Sunday, July 28, 2019

Brief Reflections on Our Core Commitments: #2 Prayer

Our Core Commitments

We believe the following commitments flow naturally from both our stated mission and our doctrinal commitments. Because we exist for the glory of God, our desire is to follow and worship Jesus Christ while influencing others to do likewise. This Christ-following life, the life of a disciple, takes a particular shape. Some of the most central aspects of this discipleship are outlined under following five headings: Word, Prayer, Holiness, Love, and Mission.

Prayer

"Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication" (Ephesians 6:18). The life of the disciple must be lived in the posture of prayer, for we have no power in ourselves to love or serve God.
  • We commit to spend significant portions of our corporate worship in prayer (Acts 2:42, 13:3)
  • We commit to consistent private prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  • We commit to setting apart time for the elders to gather specifically for prayer (Acts 6:4)
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Why does the apostle Paul call us to pray at all times? In prayer we acknowledge our dependence upon God. Prayer trains our minds to think in terms of relying upon God, rather than our own wisdom or strength. While this is contrary to our natural way of thinking, conscious dependence upon our Heavenly Father is foundational to our lives as believers. To be a Christian is to trust in a salvation that comes to us from God on the merits of Christ's sacrifice in our place for our sins and the free gift of his righteousness for all who trust in him. If we are trusting in God for our eternity, how much more should we be trusting him in our everyday lives! Thus the apostle writes to another church, pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

This commitment to prayer as an expression of our dependence upon God is expressed in our Core Commitments in three different areas: Corporate, Private, and Leadership.

Corporate Prayer. We are dependent upon God together. We come to God to bring our requests as the people of God, not merely as isolated individuals. In doing so we participate in one another's trials and joys, pains and praises. We encourage one another and are built up in pursuing God in prayer together.

Private Prayer. Conversation is a two way street. The conversation between ourselves and our Heavenly Father has often been described as one in which he speaks to us through the Bible and we speak to him through prayer. This is a helpful analogy in that it reminds us that God is a Father who delights to listen to his children, and thus we may boldly approach his throne of grace (Luke 18, Hebrews 4).

Led by Prayer. In Acts 6 the apostles are confronted with a difficult situation in some widows not being rightly taken care of by the church. However, instead of taking this challenge upon themselves, they have deacons appointed so that they might continue to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. The apostles recognized that as important as properly addressing physical needs was (and continues to be) this work would fall far short of what God intended if it were not an extension of a Christ centered, word driven, Spirit empowered, prayer sustained ministry. The devotion of church leadership to prayer is essential to the growth of the people of God.

Brief Reflections on Our Core Commitments: #3 Holiness

Our Core Commitments

We believe the following commitments flow naturally from both our stated mission and our doctrinal commitments. Because we exist for the glory of God, our desire is to follow and worship Jesus Christ while influencing others to do likewise. This Christ-following life, the life of a disciple, takes a particular shape. Some of the most central aspects of this discipleship are outlined under following five headings: Word, Prayer, Holiness, Love, and Mission.

Holiness

"As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct" (1 Peter 1:15). When God saves his people, he sets them apart and calls them to live lives distinct from the world.
  • We commit to live personal lives of repentance from sin (1 John 1:8-9)
  • We commit to live lives of tangible and sacrificial love for others (John 13:34-35)
  • We commit to live by the marriage and sexual ethics set forth in the Bible (Hebrews 13:4)
  • We commit to live lives of integrity that are above reproach in our homes, workplaces, church, and community (1 Peter 2:11-12)
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The pursuit of holiness is central to the life of the Christian. But what is holiness? Does holiness simply mean churchy or something outside of standard cultural norms? There is a sense in which to be holy is to be distinct. James 1:27 says, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

Keeping oneself unstained from the world, that is, living a life distinct from the surrounding culture, is an important aspect of holiness. Beginning with his people in the Old Testament, and moving into the time of the New Covenant and the church, God has called those who follow him to look different than the world around. We are not to worship false gods (Exodus 20). We are not to center our lives on money (Matthew 6). We are not to indulge in illicit sexual relationships and practices (Romans 1). A life that doesn't chase the gods of this world, one wherein we refuse to submit ourselves to covetousness, lust, or the desire to get ahead at the expense of others will be a life which seems very odd to those around us. Holiness has a sense of purity, of being separate from sin. The moral purity of God demands this. In Habakkuk 1:13 the prophet, speaking to God, says your eyes are too pure to look upon evil.

But is holiness just a list of things we don't or won't do? It doesn't seem so. Notice that in James it gives us a positive statement of religion before the negative side. And this sort of idea is pervasive in Scripture, that our separation from the world consists not only in what we won't do, but what we do. The four we draw specific attention to in our Core Commitments are not exhaustive, but they are of vital importance.

Repentance from sin because, perhaps paradoxically, holiness begins with the acknowledgement that we are not holy. Only God is holy, and our sins are offensive to him. But in Christianity we don't then try and make that up to God and hope he gets over the bad stuff and focuses on our good side. We don't do good works to impress God. Instead, we confess our sin to him in full confidence that because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross, God will offer complete forgiveness. It is because of this assurance that we can walk in the light of God's holiness and learn to live in obedience to him. It all starts with repentance, and we never get past the need to keep on repenting.

Because we have been made right with God through Jesus, he not only accepts us as his individual children, but he brings us into his family. This family takes shape on earth through local congregations of believers called churches. And within these churches we have the opportunity to know and be known, and in knowing people, the good the bad and the ugly, we have the opportunity to pour out love. Love in the form of prayer, encouragement from the word, and tangible acts of service. It is striking that Jesus issues his command to love one another, even as I have loved you while wrapped in a towel that he has used to wipe his disciples nasty feet. This kind of sacrificial love is the sort of thing which only can empower.

Perhaps one of the areas in which Christian holiness is most odd today is in obedience to the marriage and sexual ethics set forth in Scripture. The prohibition on sex outside of the context of monogamous heterosexual marriage seems absolutely foreign to many, even inside of the Christian community. Why is it so important? In Ephesians 5 Paul tells us that God has designed marriage, including its sexual component, as a picture of Christ's total commitment in self-giving love to the church. Any sexual expression then, outside of what God has ordained, is essentially speaking blasphemously about Christ. Christians must then hold the marriage bed in honor, and in so doing hold in honor the God of marriage.

The final commitment of these four is the commitment to integrity. The very word integrity is important in that it represents a life that is integrated, that is to say, what we believe and how we live lines up. The Christian life is to be wholistic in that our desire to do what is right, to be honest, and to pursue the good of those around us should go beyond Sunday morning and follow us throughout the week into our homes, our schools, and our workplaces. Christians should displayed an evident kindness and goodness that make accusations of wrongdoing slip off us like butter off a Teflon skillet.

None of this is for our own glory, our own chest-thumping, or to show off our own greatness. It is simply the logical way to live as those who have been purchased by a holy God. As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct...Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 1:15, 2:12)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Brief Reflections on Our Statement of Faith: #10 The Future

Article 10. – The Future.

We believe in the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
We believe that the souls of those who have trusted in Christ pass immediately into His presence at the moment physical death occurs, and remain in conscious spiritual joy until the resurrection of the glorified body when Christ comes for His own, whereupon soul and body reunited shall be associated with Him forever. The souls of unbelievers who have died physically remain conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment, when soul and body reunited shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to be punished with everlasting destruction (Luke 16:19-26; 23:42; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Jude 1:6-7; Revelation 20:11-15).
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Paul writes to the Romans,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:18-19)

When the apostle Paul looks toward the future, he sees a glory stored up for believers which is so great that all current sufferings seem trivial in comparison. Which might seem easy to say, until you consider the suffering this man has endured. Shipwrecked, snakebitten, stoned and left for dead, severely flogged, abandoned by close friends, in agony over the false teachers leading away those whom he considers his spiritual children, and suffering from a thorn in flesh, the nature of which is uncertain. Physical, emotional, and spiritual pain were all close companions of Paul during his ministry. And yet he considers them as not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. That's stunning.

Verse 19 says that the revealing of God's sons (reffering to both men and women, but "son" has the theological significance of someone who had the right to receive an inheritance) is something for which the very creation itself waits with eager longing. Why? Paul goes on to say that God subjected the creation in hope (a certainty here, not hope as in wish) that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The freedom of creation is tied to th children of God having glory revealed to them. And the glory that will be revealed to God's children is their own glory.

We can piece together other Scriptures and see that we will have glorified, resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15); when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2); and God will create a new heavens and a new earth where the glorified and freed children of God will live with him forever (Revelation 21).

The eternal hope of the Christian is not that God will left our disembodied soul into an eternal state of boredom. Not do we receive new bodies simply to take up harp playing. Rather, we are remade by Christ with new bodies, with souls not only forgiven of sin but cleansed of it as well. The resultant glory results not only in freedom for redeemed humanity, but freedom for the creation over which God made us his stewards and which has been suffering our curse since Genesis 3.

What awaits the believer in Christ? Boredom, lifeless drudgery in a stale heaven? No. Eternal joy, incomprehensible glory in the physical presence of Christ eternally.

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #9 The Church

Article 9. – The Church.

We believe that the Church, which is the body and the espoused bride of Christ, is a spiritual organism made up of all born again persons of this present age which began on the day of Pentecost (Matthew 16:16-18; Acts 1:5; 11:15; 1 Corinthians 12;13; Ephesians 1:21-23; 5:25-32).
We believe the Scripture teaches that this spiritual body is made manifest locally in congregations of believers, and that each local church should be governed by a plurality of elders (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7).
We believe there are two ordinances which were prescribed by Christ to be performed by His Church.
Baptism: We believe that baptism into water pictures our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:36-39; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The Lord’s Supper: We believe that the Lord’s Supper exists to remind us of the death of Christ on our behalf, to testify to our fellowship with Christ in this life, and to anticipate the coming of Christ in the future (Matt 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11;23-28; Jude 1:12).
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In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes these words,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8)

The apostle here lays out for us some of the need for, and opportunity that comes with, being involved in a local congregation of believers.

First, we ought not think of ourselves more highly than we ought. What does he mean by this? He goes on to say that we are not each a whole body of Christ unto ourselves, rather, we are members in a body. Often times you will meet people who describe themselves as Christians and yet seem very reluctant to commit to a particular congregation, perhaps not even seeing the need to attend any church. But that fundamentally misunderstands what the church is. Church is not an optional add on to the Christian life. To become a Christian and be joined to Christ is to be brought into his family, his body. Which means participation in a particular expression of that body, a local church, is Christianity 101.

Part of the reason for this is that God, through the Holy Spirit, has given every believer particular gifts that are meant to be used. If we aren't involved in a body of believers, our opportunities to exercise those gifts and thus to grow spiritually are greatly stunted. It would be like wanting to gain muscle but never doing a push-up or lifting a weight. You can talk about loving and serving Jesus all day long, but it is in the context of the local church where there's opportunity for you to actually love him with your actions.

The flip side of that, of course, is that the local church not only has other people for us to love and serve, but it is also a place where we can tangibly experience the love of God given through his people. When the pastor preaches a sermon from God's word, Christ is teaching you. When the young mom brings over a meal for you, Christ is feeding you. When the older man places a hand on your shoulder to pray for you, Christ is comforting you. God loves his people, and his primary instrument for making that seen in the world is through the actions of Christ's body, the church.

Jesus loves you. He died for you. And he died to bring not only forgiveness of sins (as glorious as that is!), but to give you a place in his family. We experience that family on earth through the local church.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Brief Reflections on Our Statement of Faith: #8 Salvation

Article 8. – Salvation.

We believe that, owing to universal death through sin, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless born again; and that no degree of improvement however great, no attainments in morality however high, no culture however attractive, no baptism or other ordinance however administered, can help the sinner to take even one step toward heaven. What is absolutely essential to salvation is a new nature imparted from above, a new life implanted by the Holy Spirit through the Word, and only those thus saved are sons of God. We believe that our redemption has been accomplished by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was made to be sin for us, dying in our place; and nothing can add in the very least degree to the value of His blood, or to the merit of His finished work.
We believe that salvation is received only through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift of God brought to man by grace, and is received by faith. All who so believe are regenerated and are sealed by the Holy Spirit and are therefore eternally secure in Christ. (Leviticus 17:11; Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 26:28; John 1:12; 3:5, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Romans 5:5-9; 3:22-26; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13,22; 6:15; Ephesians 1:7; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:18-23; John 10:28-29; Romans 8:31-39; 1 John 5:10-13).
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The Old Testament prophet Jonah cries from the belly of the great fish, "Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (Jonah 2:9)

While that is not all we believe concerning salvation, it certainly serves as a useful summary. Human beings are desperately lost in our sinful condition. Our hearts are disinclined toward God. "None is righteous, non, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God." (Romans 3:10a-11). This is the state into which each of us are born, and we all choose to continue in it by our choices to indulge in that which God calls sin. We thumb our noses at the Creator.

Who can save us from this plight? Who can deliver us from the belly of the great fish called our sinful self? None but God. Salvation belongs to the LORD. But he won't accept us the way we are. Our rebellion is odious to him, and he will judge that rebellion with his wrath. Are we without hope, then?

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5). God sent his Son to redeem those who were under the curse of breaking his law. How did he do this? By dying in our place and bearing in his own body the curse that our sins deserve (1 Peter 2:24). This is amazing love-but how do we come to receive its benefits? By faith in Jesus.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1). Which is to say, when we place our faith in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, acknowledging that death and separation from God is what we deserve, and yet confident that he bore that penalty for us and trusting in his goodness and the complete nature of what he did for us on the cross, we move from being God's enemies to being those who are at peace with God. And further still, to being his children. To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

And this is all a gift. Salvation belongs to the Lord!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Brief Reflections on our Statement of Faith: #7 Sin

7. Sin
We believe that all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. To sin is to stray from God’s standard, to miss the mark of God’s holiness. It is fundamentally a rebellion against God Himself. The penalty for such rebellion is death.
The Good News is that Christ died for sinners. We must either accept Christ’s payment or personally experience the eternal conscious torment of death in hell and the Lake of Fire. When a Christian sins he has an advocate in Jesus Christ, and he is commanded to confess and forsake his sin (Isaiah 53:6; 64:6; Romans 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 1 John 1:1-9; 2:1-2).
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Sin is one of the primary through-lines of the Bible. Starting in Genesis three when Adam and Eve rebelled against the righteous rule of God in their lives, all the way to Revelation 20 and the final defeat of Satan, sin plays a central role in how the Bible's story unfolds.

We often think of sins simply as discrete, individual actions unconnected from anything else. However, while each of those sins are a real and devastating reality, they are not our biggest problem. Our primary problem lies not in our individual sins, but in our underlying sin. You and I are born as those who have a natural bent away from God. Our desires are not merely neutral, waiting to decide between right and wrong. We are bent away from good, we are bent away from God, the inclination of our hearts is to exalt ourselves. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than our Creator.

Because of this, the apostle Paul refers to us as being by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). That is, our natural condition, the state in which we enter this world, is under the wrath of God. Each and every one of us is estranged from God by our indwelling sin, and that estrangement is compounded time and again by the conscience and willful choices we make to commit sin. We are rebels who stiffen our necks when confronted by the truth.

And this wreaks havoc on everything. We face eternal separation from God's kindness. We are wronged and hurt by those around us. We hurt and wrong them. Our relationship to the non-human parts of creation is an ugly distortion of what it should be because we are failing to live up to the role we were given in Eden of being God's image-bearers. And we have no hope of changing this.

But God. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus, God's Son, took on humanity and after living a perfect life, died in our place and bore all of God's anger toward sin for any who would trust in him. You can't fix your sin. I can't fix mine. But you and I and anyone in this world can cry out to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and he will forgive our sins if we repent of them and trust in him alone. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).

1 Samuel 4, God's Not Your Puppet

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