Friday, May 18, 2012

Christian Freedom part VII

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.”  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? – 1 Corinthians 10:23-30

I have been discussing the idea of Christian freedom for almost two weeks now.  The idea of Christian Freedom is foundational to our faith.  Yet, so many times it’s abused.  For many Christians, the idea of Christian Freedom either means a license to live a worldly lifestyle or a license to judge others.  Real Christian Freedom is neither.

In pretty much every debate on whether or not to watch a movie or book, or any discussion on Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 10:23-30 always comes up.  And I’ve seen it used on both sides of the argument.

All things are lawful, that’s true.  As Christians in the land of the free, we are free to live as we wish.  However, that freedom also comes with a consequence.  I have the freedom of speech, and I may say what I wish.  But if I use my freedom of speech to slander someone or verbally abuse them, I will face certain consequences for my actions, either here or in the next life.

Not all things build up, or in some versions, not all things are profitable.  Keeping that in mind, I am reminded of two sections of Scripture.  The first is 1 Corinthians 3:11-13.  Whether we know it or not, everything we do is building something, even the smallest things.  The things we have done will be tested by fire, whether or not we were building using materials of gold, silver, precious jewels, wood, hay, or straw.  Why build with materials that burn up under fire?  Why not build up with materials that will withstand?  Let your actions make a difference in others’ lives.

The second Scripture that I am reminded of is the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.  We should desire to have our work and actions prosper.  The good servants invested their talents into worthwhile endeavors, while the wicked servant hid his talent.  Not all of our actions are profitable, but our desire should be to use our abilities to profit the Kingdom of Heaven.

We must not use our freedom to benefit ourselves.  Rather, we should always look to the good of others.  We are free to do what we like; however, we must not be purposefully offending others.

On the flip-side, don’t automatically judge others on how other people are using their freedom.  Just because we are weak in an area, does not necessarily mean that someone else doing something you know to be sin is sin (for example, someone who has struggled with alcohol shouldn’t automatically judge someone for drinking one 8oz serving of wine with a fancy meal on a rare occasion).
But there’s a greater standard for how we should use our Christian Freedom.  The standard is located in the following verses.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

The ultimate standard for whether or not we should watch a certain movie, listen to a certain song, etc… is this: can we do it for the glory of God?  If we cannot honestly answer the question, then it probably isn’t worth doing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Christian Freedom part VII

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.   I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
The idea of Christian Freedom has caused a lot of division and hurt within the church.  Therefore, I would really love to tackle this issue so that we may be united in the cause of Christ.

To reflect, I have covered what we are free from, what our responsibility is for the freedom we have, and why it is important not to abuse that freedom.  Today, I will begin to cover the purpose of our freedom.

In the beginning of 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul outlines his rights as an apostle.  Those rights include the right to eat, the right to marry a believing wife, and the right to earn money from preaching and teaching.  But Paul then explains that he chose not to partake in these rights rather than put an obstacle in the way of his mission.

Paul did not want to become a burden on those he was sharing the Gospel of Christ with, so rather than ask for their support, he worked for his living (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).  Paul was free to do all of these things, but he chose not to.

Rather than flaunt around his freedom, Paul chose to become a servant.  Why?  So that he could win more people over to Christ.  Paul’s focus was clear.  He was all about winning over people to Christ.

If Paul was ministering to Jews especially the Jews adhering to the law, I can guarantee that he would not have eaten a double bacon cheeseburger (though he was free to).  Paul would not have worked overtime on Friday nights.  Though Paul knew that he was not bound to the Jewish laws, but he would rather live as if he was to save those bound under the law. 

To those who were outside the law, Paul would have eaten things that they would have eaten.  Paul would have dressed in a similar fashion and learned their lingo and their customs.  But Paul would not have compromised his faith to win people over.  Paul bound himself to Jesus and no other.

To win over the weak, Paul became like the weak.  Paul would not have had a glass of wine to those who were alcoholics.  Rather shame someone for their weakness, Paul would have showed compassion and understanding, empathizing with their pain.

Paul did whatever it took (without compromising his faith in Christ) to win people over to Christ.  It didn’t matter if it meant that Paul had to sacrifice certain freedoms that he could otherwise enjoy, Paul was going to win people over to Jesus.
Everything that Paul did, he did it with the purpose of spreading the Gospel, so that he might share in their blessings as those Paul ministered developed in their own walk with Christ.

The purpose of our freedom is not to live however we want to.  The purpose of our freedom is to share the Gospel of Jesus and share in the blessings of those we minister.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Christian Freedom part VI

For the last week, I have been developing the idea of Christian Freedom and what it really means.  I have discussed what we are free from and what the responsibility of bearing that freedom is.  This I have been doing out of the book of Colossians.  Today, we will go into the pinnacle of what Christian Freedom truly is out of the book of 1 Corinthians.

First, Christian freedom does not mean that we get to live however we want and do whatever we want.  That I’ve already talked about, but there’s more to it.  The first thing we need to consider is our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

 However, not all possess this knowledge.  But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God.  We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.  – 1 Corinthians 8:7-13

I always like to put things into context before going into any detail.  Here the context is this; ancient Corinth was a port trade city.  Like many port cities where the economy is based upon imports and exports (trade), the cities tend to become more cosmopolitan.  Think of San Francisco, for example.  When I visited San Francisco, I ate sushi and cuisine from cultures like, Thai, Persian, Italian, Mexican, etc…  There’s a Japan Town and a China Town in San Francisco.  Port cities draw in people from many different cultures and they usually bring part of their cultures with them, including their religious system.  Corinth was no different.  Idolatry was in full swing in Corinth.

Idolatry was the major thing that Paul was talking about in this passage here.  Christians in Corinth were trying to live out their faith in the middle of an idolatrous culture.  This was a very difficult task in those days.  While there was a significant Jewish population at Corinth, Paul was writing this letter to all believers in the Church at Corinth.  Some of those new Christians had been delivered out of an idolatrous lifestyle and had felt very guilty about the way they had lived.

A Christian coming out of Judaism would be more sensitive to idolatry than a native Corinthian.  To a Messianic Jew (Christian of Jewish heritage), they would have been brought up to know and memorize the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  A Messianic Jew would know that idols mean absolutely nothing (Isaiah chapter 44) and food sacrificed to idols is just as meaningless.

However, a new Christian convert out of the idolatry of Corinth would not have had had the same background in the Tenach (Old Testament) and would not have understood this.  Because the Corinthian Convert was brought up believing idols held power, and therefore to the Corinthian Convert, food sacrificed to an idol would have held power in their minds.

So Paul was commanding the stronger believers (those who knew that idols held no power) not to rub in their freedom to eat whatever they wished in the faces of the Corinthian Convert who came out of idolatry.  Paul didn’t want the Corinthian Converts to fall back into their old ways and habits.  And this is the heart that Paul was getting at in this scripture.  Paul would rather forego eating meat entirely, than to see someone fall away from Christ into their old habits.

Today, the scripture holds true in many other circumstances.  For example, while there is no specific commandment against drinking alcohol period, I know of many Christians who were delivered out of alcoholism.  If I was eating at a fancy restaurant with one such Christian, I would rather drink water than take a glass of wine because I do not want to tempt the other person to go back into alcoholism.

There have been many Christians who have been delivered out of witchcraft, occultism, and paganism.  I would certainly not invite a Christian delivered out of that to watch Harry Potter lest they become tempted to fall back into their lifestyle.

We all have our areas of struggle and temptation.  We must be sensitive with one another when it comes to those areas and we need to know our own limits.  I read once about a guy who could not see the movie “Soul Surfer.”  He knew the movie was a good movie that glorified God through the testimony of surfer Bethany Hamilton.  However, he also knew that there would be a lot of women wearing bikinis in the movie.  He knew that would be a major area of temptation for him so he chose not to watch it.

The sad part is that many times, when someone chooses to abstain from a movie or activity because they know their areas of temptation, they get teased by other Christians.  We shouldn’t be doing this to each other.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Christian Freedom part V

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  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.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  – Colossians 3:12-17

Continuing on in the exploration of what Christian freedom really means, we have discovered what we are free from and why we are free.  Today we are going to explore what our responsibility for that freedom is.

Today, we have a mixed up view of what freedom really means.  In modern day society, the freedom of speech has become a ticket to say whatever you want without consequence.  But from what we explored yesterday, because we are free we should not slander or lie. 

Here’s an example, after the Constitutional Convention, a lady asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the founding fathers bequeathed us.  Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic…If you can keep it.”  The Constitution ratified on that day set the foundation of our nation as a Republic that granted us certain freedoms.  The responsibility of protecting the freedoms our constitutional republic grants us was given directly to we the people.  As with the founding of the America, our freedom in Christ comes with a responsibility.

Before I go into anything further, I think it is so very important to know that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.  God has chosen us to be His people by adoption of the Spirit through the death of Jesus.  We need to remember that.  Being holy means that we were dirty, but now we are washed and set aside for God’s purposes.

Yesterday, I gave an example of how I would not want to show up for a formal wedding dressed in dirty work clothes.  Rather, I would want to show up dressed in my formal attire appropriate for the occasion.  Indeed, we are invited to the most amazing wedding in the entire universe, the marriage of Jesus to His bride (Revelation 19:6-9) and we better make sure we have on the proper wedding attire to wear to it, consider the following scripture…

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”  - Matthew 22:11-14

So, what does that wedding attire look like, I think Paul gives us a pretty good answer here in Colossians 3.  We need to have compassionate hearts, hearts that are willing to empathize with people’s pain.  We need to show kindness rather than being critical.  We need to show humility and meekness rather than pride.  We need to be patient with one another and bear with each other and bear with each other because none of us are perfect.  Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience are what someone who is attending the wedding feast of Christ should be clothed with.

We should always be quick to forgive each other.  There is no sin that a human can commit against another human that the sin we have committed against God that put Jesus on the cross.  If God was good enough to send His only Son to die for us so that we could have forgiveness of sins, how much easier should it for us to forgive the minor sins that someone commits against us?

The most important of all the virtues is love.  Without love, anything we do is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  It was out of love that Jesus came to earth to die for us (John 3:16).  Love should be our motivating factor for everything that we do.  And we need real, true love.  We need love that will confront a brother or sister living in sin so that they are not disqualified from the eternal prize.  Well, pretty much the example of what we find in the rest of 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  Why is love so important?  Because it binds everything that Christianity is in harmony.

Let the peace of God rule your heart.  This is a hectic world where things are moving frantically.  There is so much to stress about, so much to worry about.  But for God’s people, there is no need to worry or stress.  The peace of God will rule our hearts, but only if we let it.  We were called to be one body in Christ, we desperately need that peace to make it happen.

God is so good, and He has provided for everything we need.  There’s no reason to not be thankful.  Gas prices high?  Praise God you have a car to drive!  Problems at your work?  Praise God you have a job for Him to provide you money!  Too much housework?  Praise God you have a roof over your head!  It’s in our attitude.

We need to really, really immerse ourselves in the Word of Christ.  There was a study done recently about what people think is in the Bible and what is not.  A large majority of Christians surveyed believed that the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  And many Christians were clueless as to what is actually in the Bible.  That’s why it is so important for us to let the Word of Christ dwell in us.

We should be teaching and admonishing one another.  Christ is at work in all of us and we have things to share with other believers.  Each of us can teach something to another person.  We also should not be afraid to admonish one another.  Admonish means to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner or to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to (Webster’s).  But we need to do this with the wisdom of God.  Remember, if we lack wisdom we need to ask God for it (James 1:5).

We get excited when our favorite sports team scores.  When we’re at a rock concert, we can sing the words with enthusiasm.  But why is it that when we’re at church celebrating Jesus who died for us, some of us can barely life our voices?  We should be happy to sing hymns and spiritual songs to Jesus.  There should be joy and thankfulness in our hearts.  When Paul and Silas were in prison, they were singing hymns (Acts 16:25).  If Paul and Silas could sing hymns in prison, why can’t we sing out loud in church?

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  This last part is the most important part of what Christian freedom means.  We are free, but we should use our freedom for the name of the Lord Jesus.  We need to ask ourselves, can we do (insert action here), or can we say “(insert words here)” in the name of the Lord Jesus?  If we cannot honestly answer that question, then whatever the action is, perhaps it’s not worth doing at all.  And for everything that we say or do, give thanks to the Lord who gave you the ability to do and say.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Christian Freedom part IV

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
- Colossians 3:1-11

Now we are getting deeper into the meat and potatoes of what Christian freedom really is.  I have been discussing for the last couple of days what we are free from.  Today, we explore why we are free and what that freedom means.

Why are we free?  The answer is in the very first part of verse 1, because we have been raised with Christ.  Since we have been raised with Christ, we should seek the things of heaven, where Jesus is seated in power and glory at the right hand of God.

The most valuable penny minted in the US is a 1944 steel wheat penny.  If I had a steel wheat penny, it would be worth $70,000 to $100,000.  If I lost that penny, I would be seeking it for all I had.  I would not sit around and wait for the rare penny to find me.  Rather, I would have every piece of furniture in my house upended, I would walk miles to retrace every step, and I would spend countless hours trying to find the penny.  In the same way one would seek out the rare penny, we should seek the things above.  The things above are far more valuable and weightier than a rare penny.

Not only are we to seek the things above, but we also are to set our mind on the things above.  Have you ever seen a small child set their mind on something, maybe a candy bar?  They are relentless in their pursuit to get that candy bar.  Or in the case of the rare penny, if I lost it, I would set my mind to finding it, I would be focused entirely on finding it.  We to, should be relentless in our pursuit for the things above.

We need to consider ourselves dead to the things of this world.  Our lives now belong in Christ as our lives are hidden in Him.  Notice how it says, “When Christ, who is your life…”  Not only do our lives belong to Him and are hidden in Him, but He becomes our life. 

Why the relentless pursuit for the things above?  So that when Jesus appears again, we will appear in glory with Jesus.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?  We will appear with Jesus beholding glory that not even Moses could withstand.

We must, therefore, put to death that which is earthly.  My senior pastor has a saying, “Whenever Paul writes the word ‘therefore’ we must look back to see what it’s there for.”  In this case we need to put to death that which is earthly because we have died, because our lives are hidden in Him, because He is our life, and because we will appear with Him in glory!

The earthly things are sexual immorality, impurity, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  These things are sin that comes from the heart (Mark 7:20-22).  Our cry must be the same as the psalmist of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God!”

Notice that Paul lists the sins and then says, “On the account of these, the wrath of God is coming.”  This isn’t Old Testament we’re reading.  We’re reading directly out of the New Testament.  Yes, God’s wrath is going to come against those who are practicing sexual immorality, impurity, evil desire, and covetousness.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Before we came to Christ, we were walking in those things but we must no longer walk in them.  It is my personal opinion that the reminder that we were once walking in those things is so that we would be able to have compassion on those who are currently walking on those things.  So that we might reach out to them and introduce them to Jesus.

Because Jesus is our life, we must not act out in anger or malice.  When someone wrongs us, we must not take wrath on them.  We must not slander one another.  When we are committed to Christ, our walk changes, the way we see things changes, and so does the way we talk.  We must put away all the obscene talk from our mouths.

Say I was attending a very formal evening wedding, but I had been working in the yard all day long, I would not want to show up at the wedding in my dirty, smelly work clothes.  No, I would take off the dirty clothes, cleanse myself, and put on new clothes.  Before we were saved, we were wearing dirty, smelly clothes.  Now that we are saved, we are wearing attire suited for a formal wedding.  Why would we want to soil our formal attire with the things of this world?  So, we should not lie to each other or practice the dirty things of the world.

We are being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator.  This is language that speaks of a process.  The more we grow closer to God, the more we become like Him.  We will begin to think His thoughts.  So we must put the old stuff away, those old things are not suited for a child of the King.

There is no Greek or Jew, no circumcised or uncircumcised, no barbarian or Scythian, there is no slave or free.  Jesus is all and is in all.  We are all set free in Him.  His salvation is not about who you are but who Jesus is.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Christian Freedom part III

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. – Colossians 2:20-23

Christian Freedom has been abused and misused since the beginning of the Gospels.  We are free, but what does that mean?  We’re going to continue to explore what our freedom in Christ really means.

As Christians we do not have to submit ourselves to the law like the Jews did.  We do not need to follow the strict dietary laws that the Jews did.  We do not have to submit to the festivals the Sabbath day like the Jews did.  We do not have to live like hermits to be saved. There is no need to worship angels or follow a messenger.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the laws.

When we accept Christ, we die with Him and are made new.  We are no longer of this world and therefore do not have to submit to the rule of law.  C.H. Spurgeon commented that it would be proper to translate the elemental spiritual forces of this world as, the rule-ridden world.  We are free from the Mosaic Law and philosophical rules.

If we are free from the law, then why would we want to return?  There are so many rules, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t read this, don’t watch that.  Here’s an example of what it means to follow the rules to the letter.  The Jewish Sabbath begins at sunset Friday night.  In order to protect the Sabbath, they calculate when the sunset will be, and for them the Sabbath begins 15 minutes before sunset.  They put a hedge around the rule of the Sabbath to protect them from breaking the rule.

Here’s another example, Exodus 23:19 says, “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”  To protect this rule, the Jewish people will not eat a dairy product with a meat.  A Jewish person adhering to this law will not eat a cheeseburger because it mixes dairy with meat.  In Israel, there are burger joints with a dividing line through the restaurant.  Why the need for the dividing line?  On one side of the restaurant, they will serve ice cream and other treats.  On the other side, they will serve hamburgers.  If a patron is eating an ice cream cone, they are not to cross the line to greet a friend eating a burger.

For Christians, these laws are absolutely worthless.  Christianity must not be defined by what we don’t do!

Putting a hedge around the rules are merely human commands and teachings.  This is what is at the heart of the matter.  The Pharisees knew the rules; they also knew how to break the rules without really breaking them.  They followed the rules with their actions, but never with their hearts.  All the things that the Pharisees did looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were as good as whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27).

Not only do people impose worthless rules on themselves and live in Spartan conditions to show off their spirituality, some also practice mortification of the flesh.  They beat their body with whips, they wear really itchy clothing, and some have even swept floors with their tongue all to practice their spirituality.  But that is entirely worthless and senseless.  There’s no need for Christians to go to that extreme length.

Rules like not eating cheeseburgers (and especially not my favorite, the bacon cheeseburger), extreme self denial, and self mortification are dead and gone, they have perished.  These rules will not help us to restrain ourselves from indulging in sin and they won’t help us get closer to God.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Christian Freedom part II

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.  – Colossians 2:18, 19

I would like to explore the idea of what true Christian freedom is.  This is a concept that has really caused a lot of tension within the church.  Many people have faced unnecessary judgment on others.  While on the other end, many Christians have abused the idea of freedom and used it to do whatever they want.

Because so many people have misunderstood what true Christian freedom is, it is important to know what it really means.

Yesterday I started with a history lesson about how we are set free from the law because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, the Sabbath, and the festivals.  Today, we are going to explore more about what else we are free from.

We are free from asceticism, or some translate it, false humility.  Being a “good Christian” doesn’t mean that we need to sell our house, our car, and all of our possessions and give it to the poor.  Being a “good Christian” doesn’t mean that we need to go to some monastery or convent and take a vow of silence.

These things are completely and totally unnecessary.  The problem asceticism and false humility is that it makes our salvation about what we have done and not what Jesus has done for us.  They give us a reason to boast and puff ourselves up by saying, “I’m holier than thou, look at all of the things I have given up.  I’m really suffering for Jesus.”  I’m going to be blunt, that kind of mindset is just plain stupid, they’re only doing it to themselves.

In the next part of verse 18, some people insist on worshipping angels.  There are two ways of translating the Greek word used for angel here, the first is the spiritual being and the second translation is messenger and both are fitting here.

There are so many people who believe in angels, pray to angels, and place them above Jesus.  While angels are just as real as heaven, hell, God, and the devil; they are neither higher nor greater than God.  Paul said that even if an angel preached a different Gospel, let that angel be cursed (Galatians 1:8).  Even Satan can appear to people as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

The other translation of the word is messenger.  You know, there are a lot of people out there who are wrapped up into this pastor or that pastor.  There are a lot of famous pastors.  I can list off several very famous pastors from all different walks of Christianity.  The truth is that they are human beings and are subject to error and sin.  While it’s good to learn from their wisdom, we cannot take their word as scripture.  We must always turn to the Bible before we accept what a pastor says as truth.  Especially don’t take my word as truth without checking the Bible for yourself.  We are not to be followers of this pastor or that pastor; we are to be followers of Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:3-5).
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul said that he received a great revelation.  So great that he was given a thorn in his side from Satan to keep him humble.  Paul could have reveled in telling his great vision, oh the things Paul must have seen.  But no, Paul didn’t even speak of what his vision was.  He chose to keep that part quiet so that he wouldn’t boast in himself.

Those people who show off with their great visions may be puffing themselves up.  If that is the case, their reward will be on earth and not in heaven.  Those who puff themselves up with their great visions have their mind on the things of earth, not the things of God.  Therefore, we must check everything that anyone says, especially if they say, “I had a vision.”

Those who insist on false humility, or on following angels and messengers, who go in detail about their visions are cut off from God.  The head contains the brain, the brain controls the heart, and the heart pumps blood rich with nutrients to the rest of the body.  If a ligament is cut out of the body, it has no purpose, it has no supply of nutrients, and it will die.  We are not to be like that.

We are free from asceticism and false humility.  We don’t have to beat ourselves, live in caves, sell all our property, etc… we are free from that.

We are free from worshipping angels or messengers and those who puff themselves up with visions.  We worship God, not angels, not one certain pastor or messenger.  We have access to the same God, same Holy Spirit, and the same Jesus as the famous pastors.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Christian Freedom part I

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  – Colossians 2:16, 17

A big misconception within the Christian community is the idea of Christian freedom.  Christ did set us free, and what He has set free is free indeed.  However, the problem is in how we exercise that freedom.  What exactly does Christian freedom mean?  I would like to explore this concept for a couple of days.  In order to get to the heart of the matter, we need a little history lesson.

One of the biggest problems the early church faced is what to do with Gentile (non-Jewish) believers.  It’s no secret that Christianity first started among the Jews.  In fact, it wasn’t until Peter had a vision and received the command to visit Cornelius that the idea that Gentiles could be saved (Acts 10).

There was a great controversy as to what should happen to these new Gentile believers.  The question was, “should the Gentiles become like the Jews before coming to Christ, or is that all really necessary?”

This even caused a problem between Paul and Peter (Galatians 2).  Looking at the scripture that makes up the Bible, I would have to say that Paul was correct in stance that Gentiles did not have to become like Jews and submit to the law to be saved.

From Scripture, it is a safe guess to say that Gentile believers do not need to be circumcised, heed to the dietary laws, and even adhere to the festivals and Sabbaths that Jews do.  Paul makes this very clear in his letter to the church at Colossae.  Why is that?  Because the dietary laws, festivals, and the Sabbaths point to Jesus.  Jesus declared all food clean (Mark 7:19, Acts 10:15).  The festivals all have a purpose that point to Jesus, for example the Day of Atonement is when Jews symbolically repent of their sins and asks for forgiveness.  The day of Jesus’ crucifixion is our Day of Atonement.  And as far as the Sabbath goes, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12) and in Him we have rest (Matthew 11:28) which is the purpose of the Sabbath.

We, as Christians have no need to go back to the law, we are free from that burden.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, - Romans 8:1-3

Thursday, May 3, 2012

God Will Lift You Up

 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.   Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:5-7

One of the biggest problems in America today is the spirit of rebellion.  The second is one like it, the one of independence.  Rebellion and independence are not virtues in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Heaven is not a Democracy; we don’t get to elect our Savior.

God placed all positions of authority and we should submit to them.  It does not mean that we must agree with every word that someone in authority says.  There is a respectful way to disagree with those in authority while remaining in submission to their authority.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not agree with King Nebuchadnezzar when the king made the subjects bow down to his statue.  The trio did not flip the bird to the king, but rather they addressed King Nebuchadnezzar properly.

So submission to elders does not mean that we follow their every word and command.  It does mean that we should respect their authority and listen to what the elders say.  We must not rebel against them, for they are elders in the church for a reason.

The next command is for everyone; clothe yourself in humility toward one another.  We cannot think of ourselves as greater than another.  Jesus said that the greatest in heaven was the one who served his brothers.  Even Jesus, God in the Flesh, humbled Himself for us; how much more should we humble ourselves to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ?

God does not merely dislike the proud, He opposes them.  The word oppose is not a passive verb.  A football team does stand by to let their opponents score a touchdown.  No, they resist the opposing team’s effort to score a goal.  In the same way, God will oppose the proud.

God shows favor to the humble.  There is no greater example of this in Scripture than the opening of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (the beatitudes).

Read the words of Paul in Romans 4:3: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

We are under God’s mighty hand (the one that measured off the universe, by the way).  He is so great, and we are so small compared to Him.  That’s a humbling thought and we should remember that.

It’s true, God wants the best for us.  He wants us to do well and succeed; however, His idea of success is far different than the worlds.  We must learn to be content with were we are and listen to God’s voice.

God’s timing is different than what we would like.  Joseph spent two years in prison before God caused the cup bearer to remember Joseph.  But when the time was right, Joseph was lifted up and promoted to the second highest position in all of Egypt.  When the time is right, God will lift us up and promote us.

Remember, God, the Creator of the Universe cares for you.  Whatever your situation is, wherever you’re at, God cares for you.  There’s no reason to be anxious.  We should take all of our prayers and petitions to Him and give our anxieties to Him.  If God can create the entire universe in seven days from absolutely nothing, how hard is it for God to provide exactly what we need at the appropriate time?

When you pray, He will answer.  You may not get what you pray for right away or God might have something better planned for you.  Only God knows, so do not be anxious.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Toward Spiritual Maturity part II

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits. -  Hebrews 6:1-3

While Jesus commands us to become like a child, He does not want us to remain like a child.  We are to grow up spiritually.  As Paul said, when he was a child, he spoke like a child, he thought like a child, he reasoned like a child.  But after he became a man, he gave up the childish ways (1 Corinthians 13:11).

In the same way, we are supposed to mature in the faith.  A child starts in kindergarten learning the basics and each year they are promoted to a higher level.  The child starts out learning addition and subtraction, later multiplication and division, later fractions and decimals, and maybe they will learn trigonometry or algebra.  The child first learns the basics, but learns to build upon them.

In the same way, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging people to move into higher levels of spiritual learning.  The elementary doctrines of Christ are wonderful and we should know them, but we cannot stay there.  We should know repentance, but once we have repented from dead works there is no more reason for us to repent.  The more we learn to depend on God the greater our faith in Him.

The washings that the writer of Hebrews is talking about is not baptism, but probably more like what we find in James 1:27 about keeping oneself unstained from the world.  This is something that we need to be practicing rather than merely learning about.  Rather than merely learning about laying hands on those in need of prayer, we should be practicing that as well.

While we will be resurrected from the dead and spared from eternal judgment, our focus must be on intimacy with Christ rather than having fire insurance.

My mother-in-law is a good example of the importance of spiritual maturity.  She went to a church that taught the Bible, but the church remained teaching the elementary doctrines of Christ.  The people in that church would live like the devil Monday through Saturday then go to church on Sunday to hear a fire and brimstone sermon and would repent.  The cycle would continue every week; live like the devil and then repent on Sunday.

Rather than grow into spiritual maturity, the congregation were kept as children always learning about the elementary doctrines of Christ but never enough to impact their lives outside of the church.  To them, going to church was more like getting a ticket to heaven rather than getting to know Christ more and getting equipped for life between Sundays.

Fortunately my mother-in-law moved and through her patient husband, she learned that God wasn’t waiting to crush her for something wrong that she did, she learned that God actually loved her.  She learned what it means to live for Christ, so now she has no need to constantly repent for dead works.  She has grown from an elementary student in the faith to someone who is teaching and leading a small group.
Spiritual maturity helps us to go from hearers of the Word to becoming doers of the Word.  But we can only do this with the help of God.  Our growth must be in cooperation with God’s power and with His wisdom.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Toward Spiritual Maturity

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  – Matthew 18:2-4

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation
- 1 Peter 2:2

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  – Hebrews 5:12-14

We are called to be born again by Jesus.  Jesus said that if we do not become like a child, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  But, what happens after that, after we become like a child?  Do we continue being like a child or do we grow into spiritual maturity?

To get to the heart of this, I think it is appropriate to discuss why Jesus said that we must become like a child.  Children are fully dependent on their parents or caregivers for food, no child came out cooking like Paula Deen.  We must learn to be fully dependent upon God to meet all of our needs.  On top of that, children are fully trusting that their needs will get met.  We, too, must fully learn to trust in God for our needs to get met.  Also, children don’t put up a fa├žade to mask their personalities as adults do.

And that’s why it’s so important to become like a child before God.  Those are very important lessons to learn and we need to grow up in them.

Peter said that we should crave pure spiritual milk like newborn infants.  The purpose is that we may grow up into salvation, not stay as infants.

The writer of Hebrews is speaking directly to people who remain spiritually immature.  Why is it so important to grow up?  Children can tend to get a sense that the world revolves around them.  Children can be very ignorant and stubborn.  If a child does not get what they want, sometimes they throw a tantrum.

These are the things that we must grow up from.  The world does not revolve around us, it revolves around God.  We must not be ignorant or stubborn but always seeking the wisdom of God.  God does meet our needs; He does not always meet our needs in the way that we would like.

There must come a time in our spiritual lives that we wean ourselves from spiritual milk to eating solid food.  There comes a time where we should be able to teach and disciple others about what it means to be a Christian.  We should become skilled in the Word of Righteousness to help others grow in their walk.

How do we grow in spiritual maturity?  First, we need to recognize that which is good from that which is evil and practice this.  Second, we need to read into the next chapter of Hebrews, and this dear readers, we shall do tomorrow.