A Covenant Forgotten: Preface

While sitting in class at Johnson University one evening our professor, Dr. Carlus Gupton, thoughtfully mused that that Habakkuk 2:4 might be translated more accurately if it read “the just shall live by his faithfulness” rather than “the just shall live by his faith.” He explained how the Hebrew text was sown together and made a very convincing argument. Some modern translations and Hebrew scholars, I later found, even agreed with him. I haven’t been able to shake the idea from my mind since and it nagged at me for quite some time as I pondered if it could be true and what it would mean if it were. I had to ask myself just what affect would it have on Paul’s uses of that same verse and that in turn affected my beliefs?

As I studied I discovered a book titled “Saved By Faithfulness: How The Covenant Shapes Our Understanding of Salvation” by Rev. Mark Skillin. That book changed my thinking as much as Dr. Gupton’s statement in class did. In fact what Rev. Skillin wrote both added to and validated Dr. Gupton’s idea and brought more clarity to the scriptures for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been so influenced and borrowed so heavily from “Saved By Faithfulness” that it would be impossible for me to cite every idea that came from that book. Let me just make the blanket statement that future post’s in this blog are built on that book, and this work may not exist without that book.

I’ve  often hear that we are “saved by faith alone” and have found no way to reconcile that with much of what Jesus taught. Jesus did say we must have faith, but he also spoke of us bearing our cross, loving and forgiving others, and obeying Him.  Also, in the Book of Acts Peter said, “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.”  (Acts 10:34-35 NET) From that it’s easy to understand that Peter meant we must believe in the Lord, walk humbly before Him and do what is right.

The Apostle James wrote, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:14-17)

John the Apostle quoted a similar statement from Jesus, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:23-24)

Faith, it seems, is not the only condition of the New Covenant.

Thank you Mr. Skillin and Dr. Gupton for the profound affect you’ve had on me. Only scripture and CS Lewis have had more affect (not bad company to be in).

More to come on “The Forgotten Covenant.”

Be in Covenant with the Lord, be relevant.

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” . . .set your hearts on things above. . .”

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

If you call yourself a Christian, ask yourself what your heart is set on.

Did you spend more time yesterday studying the stats of your favorite sports team than you spent reading your Bible?

Have you spent more money this month entertaining yourself than you did tithing or giving to charities?

Did you talk more about the new box office hit than you did Jesus yesterday?

To the casual Christian these things seem trivial and unimportant. But according to scripture they show what you are truly passionate about and where your heart really is. Scripture never commends the casual Christian or speaks of rewards for the casual Christian. In fact according to Jesus and the Apostles there is no such thing.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus does not want anyone to hate anyone else. He is using hyperbole to show you that there is nothing casual about being a true Christian. You are either hardcore or you are……………………..

hyperbole |hīˈpərbəlē|
noun
exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Don’t take it literally, do take it seriously.

Jesus Was An Extremist, We should be too

What would the Body of Christ be like if Christians were as extreme as Islamic Jihadists are? In fact ask yourself what the world, and not just the Church, would be like today if Christians were that extreme.

When we think of Islamic extremists the picture we see is that of a crazed and violent person reeking havoc upon infidels and the thought of Christian extremists brings to mind those among us who say they are Christians, yet they blow up abortion clinics or murder in the name of Jesus. Those actions go against everything that Jesus taught and we must ask if they are truly in Christ. A person who has devoted himself or herself to imitating Jesus to the most extreme measure possible will never fit that image.

The extremism that I’m speaking of is the extremism that Jesus spoke of when He said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21) In Luke chapter 19, we read that Zacchaeus the Tax Collector climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Eventually Zacchaeus met Jesus and he responded with the type of extremism that Jesus spoke about and expects from us. Zacchaeus not only repented, he also gave half of everything he owned to the poor and to those people he cheated out of money, Zacchaeus gave four times the amount he had taken from them back to them.”

Jesus was describing extremism when he told His disciples, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:12-13)

Early Church tradition is full of stories about men and women who stood firm to the end. Most Christ followers have heard how all of the Apostles, except John, were murdered for spreading the story of Jesus Christ. History books are replete with stories of Christians, who would not renounce their faith in Christ, being thrown to the lions by the Romans. Even today Christians are being killed and persecuted, in every sense of the word, in China, India and parts of the Islamic world. Fervency and devotion of that kind is what spread Christianity to every corner of the known world. It is that kind of passion and commitment that drives the Muslim extremist and is why Islam will rule Europe in just a few short years.

But, I do not want to address the apathy and unbelief that allows a pagan religion to take over a continent. I want to ask, “How do those Christian extremists of old compare to the American Christian of today?” In the seeker friendly, feel good church of today many American Christians are misled to believe that Jesus is only about grace and that His grace requires no sacrifice or change on our part. Many define their religion by the big sins that they avoid committing, going to church and throwing a little something into the offering plate.

I have to be honest, it’s easy for me to sit in a warm comfortable house and write about being an extreme Christian, but I find that must ask myself, “if Jesus asked me to sell everything I owned and give the money away to the poor as He did the rich young man in Matthew 19, could I?” Instead, I might begin to count off the reasons why I am free from sacrificing half or all that I own. I might tell myself that I rule my possessions and they do not rule me. After all it is “the love of money” and not money itself that “is a root of all kinds of evil.” You see I too have been conditioned to believe that God wants me to have a big nice house, lots of stuff and the best of everything. I have earned my time off and vacations are God’s blessing to me. My collection of material goodies is essential to God’s Kingdom, the money I may spend on a 50 inch TV is not needed by the poor and the hungry and I gave my ten percent (and a little more!) already. Besides that, those homeless guys and the welfare mothers all deserve to be where they are anyway. What does it matter to the Kingdom if the unused space in my house is greater than the size of homes in poor nations or that my car has better housing than many people do? The fatherless, the widows and the lonely elderly will never see God’s glory if I live in a smaller house in a poorer part of town. (And what would others think of me if I did.)

Many of us won’t even give God our time much less half of what we own. We feel that if we make it to church on Sunday we are doing well, if we make it on Sunday night also then we are doing extremely well. How many of us would give up our recreation time and devote that time to serving God? How many would pull their kids from all sports (or other activities) and devote their kids to serving the Lord? Not many of us would do these things, even though that is completely in line with what Jesus asks of us.

Those of us who have gone into debt to buy our stuff are indeed ruled by our possessions and we are slaves to the lenders. We couldn’t give half away if we wanted to, because we do not really own it. Even worse, we believe that the work we must do to service the debts we have acquired has earned us the right to not serve God on our time off. That time and money is reserved for R and R (relaxation and recreation). For generations we have convinced ourselves that competitive sports, secular movies, secular reading, secular music and most any other secular extracurricular activity are of extreme value and that somehow they advance the Kingdom of God. As if any activity that makes us feel good or arouses emotion is of God. In short the Kingdom is all about us.

It’s time we ask ourselves what eternal value those things have, not only to us but to everyone. Where does all this self-indulgence and striving for more and better stuff fit into Jesus telling us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Sadly, we are so conditioned by our society’s materialism we now believe that the pursuit of more stuff is God’s will. We need to think in terms of how our allegiance to the NFL, our child’s soccer league, our house or our own entertainment fits into the Gospel picture. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with Jesus to see what it is based on. Do we bring up our kids for the sole purpose of what will bring the most glory and be most pleasing to He who we call Lord, or do we teach them to put themselves first and give Jesus what is left? The real question becomes, “What is it that we truly desire?”

I believe that there is one thing that Americans covet more than anything else, and that it is that “one thing” that drives us to accumulate more stuff and causes us to neglect those things that Jesus told us to hold dear, “image” is everything isn”t it. What Americans spend on make-up, hair dye, the latest fashion and keeping up with the Jones, annually, could possibly feed most of Africa’s hungry. It has been estimated that America spends more on landscaping and lawn care than it does on foreign aid. How much more could we give if we had not addicted our children to designer that and brand name this? Oh God, please forgive us and create new hearts in us!

If we could somehow convince ourselves and the mainstream American Christian that they are not divinely entitled to large homes, extreme (by third world standards) comforts, three cars, season tickets and a vacation home, then the churches of America could have an incredible impact on the world. Yes, I know we do have an impact on the world, but not anything close to the impact that Jesus expects or the impact that those book of Acts Christ lovers had.

Extremism starts with you and I. American Christians must divest themselves of their comforts, large homes, expensive cars, video games and the wide screen TV’s. God’s Kingdom is not advanced by any of these things. Wake up sleepy Christian. We have been lulled into believing lies excusing self-indulgence by advertisers, prosperity preachers and Satan himself. American culture drives us more than the Gospel of Christ Jesus does. We must wake up from our worldly slumber and be about Kingdom business. Jesus does not want us to conform to this culture or live our lives by its standards; He wants us to create a Kingdom culture here on earth. Many of us know what needs to be done, and we want to do it, but we just do not want be seen as fanatics by our friends and families. Jesus expects us to be fanatics though, so stop living for rewards that are not eternal or in Heaven. Jesus wants us to love and give so fanatically that even other Christians think we are too extreme.

Be relevant, be extreme.

Christians and Entertainment, what should we be doing on That Day?

I was recently involved in a discussion about the Beatles and their contributions to the world. I left the discussion with some new and some re-evaluated convictions about Christians listening to secular music and in a greater context Christians and how they choose to pleasure their minds and entertain themselves.

I grew up in the 70’s and admired my rock stars. I believed the Beatles had all the answers, the Stones were cool and Dylan had insight that neared genius levels. I went there, did that, bought the tee shirt and partied till I puked (literally). The Beatles wrote about LSD so I took LSD, Dylan was anti-establishment so I fashioned myself to also be. Looking back, I see that my heroes, whose public lives I tried to emulate brought some level of misery for me and all of their followers. You might say that, for me, reality has set in. (Praise God, in the despair that the influence of that culture led me to, I came to know Jesus.)

With the Hippy/rock and roll era came a degree of decadence not seen in the world since Roman and Greek orgies were common. Drug and alcohol use skyrocketed; sexual promiscuity became the norm, and social standards dropped. With those issues came rises in the rates of teenage pregnancy, drug related deaths, divorce, abortion and suicide. I cannot begin to count those that I know who have been and are still being affected by one or more of these problems. Of those of you who of grew up in that era, which of you can count the numbers of friends who died in some drug/alcohol related incident, accident or overdose? For years I idealized the influence that the Hippies and rock n rollers had on me and on the world, I now see the devastation that era has left behind.

So what does this have to do with the well-grounded, mature Christian who is not as easily influenced as millions of teens in the 70’s were? Does secular music or secular movies affect our children or us? Does it matter to God? Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible”, and we must ask how that statement influences how we entertain ourselves and spend our time. Another question we must ask ourselves is do we stop reading at that statement or continue reading to the point where Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:14-33) Does listening to the Beatles, the Jonas Brothers, or Fifty Cent meet the standard that Paul’s statement set? Does what we watch or listen to even matter, because there is Grace after all and God does want us to be happy?

Modern Christians like to think in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. For example some of us convince ourselves that the Beatles singing, “all you need is love” would be appropriate, but Ice T rapping “Die, die, die pig, die! F**k the police!” might not be. If we take an honest look at the “what is appropriate” approach we understand that the standards it gives the Christ follower are ever changing. The definition of “what is appropriate” differs from person-to-person, culture-to-culture and generation-to-generation. In other words the “what is appropriate” approach offers no standard at all that is based in Biblical truth and in the end is not a measure of what is right or wrong Christian behavior.

Modern Christians like to take the Pharisee’s legalistic approach also don’t they? Many Christ followers may say that it’s OK to listen and watch this or that, because there is no law (commandment) against it. That makes for a pretty shallow relationship with Jesus though and it is certainly against everything He taught and teaches through His Word.

Other modern Christians have said “God is an artist and we can learn about God from all art”, but have you noticed that God’s art, (the sunsets, fall leaves, peacocks, etc) is never profane, never vulgar, never sexual and always leaves you wanting more of God? Certainly we can learn some good from some art, however all that is art is good.

It’s easy to believe these approaches are sound, because with Jesus in Heaven and us here on earth we kind of lose our true perspective. He’s so far away and His heartbreak is not evident since we are unable to see the pain in His eyes when we do the things we do. Maybe it would help if we put things in the perspective of Christ being the husband of the church, which of course He is.

If you have a spouse or significant other you might be able to understand what I’m about to say. If I say that I love my wife, yet run off to dance with another woman when I feel the need to dance, is that love? If my wife tells me that she loves me and then entertains herself with my sworn enemies, is that love? If you leave the company of your sweetheart, whom you say you love, to go find pleasure in the company of those who are against your sweetheart, is that true love? What would you think of me if I taught my son to do these things?

Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me”, so those who truly want to love Christ must consider what kind of Christian love it is that runs off to dance with the devil. If love is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13) then can we say we love God when we entertain and pleasure ourselves with the music and movies (or even books) made by and about godless men and woman? What will He think of us if we have taught His children to accept that love is self-seeking?

I know that many will come up with well-reasoned arguments against what I just wrote. If you are one of my brothers or sisters who has already done that or is doing that now, I hope you will ask yourself if you are coming from a self-seeking perspective or a God-seeking perspective. You see our relationship with Jesus is all about love. In every decision we make love will guide the approach we take, if our relation with Jesus is what it should be.

On “The Day of the Lord” when we stand before Jesus, we will no longer believe that listening to our favorite secular music, reading a best selling novel or seeing the newest greatest movie is so important. At that moment all we will see is the opportunities that we lost and the examples we failed to set. We will find that our heavenly rewards and crowns have been lost. Only then will we see that Jesus could care less that some awesome riff or a suspenseful moment in a movie enthralled us. I believe that at that time, on that day, we will completely understand the pointlessness of our quests to find pleasure, when compared to what He has called us to do. On that day we will fully comprehend who it was we served when we engrossed ourselves in the “art” of those who are against Jesus.

Be Relevant, Love Jesus
Steve

No Comprimise, No Retreat

Endeavor, as much as you can, to keep clear of everything, which may prove injurious to your soul. People may say you are too conscientious, too particular, and ask where is the great harm of such and such things? But don’t listen to them. It is dangerous to play tricks with sharp tools: it is far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul. ~J.C. Ryle

There are those who would convince us that it’s OK to compromise. Also, we each have some in our circles who would convince us to tone down the talk about Jesus and who are embarrassed that we seem extreme. In reality they convince us that it’s normal and proper to not “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

How many of us were once on fire for God and refused to compromise what we believed, only to have our resolve chipped away by “well intentioned” others, who convinced us to “tone it down.” Some of us never had the chance to live uncompromised lives; we may have lived in a compromised position, around compromised Christians, our entire Christian walk. If we fall into either group it’s time for us to turn around and start living lives of uncompromised purity and righteousness. No matter what the anti-Christians and the world have convinced us of, Christ still calls us to a different standard.

We live in a world where Christians are taught early not to be dogmatic about their beliefs, because it may offend others. We feel embarrassed about telling others about Jesus. We feel that it is improper to tell others that He is the only way and the Hell awaits those who do not believe in Him. The Grace of christ is lost on those who remain unconvicted of their sin. Christians explain that they do not witness to unbelievers because they “do not feel led to.” The Holy Spirit of God did not stop them from witnessing, what stopped them was compromise and complacency. Compromise broke their will and complacency sapped them of their boldness.

Modern Christians have been taught that it’s OK to walk with one foot in the world. Many of us know Christians who compromise themselves, in small ways, to save or make some amount of money. We know those who spend more time watching world events on the news, playing video games or being entertained by sports than they do praying or reading God’s Word. We see our Christian brothers covering themselves with tattoos, and our Christian sisters wearing cloths designed to highlight their sexual parts. To many Christians this is perfectly normal and acceptable. Anti-Christians have convinced them, in conversation and by example, that these things are quite acceptable.

These or other compromises are not acceptable, except by the world. Christians must redefine what is acceptable and what is not. Many of us define what is acceptable by whether or not it is sinful, or whether or not we will get caught. That is legalism. Some allow modern culture to define what is right or wrong. Fear of being unacceptable to friends and the world motivate us. That is worldliness.

To us Christians those things that are acceptable should be those things that bring glory to God. Acceptable things are those things that we know would please God and best represent the nature of God. Our obedience should come from love and not fear of reprisal.

God loves us as we are. He loves us though we are still sinners; God’s love for us is not in question. The questions are these. Do we love God as He loves us? Have we been convinced to love both Him and the world? Are we convinced that we must live our lives for our own comfort, our own self-image and our own sake? For whose or what’s sake do we make our choices?

We must live our lives and make our choices only for the honor of His name. We must die to the expectations of the anti-Christians and the world, and we must begin to live for the sake of His name. What we do to our bodies, what we watch and listen to, what we say and do; these things all represent Christ to every one who sees us.

Be relevant, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Spiritual Maturity

The other day I was speaking to a young man, who I admire and love, and  he said something that was startling to me. He told that he had gone to his friend’s church and he said something to the effect that the Spirit wasn’t there. I took what he said to mean that the Holy Spirit was not present at his friend’s church, at least not as powerfully as He is at this young man’s church.

In the past I have been associated with, and for a while, I was taught in the same “belief system” that the young man is now in. It is common to hear those in that “belief system” to say things like “I went this or that church and I didn’t feel the Spirit there” “that church doesn’t have the Spirit” or “We didn’t feel the Spirit when we sang in that church.”

In reality what is being said is “our church is Spiritually superior to those other churches”
and “that other church does not give me an emotional high like mine does.” I have two things to say to this.

First, Jesus and His Spirit are wherever two or three are gathered. Our faith tells us this is true. Even though we never see the Spirit or Jesus we know that they exist, by our faith. Even though the music might be the old songs our grandparent listened to and do not stir us up, our faith should tell us that God is among the body of believers that we are with. The person who wrote Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We need to understand that the certainty of our hope is not in what we see or feel, but in the promises of God. Jesus does show up because a certain kind of music is played or clothes are worn.

The second point I would like to make is about the similarities between us thinking, “our church is spiritually superior to that church” and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee did not know the heart or life of the tax collector and judged on what he saw and felt about the man. Another similarity is the Pharisee lacked true godly humility and the way he judged the tax collector was based in pride.

If a church or a body of believers has doctrine or teaches things that are against scripture then we must speak out against those things. But, if a church’s music and services are different than what we are accustomed to and they don’t evoke the same emotion and feelings that we are accustomed to, we need to understand that they are not wrong. They are only different. Being different is not wrong. Understanding this and accepting our brothers and sisters who are different is a sign of our Spiritual growth and our Christian maturity.

Peace, Steve

“Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:

Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.” The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.” Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”

Luke 18:9-14

How is competition of Christ?

I just want say a word about living in peace.  Really it goes against everything we’re taught.  We grow up in America where competition is fed to us like a mother’s milk is fed to babies.  If you had brothers and sisters you probably felt compelled to compete with them for everything.  As a result many feel that they can’t rise to the top, without walking on others.  Some have the unspoken opinion that they only succeed when others do not. This competitive attitude makes us critical of others, aggressive, judgmental against those who appear weak or in need. It makes us arrogant, uncaring and cold hearted, unwilling to lift others up.  It’s a lie we’ve all been taught all our lives

Here is why competition is not of Christ, when we compete somebody loses. When we are superior, somebody is inferior.

We should ask ourselves what it matters if we’re better and richer than anybody we know, but we lose our souls.  Jesus teaches us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  There are so many references to peace in the Bible that I couldn’t read them all at one time.

Life is not us against them, life is us and them.  Success is not rising to the top on the back’s of others, success is rising to the top together with mutual respect and help.  All for one, one for all.

Our prayer for each other and ourselves:  Father teach us to continually bless each other in deed and in prayer.  Teach us that true success comes when we learn to put others before ourselves.  Give us your wisdom and heart Oh God.  Makes us feel silly if we look down on others.  Destroy that lie, in us, that competition is good.  Heal us and destroy those ungodly strongholds we’ve been taught.

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Galatians 6:4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else…….

Mark 9:50
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Acts 10:36
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

James 3:17
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.