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Archive for the tag “Paul”

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.

Freedom of Captivity

What do you think of when you hear the name Paul from the Bible?

Many think of the world’s greatest missionary or the world’s greatest evangelist. Others think of the guy that wrote most of the New Testament. Still others think about a Pharisee turned Christian.

But Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, wants us to remember that Paul was imprisoned just as much as he wants us to know he planted a lot of churches. Almost 25% the book is devoted to Paul’s final arrest and imprisonment. If you add all of the information about Paul’s issues in Philippi then you have almost a third of the book dedicated to Paul’s legal problems.

Luke explains, in Luke 21:12 that Jesus prophesied that His people would be imprisoned for their evangelistic efforts.

Luke 21:12 – But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and …

Later, in the book of Acts, Luke shows us the fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul was not only one of those who were imprisoned, but he was done so because of Jesus’ call in his life: to both carry Jesus’ name to the Gentiles and Jews and to suffer for Christ. Paul’s ministry would not only be far-reaching, but it would be filled with suffering.

So, in Paul’s time, why were people imprisoned? There were really several reasons: to protect them from being hurt, to stop them from running away, to hold them while awaiting a trial or execution, or to force them to help in a judicial case.

Unfortunately, the prison system was very backed up and people would be imprisoned for long periods of time. Defendants were put into custody based on their charge. It was also based on the social status of the person. So, for example, if someone murdered another person, that would be serious. But if someone had a low status a lesser crime could be seen as serious.

If a Roman citizen was a high-status offender, they would be treated better than those who had a low status or were not citizens. There were several options available to the magistrates: prison, military custody, trusting to a higher-ranking sponsor, or release to their own reputation. There was a lot of corruption, even though there were laws in place to prevent it.

There is no greater example of how the system worked than Paul’s experiences in Philippi. Paul had removed a demon from a girl there and her owners, upset with the financial turmoil that it caused, have Paul and Silas taken to court where they are accused of being serious criminals.

Acts 16:16-24 – As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The apostles are seen as low-status strangers. They are considered “these Jews.” The owners of the slave girl accused Paul and Silas of undermining the Roman culture and subverting the religion. They were told they were “advocating unlawful customs.” The owners of the girl use their influence as Roman citizens to get special consideration from the court.

Paul and Silas stay quiet.

For the longest time I wondered why they stayed silent. All they had to do was tell the court that they, too, were Roman citizens. But in this case claiming to be a Roman citizen would hurt the message of the gospel. If they would have said, “we are Romans” would have meant they would have to deny Jesus.

This led to Paul and Silas being publicly stripped, severely beaten, chained, and then put into stocks in an inner prison cell, the cells that were used for dangerous and low-status criminals.

While they don’t turn their back on their faith, it doesn’t mean they aren’t angry from the treatment they have received.

Acts 16:35-40 – But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

When the courts find out they are Romans, Paul and Silas stage a lock-in until the magistrates escort them out of the prison. The magistrates are fearful for the treatment they gave to Roman citizens, which is a serious crime in itself, and they go and escort the apostles out of the prison and ask them to leave the city.

In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested and chained twice at the Jerusalem temple. The commander tries to find out what Paul’s citizenship status is and what crime he has committed. Paul says he is both a Jew and a citizen of Tarsus.

But, yet, what crime has he committed?

The commander sees Paul as a low-class citizen and an overall troublemaker.

Paul is the guy cops don’t like to pull over. They ask for information and get half-stories or no story at all.

He is ordered for interrogation by flogging.

The commander ended up being wrong about Paul’s status.

Acts 22:25 – But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”

The interrogation and flogging stops. The commander is even worried when he learns that Paul’s citizenship status is higher than his own. You see, the commander bought his citizenship while Paul was a citizen at birth.

The commander had a socially superior person flogged!

They remove Paul from the chains and placed in the centurion barracks where he is allowed to receive visitors.

Acts 22:29-30 – So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

Paul is then transferred to Caesarea where he stays for 2 years. But what this shows is how your custody is handled is based on your status and your crime.

The Romans bring out a sizeable portion of their army to transfer Paul to ensure his safety. The same commander that had flogged him sends a letter to the governor, Felix, and changes the facts so they don’t show that he had a Roman citizen from birth flogged for no reason.

He says that Paul’s issues are Jewish in nature and that his charges do not warrant death or imprisonment from a Roman standpoint.

Acts 23:29 – I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.

Felix orders Paul to be kept under guard in his own palace.

Acts 23:35 – he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

Felix hears the side of Paul and the Sanhedrin. After that he determines that Paul should be kept under house arrest but be able to have friends over and have some other freedoms.

Acts 24:23 – Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

More than likely while under arrest Paul was chained.

Over the next several days Felix meets with Paul, hoping he would offer him a bribe. But he wouldn’t. And this shows that Paul’s resistance to judicial corruption was the reason for his 2-year confinement.

Acts 24:26 – At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.

Felix leaves Paul in confinement as “a favor to the Jews.” In reality, what this did is that it made Paul suspect in the future in case the Jewish leaders wanted to bring other charges against him.

In the meantime, Felix gets replaced by Porcius Festus and his confinement is left in his hands. Likely the Jews attempted to influence this new magistrate through corruption. This led to Festus suggesting a change in the place of trial from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

Paul is not happy.

He cries out for an appeal to Caesar himself!

Acts 25:11 – If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

His appeal is granted.

Paul goes from Jerusalem to Caesarea to Rome. He is a citizen who is under the charge of the Roman centurions. Once he reaches Rome, where citizenship is the norm, Paul goes from an entire garrison down to being chained to a single soldier. He can live on his own and rent a place, which he does for 2 more years.

Being that rental properties in Rome are expensive and very few people could actually afford to rent a private house, Paul most likely found a place in one of the tenement buildings throughout the city. Paul most likely could not afford to continue working as a tentmaker at this time as those tools were costly and security in the area he would have lived was scarce. Since he was a citizen, he would have been eligible for grain rations, but otherwise he was in need of support from others.

Philippians 2:25-30 – I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul was in minimum security in Rome. He was able to welcome anyone and everyone to his place and preach as he saw fit, which would have been boldly.

Acts 28:30-31 – He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Paul would have basically had a house church.

After his third missionary journey, while on the way to Jerusalem, Paul was warned by the Holy Spirit that captivity and difficulties awaited him.

He didn’t care.

Acts 20:23 – except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.

It was in Rome that Paul told the Jewish leaders that he was in the state he was in because of Jesus.

Acts 28:20 – For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”

Imprisonment and captivity was not a disqualification for ministry. It was an expression of it!

In his captivity letters, Paul said he was captive for a higher purpose. He is a prisoner for Christ. He shares in His sufferings.

Paul was an ambassador in captivity who preaches the freedom found in Christ.

A Study in Ephesians 5:15-17

Ephesians 5:15-17 – Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

What is one of your biggest issues?

If you are like most people you might say technology.

Most relationships today are encumbered by our desire to stay connected with everyone at every moment. This leads to people “fasting” from technology. Typically someone will fast from social media or internet or TV for a week or two and then get back into it.

It is understandable why we are addicted to technology. We have such an interdependence on it for our personal lives, our work, and even our entertainment. Many people have their laptops on their laps all day and all evening long.

Like any tool, the internet or cell phone can be misused. When it gets misused, it invades our private moments and it contaminates our relationships.

There is a reason that Paul told the Ephesian church to make “the most of every opportunity.” Paul instructs the church to not be foolish and understand God’s will. You see, the Ephesian church was just like us. They were just as distracted as we are today.

Distraction is a human issue, not a technology issue.

If you read the surrounding verses to 15-17 you realize that there were several things that distracted the church: sexual immorality, covetousness, foolish talk, crude jokes. But look at something else, Paul isn’t just telling them what to stay away from, he is telling them what to focus on in order the keep the bad stuff from taking over.

I like some other translations here as well. For example, the KJV uses the phrase “redeeming the time.” When looking at the original Greek it is literally translated as “buying up for yourselves the opportunity.”

What opportunity is Paul talking about?

The opportunity to find wisdom.

Wisdom is not just learning about the will of God but pursuing it with all you are. A few verses later we are told that this pursuit is done through “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”

Paul understood that life is short and there is a lot of work to do in the gospel. Unfortunately, humans tend to drift toward foolishness and not wisdom. We drift toward distraction.

Paul’s words have significant implications for our relationships. We are told to steward our time wisely and guard our hearts against the distractions.

What will you celebrate 20 years from now? Will you celebrate that you check your email or Facebook or posted that selfie to Instagram? Or will the quality moments spent, in person, with those we love be what we remember the most?

Listen to Paul. Spend your time wisely, not following distractions. Enjoy your bride or husband. Enjoy your children. Enjoy your families and friends.

Do it all without the distraction of the cell phone or social media. Get off the long hours of video games and spend that time with your family. Stop binge watching shows on Netflix and take a walk with your loved ones.

So, what does this look like?

It is important to set clear, immovable boundaries. I will go on record and say that I have not done this yet. I am praying for God to show me the right time to roll this out to the family. Some may sound pretty radical, but to an addict, removing the items of addiction is pretty radical and will never work.

  • When on a date with your loved ones, turn off the phone. I understand that parents with kids may need to have a phone in case of emergency, but leave it for emergency only.
  • Make dinner a completely unplugged time. Phones stay in the bedrooms, all computers are turned off before dinner, and the TV is off.
  • In the morning only grab your phone or computer once everyone has had breakfast and you have had your time in the Word and in prayer. Again, I understand because I use my phone for my Bible. But if you find it too tempting to click into Facebook or emails while reading the Bible on your phone, then it is time to go back to a paper Bible and leave the phone turned off.

This might sound like I am telling us to go backward in time before we had all this. In some way I am, but in reality I want us to understand that the internet, social media, TV, and other technologies are simply tools that we have to master or they can very easily master us.

Unity or Heresy – Part 1, the Intro

Philemon 2:2Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose

I remember a day in 2005 when I was watching the news and heard a story about Pope Benedict XVI calling for “unification of Christians.”  Now what caught my eye was a quote that he said about collaborating with other religions.  “With this full knowledge, I would like to greet all those, including those who follow other religions … to reassure them that the church wants to continue with its open … sincere dialogue looking for the true good of man and of society.”

There are many signs that show to apostasy in the church, and one of them is lack of unity in the body of Christ.  Christians are to show love.  Jesus says that the world will know His disciples by the love we show one another (John 13:35).  The New Testament , in Ephesians 4:5, calls for us to be unified in Christ.

Paul cautions Christians to not follow anyone but Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).  Following man, not Jesus, leads to divisions in the church.  Now Paul does say that division is going to happen, and, when done in the proper manner, can be healthy.

1 Corinthians 11:19 – For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

It is not a secret that the Apostle Paul wanted unity in the church.  Paul’s books in the Bible were used to unify the Christians in the individual churches to which he communicated.

But we are human.

We are all different.

Our opinions are different.

Romans 14:1-12 – Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

It is alright to have differences in opinion on non-essential things.  Style of worship, day of the week to worship, pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture, Armenianism, Calvinism, etc….  When it comes to those issues, they do not affect our salvation.  But I have seen Christians use non-essential opinions for causing unnecessary division in the church.  Clearly in those situations, pride overtakes the person and the love of Christ is sacrificed for our own opinions.

Have you ever heard someone come to you and say, “I am right, you are wrong.”

There are clearly things in the Bible that are black and white, right and wrong.

But we should not sacrifice our humility to make our point.

So here is what I am going to do over the next few posts.  I’d like to go into detail about some of the main denominations in the world today (including some we consider pseudo-Christian, or cultic) and shine a light on their views.  This is not going to be a series that states only the evangelical church is right in its views, even though I am clearly evangelical in my views.  But this is going to be broken up into a few sections for each denomination.

First, I will give a little bit of the history of the denomination.  Next, I will show its views, past and present.  It is true that the church is made of the people.  People learn and grow as we disciple under Christ, if we choose too.  Finally, I will give you my views.

I know what you are thinking.  “Fred, you are going to cause more divisions in the church if you so this series.”

1 Corinthians 1:9 – God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Maybe.

But remember what Paul said, those who are approved will come to the front when the heresies are shown.

So I am sure that I will lose a few readers over the next few weeks.  I am sure I will offend people over the next few weeks.

I’m sorry.

But I know this needs to be said.

Here is the schedule:

Part 2 – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox.  Roman Catholic versus Protestant views.

Part 3 – Mormom, Jehovah’s Witness, 7th Day Adventist, Christian Science, Unitarian

Part 4 – Anglican/Episcopalian, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Holiness/Holy

Part 5 – Assemblies of God, Disciples of Christ, Quaker

Part 6 – Foursquare Gospel, Salvation Army, Christian Reform, Full Gospel

Part 7 – Apostolic, Reformed, Mennonite, Brethren

Part 8 – Nazarene, Church of God, United Church of Christ, Church of Christ

Part 9 – Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist

Part 10 – Baptist, Evangelical

Part 11 – Comparison chart of beliefs for each denomination

So if you are interested in being uncomfortable, read for the next 10 weeks.  If not, I pray you come back at the end of the series.

Psalm 133:1 – How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

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