Monday, December 31, 2012

Gaining Spiritual Ground in 2013: Emphasize the Bible

Hebrews 4:11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Numbers 36:2 "and they said, “The LORD commanded my lord to give the land by lot to the sons of Israel as an inheritance, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters."

Yesterday we talked about gaining spiritual ground for the New Year.  We focused upon emphasizing prayer - establishing the truth from both Numbers 36 and Hebrews 4 that no advance for God can be made without prayer.  Today we want to consider another emphasis: namely the scriptures.  Just as no spiritual ground can be gained for God apart from prayer, the same must be said for the believer's relationship to the scriptures.

How the Old Testament saints appealed to God's Word in laying claim to God's inheritance
As we look back to Numbers 36 once again, we see these elders of the Tribe of Manesseh appealing to Moses and the Elders on behalf of the daughters of Zelophehad.  The daughters already had grounds to lay claim to their deceased father's estate, as articulated in Numbers 27.  The appeal made on behalf of these daughters in Numbers 36:2 refers back to God's instructions in Numbers 27.  Knowing what God had said was the ground they stood upon as they advanced their case to Moses. 

The New Testament Christian must have a close association with God's word if they are to gain ground for God
Hebrews 4:11 reminds the Christian: "Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. "  This exhortation to gain ground for God is not an option - but a command.  In order to gain ground for God in the New Year, you and I must do it with the Word of God.  Hebrews 4:12 makes one of grandest statements about the scriptures:  "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." As we include verse 13, we can note the specific reasons as to why emphasis upon the scripture is so crucial to gaining ground for God in the upcoming New Year:

1. The Bible is a Living Book.  (Hebrews 4:12) 
Apart from scripture, no spiritual life is possible, since by it God initiates saving faith (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23) and sustains the believer's post-conversion Christian walk. (Colossians 3:16)

2. The Bible is an Active Book. (Hebrews 4:12)
The Bible not only brings life, it enables you to be active in your Christian walk.  How can we know how to live for God, or what God's will is, apart from the scripture?  God uses the scriptures to stir us up to active faith.

3. The Bible is a discerning book. (Hebrews 4:12)
The writer here uses the language of the Old Testament sacrifices to convey his point of the discerning character of the scriptures.  Just as the Old Testament priest would ritually cut the sacrifices to make offerings to the Lord, the scripture is God's sword that prepares the Christian for spiritual service to the Lord. (Romans 12:1-2)  Only through the scriptures can my spirit (where the Holy Spirit dwells) have priority over my soul (where my fleshly desires are located).   When the scripture is doing its work, my soul comes more in line with my spirit.  When I am not exposed as often to God's Word, my soulish realm will rule my spirit.  I find that only through constant exposure to God's Word can I be a more discerning Christian. (Hebrews 5:14)

4. The Bible is a wide-opening book. (Hebrews 4:13)
Gaining ground for God means I know what He desires and that I want to act out what He says.  Hebrews 4:13 states -  "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." When you and I excercise ourselves in the scriptures - things that we found to be difficult to grasp suddenly become open to us.  All the time people are wanting to know God's will for their lives.  Scripture alone is the sufficient basis for discovering His Perfect and pleasing will. (Romans 12:1-2)

If we were to treat our Bibles like our wallets, our cell phones and our personal time, we would have an explosion of personal revival.  People all the time accidently leave their Bibles at church for instance.  Yet I have rarely if ever seen a cell phone left behind at church.  Whenever I have misplaced my wallet, I can recall turning the house upside-down looking for it.  How often do we set aside calendars and rearrange our family budgets for a few hours of personal recreational time? 

Cell phones, wallets and personal time are very important components of our twenty-first century life - yet think of how we emphasize those things in comparison to our time in the scriptures?  To make the necessary advancement in our spiritual walk with the Lord - we need to emphasize the reading, studying and interaction with the scriptures. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gaining Spiritual Ground in 2013: Emphasize Prayer

Hebrews 4:11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Numbers 36:1 "And the heads of the fathers’ households of the family of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the heads of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel"

The Christian life or participation in their spiritual inheritance is pictured by the land of Israel
Hebrews 4:11-16 represents one of the sections in the Book of Hebrews that exhorts readers to strive towards knowing and following Jesus Christ.  The word for "diligent" in Hebrews 4:11 refers to "hasten, be zealous, eager, make every effort".  So the question is: what is it that the author is wanting his readers and us to be diligent about?  Answer: to enter into the "rest" of God.  This statement fits into the larger section of Hebrews 3:7-4:16, wherein the comprison is made between the Old Testament Israelites and their relationship to the land of Canaan to New Testament Christians and their growth in the Christian life.  The Old Testament promises of land for Israel are concrete illustrations used by the Bible to illustrate the Christian's inheritance and Christian life in Christ. 

With that basic understanding established, we can legitimately draw the conclusion that excercising the "diligence to enter into that rest" equals gaining spiritual ground. 

Gleaning principles for gaining ground in the Old Testament: Emphasize Prayer
As we pointed out, the Jews and the promised land in the Old Testament picture for us the Christian and their Christian walk in the New.  The idea of inheritance is mentioned nearly 20 times in Numbers 36, making it the perfect place to understand this concept of gaining ground.  The heads of a tribe in Israel was appealing to Moses on behalf of five daughters who were attempting to obtain their late father's inheritance.  The father's name was Zelophehad, and being that he had no sons, the question of course would be whether or not his daughters could claim the right to inherit his possessions.  Back in Numbers 27 these same people had appealed to God and Moses, with the Lord telling to Moses to grant their request.  It was now a matter of them laying claim to what was rightfully theirs. 

So what was it that these people of God did to gain their share in God's inheritiance promised to them in the promised land?  Notice what they emphasized: prayer. 

Numbers 36:1b states - "came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the heads of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel."  Where did these people draw near to speak to the Prophet Moses about this right of inheritance?  According to Exodus 33:7 "Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp."  Over time this "tent of meeting" came to be associated with the tabernacle. (Leviticus 1:1; Numbers 3:25). They drew near to the place where God's people go to speak to God and to hear God by way of the priest.  The priesthood in turn would perform sacrifices and go into the tabernacle to represent them in prayer. 

Gaining spiritual ground in the New Testament entails emphasizing prayer
In Hebrews 4:11 we read of the necessity for the Christian to "strive" or "be all the more diligent" to enter into God's rest.  That "rest" is the spiritual counterpart to the "land" and physical inheritance we see in Numbers.  What is it that we are to do today as Christians in gaining ground for God?  One of things spoken of in Hebrews 4:11-16 is the need to emphasize prayer. 

The writer employs the language of the tabernacle and priesthood.  Hebrews 4:14 and 16 - 14 "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.... 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Specific areas of gain that can occur when we emphasize prayer
Just as the people of God drew close to the entrance of the "place of prayer", the "tent of meeting", so are we as New Testament believers.  No gaining of spiritual ground is possible apart from prayer.  Take note of significant New Testament passages that emphasize the place of prayer in Christian growth:

1. Ephesians 6:18 "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

2. Philippians 4:6-7 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

3. 1 Timothy 2:1  "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."

4. Jude 20 "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit."

As we gain ground for God in 2013 by way of prayer, we can expect to have clearer thinking (Ephesians 6:18), more peace of mind (Philippians 4:6-7), greater ability to change our communities (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and be stronger personally in our pursuit of God (Jude 20). 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Guest Blogger Debi Smith - "The Enemy's Use of Deception"

Introduction: Occassionally I like to give the readers of this blog the opportunity to read materials written by others. I call these blogs: Guest Blogger blogs. My wife Debi is currently studying for her Bachelor of Science Degree in Christian Counseling at Liberty University. She recently wrote a paper on "Battling the Unseen in Christian Counseling". Yesterday's post dealt with the supernatural component in Christian Counseling.  In this third and final installment of our Guest Blogger series, we will explore the Enemy's use of deception, as well as some concluding remarks on the nature of the unseen in Christian Counseling.  May you be blessed dear reader as you read from our guest blogger Debi Smith. 

The Enemy’s Use of Deception

    At the fall of mankind where sin entered the world through Adam, the human mind went from whole to distorted.  Without accepting the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, the minds of men and women remain “unregenerate and cannot function properly”. (Anderson, 2003, p. 66)  It is through Christ that all mankind has the hope and promise of the ability to renew the mind. (Romans 12:2)

    Dr. Anderson reminds that the battle is for the mind. (Anderson, 2003)  Satan knows the vulnerability of the human mind and how to use it to his advantage.  The Bible calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44), thief (Mark4:15), tempter (1 Corinthians 7:5), schemer (2 Corinthians 2:11), and a deceiver that leads people astray (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelations 12:9).   Warren Wiersbe in his book, Be Joyful, reminds followers of Christ that the “Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground”. (Wiersbe, 1989, p.49)  He also points out that in the book of Philippians the secret to joy and peace stems from the mind fixated on Christ (Isaiah 26:3).  In Philippians, the word mind is used ten times, think is used five times, and remember once.  This brings the total of references to the mind and thought processes to 16 times. (Wiersbe, 1989)

    No wonder the enemy of mankind’s souls wants to get into the mind to destroy any work of the Holy Spirit. Knowing this, what are the tools the enemy uses to deceive the minds of men and women?  “Satan’s purpose is to cause us to think and live contrary to God’s plan for us”. (Anderson, 2003, p. 246)  Here are just a few examples of wrong thinking that the enemy can use to get a person off course: the belief that things can give lasting happiness, addictions can bring comfort, sin isn’t followed with consequence, people that don’t believe Jesus is Lord can go to Heaven anyway, a person must live up to the image set up by those around them, finding importance in finding approval of others above God. Add to these the things people do to deceive themselves, such as: not following the Bible’s standard, claiming to be sinless, allowing pride to convince themselves they are something they are not or that they are wise, and not controlling the tongue. (Anderson, 2003)

   Examples of faulty ways people think to defend themselves include: escaping into a fantasy world, withdrawing from people, exploding in anger, blaming others for circumstances, making excuses, and tainting the truth. (Anderson, 2003)

    So how does one defend themselves against the Deceiver?  The answer is seemingly simple, but impossible to carry out without the help of the Holy Spirit. Followers of Jesus Christ can praise God that at the moment of conversion God gives His children the Holy Spirit to live inside them. This enables everyone in Christ to choose truth over the lies.  If a person has surrendered their will and their heart to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in them and gives them the ability and power to take back their minds from the enemy.  (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; John 14:16-17)  With the help of the Holy Spirit living in the heart of a believer, they can “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ”. (2 Corinthians 10:5, New International Version)

    This is indeed sounds like a daunting task, but there are practical ways to purge the mind of deceiving thoughts and replace them with God’s thoughts.  Knowing what the Bible says about the role of man and the benefits of being a child of God is a start.  Discover what God says in His word about how humankind should live after accepting His Son’s gift of salvation.  Decipher the thoughts that contradict what the Bible says, replacing them with scriptures that speak truth.  Find a mature believer and counselor to aid in the process of defeating the Deceiver.


    Ignoring or dismissing the unseen factors in counseling hinders the healing of a counselee.  Often misdiagnosed, a person will go on in their life suffering from attacks from an enemy that has one mission: to destroy.  However, a Christian counselor armed with the word of God and the Holy Spirit can enlighten one who is willing and open to the leading of Jesus Christ.  Deception will be banished and replaced with the truth that only comes from God. “Discipleship counseling is not just a technique we learn; it is an encounter with God, who is the wonderful counselor”. (Anderson, 2003, p. 110) 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest Blogger Debi Smith - Supernatural Component in Christian Counseling

Introduction: Occassionally I like to give the readers of this blog the opportunity to read materials written by others. I call these blogs: Guest Blogger blogs. My wife Debi is currently studying for her Bachelor of Science Degree in Christian Counseling at Liberty University. She recently wrote a paper on "Battling the Unseen in Christian Counseling".  Yesterday's post featured the beginning of her paper, wherein she compared secular and Christian approaches to counseling, as well as outlining the need to include the unseen realm in one's approach to counseling.  Today we will continue with her paper - noting how she fleshes out the supernatural component in Christian counseling.  Bless you reader as you read more from our guest blogger - Debi Smith.

The Supernatural Component in Christian Counseling
    There is a battle being fought that is unseen.  For those that are in Christ, the Bible speaks clearly and plainly that the enemies we fight are not flesh and blood, but the powers of this dark world and the spiritual realm. (Ephesians 6:12)  Even many of our churches struggle to see this as true so it is not shocking that the scientific world would view this aspect of Christian counseling as ridiculous.  Why does the church turn a blind eye to the spiritual battle? 

    Jay Adams in his book, The War Within, points out that there have always been two mistakes made by the church regarding the power of Satan.  The Christian community has either gone to one extreme or the other, underestimating or overestimating the power of the enemy.  Satan has been made to be a cartoon character and something laughable while at other times his abilities and powers have been exaggerated to the point to make Christ’s people wilt in terror. (Adams, 1989)  The result of this improper balance is that the church is “asleep on the battlefield”. (Adams, 1989, p.8)

    In the clinical setting trained in secular science, the results are just as destructive.  Dr. Anderson brings out in his book that if a patient comes to a doctor with the complaint of a hearing voices and feeling terror or seeing things.  How is this observable by counselor?  It is not, but yet the professional would view the counselee as out of touch with reality, possibly resulting in a medication to dull the awareness of these voices.  (Anderson, 2003)

    What if it is possible that these people are indeed hearing and seeing the things they claim?  People cannot see what exists in the minds of others.  “Without some Biblical explanation, most people (including many Christians) accept the psychological diagnosis of psychosis, neurosis, or schizophrenia”. (Anderson, 2003, p.45) Using terms such as these are acceptable to define or explain the symptoms, but they do not reveal the source or root.

    In an interesting journal article written by Marcia A. Murphy, she interviews patients diagnosed and treated for various psychosis disorders.  Several describe their experiences and episodes with “hallucinations” and voices as being malevolent, sinister, feeling as though they were in Hell, and even contemplating suicide as a result.  One such individual claimed that the only thing that kept them from committing suicide was their faith in God.  Another patient described a situation where her atheist psychologist convinced her to give up church and walk away from God so that she could “rebuild her” (Murphy, 2000, p. 182) only to have the patient fall farther into despair.  It wasn’t until the patient went back to the previous religious support that she made strides.  In the conclusion of her article, Marcia A. Murphy determines that “spiritual life aids people with mental illnesses”. (Murphy, 2000, p. 183)    

    Humankind is both physical and spiritual by God’s own design.  Therefore, a fine balance needs to be struck when counseling.  There is not always a spiritual answer for every experience just as there is not always a physical answer.  However, there are two essential beliefs to encourage and maintain good mental and spiritual health.  An individual needs to understand the nature of God and who they can be as a child of God if they accept Jesus Christ as Lord of their heart and mind.  “Satan can undermine your mental and emotional health simply by distorting either one”. (Anderson, 2003, p. 56)
More tomorrow..........

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Guest Blogger Debi Smith - Battling the Unseen in Christian Counseling

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Introduction: Occassionally I like to give the readers of this blog the opportunity to read materials written by others.  I call these blogs: Guest Blogger blogs.  My wife Debi is currently studying for her Bachelor of Science Degree in Christian Counseling at Liberty University.  She recently wrote a paper on "Battling the Unseen in Christian Counseling".  I believe you will find what she wrote insightful and informative.  May the Lord bless you dear reader and thanks for stopping by the blog.

Battling the Unseen in Christian Counseling
by Deborah Smith
Abstract: This paper will explore three themes in Christian counseling as explained in Neil T. Anderson’s book, Discipleship Counseling.  First, can Christian counseling in some cases offer aid that clinical psychology and psychiatry cannot using the Holy, inspired, inerrant Word of God?  Second, the Bible states that mankind consists of more than just physical components.  Humans are made up of body, soul, and spirit.  If this is true, can the spirit realm affect a person’s mental wellbeing?  Is there an enemy to the soul of man that desires to destroy and keep its victims bound and unproductive?  Thirdly, deception is one of the most de-habilitating weapons in the enemy’s arsenal.  If lies can be spoken into the minds of people and allowed to fester there, the individual over time will begin to believe the enemy’s accusations and will accept these falsehoods as truth.  How can one fight these lies and protect their minds against future deception?  The Bible, in the hands of a counselor surrendered to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, can disciple a person bound by the ploys of the enemy into a life of freedom and fellowship with God.       
    When one looks at a person they can see their physical body.  With the right medical equipment and training, a doctor can even see their internal organs and evaluate what might be amiss.  Even human behaviors can be observed and opinions can be rendered based on what is seen.  However, what about the areas of men and women that remain unseen? 
     Dr. Neil T. Anderson in his book, Discipleship Counseling, aids Christian counselors in understanding that there is more to humans that what can be observed with physical eyes.  There is a spiritual realm that consists of the human spirit as well as the supernatural that also plays a part in why people think and do the things they do.  This is not an area that psychology or psychiatry focuses on and a Christian counselor armed with the Bible can aid a counselee, resulting in breaking free from dangerous deception of the enemy of our souls.
Christian Counseling vs. Secular Behavioral Sciences
     The studies of psychology and psychiatry attempt to answer the questions of why we behave and think in certain ways based on scientific evaluation of what is seen.  With a certain amount of success, doctors in these fields can address the physiological symptoms that they observe. “They are observing what the Bible calls the flesh in the vast majority of cases”. (Anderson, 2003, p. 27) 
    Dr. Anderson points out that scientific research can be helpful in illustrating behaviors consistent in sinful humanity, but there are limitations that keep behavioral sciences from shedding light on the nature of man that remains unseen.  For example, science not rooted in Christ tries to prove that mankind is “an evolutionary product of our past environment and shaped by our individual choices”. (Anderson, 2003, p.27)   With all of its research science cannot explain the supernatural, prove or disprove the existence of God, or how faith works in the life of an individual.  (Anderson, 2003)
     Man is both material and immaterial.  The material aspect of man is the physical body as can be observed and experienced.  The immaterial consists of the soul and spirit, with the heart of man at the center.  (Anderson, 2003)  The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”. (Proverbs 4:23, New International Version)
     Oswald Chambers explains the heart this way: “According to the Bible the heart is the centre: The centre of memory, the centre of mercy, the centre of damnation and of salvation, the centre of God’s working and the centre of the devil’s working, the centre from which everything works which moulds the human mechanism.” (Chambers,1912, p.100)     
    How would secular science be able to observe and treat the condition of the human heart?  Only God can read a heart.  (Romans 8:27)  What happens when something goes wrong in the heart of a man or woman?  God has given humanity a gift called the Bible.  It is through the Bible that people can understand how to live, function, and respond in a fallen, sin sick world and a Christian counselor can point a person with a heart hungering for God in the right path.  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, New International Version)
More tomorrow...........

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Supernatural Christianity needs to Celebrate Christmas Truth Everyday for the sake of worship

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Quick Review
Why must the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ be celebrated everyday by Christians? We have so far explored how practical Christianity feeds from Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Also too we have noted that when viewing Christianity in terms of its doctrines, the need to celebrate Christimas truth everyday is also necessary.  Biblical Christianity rests upon three legs: the practical, the doctrinal and the supernatural.  When we state "Practical Christianity" or "Biblical Christianity", we're simply referring to the essential ways in which we can view our daily Christian life.  It is as much practical as it is doctrinal and supernatural. 

How our worship expresses the supernatural character of Biblical Christianity
Being that 1 Timothy 3:16 is an ancient Christian Hymn, it is only fitting that we make the third reason for daily celebrating Jesus Christ, the truth of Christmas, to be for the sake of supernatural Christianity.  All of the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith flow from Jesus Christ.  Worship is how we best see the supernatural essence of our Christian faith.  Ephesians 2:18 clarifies this point:  "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father."  Jesus Christ's incarnation and virgin birth stand as landmark supernatural events that shape the very essence of the Christian faith.  To focus on the Christmas Truth of Jesus Christ in His first coming reinforces us to be a people who worship and love the Lord. 

The Glory of Jesus Christ and supernatural Christian worship
If you notice the first and last lines of this passage, they both deal with the glory of Jesus Christ.  Quite literally we are enjoying Christ from glory to glory in this passage.  The glory of His incarnation and the glory of His ascension.  We look forward to the day when He returns in the glory of His Father.  God's glory in Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle and end of Christian worship.  Some passages below will serve to reinforce the priority of Christ's glory in supernatural Christianity:

1. The Glory of God the Son was sung about at His birth. 
Luke 2:14 states:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

2. The Glory of God the Son was stated at the beginning of His public Ministry
Matthew 3:17 "and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

3. The Glory of God the Son was stated when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration mid-way through His public ministry
Matthew 17:5 "While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”

4. The Glory of God the Son is prayed for by Him in His Upper Room Prayer
John 17:5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

5. His glory demonstrated in His resurrection is the basis for the Christian's New Birth and faith-walk with the Lord
1 Peter 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"

It was this glory of Jesus Christ that was spoken of at the beginning of His birth, and the same glory which He showed, beginning witjh His resurrection and going all the way into His Ascension.  When you see 1 Timothy 3:16, it begins and ends with His glory.  Worship as the chief expression of the supernatural nature of Christianity must begin and end with the glory of Jesus Christ.  The truth of Christmas centers on this fact about our Lord.  He being God in human flesh never ceased being glorious. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Doctrinal Christianity needs to Celebrate Christmas Truth Everyday

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

In thinking on this idea of Jesus Christ as the truth of Christmas, I asked this question in yesterday's blog: Why must the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ be celebrated everyday by Christians? We explored how practical Christianity feeds from Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ in 1 Timothy 3:14-16a.  If you will recall, we noted that Practical Christianity entails how one treats others (conduct) as well their own personal relationship with the Lord (godliness).  We also noticed too that Biblical Christianity rests upon three legs: the practical, the doctrinal and the supernatural.  Then finally, due to the fact that Paul specifically mentioned Jesus Christ as God manifested in the flesh demonstrates the Christmas truth to which He wrote about  namely Jesus Christ Himself. 

With that review in mind, we turn our attention to the second reason as to why we need to celebrate Christmas truth everyday: Precious Doctrine is Framed by Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ.   We will be looking at the 18 words that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16b to discover how much the doctrines associated with Christ's first coming are to drive our everyday Christianity.

A rich and profound statement about Jesus Christ being the heart of Christianity
1 Timothy 3:16 is an example of one of the first Christian hymns ever written.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul takes up this hymn and utilizes it to exhort his young protege Timothy to remain faithful to his calling.  Doctrine that changes lives is equally elegant and exact.  In 18 words in the original text Paul lays down some of the most incredible truths about Jesus Christ.  Note how the structure of these six statements begin and end with similar themes, focusing the reader's attention on the middle two lines of the text: 

1. Wonderful Christ coming from Glory. "God was manifest in the flesh."  As "God" (KJV, NKJV) or "He who" (other English Translations) being revealed in human flesh, Jesus Christ made the journey from Heavenly glory to earthly humiliation. (Philippians 2:5-11) 

     2. Work of the Spirit in the Virgin Birth.  "justified in the Spirit"
     The word translated "justified" in the KJV speaks of the Holy Spirit
     deeming the humanity of Jesus Christ, conceived by Him in the
     virgin's womb, to be without sin.  As God He could not sin and
     as a sinless human being he would not sin. Because of Jesus'
     virgin birth conception, He did not inherit the sin nature that is
     passed down  from a male bloodline. (Matthew 1:20,23; Luke
     1:35; 1 Peter 1:17-18, 2:21-22) 
            3. Witness of Angels. "seen of angels"
              We know that in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke,
             angels were present to proclaim that in the City of David 
             had been born a Savior.  What makes this statement of
             Him being "seen by angels" is the fact that the Old
             Testament portrays the angels veiling their eyes with their
              wings, never having looked directly upon the Deity of God.
             (Isaiah 6).  Their song in Luke 2:14 is their proclamation of
             the Deity of the Son who now lay in the manger: "Glory to
             God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward

             4. Witness of Men. "preached unto the Gentiles"
             By the time Paul wrote these words in 1 Timothy, the early
             church's mission had spread from Jerusalem to Judea and
             Samaria to the Uttermost parts of the earth. (Acts 1:8)  The
             "preaching" or "proclamation" of the Gospel took place after
             Jesus had ascended.  What is interesting about the last
             three lines of this text is that we will go backward to the point
             where He had ascended into Heaven after giving His
             disciples the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and
             Acts 1:8-11. 

      5. Work of the Spirit in the New Birth of believers. "believed
      on in the world"
      Just as we saw the work of the Spirit in Christ's Virgin birth in the
      second line of this text, we see His work in convicting sinner's
      unto salvation in thise second from the last line of the text.  As
      the Gospel about God who came in human flesh to die on the
      cross and be raised from the dead was preached, people
      believed!  Focusing on Jesus Christ, the truth of Christmas,
      should stir Christians to share the Goodnews with their unsaved
      loved ones and friends.

6. Wonderful Christ taken up into Glory. "received up into glory"
With this last line of the passage we see a parallel with the first, namely that the Christ who came as God in human flesh from glory is being received as the resurrected Lord into glory.  Jesus had prayed in John 17:1-4 that He would once again get to share in the Glory He had with the Father from all eternity.  In Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:8-11 we see our Lord ascending into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. 

The first three lines detail the reality of Christmas truth from the standpoint of God's activity in the Heavenly realm, whereas the last three lines deal with His same activity in the earthly realm.  Truly in Jesus Christ we see the Eternity of Heaven and history meet in One person.  Would we be a people who celebrates Christmas truth everyday.  Would we be a people who in noting the rich doctrines of the Bible, as they pertain to the Lord Jesus Christ, be so moved to love Him more and tell others about Him. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Practical Christianity needs to Celebrate Christmas Truth Everyday

1 Timothy 3:14-16 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

What to do after the presents are unwrapped
In a few short days we will be celebrating Christmas with our family.  As many of you who are reading this blog probably will be experiencing, the anticipation leading up to Christmas and the quickness of its passing leaves one with a sense of "now what?"  When we celebrate holidays like Christmas, it is very easy to focus on the significance of Jesus' incarnation and virgin birth only once a year.  What about the remaining eleven or so months?  Should the truth of Christ's virgin birth and entry from eternity into time be restricted to once a year?  Today's blog aims to give the Christian reader a direction to go in the wake of unwrapped presents and what will be the drawing to a close of another Christmas season. 

The passage that urges us to celebrate Christmas truth everyday
1 Timothy 3:14-16 stands as one of the most incredible texts in the New Testament.  What draws me to this text is the fact that it includes a profound statement about the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only is the passage rich in doctrine, but also the passage is unique in that it represents one of the first early Christian hymns.  Those details alone made me start thinking about Jesus Christ as the Central truth of Christmas.  As Paul was closing out this positive set of instructions to Timothy his young protege and pastor of the Ephesian church,  he urges him and us reading this letter to truly celebrate Christmas truth everyday.

In thinking on this idea of Jesus Christ as the truth of Christmas, I ask this question: Why must the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ be celebrated everyday by Christians? In considering 1 Timothy 3:14-16, let me offer three answers to that question:

1. Practical Christianity Feeds from Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ.  1 Timothy 3:14-16a

2. Precious Doctrine is Framed by Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ.  1 Timothy 3:16b

3. Powerful Worship Flows from Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ.  1 Timothy 3:16b

So why celebrate Christmas truth everyday?  Notice first of all that...

Practical Christianity Feeds from Him who is the truth of Christmas, Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy 3:14-16a

Practical Christianity expressed towards others = Conduct
Practical Christianity is one of Paul's main concerns here in these set of verses.  Note what he says about our practical everyday Christian life.  In 1 Timothy 3:15 we read: "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."   The idea of behavior is also translated by the NASB as "conduct".  Conducting oneself in the Biblical sense means being careful about how you respond and carry yourself as a Christian. 
Christian conduct is spoken of elsewhere in the New Testament:

1. Philippians 1:27 reminds us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel

2. In Acts 4:32, all the early Christians had a conduct that united them together in one heart and mind

3. Paul urges the Corinthian church in 1 Coritnhains 1:10 to watch their conduct with one another so that there may be no divisions

Other passages could be cited, but the point is well taken, conduct or how we excercise caution in our dealings with one another is a mark of a healthy, practical Christianity. 

Practical Christian expressed in my own life = godliness
Paul then says these words in 1 Timothy 3:16a - "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness...."  What is godliness? Proverbs 13:6 in the NLT reads - "Godliness guards the path of the blameless, but the evil are misled by sin."  Perhaps one of the clearest descriptions of the term "godliness' anywhere in the Bible is 1 Timothy 4:8 "for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."  To be Godly means that I aim to do good and be good for the sake of God's pleasure. 

What drives practical conduct and Godliness? Christmas truth
As Paul has wrote instructions in 1 Timothy 1-3 on how his readers are to "conduct themselves" and "be godly", the question is: what engine will drive Christian conduct and Godliness?  Only one person can do that: Jesus Christ.  Christmas truth is Jesus, and daily focus upon Himself will ensure effective conduct and godliness.  The fact that Paul hitches 1 Timothy 3:15-16 to the rich statement concerning the arrival of Jesus Christ into this world, tells us that daily Christian living feeds upon the life and power of Jesus Christ. 

More tomorrow...........

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Six Links between Christmas & the Cross

Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

My aim today is to draw as many parallels as possible between the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke to the crucifixion account of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John 18, 19 and 20 will be our main text for the crucifixion account, with connecting points being drawn from Matthew and Luke.  Below I will list some main headings and associated verses to aid you, the reader, in connecting the Christmas event of the cradle at Bethlehem to the Mission of the Savior at the cross. 

1. The Shepherds told about the Savior born, who would die for the people
Luke 2:11 "for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

John 18:14 "Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus, our Good Shepherd. 

2. He was Born and Died "The King of the Jews." 
Matthew 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

John 19:19 "And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus our True King.

3. The Roman Empire was included in His birth and death.
Luke 2:1 "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth."

John 19:23 "Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Ultimate Ruler. 

4. The Prediction of Mary's agony at His death spoken after his birth
Luke 2:35 "and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

John 19:26-27 "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Obedient Son.

5. The presence of Myrrh in the accounts of His birth and death
Luke 2:11 "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

John 19:39 "And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Satisfaction of wrath.

6. Angels were present at His birth and resurrection
Luke 2:13-14 "And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

John 20:12-14 "and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. "

What links these two passages together is the fact we see Jesus the Victorious Savior. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas in the Epistles - Hebrews

Hebrews 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

What is fascinating about our New Testaments is in how they are arranged.  When we consider the Gospels for example, they present God in human flesh - Jesus Christ.  Yesterday we made some remarks about the first coming of Jesus from 1 Timothy and today we continue by noting some observations in the Epistle to the Hebrews. 

The Old Testament Foundation and Anticipation of Christ's first coming
In the original Hebrew Old Testament, the Bible books were divided into three main divisions: The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. (Luke 24:44) According to Deuteronomy 19:15 and Matthew 18:16, the truth of any given matter is established by two or three witnesses. We can note how the writer quotes purposefully from the three-fold division of the Old Testament to drive home the point of his exhortation here in Hebrews 2:

1. In Hebrews 2:1-4 the writer alludes to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20, hence utilizing the "Law" or "Pentateuch" of the first five books of the Old Testament.

2. In Hebrews 2:5-8 He quotes from Psalm 8, utilizing the section called "The Writings"

3. Then in Hebrews 2:9-13 we see another quotation in 2:12 from Psalm 22:22 and a quotations from Isaiah 8:17-18, thus utilizing the "Prophetic" portion of the Old Testament.

With this foundation laid, the writer proves that the entire Old Testament "paid heed" to the coming Messiah who would be born to die for sinners and to destroy the works of the Devil.

How the entire Trinity was involved in bringing about the Christmas
We learn from this chapter of Hebrews that all three Persons of the Trinity were involved in the bringing about of Christmas. First, Hebrews 2:14 attributes the incarnation to Christ Himself: "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil".1 

Next we understand that the Holy Spirit, sharing in the same Divine nature as the Son, directly intervened in forming a human nature and uniting it to the Person of the Son. Hebrews 2:17a bears this out: "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God."2 

Thirdly, we see Hebrews 10:5 ascribing the work of the incarnation to God the Father: "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me." (KJV) To Whom is Jesus addressing? Hebrews 10:7 makes it quite clear that He is speaking to God the Father, since it His Will which He came to perform. (compare John 17:1-4) 3

The main point of Hebrews 2 and its relationship to Christmas
As you begin to analyze Hebrews 2, the central verses of the chapter lie in Hebrews 2:1, 9 and 14 - pointing our attention to three main points.  The writer (perhaps Paul) is explaining  first off what every Christian must pay heed to in 2:1 "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." 

Secondly, in Hebrews 2:9 we read - "But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone."  So then we are to payheed to not drifting away from the Gospel that we've heard, as well as the fact that Jesus Christ came to die for sinners. 

Then notice thirdly Hebrews 2:14 -  "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil".  So in addition to not drifting and noting that Jesus came to die for sinners, we can note a third point: namely Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil.  Christmas then is about the Savior who came to die for sinners and destroy the works of the Devil - the Gospel from which every Christan must ever strive to not drift away. 

May you and I today pay the more earnest heed to this Jesus of Whom we aim to focus not only this Christmas season but in the upcoming New Year.

End Notes________________
1. From another text, Hebrews 10:7 we read Jesus saying: "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God." (KJV) The joining of humanity to the Person of the Son was a consentual agreement made between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Eternity. (Psalm 110; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 10:4-7). 

2. The underlined verb is in the passive, meaning that Christ was the recipient of the action of His person being united to full humanity. Other passages such as Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:35 specifically ascribe the miracle of the virgin birth conception to the Holy Spirit - Who is the Direct Agent involved in the incarnation. The Son agreed to have humanity joined to Himself, with the Holy Spirit uniting such a perfect human nature to Christ in the virgin birth conception.

3. Furthermore Jesus is quoting Psalm 40 wherein David, the original speaker in the Psalm, is addressing God. Unless otherwise indicated, the name "God" by itself normally refers to God the Father. God the Father is moreso indirectly involved, since He Providentially prepared the bloodline of Mary to be the bloodline through which the humanity of Jesus Christ would be incarnated and made a reality. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

How we know the Mayans don't know

Mark 13:32 "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."

After today, we will discover that no one really knows the timing of the end of the world
As many of you perhaps may know, today is the supposed day that an ancient Mayan Calendar will have ran its last cycle, indicating in the eyes of some the end of the world.  My wife and I were talking earlier this morning how instructive it is to us concerning the scoffing and flippancy that has been expressed towards this supposed "end of the world".  My aim in this special blog is not to offer commentary on the Mayan calendar, other than to say I do not think it is predicting the end of the world.  Rather I want us to turn our attention briefly to a text where Jesus explicitly states that no one knows the day nor the hour of His coming.  We will first of all unfold its meaning and then offer some practical considerations as to why the Lord saw fit not to reveal the exact day and hour of His coming.

Unraveling the mystery of Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36
The fact that Bible Prophecy states several times that God has not revealed the exact day of Christ's return should be noted by the student of scripture. (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)  In the Mark and corresponding Matthew passages, Jesus reveals that there are those who don't know the exact hour of His return and that there is only One who does know the exact hour.  We can see a summary list below:

Those who don't know                           Those who do know
1. All Human beings                                 God the Father
2. The Angels
3. God The Son, operating through
His human nature (The Son of Man)

The Person of God the Son has two natures or two ways of expressing His existence - A Fully Divine and Fully Human Nature
When we read the phrase "nor the Son" in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, it may cause some to wonder how that could be.  Scripture affirms time and time again that the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ,  shares in the same Divine nature as the Father. (Matthew 28:18; John 1:1, 8:58; Romans 9:5)  In other words, the Son did not have a beginning, He has always been. (Hebrews 1:5-14; Revelation 1:8) When we say "nature", we mean the way in which a Living being expresses its existence. 

Thus by being Fully Divine, the Son would know all things, be everywhere present and have all power.  Whenever He came to this world, He being the Son assumed a second way of expressing Himself, a second nature - namely a fully human one. (John 1:14,18; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:16)  Thus He chose to willingly operate through His human nature - which meant among other things that He would not know everything as a man.  Why did He do this?  to submit fully and completely to the will of His Father. 

What took place after Jesus' resurrection concerning His knowledge of His return
As the Person of the Son, He still retained His fully Divine nature, however for the purposes of securing His Father's purposes of redemption, Jesus Christ chose not to excercise the privileges that come with sharing in the Divine nature as His Father.  So then, if Jesus Christ operated primarily through His human nature while here on earth, then would it still be the case that He does not know the exact timing of His return? 

Pastor John MacArthur gives an interesting observation which upon some reflection I tend to agree.  Note what he says in a sermon He preached back in 1984 entitled: "Ready or not, here I come":

"Now it is my own personal feeling that after the resurrection this     was revealed to Him. That when He came out of the grave in the glory of His resurrection life, it says in Matthew 28:18 He said to His disciples, "All authority is given unto Me in heaven and earth." And I think what that's saying is nothing is missing, I have authority over all things. And then in Acts 1:7 He said this, "But unto you it is not given to know the times and the seasons which My Father has put in His own power," and He doesn't include Himself anymore. He says unto you it isn't given. So it may well be that after the resurrection, His knowledge was complete."

Armed with this observation, we can then say that the post-resurrection Jesus, retaining a full human nature in a glorified resurrection body, chooses now in this area of knowledge to know the exact timing of His return.  The above chart that I gave a moment ago would reflect the current conditions pertaining to the timing of Christ's second coming:

Those who don't know                             Those who do know
1. All Human beings                                    1. God the Father
2. The Angels                                              2. God the Son, operating
                                                                    through His Divine nature
                                                                    (i.e the Son of God)

Jesus Christ in heaven is now operating primarily through His Divine nature, which He never ceased having. He is situated at the right hand of God the Father and still retains his glorified resurrected human body, since He is pleased to call all who believe on him His brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:9-18)

Why the Lord has seen fit not to reveal to us the exact timing of His return
So with all this cultural discussion on the Mayans and the end of the world, why would the Lord Jesus Christ choose not to devulge such an important detail as the exact timing of His return?  Consider these thoughts as we close out this blog:

1. If we really knew, Christians would not be as motivated to live by faith nor be as inclined to live the Godly life.  The mystery of the timing of Christ's return gives hope to faith and motivation for godly living. (1 John 3:1-3)

2. If Christians knew the exact day and hour, the motivation to do missions and evangelism would wane.  Christ's second coming is among the chief motivators used in scripture to call men and women to repentance and faith, so as to escape the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

3. The fact that we don't know the exact hour of His return is God's way of reminding us that we and the angels are creatures, and that He alone knows all things. The revealed things belong to us and our children while the unrevealed things belong to God. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

4. I would submit that those groups who come claiming to know the exact day and hour of the world's end are heretical and to be avoided by all Bible-believing Christians.  God has purposefully not revealed this detail to aid us in determining genuine Christian faith from heresy. 

May you and I, in the midst of this season celebrating His First coming, be ever focused and eager for His Second coming - whenever He so chooses to return.