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South Fellowship Church

Sheep Herding 101 (A Biblical look at the role of shepherds)

Have you heard the message yet?

If you have not heard Pastor Ryan’s message on the first verse of Psalm 23 you missed something wonderful.  You can listen to it here: Satisfied.

I am personally looking forward to hearing the rest of the series on this rich biblical passage.

The text and the sermon reminded me that the Bible calls elders to shepherd God’s flock, the local church. Indeed, God’s anointed servants are not actually shepherds but do the work of sheep herding in ways God has designed. This is why they are called undershepherds, for they serve under the Great Shepherd Jesus.

One chapter from the book, The Perfect Pastor? teaches about sheep and people, elders and shepherds. It teaches through a narrative. I thought it worth sharing as a supplement to this excellent series from Psalm 23.  If you wish, you can download Sheep Herding 101 for your edification.

God’s blessings on you!

Don Owsley

 

Sheep Herding 101 (A Biblical look at the role of shepherds)2015-06-05T00:00:00-06:00

What Does Christ’s Ascension Mean for Me?

So just what does Jesus’ ascension mean to me?  As believers in the Lord Jesus, we know that he was resurrected from the dead. We celebrate this on Easter day. Often times we forget about the fact and importance that forty days later he ascended into heaven (Psa. 2; 68:18; Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Heb. 4:4). For those who believe in Jesus Christ, here is why the ascension is important and meaningful to you:

 

Atonement was accepted by the Father

Atonement could be simply understood as at-one-ment, meaning it has to do with everything Jesus did, especially as our perfect high priest, to make us at one with God the Father.  A more theological definition would be “A sovereignly exercised love of God in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ that brings sinners to be at one with God.” (Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 9:12; Titus 2:14; 1 John 2:1-2)

Stories have changed forever

When Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, history changed forever. Not only did his story impact the world, but his story changed the story of our own lives when we come to trust in him. For example read and meditate upon Hebrews 10.

Christ is truly King

When Jesus was raised from the dead he went up into heaven in order to sit at seat of power and authority to rule as the only true king, not merely over the hearts of his people, but over all the universe (1 Peter 3:21-22 cp. John 3:35; Eph. 1:22; Phil 2:10; Rev. 1:5).

Example of our future state

His resurrected and ascended body is a promise as well as an example of what we will receive when God gives believers in Christ new bodies fit for the new heavens and new earth (Eph. 2:1-7; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

New life and future is assured

Jesus went up into heaven in order to prepare a new place for us. Our new life and a perfect future is guaranteed because of his ascension (John 14:2-3; Col. 1:15; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:1)

Spirit of God is sent from heaven

Just as jesus had promised, when he went into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to us (Jn 16:7-15). His Spirit was sent in order to empower for believers for living, to give gifts to God’s Church, and to give us the means of grace by faith through his Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:7-10; Romans 10).

Intercedes as our priest always and forever

Now that Jesus is at God’s right side he is constantly advocating and interceding for his own people (Heb. 9:24; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).

Oversees his church and kingdom

Not only does Jesus rule over all the universe (Heb. 1:1-4; 2:1-8; Rev. 11:15), but he specifically guards and guides his people and his kingdom (Heb. 3:3-6; Eph. 2:4-7; Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10; Rev. 12:10; Rev. 17:14-18).

Never, ever, ever separated from God

Jesus’ ascension secures for us the promise that we who are in Christ by faith will never again be separated from God in love (Romans 8:28-39; Matt. 28:20; John 10:28; John 17:23).

 

While we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead forty days ago, we have reason to celebrate and rejoice in the fact of his ascension because of all that Jesus did for us and all he gives us because he was raised into heaven (Luke 24:50-53).

-dto

(This article is also posted in www.donowsley.com)

What Does Christ’s Ascension Mean for Me?2015-05-14T00:00:00-06:00

Jesus Christ is Risen! We are Risen Indeed!

“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. So what!”  Supposedly, this was a response from a serious skeptic while debating a Christian apologist.  The man said he would grant that Jesus died and then came back, but that could have been an anomaly. Such strange things happen all the time. Then he said something like, “All right, Jesus came back from the dead, but what relevance does that have for me or for any of us? Nothing!”

We all might be saying the same thing today were it not for the fact that Jesus’ early followers explained why the resurrection is relevant. Had the Gospels been written, we would have a wonderful, historical account of a great teacher and philosopher. We might even conclude that Jesus was indeed God, and certainly someone who came to earth to start a kingdom, who died on the cross, was buried, came back to life, and went up into heaven.  This is what is called the Gospel, which literally means “good news.”

Of course, that is the core of our historical, Christian Faith. Yet, think about this – what if that was all we knew?  What questions would we have? What things could we deduce from such this historical record? Pause to consider that for a moment.

Here is what we would probably know beyond that:

  • He is probably who he claimed to be (but the debate is just who did he claim to be?).
  • He is in heaven.
  • He will be coming back.
  • We are to believe in him.
  • We are to live according to his teachings.

Anything else?

The earliest of the Jesus followers knew that much. Thankfully, God sent his Spirit just as Jesus promised. The Holy Spirit brought hearts alive, indwelled, empowered, and then spoke through those early disciples to explain the relevance of the complete story of Jesus (from pre-birth to his ascension). James wrote about how to think wisely and live well as a true follower of Christ.  Two of the letters that Peter wrote were inspired and preserved for us, telling us about the beauty of such good news and its relevance for Christians in day to day experiences.

Then, we get to Luke’s writings. Luke recorded a short history about Jesus and then wrote how this Gospel impacted the early disciples and caused the initial explosive growth of the Church. It was due to the power of Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s word, and Christ’s Spirit.

Paul, a master teacher, is converted and called by God to teach the disciples the implications and relevance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  He presents to us the explicit impact of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension upon those who trust and believe in Jesus the Christ.

What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for you if you trust and believe in Christ?

Turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and read through this very important passage.

Now, check out a summary of this passage:

  • I Corinthians 15:1-11  –  Jesus was raised from the dead and there was viable evidence as well as plenty of eyewitnesses to testify to the event and to seeing a risen Jesus after his crucifixion.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:12-19  –  If Jesus was not raised from the dead then we have no basis for our Christian faith. We are without life, without hope, and without truth.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20-28  –  But Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that resurrection makes us alive, gives hope for a new resurrected body when our bodies die, and assures us the most brutal, unforgiving enemy we have, which is death, is itself destroyed.

But wait! There’s much, much more. Paul, Peter, and John teach us the relevance that Jesus is risen and we are risen, indeed! This is what we, those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ, can know with great assurance.

Through the resurrection power, assured by Christ’s ascension, our lives are now:

Right

  • We are made right with God the Father (Romans 5).

Good Friday put our sins on Jesus Christ. Resurrection Sunday puts his righteousness on us! We are made right because of Jesus. We are given the status of righteousness (Romans 5:18-22).

  • We are also made alive and given the ability to live rightly before God and a watching world. This is because after Jesus was raised and ascended, he sent his Spirit to apply his life and work in us (Romans 6).

This means that in Christ, through his Spirit, he is in the process of removing sin from our souls in order for us to live rightly and to live well in the presence of God.

 

Incorruptible

  • We are made free from ultimate rot, decay, and destruction (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 50-54; Peter 1:1-5).
  • We will not experience death in the same way as those who are without Jesus  (John 8:51; 11:25).
  • We are now immortal like Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53; Philippians 3:21).

Spiritual

  • Our souls and bodies are now adapted to God’s spiritual realm (1 Corinthians 15:44, 50-53).
  • At the Great Resurrection, in the end of all history, we will receive the same type of body as Jesus’ resurrected body.  Imagine having the ability to pass through walls (John 20:19)?

 

Empowered

  • Through Jesus’ resurrection, we are now empowered by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1-3).
  • Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians 1 is that God’s people would have the depth of understanding and be enlightened to fully know in our hearts and experiences the profound greatness of his power. That nuclear power, the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from three days of deadness and brought him all the way up into the heavenly presence of God to sit on that throne from which he rules all the universe; that power he gives to us so that we share in his kingdom and his rule (Ephesians 1:19-23).
  • For many reasons I love Ephesians, but primarily because it is all about this resurrection power applied to us who believe. Jesus Christ is risen, and we are risen, indeed! That’s the message. In our American culture, we talk much about empowerment.  As Christians, we have more than the kind of empowerment the world seeks. Ephesians tells us:
    • Real power is from Jesus Christ (Eph. 1)
    • We have the power of life through faith in the risen Christ. And the biggest impact of this power is being united with Christ and united together in Christ. (Eph. 2:1-11)
    • We have the power of solidarity in faith, which means we have union together in Christ (Eph. 2:11-4:6).
    • We have the power to grow in Christ through faith. This means we have the ability to become like Jesus (Eph. 4:7-16)!
    • We have the power of light over darkness through faith. That means because he has risen from the dead, we can live like Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:17-32).
    • We have the power of love through faith so that we can love like Jesus (Eph. 5:1-6:9)
    • Finally, we have the power to conquer by faith so that we can be and are now overcomers in Christ (Eph. 6:1-20)!

and…

Eternal

  • We have the new image, the new likeness of the One from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:48-49). Not even Adam or Eve had this when they were made in the image of God.
  • We will never die again. We are risen, indeed (Romans 6:8-9).
  • We each have our own “tent” made to endure eternity (2 Corinthians 5:1).

 

New

  • He destroys all the old rule, power, and world to deliver his new kingdom to God (1 Cor. 15:24ff).
  • He makes the old and dying body into something new and living (1 Cor. 15:50-54).
  • He gives us new life (1 Cor. 15:20-22; Rom. 6:4).
  • He has taken us out of the old world of sin and death and placed us into a new realm (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-7)
  • He refashions us into a new image of God (Eph. 2:8-10; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
  • And, he will bring us to a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13).

 

Easter Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. In fact, every Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus rose from the dead?  Yes!  Does that event mean anything to us? Yes, if we trust and believe in Jesus Christ as our savior and lord. Our rejoicing on Easter Day is not merely a celebration that Jesus died and came back from the dead. So did Lazarus and many others.   Our rejoicing is over the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and that it has significant, applied relevance for our lives as Christians!  Jesus is risen! And we are risen, indeed!

 

– dto

 

This article originally posted at http://wp.me/p5C1Oh-NU

Jesus Christ is Risen! We are Risen Indeed!2015-04-05T00:00:00-06:00

Yet Earth Received Her King

So begins the post-Christmas tradition for many. It is time to put the baby king away. The pageantry and celebration of little baby Jesus is quickly fading. It is time to scurry about, pack up all the decorations and ornaments, and put baby Jesus away along with the stable, manger, cow, sheep, camel, shepherds, three wise men, Mary and Joseph. All of the accessories that comes with baby King Jesus is boxed up and stored where ever one can find room.

Sometimes I wonder if we do that to the real Jesus? Not that we could truly box him up and put him away, but do we do that mentally or spiritually? For some of us it is a great temptation to think of Jesus as the infant, so tender and mild; so inoffensive and innocent. A cherubic child, perfectly pretty, never needy and never demanding. He’s just there in all his smiling cuteness. And we get to put him away.

That, however, is not the Jesus of history. The original Christmas event played itself out, slowly but powerfully unveiling this wrapped little king for who is really was. In between the wrapping of swaddling cloths of his birth and the wrapping of burial linens at his death, Jesus exposes himself as the king over all kings, the lord over all lords, the benevolent dictator, the universal emperor, the undefeated general of heavenly armies who is tender but offensive, never needy but always demanding. Yes, we received this kid, yet earth received her king! And he won’t be put away.

As I wrote in a previous post, when Jesus came he came as the King and he brought with him his predicted kingdom. When Jesus came his kingdom was in him (see the other article posted earlier). Jesus the savior-king is the personification of God’s kingdom since in him, with him, and for him is his kingdom (Mark 2:10).

What kind of a Kingdom did King Jesus bring at Christmas?

1. It is a national kingdom

Not the kind of national kingdom the world has ever known. Instead, it is made up of all peoples from all other people groups, forming a citizenry of God’s own children (Acts 2; Acts 5:36-37; Acts 12:38; Rev. 7:9).

2. It is a powerful kingdom

It has the power of the Creator God, which brings life out of nothing (John 1:1-3; 1 Cor, 8:6; Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Jn. 1:2).  It is the power of miracles, healing, signs, and wonders (Luke 8:25; Acts 10:38; Rom. 1:4).  In it is the power of the resurrection – power of life over death in a world where there is the power of death over life (Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 2).  It is a power that will eventually conquer all other kingdoms (Psa. 99:1-4; Psa. 103:19; Isa. 9:6-7; Zec. 9:10; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:22). This King has a kingdom of power that is from the almighty God himself (Matt. 28:18; Luke 22:69; Rev. 5:12). In fact, when Luke speaks of “the visitation of God” (Luke 1:68, 78; Luke 7:11-17) he is using Old Testament code words for God’s future kingdom.

3. It is a revolutionary kingdom

His kingdom is revolutionary in the sense that it brings about a reversal of sin, evil, and wickedness. Satan’s devious temptation to which Adam surrendered caused a cataclysmic reversal of God’s paradise kingdom on earth. Yet King Jesus brought a radical transformation of our existing situation (Lk 1:46-55). Therefore, his growing kingdom is at work reversing this unnatural order of things.

Jesus’ work and ministry were revolutionary (Matt. 8-10) because his words and deeds were divine (Luke 7:11-17) interventions that turned life right side up. He stepped into the realm of evil and darkness teaching and healing, preaching and restoring, and making an impact on the spiritual, ethical and physical areas of life.

When Jesus came into the human scene it caused a spiritual tsunami in the spiritual world, with on-going ripple effects the powers of darkness can never hold back. In a way, the God-Man initially came by stealth. As he launched his kingdom ministry he did so coming to do great battle. His resurrection was the spiritual D-Day (the day on which God’s invasion of the dark world began) that will eventually lead to the perfect V-Day (complete day of victory) (Matt. 25:31-32; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 7; Rev. 19:11-21).

That is an underlying theme which runs through the Gospels. For example, Mark is about the major conflict between the Prince of this world and the King of God’s realm. The good news is that Jesus has great power over Satan and his demons (Matt. 12:22-32; Mark 3:20-30; Luke 11:14-23). Every one of the exorcisms shows God’s kingdom winning over Satan’s (Matt. 11:12). Every healing shows God’s power of life over the effects of death. Every miracle is evidence of Kingdom power (Matt. 4:23; Matt. 9:3; Mark 1:39).  In the world we cannot see, every one of Jesus’ miracles was a violent encounter with Satan’s kingdom (Matt. 4:23-24; Luke 4:35-39; Luke 8:24; etc.)  King Jesus’ work reverses the effects of Satan and sin, and does so with violence (Matt. 11:12).

4. It is a spiritual-moral Kingdom that has its impact on the physical.

We cannot see it except through the eyes of faith (Matt. 18:3; Mk. 10:15; Jn. 3:3). As Paul tells us, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!” (Rom. 14:17). We do not see demons (normally), but Jesus saw them, encountered them and affected them in ways that touched nature, animals, and people (Matt. 6:13; 7:22; 12:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; John 20:31, 31; etc.)

5. It is a giving Kingdom!

A kingdom where the King gives instead of takes! The wise men came to bring gifts to the child King, but the real story is that this King came to bring gifts to his wise ones (1 Cor. 2; Eph. 4:8).

This is what is so beautiful about King Jesus and his Kingdom!

  •  He lavishes gifts of the kingdom upon us. Christ ascended to His throne and now gives gifts to His people (Eph. 1:8-12; Eph. 4:8-11; 1 Peter 1:3-5).
  • King Jesus gives kingdom citizens so many blessings and benefits (Rom 8:32). The Kingdom of God is not merely the place of Christ, nor merely the rule of Christ, but it is also the blessings we receive through the Spirit in Him.
  • The greatest gift is abundant and eternal life (John. 6:40; John 10:10; John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
  • Yet, we receive so much more in Jesus and his Kingdom:
    • In Christ’s kingdom we receive comfort for mourning. This means restoration, strength, and encouragement (2 Thess 2:16-17) during times of grief and discouragement. We receive comfort because the Comforter gives himself to us (Isa 40:11; 66:11; Jn 14:26).
    •  In his kingdom we have an inheritance (Mark 10: 25ff) found in Christ himself. Seeking the kingdom means to seek after all the blessings of the heavenly treasures (Matt. 6:33). We inherit the earth (Isa. 66:22; 2 Peter. 3:13). We inherit because we are humbled and made poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3), and because we are united to the Heir of all things (Eph. 1:11-18; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).
    • In his kingdom our hungers and thirsts are satisfied (Prov. 16:26; Matt. 5:6). Life is following after our hungers, but Jesus promised full satisfaction to those whose deepest yearning and desire is to intimately know God. He is the desire behind all desires (Psa 17:15; 42:1-2) and the rich satisfaction for our souls.
    • In his kingdom we find mercy (Matt. 5:7).
    • In Christ’s kingdom we see God (Matt. 5:8). Entering the kingdom means appearing before the face of the King enthroned between the cherubim of heaven (Ex. 23; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4).
    • In the kingdom we are the children of God, adopted into his family and made brothers of the Son of our Father-God (John 1:12; Heb 2:11). It is a precious gift that we are given the right to sit at his table to share in His great feast (1 Cor. 11; Rev. 19:7-10). It is a great gift he gives to us to be able to sit in heavenly places with Jesus Christ, sharing His rule over all things (Eph. 1:20-23; Eph. 2:6; Heb. 2; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; Rev. 20:4-6).
6. It is a fruitful kingdom.

The work God’s people do in his Kingdom is from love, mercy and grace. It is a work that produces real fruit, not for personal consumption but to give to God and to others:

  • We receive the fruit of comfort in order to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
  • We receive the fruit of mercy in order to show others mercy (Matt. 18:21-35; Rom. 12)
  • We receive the fruit of glory so that we can reflect his light in the world (Matt. 5:14ff)
  • We have the fruit of being rescued in order that we may rescue others (Lk 10:25-37).
7. It is a loving kingdom.

Christ has taken his people out of darkness and placed them into the realm of his love (Col. 1:13). Life in Jesus’ realm is a life of love: love for God and love for others (Matt. 22:37-39;  Rom. 5:5; Rom. 8:31-31; 1 Cor. 13; 1 John 4).

 

Jesus Christ is the King and in him is his Kingdom!  This is the meaning of Christmas: the God of the universe became a perfect, sinless man through miraculous conception but a normal birth on that awesome Christmas night. The earth and all creation received its king.

Even though this little child did not remain a little babe, but instead grew up to be a mature man, we are told that we cannot enter into King Jesus’ kingdom unless we come like a little child, with simple trust and saving faith (Matt. 18:3).

Have you placed child-like faith in King Jesus? If you have not yet done so, why not receive your King now?

 

Peace;

Don

 

Yet Earth Received Her King2014-12-28T00:00:00-07:00

Baby Jesus: Kingdom Included

In a previous article a case was made to show that when Jesus came on that great Christmas day he came with his kingdom. Why is this important for us to understand?  Because this is what the Bible teaches and what it teaches has great implications for us.

Jesus did not accidentally stumble upon the idea that he would become a king. Jesus was not made a king (Jn. 6:15) by people only to die at the hands of the local authorities. Jesus did not come to die, be raised again and then wait to bring a kingdom at some distant point in time. As Matthew’s Good News points out, Jesus was born a king, lived his life as one who systematically unveiled his kingdom, died a king, and will return as the final Prince of Peace and Mighty God. The big theme in Matthew is the Kingdom of God according to Jesus (Matt. 4:23). Our response is to turn around and embrace his kingdom that is here and now (Matt. 3:2).

The New Testament Good News according to Mark is about the profound and powerful teachings of Jesus as the Man-King and Servant-King, the real Israelite who embodied and expressed the power of God. That is because Jesus was the only God-King’s Son (Mark 1:11; 2:10, 28; 3:11; etc.). This mighty Ruler was the Promised One whose kingdom would embrace, not only faith-filled Jews but also non-Jews who confessed Jesus as Lord (Mk. 15:39).

Luke’s narrative is about Jesus, the Savior-King who lavishes love upon the needy and neglected people. This was God’s indictment against the wicked kings of Israel who violated God’s demands to do justice, love mercy and care for the poor, the widows, and orphans. He, in turn, receives the praise and songs of joy fitting only for his majesty (Lk. 1:46-55; 1:68-79; 2:14, etc.).

John’s Gospel is written to demonstrate that Jesus Christ fulfills all of the Old Testament signs and types of all things central to God’s kingdom. Jesus is the true Messiah (anointed Savior-King) who has come to fulfill God’s covenantal promise: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Jesus is the God-King who comes down to dwell with his people (Jn. 1:14). He is the perfect Israel, a fitting name since it means something like “God rules” or “one who prevails with God” or “God’s Prince.” Israel was to be God’s vine spreading into the world to provide nourishment and blessing. Jesus is the true Vine (Jn. 15:1-11). This true Israel comes to do what the people of Israel failed to do. John also says Jesus is Son of Man, a term for Messiah (Jn. 1:5; Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32).

Jesus is also the Great “I AM,” meaning he claimed to be the same as the Old Testament God (Jn. 6:35, 38; Jn. 8:12, 24; 13:19; 15:1,5). Like a good king (Deut. 17) he speaks with authority that comes only from God. Any real king after God’s own heart was a true Shepherd of God’s people and a light to God’s people (2 Sam. 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36; 15:4; 2 Chron. 21:7)  calling them out of darkness into light (Jn. 10). He calls out because he is God’s voice (Jn. 1:1-3) who has all authority, power and control with creative and recreative might over the world of chaos (storms, deformity, demon possession, sickness, wickedness, etc.) The Jews of Jesus day understood that God’s Word was the Torah. John is saying that King Jesus is the perfect Torah. They claimed that the Torah was the only eternal Word (Jn. 1:1), coming from the very bosom of the Father (Jn. 1:1, 18), that was the real bread for life (Jn. 6:35), which radiated light (Jn. 1:4-5; Jn. 8:12) upon the way of genuine life in God (Jn. 14:6).

John’s narrative is like a slow unveiling of who Jesus really is: God.  The author paints a picture of Jesus who is anointed by God himself (Jn. 1:32-34), to lead his people through the requirements for purity into the very presence of our glorious God (Jn. 1:16). The High Priest acted on behalf of God’s people to reconcile them to God in a once-a-year ritual of cleansing. John is written in a series of dramatic scenes to show how Jesus fulfilled each step of cleansing before entering the inner chamber where God himself sat on his throne:

  • At the huge wash basin the priest began the service by washing himself and the sacrifices he was going to make. Jesus, the only High Priest with a pure heart does this (Jn. 1:29-34). He is the one who washes perfectly (Jn. 2:1-11; 13-25; Jn. 3:22-36; Jn. 4 and 5). His washing makes you perfectly clean (Jn. 13:5-11).
  • The Priest walked by the Table of Bread a symbol of God’s life-giving sustenance. As the real Manna from Heaven (Ex. 16:31-35), Jesus feeds the 5000 (John 6) declaring he is the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35).
  • In the Temple was the Lampstand (Ex. 25:31-40; Num. 8:1-4) that symbolized God’s eternal light (Ex. 27:20); the beacon that signaled where he is and the lamp that revealed the true way of righteousness. Baby Jesus was a tiny little tent in whom was the Shekinah glory (Ex. 16:10; Ex. 24:16), the radiant essence of God (Jn. 1:4-6; Jn. 8:12). He is the Light people follow to get to the Promised Kingdom. Jesus is the Light of the world (Jn. 8). His power heals the blind so they might see (Jn 9) and raises the dead out of darkness into the light (Jn. 11). As rightful King he declares that those who do not follow him are blind because they are not true sons of the Light (Jn.12:35-41).
  • The high priest goes to the altar of incense to offer up sacrificial prayers on behalf of God’s people. So does Jesus (Jn. 17).
  • The Priest sacrifices the animal outside of the Temple and brings its life-blood into God’s throne room to present it at God’s footstool (Lev. 16:15). The footstool is called the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is taken outside of the Temple area, recognized as king by the Roman Empire’s representative governor (Jn. 19:19-22) , and sacrificed upon the cross (Jn. 19:23-30). His sacrifice is taken to heaven and accepted by the Father (Heb. 9:7; Heb. 9:23-26).
  • When Mary went to the tomb where the King’s body was placed, she peered in and saw the swaddling clothes lying upon the bench and an angel sitting on each end of the bench (Jn. 20:11-12). It was the living display of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-16).  Jesus’s dead body had been placed at the feet of God, but God raised him up to sit upon his throne to rule forever (Eph. 1:19-23).

Toward the end of John’s awesome drama we see King Jesus back where it all started:  as God’s creative Word (Jn. 1:1-5). Like God did in Genesis 2:7 Jesus breathes life into his new people (Jn. 21:15-17).

All four histories of the New Testament present different perspectives of the fact that the kingdom package was included with baby Jesus. In short, Jesus is not only the King, he is also God’s Kingdom!

So, what shall we do about this?  Believe in this King and then “…since we are now receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Heb. 12:28). At this Christmas let us come to adore Christ the Lord with reverence and godly fear.

For the King of Kings;

Don

All hail King Jesus
All hail Emmanuel
King of Kings
Lord of Lords
Bright Morning Star
And throughout eternity
I’ll sing Your Praises
And I’ll reign with You throughout eternity.

Baby Jesus: Kingdom Included2014-12-21T00:00:00-07:00

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!

Tall trees, small trees, robust trees, scrawny trees, fir trees of all sizes. Spruce, Scotch pine, Douglas fir – evergreens of every type. Green trees, red ones, aluminum and plastic, all kinds of trees grace our homes this holiday season.

Trees have long been associated with life and protection. The modern tradition of decorating trees during this festive season came from the Germans of the middle ages. A special medieval play about Adam and Eve featured a fir tree hung with apples. German families put similar “paradise trees” in their homes on December 24th which was the feast day of Adam and Eve. On it they hung wafers as symbols of the Christian communion bread. Since Christmas followed the next day, they placed candles to represent Christ as the light of the world. It was Queen Victoria’s husband, the German Prince Albert who made this tree-tradition popular in England. The trees were decorated with candles, paper chains and special cakes hung with special ribbons.

But the trees of Christmas time remind us of another tree. The real tree of this celebration of Christ’s birth is the tree upon which Jesus hung. You see, “when the right time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive full privileges as sons” of God. The little babe who was placed in a simple feeding trough had a mission to die for people’s sins.

We know that Jesus Christ “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” This was not some beautifully adorned tree, but the old rugged tree we call the Cross. He was brutally hung on the cross to pay for your sin and to remove your guilt before a holy God. He was hung so that should you look upon Him and believe He died for your sins, was buried but sprung back to life again, that God would forgive you of your sins. Jesus’s death upon that tree gives you new life to start all over again.

The believer in Christ, the Bible tells us, is like a tree that is planted along streams of living waters – always refreshed and always productive. This believer is also said to be like a branch of the great tree Jesus Christ. His life comes from the Tree of Life and is fruitful. A Christmas kind of fruit which endures from season to season. What kind of fruit? The fruit of joy in this world, peace while on earth, good will to all.

As you hang your ornaments upon your Christmas tree, be reminded of Jesus Christ who was hung upon his tree to give you forgiveness of your sins and everlasting life. Then enjoy Christmas for what it’s really about.

~ Don

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You can download your own Christmas Tree Card with this message. Enjoy!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!2014-12-14T00:00:00-07:00

Celebrate Thanksliving!

The holiday Thanksgiving is over, but every day thanksliving should not be. At least, not for the Christian.
Here’s why:
1. According to the Bible a significant characteristic that separates believers from unbelievers is thankfulness.

Read Romans 1:21. God’s Word assumes that giving thanks to God and having a gratitude attitude (borrowing from Zig Ziglar) is a virtue that is nurtured and a habit that is practiced by Christ followers.

2. As believers, we have every reason to give thanks more than once a year.

Our national Thanksgiving holiday comes around once a year, but Old Testament Israel’s five main worship events, which took place every year, were national thanksgiving celebrations. Imagine having Thanksgiving five times a year? Then, there was the weekly Sabbath. It was a day of reverence for God, a day for resting in God, and a day for rejoicing with thanks to God.

We have so much more for which to be thankful because of Jesus’s life, work, death upon the cross, resurrection and ascension. He fulfilled those old feast days and has given to us a greater Sabbath; things that ought to provoke gratitude every day.

3. Biblically, joy-filled thanks is a quality woven into the fabric of a redeemed life.

When the Bible speaks about joy it is not quite the same thing as what we call happiness. Joy in the Bible can be a contented delight expressed with a calm and peaceful satisfaction or ecstasy with exuberant celebration. Christians speak much about being joyful and having joy, and rightly so. Some people have a happy disposition while others are inclined toward melancholy. Being happy does not necessarily indicate true spirituality as some people insist. Neither does being melancholy indicate true piety or mean a lack of holiness.

I am reminded of a story about a young man who had moved from the South. He was new to the Faith but learned to be at home expressing gratitude in worship. His move to the New England placed him in an altogether different culture. One Sunday, he decided to visit an old Presbyterian church down the street. The sermon had so aroused his soul that he blurted out, “Praise the Lord!” A sharp tap upon his shoulder immediately followed his joyous expression. He looked behind him to see a scrawny little, old, white-haired woman pointing her finger at him while scolding in her Scottish accent, “There will be NO praisin’ the Lord in this place, young man!”

Christ-filled joy is not some emotion we artificially conjure up. It is not merely some thing we prime and pump from a deeply embedded existential well. Biblical joy is an internal response to an outward cause appropriately expressed. As it turns out, joy is the flower rooted in thanksgiving. It is definitely connected to life’s circumstances, but also heavily informed by our Christ-centered perspective about those circumstances. In the Bible, the word delight is recorded almost 100 times, the term for joy is mentioned nearly 200 times, and praise many more times than both. Thanks is used at least 140 times. Counting words is not the point. Here’s the point: giving thanks is often found in the context of delight, joy, and praise because they tend to be closely bound together!

This is keenly illustrated in the Psalms. The “thanks Psalms” (such as Psalm 18, 66, 105, 107, 118 and 138) and “praise Psalms” (such as Psalm 8, 24, 29, 33, 47, 48, 146-150) reflect close connections between thanks, delight and joy. Praise Psalms are exuberant expressions of joy to God for who he is and what he has done. This integration of thanksgiving with delight, joy, and praise can also be observed in nearly every chapter of Acts!

4. God desires we be thankful. In fact, he commands it.

Here are some examples:

  • Psalm 107:1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. 15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men…21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.
  • Psalm 118 opens and closes with “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
  • Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
  • Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Of course, the Scriptures make clear what those things are for which we offer God thanks. We thank God for prayer and in prayer (Phil. 4:6), for food (1 Tim. 4:3), in everything we do (Col. 3:17), and, well, for every thing (Rom. 14:6; Eph. 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18).

Yes, it is true that to pretend to be thankful or joyous just to fulfill a command is hypocritical. Yes, it is true that God is telling us how we ought to respond to him. Yes, giving thanks is a duty. However, consider why this is.

  • God’s commands, imperatives, and laws reflect what pleases and honors God. God is God and he can certainly insist upon things that are appropriate for him and his family. Think, for example, of a mother telling her young son to show gratitude toward his grandmother when Grannie gives him gifts. Teaching the child what is a proper response is not only a positive duty, but impresses upon the child the value and respect Grannie deserves. Hopefully, for the child, this outward behavior becomes an ingrained healthy attitude toward the grandmother’s person and actions. It often does. That’s just how people are wired.
  • God’s commands, imperatives, and laws also model for us what life is like when lived before the face of a holy and loving God. Without them we would not know with clarity how we are to think and behave with God in his kingdom. Interestingly enough, recent scientific studies of the brain have revealed that if we practice something well and long enough it becomes quite natural for us. Practicing gratitude can habituate a healthy life of thankfulness and appreciation.

I recall the first months of being stationed in Japan. The Japanese restaurant across our station served deliciously addicting dishes. However, in order to fit in and not offend the locals I had to learn how to eat with chopsticks. It was hard because I was clumsy and impatient. Even though one could ask for a fork or spoon such utensils were considered signs of gluttony and disrespect. Why? Because to eat with such utensils meant one was shoveling the meal down without appreciating it, and therefore disrespecting the chef and staff. Good meals are eaten slowly and with care, savoring every bite and expressing great delight (especially by slurping your food loudly). Then, when finished with the meal, the chopsticks were never to be placed on top of each other as it looked like the sign of a cross, which is a symbol for death. In other words, to do so indicated you were putting a curse upon the people who served you.

Did I have to abide by their social etiquette? Of course not, since there was no explicit law commanding it. Yet, in order to learn how to live in their culture, to show respect, and to win their friendship that’s what one does. So too, it is with God and his kingdom rules.

Indeed, the Psalms are given to us to teach us how to rightly relate and properly emote to the things of God. Times of suffering, trials, and defeats should provoke sorrow and lament. Times of successes, deliverance, and victories ought to elicit thanks and praise. The Psalms teach our hearts such attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. The Psalms also drive suitable emotions, thoughts, words, and actions into habits of the heart that please God.

5. Giving thanks demonstrates humility, and God loves humble people.

Think about it: proud people are rarely grateful people. Why? Because they believe they deserve anything or everything they get, therefore there is no reason to express thanks. Pride and entitlement are kindred attitudes. Also, proud people do not want to give any sense of owing anything to anyone. As people, we have this built-in drive to want to give something in return for a thing we’ve received. It’s the old this-for-that, tit-for-tat impulse all humans share. You know? If someone buys you a cup of coffee you feel obligated to buy her a cup of coffee the next time. This motivates us to keep accounts of what people do for us (or even do to us).

It takes a measure of humility to receive and say thanks, especially for a gift. Coming into Christ’s kingdom culture means learning the grace of receiving as well as the response of thanks giving.

6. Having a gratitude attitude and a daily thanksliving is founded upon God’s person and his acts of creation and redemption.

Again, the Psalms is an example of this. When we come to know the Lord more and more, his majestic glory and the beauty of his holiness will rouse a greater sense of awe and wonder. That in turn will incite delight, praise, joy and thanksgiving. Consider how a bullied child would think about a massively strong and popular high school senior coming to her defense and then always ready to be her protector. She would be thankful and in awe. Or being a homeless person without much hope and then having a rich and famous woman come to your aid and give you a whole new life. You would be thankful. There is no other like God. When we know more about him in a way that leads us to know him more intimately then our hearts will be filled with awe, wonder, delight, joy, and praise as well as gratefulness for the sheer privilege and blessing of knowing him.

The Psalms, as well as other Scriptures, also show how thanksliving comes out of God’s work of creation and work of redemption. Those who recognize God as their creator and really know him as their redeemer usually exude appreciation for the Lord and his works. Consider people who have recently come to faith in Jesus Christ. They ooze elation and celebrate with thanksgiving.

If God’s character and works produced ebullient gratitude among his people in the Old Testament, it should be so much more the case with us who have Jesus Christ today. In Jesus, we are redeemed and victorious (1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14). In Jesus we have been saved and delivered from sin and darkness, and transferred into his kingdom (Col. 1:11-14). In him we overcome death, have fullness of life, and the promise of an abundant future in the new earth and heavens (1 Cor. 4:11-15; 2 Pet. 3:13). For all that, we are urged not only to walk in the way of Christ but to also live in a constant state of thankfulness (Col. 2:6-7).

7. Thanksliving is also a wonderful way to glorify the Lord.

To glorify God is to manifest and reflect his worth and ways. Psalm 105 and 1 Chronicles 16 teach us that thanksgiving begins when you commemorate God’s marvelous works, continues when you celebrate his magnificent wonders, and spreads when you communicate God’s magnanimous ways. One of the best ways to glorify God is to emanate the life of Jesus Christ in his Spirit with a thankful heart every day.

 

If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your savior and lord, then you have every reason to walk in thanksliving. The reason is not so much because God is in your life, but because you are in his. As believers in Christ, we are the ink indelibly written upon the scroll of his story – one beautiful, enthralling novel flowing into eternity. One for which we will live the life of unrestrained thanks, ecstatic joy, and extravagant praise.

And now I close with Revelation 7:9-12

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

 

With thanks;

Don Owsley

Celebrate Thanksliving!2014-12-03T00:00:00-07:00

God Gave Moses the Constitution

What if I told you that God gave Moses the constitution? Yep. That’s right! I’m perfectly serious about this. Around 3000 years ago God gave Moses the constitution.

Oh. You thought I was talking about the Constitution of the United States? No. But that might make for a fun storyline in some kid’s adventure book. The constitution about which I am talking is the one written for the kingdom of Israel. The one God gave to Moses to create a newly formed kingdom nation.

Before you dismiss this as wacked out weirdness, hear me out. It all goes back to the time when God’s people who were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob settled in Egypt. Initially, what was once a small tribe led by Jacob and his sons that ended up in Egypt due to famine in their homeland. You can read about it in Genesis chapters 46-50.

Flip over to the book of Exodus and you will read how this tribal group grew to quite a sizable nation. Some say with a population of at least one million. Because they were not Egyptian, in fact they were descendants of the Semites who lived between a rock and a hard place near Babylon, the Egyptian leaders decided to force them into slave labor. They were enslaved some time during the four hundred years they resided in that region. Things got really bad for Israel. So like we all tend to do when things get really, really bad, they cried out to God. God heard them. However, God did not answer the way they wanted. Lesson: beware for what you pray.

Exodus tells us God raised up an Israeli who was also the adopted grandson of Egypt’s grand leader. Moses was his name; a version of an Egyptian name. Though an entrenched Egyptian citizen Moses had a concern for his blood relatives. One day he saw an Egyptian severely abusing one of his kinfolk, so he became furious with the Egyptian, killed the guy, got scared, ran away, found seven women being harassed by a bunch of bully shepherds, chased off the bullies, and met the women’s father who was a priest in the land of Midian. The priest invited Moses to live among them. The priest, Reuel (not related to Kalel, aka Clark Kent the Superman) liked Moses so much that he gave Moses one of his daughters to marry. Zipporah was her name, not to be confused with Zippo the name of a lighter company. Mo and Zip lived happily ever after.

Well, if you can call living in the middle of some desert as a nomadic shepherd a happy life then that’s what they had. He and his wife had a son. And sheep. And probably a motor home. They were living the life, minding their own business for a long time. Then, one day Moses decides to take a hike up a mountain, something Coloradoans understand. While on this hike he comes to a bush that seems to be on fire. Yet the bush is not burning up. Instead, the bush talks to him. I don’t know about you but if I went on a hike up one of our mountains, saw a bush that was on fire but not burning up and it started talking to me, I’d pass out. Not Moses. He was one cool and courageous dude.

Turns out, it was God speaking through the burning bush. Not just any god, and not one of the Midianite gods, or anything like one of the Egyptian gods. This was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob who could be heard but not seen. Back then, it was standard for the gods to be seen and not heard. God told Moses that he was going to use Moses to set his home folks free. You never know what your day may bring, especially if you hike up a mountain. Can you imagine how Zipporah handled the news when Moses came home from work that night? Okay, so ends the happily ever after, right?

You probably know the rest of the story? After arguing with God, Moses does what is told and heads back to Egypt to lead God’s people out of there. Moses, with his degree from the university of Egypt, experience as a shepherd, a bully buster with a big stick went to Egypt. Moses and his stick went to take on a major leader thought to be a god, who had a world-class army. Isn’t it odd how God does that? Moses had a stick, Samson had his hair, and David had a slingshot. They all confronted powerful armies, but did so with all that they needed: the Almighty God at their back.

God does some stunningly remarkable miracles. Destruction, bloodshed, terror was repeatedly poured out upon Egypt until Egypt got in over their heads and lost big time. Israel was free to leave. And leave they did.

Once they got out into the desert a major challenge confronted them – what kind of leadership and government would they have? The Egyptians believed their king was possessed by one of the gods, and for the most part the religious priests ran the government. No separation of church and state there. The people of Israel were influenced by Egyptian culture.

Israel knew very little about their God. They had the oral traditions passed down for four hundred years. Now, all of a sudden their God spoke directly to Moses. Moses was no man-god. The true and living God did not speak through wood or stone idols. They had no priests to run a government, though they did have elders. Later on, their familiar Egyptian traditions influenced them to make a statue through which this invisible God would speak. At least, that is what they wanted. God and Moses rejected the gold calf they made. This was all uncharted territory. What would they do?

God always communicates to people in ways people can grasp.

He uses familiar customs, traditions and languages but in ways that do not compromise his essence or his plan. To resolve Israel’s challenge of a new government God used an ancient near eastern system many people groups of that region used. What was that system?

Well, there was the king. For smaller tribes this would be someone like a sheik. Large cities or city-states would have kings. Successful kings gained more power and control over other clans, tribes, cities and states. These kings would typically claim to be man-gods. When a powerful king conquered lesser kings or leaders he would draft a covenant treaty. The covenant spelled out how the conquered people would live under the new king.

The king’s covenant treaty was typically organized in this way:

• It began with a preamble. This introduction recorded the bragging rights of the great and powerful boss. He would boast about how wise, strong, virile, and handsome he was.

• This was followed with a history of his accomplishments such as whom he conquered and how he did it.

• Then came the stipulations. This outlined what the great king will do, which was usually a promise to send troops to help fight off little kings’ enemies. It listed what the conquered people and lesser kings had to do, such as adopt the great king’s god as their main god, pay taxes, obey the kingdom rules, and not rebel.

• The covenant made it clear that the conquered people belonged to the king and he could do with them whatever he wanted.

• A clause in the treaty instructed that the original document would be put in a treasure box located at the base of the main god’s idol.  This box was called the footstool, for obvious reasons. A second main copy would be given to the lesser kings, which they had to store it in their god’s footstool-box. The big god was supposed watch over and protect the treaty. This god would also know who was naughty and who was nice. The clause also said that the treaty had to be read to the people during religious feast days, so other copies would be made and given to the elders, civic authorities, and judges of the conquered people.

• The treaty invoked other gods as witnesses to the covenant. In other words, these lesser gods were there to back up the treaty.

• Finally, the covenant was unilateral. That meant it was imposed on the people whether they liked it or not. If the people listened and obeyed then they would be blessed. Blessing would mean being able to live, to trade with the king’s city, and to seek help from the army if attacked. If they rebelled and broke covenant they would be cursed and pay the consequences, like slavery or death.

In essence, these covenant treaties became the constitutions for the kingdoms.

God used this very familiar government arrangement for his newly formed kingdom nation

– but with a significant twist. The invisible God is the mighty sovereign king. No man could claim that spot. This Sovereign King was the powerful ruler who rescued a people, not conquered a people (Exodus 19). God redeemed his people from slavery, he did not enslave his people. The preamble in Exodus 19 is God’s self-declaration and legitimate bragging rights. It also declared what kind of God-King he was.

Whenever a king gained victory over other groups he had a parade and a major celebration. In that celebration the priests would use fire and loud drums and horns and choirs of priests and priestesses to make frightening noises to show how powerful the god-king was. When the Lord gave his covenant to Moses, Israel’s representative, he did so with his own show of power. Displays of thunder, lightening, thick clouds, darkness, trumpet-like noises, smoke, fire, earthquakes and then his voice (Ex. 19:16). Why? To show what real power and might is. This Sovereign Lord did not need people to conjure up pretended power. Just as Pharaoh came up with magic acts to demonstrate he was a might god, God showed what real power and control was. Anything he could do God could do better.  Thousands of times better!  He not only has power, he is power and a consuming fire like no other (Heb.12:29). God put on his own display to elicit fear in his presence, to confirm the mediator of the covenant, threaten all false god-kings, and to back up this kingdom constitution.

It was on the Day of Assembly (Deut. 9:10; 10:4; 18:16) when this Sovereign King issued his unilateral treaty. This constitution established his people as a new kingdom-state. Unlike all other covenants dictated by the big king to his legal secretaries, this treaty was written by God’s own hand (Ex. 31:18 cp. Deut. 9:10).

The Lord wrote it in the familiar form of an ancient near eastern covenant suzerain treaty:

• There was the preamble (Deut. 1:1-5). Unlike worldly kings, God didn’t take volumes to brag. He did not need to.

• The historical background of the Sovereign Lord is given (Ex. 20; Deut 1:6; 4:1).

• God presents a simple list of stipulations. These are the Ten Words (Deut. 5:26). This was unlike the long lists human kings wrote. These ten words were unlike the harsh words of the typical egomaniacal human kings. The Ten Words summarized what the relationship between God and his people was to be like. They also told how his people should relate to one another. All relationships would be from love. They would love their God-King as he loves them (Commandments 1-3). They would love one another in the same way that they love themselves (Commandments 5-10). They would take a special day to worship and celebrate their God-King, enjoy his presence, practice living by faith, be thankful for his blessings and protection, and then reorient their lives and time so that they could properly relate to others (Commandment #4).

• God made two copies. One for himself as King and one for the main representative of the people. Handwritten copies circulated among the leaders. Moses was unique in many different ways. He was the mediator between God and God’s kingdom people, but he was not a lesser king. He never tried to be. In the ancient near east the expectation would have been to make a leader like him into a king or for him to claim kingship. Also, Moses was not a high priest, though he did priestly things. He was the voice for God. Supposedly, statue-idols were the mouthpieces for those gods and goddesses. Moses was a human, but he spoke for God as a prophet.

• God’s covenant constitution also had a special clause that told where the covenant would be placed: in the footstool box of the only living God. In God’s own handwriting the Ten Words were written on a tablet (not to be confused with an iPad or other tablets). The second copy was written on another stone tablet. Both were placed in an ark. An ark is simply an old word for box. This Ark of God’s Covenant sat in the holiest of all places at the symbolic feet of this invisible, but very real God King (1 Chron. 28:2; Psa. 99:5; Psa. 132:7).

• Copies of this covenant constitution was read often, especially on feast days.

• This treaty invoked the heavens and earth as witnesses since there are no other gods who could be witnesses.

• And finally, the constitution declared the sanctions of curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience.

Why this history lesson?

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Bear with me a little longer. Here are important things you need to know if you wish to get a grip on the whole point of God’s Law. This lesson provides some of the behind the scenes perspective for why the Ten Commandments exist.

The first main reason why the Ten Commandments (called The Ten Words in Israel’s ancient language) were originally given to Israel was to form his people into a different kind of national kingdom. It was their national constitution.

The Ten Words are the foundation and the bare bones for how to live with God as Lord and how to live with others in the kingdom whose God is their Lord. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy build upon the foundation and add meat to the bones. So, the first reason for the Old Covenant Law was to serve as the civil-religious constitution for the Kingdom of Israel.

The core of the covenant constitution was love. This is very important to understand. This invisible but only true and living God was unlike all other gods. He was and is real. They were not. He is just and righteous. The other kings were selfish though sometimes had righteous laws. God is gracious and merciful (Exod. 34:6). They rarely were. The kings ruled out of selfish might with the backing of the army. The basis of their relationship with their people was out of terror. Contrary to common complaints about the “God of the Old Testament” being cruel and mean who gave his law to abuse people or to taunt them with failure, he did so out of love (Deut. 5:10; Deut. 7:7-13). Yes, the Lord ruled with the force of creation to back him up. While the Lord was to be greatly feared the basis of his relationship with his people was out of love.

The second main reason for the Old Covenant Law was to show that the moral basis for all relationships is God’s love (Deut. 7:6-11; Zech. 14:9). Failure to love God and love others breaks relationships; even destroys them through contempt, divorce, murder, theft, and greed. The ultimate expressions lead to self-destruction, wars, and the like.

Overall, God’s kingdom constitution was a system to show what life would be like if everyone had a great relationship with this One True God (Deut. 6:24-25), and lived together with hearts of love expressed through authentic compassion, mercy and grace. If only God’s kingdom people took it to heart and not merely practiced it as a mechanical system.

This covenant treaty was the big blueprint, the overall picture and description of life in God’s kingdom (Deut. 10:12-21). How could they live in this way? By real faith that came from the heart, soul, mind and strength lived out through love (Deut. 6:1-6; Deut. 8:2; Deut. 11:13-14). The natural consequences God set up for a life of faith and love would bring many tangible blessings (Deut. 7:12-15).

The Lord told them how to live as his kingdom people. He told them they were to respond out of a faith-filled obedience. He said they had to live this way only. He gave promises for blessing and warnings of cursing (Deut. 28). However, he also predicted that they would fail miserably and warned them of the horrible, devastating consequences (Deut. 30). Israel’s God-King said time and again (Deut. 8) that without faith-filled obedience flowing from hearts of love they could not enter or retain the real estate God was giving for the Kingdom. At the same time, there was no divine enablement and guarantee by grace for them to love, trust and obey God. As it turned out, the first kingdom generation did not even move into the real estate God promised because they did not obey, and they did not obey because they did not believe (Deut. 9:1-7; Rom. 11:20; Rom. 11:31; Heb. 3:1-4:2). The later generations would also end up lacking faith and love, even though several generations tried to work the outward system without the inward soul (Matt. 23:27-29).

What is in it for me?

The description for what it is like to live in God’s kingdom is the same today as it was way back then. The requirement to have faith in the One True God-King is the same. The expectations and need for living a life of heart-felt, expressed love for God and for others is the same. The warnings against merely having outward performance and standards are the same. The failure rate is about the same.

Yet, other things are different now. How? Take a break, rest your eyes, and think about what you’ve just read. I’ll be back later with how things are different.

 

By grace;

Don Owsley

God Gave Moses the Constitution2014-11-18T00:00:00-07:00

How to Leave a Church – Gracefully!

Leave a Church?

-By Dr. Don Owsley (relavate.org)

How do you leave a church, gracefully?

At some point in time, you will leave the church you are in. Every church has a revolving door where people enter and others exit.  Maybe you are thinking about leaving the one you are currently at? Maybe you just left a church and are “shopping” for just the right church?  Eric Nevins, one of South Fellowship’s elders wrote a solid article that may just help you if you are searching for a healthy church.

The Main Question

The question here is not, how do I leave a church? Obviously, there are many ways: quietly and without much notice; angrily, by causing as much disruption as possible; peacefully with resolution and a good conscience; peacefully, but without resolution; by yourself or with a group.  There are also many reasons to leave a church. Some are good and legitimate. Others, not so much. The question is, how do I leave a church gracefully?

Why is that the question? Because, if you and I are serious about following Jesus well, then we should be concerned to practice ways that are good. I submit that it is of no value to practice spiritual disciplines (whatever you wish to call them) if we don’t apply them in ways that demonstrate authentic love for God and love for others. Entering into, engaging with, and departing from Christ’s local body is a significant part of following Jesus.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ who desires to follow the Lord in a way that glorifies God then there are appropriate reasons and ways to do exit the church you are in.  So a good question to ask yourself is, How do I or we leave this church gracefully?  Perhaps the advice offered below will help you sort through your decision to stay or depart, and help to honor God while blessing the church you leave?

 Here are some things to consider:

Being a member means you have made a commitment to the church.

Many churches do not practice formal membership.  They often take the position that a believer in Jesus Christ is already in God’s Church and that is all that matters.  Others would say that believing in Jesus and becoming baptized is all that is necessary.  However, most churches have formal membership. In a previous article I submit that formal membership is biblical. In fact, in certain churches that have formal membership people make public vows to uphold the church-member covenant. These commitments are promises made to the Lord and his local Body. However, there may come a time when, because of circumstances, you need to leave the church and release yourself from the covenant.

 

What are some good reasons for leaving your local congregation?

1. When you need to relocate to another geographical area that would make it a burden to travel and participate in the life of the church.

2. When you have come to a different and informed conviction about certain teachings where, in good conscience, you cannot support the teachings of the local church you are currently in.

3. When it is apparent the Lord is directing you to actively serve in another congregation. Leaving under this circumstance should be done in consultation with the pastor, elders, or other godly individuals, through wisdom, and by prayer.

4. Another good reason is when the philosophy of ministry or the direction of the church violates your biblically-informed conscience.  I say biblically-informed as opposed to having personal preferences.  To leave the church because the leadership of the church has decided to focus only upon “reaching” the wealthy to the neglect of others in the community is a good reason to exit. It is certainly the leaders’ prerogative to have that as their mission. Still, having a right to do so is not the same as being biblical.  Such a mission clearly violates many biblical passages, and knowing this and acting upon it is what it means to be biblically informed.  However, leaving the church because you prefer the fellowship hall to remain decorated in light pink and pastel blue instead of redecorating with warm colors like brown, tan, and light orange is not a biblical reason. It’s an obvious personal preference, but not a violation of God’s Word.

Of course, there are other legitimate reasons. Ideally, transferring to another church should not be so much a matter of running away from a problem or conflict as it is being led to another congregation.

 

What are some wrong reasons for leaving the local congregation?

At the outset, allow me to confess to you that in a few of the churches my family and I have left it was because of wrong reasons. It felt like I was making the right choice with my family, but looking back I was wrong. So, this is not pious advice from a sinless church guy.  These reasons come as a result of taking many, many years to learn the hard way and compare the blunders with the normative standard of God’s Word. And these are not the only reasons.

1. It would be wrong to withdraw from fellowship when your personal preferences have been offended. Remember, there is a major difference between feeling offended and having someone sinfully offend you.  We live in a culture where we have so many options available to us, and where every little thing we personally don’t like can feel like a serious offense.  Like the woman who threatened to take her business to that other grocery store because the store did not have Heinz Catsup. They only had Hunts or generic! We see the same kind of petty childishness in our churches.

2. A second wrong reason to leave a church is when you have a conflict with someone in the church and you have not taken the steps to resolve the conflict and reconcile. A sinful offense is clearly spelled out in the Bible. Having your named slandered is sin.  Having the Sunday school teacher forget to call you is not.  Whatever the situation may have been that developed into conflict Jesus tells us to work at resolving the problems.   The Lord does not give us easy paths in this life when it comes to relationships. When it comes to relationships things might become easier but not all things are easy.  The easy thing to do is to continue in the conflict and refuse to take the hard effort of reconciliation.

God tells us how to make things right when sinned against.  The options he gives are (1) out of love we can overlook the offense (1 Peter 4:8), or (2) we can seek to reconcile with the one we’ve sinfully offended (Matthew 5:23-26), or (3) we lovingly confront the one who sinned (Matthew 18) in order to restore the relationship.  In other words, there are God-given ways to try and set things right before making a permanent exit. Having said that, there is no guarantee that attempting to make things well will indeed make things well. Sadly, at times, things can get worse even after the attempt. Certainly, you are free to leave a church any time, but the honorable and loving thing is to leave after you have made the attempt or taken the correct steps to set things straight.

3. Another wrong reason to leave the church would be to avoid coming under church discipline or refusing to follow through with the discipline process. Once the discipline process has begun and is a matter of record, the pastor and elders are duty bound by Scripture (and sometimes by their ordination vows) to complete it.

4. One more poor reason is when you don’t feel like being a part of the church, but do not have any good biblical or moral grounds for leaving.

Granted, many wrong reasons have been given for leaving a church. Only a few have been listed above.  The point is, in the nature of our Christian walk God desires that we follow Jesus in ways the please him, restore relationships with others, and for our own personal spiritual growth. To do otherwise would be a mistake.

 

What is a gracious way to leave the church?

1. Actively seek to resolve the challenges before you.

Don’t let problems or convictions linger or fester indefinitely. Instead, speak to the pastor and/or elder(s) to resolve the issues as soon as possible. It would be sinful (though not unforgivable) to exit the church without trying to reconcile. In an ideal world, it would be easy to try and we would always be successful at reconciling. It is not realistic to think we will always be successful at making things right and having broken relationships restored or getting the church to see or do things our way. If at all possible, be at peace with all.

In the meantime, just be aware that if the problems you are having with the church are primarily relational it could be that you are are as much at fault as anyone. This might not be true at all, but it is something to humbly consider. If there is something about you that cause or contributed to relational conflict and you leave, you will most likely bring the problems to the next church.

2. No matter what the circumstances, be courageous and do the Christ-pleasing thing by talking in person with the pastor or elder(s) about the issues.

* It can be intimidating to sit face-to-face with the leadership, especially if you are convinced it will accomplish nothing or fear what they might do.  Still, making an effort is the right thing (do you see a theme going on here?)  It may even be the very thing the Lord uses to make a positive difference in the life of the church!  There are healthy ways to approach the leadership even if the outcome does not turn out well, such as bringing someone along with you or finding a skilled person to mediate.

* Do not take the matter to other people through gossip or slander. Do not take it to people who have no ability or authority to make a change. This is the easy way, but is often the cowardly way, and almost always causes conflict and division or makes things much worse.

* If possible, avoid sending a letter or email.  This is so easy to do, but generally does not resolve anything. The reason this is rarely a wise thing to do is because it is our nature as people to read emails or letters in a negative light. In other words, even if you craft the note as best as possible and with all good intentions, the likelihood that the person receiving it reads it in a negative light is very high. Letters or emails have this strange tendency to escalate the conflict or exacerbate the problem.  If need be, write a letter and have it before you when you dialog in person.

* Let the leader(s) know what you are thinking and where your heart is. If there is a problem or sin issue then identify it clearly and suggest ways to make things right.

* Be humble, listen well, but be willing to receive what may come. The person(s) may offer sound, biblical advice. Wouldn’t that be awesome?  But also be prepared to receive a hostile response. Just don’t respond in kind.

3. If you have been able to find a resolution to the main reason for you wanting to leave the church, then praise God! Follow through in a couple of weeks to keep the pastor and/or elders up to speed on how things are going. Continue to work for what is best for all. Be a peacemaker for the cause of Christ.

4. If you are convinced you need to leave the church because the problem was not resolved, or for any number of other reasons, then make arrangements with the elders to exit and do so graciously. Hopefully, it will be a peaceful departure.

* Wise and godly elders should be able to give advice on how to transfer to another church with a letter of commendation or membership transfer.

* A good departure means receiving the blessing from the leadership and often from fellow members. The ideal is to receive God’s blessings instead of a good riddance.

* There are problems with leaving sinfully or with unresolved conflict. Not all conflict will be resolved this side of heaven. Nevertheless, the Christ-like and mature thing is to do all you can to set things right. If not, as already stated the problems might follow you to the next church.  Also, the elders may not be able to give you a letter of transfer or a good letter of standing to take to the next assembly.

Leaving this subject

As I said above, “if you and I are serious about following Jesus well, then we should be concerned to practice ways that are good. I submit that it is of no value to practice spiritual disciplines (whatever you wish to call them) if we don’t apply them in ways that demonstrate authentic love for God and love for others. Entering into, engaging with, and departing from Christ’s local body is a significant part of following Jesus.”

There are wrong (sinful or unwise) ways to leave a local church and there are right (God-pleasing) ways.  Kindly consider what you have just read. For the sake of peace in Christ’s Church and for the honor of Christ’s name be wise in making your decision to stay or leave; and if you are convinced you must  leave then please, for the love of God and your neighbor, do so graciously.

 

Peace;

Don

____________________________________________________________

This was taken from Appendix Q of my first book, The Perfect Pastor? Xulon Press; 2007. My second book, ThanksLiving: How to Gain a Perspective to Enrich Your Life was recently released and is available on Amazon.com or at Relavate.org. The new eBook, ThanksLiving: How to Appreciate Others in 12 Meaningful Ways is available for sale on Amazon.com or as a free download at Relavate.org.

How to Leave a Church – Gracefully!2014-11-17T00:00:00-07:00

Church Membership Isn’t Biblical, Is It?

Is church membership biblical?  Like so many questions that is one Christians have debated for a long, long time. The reason for the debate is quite understandable. After all, there is no Book of Membership in the Bible that explicitly tells us.  Because of that reason, for twenty years I argued against church membership, even though for the sake of peace my wife and I joined a church when my pastor friend asked us to.

In spite of all those years of arguing, I have come to believe that the Bible upholds formal church membership. Here’s why:

 

There is Spiritual Membership in Christ’s Invisible Church

What does that mean?  A traditional way of understanding Christ’s Church, well at least in the Protestant traditions, is to describe Church in ways that the Bible does.  God’s people are both here on earth and with Christ in heaven. They are scattered throughout all time but are present now. They are around the world and are local. The Church is militant (in spiritual warfare now) and victorious in Christ. They are in Christ and Christ is in them.

One of the ways to speak of the Christ’s Church is to say that it is invisible.  Theologians use this to mean that we can never really see the reborn soul or spirit of a person so we cannot absolutely know if someone is a true believer in Jesus Christ. Only God can see the soul of who is saved and who is not, so in this sense the true Church is invisible.

Many Bible teachers will also use the term “invisible Church” to talk about those believers who have gone on to be with the Lord. Hence, since they are only spiritual beings now, who will get their new bodies at the great resurrection, we cannot see them. Again, they are the invisible Church.

Certain mystical groups, as well as some denominations such as the traditional Anabaptists speak in terms of the Church as only being invisible.  They will generally conclude that if you really believe in Jesus you are a true member of the Church and that is all there is to it. Of course I’m being simplistic in representing this position. The Christian Gnostics and other heretical groups claimed that faith in Jesus was all and only about the invisible soul and the unseen heart.  They were against anything material (stuff that could be seen) because they believed that all things material were evil.

The Lord’s Old Covenant Community (Israel before the time of Jesus) was, in its truest form, invisible. Believers in the One True God (Deut. 6), were later called God fearers or the Remnant. They were believers in God by a faith that was from the depths of their souls. How did anyone know? By their faith-filled actions and especially by their faith-filled obedience to God’s Law-Word (Deut. 6:1-9; Deut. 10:12-13; Psa. 19:11; Psa. 119:101, etc.). Just as today, where there are many who claim to be Christian, all who were of Israel claimed to be real believers. They would make that claim because they were born into a Jewish home, were circumcised (if male), and followed the Law. Yet, only those with genuine, saving faith in the One True God of promises were the true Israel (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 3:8-11; Heb. 10:38; Heb. 11).

Genuine membership in the Lord’s New Covenant Community is also invisible. It is by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:8-9), worked out in obedient loving acts (Gal. 5:6; James 2:14-26).  God continually but invisibly adds new souls to the Body of Christ (Acts 2:42, 47; 11:25f; 14:21, 23). Those who have genuine faith in Jesus Christ also become members of that invisible and universal Church (e.g. Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:16).

 

There is also Spiritual Membership in Christ’s Visible Church 

While real spiritual faith in the heart-mind-soul of an individual cannot be seen, it can nevertheless be observed.  God can only see the inner being and absolutely know if that person has a living and saving faith in the Lord or not. Merely saying one is a believer does not make it so.  However, real faith has credentials for genuine membership in God’s invisible family.  That means real faith is observed by outward signs, symbols and actions such as spiritual fruit and good works.

The Old Testament Covenant Community had outward credentials of membership

Who was a member in the Old Testament community of Israel?  First, one who was born into a Jewish family.  An authentic Jewish family was descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and who followed the Laws of Moses. Next, a male child of Israel or a male convert who was circumcised in the name of the One True God. The sign of God’s covenant with a special people (Israel) was circumcision. Back then, males were covenant and federal representative. Wives and daughters of these representatives had a bonded allegiance to their God (Gen. 17:7,10; Ex. 12:43-49; Rom. 11:17-20). If you were not circumcised (as male) you were cut off from God’s community. Circumcision was to be a sign of God’s covenant promises made initially to Abraham, yet also given to God’s people. It was expected that any person with that physical, visible sign would attach real faith  (read Romans 3:28-30; Rom. 4:11; and Galatians 3).  Every believer in the Old Testament was required to identify himself outwardly and visibly with God’s covenant people (Gen. 17:9-14; 23-27; 34:14-17). That’s how they knew a person had faith in the only true and living God.

While the outward sign of membership in God’s community was circumcision there was also the practice of defining who were indeed members by recording or “numbering” them. A registry of names was based upon federal headship (fathers of each family in clans and tribes in Israel). This is where we get the book of Numbers.  This practice of keeping a registry of members reflected the universal, eternal Book, the archetype of the earthly register of God’s people (Ex. 32:32f; Mal. 3:16). Also, recording the names of the priests and their families who would “inherit the Kingdom” served to separate and exclude those who were outside of the community (Deut. 23:1-3). This anticipated a time when the names of Gentiles who came to trust in the One and Living God would be placed on the rolls of Zion (Psa. 87:4-6).  Zion was the symbol for the gathering of God’s true faithful.

Now, if you lived back in those days it would have been unacceptable for you to tell others that you believe in the one, true and living God because you know this in your heart of hearts, but did not need anything else to prove you were a God Fearer.  God’s Old Covenant “church” (by the way, the term church means ‘called out ones,’ which Israel most certainly was) required visible symbols of your membership. Without them they could not accept that you had any real faith in God; and they had lots of Bible verses to back up their claims. For centuries leading up to the time of Jesus, to be a real God Fearer meant that you had to have those outward signs.

But then Jesus came along and after he sent the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) the truth was made clear:  members of God’s true community of faith were members because of faith in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus, as it turned out, was the point of all God’s promises.  Those outward symbols Israel had should have demonstrated real invisible faith, but those outward elements did not give true faith.  This, by the way, was a key debate that was settled at the New Covenant community’s first general assembly (Acts 15). It is first and foremost about real heart-mind-soul faith in God through Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ redeems you and places you in God’s Church.  Not the outward works of Law or the symbols of faith (like circumcision or the Passover).

The New Covenant Community has outward credentials of membership 

Jesus and his apostles (namely Peter and Paul) set the record straight:  those who are made right with God  are made right through faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith’s outward credentials were seen in things like circumcision, participation in worship such as the Passover, and doing good works as defined by God’s Law. Invisible faith with outward signs. However, outward signs did not necessarily prove real, inward faith! For the most part, the Jews thought it did. Paul wrote the letters of Romans and Galatians to set the record straight.

The New Testament Bible also tells us that:

  • God’s “called out ones” (Church) are also outwardly visible and local (Mt. 18;20; Acts 11:26; 14:23; 20:17; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:2).  Isn’t that obvious?  You and I can see corporeal beings who claim to believe in Jesus Christ. We just don’t see what’s in their hearts.
  • New Testament believers are the building blocks of the new Temple of God on earth (Mt. 16:16; 1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:19ff; 2 Co. 6:16).  This temple, though not made with hands, is the visible display of God’s glory on earth today.
  • The visible Church consists of all people who make a profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10), who are baptized, along with their children (Acts 2:39; Eph. 6:1,4), and are drawn into local assemblies of the Body of Christ (Acts 2:47).
  • To enter into Christ’s visible Church (Acts 2:38-39; 16:31) was and is by a credible and verbal profession of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and by being baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38-39). Baptism is the true initiation rite. This does not happen singularly and personally, but expressed outwardly to a local group of God’s people.

However, there comes another question – How is one recognized as a genuine member of the universal and invisible Church when he enters into union with a local and visible church? The answer passed down the generations since the early church is:

  • By hearing their confession of faith in Jesus Christ, witnessing their baptism, and observing their faith-filled lives in action (Mt. 10:32; Acts 2:37-42; Heb. 10:25; 1 Jn. 2:10).
  • By ultimately uniting with a local church by making a covenant with God that involves a public commitment to be a part of the local assembly (Rom. 14:7; 15:7; 1 Cor. 12:27),
  • And by affirming their commitment to the local church and the local church’s commitment to them through public vows of mutual love and support (1 Tim. 6:12 cp. Psa. 50:5),

You should know that the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Coptic, etc.) Church and the Roman Catholic Church strongly emphasize the outward expressions.  Some of their theologians have gone so far as to dismiss any notion of an “invisible Church.”  These denominations, taking their understanding from some of the early Church Fathers, such as Augustine, will say that one is only a true believer who has the Church as his or her spiritual mother, and who has received Christian baptism in their denomination and has been confirmed in the Christian Faith by their patriarch or bishop.

The First Century Church practiced formal membership by having the names of believers “added to the rolls” (which is the same meaning of “numbered” in the Old Testament). By the mid to late second century there were so many people claiming to be followers of Jesus that church elders around the world began a practice that remains in most churches and denominations today.  As we have seen, merely claiming to be a believer in Jesus does not make it so. Only God knows with certainty.

Many people were professing Jesus and even being baptized. Yet, there were people who had an unbiblical understanding of Jesus (for example, he was just a prophet or he was merely a good spirit-ghost or he was a magical philosopher).  To guard God’s Church the leadership wisely put into practice two things:  making simple statements of faith (creeds) and catechizing children and new converts.  Catechism is a question and answer method of teaching. That’s why we have the Apostle’s Creed (“creed” means “I believe” and is a statement of faith), the Athanasian Creed, and other confessions of faith.

Even in the latter part of the first century we see churches requiring new converts to be catechized before they are baptized and before they were allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In large part, they based this on 1 Corinthians 11. As an aside, this practice led to having two separate parts of worship. The first part focused upon singing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers, reading God’s Word and the preaching or explaining God’s Word.  The second part was having the Lord’s Supper, often in conjunction with a fellowship meal.  Between the first part often called The Order of the Word, and the second part called The Order of Communion there was an intermission.  The ushers, deacons, or leadership of the church would literally usher out those who were new or who had not finished their Bible training or who were merely curious inquirers.

This practice led some people to spread the rumor that Christians were cannibals who ate body parts and drank blood. This rumor, became the basis for some of the local non-Christian civil authorities to accuse, arrest, charge and prosecute Christians with cannibalism and other barbaric acts.

Since the very early days of the New Covenant Church, the practice of showing credentials of a true and living faith in Jesus continued.  Most churches have it today:  public confession or testimony of faith in Jesus Christ, baptism, a commitment to Christ’s local church, etc.

 

So, is Formal Church Membership Biblical?

Well, this is a long way around to answering the question:  Is church membership biblical? In other words, can it be shown by the Bible that having formal membership in a local church of Jesus is justified?  Yes.

Ultimately, the question comes down to whether one is in fact spiritually identified with Jesus Christ (Phil 4:2-3; Acts 1:26; 2:41; 4:4). As pointed out, this invisible aspect is only properly known by God.  Here the key question is not so much where our names are written but where His name is written (Mt. 28:19; Rev. 14:1).

At the same time, the visible credentials for professing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not left up to the individual. True believers are part and parcel of the visible Body of Christ, the one new Nation, the People of God, the Family of the Father (Eph. 2:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).  The only evidence we have, which God has given to us, is a person’s verbal profession and testimony, baptism, living out good works of love that prove a living faith (James 2:14-26), and a commitment to the local body of Jesus (Heb. 10:25; 12:23).

This rather “both-and” (invisible and visible, universal and local, in heaven and on earth, etc.) understanding goes way back to the first century Church.  At times groups have emphasized one expression to the exclusion of the other (as already pointed out: the traditional anabaptist favor the invisible while the Roman Catholics place an emphasis upon the visible). The broadly and biblically orthodox (meaning “right belief”) Church has held to a both-and view and practice.  It came to be more clear during the time of the Reformation of the Church and has remained so in most Protestant and Evangelical churches today.

Are you a member of a local church? If you claim to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ then you ought to find a good, biblical, healthy church and join it!

 

For Christ and His Church;

Don

 

 

 

Church Membership Isn’t Biblical, Is It?2014-11-15T00:00:00-07:00
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