Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mary did you know?

That is the key question in the popular Christmas song written by Mark Lowry with music by Buddy Greene.

Luke's Gospel records the story and answers some of the questions from the song like this in chapter 1 and beginning in verse 26:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin`s name was Mary. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord [is] with thee. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.
So, Mary did you know? YES! Yes, she knew! The angel told her!

Did she know all of the implications of what the angel told her? Probably not. I do not think she carried the site of the cross in her mind from the time the baby was born. I do not think she "saw" the events before they took place. But she knew who was to be born that day.

The good news is that you and I can know Jesus in all of his saving grace and majesty. This time of year we focus on the babe in the manger. But Mark Lowry reminds us that this child would:
  • Some day walk on water
  • Save our sons and daughters
  • Come to make us new
  • Deliver us
  • Give sight to the blind
  • Calm the storm
  • Restore the hearing to the deaf
  • Raise the dead
  • Heal the lame
  • Touch the mute
  • One day rule the nations
  • And is the great I AM
Mary did not know everything. But she knew enough. The rest she took by faith. You and I can learn from that. God speaks to us and He reveals to us the He is calling us to a right relationship with Him. He is offering us the best gift of all - Salvation.

Let's accept the gift. And let's take the rest of it like Mary did... by faith.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

With a thankful heart

Today, and every other day, I have a great deal to be thankful for.

I am thankful that Jesus Christ saves and sanctifies me today.
I am thankful for my wife.
I am thankful for my children.
I am thankful for my family.
I am thankful for my friends.
I am thankful for my health.
I am thankful for my job.

I am also thankful for my blog where I can express some of the thoughts running around in my head. It has been a while since I posted something. But there have been a lot of thoughts running around up there and I haven't been able to focus on getting them down in a coherent fashion.

Nevertheless, join me in being thankful for all that God has done for you throughout your life.

Blessings on you,


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hold to God's Unchanging Hand

Franklin Eiland penned the lyrics below. They have been sung by many southern gospel groups over the years. I suppose Russ Taff (of the Imperials, Gaither Vocal Band, and others) has done as good of a job as anyone when he recorded it several years ago.

It speaks to me about the steadfastness of God. He is steadfast and He is neverchanging. He loved me yesterday. He loves me today, And He will love me tomorrow. The Bible says that He will not leave us without a comforter. In fact, the Psalmist David cries out to God in Psalm 27:9 this way:

Hide not thy face [far] from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
And then, in John 14:16-18 it says:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; [Even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
I don't know about you, but I need to hear that every now and again. There are some days when it just seems that the sun is not shining as brightly as some other days. And there are some nights that seem longer than others.

Read over the lyrics to this old song. And, if your computer supports playing midi files, then click on the link at the bottom of this post and listen to the tune. It will be familiar to some of you who are over 40!

Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

* Refrain:
Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.

Long time no blog

It has been a while since I posted anything to my blog. But, believe me, that is not because there has been nothing noteworthy going on in my life. In fact, quite the opposite. There has been a great deal of activity. Now is not the time to share it. But let me say with full assurance that God is in control. He reigns supremely in my life and I am grateful to Him every day for his provision.

Look for more updates and new posts very soon!

Thank you to each of you who has stopped by to visit even though there has been nothing new here to see.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

All I could say was "Wow!"

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Psalm 8:3-5

I had seen it in pictures, but I wasn't really prepared for the beauty and magnificence of God's handiwork when I stepped up to the rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. All I could say was "Wow!"

God got that one right!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Is Bigger Necessarily Better?

I don't have all of my thoughts together on this. But, I am questioning in my own mind the drive of many mainline denominations toward the mega-church model. I belong to a denomination that places a rather significant emphasis on the "K-Church". K Churches are churches that average more than 1000 in regular worship attendance. I have a friend that is starting a new church that challenges many of the models of church planting. That activity along with some other personal experiences have me wondering about some things.

As I said at the beginning, I don't have all my thoughts together on this one. Rather I have more questions than I have answers at this point. I'll get to those in a moment. But first, I have a few observations.

I grew up in a series of churches that rarely exceeded 200 in attendance on any given Sunday. Most of the churches that I have been fortunate enough to worship in have been under 100 in regular attendance. In fact, my "favorite" church up to this point was right at 200 in regular attendance. It was my favorite for many reasons. I served on my first church board at that church. We went through a building program, a pastoral search and had many other real and exciting experiences in that church. We were part of a great group of young couples and we were heavily integrated into the life of the church through various avenues of involvement. We knew everybody. Everybody knew us.

By contrast, up until recently, we were worshipping in one of the largest churches in the metropolitan Houston area. A church with the stated goal of getting larger through acquisition of smaller churches, through satellite churches operating in theaters, and through traditional growth and influx. Their motto is "one church in three locations." I know the pastor by name only. I think I know his wife's name. I don't know his children's names. He doesn't know me. He wouldn't even know I was a member if we ran into each other in the grocery store. If I was to get sick, or be in the hospital, or have a family crisis I wouldn't have a clue who to call. The Bible study class that we attended right before we left had about 110 people who attended regularly.

So, here are some questions that are in my head:

  1. Is bigger necessarily better?
  2. What is the ideal size church?
  3. What is the value of a large church that cannot be found in a smaller church?
  4. How do you achieve a sense of "family" in a church of 6000?
  5. Is "one church in three locations" a Biblical model?
  6. Is the small church passé?
  7. Are we doing a disservice to many pastors who work hard and labor long in churches that may never be mega churches when we glorify these mega-church pastors?
  8. Do you need a certain number of folks to make a "critical mass" before you can impact your community?
  9. Is the community church a dieing breed as more folks flock to the mega-church?
  10. Who is driving this? Is it the denomination's leaders? Is it the pastors of these big churches? Is it the Church Boards and/or Deacons?
Again, I know there will be some strong opinions on this. But, let me ask you to look at this on a very practical level. For those of you who attend a mega church, who in your church would you call if you found out today that you were facing a crisis like cancer or the loss of a loved one? If that is too depressing to answer, let me put a positive spin on it. If you or your daughter was planning a wedding, would she want the pastor to officiate and hold it in the mega church, or would she prefer a more intimate setting?

I don't think there are inherently right or wrong issues here. But, I know in my heart that I do not feel as connected to the church as I have in years past. And that is a desire of my heart. To be connected. To be connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. And to be connected to his body, the church.

I would gladly give up the big projection screens, the lighting effects, the professional musicians and the slickly produced worship services for a family altar time on Sunday morning and an offertory by a young person just learning to play the piano. But maybe that is just me.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

An Issue of Control

There is quite a debate raging on another blog that I frequent. It is a discussion board that is primarily focused on folks with some sort of connection to the Church of the Nazarene. The thread began when someone posed the question: "Are we scared of the Holy Spirit?" It has meandered through several sub-topics. And one of those is about control.

I won't belabor that thread here. But, it has prompted me to look deeper into my own life and look at the issue of control within my own spiritual life. And then there is the recent series that we have been involved with in both Sunday School and through Worship that has dealt with the issue of Sanctification in the life of a Believer. Again, I won't belabor that.

But I am reminded of the great evangelist and missionary to India, Dr. E. Stanley Jones. Upon being elected as a Bishop in the Methodist Church he declined the election. His reason... He felt a calling on his life and heart to go to India. Dr. Jones said that he heard, "I want you in India." Is that "control" of is it a "sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit?" I certainly prefer to think of it as the Holy Spirit leading me versus the Holy Spirit controlling me.

How easy it would have been to assume that an election to the highest office that his church could confer upon him was the leading of the Holy Spirit. But that was not God's plan for Dr. Jones. Some of us are running ahead of where God is leading us. Some of us lag behind.
My goal is to walk hand in hand with Him as we travel life's journey.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate'er I do, where'er I be
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Joseph H. Gilmore

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Brief Hiatus

I have been on a brief hiatus from the blogosphere for the last couple of weeks. And I have really missed it. Family, business travel, and every day life have conspired to keep me busy. Too busy for blogging.

But I had lunch today with a dear friend who I respect and admire a great deal. He is about to plant a new church in a nearby area of Houston. Pray for him and his ministry. You don't have to know him personally to pray for him. But as the Holy Spirit brings this post to your mind, remember him in your prayers.

He is one of several guys that I know on both a personal and professional level. He really challenges me to think about many of the ways that I have always experienced "Church". I work with another couple of guys like that. And I have several other professional relationships that have developed into real personal friendships where there is challenge and accountability and a call to continue on the way of Holiness.

I am working on another more significant post. Perhaps I can work on it next week while I am away again on business.

I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining everyday;
Still praying as I onward bound,
"Lord plant my feet on higher ground."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A place where everybody knows your name

I have been engaged in a dialog with some folks on a blog that I have been frequenting lately. It is a blog that is primarily focused on folks like me who either, were or, are a part of the Church of the Nazarene. What began as a conversation around Stephen the Martyr and his activities that led to his death included an observation that these activities were not necessarily authorized by the early church. That developed into a discussion around the roles and authorities in the local church. Many have very strong opinions on that. I know that I certainly do!

What also developed out of that dialog was an idea or two about what it is like to serve in some ministry capacity in a local church. And further, whether or not that ministry is fulfilling on various levels. There were some clergy vs. laity battle lines drawn. I participated in that discussion vigorously. (Perhaps too vigorously at times.)

Several things can be noted from that discourse. Consider the following:

Many times neither side understands the stresses and issues that each other faces in their daily lives. Many times pastors, who have come right out of college and into seminary and then into the pastorate really don't know what it is like to work in an environment that is unfulfilling to say the least. They do not have a recent experience or understanding of what it is like to punch a time clock.

And equally, many times laymen do not understand the stresses involved in trying to grow a church and lead a group of volunteers. Again, I am not indicting pastors or laymen here. I am only pointing out there is often not a common basis of experience on which to operate. My hat is off to all those bi-vocational pastors out there who work right along side of us laymen and who also carry the load of leading a small church. Those guys may very well have a special reward in Heaven some day. At least I hope they do!

The discussion among the 6 or 8 of us participating indicated that sometimes there was not a mutual respect and acknowledgment of each others Spiritual Gifts. That led one church to create a policy directing the pastor to recognize the fact that the lay people in his church had gifts and graces also. And that sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts the most unlikely people with new ideas or directions and it is up to us (the church) and the clergy to be open to at least consider these ideas and not immediately shoot them down as irrelevant.

This brought out a posting that quoted the passage in the NT where Jesus Christ gave authority to bind in heaven what was bound on Earth.

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18 RSV

One of the folks participating pointed us to an article regarding the concept of binding and loosing.

In that article, the author uses John Wesley's small groups to help see how this might work in a living context. He developed it around the last of the four questions that were asked of each of the twelve members of the “class meeting.” Those questions were the following:

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

Look at that last question. “What have you thought, said or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?”

Wow! What a question! How can you ask that of a total stranger? The answer is, you can't. You must have a fairly intimate relationship and investment into each other's lives before you can ask that kind of question and receive a meaningful answer in return.

This lead me to an observation at least, if not a conclusion about the local church.

My opinion, and it is only an opinion, is that the local church that we were all referring to should be the smallest and most basic element possible. Some may call them cells or small groups. John Wesley certainly seemed to agree with that and he called them “Class Meetings”. In fact he put a great deal of emphasis on that small group. There were specifics actions and accountability in that small group structure as demonstrated by the four questions that were asked in turn of each member of the class meeting as noted above.

However, all of this goes counter to our culture that tells us that bigger is better. Culture tells us that we need to be a big church to really meet the needs of a lost and dieing world. We need auditoriums to seat thousands and thousands. We need snow machines in Houston, TX at Christmas time so that kids can play in the snow at church.

Really? Is that what we need?

Please pardon the secular illustration, but do you remember the theme song from the sit-com "Cheers"? It went something like this:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go.
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.

You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same.

You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

Again, my apologies for the distinctly non-Christian illustration from that sit-com. But I think it is illustrative in many ways of what many folks are looking for today from a church. They want that kind of camaraderie that you saw on “Cheers”. They want to know people like that and be known by them. They want someone to pour my heart out to when they are hurting. They want someone to laugh with them. They want to celebrate together the successes that each encounters.

That is certainly what I am looking for! That's the kind of place I would want to bring my friends to visit.

My only response to that kind of an illustration of the local church is to ask when the church, as a whole, grew the most throughout history? It was while it was being persecuted and meeting in catacombs underground. (By the way, I have been to the catacombs in Rome and the acoustics in there would rival any modern grand cathedral that you can imagine!) They were dark and dank and not exactly the most inviting place to be.

So what was it? What caused the growth? It happened long before there were praise choruses and PowerPoint. It happened without a multi-purpose gymnasium.

That thread certainly sparked a great deal of response. Albeit by a relatively small few. But hopefully those who were observing are being challenged in their own hearts and minds also.

Is there anyone else out there other than me who wants to walk in to their church and have folks warmly yell, "Norm!"?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

It's Still the Cross

FFH sings a song entitled, "It's Still the Cross".

Sometimes it seems the world's unraveling around us
We fear it all may one day come undone
We can't forget the One who came before us
To forgive the past and bring hope for what's to come

When it all comes crashing down
The cross still stands alone
And on this our faith is built
And our courage is made strong

When the world falls apart
And you fear for your heart
There's a tower of peace
It's still the cross

When it all comes crashing down
The cross still stands alone
And on this my faith is built
And my courage is made strong

Though the world may not confess
You and Your holiness
One day still stands alone
And on this my faith is built
And my courage is made strong

Though the world may not confess
You and Your holiness
One day all will see
You in all Your majesty
And the cross will stand alone
As the place where You made known
Your love for all mankind
Til then in it we'll hide.
Words and Music by Jeromy Deibler, Scott Williamson, Donna Smith

Somehow this seems appropriate for this Easter season. No matter what the world tells us, it's still the cross that provides redemption through accepting Salvation in Jesus Christ. It's still the cross that we must run to for refuge. It's still the cross that stands as a reminder of what Jesus did for you and for me.

Though the world may not confess
You and Your holiness
One day all will see
You in all Your majesty
And the cross will stand alone
As the place where You made known
Your love for all mankind
Til then in it we'll hide.

In light of all of this, how should we then live?

Hebrews 10:26 and 27 says, "For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries."

Let's look to the Cross this Easter season and anticipate our risen Lord.

He is Risen
He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Holiness Manifesto - Is There a Crisis in the Church?

It seems that there is a lot of renewed interest in the blogosphere these days around the "Holiness Manifesto." In case you are not familiar with it, it was one of the outcomes of the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project (WHSP). The third and final meeting of the group of pastors, denominational leaders and scholars from the United States and Canada was recently held and out of that meeting came the latest version of the Holiness Manifesto. I encourage all who profess a Holiness doctrine to read it and see what, if anything, speaks to you from its pages.

In short, it talks about:

  • The Crisis We Face - There has never been a time in greater need of a compelling articulation of the message of holiness. We are not even keeping pace with the biological growth rate in North America. The power and zeal of churches has been drained by the incessant search for a better method, a more effective fad, a newer and bigger program to yield growth. In the process of trying to find the magic method for growing healthy vibrant churches, our people have become largely ineffective and fallen prey to a generic Christianity that results in congregations that are indistinguishable from the culture around them.

  • The Message We Have - God is holy and calls us to be a holy people. God wants us to be, think, speak, and act in the world in a Christ-like manner. We invite all to embrace God's call to:
    • be filled with all the fullness of God in Jesus Christ -- Holy Spirit-endowed co-workers for the reign of God;
    • live lives that are devout, pure, and reconciled, thereby being Jesus Christ's agents of transformation in the world;
    • live as a faithful covenant people, building accountable community, growing up into Jesus Christ, embodying the spirit of God'’s law in holy love;
    • exercise for the common good an effective array of ministries and callings, according to the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
    • practice compassionate ministries, solidarity with the poor, advocacy for equality, justice, reconciliation, and peace; and
    • care for the earth, God'’s gift in trust to us, working in faith, hope, and confidence for the healing and care of all creation.
  • The Action We Take -May this call impel us to rise to this biblical vision of Christian mission:
    • Preach the transforming message of holiness;
    • Teach the principles of Christ-like love and forgiveness;
    • Embody lives that reflect Jesus Christ;
    • Lead in engaging with the cultures of the world; and
    • Partner with others to multiply its effect for the reconciliation of all things.
So, I ask the questions:

Is the message contained in the Holiness Manifesto on target?
Is it too little too late?
Is the message of Holiness being diluted in order to make the church more palatable to the world?
Is there a role for me to play in spreading the message of Holiness?

I believe that much of the message of the Holiness Manifesto is completely on target. I am currently engaged in a dialog on another blog that is largely populated by folks who come out of the same denominational and theological construct that I do. And the debate is raging fast and furiously over there. Many of us know some of the folks who made up the WHSP and we are passionate about Holiness as a defining characteristic of our church.

This area of dialog has most often been the exclusive territory of the clergy. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard a pastor say that the church is a lay driven movement. Unfortunately that is usually followed by a call to come work this Saturday to repaint the nursery or mow the lawn.

It is an all too rare thing that a pastor will engage a layman in a quality dialog around the issue of holiness. Now maybe that is because not enough of us laymen have been interested in Holiness. Nevertheless that is a shame because Holiness is both somewhat academic and experiential.

Hopefully it is not so academic that only a few can understand it. The last time we had that in church history a guy vandalized the front door of a church with a hammer, nails and pieces of paper and started a reformation!

Now many of us are frustrated by the programmatic approach that many of our churches take to ministry. And, sometimes, it doesn't even seem like ministry. It seems more like entertainment. Whoever has the "best" Sunday morning entertainment gets the biggest crowds. And bigger crowds beget bigger crowds. And church leaders are often counting the size of the crowd and sending off a report to the denominational headquarters and pat themselves on the back and declare:

"We are a great church."
"Just look at the size of our sanctuary."
"Did you see all the special effects and fog machines we used in worship today?"

And then I hear the voice of Jesus saying...
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
The message of Holiness is a message of the cross. It is a message of death. Death to sin and its power over my life.

That message is not necessarily a message that can be easily packaged and tied up with a bow. It doesn't really lend itself to PowerPoint slides during announcements on Sunday morning. It is not our nature or culture to run to the foot of the cross.

But if that message rings within your heart, then there is nothing more beautiful and precious.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Full and Free Salvation

We sang a great old song of the church today. The title is "Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus is to Me" by Haldor Lillenas. And I haven't sung that song in at least 4 years.

Read the lyrics of it. Pay particular attention to the last stanza. I'll give you a second. Go ahead and read it and I'll wait.

O, my heart sings today,
Sings with joy and gladness,
Jesus saves, satisfies,
Takes away my sadness;
Guilt is gone, peace is mine,
Peace like to a river,
Jesus is wonderful, mighty to deliver.

Wonderful, wonderful, Jesus is to me,
Counselor, Prince of Peace,
Mighty God is He,
Saving me, keeping me,
From all sin and shame,
Wonderful is my Redeemer,
Praise His name!

Once a slave, now I'm free,
Free from condemnation,
Jesus gives liberty
And a full salvation,
Now the sins of the past
have been all forgiven,
And my name is inscribed
in the book of heaven.

Wonderful, wonderful, Jesus is to me,
Counselor, Prince of Peace,
Mighty God is He,
Saving me, keeping me,
From all sin and shame,
Wonderful is my Redeemer,
Praise His name!

Living here with my Lord,
In a holy union, day by day, all the way,
Holding sweet communion
O what change grace hath wrought,
In my lowly station
Since my soul has received,
Full and free salvation.
Did you read it? How about that last verse?

"Living here with my Lord in a holy union" -- I have a special and intimate relationship with our Lord. In fact it is so intimate, that He sends His Holy Spirit to live inside of me.

"Day by day, all the way" -- I am on a daily walk, a daily journey with Him. And that journey will end some day in Glory as I hear those words "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

"Holding sweet communion" -- it is a sweet fellowship with the Lord. It is not an arduous task and something of dread. It is a sweet communion. It is like spending time on the porch swing with your sweetheart. That is not work! That is pleasure.

"O what change grace hath wrought," -- And there is a change in my life and the life of every Believer. It is visible. It cannot be contained or explained away. The only answer is that Jesus has done a miracle in our lives.

"In my lowly station" -- Who am I that God would send His only begotten Son? This I know. While I was still unloveable, Jesus Christ died for me.

"Since my soul has received full and free salvation." -- Here it is. It is a full salvation. It is complete. And it has the power to deliver me from my sins of the past while in that "lowly station" as well as it can deliver me from the awful burden of sin in my every day life. And it is free. There is nothing that I can do on my own to deserve it or earn it. It is only by accepting God's gift of salvation that obtain it.

And that we call "Holiness."

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Fellowship We Have

My family has recently gone back to attending a church in the denomination that my wife and I were both raised in. It is the denomination where our kids early formative years were spent. We are starting to enjoy some sweet fellowship again. And I am reminded of that "fellowship" that we share as Christians. That fellowship certainly extends far beyond denominational lines. It extends out there into the blogosphere where I have enjoyed the fellowship of some thought provoking bloggers and pilgrims on the journey. But, I am here to say today that I am glad to be among some fellow Believers who are of like mind and who share a common background.

It is not a step too far to point out some of the aspects of Christian fellowship that we share and, in particular, fellowship we can share with our Heavenly Father. Hebrews 12:18-29 says in the RSV:

"For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire."
In this passage there are several kinds of fellowship that we share as Children of God.
  • We share a Heavenly Fellowship -- Verse 22 talks about the "city of the living God." We have an opportunity to fellowship in Heaven. John says in Revelation 21:10, "And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,"
  • We share an Immortal Fellowship -- Verse 22 also speaks about a host of "innumerable angels" and of "assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven." Over in Psalm 134:12, it says "This [is] my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." What a great thing to know that we will live eternally in Heaven.
  • We share a Universal Fellowship -- Verse 23 makes it available to all "just men" who are "made perfect." This fellowship is open to all who will repent and be justified through faith in Jesus Christ. That is a pretty simple prerequisite for entrance into this fellowship.
  • We share a Divine Fellowship -- Verse 24 says that we can have fellowship through Jesus Christ with the Living God. Not a created image that represents a god or ancestor or element of nature. But, we can fellowship with God himself.
  • We share a Redeeming Fellowship -- Verse 24 gives us a picture of how we were redeemed. It was through the shedding of blood. It is through the shedding of Jesus Christ's blood on the cross that we have redemption. Over in Hebrews 10:22 there is a correlating passage that says, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
So what does this all mean to me?

I think this means that I am a part of a very blessed fellowship. And as such I must be ever so diligent in how I live my life within that fellowship. From an earthly perspective, I have a responsibility before man and to the other members of the fellowship to build them up in the faith. This passage also calls me be active in reaching others outside the fellowship and bring them in.

The verses in Jude that are immediately before the ones that we often hear quoted as the benediction speak to the responsibilities of this kind of fellowship. Those verses say,
But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
From an eternal perspective I have a responsibility to be diligent in how I live my life before a Holy God. God calls me to pray, keep myself in the love of God, and to wait for His mercy. These are all action words. It doesn't seem as though I am to be passive in the fellowship.

But how?

The answer is in the rest of that benediction:
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.
And all God's people said -- "Amen."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

An Early Look at the Cross

I know we have just entered the Lenten season. This is something that is more obvious than most years because of all the folks from New Orleans who are still living in the Houston area were I live. But it is never to early to take a look toward the cross and the Easter season.

(1) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (3) And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; (4) and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; (5) and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (6) For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (7) For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. (8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath {of God} through Him. (10) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (11) And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11 NASB)

This passage speaks to me about the cross and Jesus Christ's death and His ultimate resurrection.

First, it tells me that the cross and His death was necessary. Verse 8 indicates that while I was still sinful and wholly unworthy, He died for me. He substituted His life for mine. He had to die for me to live. It was necessary for someone to be the ultimate and the last sacrifice. Hebrews 9:22 says, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”

Second, it tells me that the cross and His death was costly. Romans 8:32 says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Remember in the Old Testament where God provided the ram caught in the thicket for Abraham to use as a sacrifice. The knife was in his hand and Isaac was on the altar. But God spared Abraham from having to make the ultimate sacrifice of his own son when he provided the ram. But my penalty of sin, my sacrifice was paid for with God's own Son. And that was a costly sacrifice for God to make when He allowed His Son to die on that cruel cross.

Third, it tells me that the cross and His death was victorious! Jesus Christ “Paid in Full” the debt of sin that I owed. On the cross He said, “it is finished.” John 19:30 says “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Since He paid the debt, I no longer have to live under the debt and burden of sin. An old gospel song said the the sin was “buried in the deepest sea.” It goes on to say in that old song that because of all that Jesus Christ did, “I shall live eternally. Praise God! My sins are G-O-N-E, gone!”

In light of all that Jesus Christ did for me, what else can I do but follow Him?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And there were 12 baskets left over...

I am sure we are all pretty familiar with this famous story from the New Testament. In fact, it is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all 4 Gospels. So, if that is the case, it must have something important to say to us today.

But, I'm not going to dwell on the miracle of the feeding of the crowd. Instead, my goofy brain wonders about another aspect of the miracle.

"So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten." John 6:13 NASB
So, where did the baskets come from? No one had food to eat that day except that little boy. So where did the 12 baskets come from?

I really don't know where they came from. But I do know that their existence is consistent with the God that Abraham called "Jehovah-jireh" in the 22nd chapter of Genesis -- the God who provides. God provided the ram in the thicket for the sacrifice. And that was a huge thing for God to do, for Abraham and certainly for Isaac! But that same God also provided those 12 baskets for the disciples to gather up the left-overs so that none of the food would be wasted.

We serve a great God! We serve a God who provides for our every need.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

And Can It Be?

John Wesley's bother, Charles Wesley wrote over 9000 hymns. He wrote his very first hymn just three days after he was saved! And from that point forward he averaged writing one hymn every two days for the rest of his life. What a prodigious hymn writer. And what great theological depth to the lyrics of his songs. I know there are great worship choruses in the church today. But give me a Wesley hymn any day over one of the choruses that I sang this morning in church!

It has been said concerning "And Can It Be," that it was "a rousing testimony to the wonder and power of God to save helpless sinners in bondage to sin. All Calvinists sing it with gratitude to God for this brother's wonderful gift of expression and sensitivity to the reality of God's sovereignty in releasing us from the bondage to our sin nature."

That's a great quote. It is from R. K. McGregor Wright, a modern Calvinist author and theologian. Wright is the author of such books as "No Place for Soveriegnty" and "Absolute Necessity of Sound Doctrine". I have read excerpts from both of these books and I recommend them.

Here are some of the lyrics from the great hymn "And Can It Be?":

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

The imagery of "chains" and "prison" depict the bondage of sin. We cannot save ourselves. Nor in our sinful condition do we have any desire for salvation. In fact, we do not even realize that we are in bondage many times.

Then Charles Wesley describes the (prevenient) grace through which the sinful man is awakened. But even though his dungeon "flamed with light", at this point in the conversion process, although he was awakened, he was still imprisoned.

Of course the prisoner truly desires to break loose from sin, and begins to struggle with it. But though he tries his hardest and determines with all his might he cannot conquer; sin is mightier than he is. (It is important to note here that although sin is mightier than the poor prisoner, it is not mightier than our God.) The Apostle Paul understood this long before the Wesley's when he said in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

Who shall deliver us from the bondage of sin? Jesus Christ's shed blood and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! That's who!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Who is your favorite Christian author?

I have delved pretty deeply in my first month of blogging. So, I am already ready for a little bit of a break!

So, I pose the following question:

Who is your favorite Christian author?
C.S. Lewis? Oswald Chambers? Perhaps is it a lesser known author. Maybe it is an author from many years ago, or maybe it is someone relatively new like Max Lucado.

Post your comment with your favorite author and what appeals to you about their writings.

Don't worry. We will get back to some deeper stuff in a few days.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is Perseverance of the Saints the same as Eternal Security

Or are some of us feeling a little eternally insecure?

Having worked at teen camps and been an "altar worker" for much of my life if have quite often encountered a question like this:

My church teaches "once saved, always saved." no matter what you do. And I'm wondering about that. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me and I think I'm a little confused about whether or not I'm really saved.

Here is how I have usually answered it.

First, I acknowledge that it is a tough and sometimes confusing subject. And it is a tough question! I strongly believe the Bible teaches a "conditional eternal security". Now don't go get the firewood and kindling and prepare to offer me at the stake! I believe that as long as we continue to confess our sins, take up his cross daily and follow him, submit our will to His, remember to flee and not flirt with temptation and desire to obey Jesus' teachings, we are eternally secure (See Romans 8, especially the last half).

Pay particular attention to Romans 8:35. It speaks about God's love. And the fact that nothing can separate us from it. Even before we were saved, God in His Love pursued us. So, based upon God's character, there is no reason to expect that love toward us to ever change.

Here's the important point--whether you're a Baptist or Methodist or a Nazarene like me: Our salvation is based on our relationship with God through Christ. And, we may "fall short of the glory of God." But, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

I have to admit that in my younger days there were times when I wasn't sure of my relationship with God. For instance, one day I came home to an empty, silent house. The lights were on, but no sign of life. Then it hit me like a ton of Bibles. It could only mean one thing: Christ had returned "like a thief in the night" and snatched up Mom, Dad, and my brother Dave.

For years, I had lived under apocalyptic terror. I would be living a "good Christian life," but in a moment of weakness, I would sin, or worse yet, I would somehow sin without even knowing it. And, then--at that very instant, even before I could ask forgiveness--Christ would return for His children. Now, I was left behind, all alone to face the battle of Armageddon and then the fires of hell!

Suddenly, my conscience recalled the reason for my doom. Just an hour before, my big brother had done something that ticked me off that big brothers often do, and in the emotion of the moment, I had called him a name. Not just any name, but the four-letter name that my pastor warned would guarantee a one-way ticket to the devil's front porch. Yes, I had called my brother a F-O-O-L! And according to my pastor's interpretation of Matthew 5:2, there was nothing left to do but to turn on the TV and wait for the "beeeeeeeeeeeeep" of the Emergency Broadcast System and the announcements that busses no longer had drivers, planes had no pilots and that half of the people on the planet had disappeared.

But then to my rapturous relief, my family (and yes, even my brother) returned from visiting the neighbors. While comforted that I had one more chance, I still felt a little eternal insecurity when it came to salvation. And, apparently I'm not alone.

A youth-pastor once asked his teens, "How many of you are sure that you are a Christian?" These were teens whose parents were professors at an evangelical college and administrators at a denominational headquarters. With heads bowed and eyes closed, very few of the forty young people raised his or her hand! The majority professed to be Christians, but not very many were sure that Christ had forgiven their sins and had reserved a place for them in His eternal neighborhood - Heaven!

I'm afraid that in my tradition's zeal to avoid the error of "once saved-always saved," I have encountered something else; a large number of teens and adults who are "eternally in-secure."

Now hold on. Before you think someone needs to revoke my membership, let me assure you that I do not believe that once someone is forgiven of their sins and believes in Christ that eternal life is unconditionally guaranteed.

Jesus himself makes it very clear that those who once knew him can turn away into eternal punishment: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:5-6).

Both the Old and New Testaments agree:

If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die (Ezekiel 18:26).

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on {the testimony of} two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29 NASB, emphasis in the NASB)
But Scripture also assures us that we can know that we are saved and be eternally secure. The old-timers called it a "know so" religion when I was growing up. They said, and I believe that we can know in our hearts that we are Children of God. All you have to do is look at a few passages such as:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)
But we in the church may have created some eternal insecurity in at least two ways:

Insecurity comes from a limited view of Scripture

Some teachers, pastors and evangelists have only stressed the first set of verses. These leaders fear that those under their care will reject Christ. And that is a legitimate concern. But Christian leaders sometimes spend too much time preaching warnings of "falling away" rather than a message of Holiness. In fact I heard a message today in church like I haven't heard in quite a while. The pastor preached on creating moral margin in our lives and in living our lives as far from what the world calls the norm as possible.

The fact is, Christians do not "fall" as if Salvation was a slippery rock in a flowing river. Salvation is not like my car keys or my reading glasses that I lose from time to time. Notice that 2 Timothy 2:12 reads in part,
. . . if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us."
We lose our relationship with Christ, and thus our eternal home with Him, by willfully, deliberately rejecting Him and His will. We must balance our warnings with equal parts of assurance.

Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And in II Thessalonians 3:3:
But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one.
In Second Timothy 1:12 it says it this way:
And that is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.
Christian can be sure of this because "the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16) as was stated earlier. Hebrews reinforces this truth:
And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God's people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22 NLT)

So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God's inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the line of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6: 18-19 NLT)
John writes:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 NASB)

Finally, Paul has an assurance for Believers:

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6 KJV)
Insecurity comes from a limited view of Christianity

Those who believe a bump of our heads on an altar at the close of the final service at youth camp or a quick dunk in a baptismal guarantees heaven -- no matter how they live after they dry off -- need to be warned that God demands Holiness. The preaching of a Holiness doctrine that stresses personal Holiness in all that we are and do is essential.

However, there are some out there who have preached personal tastes rather than Scriptural standards. These extra-biblical teachings often create eternal insecurity in those who attempt -- and inevitably fail -- to live up to these human standards.

A "conditional security" comes from Scripture in its full context

I believe that when taken in the full context, the Bible does not teach the idea of an unconditional eternal security. I believe that it teaches the perseverance of the saints. I know, some are already riled up and want to hit me over the head with their 27 pound Billy Graham preaching Bibles and tell me about God's Grace, and the fact that my Salvation is based upon Faith alone! (Thank you martin Luther!) But in actuality the Christian life (not the Salvation experience) is just that it is a life-long commitment to Jesus Christ and His Righteousness. It is not just a quick trip to the altar and then back to the same life that we were living without Christ.

However, do not be afraid. We do not need to live with doubts about our relationship with Christ. Jesus himself prayed for the perseverance of the saints. Remember Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night that he was betrayed:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil {one.} They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, {are} in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17: 15-24 NASB)

So what does this mean to me?

Once again I want to take this back to the question of what does it mean to me in the context of my daily walk with the Lord? How does it relate to the idea of Holiness of Heart and Life?

I think it means that my salvation is an active condition whereby I willingly walk hand in hand with my Heavenly Father. We walk hand in hand and he works on my life by daily transforming me into His image and according to His Will. I willingly abide in Him. And He abides in me. What else could I ask for?

I thank God that I no longer fear coming home to an empty house. I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace and approach God Almighty without fear. He is my Father and I am His Child. And, unlike those teenagers that I mentioned, I pray that you can raise your hand today and say "I'm sure that I am a Christian." And I am becoming more and more like Him every day. My thoughts and actions are more Christ-like today than yesterday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

WOW! What a Response to William Tell!

Thank you for all of your great and insightful posts on the William Tell piece.

At the time of this writing there have been 32 comments posted on the "Sin" post. I am overwhelmed by the response and the depth of your comments. I am still so new to this and it amazes me at the mix of folks who posted comments. Men, women, pastors, laymen, young-ish, and the not so young-ish.

I am very much encouraged by the fact that so many folks are interested in Spiritual matters. Perhaps our nation, and other nations, are closer to a real revival than it seems from watching the media.

I am working on my next post. I think it will be on "Choices". May of you referenced Free Will and Sovereignty in your comments. So that seems like fertile ground.

Thank you again to those of you who commented and especially to those who have made this blog a part of your circle of influence. I plan to add a few more of your links to my blog as time permits.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

William Tell & Missing the Mark

OK, it is very early in my blogging career. And it already looks like I have lost my mind. And maybe I have a time or two. But stick with me for the next few paragraphs because I want to use a well known character in literature to help me take a position on "sin."

First let me say, I am grateful to Joshua Woods, a young man at Mount Vernon Nazarene University who is studying for the ministry and for a career as a Chaplain in the U.S. Military. Thank you Joshua in advance of your service to the country and to the Kingdom of God by standing in the gap for me and the rest of the world that is blessed with freedom that has been bought with a price. (Hey, that sounds like a good idea for a future post! I'll have to write that idea down.)

Joshua and I were having a brief instant messaging exchange the other night. I was expressing to him the difficulty it is to have a theological discussion with some folks when you do not share the same set of definitions. Depending on your starting point, you will undoubtedly end up in a different ending point. So, here are a few questions to spur our thought process:

  • What is a sin?
  • What does it mean to sin?
  • What is original sin?
  • And more importantly, what can be done about original sin?
  • Is sin inevitable in the life of a Christian?
  • Is sin something I do, or is it something that just happens?
  • Is there a remedy for the sin problem?

William Tell Didn't Miss the Mark

William Tell is probably the most notable bow and arrow marksman of all time. His abilities are legendary as demonstrated by the apple that was pierced with an arrow while the apple was perched upon the top of the head of his young son. What if he had not been successful? What if he had missed the mark? How tragic would that have been?

"Missing the mark" -- Hamartia. That is one of the translations for the word "sin" as found in the New Testament. You can see that usage in passages like Romans 6:12. In fact, it is used 39 times alone in Paul's Letter to the Romans. In its broadest definition of the word translated "sin" it can be said that sin is any action or attitude that is less than God's standard of love for Him, our neighbor or ourselves. But that is not the only word that is translated as our modern word "sin." I take a different stance on sin given my Spiritual formation. I was always taught that sin is a willful act in defiance of God and His laws and standards.

What words have been translated to our word, "sin"?

Hamartia -- Paul uses this Greek word in the sentence "for all have sinned (hamartia-ed) and fallen short of the glory of God." Hamartia describes actions and attitudes that "fall short" of God's perfection. I hamartia-ed when I punched my brother. We hamartia when we say mean things about our co-workers in order to put ourselves in a better position for a promotion. We hamartia whenever our actions and attitudes are not what God commands of us.

This is the same word used in The Gospel of Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer:

Forgive us our "hamartia-s" for we also forgive everyone who "hamartia-s" against us. (Luke 11:4 NIV).

Then over in The Gospel of John we find:

If we claim to be without hamartia , we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.(1 John 1:8-10 NIV).

So, does this seem to indicate an acceptance on God's part of hamartia in our every day lives? Does an occasional hamartia cancel our deed on our heavenly mansion? Romans 6:1-2 says "God forbid!... " in the King James Version. That is pretty strong language. Sin is not to be tolerated in the life of a Believer. Left unchecked and unconfessed hamartia has deadly consequences!

Adikia -- While also often translated "sin," adikia is unrighteousness that has perverted, immoral and deceitful aspects to it. A pastor adikia-s they use or abuse members of their flock sexually or takes advantage of them in a counseling setting. Their whole being is twisted toward impure living. Charles Wesley may have had this in mind when he described our "bent toward sinning." The person who adikia-s has willfully and deliberating turned away from God and His love, and will spend eternity separated from God unless he or she restores that relationship with God.

Anomia -- This "sin" is lawlessness. This is the habitual offender in the justice system. The guy with a rap sheet as long as your arm. This guy is living a lifestyle of sin. This is not the occasional slip of the tongue kind of sin. This is not saying something that your mom would not like if you hit your thumb with a hammer. This is not an act of carelessness in a pressure packed situation, but a pattern of life that is outside of God's Will and God's Grace.

Someone once described it like a fish understand no other life than swimming, people who "anomia" understand no other life than sinning. I think that is fairly descriptive.

Asebeia -- Asebeia deals specifically with ungodliness and rebellion toward or rejection of God. This word is used several times in the New Testament and often with warnings and references to how to live in this present world as seen in Titus 2: 11-14. The Lord will not cut off the believer who wants to please Him and is maintaining an ongoing and vibrant relationship with Him.

Paul reminds us in Romans:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

However, we can choose to reject God. We can do that through persistent and active rebellion or through passive indifference. This is the tenor and tone that the Apostle Paul uses when he talks about the immorality and idolatry in Romans 1:18-32.

Parabasis -- Last but not least, parabasis is a legal term for guilt and condemnation. The sense of this word has to do with breaking the law. It is intended to be used regarding breaking God's Law. But is has a legalistic tone as though it were used for breaking a civil or criminal law. Often in New Testament times this term was used for condemned criminals.

We deserve to hear God say "Guilty as charged!" But as forgiven children of God we don't need to fear God's gavel of judgment. In fact, the Holy Spirit is our comforter, guide and "lawyer" (paraclete) before the Father. He pleads our case that Jesus shed His Blood for our sins.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. (1 John 4:17 NIV)

So what does this mean to me?

The Christian who has sincerely asked forgiveness for past sins (all kinds - hamartia, adikia, anomia, asebeia, and parabasis) and who desires to daily love God, others, and themselves, who submit to His authority in obedience and who are following the Holy Spirit as He guides us day by day and conforms us to the image of Christ, there is a life where Sin does not have dominion in our daily lives.

Will there be occasional times when Christians will sin by "missing the mark," falling short of God's perfection? Yes, in all likelihood. Our concern should not be whether it is possible to avoid sin, or not. The greater question is what are we going to do about it? The mark of a genuine Christian is that we do not excuse our poorly disciplined lives by accepting that sin is inevitable. Christ died not only for my sins, but also for the sin problem in my life. He died to break the power of cancelled sin.

The blood of Christ, the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit, and the power of God is capable of delivering the believer from committing sin, when that believer appeals to God for deliverance and then follows through with the Holy Spirit's guided action(s). If the believer fails to seek this Divine delivering power, OR fails to heed the Divine guidance of the Spirit, it is virtually certain that they will commit sin. The key point is that it is God's delivering power, not my own spiritual inner fortitude that keeps my life as a believer, sin free. I love what the hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote in one of the verses of "Oh 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.

All of this tells me that hamartia, or any of the other words for sin, should not be taken lightly. Rather they should be confessed as soon as the Holy Spirit reveals them to us. And He will reveal them to us! Since the "wages of hamartia is death" (Romans 6:23).

But more importantly, (and this will most certainly be the subject of another post) through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can live a life free from Sin. We can live a life of Christian Perfection. If we seek Him with our whole heart and are sanctified, we can live the life of Holiness that is commanded by God.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Crisis vs. Process

My very dear friend, Pastor David Woods, posed the following topic for discussion in a comment to one of my earlier posts. I feel that it deserves to be elevated to a posting of its own. So, Dave, here it goes.

Is Sanctification an instantaneous experience? Or, is it a gradual progression?

Dave and I once had a pastor who was fond of saying "It is not either - or, it is both - and!" That answer used to drive us crazy! We would try to get a decision in a board meeting and we would get the "both - and" answer. Not exactly what we were looking for to say the least.

But, unfortunately, I think that is precisely my feeling about how Sanctification works in our lives. I believe that there is, or should be, a specific point in our Christian experience that we can point to that is marked by a conversion experience. That date and location ought to be inscribed somewhere on the fly leaf of our Bible. Likewise, the date and location where we once and for all settled the Lordship issue and the sin question in our life ought to be written under the inscription marking our conversion. And our lifes ought to be markedly different from that point forward.

Will we live a sinless life from that point forward? Probably not. But our lives should be coming ever increasingly more like Jesus. We should be being transformed daily and being made into the image of Christ. See Romans 12:2 and Romans 8:1-3. The great apostle Paul talks about his experience in terms of a race or a journey. That certainly has a "process" feel to it. But every race has a beginning and and end. And that certainly has a "crisis" feel to it.

Are you more like Jesus today than yesterday. Are you on the journey of becoming the man or woman that God has called you to be?


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Holiness Terms of Reference

I once heard a sermon at camp meeting years ago by Rev. Stephen Manley. In that sermon he dealt with the notion of many Christians that there are two kinds of Christians. There are Christians like you and me. And then there are "super Christians" like Paul, Peter and John. He said, and I agree, there are not two levels of Christianity. There are not two levels of Holiness. There is only Christianity and Holiness. To claim that we can never achieve or attain the level of what the Apostle Paul did is to deny the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In order to properly have a dialog about Holiness, we must have a common set of terms and definitions. I am not saying that these terms and definitions are completely authoritative. (Although I do agree with them and find them to be wholely Scriptural.) I believe you must go back to the Bible for ultimate authority. But I think these terms are great source to call upon.

The following terms were taken from the Wesleyan's website. I have modified them a little for clarity and to conform to this format. But I have kept them intact and true to the authors of these definitions.

God does not have a double standard—one for the new Christian and one for the mature Christian. His standard is one: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16 NIV). Holiness is based on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit draws, woos, and convicts us as sinners. After we become Christians, the Holy Spirit leads and directs us in godly living. It is helpful to understand the terms associated with this process of allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

Adoption - When we enter into a personal relationship with God through Christ, God makes us His children, to which the Holy Spirit bears witness.
John 1:12-13; Romans 8:14-23; Galatians 3:26; 4:1-7; Ephesians 1:5; 2:19; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 3:1-2; 14, 16-18; 5:1-2

Arminian - This term describes the school of theology that teaches that salvation is offered to everyone and that we have the free will to decide whether or not to enter into a relationship with God (both salvation and sanctification). Arminianism is named for James Arminius.

Born Again, New Birth, Regeneration & Initial Sanctification - These terms describe another part of salvation—what God does in us. It is newness of life, the beginning of a holy life; "the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17b)
John 3:3, 5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:4-5; 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 3:4-6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3

Christian Believer - This is one who has experienced repentance, confession of sins, and salvation / justification—has been born again—and who continues to obey God.
Romans 8:1-2, 10:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:9-10

Christian Perfection - This is the completeness of Christian character and the exercise of spiritual gifts in a life of holiness. The motive of one’s heart and life is to love God and love others. While Christian perfection does not mean that the Christian is without flaw or weakness, it means that the Christian can be free from intentional sin.
2 Corinthians 13:9, 11; Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 4:13; Hebrews 10:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1

Confession - An awakened sinner must confess sins committed and admit the need of a Savior and forgiveness for sins.
Psalm 51; Romans 10:8-9; 1 John 1:9

Conviction, Awakening, Quickening - These are terms for the work of the Holy Spirit in alerting a sinner to the need for forgiveness and in drawing the sinner to repentance.
John 16:7-11; Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14

Entire Sanctification, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Second Blessing - This is a distinct, second work of divine grace following initial sanctification. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the Christian from all indwelling sin, including original sin. It is a purifying of a believer’s life. It is something that Christ has done for us by His death on Calvary. There is a cleansing of original sin or the carnal nature. Also, the Holy Spirit takes complete control of the believer’s inner nature. The Spirit fills, empowers and indwells the believer whose body is God’s temple. The believer invites Jesus to be Lord of his or her life.
Matthew 3:11; John 17:17-19; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4; 15:8-9; 19:1-6; 26:18; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 4:24; 5:25-27; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:3a, 7-8; 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 12:14; 13:12; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 24

Full Salvation - This term means that Christ has provided a full and complete remedy for all sin, and His death on the cross is adequate for the entire sin problem.
Ezekiel 36:29a; Romans 8:3-4; Hebrews 10:14; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 1:7, 9

Holiness - Holiness is the process of becoming more Christlike. Holiness is a moral and spiritual purity, in which one is so full of God that there is no desire to sin although there may be temptation to sin. The believer’s desire is to obey God’s will. Taking on the image of God and a Christlike love reflects in one’s actions.
Romans 6:19, 22; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:7; Hebrews 12:14

Justification - This is the part of salvation when the repentant sinner, responding in faith and obedience, is forgiven of acquired, personal sins. Justification is what God does for us. Guilt and blame are gone, and the past is forgiven because Jesus Christ suffered our punishment through His death on the cross. Justification is undeserved, unmerited, and cannot be earned.
Isaiah 6:1-6; Acts 13:38-39; 15:11; 16:31; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:23-26, 28; 4:2-5; 5:1-2; 1, Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 3:6-14; 5:1-5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38; 1 John 3:8-9

Perfect Love - This term emphasizes the nature of the moral life of those who are entirely sanctified. It means that a believer loves the Lord with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength and loves his neighbor as himself.
Matthew 5:48; John 13:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:16-19

Progressive Sanctification - This is the work of the Holy Spirit making the believer more like Christ; progressive sanctification is the process that leads up to and follows the moment of entire sanctification.
James 1:4; Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 10:23-24, 36; 2 John 4-6

Repentance, Remorse, Godly Sorrow, Forsaking of Sins - These terms refer to the response of an awakened sinner to the ministry of the Holy Spirit leading to salvation. To repent or forsake sins is to be sorry enough to quit sinning.
Psalms 34:18; 51:1-6, 17; Isaiah 55:7; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Romans 6:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

Restitution - This is part of repentance, often overlooked, and involves clearing up one’s past and keeping things right with others through God’s help.
Exodus 22:1-15; 2 Samuel 12:6; Proverbs 6:30-31; Luke 19:8

Salvation, Conversation - These are terms used for entering into a personal relationship with Christ.
Psalm 51:12-13; Ezekiel 36:25-26; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1.

Sin, Original Sin, Carnal Nature - These terms are used to describe the sinful nature that remains in a believer’s life even after salvation. It has been inherited though the human family from Adam to the present. Its primary evidence is rebellion against God and selfishness exhibited in anger, strife, jealousy, envy, and in any attitude or disposition unlike Christ.
Psalm 51:5; Romans 7:14-25; 8:1-11; 2 Peter 1:3-4

Sinner - This is one who has not experienced repentance, confession of sins, and salvation / justification—one who has not been born again.
Romans 8:6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:17, 19-21

Sins - These are any thoughts, words or actions that do not measure up to God’s standard. They are also any conscious, willful disobedience of God.
Galatians 5:19-21a; James 4:17; 1 Peter 4:3

Wesleyan - This is the school of theology that comes from the teaching and preaching of John Wesley. Wesley emphasized living a holy life by faith, and he was careful to distinguish between two gifts of grace from God—conversion and entire sanctification.

Witness of the Spirit - The Holy Spirit gives to the believer inner assurance of salvation or entire sanctification.
Hebrews 10:14-17; 1 John 5:6-12


I am not indicating that this is a complete list of terms necessary to carry on a dialog about Holiness of Heart & Life. But, I believe that these provide a great base for a common understanding of terms.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My Theological World View -- Further Defined

I took the same quiz a second time. This time I scored a little differently. This time I scored as Evangelical Holiness / Wesleyan. I am an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. I believe that God's grace enables me to choose to believe in him, even though I myself am totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives me assurance of my salvation, and he also enables me to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. I am heavily influenced by John and Charles Wesley, James Arminius, the Nazarenes and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal






Modern Liberal


Roman Catholic


What's your theological worldview?
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Thursday, January 05, 2006

My Theological World View

I took a quiz and I scored as Evangelical Holiness / Wesleyan. I am an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. I believe that God's grace enables me to choose to believe in him, even though I am totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives me assurance of my salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. I am certainly influenced heavily by the likes of John and Charles Wesley, James Arminius, the Church of the Nazarene and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical






Classical Liberal


Roman Catholic


Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Me at the Colosseum in Rome Posted by Picasa

Pilgrim in a foreign land...

I can't help it. Sometimes I feel like a pilgrim in a foreign land.

I grew up in a traditional and strong Christian home. I was raised in the church and we were members of the local Church of the Nazarene wherever we happened to be living at the time. I later went on to one of the Nazarene colleges. I have attended many Nazarene churches in my lifetime. I have been fortunate to serve in many areas of ministry in the local church. I am very comfortable and happy in a church that is Wesleyan in its theology.

But, now and for the last several years, I and my family find ourselves in a Southern Baptist Church. I guess I never knew or appreciated what I had within the Wesleyan movement until I ws surrounded by theology shaped by Calvinists, neo-Calvinists and the Reformed perspective.

I would welcome anyone else's participation who has found themselves in a similar situation.