THE MATURITY OF NEW COVENANT RULES

The Old Covenant is in many ways, but not in all, more elementary than the New. Therefore, we encounter more lists, more ceremony, and more regulations to restrain immature conduct.
The New Covenant is developed more along the lines of mature, abstract principles. By its nature it is a more “grown up” revelation (Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-3; Gal. 3:21-4:7; Eph. 4:13-16).
Nevertheless, it is not the case that the principles of the New Covenant do not allow for inferences both concrete and abstract. Mature thought is expected. Such thought allows Christians to draw conclusions that lead to well-developed, specific actions.
As with the human growth process, there comes a time when warnings about playing in the street would be rather ridiculous. That time does not, however, give less shape to life. Maturity carries with it much more responsibility.
For my friends who are eager to move away from rules. Please remember adults have lives of greater definition than do children The Bible does not need to provide lists to present truths that can be listed.

HELPING IN TODAY’S CULTURAL CLIMATE

Helping people in need is imminently biblical. This is not even open for any rational discussion. Nevertheless, at the risk of being completely misunderstood, I want to address a matter of priority that seems to need clarification. I enter this post with caution, trepidation, and uneasiness, yet enter I will.

Though I am usually well behind most folks when trends dawn on me, eventually awareness makes its way into my head. Of late, a shift towards what was once styled the “Social Gospel” strikes me as an emphasis making a comeback. In the company of this return, I also sense a growing ascetic spirit floating around.

I get it that our culture in America is significantly materialistic and I also realize the need to do regular self-analyses to discover if I have become possessed by my possessions. As a Christian, these are not small matters. The Bible has much to say in this area. However, I think I see a baby headed out the window with its bath water in this one.

Maybe I am simply justifying that I have stuff. I have not sold my stuff to feed and house the unfortunate, though I have spent considerable time and money helping people in need. Not only that, I do not believe such a virtual total divesting of my stuff is supposed to be the defining mark of my Christianity. I do not believe Jesus came primarily to feed people and make them well. He could have done both of these things to every person in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but He did not. What He did do was preach and teach as many people as He could about matters tied to eternity.

Yes, we should share our blessings. A lack of compassion cannot walk in fellowship with the Good News about Jesus. Yet, the Great Commission is about salvation. Granted, compassion can and will open doors, but only the Gospel can open the doors of Hades to free its captives (Rev. 1:18). Well fed and housed lost people eventually die without Jesus (cf. Jn. 6:49).

I don’t intend to be guilted into a quick fix “Christianity” that either substitutes being kind for speaking a good word for Jesus or liquidating my possessions for proclaiming truth. I reiterate; Jesus saves! Churches are groups of people primarily in the business of growing in Christ-likeness so they may help the lost become saved.

I appreciate congregations, such as the one I attend, which have very well thought out assistance initiatives. But, pardon what may seem to some as mere self-justification, let Christians in their compassionate sharing be known without apology for talking to people about the Christ.

 

LABELING IN THE RELIGIOUS CONVERSATION

Labels are an interesting way to categorise things into groups. They are particularly interesting when used to define groups of people in religion. Some of the more common broad-brush terms are: liberal, legalist, and conservative. Like it or not, and some just refuse to acknowledge any proper use of labels, they are not without value. Religious labels may certainly be misused, but religious people are not homogenous, they are different and their differences mean some have more in common with some folks than with others.
Essentially, once a biblical center is discovered, religious people tend to either over do, under do, or do. They bind where God has not, loose where God has not, or adhere to what God has revealed. I realise the trick is to find the biblical center and that everyone seems feel they are there, nevertheless, beliefs differ and the Bible does not necessarily teach what any particular person thinks is right.
With the acknowledgement that labeling takes us into hazardous and often rancorous territory, we need to venture into its risky environs. However, I want to venture into an aspect of the discussion not often entertained. Believing there to be a biblical center, I propose that both liberalism and legalism exist for one or more of the following reasons: pride, selfishness, loving the praise of men, or ignorance. Walking with Jesus, on the other hand, is the result of loving Him more than self, caring more what He thinks than what others think, and knowing Him as a friend.
I’m not a fan of labels myself. They are commonly misunderstood, misused, and all too easily employed. Yet, they do have a place in religious discussion. If we will remember what they really mean and why those characterized by them fall into the groups they do, we can begin to have more honest discussions. The only question then is, can we handle the truth (Jn. 17:17)?

Jehoiakim and His Knife

“And it came to pass, when Jehudi had read three or four pages, the king cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (Jer. 36:23).

            King Jehoiakim sent for the scroll of Jeremiah.  When the scroll arrived, the King commanded it to be read. After only three or four pages had been covered, he took the scroll from the reader and with his knife he cut it to pieces and cast it into the fire. This revealed the attitude of the wicked king to God and his word.

            Down through the ages, others have opposed God and his revelation. Just as with Jehoiakim’s efforts, the message from God continues to survive all destructive efforts.  The Bible continues to reveal the “thoughts and intent of the heart.”  As long as the earth stands, the Word of God will be here to reveal truth. It will continue to probe the depths of the heart and, at times, bring inconvenient truths. “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall not pass away (Matt. 24:33).

.           People today may not commonly use a knife or fire to destroy the Word, but their motives may be the same. When people fail to read and study the will of God the effect is as if they were cutting and burning the Bible. The Bible has no affect on their life and the person soon dies spiritually.  “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

            When a preacher will not preach the Word in completeness or teaches the “doctrines and commandments of men,” he, in effect, destroys the Word. When we fail to teach and live the whole council of God, we are cutting and burning the Bible. When anyone seeks to destroy God’s Word by denying the true nature of the Book, the cutting and burning continues.

            Today, we do not need to cut and burn the Bible to destroy it; we can simply leave it on a shelf or table to collect dust. In homes where a family does not allow the fullness of truth to hold sway, Scripture may as well be incinerated. Churches where the Bible is a mere pew ornament may as well take out knives and fire up a brazier

            We must exercise vigilance to prevent the full Gospel from becoming an incomplete, distorted, or disrespected relic of God’s great gift.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Catching Sight of God

            I grew up in the era of Ivory Soap. There were two unusual things about Ivory, it could float and it was 99 and 44/100 % pure. I realize that someone might well ask, “Pure what”? Or, as I often wondered, “What was the 56/100% all about”? Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly high level of purity did duly impress.

            Ivory Soap’s preponderance of purity is actually a very good illustration of the point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:8. The reason for this is that purity has much more to do with what is present than what is absent. Consider this, a heart may be largely free of impurity, and yet be empty and cold. Such a heart will not, however, remain unfilled. If pure attitudes and motives do not take up residence, an empty heart will soon be occupied with evil things (Lk. 11:24-26; Matt. 15:19). 

            In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus reveals His keen interest in matters of the heart. A good heart must back up our conduct if it is to be accepted by Jesus (Matt. 5:27-28). Words and deeds must be supported by a heart of integrity if they are to please the Christ (Matt. 5:33-37; 6:1).

            Purity of heart is about singleness of purpose. The pure heart is not an unsettled sea of conflicting desires; it is a place of peace dominated by united intentions. A singular spiritual focus sorts out a host of conflicting loyalties and drives the heart toward the service of but one master (Matt. 6:24). So attentive is the pure heart to the call of Christ, it consistently turns a deaf ear to all other voices (cf. Jn. 10:1-5; II Cor. 5:14-15).

            In its captivated focus, purity of heart has a strong link to holiness. To be holy is to be set apart from commonplace priorities and concerns; it is to be like God (Lev. 19:2; II Cor. 7:1). This positive, set-apart direction of the heart correctly attunes our sight through the focus of faith (II Cor. 5:7; Matt. 6:22-22-23). In this way we come to see as God sees. This corrected vision with its purity of sight allows us to see what otherwise cannot be seen (Jn. 1:18). The pure of heart are thus among a privileged few who catch a glimpse of the greatest un-seeable sight of all. The pure of heart have an uncluttered, singular look at God!

 

The Power of Love

The Power of Love in Speaking a Good Word for Jesus

As we consider how to approach friends and neighbors with the gospel of Christ, let us continually be mindful that we are not trying to win arguments, but rather secure hearts. Of course, we do need to prepare ourselves to present intelligent and compelling answers to their questions. The thing to remember, however, is that we will be distinguished by our love for others, our love for each other, and our love for Jesus (I Cor. 13:1-3; Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23).  Isn’t it amazing God saw fit to design a plan of salvation that would be most effectively communicated by the one thing each of us is capable of doing well?  Our ability to love is not limited by our intellect, our wealth, or our social standing; it is limited by our lack of concern for the needs of others.

Paul well understood this reality. He taught this truth arrestingly to the Corinthians who were obsessed with the idea of obtaining status by gaining miraculous gifts.  Today, in different ways, we may also be consumed with secondary pursuits. Such things may seem to be keys to improving our influence for Christ, but as at Corinth, absent our genuine love for people, we are just wasting our time.

While the dynamics governing the human heart may be elusive, they are nonetheless knowable.  Our hearts are not captured by people who are smarter, more athletic, or generally more successful than we are, our hearts are touched by small, sometimes insignificant, acts of kindness. Such things go unnoticed by many, but are treasured by the individuals who receive them.  As we improve our ability to communicate our Lord’s gospel, let’s not forget to continue to work on our ability to love.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).

The “Boredom” of Christianity

“I’m Bored”

In in the technology challenged era of my youth, I never though about being bored. I had more to do than I had time to do! Nevertheless, these are words every parent has heard from their children, especially during the long, hot months of summer. Although our children might think it is written in the official book of parenting that it is a parental obligation to keep their children entertained at all times, it is not. A fact in which we parents can take comfort. Nevertheless, we find ourselves challenged to respond to our children’s declaration of, “I’m bored”.

We know what boredom looks like on our child’s face, but what would boredom look like in a Christian’s life? Have you considered the possibility that we can grow bored as Christians? We know how to prevent our children from being bored; we give them something to do. How does God prevent His children from growing bored? He too, gives us something to do. Consider the words Paul pens to the Christians at Ephesus,

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. 

                                                                                        – Eph 2:8-10

While verse 8 reminds us that we cannot earn salvation, it is a gift of God, verse ten carries the meaning that we are made through a transformation in Christ for good works, which God has already planned for us, and desires that we continue to do them. Paul through out the book of Ephesians lists those works in which Christians should be involved. This list includes:

Becoming a dwelling place for God – 2:2

Making known the “manifold wisdom” of God through the church – 3:10

“… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – 4:3

“… equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” – 4:12

“… speaking the truth in love” – 4:15

“… no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk,” – 4:17

“… put on the new man which was created according to God,” – 4:21

“… kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,” – 4:32

“… be imitators of God as dear children.”  -5:1

“Walk as children of light” – 5:8

“… have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them – 5:11

“… understand what the will of the Lord is.”- 5:17

“… submitting to one another in the fear of God.” – 5:21

“… be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” – 6:10

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”– 6:11

While parents might not actively plan every moment of their child’s life, God has plans for every moment of our Christian life. His plans are challenging and they are exciting. If we have grown bored, or have never gotten excited about being a Christian, it’s time for an honest self-evaluation of our lives. Let us be on guard for boredom in our Christian lives.