Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Follow Me"...the Son of God (2 of 2)

In Part 1, the four portions of Mark 1.1 were each briefly examined. Each person must choose a response to Mark's claim about new beginnings, the good news, and most importantly who Jesus is. That is, is Jesus who He claimed to be – and who others claimed Him to be? This second post will explore why we must consider our choice, and provide a brief look at preparing ourselves to make that choice, in light of this series especially.

Why follow Jesus?

Should we follow Jesus? Why are those words being used? Well, those were His words to the early disciples. Mark 1.17 says, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And those same words apply to us today. Let me provide two reasons for us to follow. The first reason may sound more important than the second, but the second proves that the first is real.

1) He knows the way. He will show us the way. Because He is the way.

One question someone might ask, is “Well, if I am supposed to follow Jesus, where is He going?”

Jesus said in John 14.6, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but by Me.” People want to argue that that there are multiple ways to get to heaven. Argue all you want, but you better be right. Jesus said there was one way and He is that way. Not everyone wants to spend eternity with God in the new Jerusalem, but for those who do, following Jesus is not optional. In fact, He says it is the only way to be there. Many will respond, “Well, I believe in God, so that is all that matters.” Let me debunk that thought. The ancient Israelites believed in God. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers reveal that people experienced many miracles of God, directly in their presence, and yet did not get into the Promised Land. More importantly, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveal that people spent a lot of time walking and talking to Jesus and yet turned from Him. They knew of Him, but they didn’t really know Him, or believe (that is, trust) in Him.

2) He is the example. Many people want to impact others in a positive way but don't know how to go about it. Is there any better example than Jesus? A part of the reality is that Jesus life showed us so much about who God was that we otherwise would have missed. The people of Jesus days largely missed it. They wanted what He offered, but not to follow (see John 6.66). We would have missed it too (and we oftentimes do anyway), not because the Old Testament didn’t mention it, but because our focus would have been elsewhere. Jesus offered us a way to understand the Father, to be a blessing for others, and in what only works in God's economy to, experience untold blessings as well (though most of these will wait until we enter eternity).

The book of Mark begins with this radical statement about Jesus being the Son of God. But it ends by showing how the example He set revealed this truth to others. In Mark 15.39, the Roman centurion who was watching as Jesus died, proclaimed, “truly this man was the Son of God.” The life Jesus lived set an example of how to live, but revealed who He truly was. His resurrection means He not only was worth considering, but IS worthy following today. He is truly the Way, which, of course, is what He claimed (John 14.6).

An Illustration

Let me conclude this portion of the post with an illustration. The illustration will reveal why God sent more than just a messiah, but actually sent His Son.

Imagine you have a piece of sheet music with, what you have been told, could be one of the greatest piano pieces of all time.  You know someone who plays the piano well (my wife, pictured playing in Amman, Jordan, does so I will use “her” and “she” as pronouns), so you ask her to play it. But she starts asking questions about the tempo. She shows you areas that are faded making it hard to read and suggests that maybe a page or two is missing. But she is intrigued as well and sits down to play the piece. It is beautiful. You have others come to listen. They agree it is beautiful, but everyone realizes something isn’t quite right. But as she continues playing, a young man overhears the music and steps into the room – at the back, observing, listening, and remaining quiet. He listens to the pianist comment about how hard it is to get it just right, especially without knowing all of the details. Everyone there, except this young man, is wondering just how well it would sound if all of the music was present and readable. After the song ends, the man steps up and asks if he can sit at the piano. Your friend gets up and takes the music, and then to everyone’s astonishment, the music that the man starts to play is the song that she has in her hands. His skill is exquisite. His touch on the keys is both technically brilliant and extraordinarily graceful. The young man is not only far beyond his years in ability, but he plays this most brilliant piece of music from memory. When he concludes, everyone is ready to applaud. But the young man simply lifts his hand as if to hush the crowd, then quietly announces that you haven’t even heard this piece at its best. He says that the piece was written for the piano, but is actually a part of a concerto, and is to be performed with a full orchestra. When you ask if he wrote the music, he shakes his head and says, “My Father did.”
(Story adapted from Sitting at the Feet of the Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.)

This is roughly what Jesus has done for us. He has provided an example of what it means to live according to the writings of God. But, Jesus did even more. He not only provided the example, but invites us to play alongside of Him. Effectively, we are a part of the orchestra of God. As we follow His lead (truly as our conductor) and learn to follow Jesus example, we learn to live (or perform, you might say) as God intends. And, as we do that, we bring Him glory.


And that is why our JOURNEY letter for this week is: “R – Revere”. Simply stated, we may follow others without worshiping them. But for the One we truly worship, we must also follow. We may begin to follow before we fully trust Him, or we may put our faith in Him, and then learn to follow. But either way, our response to the gospel, the good news is our beginning as well. It is being born-again, as Jesus says in the Gospel of John. Just as Mark says in the first verse that he is preparing to share the beginning of the gospel, once we receive the gospel, we have just begun our journey. Trusting in Jesus is not the last step of our faith or we would die the moment that we did so. It is a new beginning for us. The beginning to learn to live a life devoted to Christ and His mission instead of only worrying about ourselves.


So, what about our next steps?

Well, again, one of the keys to this series is seeing the opportunities that find Jesus, or that He seeks to find Himself. As we understand His faith, and how He responds to opportunities, we will better know how to live out our faith and respond to the opportunities around us. So, before we examine our steps, what can we glean from Mark 1.1 about opportunity.

Opportunity: This passage may not seem to have any direct opportunity. But it does! It provides an opportunity to respond to the truth that Jesus came not only as the promised Messiah, but as the very Son of God (Phil 2.5-8). So, how do we respond?

In this series, we will be referring to the steps we can take to fulfill the opportunities God brings our way. The four steps are Learn, Live, Love, Lead. But for this week, I want to take a bird's eye view of the steps and how they can fit together for this series. This series is to break us out of a mindset that simply believing in Jesus or coming to church is enough. Rather it is that we follow His commands because we love Him (see John 14.15). Therefore, we need to:

LEARN, who Jesus was (is), in order to allow us to
LIVE, as Jesus lived, that we might begin to
LOVE, as Jesus loved, and ultimately
LEAD, as Jesus led, so that when we
(LEAVE), as Jesus left, the world may know Him better then than it does now.

May this series encourage and exhort us to Follow Jesus, make disciples, and respond to the opportunities around us.

"Follow Me"...the Son of God (1 of 2)

In his opening of his account of the gospel, Mark makes an incredible claim. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1.1) In this post, this claim will be broken down into its four components. In the second post, our need to respond to this claim will be examined.

The first verse of Mark provides plenty of evidence on why this gospel is worth exploring. (If you want to review four reasons on why Mark's account was chosen, read this.) So, this post is the first of many as we seek to learn more about Jesus over the next year.

Now, I don’t know about you, but on some aspects of life, I like to be included from the beginning. But on other matters, if I am able to catch up at some point, then I am fine. The words, “What did I miss?” or “Can you brief me on what has happened so far?” have probably been uttered by most of us at some point in our lives in an attempt to be on the same page as the others involved around us.

I think the same could be said of the Bible. As we turn each page, we realize that most of the events in the Bible have already happened. But we find ourselves having to catch up on a story that is largely from the past. Maybe that realization is because of the hope of the future which stems from the certainty of the past. After all, the Bible speaks often of Jesus return based upon the certainty of what He did when He first came.

So, we begin at the beginning of Mark’s account of the life of Jesus. We begin on the same page knowing Mark calls this the beginning, and yet, by digging a little deeper, we will realize that we have actually missed a great deal. More importantly, if we are not careful, we will miss even more.

And digging a little deeper is important because what is immediately revealed is the solution to our entire problem. And not just our problem, but the problem of all mankind. The problem: sin. One of the reasons for studying Mark is so that we, unlike many of the people of Jesus day, do not miss who Jesus was. And more importantly who He is  the Son of God. They were looking for someone to save them, but when He arrived, He saved them from more than they were expecting. They wanted freedom from an empire. He offered freedom from eternal damnation. But that freedom had its own set of demands – including the call to “Follow Me.”

Series Focal Points

The demands of Jesus and His call to Follow Me bring into focus two clear aspects which will serve as the focus for this series. The first is a look at how Jesus responded to various opportunities.

Some, He sought out; others came to Him. But, if we are to follow Him, then we can learn how to respond to other by examining how Jesus did. Second, is the Jewish nature of Jesus. We cannot overlook that Jesus was a Jew. He was not Christian, He was Christ. But the background of His culture, the religion around Him, and even His faith provided a basis for His response – and His call to us. And we must respond to that call because of Mark’s first verse, to which we now turn our attention.

New Beginnings

Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. But the Old Testament was translated into Greek beginning in the 3rd Century BC and finally completed in 132 BC. (This translation is called the Septuagint, or LXX). Understanding the availability of the Septuagint is important of Mark's choice of words (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit  2 Timothy 3.16) to begin this gospel. He uses the Greek word arche, which is the same word us in Genesis 1.1.

I will talk a little more about this next week when we look at the baptism of Jesus. But for now, simply realize that in Genesis 1.1 God began the process of creating a world without sin, and in Mark 1.1, we are told He is beginning to restore a world corrupted by sin. It was through God’s spoken word that He created all things, and it is by the living Word that He will restore them. And no, the process is not complete. While God could change everything in a moment, His love for us is why the world is still in the condition it is. That may sound odd, but consider, that millions, even billions, would be bound to hell if the world ended today. But God gives you and me the chance to share His story so that they, or perhaps even you, might respond to Him today. But one day, it will be too late. Revelation 20 speaks of this end, and then in Revelation 21.5, God says that He is “making all things new.”

God’s Good News

Most everyone has seen the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. The celebration was in response to the war with Japan ending in August of 1945. For most of us, that picture and that day are something we learned in a history class, from a book, or perhaps on television. But for some, that day is etched in their memory, just like the ending of wars or conflicts with Germany, or in Korea and Vietnam. The memories are more than just a history lesson, they represent a part of their lives. Now you might wonder why I use the war analogies here. Well, in part, because the original word from which we get our word gospel (or good news) was used in ancient days to describe victories at war. For instance, when the Philistines defeated King Saul, as recording in 1 Samuel 31, the marched through their homeland sharing the “good news” of their victory.

And isn’t that what the good news, or gospel, is for us? It is the news of Jesus victory over death. As we go through Mark, we will observe many wonderful things that Jesus did. Even in the first chapter, we will see miraculous healings. But these bits of news were just a prelude of what was to come. The ultimate good news, that is still being spread today, is of a man who came to take the wrath of God upon Himself so that you and I would not have to experience that fate and then defeated death so we could live with Him forever.

More than Just a Name

In our culture, first and last names are common. Most also have middle names, and some have several other names as well. But Jesus Christ is not a first and last name combination. Jesus is the name and Christ was His title. But in keeping with our second focal point (the Jewish nature of Jesus), let us look at the Hebrew name and then His title.

The word Jesus, or Yeshua in the Hebrew means, “God is salvation.” And Yeshua is a shortened form of Yehoshua. This is the same name of the Old Testament man we call Joshua. (The Hebrew does not have a J so most of the words that begin with an I (Israel) or J (Jerusalem) in the original language have a Y in front like Yisrael and Yerusalem (among many, many others.) So, Yeshua as His parents Mary and Joseph (Miriam and Yosef or Yoseph) would have called Him was not only God's plan for salvation, but represented the God of salvation.

As for the title, Christ, we can also look to the Hebrew. The Jewish people were crying out for God to send the messiah to free them from the oppression at the hands of the Romans. In this first verse of Mark, the author refers to Jesus as the Christ.  The word Christ is from the Greek word Xristos (Christos). which means “anointed one.” In the Hebrew, the word for “anointed one” is moshiach. The English equivalent is messiah. In reality, any type of leader was often anointed in certain cultures of the ancient world. However, God used this idea to reveal His special calling upon an individual. King Saul was literally anointed with oil, as was King David. But it was Jesus, the true anointed one, who was called by God to His work. The problem is that the Jews expected the coming messiah to deliver them as a warrior like David had with the Philistines.

So, when we use the two words of Jesus and Christ together, we are effectively saying “God’s anointed one brings salvation.” That salvation is far more than from some human empire or political system. Rather Jesus Christ, or again in the Hebrew, Yeshua Moshiach, was worried about the oppression and the reign of sin on the people’s lives. And that is why He came.

The Son of God

From the time Jesus began ministering until the time of His death, most first century Jews could accept that Yeshua may, indeed, be the promised Messiah. But Mark makes an extraordinary statement, “Jesus is not just the Christ, but the very Son of God!” Given who Jesus really was, it is astounding to think that Jesus never abandoned His Jewish faith. Jesus remained true to OT teachings, but brought about such radically different interpretations that people were often unable to understand. He redefined Sabbath (Mark 2.27-28), the temple (John 2.19-21), the atoning sacrifice (John 1.29), the unleavened bread (Mark 14.22), etc. He spent time with women, the sick (lepers), the outcasts (tax collectors), and even the half-breed Samaritans! His actions were both radical and scandalous. A few moments ago, we spoke of the good news and equated many wonderful miracles Jesus did. Besides the many healings recorded, in this study of Mark, we will observe miracles of Him feeding massive amounts of people and walking on the water. But these miracles are not the good news. They were good news to the people who experienced these miracles, and they are encouragement to us today. But these stories merely show that Jesus was qualified to make even better news – overcoming death by rising from the dead. And He couldn’t have done this unless He was God’s own Son.

When you want something done well, you want the most qualified person to do it. But when the risk for danger is high, you might not want to send the best. But in God’s case, the risk for death was certain. Yet, He sent His Son anyway. Why? It was the only way. That is how much God loves you and me. And that is why we must consider whether we will follow Him or not.

In Part 2, we will explore why we must choose to respond to Jesus' call to Follow Me and consider how how this series can help us to do so.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Why Mark - A Series Introduction

Over the next year, we will embark on a study of the book of Mark. This series is designed to challenge us to live out our faith (be doers) and to better understand who Jesus was/is so we can better understand what He did. This post is designed to answer four questions as to why the gospel of Mark was chosen for this series.

1. Committing to a year to study one book may seem too long to some. Why have you chosen to examine Mark for this next year?

The short answer is so that we can know Jesus better. Not all subjects may be worth a year, but Jesus is worth much more. Yet, I believe we can accomplish the goals of this series by examining Mark from Passover of 2016 to Passover 2017.

This series has a lot of relevance to us at this time for many reasons, but one is because of the upcoming election. People always want someone to deliver on their promises, essentially to make the world a better place. Well, the people of Israel around the time-frame of Jesus lived in challenging times. The times then were much more difficult than they are now, though in some ways we are heading in that direction. The tax rates were extraordinarily high and the Roman government was extremely oppressive  putting an end to even the slightest of disagreements. The people were crying out for the promised messiah. And God sent Him, but the people missed who He really was. Not because He wasn’t the messiah, but because Jesus was actually much, much more - He was God's Son.

As we look at Mark's gospel, we will see an example set for us of what true love us and what true leadership is. The example Jesus gave us is not just making promises to people, but rather to serve them and teach them how to care and serve one another. Of course, we can look back and see the full picture and therefore make a more informed decision on who Jesus really was. But as we look at Jesus life, we cannot overlook His own faith. Thus, one major point for this whole series is:

If we are to place our faith in Jesus, we should better understand the faith of Jesus?

2. So, you could have chosen any of the four gospels, or all of them. Why did you choose to study Mark?

In Ezekiel 1.10 and in Revelation 4.7, the Bible describes four living creatures before the throne of God. The descriptions by Ezekiel and John are slightly different, but what is common is that four types of faces were clearly identified – lion, ox, man, eagle. Each of these creatures represents one of the gospels, and thus was written to a specific audience. For instance, the symbol for Matthew would be the lion. Matthew wrote to the Jewish people tracing Jesus' ancestry to Abraham to show Jesus lineage and that He was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

For our purposes, we will see that Mark is represented by the ox. Why? Because Jesus came as the untiring servant. He came as one to bear the load to accomplish the job. The load for Jesus was the sin of the world. He was the Messiah that the Jews wanted, but He came as a servant, instead of a king. He did so to show us how we might best follow Him.

3. So, Jesus came to serve, and provide an example for us. Is that what you are saying? How does His example then, apply to us today?

James 1.22 tells us to be doers of the word, not hearers only. The gospel of Mark is about doing. This gospel does not record much regarding the teaching of Jesus. It constantly reflects on what He does, and how others respond. Don’t get me wrong, we need to hear the word of God. Paul writes in Romans 10 that faith comes through hearing. But James reminds us that faith without works is dead.

So Mark wrote to the Romans because they were a culture of doing. Just like us. We don’t learn for the sake of learning. We learn for the sake of doing. That seems to be true about everywhere except the church. And doing, through love, is what should be most recognized about the church. So, Mark was chosen because we, like the Romans live in a culture where doing is considered important.

4. So, if Mark wrote this gospel, what is his source for writing? For instance, Luke says that he researched everything carefully and Matthew and John were both disciples. What was Mark’s role? Or who provided this information to him?

It is nearly completely an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus. So, by whose eyes is this story told? Almost certainly Peter’s. Yes, Mark wrote it, but we know that John Mark was a companion of Peter. Nearly every story told in this gospel includes Peter with the one auto-biographical account of Mark can be seen in Mark 14.51-52 (where it talks about the young man fleeing Gethsemane naked after Jesus was arrested). And we must remember that it was Peter who made the Great Confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That verse was our focus for eight weeks earlier this year, looking at it from Matthew’s perspective. But now, we turn to Peter’s perspective as told to Mark to see why Peter would come to that conclusion (Jesus is God's Son) and why others would as well (Mark 15.39).

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

God's Choice is Life

On April 17th, our church hosted a missionary couple. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the material presented, this week's blog post will be from a message that was preached at the church earlier this year (January 17th). The topic is the sanctity of life.


On November 27, 2015, a gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A police officer and two civilians were killed; five police officers and four civilians were injured. After a standoff that lasted five hours, police SWAT teams crashed armored vehicles into the lobby and the attacker surrendered. He was taken into custody and later identified as Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. On November 30, Dear was charged with first-degree murder and was ordered held without bond. At a December 9 court appearance, Dear repeatedly interrupted proceedings, made statements affirming his guilt (although he had not entered a formal plea), and expressed anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood views, calling himself "a warrior for the babies." He appeared in court again on December 23, and asserted his desire to act as his own attorney in the criminal case against him; the judge ordered a mental competency evaluation to assess whether Dear is sufficiently competent to exercise his right to do so. (Source Wikipedia)

“A warrior for the babies.” That is what most people think about when it comes to those who cling to a Pro-Life position. But Pro-Life should be about more than the unborn; it should also include the already born. Pro-life is about being for life – regardless of age. And most humans understand that well. It is what separates us from other animals. For instance, if you watch a predatory animal, they typically prey on the very young, the very old, or the injured. Humans tend to look after those who are very young, very old, and/or injured.

But something about an unborn child is different. There are many who do not believe that the form inside the body is a human. Some have even suggested that we shouldn’t consider the form a human until it is a few days old. That is preposterous. I am sure that many of these same individuals gush over a newborn puppy or kitten. The thing is that Christians are often called hypocrites – and, let’s face it, we often are. But that is why we need Christ! Yet, those who oppose God-given principles are often hypocrites, yet refuse to acknowledge it.

But the purpose of this post is not to degrade those who disagree...such tactics do not reflect the nature of Christianity. Rather, my intent is to provide biblical evidence that life does, indeed, begin in the womb. But I also want to point out that our response, as followers of Christ, is not to take a warrior-like position by harming others. To do so, is not pro-life, it is pro-self. We must absolutely be a voice for life, but we do so to bring life and to allow the Lord to restore the hurt that so many experience.

So, let’s look at a few passages that can help us see that God’s choice is life.

God makes us in the womb.
Psalm 139.13-16
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Now, these verses don’t really suggest much from the human side, but we see the psalmist recognizes that God knows every detail of what is going on in the womb. Biologically, we are formed in the womb when sperm penetrates the egg, and the cells begin to multiply. But this passage teaches us that God is behind the scenes working to form us. The words intricately woven reveal that no child is made by accident – but is meant to have a purpose. And that purpose is designed by God, which leads us to our second point.

God calls us from the womb.
Jeremiah 1.4-5
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

We see here evidence that God’s plan for us begins in the womb. Psalm 139 showed us that God is busy forming us, and here we see that this forming is done for a specific purpose. God needed someone to speak on His behalf to the nations. Specifically, Jeremiah was the prophet chosen to record the reasons and the actual events of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587-586 BC.

Now some might say that God chose Jeremiah late in his mother's term. So let us turn elsewhere. How about John the baptizer. When Gabriel came to Zechariah (not the prophet, but John’s father) to tell him he would have a son, Gabriel said this (as recorded in Luke 1):

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Again, we see God preparing someone to serve Him. This time the preparing takes place even before conception. But the story gets better. Later, Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s house. Listen to what Luke records later in the first chapter.

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

John, as a child inside the womb, leapt when he heard Mary’s voice. Of course, science continues to show that children do hear from within the womb. They can tell their mother's voice from another woman’s immediately at birth because of having spent nine months inside her and listening to her talk and communicate with others. Just like Jesus with Mary and John with Elizabeth.

But there are two more instances that I want to briefly mention which, like John, show activity in the womb.

We are active in the womb.

Both passages mentioned here relate not just to one child in the womb, but to twins. The first passage relates to two well-known twins – Esau and Jacob.

Genesis 25.1-26
21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Notice verse 22 says they struggled within her. And even as they were born, Jacob was grabbing the heel of his brother suggesting that their fighting never stopped. And again, God’s plan had already been developed as we see in His explanation to Rebekah.

The other set of twins might not be as well known to some, but one of them is a direct ancestor of Christ, so it is an important story. The story begins with some chicanery, but again our purpose here shows that there is at least some activity prior to birth.

Genesis 38.27-30
27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.

Again, it appears we have a bit of a struggle. Zerah stretches his arm out through the womb, and gets a scarlet thread tied to his wrist before pulling his hand back in. Then, his brother Perez is born first instead. Perez is identified in both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 as an ancestor of Jesus. Zerah on the other hand (no pun intended), was an ancestor to Achan, who caused the Israelites to fail in their battle at Ai because of his thievery at Jericho.

Both of these two passages reveal that there is activity in the womb. The previous verses showed that God is active not only in forming us in the womb, but in planning our purpose in, or even, before we are conceived. If the Bible makes these matters clear then we have to determine whether we believe the Bible. In essence, we must choose whether what God says is right, or if what society believes is right. In this matter God does give us a choice. But His choice is life.

Now, you might be thinking that I have provided some examples of life in the womb, but haven’t really provided any evidence that God favors life. If that is what you are thinking, you are correct. Although, I could provide plenty of examples, I am going to simply give share one. The context of the passage relates to life as a Christ-follower, but the verse no doubt speaks to life in contrast to death.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  John 10.10

Notice life is the gift of God. Jesus came so we might follow Him and have life. It is the devil that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Again, this verse is about our life as a follower of Jesus, as opposed to the devil who leads us away from true life. But isn’t that indicative of abortion. Children who are aborted have their life stolen from them – the decision to terminate their life is not theirs, it is made by someone else. They are killed and destroyed mercilessly. In contrast, Jesus offers life to all – and an abundant life at that.

That is why we must consider the issue of life and choice as about more than just the unborn. It is ultimately about honoring God. God wants us to have an abundant life – for all of our life. For many the idea of an abundant life equates to winning the lottery. But that isn’t what God promises, and in fact, He promises more because most lottery winners end up broke. But God wants us to enjoy Him throughout this life and beyond. Thus, we must value life that is unborn, life that is young and life that is old, life that is vibrant and life that is fragile. It isn’t just about allowing children to be born, but preventing death as well. That is why the Colorado shooting was so misguided. He tried to protect the unborn by killing those responsible. The Bible does speak of times that God called for this type of action, but we cannot condone what happened in Colorado, and in so many other places, because the principles are against the norms of God.

The Lord Loves the Unborn

Much of this article has been about the unborn, even though the bigger picture is life. So, before I conclude this post, let me provide one last argument for the unborn, in representing all of life. This came from a tweet on December 24:

Jesus arrived as an unborn baby.
The first person to recognize Jesus was an unborn baby.
The Lord loves the unborn.
- Matt Smethurst (@MattSmethurst)

Planned Parenthood has received a lot of bad press over the past year. Some of the allegations have been particularly disturbing. But whatever the full truth is in those situations, what we can truly know is that God has long planned the parenthood for people throughout history, including for some of those mentioned in the Bible such as Tamar, Rebekah, Elizabeth, Mary, and others. And while God often provides a choice of some nature, the Bible reveals that He has specific plans for the adulthood of Perez and Zerah, Esau and Jacob, Jeremiah, John, and, of course, Jesus. Again, they also had choices to make, but God chose to give them life so they could fulfill their God-given potential and their God-chosen ministry.


Our JOURNEY, therefore, is R for Revere. Again, the ultimate decision today is whether we value life as God’s values it, or whether we succumb to the teachings of the devil. I know that sounds harsh, but if Jesus came to die for humanity, and He did, then that puts the true value upon all lives, whether we want to agree or not. We must choose to value what God values, and to revere Him not only for what He has done, but for who He is.


So, what about our next steps? Well, this post has two steps. One is for all of us, and the second is for those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior.

Everyone – Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

If Jesus died for one human sinner, then He died for all human sinners. Therefore, that includes all of us regardless of how we feel about the issue of life and especially for those who have struggled with the pain of an abortion. Too many Christians chastise and criticize people who are in pain, and then we wonder why they won’t turn to God. We are to rebuke sin, but we are to love people – Love your neighbor as yourself! Jesus came to give abundant life to all, so why do we take it from them, acting like a tool of the devil? Sometimes we must be reminded of 1 John 4.19-21 which says that we love because God first loved us. But John goes on to say that we cannot say that we love God whom we cannot see if we don’t love others whom we can. He is primarily speaking of Christian brothers and sisters, but the point is that we often berate the very people God commands us to love. If we are to follow Christ, we must show them compassion and tell them of the life He offers, even as we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15) and teach others to obey all the Jesus commanded (Matthew 28.20).

Some – You must be born again.

A part of loving others is help each one to know of the choice to follow Jesus. Many may know the verse John 3.16. But earlier in the same passage, Jesus said one birth is not enough. We must be born of the flesh, but we must also be born of the Spirit. Using the harshness of the word, too many people abort their faith and are never born of the Spirit. Without this birth, this faith, one may live physically, but will face eternal death. Is today the day you choose God? Is today the day you decide to follow Jesus? Like a baby in the birth canal, if you decide to be born again, don’t turn back. The abundant life promised by Jesus awaits.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Seven Principles for a Healthy Christian Life

This week's post is submitted by Reggie Koop, who filled in at the pulpit for me this past Sunday. His message is to help us know the seven non-negotiables necessary for living according to God's plan for lives.

The seven non-negotiables for true Christian living are:

1. Seek God, not sin.

Amos 5:4: “For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, seek ye me, and ye shall live.”

God is the giver of life.  We will find life in no other God.  But because we are sinful creatures, our hearts are naturally prone to wonder from our Creator. Our souls were made to pursue God, know God and walk with God-nothing else.  It’s only as we pursue him that we live.

In the book of Amos, God tries over and over again to get the attention of his people.  He allows them to experience famine, drought, and pestilence and yet as God says in Amos 4:11, “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.”

But Amos 5:4 reminds us of where life is found.  God says, “Seek me that you may live.”  These words should get our attention.

2. Fear God, not men.

Proverbs 19:23: “The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.”

Our God is holy and is the Lord God almighty.  Think about the power he holds, a person can’t but fear God and hold him in reverent awe.

Do you care more about what men think of you than God?  If you do, you need to learn to fear God and then you will be preoccupied in walking in his presence, not wondering what other people think of you.  Then you will begin to live your life in light of eternity, and the temporal views of men won’t matter anymore.

The fear of the Lord also keeps us from evil and sin.   A. W. Tozer wrote, “It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.” When we lose the fear of God and don’t respect his commandments, we are going to live our lives without accountability to God and one another, which is the cause of a number of sins.

3. Love God, not the world.

1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world not the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flush and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

What is the object of your affections? Power? Recognition? Hobbies? Job? Possessions? Money? Are these what life is about? These are what the secular world wants to pursue. The world is continually seeking to seduce us into a love affair, but we must love God and be preoccupied with pleasing him, him alone.

Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Also, we must love God’s people and be concerned about their eternal destiny.  We must look at them with compassion, like Jesus, and be moved with action to do something for them. Remember each time Jesus was with the people he met their physical needs but more importantly their spiritual needs.  Those who love God will do what he wants and be concerned about his mission and his will, and they will fulfill his calling.

4. Believe God, not the deceiver. (Who’s the deceiver?)

John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

In 1938 a man in long island ordered a very expensive weather barometer.  He unwrapped it and realized that the arrow that was supposed to reflect the weather he was experiencing was stuck at the bottom, pointing at “hurricane.” So he slammed it down a few times, and when it didn’t respond, he wrote a hot letter to the manufacturer and mailed it off on his way to work. When he came home, he found that a hurricane had hit, and everything was gone.

As believers, sometimes we don’t want to believe the truth.  When life and scriptures collide, which one do you believe and trust?  The scriptures tell us that without faith it is impossible to please God, but our human nature is to move toward unbelief.  Never forget that our adversary is the father of lies. He wants to destroy us, so he works to make us doubt the promises and to accuse the brethren.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

5. Obey God, not your appetites.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Our appetites are the passions that we have within our flesh, contrary to the spirit, craving and battling to be satisfied.  If you give in, even the slightest, to these desires, the enemy can use that to launch an attack in your life.  At the same time, the same trivial act in obedience to God may be used to launch a powerful life-changing ministry.  Our passions must be subordinate to the cross.

Obedience to God demands 2 main things:

  1. It demands courage to say not to self, no to appetites, no to lusts of the flesh, no to what’s easy, and yes to carrying the cross. In Mark 8:34, Jesus said to his disciples, “whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” 
  2. It also demands faithfulness-the plodding endurance to God, to his call and to that which he calls you to suffer. Only by yielding to the cross can you obey God, not your appetites.

6. Serve God, not self.
Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, here I am, send me!”

The concept of becoming a “bond slave” in the scriptures means that we are the slaves, and he is the master.  That means that we must surrender completely, without reservation.  Many would see this type of service as lowly, and it is humbling, but it should be seen as a privilege to serve such a loving Lord.

7. Worship God, not comfort.

Habakkuk 3:17-18: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be not fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

Worship God above all else. Remember job? I don’t know anyone who enjoys suffering, but many people have benefited from the growth that occurs as a result. Are you celebrating God and worshiping him in the midst of your pain or do you seek comfort by escaping it?

When suffering comes, you must move through the pain to the God who allowed it to come to fruition.  When you escape, you miss the comfort God gives in the midst of that pain.  Pain can remind us that we are not in control.  Pain results in growth and greater fruitfulness for God. We can worship God through music, prayer, God’s word and baptism. But we should also worship God in the midst of suffering and pain.

These seven non-negotiables are the basics for a solid Christian life, and if any of them are neglected, we will be the ones to pay not God. This will be your next step:

Now that you know what the non-negotiables are, sit down with God and meditate on the areas where you are taking good care of your spiritual life and then ask God to show you the areas where you need help. Soon you will begin to experience a healthier life-mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Journey letters for the week are R & Y - R for Revere, that we may worship God & Y for You because you have to do choose to live by these non-negotiables.