Friday, October 18, 2013

Be a Strong Christian – 2 Tim 2:1

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (NASB)
How can we be strong as Christians? It will certainly take the grace of Jesus. Here are some of the things that are associated with being strong.
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Cor 16:13-14 ESV)
Watchful
Being watchful is one of the many things Paul has been harping on as he wrote to Timothy. He often warns us, as Jesus did, that false prophets will arise to lead people astray (Matt 7:15, 24:11, 24:24).
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov 16:18 KJV)
Being watchful also requires us to look at our own behavior, goals, and thoughts. One of the biggest reasons false prophets arise is because they think they have something that no one else does. They have something but it isn’t unique, it is too common, it is pride. In the long run, they will fall but being a strong Christian requires self-examination and renunciation of pride so that we don’t fall. Unfortunately, the world has an innate pride factor. In order to achieve in business, politics, relationships, the world teaches assertiveness, aggressiveness, and a go-get-it attitude that feeds pride. While some of it is true, you can’t be successful in these areas without work, the world seldom teaches us to do that work as servants, to put others first and humble ourselves. In fact, Jesus says that to become great, we must first be a servant (Matt 20:26) to others.
Stand Firm
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 NIV)
We must be able to stand firm in the faith if we are going to be strong. Jesus promised us that we would be persecuted if they recognize us as Christians because Jesus is our Master (John 15:20). Living a godly life brings persecution (2 Tim 3:12) because the world simply doesn’t like to be shown its sinfulness by a person who is able to have Christ-like behavior. When we stand firm in the faith in the face of opposition, we are able to accomplish what the Lord wants.
Being strong recognizes that when we do things in the Lord, it is not futile. We are accomplishing His will and purpose in this world. We may not know exactly what He is doing or when the fruit of our labor will be revealed, but we know it will bring glory to God. Standing firm is being strong by always having the goal of bringing glory to God.
Act like Christians
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Cor 14:20 NASU)
How many times have you told someone or been told to act your age? I like the simple command Paul gives in 1 Cor 16:13. Act like men. If you are a woman, act like a woman. Act your age. Don’t be childish in your thinking. Being strong means we need to act in accordance with the role God has given us, whether we are men or women, youngsters or seniors. I am irritated by people who put traditions or culture above living out our roles the way the Bible tells us. I’ve known Christians who excused their rude behavior because it was part of their culture. I’m not talking about differences in table etiquette, the way you use utensils for example. I’m taking about getting angry and yelling at each other. I’m talking about calling others hurtful names or gossiping; these are all things we are told to put aside when we become Christians. I’m talking about showing respect for your spouse, loving each other and submitting to one another.
Some people put a cultural adjective in front of Christian and that is totally wrong. I’m not a male Christian, I’m a Christian who is a man. Christ affects my role as a man not the other way around. When I attempt to modify my Christian behavior with an adjective in front of it, I’m conforming to the world instead of transforming my thinking and therefore my behavior to be like Christ. To be a strong Christian, I need to dig into the Word and see how I should behave and do it.
Done in Love
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 NKJV)
Being a strong Christian can’t be done without love. In fact, anyone who claims to be a Christian but isn’t loving others is living a lie because he claims to know God and you can’t be a Christian without knowing God (1 John 4:8). Jesus’ love is the standard for love if we want to be strong. We should strive for this kind of love in our lives. We won’t get there in this life, but I’ve seen some Christians who were very far from this kind of love and others who were so close you’d think they were Jesus Himself.
Jesus loved us before He came to the earth. He had to have a love that put us ahead of His own interest otherwise He would have never humbled Himself to take on human flesh (Phil 2:7). He had to give up everything that He was and had – equality with God – to humble Himself. Can we say that we have ever loved anyone like that? What do we give up daily, yearly, or even once in a lifetime to show our love? Why, most people who have one latté a day to won’t even give up one a week to help feed the hungry. The cost of a latté a week would provide a Bible a week for a spiritually thirsty soul in another nation. 
It wasn’t enough that Jesus gave up His position to be incarnated; He gave up His life to pay for our sins. He didn’t know sin. He hadn’t experience sinning and all the heartache that comes from that. He was holy and had never been defiled, feeling the guilt and pain and hopelessness of sin. He had never dreaded eternal damnation. But, on the cross, all that and more came upon Him as He became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He had fellowship with God, His Father until He became sin. That verse doesn’t say sin was put on Him but that He became sin. He was transformed into something that was utterly foreign to Him.
There is no way we can love like that because we can’t become sin for someone else. There is no way we can become righteous by our own efforts. We can only become righteous because God imparts Jesus’ righteousness to us.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NLT)
The only way we can strong Christians is to abide in Christ. We can’t bear fruit, we can’t be strong if we aren’t daily, hourly, moment by moment living in Jesus. Andrew Murray wrote a great short book, Abiding in Christ. In says that one aspect of abiding in Christ is to take a single moment to agree to occupy your place as a branch in the Vine. Say, “Yes, I do abide in Christ.” Then each moment can be another and another until the whole day is spent abiding in Christ.[1]
Will you say yes to Jesus and abide in Him?

[1] Murray, Andrew. "At This Moment." Abiding in Christ. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003. 93. Print.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Do You Encourage or Discourage – 2 Tim 1:15-18

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus. (NIV)
Tell the Church
When I first read Paul’s denunciation of Phygelus and Hermogenes, I had to stop and think a while about what was going on. What he did in naming names and making accusations didn’t seem like a very Christian thing to do. This isn’t the only place Paul does this. He names Demas in 2 Tim 4:10. The Apostle John also names Diotrephes in 3 John 9.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17 NASU)
I can only assume that these men of God first tried to reconcile before announcing to the Church in letters that the men named had sinned with enough seriousness that their actions had to be exposed. Certainly, Paul and John would have expected to have their letters to Timothy and Gaius read to the Church. James tells us that teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others. If Phygelus and Herogenes were teachers, then even their action of abandoning Paul will be judged and apparently Paul had done that already.
Desertion
Have you ever been in a situation where you really needed some moral, financial, or other support and those who were closest to you didn’t show up to help? I often read about people who do this when a family member dies or is dying. They don’t know what to say or do so they stay away. The hurt and pain of the desertion is often remembered longer than the loss of the loved one.
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. (Job 2:11 KJV)
So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. (Job 2:13 KJV)
I’ve always marveled at the way Job’s friends came to him in his distress to mourn and comfort him. For seven days they just sat there with him. Sometimes, just being with a person brings great comfort. They had the right motive and actions. However, when Job started to pour out his heartache, they should have continued to listen. Instead, they tried to answer him and even told him that the calamity had come upon him because of his sin.
Sin does cause calamity at times, but we are often wrong in assuming that. In John 9:1-3, the disciples wanted to know who sinned because a man was born blind. Jesus answered that the blindness was to bring glory to God. God told Job’s friends that they were wrong in what they had been telling Job, in fact they were to ask Job to intercede for them (Job 42:7).
We can learn from Job’s friends what to do and not to do. Paul’s followers deserted him, Job’s friend came to him. Both groups had problems with understanding God and His work in the lives of His people. Paul’s friends were probably afraid of the association and the harm that could come to them as a result. Perhaps they questioned the Gospel that Paul preached if it caused him to end up in prison. They didn’t understand that God’s work through Paul and his suffering was part of God’s plan, just as Job’s friends didn’t understand the same for Job.
Where does that leave us? It should leave us convicted if we see a brother or sister in the Lord in trouble, mourning the loss of a loved one, or suffering through a dread disease and possibly dying. We don’t always have to fix everything but we shouldn’t abandon them either.
Encouragement
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body. (Heb 13:3 RSV)
In the context of the book of Hebrews, I would venture to say that the author was talking about prisoners who were there unjustly as was Paul. However, having visited prisoners, I know that there are a lot of Christians behind bars because they committed crimes. They need encouragement. They aren’t claiming injustice; they know they deserve their punishment. Some slipped and stumbled while others became Christians after entering prison. How they got there isn’t as important as remembering them and encouraging them. They are trying to function as believers in a prison society that is intensely evil. Temptations are everywhere to lie, steal, do drugs, submit to sexual abuse, and receive violence if they don’t cooperate within this ungodly social order. They need all the help they can get.
Are you afraid for your own safety if you were visit prisoners? Are you afraid that somehow you will get caught up in some kind of scheme from a con artist? These are valid concerns but there are many ways to minister to prisoners. Visiting people or helping conduct worship services inside the prisons are not the only ways to help. Sometimes it is by helping their families. Prisoners for Christ is an organization in Washington State that has many ways to help. They have programs and services in many institutions within the state and one in Arizona. They have correspondence Bible studies for prisoners all over the U.S. and can use graders and encouragers. They have pen pal programs which is a direct way to encourage a prisoner with built in safety proceedures. They provide transportation for families to visit members in prison. They have been ministering many years and know the pitfalls and problems but also the procedures to protect and prevent the problems that scare you. Visit http://pfcomweb.dreamhosters.com/ to find out how you can get involved.
The NIV says to remember those who are mistreated as if we were also suffering. I read Dear Abby in the newspaper and often see comments from people who were abandoned by friends when they went through some tough times. Those times may be mistreatment but most often it is an illness or death of a loved one. People disappear because they don’t know how to minister to hurting people yet it is simple. Look back at Job’s three friends and learn from them. Go and be with them. Let them know you are praying for them and don’t miss the opportunity to pray right then. Don’t accuse them even if they have brought the calamity on themselves. That’s God job. Yes, if they ask advice, make sure it is Biblical so that God can work through His Word and not your worldly wisdom. Then be prepared to watch them ignore your advice without taking it personally or reprimanding them.
Paul used Onesiphorus as an example of how to encourage in some practical ways. The first way was by not being ashamed of Paul’s situation. Even if you think that a person’s problems are a result of their sin, you shouldn’t be ashamed to reach out to help them. This doesn’t mean you continually rescue them from the consequences of their sin, but that you don’t avoid them because you don’t want to be seen with them.
This flows right into the second way to help which is to search for them. Many people withdraw and hide from society when they are going through problems. The reasons are many, they feel ugly, unworthy, depressed, embarrassed, or a myriad of other reason. Have you noticed that someone is missing at church, in your small group, at the PTA meetings? Find out what’s going on. Maybe they need someone to sit with them and encourage them in their grief.
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. (Matt 25:35-36 KJV)
Onesiphorus refreshed Paul. Jesus’ words were worked out in his life. In Roman prisons, it was the prisoner’s responsibility to meet his needs. This is exactly what Onesiphorus did. He brought clean water, good food, clothes, and other necessities when he visited Paul in prison. In every way, physically and spiritually, he refreshed Paul. We can do the same thing, especially when someone has an illness or other calamity that makes it hard to do the regular chores that we often do without much thought. I’m thinking about the mom that has been spending 24/7 at the hospital with a child, spouse, or parent. What’s happening on the home front? Not much. We can refresh them by pitching in and helping.
Mercy from the Lord
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (Matt 25:34 KJV)
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? (Matt 25:37 KJV)
What is your motivation for looking after others? Paul prayed that Onesiphorus would receive mercy from the Lord on the judgment day. Reading what Jesus said, I have no doubt that he will receive mercy. He is probably with Jesus at this very moment enjoying the rewards that God has promised. However, when I look at the reaction of the righteous people at the judgment, they are actually surprised at the reward. They were just doing what they normally do, loving and taking care of each other but Jesus says they were doing it to Him.
Sometimes it is hard to take care of someone. They may be difficult or the circumstances may be difficult. If we love them more than ourselves, then we will work it out. If we still have a problem, then we need to consider that we are doing it to Jesus. We aren’t doing it for Him but to Him. We are told over and over again in the New Testament that we are in Christ. When we are in Christ, and someone does something, either good or bad, to us, he is doing it to Christ as well. That is why Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting Him. Jesus didn’t ask why he was persecuting His followers.
If we can’t muster up love for the person then we should consider our love of Jesus. If we are still having a problem then we should also consider that the way we treat Jesus will determine how we will be treated in the judgment.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (Matt 25:41 KJV)
James summed it up well when he said that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). A lack of caring for other is a demonstration of the depth of our faith. John would agree that if we don’t take care of other then we are demonstrating that we don’t have God’s love in us (1 John 3:16-17). When we know Jesus and show mercy to others, we can be assured that we will receive mercy from the Lord.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Keep the Faith – 2 Tim 1:13-14

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (NIV)
Hold On
NIV says to keep the teachings. Some versions say to follow, some hold on or retain. What is the difference and why would one translation use one option of the Greek translation over another? While the Greek could be translated in all these ways, follow would not normally be my first choice in translation. However when we consider how many times Scripture commands us to be doers of the word and not just hearers (Matt 7:24, James 1:22-24, Rev 1:3), we understand that holding on requires us to be followers of the Word. Keep is a good choice as we normally understand what it means to keep the rule, to follow or obey them. The point of it all is that we can’t just know the teachings; we must let them change our hearts and behavior.
I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, And when you run, you will not stumble. Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; Keep her, for she is your life. (Prov 4:11-13 NKJV)
The life of a person who has been taught and holds on to good teaching reaps many benefits. The first is to be able to live righteously. We often talk about how deceitful our hearts are. Some of that stays with us even when we are born again. However, we can overcome that deceitfulness by holding on to instructions that teach us to live godly lives. When that happens we will not be side tracked by sinful habits (steps hindered) or even occasional sins (stumbles). We will be running the race of life the way God has intended us.
Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:12 RSV)
We need to take hold and keep on hanging on to the sound teachings. It is dangerous to think that we know it all and that we have mastered all the instructions. Hanging on implies that it is so close that we don’t have lapses in judgment leading us to sin. The longer we go without sinning, the easier it is to become proud of our accomplishments and slip into sin again. The problem is that we are then depending on our own ability to stay righteous instead of God’s ability to keep us. Certainly, we need to do our part and that is holding on and that is where faith and love in Jesus is needed.
Sound Teaching
Where does sound teaching come from? What is it like? Obviously, the teaching that we have comes from the Bible. Paul’s letters to Timothy are loaded with warnings, instructions, and theology. Without a doubt, these all came from the Holy Spirit or we wouldn’t have them preserved for us today. However, Paul described them as a pattern.
NT:5296 hupotupoosis, hupotupooseoos, hee
a.       an outline, sketch, brief and summary exposition
b.      an example, pattern:[1]
From this definition, we can understand several things about the doctrines that Paul taught. The first is that it isn’t comprehensive. It is an outline or summary. Now some would shout and say that the Bible is all we need as guide for life and I agree, but God doesn’t tell us how to live every minute. Just as a child must color between the lines, so we must live our lives between the lines of the outline God has provided for us. We get to choose the color which gives us a wide variety of ways to live and still be within God’s will. But we can’t go outside the lines without going contrary to His will.
A pattern is familiar to people who sew clothes. The fabric of our life must be cut according the pattern of the wholesome teaching found in the Bible. When we make up our own patterns or misuse the patterns given to us, we end up with an ill-fitting garment. When we mess with God’s pattern for life found in the Bible we end up with a life that is distorted and dysfunctional. We may think we are doing well but looking from the outside, from God’s perspective, He sees someone stumbling along life’s path because the pants don’t fit or the hem is too long. He sees illness and injury because there is improper covering when the weather is cold or the sun is too strong.
Faith and Love
It seems that each translation has a slightly different twist on what Paul was saying about faith and love. One implies that faith and love, the result of knowing Jesus, are needed for Timothy to follow the command. Another implies that faith and love in Jesus is another command in addition to following sound teaching. Another implies that Paul’s pattern of sound teaching is shaped by faith and love that Timothy or Paul has. A paraphrase says that the faith and love that Jesus offers is the most important sound teaching. It just might be all of these.
Paul taught Timothy by example as well as by word. That example was delivered with faith and love that can only come from Jesus. It is impossible to follow biblical teachings without faith in Jesus. If we don’t believe that Jesus is our Savior, God, and Lord, then we won’t believe the doctrines and will ignore them. If we don’t have His love, then the teaching will only be a bunch of rules that suck the life out of us instead of build the life of Christ in us.
Guard the Deposit
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3 KJV)
These sound teachings, the deposit, which Paul referenced, include the way of salvation. As it happened with Jude and is happening today, evil people are subtly invading the church to change doctrines which distort and change how a person can be saved. Paul ran into perversions multiple times in his ministry. He had to battle those that claimed a person must be circumcised in order to be saved (Gal 2:1-3), those who required Jewish believers to follow the Mosaic Law to be saved (Gal 2:14-21) and avoid association with Gentiles. He made it plain that no one can be saved by his or her good works.
The doctrine of salvation by faith though grace and not of ourselves is one of the key doctrines that Satan tries to destroy more than any other. Yes, he tries to get us to believe incorrectly about God and everything else in the Bible, but not having salvation is his goal for all of them. When we believe we can save ourselves by following rules or other forms of work, then Satan has accomplished his purpose. We are also an easy target for this deception because of our pride. We want to believe we are worthy of being saved.
Jude points out that contending for the faith is something that we all need to do. This isn’t something new and it isn’t a recent concept in the Bible. It was part of the Mosaic Law to teach your children diligently (Deut 6:6). Asaph spoke of teaching the next generation the decrees of the Lord and not hide them (Ps 78:1-8). The purpose of reaching the next generation is to make sure that they put their trust in the Lord. The danger for each generation is to ignore the teaching and become stubborn and rebellious (Ps 78:8).
This is exactly what we’ve seen in the U.S., Europe, and many other areas where Christianity was once practiced more widely than it is today. Somehow, we haven’t guarded the Gospel by entrusting it to the next generation. The result is a population that calls themselves Christian but don’t know Jesus. The current generation has gone one step further and don’t even call themselves Christians. If we look at the pattern of Israel and Judah, we see that we are doing the same thing they did. As faith in Jesus disappears, it is replaced in a myriad of religions, cults, and the occult. Atheism is also a result when we make ourselves a god – the only one to whom we must answer.
Holy Spirit Help
We can look at the current situation and feel hopeless and defeated, or we can remember that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can guard the deposit.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26 KJV)
And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27 NASB)
These are two fundamental verses that should be significant for all Christians. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed and remind them of His words. Does this apply to us today? I believe it should. Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Would He live in us and not do what Jesus said? Would He just be along for the ride? I think not. But you may argue that Jesus didn’t speak to us, but only to those alive at the time. Well, doesn’t Jesus speak to us through the written Word, the Bible? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit bring those words to remembrance when we need them?
If this isn’t convincing, then we simply need to read what John told us. He says that we don’t need anyone to teach us because the Holy Spirit will do that. However, I admit that John’s explanation causes me some concern. It is quite evident that some people just don’t understand the Bible even though they are born again Christians. They imagine they are teachers and expound on what they think the Holy Spirit or God has told them. They don’t verify it against the Bible. Timothy warned us against these in 1 Tim 1:7.
Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thess 5:19-22 KJV)
I think the key to the problem is in mistaking what John said and what we think he meant. We don’t need anyone to teach us if we are truly anointed by the Holy Spirit. However, if we are quenching the Holy Spirit and not testing or proving things, we are susceptible to listening to our own lusts and desire or Satan’s prompting to distort and mislead. If we are walking in the Spirit and doing as Paul commanded by even abstaining from the appearance of evil, we should not need to be taught by anyone else. We should be able to go to the Word of God and be taught by the Holy Spirit.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. (Heb 5:12 ESV)
The author of Hebrews affirms that we should all be advancing to become teachers but some just don’t get it and need to be taught the basics again. Hebrews goes on to explain that the mature Christian is able to distinguish good from evil by constant use. They have immersed themselves in the Word and from it flows righteousness.
I don’t have the seminary credentials of pastors or doctorates. So here’s the question: am I teaching what I don’t know or have I been anointed by the Holy Spirit? If you can’t discern the answer, then you need to dig into the Word until you can. If you believe what I’ve been writing here and in other postings, then they should help you in your Christian walk. If you think I’ve been just blowing off a bunch of hot air or worse, leading you astray then you should avoid this blog or learn how to contend for the faith and guard the deposit yourself.

[1] Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. PC Study Bible Version 5.0F