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Our DAILY GOSPEL DEVOTIONAL is the story of Jesus from Incarnation to Ascension. This is a chronology and harmony of the gospel accounts in which the ongoing narrative and doctrinal context are carefully considered. In one year we reflect on every passage of every gospel.
May God bless you as we follow the disciples on the journey through the earthly life of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

NASCAR versus the Mountain

For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise
(Hebrews 10:36 – ASV)

Growing in grace is more like climbing a mountain than driving in a race. In mountain climbing, it isn’t how fast you go, it’s how high you climb. Mountain climbers are not rewarded for how quickly they move, but by how surefooted they are. Many Christians today, however, see spirituality like a NASCAR race, they want to go fast, move quickly and get somewhere now. What winds up happening is that they just go around in circles, spinning their wheels, as it were. They move real fast, but they are going nowhere, just round and round again. They may “burn rubber”, but they also may burn out.

Contrast this with the mountain climber, who, as they go up, they mark where they have been with a peg, and they hold on to a rope. They go slow and steady, not needing and not wanting to make big leaps all the time. If they should falter, they are holding on to the rope, and they can only fall so far, because they have attached the rope to the pegs, and these are tied into the mountain, so they can only fall so far before they feel the tug, snap, and support of where they have already been.

As well, mountain climbers rely on persons who know and have ascended parts of that particular mountain, called a Sherpa. A Sherpa means someone who carries loads at high altitudes. Because their physical prowess at high altitudes is unmatched, they are the backbone of climbing expeditions. But Sherpa won’t throw you up the mountain, they help you to climb, slow and steady. A good pastor or teacher is like that. They go with you, they know the way, and they don’t promise you any certain speed, just certain success, if you are faithful, not fast.

Racing is more glamorous than mountain climbing, to be sure. A lot of people get to watch you speed around, but a lot of people get to watch you crash as well. Conversely, only a few people will get to see someone ascend a mountain, let alone wanting to do it. But when its done, it is quite an accomplishment, a once in a lifetime achievement, not something that happens every weekend. Ask yourself: is God interested in the speed or the summit?

In the Christian experience today we often see advertisements or hear of people who promise to give us a “new anointing” or bring us to a “new level”, or something like this. Vroom, vroom, goes the mind, and we’re off and running. Immature or backslidden believers might think these so called apostles and prophets have what they need, but they are actually “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). They mention new dimensions, new authority, and greater faith, but little is said about repentance, let alone the beauty of Christ.

They will call you “valiant warriors” or “gifted intercessors” or some other thing that appeals to your flesh. The truth is that these “gift gurus” are often counting on the fact that you are already entered into the race for recognition, instead of climbing the mountain of maturity. When these “speed week” events become your primary nourishment, they lead to needing more pit stops and having more wrecks. Stop wasting your time on these charlatans. They are more like voodoo priests than men of God.

We need more spiritual Sherpa, not spiritual Shaman.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Providence, Plenitude, and Polemics

…let God be found true, though every man be found a liar
(Romans 3:4 – NASB)

Why are there so many groups who feel that you must belong to their church in order to be saved? If they are right, then why do so many others also say they are the “remnant church”? Among those who realize that this is an untenable position, why are there so many differences in doctrine, even among the Christian groups who otherwise agree on the essentials? Why is there such a divergence in beliefs concerning what the Bible teaches?

These questions are often used by non-believers as a reason for unbelief, or an excuse for their failure to seriously investigate Christianity. Of course, most people would admit that any path has differing opinions involved. There are no monolithic faiths, even Christianity. However, a lowest common denominator, unity at all cost (including doctrine) type of faith is really a human centered tower of Babel, not a God centered faith. We must continue to seek out the knowledge of God. Dialogue and debate amongst studious, spiritual, and sincere Christians can happen as we adhere to the biblical adage, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

An argument for a position and against another is called a polemic. These matters seemingly consume the theological world, and even the people in our pews. Calvinism against Arminianism, the continuance of the charismata vs. cessationism, the worship wars, and what actually happens during Communion, are but a few of the hot button topics. Who is right, and why do we never seem to get a final answer from the Holy Spirit?

Here is a possible answer: It is for the greatest good and for the glory of the Almighty (plenitude) that God, in His sovereign will and workings (providence), chooses to reveal certain doctrines to certain communities of real faith, so as to cause an ongoing search for and closeness to Him in regard to the debate between matters of His knowledge (polemics).

God, who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), has seen fit to allow such diverse differences of opinion so that He alone will get the glory. Imagine in heaven if one group had everything right on earth. They would then have a reason to boast. If all groups have flaws, however, then none can say, “Look, I told you we were right about so and so”, when they were wrong about some other so and so.

It is not about how right we are as much as how right He is. We need to continue to search out the truth, and wrestle with these doctrinal questions, but not at the expense of our focus on Christ. There is a quote that has been attributed to Augustine, and others, but no matter who said it first, it bears repeating here: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, and in all things charity”. Let us make our boast alone in the Cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14). Amen.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Soon and Very Soon

Exciting news!

We have decided to change the format of this blog somewhat. And I think it will be a very good change, and one that you will be tremendously excited about, I hope (ha ha).

In order to spread the message I believe God has given me, and also so that you may receive continuous new material, we will be posting a new devotional article nearly every weekday. This will commence Monday, May 29.

We will still continue to discuss theology, doctrine, and so forth, from time to time in longer articles and more exhaustive formats, but we will most often be getting it in the form of what I might call "pennies from heaven", or small, devotional type articles for you to ponder and enjoy.

I will leave the comments open, so it won't really be any different, we will still go as deep into the subjects as you desire, only now we will have new material almost every day!

I hope this will encourage you to stop by and leave comments often, and to ask for others to do the same, especially those who haven't found a church home yet. My prayer is that this may really be a blessing to help you or those you and God are "working on".

Pray for me that God will allow me in His grace to sow good seed into your lives.

Even So...

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Monday, May 22, 2006

What If Everyone Else Were Gone?

Someone, a fellow blogger, recently asked some tough questions. Perhaps almost everyone has or will ask something like this at one time or another in their Christian walk.

What if there were no Christian bookstores, no Testa-mints or Sweet Shalom bars. What if there were no "Religious Right" and no "Moral Majority"? No "In God We Trust" printed on our pennies? What if there were no Christian radio, or 700 Club? No WWJD bracelets or Fish to stick on our cars?

What if even went further... What if there were no Bibles? No seminaries to train preachers and missionaries? What if there was no corporate church?

What if God took all that away? What if it were just us...a body of believers with no marketing agents and no walls to feel safe in? No past to lean on and no rights to demand? What if it was just me? How would the world know what I was?


You would know who you were by the faith God has placed in you. One day, if there is a future Great tribulation, and we do have to go through the tribulation period, then this scenario will happen.

So great question; if all the trappings are taken away, if the culture comes crashing down, what then?

You would "make it"; think about the people being persecuted around the globe who have no "culture", and who persevere anyway, even unto martyrdom.

Well not so as to get all doctrinal or theological or whatever, but I want you to consider something: if we believe that God gives us faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and causes us to persevere (Romans 8:29-30), then we can wrestle with these questions, but we can also rest assured that the God who started something will finish it (Philippians 1:6). Understanding His sovereignty helps us realize that it really isn't about our faithfulness, but God's, and I am soooo glad about that! It ain't what we did, its what He did! Amen.

In His grace we will find what we need, which I like to call "chocolate milk".

Even So...

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Loving Him Even More

When we value God above all else, when we see Him as the most precious thing, as the end not the means, then we will serve God out of a pure heart of love.

This, then, becomes our goal, to "want to" give God glory and honor with our whole lives; because we treasure Him above all else, He is the priority of our existence.

The question becomes, how do we best accomplish this? How do we acquire the "want to"?

The Bible declares that one day we will become like Him, for we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). The Bible says that we will know Him even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In applying this, I take this to mean that in this life, if we are to love Him more, if we are to become more like Him, then we must seek His face.

The "old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16) of Bible reading and study, prayer, and the fellowship of other saints, especially at worship gatherings, are critically important. We mature using these means. As we mature from little children to young men, and eventually to fathers, spiritually (Galatians 4 / 1 John 2), Christ will be formed (Galatians 4:19) in us and we will love Him more.

The "want to" is a matter of
Desire,
Diligence,
Discipline.

These can be perverted by (respectively)
Mysticism,
Legalism,
Asceticism.

It can indeed be a fine line.

May God bless you, as we know that He that began a good work will complete it (Philippians 1:6), and in accordance with that promise, we forget what is behind and press on towards the mark (Philippians 3:14).

Even So...

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Friday, May 12, 2006

WHAT DOES BRADLEY OWE?

A twelve- year- old boy, by the name of Bradley, developed the bad habit of evaluating everything by its worth in money. He allowed himself to become consumed with the passion in life of becoming wealthy. One morning, after breakfast, he left by his plate the following note: “Mom owes Bradley—

$ 1.50 for running errands

$ 1.00 for being extra good this week

$ 1.25 for doing music lessons

$ 2.00 for extras

Total: $ 5.75”

After reading the note, his mother smiled, and at lunchtime, the invoice and $ 5.75 had been left by his plate. Bradley was overjoyed when he saw the money. Then, he noticed a note beside his plate on which his mom had left him. It read: “Bradley owes his mother:

For being patient and good to him – Nothing

For caring for him during times of illness – Nothing

For shoes, clothes, and food – Nothing

For cleaning up after him – Nothing

Total Bradley owes Mom – Nothing”

Someone has pointed out, “No gift that you give to your mother can compare with the gift that your mother gave to you.” During this time of the year, when we take the time to remember “mothers,” we need to stop and meditate on their invaluable worth. Abraham Lincoln said, “No man is poor who has a godly mother.” In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul attributes what Timothy had become due to his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Their godly influence on his life could never had been paid for with money. John Wesley said, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than all the theologians of England.”

I read where a sociologist was doing research for a book in which he planned to prove the harm that is done by growing up in a large family. He chose to interview a mother of thirteen children. After recording the children’s ages, family income, etc., he asked, “Do you think all children deserve the full, unconditional love, and attention of a mother?” “Of course,” replied the mother. “Well, which of your children do you love the most?” he cunningly asked her. The mother of thirteen replied, “The one who is sick, until he gets well. And the one who is away, until he gets home.” No love is like the love of a mother. Maybe this is why Holbrook Jackson, the British critic and historian, who lived from 1874 to 1948, observed, “A mother never realizes that her children are no longer children.”

One mother prayed, “Help me to be a wise mother, O Lord. Keep me calm and patient to bear the small, irritating things of life. Give me understanding to bridge the gap between my generation and that of my children. Let me not dictate to my children their own personal life’s goals, but allow me to be ever near to give guidance and godly wisdom. Help me to laugh with them, and not at them. Assist me to refrain from speaking words of hurt and discouragement. Give me a sympathetic ear when they need someone to listen. Show me how to teach my children that life is so much the result of choices, either right or wrong. Finally, keep my children close to me, though miles may separate us.”

Erma Bombeck said, “I don’t expect anyone to fully appreciate that a mother makes more decisions in one morning than the Supreme Court makes in three years.” Maturity and the passing of time creates a greater appreciation for our mothers. We realize that, as did the young man Bradley, she may have charged nothing, but her worth can never be measured monetarily.

The late syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers, printed the words of a poem concerning mothers, from an unknown author, called, “The Time Is Now”:

“If you are ever going to love me,

Love me now, while I can know

The sweet and tender feelings

Which from true affection flow.

Love me now

While I am living,

Do not wait until I’m gone

And then have it chiseled in marble,

Sweet words on ice-cold stone.

If you have tender thoughts of me,

Please tell me now,

If you wait until I am sleeping,

Never to awaken,

There will be death between us,

And I won’t hear you then.

So, if you love me, even a little bit,

Let me know it while I am living

So I can treasure it.”

A little girl was trying to recite a memory verse before her church congregation. However, standing in front of such a large crowd, her small mind went blank. On the front row sat her mother, who became as frantic as she. Her mother gestured, then moved her lips, trying to form the words for her young daughter, but to no avail. Finally, the mother, in desperation, moved closer and whispered the opening phrase of the scripture, “I am the light of the world.” Immediately, the child’s face lit up. She smiled and declared with full confidence, “My mother is the light of the world!” Though humored, no one present could disagree.

Happy Mothers Day!

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Dave Arnold, Pastor

Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Florida, www.gulfcoastworship.com


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God's Dress Code (with notes)

Humility is God’s dress code standard for the church. Those that come before God clothed with humility can have the robe of Christ’s righteousness placed upon them (cf. Jeremiah 23:6) and leave justified in God’s sight. As an illustration of this, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is the quintessential summary of the difference between those that God will justify and those that only seek to justify themselves.

As a pastor, I am quite often asked what the dress code of our church is. “Can we wear jeans, can ladies wear pants, do we have to wear a tie, and will we feel out of place if we don’t dress up?” I am thankful for this because these questions about how they are expected to look give me an opportunity to address the real issue. My answer gives people insight into what God is looking for when we come to church. I say, “The only thing we ask is that you come clothed with humility.” This parable is always among the first teachings I give to new members.

“This parable exposes the great problem of human pride (Phillips, p.162).” Pride was the first sin, the sin of Satan. It was the “genesis” of sin if you will (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14 / Ezekiel 28:11-19). This mother of all sins has filtered down to our age and remains as the great wall between man and God (1 John 2:16), between a righteousness that saves and one that doesn’t. “Indeed, it is a want of humility that keeps the great mass of people from faith and salvation (Philips, p.162).” That is why this parable is of utmost importance in exposing and dealing with the sin of self-righteousness, and finding true righteousness.

The parables taught by Jesus Christ are meant to peer into our hearts and expose our human weakness. They proclaim the utter necessity of our commitment to Christ and the priorities of his kingdom (Phillips, p.200). Using the religious climate of first century Judaism, Jesus addressed the problems of his day (Phillips, p.157) and with his infinite wisdom used his words to cross the boundaries of time to reveal our similar conditions today. The sins that Christ dealt with, and the reasons they exist are true for all times.

One doesn’t need to be a Bible scholar to know that the Scriptures are replete with the notion that God hates pride and loves humility. Pride is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:17), and humility is absolutely necessary for salvation (Philips, p.162). Many parables and teachings touch on this theme in varying ways (cf. Luke 10:25-37 / Psalm 34:2 / Isaiah 57:15, 66:2). Certainly this is true of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

This parable goes deeper than that, however. “The Judaism Jesus confronted was unloving, unmerciful, proud, and greedy for earthly riches. But above all was the sin Jesus spotlights in this parable from Luke 18, a cancer that lay at the root of all these other spiritual ailments, namely, self-righteousness (Phillips, p.158).” “The scope of this parable likewise is prefixed to it, and we are told (vs.9) who they were whom it was leveled at, and for whom it was calculated. He designed it for the conviction of some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others (Henry, Luke 18:9).” This shows that self-righteousness is a sin that flows from a wrong standard.

In this parable self-righteous sin takes the form of a two-pronged pride. Firstly, like the people who are using the standards of others to determine what to wear to church, the self righteous use a comparison with others as the standard of their own righteousness. The Pharisee looked at other people and determined he was doing the Lord’s will.

So too many in the church today, as well as those “good people” out there who don’t think they need God, think that because they are “ahead of the pack”, that this makes them righteous. “But the standard for righteousness to which the Bible directs us is not that of other people but that of God (Phillips, p. 163).” The focus is wrong.

Secondly, while comparing ourselves with others is not right, neither is comparing one’s self with his own self. Even if we have made great strides in our walk with God, and lived a more holy life in the power of the Spirit of God, it is not that life that will justify us before God. “The Pharisee not only justified himself by comparison to others, but also he propped up his pride on the pillar of religious works (Phillips, p.163).” Again, the wrong focus.

The world follows suit. Self-help, self-improvement, self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-actualization, “self” magazine, it goes on and on, the great focus of humanity is on self. Even in the church we often see teaching geared toward becoming a better or more successful person rather than on the person of Jesus Christ.

It seems to be about what we can do for God, or even what God has done in us, rather than on what God has done for us. We feel as if we “do our best” that this sincere effort is what justifies us. This is precisely what the Pharisee thought, “for the Pharisee was not seeking justification, and felt no need of it (JF & B, Luke 18:14).” The world would applaud this man today, probably calling him a “true saint" or “one of God’s choice servants”.

No matter how good we are, however, it can never be good enough. “What the Pharisee said about himself was true. His trouble was not that he was not far enough along the road, but that he was on the wrong road altogether (Guzik, Luke 18:9-14).” The Bible says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The standard is the perfect righteousness of Jesus, and Jesus said, “Be ye perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).”

The Apostle Paul spoke to both sides of self-righteousness when he said, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12).” It is simple to bring this teaching forward and apply to today.

There is, however, an insidious perversion that lurks below the surface, an unrecognized but damnable problem that can be seen upon close scrutiny of this parable. An observation often overlooked by those in the church is that when the Pharisee prayed he was thanking God for his walk, not simply saying how great he was on his own power. He had a sense of humility, but not true humility. He knew that it was not on his own that he was able to do good works, but he felt that those good works were what justified him. God does indeed develop righteousness in everyone to whom he imputes righteousness (Romans 8:1-4 / Philippians 1:6), but we never achieve perfection in this life. Works are the fruit, not the root of justification (Ephesians 2:10).

This is the great problem and the danger for those in the Roman Catholic Church, the teaching that the imparted righteousness whereby we can indeed do good works is the grounds of our justification, instead of the imputed righteousness of Christ to our account. Our good works give evidence to our faith (Matthew 7:20 / James 2:18) but they do not save us (Romans 3:20).

To some, they believe it is the work that the Holy Spirit does in their life that gives them divine acceptance (Martin, p. 6). “According to the Catholic Church personal transformation is both the basis and the means of acceptance by God (Martin, p.8).” This is subtle but is explained by saying that for some to justify is to make righteous rather than to declare righteous. The difference is the difference between a saving faith that relies on an external atonement for sin and a misplaced faith that relies in an internal abatement of sin.

The tax collector knew what this difference meant when he cried “have mercy on me”. “The tax collector is not offering a generalized prayer for God’s mercy. He specifically yearns for the benefits of an atonement (Bailey, p. 154).” The word used in Greek here, hilaskomai, “clearly refers to the atonement sacrifice (Bailey, p.154).”

The snare of self-righteousness happens to believers as well, and “that is what sometimes makes the church so unappealing to the world and so painful a society to its members (Phillips, p.165).” “If I credit myself for my ‘great, spiritual walk with God,’ then it is an easy thing to despise you for your ‘low walk with God (Guzik, Luke 18:9-14).’ Sadly, many feel or claim to be sanctified when they are only sanctimonious. “How common it is for Christians who were saved like this tax collector to go to live like the Pharisee (Phillips, p.164-5).”

The plain truth is that we must continue to walk in repentance and faith even after we have been justified. Martin Luther, in writing the first of his famous ninety-five theses against the Catholic Church said that the whole life of a believer should be repentance. “The humble manner of the tax collector is not needed merely for our entry into salvation but for the whole of our Christian lives; his plea for mercy ought to be found in all our prayers, since God’s grace is the sole ground of our confidence and hope as Christians (Phillips, p.165).”

We should be thankful that we have been given a measure of freedom from the power of sin in this life, but we must be careful to never equate this with our righteous standing before God. You are not to thank God for your righteousness compared to others, but thank Him for His righteousness accredited to you because of the Atonement. “The proud Pharisee goes away, rejected of God; his thanksgivings are so far from being accepted that they are an abomination (Henry, Luke 18:14).”

In Christ we are righteous, yes, but being “in Christ” is the key. It is not Christ in us, but us in Christ that makes us righteous. Considering our spiritual state, it has been said that the more light we have, the more dust we see. It isn’t about self-loathing. The Church’s dress code deals with whether we see with our true condition before God or does the lens we view ourselves from have a “wrong focus”. The question is, simply, “Are you wearing the right glasses?”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bailey, Kenneth E. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

Guzik, David. Notes on Luke 18: 9-14. To be found on Internet @ www.blueletterbible.org.

Henry, Matthew. Notes on Luke 18: 9-14. To be found on Internet @ www.blueletterbible.org.

Holy Bible, King James Version.

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown. Notes on Luke 18: 9-14. To be found on Internet @ www.blueletterbible.org.

Martin, Richard. Divine Acceptance, Fallbrook, CA: Life Research International, 2004.

Phillips, Richard. Turning You World Upside Down, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2003.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

SHIBBOLETH II

In the first Shibboleth post, I mentioned that I could start a debate with just one word...tithing.

Now I am going to do that same thing with another "shibboleth", but this time I can "name that tune" with just three letters...

KJV

As in "KJV only".

This is a modern day "shibboleth" if there ever was one.

Don't get me wrong, I love the KJV, I use it, read it , study it, and meditate upon it. It is my primary Bible, and probably always will be. But why do people want to say that it is the only Word of God? What are the fears, and why the problem? My belief is that we have swallowed a rather unhealthy pill.

Let's not play "bible ping pong" too much, shall we?

On with the fireworks!


“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

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