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!

 

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!

 

There’s Freedom In God’s Sovereignty!

-Trust Him With Your Pain!

I’ve used my last few posts to take a deeper look at the prayer life of Hannah, from the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 1.  We’ve considered how God used her God-honoring prayers to heal her of her brokenness. She learned to pray with a view toward God’s Sovereignty over every painful situation in life.  I can’t overemphasize how important that was to Hannah’s spiritual formation. Until you can pray —about EVERYTHING— with a view toward God’s Sovereignty; and, with an acceptance —of your PAINFUL circumstances— even when you don’t have the answer to your “WHY” questions, you’ll be susceptible to a bitter heart! You’ll be in danger of turning yourself into God’s judge!

-Motivated By God’s Glory!

Until you can pray with a motivation for God’s glory alone, you’re pain & suffering will eat you up! Let me share, with you, a Facebook post that one of our members shared after hearing this message in church:  “The sovereignty of God is the pillow I lay my head upon. I have finally come to that conclusion; thus, I can sleep at night. God is in control and I can TRUST His decisions for this journey my family and I are on, now. He WILL get us through, and even if things don’t go as planned, if we are TRULY his, one day things will get better, if not in this lifetime, in Heaven… I finally GET God’s SOVEREIGNTY! I GET it,” Can you hear the “freedom” expressed in that statement?

-Trust His Character!

When you finally grasp God’s Sovereignty it’s a doctrine that offers great freedom! In part, because of God’s Character! He reveals Himself, in Scripture, as loving, gracious, merciful and benevolent toward us! Furthermore, He is just and righteous in ALL His ways! We can trust Him! We can trust that His Sovereign entry into the corners of our lives will always, ultimately be for our good & for His Glory! But, you must accept these revelations, of Himself, by faith! Then, let Him be God! Hannah experienced the freedom, of God’s Sovereignty, over all her circumstances. And, because she was motivated to see God glorified —through her circumstances— she could just leave it all in God’s more-than-capable Hands! 1 Samuel 1:18 says, “…Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent.”

-Truth Changes Us!

That line was the greatest indicator that she had left her painful circumstances in God’s Hands! Remember, back in v.7, that Hannah had grown so despondent that she wouldn’t eat. Her husband became concerned, “Why won’t you eat?” But, when she submitted to God’s Sovereign plan, “…she ate and no longer looked despondent.” Truth changes us when we believe it! Previously, in her anguish, she had been misread as drunk by Eli, the priest—”…no,” she said, “I am a woman with a broken heart… I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord…” v.15,16. Praying, through her pain, had been messy for Hannah. Until the Holy Spirit wrestled with her and calmed her troubled heart. One more lesson, about prayer, from Hannah! She offered praise when God answered! Take a good look at her words in the next chapter, vs. 1-10.

 

Prayer That Views God As Sovereign!

-Why Do We Ask “Why”?

Whenever we experience something painful, it’s so typical for us to ask “WHY” isn’t it? Why me? Why do I have to go through this? Hannah’s story, in 1 Samuel, is particularly eye-opening! When she found herself unable to conceive & have children,  it would have been normal for her to ask, “Why am I unable to have a baby?” The Scripture addresses that “WHY” question:  “…the LORD had KEPT HER from conceiving…because the LORD had KEPT Hannah from conceiving…” 1 Samuel 1:5-6.  God takes credit for her inability to conceive! While doctors may have come up with a “medical reason” to explain it, God’s Sovereign control was actually behind the human “medical reason.”

-Praying In The LORD’S Presence!

Hannah responded to her condition by going to the source— “…she continued praying in the LORD’S presence” v.10,12.  Above all our human problems & conditions is God’s Sovereignty! Now, I know that many believers just don’t wanna credit God with that much Sovereignty. They’d rather say that God “ALLOWED” it; but, He’s not really the “CAUSE.” And, they believe they’re “protecting” God’s reputation in doing so! But, listen, if God is not Sovereign over every event & over everything else than you either have to believe that Satan is just as powerful as God; and, there really is a “BATTLE” going on between good & evil; and, God might not win! Or, you have to believe that man’s “FREE WILL” is Sovereign & trumps God’s will!

-Sovereign & Omnipotent!

I believe that the Scriptures tell us that God is both Sovereign and omnipotent! And, in Exodus 4:11, when God said to Moses, “Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” that God was taking Sovereign credit for such things as blindness, deafness, and the inability to speak! In His absolute wisdom, He uses the pain & suffering, we endure in this world, for our good & for His glory! It was because Hannah saw her inability to bear children as part of God’s Sovereign plan, that she prayed with a motivation for God’s glory. She saw her negative circumstance as God’s opportunity to bring Himself glory!

-God’s Sovereign Plans For Your Kids!

All the years of barrenness helped Hannah realize something that many parents never comprehend— that children aren’t just for PARENTS! They are for the LORD! God has HIS design for your kids! And, they ultimately belong to HIM! Are you more into your plans for your kids; or, His plans? Hannah’s not bargaining with God, in her prayer! He doesn’t bargain with anyone! Out of her painful experience God had changed her. He had used her suffering to prepare her heart to give her child to God, Who gave it! “After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, I requested him from the Lord… though the boy was still young, she took him to the LORD’S house at Shiloh” vs. 20-24. Hannah saw it as her great privilege to give her son to the Lord for His purpose!

 

What Do Your Prayers Look Like?

-Are You Willing To Get Honest?

Are you willing to take a good hard look at your prayer life? Of what do your prayers consist? Are your prayers consumed with “requests”? Are they filled with requests that God would change your circumstances? Make your life easier? Make more money at your job? Or, are you asking for a new job? What if none of that is God’s will for your life? Have you ever considered that? Have you ever considered that, for reasons beyond your ability to even comprehend, that it might not be God’s will to heal someone you’re praying for? Have you ever considered, that in God’s eternal plans for His glory & your good, that it might not be His will for you to get the job you’ve always wanted?

-The Proper Motive For Prayer!

The only proper motive, for prayer, is God’s will! In Jesus’ model prayer, he taught His disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come.  YOUR WILL be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Matthew 6:10.  Perhaps the implication is that rather than praying for God to change our circumstances, we ought to pray that God would use the circumstances to change us! Not until after Jesus taught the disciples to pray for God’s will does He turn His attention to praying for our own individual needs. Only after submitting to God’s will, in prayer, does He teach them to pray, “…give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. There is so much we could say about the simplicity of that prayer request! Just give us what we need TODAY! That’s it! Don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble! Just ask for the Father’s provision TODAY; and, leave it there!

-God Already Knows What We Need!

Earlier, in the same text, Jesus had said:  “When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him” ch. 6:7.  Don’t babble lengthy prayers about your needs, Jesus said, because the Father already knows! Then, Jesus turns His attention to praying for others. Again, this is a MODEL prayer! “When you pray, pray LIKE THIS…” He said.  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” He said,  ch. 6:12.  In other words, pray that God would forgive you in the SAME WAY that you forgive others! Be so thankful for the Father’s forgiveness that you forgive others in the same way that He forgave you— TOTALLY! COMPLETELY!

-God’s Absolute Forgiveness!

There is nothing anyone has ever done to you that could ever be compared to the quantity & level of depravity that you’ve sinned against God! And, yet, He forgave you! It’s not until we are truly thankful, for His absolute forgiveness, that we are truly able to forgive others! After He’s finished teaching the disciples how to pray, He shared these disturbing words with them:  “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” ch. 6:14-15. In essence, He’s telling them to take a hard look at themselves! If they’re unable to forgive others, it’s evidence that they may never have been forgiven themselves!