The Problem With Following People (Including Yourself)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed people in the church don’t always act Christ-like. For many, the worst hurts they’ve suffered from another human being came from someone who called themselves “Christian.” Even if that’s not the case for you, I’m sure you’ve seen pettiness, hypocrisy, and other issues among God’s people.

Yet even though we know human beings aren’t perfect, there’s still a tendency to align ourselves with them. We’ve all known people who found a teacher they like so much they’ll follow him even if he contradicts the Bible. Maybe we’ve even been there ourselves, often without even realizing it. We might also have seen churches break into factions when leaders disagree over a point of doctrine, and then followed one of those leaders as the group splits apart.

When you go through something like that often enough, it’s easy to lose trust in other people. Maybe we stop relying on other Christians, or refuse to listen to the ministry, or become obsessively critical of others. We might decided we’re the only reliable authority on scripture and that it’s dangerous to listen to anyone else.

Wanting someone to follow as an authority, or rejecting others and their ideas to avoid getting hurt, are both natural human impulses. But that doesn’t make either of them a good thing. Whenever we trust a human being (including ourselves) more than God, we’re going to get into trouble. We need to find a balance that lets us live in unity with our brethren while following God first and foremost. Read more

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Am I Using God’s Truth To Hurt Others Or To Help Them?

Last week we talked about the fact that speaking the truth in today’s culture can offend people. That’s something we were warned about in scripture — the world will hate us like they hated Jesus and preaching the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (John 15:18-22; 1 Cor. 1:18).

But what about in the church? God’s intention is that there be peace and unity in His church, but we’ve all experienced times when that’s not the case. People in the church fight and bicker. They offend each other. They split church groups. And most would tell you that they’re speaking the truth and the other person is the one at fault.

We always have a responsibility to follow God faithfully and to speak about His truth. And we must always try to do that in a way that points people toward Him instead of pushing them away. However, we won’t always be able to present the gospel in a way that appeals to the world. Jesus preached truth perfectly and people still turned away (John 6:64-67). Within the church, though, we should be able to talk about the truth without hurting each other. So how do we do that?

You’re Not Here For You

Near the middle of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the question of how the people in God’s church should relate to one another. He talks about different roles Christ set up in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) and why (“for the perfection of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ”). The goal in all this is to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” We’re not to be immature Christians any more, easily swayed by new doctrines or tricky, wicked men (Eph. 4:11-14). Read more

Replacing Anxiety With Power, Love, and A Sound Mind

There’s a verse that I’ve found myself praying when I struggle with anxiety, which has been pretty often for the past couple weeks. It comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy in which he assured the young man that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, KJV).

I don’t want to speak for everyone’s anxiety, but for me at least I do feel like it’s often tied to a lack or imbalance of the three things mentioned here. I’m scared when I feel I have no power or others have too much power. My anxiety spikes when I’m not felling loved and looked out for, as well as when I spend too much time turned in on myself instead of actively loving others. And my mind seems unsound or undisciplined when it spins elaborate worst-case scenarios to worry about, or tells me things like “you’re broken and worthless.”

This verse says that I don’t have to stay stuck there. When we have God’s spirit in us, we have access to a part of Him that can replace fear with power, love, and sound mindedness.

Power

There are a few different Greek words that could be translated “power.” The one here is dunamis. Like other words that come from duna it carries “the meaning of being able, capable.” Specifically, dunamis speaks of inherent strength and power (Zodhiates’ and Thayre’s dictionaries, entry on G1411).

We see this power demonstrated when Jesus performed miracles. “All the multitude sought to touch him, for power came out of him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19, WEB). When we’re given God’s holy spirit, this same sort of power that resides in God is put inside of us (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The power doesn’t belong to us (Acts 3:12; 2 Cor. 4:7), but it is available to us.

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Am I Blending My Worship of God With Things That Don’t Honor Him?

Does God care how we worship Him? Some Christians today say (or act) as if He does not. Too many people today ignore parts of the Bible, try to over-rule God’s laws, and adopt extra-Biblical practices in worship. And they really don’t think He’ll mind.

The problem is, God actually does care how you worship Him. If you’re not following Him the way He says to, then you’re not really following Him at all. He is “a jealous God” and He does not accept half-hearted or divided affection. You can’t honor Him by worshiping in ways He does not approve or if you’re also trying to worship something else. It’s not good for us to have divided loyalties or identities. We need to find wholeness in seeking our Lord the way He desires us to seek Him.

Really Get To Know God

Paul tells us that all the things which happened to ancient Israel “were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, WEB). One place where the story of Israel is recorded is the book of Hosea. God used Hosea to warn Israel what would happen to them if they continued to break covenant with Him by blending pagan religions with their worship of the One True God, or “Yahweh” to use His proper name (Ex. 3:14-15). Unfortunately, it’s a message that’s relevant for churches today.

I’m not saying all churches, and certainly not every Christian, is deliberately blending other religions with their faith. But I do think it’s something we should be aware of, and on-guard to avoid. We need to make sure we’re not ignoring parts of His inspired word, rejecting His law, or blending pagan religious practices with our worship. Read more

Water, Spirit, Fire: The Three Baptisms of Christianity

How many times have you been baptized?

Scripture talks about baptism — full immersion in water — as a first step in believers’ walks of faith. It’s an outward sign of our identification with God’s people and our commitment to leave our old lives behind. Some church groups stop there, some sprinkle people from a baptismal instead, and Messianics continue to mikvah on a semi-regular basis.

I thought practicing mikvah once a year (more or less) was an odd idea when I started attending a Messianic group. Part of me still does, though I don’t really see anything wrong with it. However, while we are supposed to undergo water baptism at least once, it doesn’t stop there. When Scripture talks about multiple baptisms they’re not all done with water. Here’s what John the Baptist said about the baptism he was doing and the baptisms Messiah would do:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I am, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matt. 3:11, LEB)

Water, spirit, and fire — those are the three baptisms that John tells us believers in Jesus will go through. I think this is what the writer of Hebrews means when he describes “the doctrine of baptisms” (plural) as a foundation of Christianity (Heb. 6:1-2). Read more

Does God Change His Mind About What He Expects Of Us?

Has God changed His mind about what He expects from people? Some think He has, or should. It’s the 21st century, they say. Those notions of morality are old-fashioned and need an update. Others think the change already happened and God doesn’t expect anything from you under the new covenant. You’re saved by grace and that’s it; no action required.

Neither of these ideas accurately reflects the picture God gives us in scripture. And while the idea of God brushing some rules under the rug can be a nice one if you plan to break those rules, it sets up a chilling precedent. Do you really want to serve a God who will change what’s expected of you or how He defines morality? If we can’t count on God to stay self-consistent we can’t trust Him and we’d have no hope to anchor our souls. Honestly, I find the idea of a God who changes the rules far more upsetting than that of a God who consistently expects certain things of His people.

God Wants You To Live

Thankfully, God reveals Himself in the Bible as reliable and consistent. That doesn’t mean He’s always predictable — He’s far too much for our minds to put Him in neat little boxes. But He will always act according to His character, keep His promises, and uphold His laws. Read more