From The Pastor's Study
As we come into the new year the Lord’s churches will face difficult obstacles in evangelizing their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the greatest obstacle that we must conquer is our apathy towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become dull to the wonderful Gospel that saved us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must stay fresh in our hearts so that apathy does not occur. Paul kept the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of his ministry. He was saved by the Gospel, received the Gospel and stood in the Gospel throughout his ministry (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul testified: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). We need the Gospel to be a burden that can only be loosened as we tell others about the saving grace of the Gospel.
Another obstacle we must conquer if we are to be the light in our community is unbelief. The word “unbeliever” has changed over time. In years gone by an unbeliever was someone who believed the Bible but rejected God’s plan of salvation. However, today's unbeliever does not believe the Bible to be an accurate representation of truth but fairy tales. Recently, a leading and popular political pundit on a major news network viewed Noah’s Arc as a fairy tale. For generations, our public education system has taught impressionable students out of believing the Bible. How do we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who do not believe the Bible to be authentically God’s word? This is a huge obstacle that must be crossed if we are to evangelize our community. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul gives us the framework and foundation in preaching the Gospel to people who do not believe the Bible.
Assurances are needful to succeed in any practice, profession or lifestyle. The difference between the Apostles before the cross and forty days after the cross was their assurance of who Jesus was and their mission in life. Even before the day of Pentecost, as they waited for the Holy Spirit power that Jesus promised them, they were daily in the Temple praising and blessing God (Luke 24:53). Having assurances provides us with the confidence to be a witness in a dangerous world and gives us the right motive in serving God. We are not serving God out of fear of losing our salvation but out of love, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39).
The audience of 1 John was the church at Ephesus. One of the problems that plagued this church during the time of John writing this epistle was not having the assurances of salvation. So, John wrote this epistle not to convince them of their condemnation but to assure them of their salvation. He does so by giving them proofs of their salvation. Activity that only a Christian can do. My assurance of salvation is not my faithfulness to church, giving, praying, or evangelizing. Lost people do this all the time. Instead, my assurance in salvation is my love for fellowshipping with God’s people and God, and my desire to walk in the light of God’s word and presence. The points John make are I know you are saved because you love fellowshipping with God’s people and God. And, I know you are saved because you are walking in the light. God’s word is changing you.
A Change Agent within an organization is someone who promotes or enables changes to take place. One reason Japanese auto companies were able to gain a foothold into the American economy was their Change Agent mentality. While the American car companies refused to change how they manufactured their cars, the Japanese auto industry empowered and enabled the lowest person on the assembly line to alter the progress of the line, if a defect was discovered. This business model allowed them to manufacture better quality cars than their American counterparts.
In an eternally more significant way, God is a change agent. He not only saves sinners but changes their lives. A changed life is the most powerful evidence a redemptive work took place in the life of a saved sinner. Even the sinner on the cross who became a believer in Jesus Christ hours before his death had a change of mind that manifested externally when he told the other thief on the cross who rebuked Jesus: “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:40-42).
There are so many different ways the Gospel of Jesus Christ is wonderful. The Gospel of Jesus Christ puts us into a new family. A family that has a perfect Father who loves His children with an everlasting love. His family has the brightest of all futures. We are more than just brothers and sisters united under the precious blood of Jesus, we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). Being in the family of God is a wonderful aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Another wonderful aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is grace. The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be achieved by works, behavior or desiring without absorbing the context. Knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a complete work of God is humbling to our flesh but filling to our soul. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16). Our wills are so corrupt with sin that we cannot rightly choose anything good for the right reason; and no matter how hard or fast we run, we can never pass over the finish line of perfection. The Gospel of Jesus Christ puts the work into the hands of God to redeem His people from their sin. Our will to choose God is made perfect in the riches of God’s mercy, and our ability to finish our race is complete in the race Jesus ran.
A third wonderful aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the assurances that we are saved. Salvation is not a guessing game. I never have to guess whether or not I am saved. The Bible gives assurances validating the confession made was authentic and saving. There are some out there who believe the only thing salvation does is save us from Hell. Salvation does save us from Hell but praise the Lord, salvation goes much deeper than saving us from Hell. God’s grace delivers us from the power of sin. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful event that takes place in our lives that will forever change us. As Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power that changes us from who we were to who we will become. I am thrilled to know that through the power of God I can conquer sin and give assurances validating my salvation.
What are these assurances that validate our salvation? John gives us insight into these assurances through his first epistle. This month, we will examine the first assurance he gives the church at Ephesus (The audience to this epistle). The first assurance validating my salvation is my desire to fellowship with God and God’s people.
The Apostle John wrote his first epistle to the church at Ephesus. The main purpose he wrote this epistle was to give them assurances of their salvation in Jesus Christ.
1 John 5:13KJV
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
The word “know” in 1 John 5:13 means knowledge gained by observance or perception. John did not want them to have an emotional knowledge of their salvation. Our emotions are fluid and constantly adjustable to a variety of external events. There are circumstances when my emotions tell me that I am not saved. These times are usually associated with having a bad day or being depressed. John wanted their confidence in salvation to be more concrete than their emotions by giving them an overall view of someone who has been converted. Assurances of salvation are not decided by one moment in time (praise the Lord) but an overall change that occurs over a period of time.
There were two ways John could assure his audience of salvation: he could go back in time to the day they confessed their love and loyalty to Jesus Christ; or, he could demonstrate the validity of their confession by showing proof of their love and loyalty since their confession. Many Christians choose the first avenue to assure someone of their salvation but John chose the second avenue. A changed life is the best evidence of someone being authentically saved.
I gauge the value of gifts by the relationship with the one giving the gift, the thoughtfulness involved, and the cost. With these three items as my foundation, the most valued gift I have ever received by anyone was grace. God provided me with the gift of grace in spite of the non-existent relationship I had with Him. I wanted nothing to do with God but praise God for his amazing love. There has never been a gift more thoughtfully giving than grace. God made preparations for grace in the very beginning. Finally, the wonderful gift of grace cost God more then we could ever imagine. His Son, Jesus Christ became our sacrifice and substitute. He gave us His righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness. No gift compares with the gift of salvation.
However, the gift of salvation should never be treated the same way we treat other gifts. God desires us to cultivate this gift. Growing the gift of salvation is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). By working out our salvation with fear and trembling, God can begin using us to magnify Jesus Christ. In working out our salvation on cultivating the gift of God, we should learn two lessons from Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
1 Samuel 4:11 - And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
I grew up in the ’70s and knew a lot of people who had a rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm. If something good happened throughout their day, they would credit the rabbit’s foot. As if the good luck did not come from their hard work, discipline, study habits etc.…I have talked with many sports fans who believe their jersey or blue socks is/are the key ingredient in their team’s success. In the summer of 88, my brother, friend, and I drove from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington D. C. for the weekend. I remember when we finally made it back home and parked the car in the lot of the apartment complex we lived in, patting the car on the hood and praising the car for a job well done. Even now, I laugh at my ignorance believing that 1986 Ford Escort was able to rise above having no oil change, tune-up, or new breaks and get me to Washington D. C. and back safely. Evidently, twentieth and twenty-first century America is not the only ones that lived with good luck charms. During the time of the Judges, the Israelites viewed God as a rabbit’s foot or their lucky blue socks. They thought they could pull God out whenever they needed a victory. The Lord in 1 Samuel 4:11 took umbrage with the Philosophy of being used as a good luck charm.
A lawyer came to Jesus asking Him what was the greatest of all the commandments. Instead of giving the lawyer the greatest commandment, Jesus gave him the two greatest commandments. Jesus said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the secondislike unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. All the commandments in the Bible rest on these two commandments. The only way we can faithfully live any of the commands of Jesus is to first live out these two commands. All commands are not created equal. These two commands set the stage for all the other commands in the Bible. Or better yet, all the other commands in the Bible are fulfilled in these two commands.
To take this one step further, we cannot love people the way we ought to until first, we are loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind. Loving God with everything we have energizes us in loving others in a Christ-like way. Without loving God with our all, anything we do will be in vain towards cultivating our relationship with God. Jesus wrote a message to each of the seven churches in Revelations 2 and 3. The first church He wrote to was Ephesus. Even though there seemed to be more wicked and immoral churches within the seven churches Jesus wrote to, the church at Ephesus received the greatest potential judgement, if they did not repent. Jesus would remove their candlestick (Their authority, power and His presence) from the seven. Whatever they needed to repent from must have been excessively egregious and offensive to God. Our minds would drift from immorality to absolute chaos within the church. Jesus did write to those sorts of churches within the seven churches, but those issues did not plague the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus egregious sin and offense towards God was they left their first love. Ephesus became so mechanical towards church life, ministry and worship of God that loving God supremely was missing in action. Church life, ministry and worship is meaningless without loving God supremely.
We have federal elections every two years. With each election, politicians make promises to fix the problems with America. Yet, no matter how much legislation politicians pass or money spent, we seem to still have enormous problems. Legislation and/or money cannot fix America’s problem. We spend billions of dollars on education, law enforcement, welfare and military every year. This money has allowed us to invest in better buildings, more programs, and hiring additional people to help meet the enormous needs. Still, we are reminded by politicians every two years, regardless of how much money spent, how there new plan and additional money will fix the broken system. The truth is no amount of money, energy or plans will fix America. What is ailing America is not social needs, crime, budgetary problems or foreign threats. These are manifestations of the real problem plaguing America. We need to see God high and lifted up, in His holiness and glory.
The problem with America is we do not view ourselves accountable to a holy God. He does not have a prominent place in our homes, schools, places of employment, hobbies or down time. We have successfully excluded God from our daily lives. In fact, more and more people see God as part of the problem with society, instead of the solution. What has exacerbated this false notion is Christians are not living up to their name. We have excluded God from the daily grind of life. We do not have any time to spend with God, or do not have confidence in God answering our prayers, or He is to blame for some of our problems. Ultimately, we have put too much stock in secularism’s philosophy and works to be a difference maker for the Kingdom of God. If we love this nation and are patriots, willing to die for our country then submission and surrender to the King of glory must happen!
Joshua 9:14KJV 1900
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counselat the mouth of the Lord.
Joshua and the Israelites had conquered Jericho and Ai. They were now prepared to move further into the Promise Land. This was the land that God had promised them since the days of Abraham. However, to inherit the land of promise they would have to conquer and destroy their enemies within the land. The Gibeonites’ was a small mountain kingdom within the Promise Land. Fearing Israel’s success, fame and their God, they decided to come up with scheme to ensure their preservation
Joshua 9:3–5KJV 1900
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry andmouldy.
In effect, they would trick Israel into thinking they were a distant kingdom that lived nowhere near the Promise Land. Before moving forward, there is a sad testimony from the Gibeonites. They knew there was something special about Israel, their plans and God. There seemed to be an understanding among the Gibeonites that Israel’s God was more powerful than any other god. Instead of repenting from their false gods and religious systems to Israel’s God, they decided to trick Israel into believing they came from a far country. Jesus was absolutely right when He told His disciples that the world hates Him.
Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.
Most of us might not know that Moses was more than the person who wrote the first five books of the Bible, and leader of Israel during the exodus of Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness, he was a song writer. Deuteronomy 32:1-4 is a song that Moses wrote about Jehovah God. Moses began this majestic and powerful song about our wonderful God by calling attention to the song and giving this song enormous importance. He called the entire creation, not just the Jews but everyone that has breath, to “give ear…and hear” the words that flowed from his mouth.
Moses did not sing this song for his benefit only. He believed this song would become a difference-maker in the lives of others. Notice how he described the quality and effect this song would have in the lives of others: as rain that drops from the clouds; as dew that rests on the grass; as small rain that nourishes a tender herb; and as showers upon the grass. Moses had assurances that his song about God would penetrate, refresh, grow and develop others in their faith