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Forgiven…Loved…..Transformed!

Archive for the category “apostle”

Losing the Faith

If you run in the Christian circles like I do, you have most likely heard or read about several recent prominent Christian leaders who have “lost the faith” or “turned away from the faith.” While this is alarming, it is definitely not a new trend.

Back in the 80s and 90s there were quite a few very popular Christian bands that had some high profile artists. There were several of those who turned away from Christ. Many are now claiming atheism.

But let’s go farther back.

In the Bible we see many stories of people who either turned away from their faith or doubted it. In Exodus 12, for example, we learn that Miriam and Aaron both oppose Moses but end up being restored. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert due to a lack of faith. It even led to a bloody conflict that led to half of Israel being killed by the other half of Israel because of faith.

Then you have Jeremiah who wished he had never been born.

King David, in Psalm 13, had doubts. Even in 1 Chronicles 21 we see that David counted his armies rather than trusting God.

Even Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, despaired.

Then you have the doubters. Moses, Thomas, and Gideon all doubted. Peter both doubted and denied. Judas turned away from the faith altogether, and he was in Jesus’ inner circle.

I know that over the years, I have viewed my faith as a moving target sometimes. As humans, we all wax and wane in our faith. There are times we feel so far away from God and others we feel that we are best friends.

One thing I have learned about doubt, or even the “failure of faith” is that we easily get confused when we see ourselves as the prime leader in the relationship. I’d like to focus on a few Biblical characters whose failures could have led to any of them turning away from God altogether. But they each ended up humbling themselves, realizing that they were not the Creator of the Universe (even their own), and came back from their failures.

I like to start with Paul. He is someone I like to think I associate with closest in the Bible. An evangelist at heart but with so much baggage in his past that he always wonders how God can use him. Paul was the epitome of sinner. Prior to his conversion, he was the dreaded Saul of Tarsus. Not only was Saul a killer of Christians, but he was the one who approved the execution of Stephen in Acts. Saul’s sole purpose was to destroy the Christian church. He would go door to door in Jerusalem and seek out Christians and then throw them in prison. Once there, he would track the letters they sent to fellow believers and gather them up as well.

After Saul’s conversion to Christ he changed his name to Paul and became one of the world’s greatest evangelists.

But he still hated who he was.

1 Timothy 1:15-16 – Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

So what can we learn from Paul? No matter when you give your life over to Christ, even after an entire life of horrible sins, the Gospel is too powerful to leave you the same person you were and that transformation becomes a powerful testimony to God’s grace.

Next, let’s look at David. David was the same guy who took a stone and killed the Philistine champion Goliath. He wrote many of the Psalms as worship to God. He was a man after God’s own heart.

However, David was not only mentioned in over half of the Bible’s books, but he broke over half of the 10 commandments!!! He coveted Bathsheba, committed adultery, stole her from Uriah, lied to him, and then had him killed!

But when he is confronted, David repents.

That repentance doesn’t undo everything he did in the past, but it does change the trajectory of his spiritual future.

2 Samuel 12:13 – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

What we can learn from David is that if we truly do repent of our sin we are not saved from the consequences but we are still able to be used by God.

Third, I would like to look at John Mark. John Mark came from a very important family. Peter went to John Mark’s house when he was released from prison. Paul & Barnabas pick up John Mark on the way back from a mission journey. Unfortunately, we learn that John Mark left Paul & Barnabas in Perga and went back to Jerusalem.

While we don’t know the reasons behind why John Mark left them, we do know that it wasn’t for a good reason. Barnabas later suggests they go get him and Paul refuses to do it. This leads to the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that causes the two of them to part ways. Barnabas chooses Mark and Paul chooses Silas and they go their separate ways for as long as we know in the Bible.

Later, when Paul is in prison, he writes to Colossae and tells them that John Mark is with him and has been a great comfort and that they are to welcome John Mark. This is the same person that disappointed Paul earlier in life so much that it caused division among the saints.

And now, Paul is calling him a “fellow worker.”

What can we learn from John Mark? While conversion is instantaneous, it takes a lifetime to grow into the faith you are accepted into. Maturity comes at a later date, even when we think we are mature enough to handle situations we cannot. As long as we persevere, we can outgrow those immature moments in life.

Next, let’s look at Peter. Peter was loud and shoots from the hip quite a bit. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He was the only one to attempt walking on water and he was the first to tell Jesus he believed He was the Son of God.

But we know what happens, Peter denies Jesus not just once but three times!

Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter though. Peter is the first person Jesus appears to. He restores Peter at the Sea of Galilee.

And then Peter went on to preach the first sermon in which 3,000 people got saved!!!

What is it that Peter can teach us? Failure doesn’t disqualify you from the Kingdom of God.

The last person I would like to look at is Elijah.

Elijah was someone who worked so many miracles it would be hard to think of him as human. He caused the rain to stop for 3 years, he was fed by ravens, he witnessed a young man resurrected, and he called down fire from heaven, thus destroying the prophets of Baal.

But then we see that Elijah burned out. After calling down fire, Elijah realized he couldn’t take anymore. He fled to the wilderness and felt totally alone and afraid.

God met him there. He fed him. He allowed him the time to rest. And after a while, he answered Elijah in the still, small voice.

What can we learn from Elijah? Burnout is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don’t listen to everything and everyone when you are exhausted. Take time to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then get back out there and win people to Christ.

The only way that failure will win in your life and cause you to leave the faith is if you allow it to do so. We serve a big God. This is the same God that created the universe! He can give us what we need, if we only allow Him to do so.

Can you tell me about Jesus?

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

So today, after the snowstorm of the century in Maryland (actually, it was only the 7th worst storm in the last 30 years), I decided to go to the grocery store. Safeway was not busy at all, so I got a space pretty close to the front. Since there weren’t a lot of cars, I was able to pull through the parking space and into the next space.

When I came out of the store, I rolled the cart to my car and started to put the groceries in the trunk. The space behind me was still open, and there were several other spaces throughout the parking lot that were actually closer to the store than the one behind me.

I just put the last bag in the car as it dropped and the groceries went all over the back of the trunk. I started to clean them up when a car started to pull into the spot. The woman blew her horn and proceeded to yell at me through her windows. I couldn’t understand what she said because all her windows were up, but she clearly was not happy at me.

I held up my index finger to say, “give me a minute” and continued to clean up the groceries in the trunk.

She blew her horn again and, as I looked at her, she threw up her arms in frustration and stared at me until I was finished.

I rolled the cart to the cart return area as she parked right behind me. As I walked back to my car I noticed a couple of Christian decals on her car.

When she got out of the car, I decided to ask her if she could tell me about the gospel message.

She gave me a nasty look and turned and walked away from me and into the store.

My mentor shared a sermon once as the church handed out bumper stickers to everyone that he didn’t want people to put the stickers on their cars if they were going to not act like a Christian as they drove places. This woman was clearly the subject matter of his sermon.

Now when I asked this woman to share the gospel message with me I clearly had a ulterior motive (I needed a topic this week for my blog!)

But the point, to me, is clear as crystal.

The world is watching us.

What would have happened if it wasn’t me, but someone who really needed to hear the gospel?

What if someone was contemplating the sermon they just heard and whether they need Jesus in their life and then they have this experience.

Now let me say that I don’t know what this woman was going through. She may have had a serious problem happen in her life that I don’t know about that she is struggling with that set her off.

But the world doesn’t know that, unfortunately.

The world just sees a supposed Christian woman acting very un-Christian like.

When that happens, we lose our testimony.

I know a lot of people who would say that this woman is not a Christian because of the way she acted. And she may not be.

But what if she really is?

As I said, she might just be having a very bad day that set her off.

But Satan isn’t trying to “unsave” the Christians.

Satan is trying to destroy our testimonies.

Satan knows that he can’t take us out of God’s hands. So he wants to bring doubt, confusion, anger, bitterness, sarcasm, and other demons into our lives to make sure that Christians can’t share their testimony.

That might have been the case today. This woman might have been having such a bad day and she was trying to handle everything on her own instead of relying on God. What that does is causes us to handle our issues incorrectly.

We lash out.

We say those four-letter words.

We hurt those we love.

We get our testimonies destroyed by the one who comes to kill and destroy.

So what is the answer? How do we ensure that Satan doesn’t kill our testimonies?

Well, even though Jesus, in the beatitudes, commands us to “be perfect,” you are not perfect. You won’t get it right all the time.

But God…

God has enough grace and mercy to love you and give you your testimony back.

The way to do that is to follow what is written in the Bible,

James 4:7 – Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

While I only chose James 4:7, the entire beginning of James 4 is pertinent to this post. James asks us what causes quarrels among us? It is our passion. It is our desire to put ourselves on the altar and not God.

But you might say to me, “Fred, I asked God for help and he never answered me.”

What does James say about this?

James 4:1-12 – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James pretty much pegged what that woman this morning was going through. Even though I don’t know the specifics, the fruit of her actions is evident. She didn’t submit to God. Even if she asked God for help, she ask wrongly.

And that is our problem as Christians.

We tend to think that God will do so much more for us that He already did.

Jesus already died on the cross. He did that so you could have an eternity with Him. But sometimes I believe we expect Him to fix every problem that comes our way. To replace the rainy seasons with rainbows, to take away our bad attitudes and idolatry and replace it with smiles and peace.

God is not a genie in a bottle.

We have accountability in this life. If we choose to humble ourselves, God will exalt us. If we choose to exalt ourselves, God will humble us.

Here is my challenge to you, Christian.

Over the next week, take everything you do and place God before it completely. Are you about get in your car and go to work? Pray and ask God to guide you. Are you about to go eat lunch? Pray and thank God for the provision. Are you about to come into a rainy season? Pray and ask God to give you clarity about how to get through it.

It may seem awkward at first. But eventually you will feel more and more comfortable with talking to God and you will learn how to talk to Him and how to listen to Him.

The Church Has Left the Building – Part 2

Back in 2013 I wrote an article called “The Church has left the Building.” It was a year and half after I had started blogging and I hadn’t yet acquired an audience. Looking back at it, theologically there was nothing wrong with the article, but as I have aged, I have come to realize that the phrase, “The Church has left the Building” is more than I wrote about in 2013.

Back in 2013 I was concerned with the state of tithing in the church and that if the church doesn’t follow the God-given request to test Him in our tithes, then as the greater church we cannot do many of the ministries we need to do in order to be a thriving church.

FYI…for the 2019 year my buzzword is going to be “thrive.” That is going to be a post for a different day, but suffice to say you will read that word a lot over the next 12 months.

Now I realize it has taken me 5 and half years to write a follow up to the original post, but I want to share the wisdom that God has been teaching me over the past 5 years as to what the phrase “The Church has left the Building” means to me.

Too many people think the church is the building and the people that are in the building. I recently changed churches from Chesapeake Christian Fellowship to Friendship Community Baptist. One is non-denominational, single-elder led while the other is mainline Baptist and congregationally led. Very different polity.

But the same church.

Both churches are amazing in various different aspects of ministry. There are things that CCF is strong at that FCBC is not. There are areas that FCBC is strong that CCF is not.

How we “play church” on Sundays is different.

But the goal is the same.

Plunder hell and populate heaven.

The writer of Hebrews knows this well (I also wrote an article about who this writer could be back in 2012, but, again, that is for another day as I realize that many people will disagree with my view on that as well).

The writer of Hebrews says,

“For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – 13:14-16

We have no lasting city.

When I started attending CCF back in 2002 I had no clue what Christianity was truly about. It was by the grace of God and His mercy alone that I came to find that faith. As time went on, I became comfortable at CCF, thinking that was my lasting city. I even wanted to eventually pastor there.

But God.

God had other plans.

He realized that I needed to become uncomfortable in order to continue growing.

I needed to leave the camp, so to speak.

Again, the writer of Hebrews explains this,

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” – 13:11-12

The sacrificial offerings were burned up outside the camp. Jesus suffered and died outside the gate of the city.

In order for us to be used to our fullest for God, we need to go outside the gate of the city.

My city, for so long was CCF. And while I would occasionally go outside and talk to people (usually about how great my church was more than the power of the Holy Spirit), I maintained my comfort inside the building.

I couldn’t be burned up for the sacrifice when I grew comfortable.

God knew this. Honestly, I knew this. I just pushed against it for many years before truly acting upon it.

In order for me to grow, I needed to leave the walls of the city.

And my new church, Friendship Community Baptist, has been challenging yet good for my growth. I am learning how to work inside a different set of church polity. I am learning what it truly means to shepherd.

I am so thankful for my time at CCF. Without that time, I could not have grown from immaturity to maturity. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that he or she needs to step outside the walls of the city in order to be uncomfortable.  The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an example of that,

“…Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…Enoch was taken up…Noah constructed an ark…Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out…Moses was hidden for three month…Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…(Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king…The people crossed the Red Sea…” – 11:4-30 (abridged)

He continues, saying,

“…through faith (others) conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” – 11:33-34

Every single one of those “by faith” comments in Hebrews 11 required going out.

The Church has Left the Building!!!

By no means am I telling people to leave their churches and go to a different church like I did. That was God’s vision for me and my family at this time in my life. That may not be the vision He has given you.

But you need to leave the comfort of the building and get out in your community. If you are not, by faith, stepping out and proclaiming the gospel to others and discipling others, you need to figure out what kind of faith you really have.

Did you simply accept Jesus to try and become a better person and get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card?

Or did you fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and desire to serve Him. Are you worried less about looking like a Christian and more about looking like Christ? Are you following Christ by faith because you have  desperation to know the person of Jesus Christ?

I want you to move beyond thinking you have a saving faith and move into knowing you have a saving faith.

That will lead the church to leave the building.

It will become a message that simply too big to contain inside the church building that you need to take it to communities, the streets, the cities, the shanty towns, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces.

Know your faith, Christian.

It is time to leave the building.

Fear of Succeeding

2 Corinthians 12:9-11 – But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Last week I mentioned that I accepted a position as the Director of Ministry for a local Baptist church (fcbc.church). The first week has been a whirlwind! It has been amazing, difficult, challenging, and exciting all in one!

The gifts and talents that I bring into the ministry here seem like they are complementary to the gifts and talents the other staff and elders have. After the first week it seems like an amazing fit!

A lot has happened this past week with the ministry. There have been some deliveries of benevolence funds to people, helping someone find a new job, helping people get food at a local food pantry, and working with local organizations to see if they would be a good fit in our building during the off-hours.

Then there are those items that I have been doing for many years in the business industry: writing training programs for ministry leaders as well as church-wide, doing needs analysis of ministries, and studying up on topics I know very little about (when I started in the coffee industry about 15 years ago I had no clue what coffee really was, the same holds true today with ministry).

I sat down over a couple days and created some training programs. They need work, but I think they are pretty decent programs.

Then fear set in.

Proverbs 18:3 – To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.

How much prayer and seeking of God’s face did I do before working on these? I honestly couldn’t remember!

I knew I had prayed at least a little bit, but I couldn’t honestly say that I was putting God first as I put together those programs.

I hope I didn’t just do something successful without bringing Christ into it!!!

I know that ministry is tough. The first week here has been full, but not tough. I am wondering if I am missing something.

But what IS tough is keeping Christ at the forefront of the ministry.

Some tasks are simple. A door is broken, let’s get the door fixed. Not a lot of prayer time required to make sure I make the right decision.

But what about the benevolence and food pantry and job help. If I get those wrong, then more than my own ego would be in jeopardy. I honestly can’t remember how much prayer I put into them all.

Psalm 5:3 – In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

So today I started something a little different. Instead of coming in and immediately getting to work, I am taking the opportunity to dig into the Bible for a few minutes and then go to prayer. Then, when I am about an hour or so from leaving, I go into the sanctuary and pray.

This is the reason that ministry is a calling and not a job. It is very easy to get caught up in the job aspects of the ministry, but if we look at everything as some aspect of “the job,” then we will never grow and excel in Christian ministry. But, on the flip side of that, if we spend all our time in prayer, fasting and dying to ourselves, then the little details like taking out the trash, setting mouse traps, and cleaning toilets will never get done.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 – Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

I have had several jobs in my life. Every single one of them eventually gets boring and repetitive. I am sure ministry will be no different in many ways. But the call of ministry, if we see it as such, will carry us through the doldrums and bring us into exciting high winds to fill our sails.

So here’s to hoping that I don’t see only success. Here is to hoping that I fail a little. Here is to hoping I don’t get bored on the repetitive tasks and am able to enjoy the diversity of ministry.

And here’s to hoping that this journey will bring the discomfort to me and my family that causes the awakening that God so sorely needs in this world today.

But God…

It is one of my favorite phrases to say.

“But God.”

It is in the Bible, in various forms, at least a hundred times or more.

I know that through my own power, there are a lot of things that are impossible for me. Every time I see a Bible verse that has “but God” in it I know that there is some awesomely Good News following it.

Being in ministry, I have heard countless times that people can’t come to God because:

  • But I have too much baggage
  • But my sins, you just don’t know how bad I’ve been
  • But I’m not clean from drugs or alcohol
  • But I have feelings of anger and bitterness toward someone

When I hear people say this, I remember when I used to say those things. I have baggage. I have sin. I used to drink. I have definitely held feelings of anger and bitterness.

But God…

God has taken away the baggage. God has taken the sin. God has taken the “me” that used to get drunk. God has taken the feelings of anger and bitterness!

From time to time Satan will bring up all those feelings, sins, and baggage and cause me to question.

That is sin, to want to go back to where God delivered you from (remember the Israelites in the desert?)

But God…

Those times are short-lived and lead to more spiritual growth on my part because I choose to trust God every step of the way.

But God…

If you want Christians to dance and shout in the sanctuary, tell them that we will be playing Hillsong or Vineyard or Bethel music today. If the pastor gets up in front of the congregation and tells them that they are no longer dead in their sin, the congregation will sit there. Quietly.

You would think that saying something like,

Ephesians 2:1-9 – And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

You would think that would bring the congregation to their feet!

You once were dead but now you are alive!!!

Christian, that is better than ANY praise song out there! That is better than any guitar solo that can be played. That is better than any long-held high note that the singer can do. That is better than any new lighting trick or new sound compression.

The first century Christians understood this!

So, Fred, how was your day today?

Well, pastor, my car broke down and I had to walk to my dentist to get a root canal. BUT GOD…pulled me from the depth of hell, where I would have died without Him for eternity and gave me eternal life!

BUT GOD!!!!

If we go further in Ephesians 2, we learn that,

Ephesians 2:12 – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

We were strangers!

We had no hope!

But God…

BUT GOD!!!

Let’s look at verses 3 and 7 together…

We were children of wrath BUT GOD promises eternal kindness

Now let’s look at verses 2 and 6 together…

We were enslaved to the prince of the air BUT GOD raised us up and freed us to be seated with Christ

Now let’s look at verse 1 and 5-6 together….

We were dead in our sins BUT GOD made us alive in Christ

BUT GOD!!!

Let’s look elsewhere in Scripture.

Genesis 50:20 – As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Joseph’s brothers had done evil to him, BUT GOD meant it for good.

Acts 10:28 – And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.

Peter said that it is unclean for Jews to hang out with Gentiles, BUT GOD brings us all into unity.

Psalm 49:14-15 – Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

The writer said he was on his way to Sheol, BUT GOD ransomed his soul.

Acts 13:29-30 – And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead

Jesus was put into a tomb, BUT GOD raised Him from the dead.

Romans 5:7-8 – For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

People don’t typically die for other, BUT GOD showed His love to us in that when we were still His enemies He died for us.

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 – For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong

People will think you are crazy because of this calling God has given you, BUT GOD will use the foolish of the world to shame the wise.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

We can plant. We can water the garden. BUT GOD makes it grow.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

We will be tempted, BUT GOD is faithful and will provide us a way of escape.

Any time you look at a “but God” statement in the Bible you will find that good comes after it.

You may be reading this and saying that those phrases are for people who already love God. You might be thinking that God doesn’t want anything to do with you because of your sin or your shame.

BUT GOD wants you!

BUT GOD loves you!

BUT GOD desires you and to have a relationship with you.

It is as simple as reaching out today. If you would like to know how, please comment or email me at coffeeguy777@hotmail.com. I would love to help you figure out the “but God” moment in your life.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 8: Simon and Thomas

This week I want to talk about Simon and Thomas. The more I study the disciples, the more I realize the mysteries that surround them and the more questions I can’t wait to have answered when I get to meet Christ face to face.

Simon:

The fact that I listed him here means you now know as much about Simon as I do. There is very little in the Bible about Simon. He did have 2 nicknames, Zelotes and Canaanite. All we can gather from those two names is that Simon was part of the Zealot party and was a Canaanite. He is mentioned only a few times in the Bible and only as part of a list, never with any back story.

But I would like to speak a little about Zelotes, or Zealot. The Zealots were a fanatical party that significantly opposed Rome. They were not fond of Jewish Roman sympathizers, which makes Simon working together with Matthew, a Jewish Roman sympathizer, so interesting. This shows that Jesus chooses people from all walks of life, wherever they are.

One other strange thing about the Zealots is that they typically sided with the Pharisees, whom Jesus typically was at odds with. Zealots had a history of passion. They were passionate about upholding the commandments in the Torah, especially those which dealt with idolatry.

One of the most famous groups of Zealots were the Sicarii. They were a violent group of Zealots that tried to expel the Roman government and any sympathizers. There is no indication that Simon was a member of the Sicarii, but if he indeed was a Zealot, he would have had a very passionate and legalistic view of the commandments

Other than that, we know nothing. There is also very little tradition about him. The only tradition holds that he preached in Egypt and was martyred there.

Thomas:

Thomas is the last of the original twelve that I will discuss. Everyone knows Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” because of doubting whether it was really Christ in front of him. He is really known as Thomas Didymus.

Thomas was pessimistic yet loyal. In John 11:16 we see Thomas say,

John 11:16 – Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

There are only 3 real references to Thomas in the gospels. The first comes when Jesus was traveling out of town and Thomas joined Him. Next we see Thomas in the upper room where he asked Jesus how to get to the place where Jesus is going to prepare for us. This is where Jesus says the very popular phrase,

John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Of course, we know that by God’s grace we have access to the eternal, Almighty God.

Thomas’ final appearance is seen after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus joined the disciples (minus Thomas) in the upper room. Later they told Thomas what they saw and Thomas didn’t believe them. A week later, as the believers were hiding in the upper room again, that Jesus appeared and proved Himself to Thomas.

Tradition offers that Thomas went to Persia and died a martyr.

What Thomas teaches us is that as we struggle with seeing God in our daily walk in life, God will show up in our lives to show us He is there.

So which disciple are you most like? I find that I associate best with Philip. Philip was able to reason, as he was the one who figured out how much it would cost to feed the 5,000. I also associate with Philip in that he would go into groups of people that would most likely be written off and share Jesus with them. In his day, it was the Gentile crowd. I enjoy seeing Christ shared in groups of people who would never hear about Him.

So how about you?

Leave a comment and tell me what you chose.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 7: Matthew & Philip

After last week’s study on the two Judases, I am hoping this week is much easier study, but in doing my initial research, I am not thinking so. This week we will look at both Matthew and Philip.

Matthew:

Matthew, like all the rest of the apostles, has an interesting story to tell us. There is nothing written about Matthew prior to his decision to join Jesus other than he was a publican (some versions say he was a tax collector) and he was the son of Alpheus.

When Jesus sees Matthew, he was sitting in a tax collector’s booth along the main highway. Doing this job meant that he was collecting the duties on the imported goods brought by farmers and caravans. In the Roman system, Matthew would have paid all these taxes ahead of time and then collected the money from the people to reimburse himself. This is definitely a system filled with corruption. For example, using today’s money as a tool, if he would have paid $500 to the Roman government before collecting, he would have had to have made that $500 back plus whatever his financial needs for his family are. That means that the farmers and merchants were being overtaxed by the local collectors. Most tax collectors extorted extra money in order to profit off their time in the booth.

Another interesting point about these Jewish publicans is that they were Jewish collaborators. The Jews did not like tax collectors. They were one of the most hated people in all of the empire. Jews felt that all their money should go to support the community and God and not be used to line the pockets of the Roman empire. This meant that not only was Matthew hated because he was a tax collector, but he was a JEWISH TAX COLLECTOR! This meant that one of their own was extorting money from other Jews for profit. He was a Jewish agent of Rome.

Matthew was hated among his own people!

There are accounts of Jews not allowing Jewish publicans to marry Jewish women or even worship in synagogue.

But God…

Jesus walked by and simply said, “Follow me” and that changed everything for Matthew.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

On that same day that he chose to follow Christ, Matthew held a huge party at his home and invited several other tax collectors so that they could meet Jesus as well. In one day, Matthew went from a hated tax collector to a loved soul collector.

While it might seem damaging to Jesus’ credibility to bring Matthew on board, Jesus was very intelligent in His decision. Publicans were known for the record keeping. They had to be. At any time the Roman government could come along and ask for the records of the day. They needed to capture all the details.

This is what made the gospel of Matthew so important. Matthew was able to answer questions about the Messiah in a way that only he could do, by presenting the little details about the stories.

Matthew left a very comfortable life for a life of uncertainty. He abandoned all the pleasures that he had amassed so that he could follow the true Messiah.

After Jesus’ ascension there is little written about Matthew. We know that he wrote the book of Matthew about 25-30 years after the crucifixion, but tradition holds that he went out, as the other apostles did, and spread the Good News of the gospel. At some point he went into Ethiopia and was martyred there.

The big thing we learn from Matthew is that God can use anyone. It doesn’t matter how sinful we are. It doesn’t matter how hated we are. It doesn’t matter how hard our heart is. God can call and use anyone.

Philip:

There are at least 3, and most likely 4, men named Philip in the Bible. The first two were Herod the Great’s two sons that he had through different wives. The other two were instrumental in Christ’s mission. Sometimes people say the other two are the same person, and for that I am not quite sold yet. I can understand both sides of the argument for or against, so I will write this as if they were two separate people. They go by different terms: Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Evangelist is assumed to have been one of the 72 that Jesus had sent out on missionary journey, although that is not mentioned in the Bible.

Luke 10:1 – After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

We know that Philip the Evangelist was one of the 7 deacons serving in Jerusalem

Acts 6:5 – This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

When the great persecution came, Philip the Evangelist left Jerusalem and became an evangelist to Samaria.

Acts 8:5-12 – Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

After the church in Samaria was started, the Holy Spirit led Philip the Evangelist to the Ethiopian eunuch ad brought him to know Christ. Directly after baptizing the Ethiopian, God used Philip the Evangelist to preach in towns from Azotus to Caesarea.

Acts 8:40 – Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Twenty years later, Philip the Evangelist is mentioned again in Acts 21:8-9.

Acts 21:8-9 – Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

He is still in Caesarea where Paul and Luke stayed with him. Philip the Evangelist had 4 unmarried daughters who all had the gift of prophecy.

That is the final time we hear about Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Apostle, on the other hand, has a little different trajectory. He was a Galilean and a disciple of John the Baptist’s. Philip is the one who told Nathanael about Jesus. There is little description about Philip the Apostle in the Bible, but there are a lot of interactions between Jesus and Philip.

Philip, after bringing Nathanael to Jesus next turned his sights on some Gentiles.

John 12:20-22 – Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Philip was also the one who determined how much money it would take to feed the 5,000. Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. This is when Jesus replies,

John 14:9 – Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We finally see Philip in Jerusalem to pray after Jesus’ ascension. Tradition goes on to state that Philip went to Turkey to become a missionary and was martyred in Hierapolis.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 6: Thaddeus and Judas

In continuing with the study in of the disciples and trying to figure out which one I (and hopefully you are playing along as well) relate to the most leads me to both Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot.

Thaddeus:

This week I figured would be easy to write. I could skate by on Thaddeus and spend the majority of the time on Iscariot, whom everyone knows. But then a mystery came up.

Matthew 13:55 – “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

As I was reading through the synoptics I came across different lists of the apostles. In Matthew & Mark there is an apostle known as Thaddeus. In both Luke, and then later in Acts, there is no Thaddeus but instead the name was replaced with Judas son of James.

Luke 6:16 – And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.

Thaddeus is an interesting guy with several different back stories that are not supported by Scripture. Allow me to explain.

As I was seeking information I went to the Liberty University stack exchange (basically the online library for seminary students) and started to look up Thaddeus, Jude, Judas son of James, and Lebbeus. Thankfully, the first part of the mystery solved when all the scholars agreed that Thaddeus, and all these other names, were the same person.

But then the mystery started to go deeper. Some scholars claimed he was a violent Nationalist, along the lines of Simon the Zealot. Other scholars claim he was a tender-hearted man. Some scholars believe he was martyred by arrows. Others say Thaddeus was clubbed to death. Some scholars say he was the son of James the Lesser while others say he was his brother. Some say that he wrote the epistle of Jude while others say he didn’t.

So let’s break down what Scripture says and turn away from the scholars for a little while. First, there is very little proof in Scripture that Thaddeus was associated with Simon the Zealot. There is no detail about how Jesus called Thaddeus to become an apostle. But in the books of Luke and Acts, when looking at the translation from the Greek, if we assume that Thaddeus is the same as Judas (not Iscariot), the original language simply says, “Judas, of James.”

While this would most frequently be translated as being James’ son, it can be used to mean James’ brother. This would then line up more logically with the epistle of Jude where the writer calls himself the “brother of James” and in both Matthew and Mark where he is called the brother of Jesus.

But then the mystery goes deep again. Judas is listed, along with James as a brother of Jesus. But John is not listed. And aren’t James & John related?

After all this is said and done, I am no closer to solving the mystery of Thaddeus than anyone else out there.

While the Catholic Church believes that Jude, brother of Jesus, writer of the epistle, son or brother of James is all the same person, I do not.

I believe that it is very easy to get confused.

One thing I notice in the epistle of Jude is that in verse 17, he speaks of the apostles but doesn’t associate with them.

Jude 1:17-18 – But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Theysaid to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”

He also associates himself as the brother of James, where as the translation in both Acts and Luke is commonly meant to mean son.

I believe these are two different people.

Other than that, there is very little that Thaddeus, or Jude, did in Scripture.

Outside of Scripture, there is a lot of tradition about Thaddeus. He supposedly planted a church in Edessa and died a martyr.

Judas Iscariot:

Typically Judas is placed last in these lists of disciples because of his betrayal of Jesus. I wanted to place him at this point to show that there is a distinct difference between Thaddeus (or Judas or Jude) the apostle and Judas Iscariot, the fallen apostle.

Almost everyone knows the story. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

He is almost the biggest mystery of all the apostles. Why would anyone who is that close the Jesus, have that much understanding of Christ’s love, betray Him?!?

A couple of interesting points about Judas is that he was the only Judean in the group. Everyone else was Galilean. Judeans thought they were better than Galileans. He was also the treasurer of the group. His calling by Jesus is not recorded in Scripture.

Even in the midst of his betrayal, Judas called Jesus “friend.” The rest of the apostles have a lot to teach us about how common people with sin in our lives can still be called and used by Christ. Judas, as well, has a lot to teach us about how if we treat our spirituality carelessly, it is easy to draw close to Christ physically but forsake the Christ in our hearts and souls. He was intimately familiar with Jesus and His teachings and yet remained in sin and unbelief.

Many people call Judas a villain. Others call him a hero. Many say that his actions show his heart and because of that he went to the grave separated from Christ. Others say he was used in the master plan of God and because of that has a special place in heaven.

But what does Scripture say?

There are a couple of key points brought about in Scripture and I would ask that you give me the ability to explain my view here before coming to judgment.

I don’t believe Judas ever had Christ in his heart, until after Jesus’ condemnation. He was not a hero. He was a villain, but God knew beforehand that this would occur.

John 13:18 – I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.

When we accept Christ in our hearts, the Holy Spirit takes up residence. This pushes the darkness out of us and makes us lights in this world.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

It is at this moment that evil can no longer enter us. It can influence us from the outside, but it cannot control us because we have the Holy Spirit within. We can choose to listen to evil, but we cannot do it without conviction because from the point the Holy Spirit takes up residence, we get convicted when we allow evil to win out over Christ.

1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,

So what does this have to do with Judas Iscariot?

Judas never allowed God into his heart and soul during his time with Jesus. This is evidenced by the fact that Satan entered into Judas.

John 13:27 – Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

If that is the case, then I would argue to say that Judas was not saved at the point of Jesus’ condemnation.

But God… (I say and write this phrase a lot)

We need to be careful where we “put” Judas. I don’t have a heaven or hell to place Judas in. I am not God. Only God is God. And an interesting thing happened after Jesus’ condemnation…

JUDAS REPENTED!

That’s right. Judas repented.

Matthew 27:3-4 – When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

The other important point about Judas is that when he threw the 30 pieces of silver on the ground, where he threw it is important. He threw it on the ground in the “naos.” The Naos is the “Holy Place.” This means it was in an area of the temple that human Jesus couldn’t even go into because only priests from the tribe of Levi could enter it.

So we have a Judean priest who betrayed Jesus and repented in the Holy Place of the temple, even going so far as to claim Jesus as innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas could have messed everything up by calling Jesus a blasphemer or something else.

But he didn’t.

He claimed Jesus as unblemished and spotless. Innocent.

A perfect Passover.

There is so much more to this, such as why he chose only 30 pieces of silver and the entire reason for the Potter’s Field, but that is for another article.

I believe that Jesus knew Judas would betray Him in the way that he did. But, all of the apostles betrayed Jesus in one way or another. I don’t believe that Judas truly believed in Jesus as the Messiah until the realization that he set an innocent man, a perfect Passover, to be condemned. At Judas’ repentance came the understanding that Jesus really was that Messiah.

Jesus always understands the heart of people. We might look at the drug dealer or alcoholic or stripper and see someone who is far from the gospel. That was Judas.

But God works into peoples’ hearts and brings about repentance. When is only known by God. Sometimes it happens before we bring about catastrophic problems. Other times it happens after.

God only knows.

31211788 – the words 12 disciples written in vintage letterpress type

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