A Spiritual Church

June 2, 2018

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).
We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality, they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.


The Misunderstood Commission

July 12, 2013

If I were to give you their names, you probably wouldn’t recognize the list: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel. Add two more names, Joshua and Caleb, and many Bible students would suddenly have a flash of recognition – the twelve spies.

The setting is after the Exodus from Egypt. Israel is in the wilderness. They are camped outside the Promised Land. The spy mission is God’s idea: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2, ESV). Moses also states their commission:

Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land. Numbers 13:17-20, ESV

It is interesting to note that in the commissioning of the spies the issue is never whether we can take the land or not. Taking the land is a given. God has promised.

The ten spies failed not because they reported strong peoples and fortified cities in the land. Their failure was saying, “We are not strong enough; we can’t do it.” The issue had never been Israel’s strength. The issue always was God’s strength, and what could be accomplished by faith. They misunderstood their commission.

We too have a commission – a great one in fact. It is about going into all the world, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. It would be failure for us to say, “We are not strong enough; we can’t do it.” It is not about our strength. It is about God’s strength, and what can be accomplished by faith. For this commission too comes with a promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, ESV).


How Do You Know God?

February 15, 2013

K.C. Moser in his book, Attributes of God, has a chapter on knowing God. He lists three ways of knowing God: (1) through creation, (2) through revelation, and (3) through Christian experience.

Knowledge of God through Creation. Knowledge of God through
creation is discussed in several passages:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1, ESV)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20, ESV

When we consider creation, we can learn something about God. We still need revelation in order to come to a saving knowledge of God, but there is something for us to learn from creation.

Knowledge of God through Revelation. Knowledge of God through revelation is critical. Without scripture, we would not know of our spiritual condition or God’s solution.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV

Knowledge of God through Christian Experience. Our knowledge from experience must be based on our knowledge from revelation. Yet, we must also see that knowledge of Bible content must be put into practice. This daily living adds a deeper dimension to our knowledge of God. One could know all the facts about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, but Paul also writes “…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us”
(Romans 5:5, NASB). This speaks of a love that the Christian comes to experience and feel, because of what Christ has done. The love of God and neighbors are concepts to be learned (Matthew 22:35-40) but also experienced in our service to God and ministry to others.

May we all come to know God from creation, revelation, and experience. When our knowledge of God from creation and revelation goes on to the knowledge of experience, it has moved from facts about faith to a life of faith. That is what Christian maturity is about. How do you know God?


Marks of a Saved Person

November 10, 2012

The Apostle John states the purpose in writing 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV). So how do I know? What are the marks of a saved person? John’s letter provides answers.

What direction am I headed? Am I walking in the light? Read 1 John 1:5-10. It’s not that I bounce from the saved category to the lost category to the saved category with each sin and confession of sin, and I just hope that I die in the saved category. God is looking at my lifestyle–the general trend and direction of my life. This does not deny the possibility of going the wrong direction and being lost. Rather, it keeps us from going to the opposite extreme and losing any sense of Christian security.

Do I acknowledge sin in my life? Read 1 John 1:9. John is talking about a lifestyle that is willing to own up to sin–a lifestyle that listens to the correction given it by the Word.

Can I honestly characterize my life as obedient? Read 1 John 2:1-6, 2:29. We won’t be perfectly obedient, but there still ought to be a reality to our claim of obedience.

Do I love my brothers and sisters? Read 1 John 2:7-11, 3:16-24, 4:7-21. Certainly one important example of our obedience is loving our brothers and sisters.

Where are my priorities? Read 1 John 15-17. Does God come first or the world?

Do I acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s incarnate Son in all I say and do? Read 1 John 2:18-24, 4:1-6, 5:1-12. The false teachers of John’s day were denying that the Son of God became flesh, dwelt among us, died on the cross, and was raised from the dead.

Do I abide in the apostolic teaching? Read 1 John 4:1-6. The “us” of this verse is the apostles. The false teachers of John’s day were not abiding by apostolic teaching. Note also the “we” of 1:1-4 and the “us” of 1:3.

Am I practicing sin or am I practicing righteousness? Read 1 John 3:1-12.

Is the Holy Spirit at work in my life? Read 1 John 2:25-29, 3:24, 4:1-6. Is the fruit of the Spirit being produced in my life (see Galatians 5:16-26)?

Note: the above questions come from a series of lessons by Mike Moss. See also his book: C. Michael Moss, Lord, Sometimes I Don’t Feel Saved! (21st Century Christian). He has recently started a blog. Dr. Mike is a dean and professor at Ohio Valley University.


The Oasis

August 30, 2012

Once upon a time, there was an oasis in the middle of a desert. The desert was a dry wasteland where the sun burned hot. The heat rising from the blistering sand wearied many a traveler. But the oasis gave hope of refreshment to weary souls.

In the oasis was an artesian spring that gave the clearest, bubbling cool water that man has ever tasted. So much so, that its fame spread far and near. Travelers would come to the oasis just because they had heard of the refreshing spring. They drank deeply from its waters and found refreshment and contentment of soul.

Those who frequented the oasis decided to build a cistern near the spring. They used the finest materials and filled it with the pure water. They made the area around their cistern pleasant and comfortable, so that people began to prefer drinking from the cistern than the spring itself. At first no one noticed the difference.

But in time, the cistern became contaminated and leaked. The people began to drink smaller and smaller amounts. Having grown so fond of their cistern, they did not notice that they were weary and faint. They continued to go to the cistern acting as if they had forgotten the spring. Some grew weaker, and others perished in their journeys overcome by the desert’s heat.

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13, NIV


A Spiritual Church

January 13, 2012

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.


A World of Moral Consequences

October 26, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a gothic novel by Oscar Wilde. Dorian Gray is a nineteenth century English gentleman having his portrait painted by artist Basil Hallward. During a sitting for the portrait, Dorian meets Basil’s friend, Lord Henry Wotton. Dorian is such a handsome young man and the portrait captures him so well, that Dorian laments that the picture will stay young, while he will grow old, horrible, and dreadful. He would give anything for it to be the other way.

Henry Wotton befriends Dorian and leads him down a path of hedonism. Wotton’s philosophy is: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Under this influence, Dorian cruelly breaks a young woman’s heart. Upon returning home, he sees the portrait has changed. He sees cruelty around the mouth that he hadn’t seen before. He hides the portrait because of what it now reveals about himself.

Years pass, and the portrait keeps a record of his soul. Dorian appears young and good, but the rumors about him swirl. The hidden portrait reveals the truth. Basil visits Dorian and learns the terrible secret. In a fit of passion Dorian stabs and kills Basil. In the aftermath, Dorian fears discovery of his crime. The novel states:

It was imagination that set remorse to dog the feet of sin…. In the common world of fact the wicked were not punished, nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak.

The quote raises the question of whether there are moral consequences in our world. By the way, the wisdom literature of the Bible wrestles with the same thing. Proverbs gives the general truth that it is better to be righteous (Proverbs 4:18), but even the wisdom literature (especially Ecclesiastes) knows that sometimes it appears that the wicked prosper (Ecclesiastes 7:15, 8:10).

We may ask: Why doesn’t God punish us immediately for every sin? Wouldn’t it be fairer and clearer, if like rats in a maze we were zapped at every wrong turn? I suspect that God doesn’t do that because He wants more than people who negotiate moral choices correctly. A constantly zapped people might make the right choices, but would they love the good, and more importantly would they love God?

Interestingly enough, The Picture of Dorian Gray does give an answer to the assertion that the wicked are not punished. It vividly describes the ruin on the inside even if the world does not see the condition of the soul. Moral consequences exist even if they do not seem to work out perfectly in this life. Righteousness produces a different kind of person than wickedness. The general truths of wisdom can be observed in this life, even if we struggle with some exceptions: “The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin” (Proverbs 10:16, ESV). Like it or not, we live in a world of moral consequences.


The Personal Answer

May 26, 2010

Have you ever been with a friend just talking? Maybe it is conversation over a cup of coffee. You discuss all the world’s problems. You and your friend exchange theories. It is lively and entertaining conversation, and in the end you part ways, and maybe one of you says, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.” Such conversations are long on talk and short on deeds.

Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Luke clearly lets us know the journey is “for him to be taken up.” Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are ahead even if the disciples failed to grasp it. Jesus predicts, but they dimly understand.

In the midst of this journey, someone says to Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few” (Luke 13:23)? I can imagine in a tedious, walking journey that conversation on an interesting topic would be welcome. Who better to engage in conversation or teaching than Jesus? And it is such a wonderful theoretical question. It could have led to lively conversation. It could have been bandied about, and in the end, someone could say, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.”

Jesus’ answer is direct: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24, ESV). Jesus immediately brings the question down to the level of personal responsibility and not just abstract speculation.

Jesus uses an uncomfortable word – strive. The word means to do something with great intensity and effort. It was a word used of athletic contests as well as fights with weapons. Someone might ask, “If I can’t merit salvation, what’s all this talk about ‘striving’?”  We must strive to understand the message. We must strive to discern truth from error in a world with multiple messages. We must strive to respond to the message. “Striving” in this sense is certainly necessary, but it is not meritorious. It is the response to what God has given and done for us.

Jesus gives us another uncomfortable truth. We must seek a narrow door. Our culture wants many paths all leading to a good place. All spiritual truths are to be regarded as equally valid. Jesus will have none of this. There is an absolute truth, and a necessary way.

Jesus also lets us know that the clock is ticking: “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from’” (Luke 13:25, ESV). There is a deadline. The deadline means our opportunity to enter is limited.

I enjoy theoretical conversations. They don’t make much in the way of demands. Jesus reminds us that some issues cannot remain theoretical. We must give a personal answer.


In Weakness, Strength

March 6, 2009

The last shall be first. The hungry shall be filled. The meek shall inherit. The weak shall be strong. The Christian walking by faith faces many paradoxes. God often chooses to use us in our brokenness and weakness.

Paul certainly recognized this paradox in his own life. He first preached to the Galatians because of an illness (Galatians 4:13-14). To the Corinthians, he admitted his lack of eloquence and fear (1 Corinthians 2:1-3). He also reminded them that they were not the most influential of people by human standards, although they were God’s chosen (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Paul struggled with his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), and he gave this beautiful word picture that describes the paradox:

But we have this treasure [i.e., the gospel] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV

Walking by faith isn’t easy. We grow through trials. We are like metal tools tempered by the fire. Finding our own strength insufficient, we must turn to the source of strength. Like Paul we cry, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV). Listen to the following prayer by an unknown Confederate soldier. I suspect he knew something of the struggle of walking by faith. 

I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do great things; I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy; I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among men most richly blessed.

 


The Unheard Questions

February 26, 2009

The sunlight could scarcely come through the tightly drawn Venetian blinds. The room was dimly lit except for the artificial glow of the television mounted high on the wall. The partially drawn blinds of the other wall revealed the inner world of the I.C.U. – the green phosphorous glow of monitors, the scurrying of people in surgical scrubs, and busy nurses.

In this room the urgency of the I.C.U. desk was replaced by the slow, rhythmic, raspy sound of the respirator and the well-modulated voice of an announcer summoning, “Come on down, you’re the next contestant…

The face on the pillow was pale and distorted by the tubes that sustained an unconscious life.

The wife’s anxious voice began, “We meant to call you earlier. He slipped into a coma yesterday.”

A new kitchen featuring a no frost freezer…,” the T.V. blared accompanied by the applause of the studio audience.

“We think he was baptized, do you have records of it, do you remember him?” another interrupted.

“No, I don’t remember him, but I can check the records,” I replied.

“… a portable, convertible, under counter dishwasher…,” the well-modulated voice continued.

“We never really attended church much,” the wife admitted, “we were always so busy. We had hoped that you could talk with him.”

The audience went wild as the announcer exclaimed, “A new car … comes with air conditioning, sports package, and California emissions…”

“Would you like me to have a prayer with you?” I asked, knowing that it would be difficult to find the words.

The prayer was followed by our silence as we stood and watched. The wife caressed the patient’s face and hands and told him, “I love you.”

As we turned to leave the room, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, “Why the television?” leaving unspoken the words—for an unconscious man.

The wife replied, “He’s calmer with it on.”

Her answer haunts me. Where is the quiet amid so much busyness and noise? Where is the silence needed to reflect on who am I, why am I here, is there a God, where do I stand before Him? These essential questions of life become the unheard questions, drowned out by the din of modern living, while too many slip “calmly” into eternity.