Freedom From Cannibalism!

-Biting One Another!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Church of Galatia, he wrote: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another” Gal. 5:15.  In the context, of this letter, Paul’s main theme is “freedom.” The genuine follower, of Jesus Christ, is set FREE from their previous bondage to the flesh! We are FREE from the slavery to capitulate to the demands of our broken and depraved natures. No longer does sin have power over us! Jesus, upon His ascension to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us with the ability to say “no” to sin’s demands!

-Called To Be Free!

So, Paul, the Apostle, tells this church:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Gal.5:1,13-14.  The essence of Paul’s words is this— the Gospel, of Jesus Christ, sets us free from Christian Cannibalism! It is only Jesus’ Gospel that empowers us to love others like this! When our love, for others, grows, in this way, it’s a powerful endorsement to the validity of our words when we share our faith! Conversely, it is a blatant & ugly contradiction, of Jesus’ Gospel, when we “…bite and devour one another…” (v.15).

-Preying Like Cannibals!

When we prey on one another, like Cannibals, we sabotage the Glory of Jesus’ cross! We cover up the beauty of Christ, Who gave Himself up in payment for our self-centeredness! I saw the ugliness of Christian Cannibalism played out, as a Bible college student; when half the church, I was attending, walked out, on the other half, over the color choice of the ladies restroom during a building program! Their testimony, in that rural community, was ruined! I saw it happen! Oh, how we need the Spirit’s help to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that’s redemptive; rather, than destructive! A church that does not serve each other, in love like Jesus, will cannibalize itself! We can only love, like Jesus, if we’ve been set FREE by the Power of His Gospel! God can & does deliver churches from Christian Cannibalism!

-Overcoming The Past!

Only the Gospel of Christ can deliver our churches from such ungodly behavior! Some of you have experienced a church that devoured itself! You still struggle with the pain! It’s still raw! And, you are broken at the thought that some unbelievers will never come to faith, in Jesus Christ, because of the relational damage they’ve seen inflicted on others by so-called Christians! And, don’t forget to praise God if you’re part of a community of faith that truly loves, honors, and respects one other! That is truly a work of God! Be encouraged & pray regularly for a continuing peace & harmony in your church! Pray daily for spiritual renewal & revival! And, remember that it’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet!

 

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Jesus In The Flesh!

-Do We Look Like Him?

In a conversation one of our church family members had with someone, who was struggling to understand & accept the Gospel, she said to them, “I just need to see Jesus in the flesh!” She meant, by that, that she needed to see what it looked like for someone, claiming to be a follower of Jesus, to actually live it! That’s a powerful statement! And, the Gospel of Christ actually frees us to be “Jesus in the flesh” to everyone we encounter!

-It’s A Radical Transformation!

When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves into our lives— by the Power of His Holy Spirit— and, radically begins to transform us in every way, including our relationships! We can actually become Jesus to everyone we meet! Let me explain! When humanity, in Adam, sinned, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to IMAGE God. We were BROKEN! Because of our fallen nature, we are born into this world with an inability to love like God loves! So, we hate others! We lash out! We become self-absorbed! We use people for what they can do for us! That’s our default condition at birth!

-Everything Changes In Jesus!

But, when the Gospel of Christ is introduced to us & accepted, everything changes! Just read Matthew, Mark, Luke & John’s account of Jesus’ life & marvel at the way He loves…  even His enemies! And, we are transformed, into His image, as we dwell in His presence through the written Word! The Apostle Paul described it like this, when he wrote the Church of Corinth:  “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Cor. 3:18.  By the Power, of the Gospel, we see God’s Glory— in Jesus— and, we are transformed into that SAME IMAGE from one Glory to another!

-Re-Imaged Into Jesus!

We are being “RE-IMAGED” into Jesus! We need to hear this! Far too often, the inter-personal relationships, within the body, look no different than the relationships among unbelievers! And, I submit to you, that THAT plays a huge part in the overall ineffectiveness of the Western church when it comes to making disciples & attracting people to the church! So, how do we change this? How can this trend be reversed?

-Jesus’ New Command!

Jesus told His disciples: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34,35. As He transforms us to love others— in the SAME way He loves us—  the world will know we belong to Jesus! They’ll know we love Jesus because we love them! Here’s what I believe God wants us to do about this— He wants us to REPENT over our broken relationships! To repent literally means, “to change your mind.” So, God wants us to change our minds about our broken relationships! We used to think they were okay! But, they’re NOT OKAY! We need Him to fix them! So, the world can see Jesus in us!

 

What Jesus Calls Great!

-Wouldn’t You Like To Know?

Have you ever given thought to what it would have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples & just walk through life with Him? To literally walk through life with Jesus! Because that was the most common method of transportation in that day! And, to hear Him speak God’s wisdom into every situation they encountered! Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, tells us about a time when Jesus & His disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; and, Jesus gets real serious with them & begins to tell them that the Chief Priest & the religious leaders would condemn Him to death! That He would be mocked & spit on & flogged & killed! And, it was weird— like they didn’t even hear what He was saying— but, 2 of the disciples, James & John who were brothers, approach Jesus immediately after He dropped that “bomb” on them & ask if they could sit on each side of His throne in Glory!

-Great To Jesus Is Service!

That really ticked off the other 10 disciples! Mark records it like this:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re GREAT in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Jesus’ Leadership Model!

What Jesus calls “GREAT” and what the world says is “GREAT” are generally 2 entirely different things. Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). Those who lead, in this world, dominate or lord it over anyone in a “subordinate” role, Jesus says. Having a “position” of power is of great significance! But, that’s not the case in Jesus’ Kingdom! If we follow Jesus’ leadership model, we have to reject the world’s style of leadership. Instead, Jesus calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  “…it must not be like the world’s leadership style…” among believers, He says!

-Do You Want A Title?

In the ministry of the church, Jesus says it’s not about having a “title.” Do you want a title? If you’re an “ELDER” you SERVE! If you’re a “DEACON” you SERVE! If you’re a Sunday School Teacher, a Small Group Leader, an AWANA or NURSERY WORKER you SERVE! If you’re a WORSHIP TEAM MEMBER— it’s NOT A SHOW! Jesus doesn’t care about your title! He cares about your SERVICE! You want to be GREAT? You want a TITLE? Take the title of “SERVANT”, Jesus says! And, then, Jesus calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  Some versions render the word “servant.” But, that’s not right! The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, the only correct way to translate it is  “slave.” Jesus meant for us to take on the humility of a slave when it comes to our ministry & service to others!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!

The Fruit God Produces In You!

-The Evidence Is The Fruit!

Everyone that is “in Christ” will evidence the fruit of that relationship. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! So, if you don’t bear fruit it’s because you’re “not abiding in the vine,” He said. So, let’s take some time to consider what kind of fruit is expected to be growing, in our life, if we belong to Him. Besides Galatians 5, which speaks to fruit the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us, there is also an expectation that our lives would produce the fruit of winning others to Jesus.

-The Fruit Of Disciple-Making!

In John 4, Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Does your life reveal the fruit of disciple making? Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15.  So, we would expect to see the fruit of obedience in the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

-The Fruit Of Obedience!

If our faith is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit will be at work in us—pointing out all the areas of our lives we still need to line up, in obedience, to the Word of God. In John 15, Jesus refers to The Father as the Vinedresser (v.1); and, He added that God will remove you, from the vine, if there’s no life in you. In v.6 He says you’ll be thrown into the FIRE! Jesus taught the same truth in His parable about the wheat & the tares in Matthew 13. The “tares” LOOKED like wheat; but, they were frauds! They were weeds & at the harvest they’ll be separated from the genuine wheat and burned up. That pictures judgment for everyone who claims to be Jesus’ disciple; but, have no fruit to evidence that claim! Just as the owner, of a vineyard, expects fruit; so, God expects every one of us— who genuinely abide in Christ— to produce fruit! He saved us on account of His great Name & for His great purpose— that He might gather a people, to Himself for all eternity, that belong to Him! Jesus Christ “invested” His life in you; and, He expects a “return” on that investment! Consider what Jesus said!

-Jesus Chose Us!

You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” John 15:16.  It’s fruitfulness, He says, that evidences real faith! If your life is absent, of fruit, you’d do well to examine yourself against the Scriptures to see if you’re faith is the real thing! Please consider Jesus’ words carefully, with all sobriety! This is “life or death” because fruitfulness is always the result of “abiding in Christ.” If there is NO FRUIT of the Spirit; if there is NO FRUIT or passion to “MAKE DISCIPLES”; If there is NO FRUIT of obedience—it may be because you do not abide in Jesus! Nor does He abide in you! The church, here in the west, has made a distinction between a “believer” & a “disciple.” A distinction that’s not endorsed by Scripture! We’ll get into that in next week’s post!

 

How God Uses Prayer!

-To Show His Great Power!

A survey of God’s Word reveals how God uses prayer, in our lives, in a number of ways. In this post I want to ask you to consider how God will often answer your prayers, with a display of power, in order to strengthen your faith! In Acts, chapter 12, we find the Apostle Peter imprisoned by King Herod. So the text says that the church was earnestly praying for his release.  With great power, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, in the prison, where Peter was being held; and, released him from his chains & then escorted him out of the prison, safely passing 2 separate guard posts and out through an iron gate! From there, it says, “When he (Peter) realized this (that the Angel freed him), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.  ‘You’re crazy!’ they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, ‘It’s his angel!’ Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” Acts 12:12-17.

-To Astound You!

They were astounded! I’ve often thought about Herod, and his guards, when reading this text! What a display of power was evidenced to release Peter from his chains and imprisonment! But, the same display of power God used to confront Herod & the Jews, with their helplessness to stop Him when He determines to do something according to His Sovereign plans, is the same power display that God uses to strengthen our faith! The same display of power that buckled & weakened the knees of unbelievers, strengthened the faith of believers! When you study the Gospels, you see that Jesus kept growing the faith of His disciples! For 3 1/2 years He kept convincing them that the work of God can never be done in the power of the flesh; or, by the world’s methods.; but, by the supernatural power of God alone. God wants to engage us in prayer so we see His power.

-To Build Your Faith!

God also intends to build our faith & belief , in Him, as He answers our prayers. Why do we see the supernatural work, of God, in the book of Acts? Chapter 2:42 says the believers, ““…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” The early church was birthed in prayer! It says they DEVOTED themselves to prayer!  James identified that prayer was a problem for some: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires”  (ch. 4:3)  God doesn’t answer selfish prayers! He does, however, answer the prayers of helplessness & utter dependence on His power! Jesus taught His disciples that God answers prayers that are God-centered & God-focused! So, how might your prayers need to change?

 

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?