February 1

Two Bible College Graduates; Two Very Different Directions; Why?

Recently Professor Bart Ehrman, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, has come out with a new book entitled How Jesus Became God:  The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.  Dr. Ehrman has become nationally recognized even by Bible-believing Christians as a scholar with a vast understanding of the Greek New Testament and early Christian history who writes bestselling books for every-day readers.  His latest book claims that the first three Gospels do not present Jesus as God and it was only at the end of the first century when John was written that the followers of Jesus turned Him into a God-Man.

 

What makes this more than just another liberal-view-of-Jesus story are two things:  1) In our post-Christian America, this view of Jesus as just a Jewish teacher is very appealing to more and more people.  2) Ehrman is a former Bible-believing Christian who pastored a Baptist church and broadcast his sermons on local radio in New Jersey.  He did not start out in the liberal camp but came to his views when he encountered questions he felt the traditional view of Jesus could not answer.  He presents himself as an insider who sincerely seeks the truth but can no longer believe the traditional view and be intellectually honest.  This is very appealing to people wrestling with similar questions and having doubts about the Bible.

 

What causes this to be of more-than-usual concern to me is that Bart Ehrman graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1976, the same year that I entered Moody that Fall.  He later graduated from Wheaton College with his faith solidly intact.  What happened?  How is it that we both had the same training, came out with the same beliefs and commitments, preached the same Bible, but ended up going two very different directions?  Let me offer an observation for our learning.

 

Ehrman went on to get a Master’s degree and PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that abandoned a high view of the Bible 100-yrs-ago in the early decades of the 20th Century.  Emphasizing critical scholarship without a reverence for the Bible as the Word of God placed Ehrman in a dangerous environment where his faith was sorely tested.  While working on a problem in the Gospel of Mark where Mark makes what appears to be a historical error, Ehrman’s professor wrote on his research paper “Maybe Mark made a mistake.”  That was a turning point in Ehrman’s thinking as he began to view the Bible as more of a human book containing many inaccuracies that he felt could not be explained away.

 

I went on to get a Master’s degree too and a DMin degree, but at schools with a high view of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.  I too saw apparent problems and inaccuracies in the Bible that demanded answers.  But I cannot image a professor of mine ever writing in the margin of a paper I wrote “Maybe Mark made a mistake.”  My professors would’ve suggested solutions that resolve the apparent contradiction giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt in light of its integrity in so many other ways.  For my professors, scholarship rested on underlying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ giving them convictions about the reliability of God’s Word even amidst difficulties.

 

Perhaps the lesson here for us is that the Bible is a supernatural book that requires faith as well as intellect to be believed.  If we depend solely on human reason without faith we will waver and fall.  Trust in the living God and in His Son are indispensable to learning the Bible aright.

 

Your friend, undergirded by faith, Pastor Brian (:-}).

January 1

What Will We Do with a New Year of Opportunities?

As we approach the New Year of 2015 let’s think about opportunities.  In 1 Kings 16 we read about the reign of three significant kings in the Northern Kingdom of Israel—Baasha, Omri, and Ahab.  What is important to note is that Baasha had been a tool used of God to end the evil dynasty of Jeroboam.  So he was given a significant opportunity to lead Israel in a new direction back to God.  Instead, Baasha chose to follow Jeroboam’s example and ended up preparing the way for one of Israel’s worst kings—the evil Ahab.  Look at the lessons we learn.

 

The opportunities of life are God-given.  God said to Baasha, I lifted you up from the dust and made you leader of my people Israel, 1 Kings 16:2a.  Note the dramatic contrast.  Baasha was nobody who had nothing, but God graciously lifted him up to make him somebody—the king of Israel—with something—a position of great influence.  In a similar way, if God is gracious to us we will have 365 new days in 2015 filled with resources, time, position, relationships, and influence.  These opportunities are His gifts to people who are nothing without Him.

 

Our God-given opportunities are to serve His purposes.  God indicted Baasha saying, But you walked in the ways of Jeroboam and caused my people Israel to sin and to provoke me to anger by their sins, 1 Kings 16:2b.  With great privilege came great responsibility.  God raised up Baasha to be a reformer, to turn the Northern Kingdom away from the syncretistic worship of Jeroboam that mixed pagan practices with the worship of the Lord.  What an opportunity for incredible good!  Instead, Baasha continued those practices likely because he thought it would consolidate the people around him.  He squandered God’s purpose for Him.  Oh that such would not happen to us in 2015!  Where does God want us to lead, where does He want us to serve His kingdom, and what is His purpose for us in the New Year?  We must answer those questions if we would seize God’s purposes to accomplish great good through us.

 

God will require an accounting of our opportunities.  After reigning in Israel 24 years 1 Kings 16:1 says, Then the word of the Lord came to Jehu . . . against Baasha.  Mark that word “against.”  It was accounting time.  Likely Baasha thought this day would never come.  But it always does.  God wanted Baasha’s name to be right there with the great kings like David, Solomon and Hezekiah.  Instead his named is included with kings like Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab.  God wants to reward us too with significant honor in His presence when Jesus returns.  As we enter 2015 we must think about that day of accounting as a motivation to do God’s will now to receive God’s honor later.

 

Since God’s Word will ultimately prevail, true success is measured by His Word.  God announced, So I am about to consume Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like that of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 16:3.  In just the 2nd year of the reign of Baasha’s son, Elah, God’s prophesy came literally true and Baasha’s household was completely wiped out and his dynasty ended.  Baasha was possibly a successful military-political ruler in some significant ways (see v. 5), but none of that is recorded because he failed in the most crucial way.  An old question asks, How surprising is it to climb the ladder of success only to discover in the end it was leaning against the wrong wall?   Which wall of success will we be climbing in 2015—God’s or our own?  Now is the time to make sure our achievements measure up to God’s Word.  Then His success will be our success.

 

Your friend, awaiting 2015, Pastor Brian (:-)}.

December 1

God’s Sovereignty & Satan’s Power

One of the ways people sometimes attempt to solve the problem of evil and the love of God is by limiting God’s sovereign control and giving more power to Satan than he really has.  Satan is a powerful being as a former archangel called Lucifer capable of supernatural power (e.g., Job 1 & 2).  But he is not sovereign over our lives able to do whatever he wants.  Sometimes people attribute anything bad that happens to the working of Satan so that God is let off the hook, so to speak, and maintains the image that we want to have of Him as a safe, benign Heavenly Father.

 

This is a very tricky problem because the Bible is very clear that God is not the author of evil.  God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one, James 1:13.  Yet there are many times in Scripture when God uses the evil that Satan or people do to accomplish His purposes.  It is hard for us in the same sentence to say that God is never the cause of evil but that He permits it and uses it in people’s lives.  Thus, though God is never the agent who does evil, He is responsible for permitting it to happen to His people.

 

That may seem troubling to us but it is far better than other alternatives.  If God is the direct cause of evil then we have a God who is not omnibenevolent (all-good) as the Bible says, Romans 2:4.  Or, if some evil happens that God is not in control of then God is not omnipotent (all-powerful) and there are things out of control in the universe that He is powerless to stop.  That hardly squares with Psalm 115:3, But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

 

The safest alternative is that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of all things.  He does not cause or condone evil but He often permits it and uses it to accomplish His purposes so that ultimately He controls what happens to us, even the bad things.  In this light, 1 John 5:18 strikes the right balance and is such an encouraging verse.  We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.  Notice a number of conclusions we can draw that point to the right balance between evil and the love of God.

 

  • Satan is an evil being who desires to harm us. He is the evil one, not God. 

 

  • God puts a limit on what Satan can do, He keeps us God is sovereign, not Satan.

 

  • God is a good God who has given us new life so that we do not give ourselves to sin.

 

Therefore, we can conclude, that when God permits Satan to ply us with trials sore or directly sends us trials Himself, we can withstand them, grow in our love for God, not give in to sinful choices to manage the trial, and come out stronger in the end.  James 1:12 says, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  Amen!

 

Your friend, trusting in a sovereign God, Pastor Brian (:-}).

November 1

The Priority of Discipleship Training

One of the sad realities that we see in the Evangelical church are the number of young people who leave their faith after becoming adults.  I have read statistics that as many as three-fourths will at some point in their adult years quit attending church and stop actively pursuing a walk with Christ.  Some of those will eventually return when they get married and have kids of their own who they want to have the same solid upbringing that they had as children.  PTL for those who return!  But many more will not return and eventually live comfortable, secular lives that adopt the values of the culture.  Why is this and what can be done about it?

 

One clear and obvious reason this happens is that some young people are never truly born again.  Years ago I ministered to a young father raised in the church who was going to prison for a crime he committed.  When I asked him about his conversion experience he said he made a decision at a youth rally but that he was just following the crowd and it really never meant anything to him.  I challenged him to turn to Christ for real which he did.  He became a model prisoner and upon release has been following Christ ever since.  Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed instructs us that three of the four responses to the seed of God’s Word are superficial responses that do not last and bear fruit, Mark 4:14-20.  Certainly some of the attrition that we see is because of superficial responses to the gospel.  We can’t determine what occurs in anyone’s heart.  That must ultimately be between them and the Lord.  Some people will believe for a time and then fall away.  However, one thing we can do is not push superficial responses to the gospel making it an easy formula for entering heaven rather than wholehearted trust in the Savior arising from a real sense of need.

 

Another reason for the attrition may well be a tendency on the part of churches in recent years to entertain our young people rather than train them.  The church is always tempted to adopt the ways of the surrounding culture and the current American scene is more into entertainment than ever before.   There are more entertaining options today that become substitutes for the more demanding way of discipleship that Jesus called us to follow.  If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, John 8:31-32.  Notice the priority here of really knowing the truth and holding to it in order to be set free.  That takes a lifetime of intentional training.  It is very easy for us as parents to settle for a superficial understanding of the Christian life on the part of our kids and not prioritize the more serious training that will equip them with deep convictions about Christ and His Word, (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where the emphasis is on thorough equipping).

 

Perhaps a story from my own experience will help.  As a boy I participated in Pop Warner football for five years.  Practice was held every night after school.  On Wednesday nights I was not allowed to practice because my parents wanted me in our Boys Brigade program at church which was very similar to Awana.  I was the only boy in the entire East Muskegon Football Club that never practiced on Wednesday night.  I didn’t always like it but my parents held firm.  Today I look back and realize the training I experienced in Boys Brigade and the foundation it gave me helped change my life.  Football was fun and exciting, but it had zero spiritual impact.  My true heroes today are my Brigade leaders.  As I grew older I participated in other training opportunities that deepened my faith and drew me closer to Christ.  I had fun like every teen and played sports and was in the band, but discipleship training made the difference.  It is Christ’s method, Matthew 28:19-20.

 

Yours, trying to remain in the Way of Christ, Pastor Brian (:-}).

October 1

Clarifying the Filling of the Holy Spirit

Perhaps no area of teaching is in more need of clarification than the filling of the Holy Spirit as taught in Ephesians 5:18.  It is not uncommon for me to have questions, particularly from young people, who have run into teachings about the Holy Spirit they have never heard before.  They have been encouraged by a teacher or church to have an experience with the Spirit that will make them more complete Christians with a more powerful work of the Spirit in their lives.  Not only are they confused thinking they need something more to be complete, but they are encouraged to seek an emotional experience that ignores what a true relationship with the Holy Spirit involves.  I am always concerned with people who promote exciting experiences rather than practical Christianity.  It’s the latter we need more because it is excellent and profitable for everyone, see Titus 3:1-8.

 

The first thing we need to understand is that the command be filled with the Holy Spirit is the only command given to Christians in their relationship with the Spirit.  All other ministries of the Spirit such as indwelling, baptizing and sealing were accomplished at salvation and are complete.  Because we have an old nature and can act in the flesh apart from the Spirit, it is the filling (or controlling) of the Spirit we constantly need to seek.  That’s why the present tense is so important which means be being filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is the constant control of the Holy Spirit that is needed so that we can counteract the deeds of the flesh and live pleasing to God.

 

The Bible teaches that there are three conditions we must meet to live daily with the Spirit’s control.  It is these conditions that should absorb us in relation to the Holy Spirit.  The first is dedication.  Halfhearted Christianity can never be pleasing to the Holy Spirit and so can never be powerful Christianity.  1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, Do not quench the Spirit.  Quench means to subdue or resist and the opposite is yielding or being dedicated.  This really is nothing less than settling the Lordship issue.  We decide that we are no longer ours but instead offer our bodies as living sacrifices, Romans 12:1-2.  We live with the attitude not my will, but thine be done, Mark 14:36.

 

The second is obedience.  We are to keep in step with the Spirit which means obeying His guidance and leading, Galatians 5:25.  This is dedication put to practical experience by obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.  Jesus said we are to obey everything He has commanded us, Matthew 28:20.  His commands are in the Scriptures so being doers of the Word is essential to be filled with the Spirit, James 1:22.

 

The third is cleansing.  Ephesians 4:30 counsels us do not grieve the Spirit.  Sin is what grieves the Holy Spirit, vv. 31-32.  So when we disobey we are resisting the Lordship of Christ thru disobedience.  A grieved Spirit is a Spirit that is hindered and sorrowed over our behavior.  Experiencing His conviction we must admit our sin; confess it; and forsake it, 1 John 1:8-10.  When we do our dedication and obedience are renewed adjusting us properly to the Holy Spirit so He can control us once again.  It’s really about relationship isn’t it?  It’s about living in proper relationship to the Spirit rather than somehow getting more of Him or having an instantaneous experience with Him outside of conversion.  It’s not us getting more of Him; it’s Him getting more of us.

 

Your friend, needing His control, Pastor Brian (:-}).

 

September 1

Blessings Received & Lessons Learned from Karen Harju

The Bible tells us that every believer has an important role in the body of Christ to play.  Read these words from 1 Corinthians 12:18, 22-24.

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. . . . those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. . . . But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.

 

Our dear, departed sister Karen Harju reminds me of these words.  Karen was a simple believer who fits the description that Paul is giving here of the weaker parts of the body.  She didn’t get special honor or recognition.  When she was elected to serve on the Worship Board several years ago she often expressed surprise because she didn’t feel she had much to offer.  She was the kind of person who would say, “What can I do?”

 

Today we bestow special honor on Karen.  I am particularly indebted to her for a number of things.  One is that she was a faithful part of my prayer group on Wednesdays from Noon to 1:00pm.  Karen prayed with such sincerity and honesty that it was like listening to a child speak to her Father.  There was no pretense or fancy words, just direct, honest, heartfelt communication with God.

 

I enjoyed listening to Karen pray so much that I would almost always ask her to begin our prayer time because she set such a nice tone.  Sometimes visiting her in the hospital I would ask her to pray for me just so I could hear her pray again.  The last time at Mather Nursing Home when she finished praying for Ellen and me I told Karen how much her prayer meant to me.  She thanked me but then said, “It really wasn’t for you.”  We laughed; Karen could be direct, and I said I knew it wasn’t for me but that hearing her pray blessed my soul.

 

Karen also was so grateful despite all she had been through.  After Mary Treml died Karen lost her best friend and closest advocate.  Mary was like a mother to her.   The transition that Karen went through to foster care and then a nursing home was a difficult journey.  It was in our prayer meeting one day as Karen was struggling with her new circumstances that we gathered around her and prayed that she might have a change of attitude to accept new people in her life.  I have never seen such a dramatic answer to prayer.  Right then a light went on; Karen saw that her attitude was wrong, and that she needed to show Christ’s love to others.  A wonderful peace came over her that changed her entire outlook.  From then on out, in spite of her many hospitalizations, when we would visit her she would express thanks to how good the Lord had been to her.

 

The last time Ellen and I visited Karen I was in somewhat of a down mood in the late afternoon.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I called Ellen and suggested we visit Karen at Marquette General Hospital.  I learned she was in Ishpeming at Mather.  Did we want to go that far near dinner time?  We went.  Sure enough, Karen spoke of how much she loved the people of Bethel and how good the Lord had been to her.  She blessed our souls as we listened to her pray.  I left feeling that we went to minister to Karen but she has ministered to us.  That gloom I had felt lifted as I saw how Karen “was thankful in all circumstances.”  Karen is with the Lord now.  Farewell & well done.

 

Your friend, blessed by Karen, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

Healthy Relationships for Effective Ministry

One of the most important principles of ministry for the Lord that we can grasp is the absolute necessity of healthy relationships as the basis for effective ministry.  In other words, we can have everything else right in terms of skill, giftedness, and knowledge, but if our relationships with each other are wrong then our ministry will be wrong.  And we will undercut the very message we are trying to convey.  Let me share some quotes I have heard that emphasize this.

God will not bless a divided church, said by a well-known pastor.

Your family is not a part of your ministry; your family is your ministry, said by Howard Hendricks to young men preparing to be pastors, including yours truly.

 

The first one about a divided church that is racked by dissension and unforgiveness is that it undercuts the very message we proclaim.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Clearly here, the gospel of Christ is not only what we believe but also how we behave.  Paul is saying that we can conduct ourselves in ways that deny the gospel we claim to believe.  One principle of the gospel is that we are reconciled by Christ in one body unto God, Ephesians 2:14-18.  If that is what we proclaim but then live unreconciled to one another we are teaching a different gospel – one that does not reconcile believers to each other nor heals relational breakdown any better than the unsaved world.

 

Consider a church I know in Lower Michigan that at one time was the largest church in our Baptist conference in all of Michigan.  Over a period of many years that church was so racked by various squabbles that they split three times with three new churches splintering off of them.  An interim pastor said right from the pulpit in a sermon that they had better change the way they operated because they were getting a reputation.  Can you imagine driving by that church with its glorious past only now to think, “That’s the church that split three times?  I wonder what’s wrong with them.”  Doing the hard of working through disagreements, respecting one another, and “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” could’ve spared that church and its testimony, Ephesians 4:1-3.  We must do the hard relational work if we are to adorn the gospel.

 

Consider the next quote by Dr. Hendricks.  It’s easy to separate what happens at home with what we do in our ministry.  It is easy to think we can be at odds in our marriage but still do “our thing” effectively at church.  But my old professor was right.  In fact, Peter says to husbands that the way they treat their wives will determine whether God answers their prayers or not, 1 Peter 3:7.  That’s how seriously God takes this.  Again, if the gospel reconciles us to each other as well as to God but we live in perpetual unresolved tension at home we are living a gospel opposite of the one we are proclaiming.  It will not only catch up to us but repel the world we are trying to reach.

 

Because of quotes like the two above I became aware of this for which I thank God.  At times in my ministry because of my wrong reactions before church I have had to apologize to Ellen right during worship before I preached.  I knew that not to do so would render my sermon offensive to God.  I thank God for those humbling experiences.  I thank Him for helping us do the sometimes very hard work of being reconciled.  Remember, effective ministry is always based on right relationships.

 

Thanking God for you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Condemnation – No; Discipline – Yes

Two of the truths Christians must hold in tension with each other are that we are no longer under condemnation from a Holy God yet at the same time do experience discipline from a Heavenly Father.  Because of the cross of Jesus Christ judgment has been removed and we have passed out of death and into eternal life.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1.  Because of this we need never fear that God is waiting to get back at us.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1.

 

At the same time Peter tells us Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear, 1 Peter 1:17.  God is our Heavenly Father as believers, but He is not a pushover who indulges His children’s misbehavior and spoils them.  God’s purpose for us from the day of our salvation to the day we are like Him in glory is always the same – to share His holiness.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, 1 Peter 1:15.  One of the chief means that God employs to makes us holy is His discipline.  God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness, Hebrews 12:10.  But we must always remember that God’s discipline is not in wrath, but in love.  The Lord disciplines those He loves, Hebrews 12:6.  What are the methods of discipline God uses for everyone He accepts as a son, Hebrews 12:6?

 

Suffering, Job 1 and 2.  Clearly not all suffering is a result of sin because Job was a righteous man whom God called His servant.  After all that He went through Job said Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know, Job 42:3.  He also said when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold, Job 23:10.  As great as Job was he still needed refining and growth in his knowledge of God.  God used suffering to bring that about.  In my own life and in the lives of people I have pastored, sometimes the most accelerated growth came during times of personal pain.  God seems to get our attention and impress character issues on us the greatest when we suffer.

 

Illness, 2 Corinthians 12:7.  Most Bible students conclude that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical malady of some sort that kept him humble and dependent upon God.  Far from being God’s will to heal Paul, God’s will was to use the illness for Paul’s growth.  Spiritual wholeness is often brought about through physical unwholeness.  Our duty is to accept it as Paul did.

 

Obstacles, Jonah.  Sometimes God blocks our plans allowing things to fall apart to deter us from disobedience.  Being determined to go our own way, like the father of the prodigal son, God permits it until things fall apart so bad we return to Him and listen.

 

Consequences, 1 Samuel 12.  God forgave David but permitted the consequences of his sin to remain affecting his family for years to come.  Moses was forgiven but still could not enter the Promised Land.  Sometimes to keep us humble and obedient God allows the consequences of sin to discipline us.

 

Death, 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.  God disciplined some of the Corinthians with death because of their persistent ill treatment of the Lord and other believers.  This is likely very rare but shows the lengths God will go to in correcting His children.  Whatever our current situation, thank God that He cares enough to make something of us and let us humble ourselves under His mighty, but loving hand.

 

Your friend, disciplined by the Lord, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Lessons from Peter’s Restoration

One of the most tender, touching portions of Scripture is John 21:15-25 where Jesus restores Peter following the resurrection.  For fallible people like us prone to sin and failure it is so uplifting and encouraging.  Many lessons stand out like these:  Jesus is the God of second chances.  Failure doesn’t have to be final or fatal.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves but still loves us and works with us when we fail.

 

This passage is very critical to the history of the church for without this restoration there would be no Apostle Peter.  Had Jesus not restored him as He did Peter would have gone down in history like Judas the betrayer.  Peter would not be a name we gladly give to our sons.  What a powerful thing restoration is!

 

Jesus’ opening question “do you truly love me more than these?” is probably referring to the other disciples, v. 15.  Peter had professed greater devotion than all the rest, see John 13:37.  He had learned the hard way that boundless self-confidence is a sure path to failure.  His boasting caused him to not take the precautions he should have and heed the warnings Jesus gave him.  What a lesson for us that when we know we are weak is when we are truly strong.

 

Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him paralleling the three denials Peter had made, vv. 15-17.  How helpful this was for Peter’s future credibility and ministry.  He really did love Jesus and Jesus Himself acknowledged that His three affirmations erased the three denials.  Despite our failures Jesus knows that we truly do love Him.  When we’ve betrayed our Master we feel like hypocrites who cannot say we really love Him.  Not so.  Our failure does not mean we do not have a commitment to the Savior that is precious to Him.  He forgives us so we should forgive ourselves and reaffirm our love which is a balm for our healing.

 

After the third question “Do you love Me?” Peter was hurt, v. 17.  Why was it necessary for him to be hurt?  Without sorrow over sin there is no true reformation.  Many people are sorry about the consequences of sin but not sorry over the wrong they have done to their Lord.  Such “worldly sorrow” never leads to true repentance and heartfelt change.  Truly being convicted over the wrong we have done to God and others and being broken over it creates the proper foundation for real restoration and future usefulness.  Without an attitude change there can never be the humility that is essential for growth in Christian character and God-likeness.

 

After Peter’s three affirmations of love Jesus repeated His original call “Follow Me,” v. 18 (see John 1:43).  This is always God’s will for every believer and is always available to us no matter how far we have fallen.  No believer ever falls so far that they cannot follow Jesus again.  Consequences may limit some of the things we could have done for the Savior and that is to be regretted.  Moses could not go into the Promised Land following his sins of anger and impatience with God’s people.  But following Jesus and pursuing Christ-likeness is our glorious quest once again.  Thomas Aquinas said “Our falls make us more humble and more cautious.”  Since that is surely a part of being Christ-like, even our failures, if learned from, can contribute to us being better followers of Jesus than we were before.  How marvelous is His grace.

 

Your friend, renewed many times, Pastor Brian (:-}).

May 1

Understanding True Christian Unity vs. False Unity

Many years ago a young couple came to me after service one Sunday and asked what I thought about Ecumenism.  The Ecumenical Movement, from the Greek for “inhabited world,” refers to the effort to bring unity to the worldwide professing churches of Christendom.  It is based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Ecumenism teaches that the divisions in the professing Church negate Jesus’ prayer and harm His effectiveness in the world.  If we could come back together as one world Church we could accomplish great good for Christ.

 

Recently at Men’s Bible Study we examined Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  I found it striking that the Ecumenical Movement has wrenched Jesus’ call for unity in v. 23 out of its context ignoring the kind of unity Jesus prayed for us to have.  Just as “peace at any price” is a false peace, so “unity at any price” is a false unity.  As with “false peace,” “false unity” promises much but actually does more harm than good to the cause of Christ because it dishonors all that He stands for.  True unity is wonderful and brings about great good in the local church and among local churches.  What is the true unity that Christ prayed for us to have?

 

It is unity in the truth.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth, v. 17.  Several times in Jesus’ prayer He mentions that He has given us His Word, v. 8.  The Word of God contains the truth that we are to proclaim to the world for its salvation.  It is unity in the proclamation of this truth that is true unity.  Since Satan is the father of all lies and falsehood it is clear that he loves to minimize the truth to lead people into error and away from God.  Note that the “evil one” was a cause of concern in Jesus’ prayer, v. 15.  Healthy unity will always prioritizes the Word.

 

It is unity in holiness.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified, v. 19.  The word sanctify means “to be made holy.”  Earlier Jesus calls God “Holy Father,” v. 11 (an expression by the way that should be used of no human being because it belongs to God alone.).  Since God is holy His purpose in salvation is for us to be holy.  Since Satan promotes unholiness he loves unity that downplays separation from sin and ignores purity.  Wherever that occurs lives are destroyed and the testimony of Christ is diminished.  True unity then calls people to a high and holy standard for their good and the good of their witness.

 

It is unity in the Godhead of Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly places Himself on equal par with the Father when He speaks of “the glory I had with you before the world began,” v. 5.  Elsewhere Jesus puts the Holy Spirit on the same equal footing, John 16:13.  True unity then is a Trinitarian unity for only when all three members of the triune God are given their due is God truly glorified.  One note of caution.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus declared, will bring glory to Me, John 16:14.  True unity is always Christ-centered making His Person and work central.

 

It is unity in love.  Jesus prays that the love you have for me may be in them, v. 26.  Note that only after Jesus has mentioned unity in truth, holiness and the Godhead, does He mention unity in love.  How do we love as Jesus loved?  In truth, holiness and submission to the Three in One.  That’s true unity and the closest thing to heaven on earth.  May God grant that to us.

 

Your friend, in unity, Pastor Brian (:-}).