Leviticus 19:3). That is, the holy nation was to be characterized by wholesome family life. While later in the chapter God’s people are commanded to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) children loving their parents is not the first issue in family life; it is children of all ages giving parents their due respect or honor.

Second, holiness is reflected in a strong sense of compassion for those with special vulnerabilities: Gleanings for the poor were to be left when God’s holy people reaped their land (Leviticus 19:9,10). Wages were to be paid promptly so a worker’s family would not suffer deprivation (Leviticus 19:13). Special care was to be shown for the deaf and the blind (Leviticus 19:14).

Third, God’s holiness was to prompt a keen morality in his worshipers; there was to be no stealing, lying, deceiving or the taking of false oaths (Leviticus 19: 11,12). Likewise, meticulously honest measurements were to be used when doing business (Leviticus 19: 35,36). God’s holiness quickens the conscience, and holiness and moral integrity belong together.

Fourth, God’s holiness forbade the heathen practice of seeking guidance through divination or spiritism or sorcery (Leviticus 19: 26, 31). These were superstitious practices used by heathen neighbors to manipulate or communicate with their gods. To be holy meant to be separated from superstitions, trusting only the faithfulness of the one true God.

In summary, the Old Testament issues much more than a promise of the forgiveness of sins, as amazing as that is. It issues to all believers a clarion call to be holy as God is holy.

Holiness, as all other blessings from God, is a gift of God’s grace in response to faith. But the yearning God places in us for his holiness is manifested by the honesty of our seeking — by our searching of the Scriptures, our faithfulness to the church where the Bible is taken seriously, and particularly our confession of heart sin and impurity as the Holy Spirit makes them known to us.

Our part, without merit, is the setting ourselves apart — consecrating ourselves. Then follows the promised results to those whose faith is in Jesus: since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

 

Photo credit: ideacreamanuela2 (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is God’s Mercy Really Boundless?

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:00

If you know someone who thinks their sin history is so dark that they are beyond God’s mercy, suggest to them that they ponder the story of King Manasseh of Judah (2 Chronicles 33).

Manasseh was the most wicked of the kings in the lineage of King David.

God had declared that his own name, Jehovah, would endure in Jerusalem forever but Manasseh wantonly defiled his holy temple there. He built pagan altars in the courts of the temple for the worship of all the “starry hosts,” and he covered the land with altars to Baal, the fertility god of Judah’s neighbors.

Following the practices of heathen nations, Manasseh sacrificed his sons in a monstrous religious rite, burning them in the valley of Ben Hinnom.

Here’s the chronicler’s summary of the extent of his evil: Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites (2 Chronicles 33:9).

The nation followed Manasseh’s lead and God’s anger was provoked. As punishment, Jerusalem fell to the Assyrian forces, and they captured Manasseh, put a ring in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles, and took him far away to Babylon.

Eventually, an unexpected word came from that distant land. The chronicler tells us, In his distress, [Manasseh] sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers (2 Chronicles 33:12).

He had been so wantonly wicked that one might expect the Lord’s response to his entreaties would be: You’ve crossed the line of no return. There’s no hope for you!

Instead, the chronicler writes: And when [Manasseh] prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God (2 Chronicles 33:13).

The Lord’s mercy to Manasseh was boundless, beyond our comprehension.

For Christians, such incomprehensible mercy points us to Jesus. He was the lamb slain from the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8) so that his sacrificial death might pay the penalty for the sins of the world from Adam forward. God’s wrath against sin was appeased and, at the same time, God’s mercy towards the penitent was displayed. As Charles Wesley wrote centuries later:

He breaks the power of canceled sin

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

Upon Manasseh’s return to Jerusalem after his release from Babylon the forgiven king took up the hard work of undoing his previous evil and setting Judah in order. He got rid of the heathen idols, destroyed their altars, and improved the protection of his people. He also spoke out as God’s man and exhorted the people of Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:16).

Was Manasseh a rare case of undeserved mercy? When God gives the most sinful of us a glimpse of our sin history and we humble ourselves like Manasseh did, his boundless mercy is given and his grace sets us on a new course.

What is the sign that Manasseh’s mercy was received? With a new heart and hands he worked to undo wrongs he had committed and to live henceforth under the sovereign rule of Judah’s God.

 

Photo credit: Matthias Ripp (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Strength for the New Year

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:00
Even youths grow tired and weary, And young men stumble and fall; But those who hope in the Lord Will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30,31

 

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

God Knows

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 11:00

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God;

That shall be better to you than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all.

Minnie Haskins (1875 – 1957)

Photo credit: fruity monkey (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds