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Archive for the 'Issues' Category

Issues - Culture

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Christians and culture

Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say "G'day" and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person's name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences - rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together - gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities.The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife's left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it!

Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can't see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on.Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism' which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him.That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus.

But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion.I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him - will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don't know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don't want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don't reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don't let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now!For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others.Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can't be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs.

Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate.Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don't be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don't accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again.When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them!

Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions - just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences.So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don't let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you.

For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

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Issues - Community

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Way of the Cross

Community

Philippians 2:3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

1 Peter 5:5-6 "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

Individualism

Contrast those values to those of the twenty first century society, where morality can be summed up in this kind of attitude: "The more you care for others, the more they will care for you." So look after the interests of others and you will also be looked after. In other words everyone is on level parity and there is total equality within society. In some of the more narcissistic and cynical parts of society, there is no other, the order is "me, me and more me and I am far more important and higher than anyone else". Individualism is where the individual's importance is placed higher than all others and is imbued with self-reliance and personal independence. Even when help and compassion are offered, so often there are strings attached and hoops to be jumped through.

If you do this, we will do this for you. And sadly, it is not just within society that this exists, but also within the church and amongst Christians.It is as if we are denying the basic rule of compassion and mercy, which dictates that we are to be serving others, because they are also humans created in the image of God, loved by God and so should be loved unconditionally by those who proclaim to be God's people - the Church. Denying that basic need to others is pure unadulterated selfishness and places others below our own selves. Individualism within the church, lends itself to hypocritical behaviour and attitudes, which are inconsistent with Scripture and behaviour. Individualism, where you as an individual are placed at the front of the queue, is not loving others and not considering others higher than yourself. It certainly could not be construed as serving other people to always place your own desires above all others. There is an old acronym JOY - Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Relationship

The basic aspect of love is that it involves relationship, so therefore there must be more than one person involved. God is love, and is a trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If God were not Trinity then God could not also be love. The church community is meant to be a radical community of service and love, which is a reflection of the Trinitarian God. Being part of a radical community of service and love would mean the Church going back to basics. The Church needs individuals to be living radical lifestyles of devotion to Jesus Christ, engaging with the culture, counting the cost of discipleship and reflecting true humanity. But being an individual in community involves much more than merely being an individual in isolation. Christians are to be involved within communities, and not as isolationists. So what does a radical Christian community of individuals look like?

Creative Community

Firstly, the church needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society. At Pentecost, the church began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). This momentous occasion started the Discipleship process of how Christians were to live as God's people. The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people's lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. The New Testament church grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others. The very existence of the church today is proof that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, for if He did not, those who were His disciples would have disbanded and gone back to their old lifestyle and the Holy Spirit would not have come.

Creatively Radical

If we want the church of today to grow then we need to be building a strong community of faith. A community, which involves joining together isolated and solitary individuals and where people are imbued with love, valued and are showing care to each other, in particular the frail, elderly and young, with what the theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls a "creative passion for the impossible." An inherent human need is the need to belong, and by fulfilling relational needs, the radical Church community will become relevant to the people within it. It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in. For example, by using virtual reality, digital space and social networks, the housebound and geographically isolated peoples can also be included and cared for.This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community, which merely repairs the status quo.
In doing this, today's church will be emulating characteristics of the early church (Acts 2v44-45). As individuals Christians were added to the church, discipline helped ensure that the community was being seen as a holy community. We see in the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts, that to be excommunicated from the community for gross sin, was a severe punishment. However church discipline is not primarily about punishment, but rather a formative and corrective service as part of Discipleship. Church community discipline is foundational to the making of Christian Disciples, because it concerns the community's spiritual health, and strengthens the bonds with the local community.

Committed Community

The church must be a community of committed individual Christians, willing to radically follow God in lifestyle and behaviour. Being holy for the Christian means radically exhibiting love for God and others. It is by being seen as different from the surrounding society, that the church community will grow. Often when prayers are said, it is within the perception of the individual pray-er of what the answer to that prayer will be! It is as if the answer is there, we are just waiting for God to confirm our presupposition.
When, in fact, prayer is to be where God is answering the prayers in His own way and timing - often unexpectantly! By the church community and Christian individuals thinking and acting creatively, many more people would be seeing God in action. Instead of independence, one of the prime hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus Christ is the need to be dependent on others as well as being dependable. This is imbued within the story of Jesus Christ washing His disciples feet.

Transformed Community

The Church community is to be actively engaged in radically helping people to be transformed and not merely happy. Transformation is a powerful witness to the power of God and shows the relevancy of God and His people. The best way to show this transformation is for the Church leadership to set the example, and show a way forward. Good leadership has good accountability to each other and to the whole Church community.

If the church leaders are displaying a transparent life of creatively loving God and others, then the individual Christians within those churches will also seek to be transparently loving God and other people. The media love to report when a Church and/or Church leader has done something inherently wrongFinally, Jesus recommends that those who follow Him be wise like serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10v16b). This means that we are to be skilful and shrewd in making decisions that are characterised by intelligence, patience and shrewdness. Additionally, we are to be gentle and harmless, like doves. This would make our church leaders and us accountable to live a life of integrity worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1v27). This is a life, which is seen to be as holy and blameless.

In order to do this, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit for strength and caring for others is a vital necessity for you and I. By relying on the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we are therefore perpetually connected to Jesus Christ, who is after all, the Head of the church community who are His bride.The antidote to individualism is the continual creation of radical communities of transformed individual Christians, willing to be totally devoted to God, and each other and being sustained by the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, comforts, transforms, sustains and guides! By being radical communities thinking and acting creatively, we will be reflecting a creative Trinitarian God, and the Church will fulfil her bridal mandate of faithfully serving Jesus Christ, in submission to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45 gloriously explains how to do this: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." And then to verse 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."

Now that is the key to radically transformed communities and the antidote to individualism!For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.Q1. What in my life could I change, so that the focus is away from myself and onto helping others?Q2. How can my church and I reflect the Trinitarian God by being creatively loving, transforming and serving?Q3. How can I help my church be more relevant in the community where it is located?

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Issues - Dealing With Doubt

 

Jeremiah in Lamentations 5v20-22 writes “Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”

Living the Christian Life

When you became a Christian, you started an exciting journey in the Christian life. Success in the Christian life is not an accident, but rather it is a direct result of living in harmony with the basic principles of life set forth in the Bible. The Christian life is not a matter of expecting spiritual maturity to occur overnight. The Bible lays down standards and principles of living which we need to follow with God’s strength, if we are to continue living at peace with God, our fellow men, and ourselves. We need to know what God expects of us and what guidelines He has given us to achieve this quality of life. As we apply the principles and guidelines of Bible to our lives, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ – which is the journey we are on (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3v18).

 

Jesus said ‘I have come to bring them life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10). This is achieved as we allow Jesus Christ to live this life through us so that we start to think and respond like He does, to the people and circumstances around us. We need to learn how to see circumstances and people from God’s perspective, rather than reacting on the basis of feelings. When we respond to circumstances on the basis of our feelings that is when conflict, stress, tension and depression enter. When we respond to circumstances by looking from God’s perspective, it builds and shows a transformed character as we become more like Jesus.

 

When Doubt Sets In

However, it is a very rare person indeed who has not suffered some form of doubt, and asking questions similar to that of Jeremiah in the passage of Lamentations I read earlier. By doubt, I do not mean as in doubting God’s very existence, but rather doubting some aspect of the Christian life such as assurance of salvation, any of the other of God’s promises or doubting an attribute of God such as His innate sovereignty or His infinite goodness.

When your doubt arises concerning God’s assured promise of salvation of you; that usually occurs after engaging in wilful sin or having lost a spiritual battle. Doubting God’s sovereignty will usually occur after experiencing a great personal tragedy or of reading about an international disaster. When this occurs, it is important to have faith. Have faith in your knowledge of Scripture, and to trust in its authority as God’s Word. When we sin, not only do we forget who we are as His children, but we also doubt what God has said is true in the Bible. The Christian Disciple leans to believe and trust God regardless of circumstances however divergent the experience is or was.

 

Origins of Doubt

The originator of a lot of doubt in the life of a Christian Disciple is Satan, just as it was for Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3v1). Remember that Satan roams the earth like a devouring lion in order to stop Christian Disciples trusting in God and their testimony about God’s goodness (1 Peter 5v8).

Another source of doubt is the world we live in, with its own moral codes and perceived wisdom contrary to that of God expressed in the Bible. Whereas the Christian Disciple gains wisdom from God through having the indwelling Holy Spirit and reading the Bible, the world often has wisdom that is contrary. One only has to look at the perceived wisdom of atheistic scientific materialism countering the Christian arguments.

One final source of doubt, is the spiritual immaturity of the Christian Disciple. Doubting prayer works is often down to being double minded (James 1v8). Elsewhere Paul writes that doubt arises because of not knowing the basic doctrines of God (Ephesians 4v14). This source of doubt is only defeated through experience and having a maturing, disciplined life of obedience through prayer, studying the Bible and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform. In doing these things, the relationship between God and a Christian Disciple is nurtured and growing.

 

Overcoming Doubt

Confess – Confess your doubt as sin to God, and He will listen and cleanse you (1 John 1:9). If doubts persist, try talking to somebody whom you trust and confessed to them of your doubts, and they may well be able to help you (James 5v16).

Salvation – have assurance of salvation. Be assured and let your mind be controlled by the Holy Spirit, so that you are not led astray. Your salvation rests in nothing apart from God’s promises and Jesus’ righteousness! Test yourself as Paul exhorts in 2 Corinthians 13v5.

Righteousness - live a righteous life. Live the truth! When we started as a Christian Disciple, before God we were given the righteousness of Jesus! But that righteousness needs to be lived out in the lives of Christian Disciples. Living right helps overcome any doubts!

Faith – show total trust in God for your life. The faith we have is a defensive weapon against the mistruths the doubts that enter our minds. By maintaining our trust in God’s promises and God’s power, doubts are extinguished.

Bible - read and study God’s Word so as to know, understand and live truth. Our lives are to be controlled by truth as revealed in Bible. When we know truth so well, we can recognize the lies that we are told! The Word of God, the Bible, is there to be studied diligently so that by trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead and reveal it to us, we get to know God and His promises! We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus according to 2 Peter 3v18 and that is only achieved through studying the Bible! Then when we hear that nagging little voice that says “God didn’t say that”, we can say “Oh yes, He did!!”

Prayer – talk to God. This is how we are energized! Fighting doubt in our own power is useless! Ask Him to help you overcome your doubts, and He will help you! When we talk to God, we strengthen our relationship with Him! When we ask other Christian Disciples to pray for us, the Church unity is strengthened! When we see God answer prayer, our faith is matured and doubts are easily cast aside.

For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. Read Hebrews 6v1-9. What does this tell me of the link between maturity overcoming doubt?

Q2. Read 2 Corinthians 13v5. What comfort can I gain from knowing I have salvation as a means to overcome doubt?

Q3. Read 1 John 4v1-3. How can “testing the spirits” help me overcome any lingering doubts?

 

 

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Things To Come

Some of the final words of the Bible are in Revelation 22v7 Jesus speaking “Behold, I am coming soon! To which the Apostle John replies in Revelation 22v20, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

As Christian Disciples living almost 2000 years after Jesus spoke those words, this is our hope – to be with Him who is coming again. He who is the object of our faith, worship and life of discipleship! And not just Christian Disciples talk about the “end of the world as we know it”.

There are a plethora of books written about it from all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of opinions. But what does the Bible say about the time when Jesus comes again and how are we to respond to this fact? What does the Bible say about the future things to come, seeing as it is the authorative source for the Christian Disciple?

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1. The Second Coming of Jesus

I will come back and take you to be with me (John 14v3). He will come back the same way He went to heaven (Acts 1v11)

When will He come?

  • No-one human knows (Matthew 24v36)
  • It will be unexpected (1 Thessalonians 5v1-3)
  • There will be signs preceding His coming (Matthew 24)
  • When the gospel has been preached in the whole world (Matthew 24v14)

2. Our Response to Eschatological Prophecy

  • Be ready, waiting, watching and working (Matthew 24v42-44).
  • Be alert, self-controlled, sanctified and encouraging of each other (1 Thessalonians 5v6-8, 11)

3. Different Responses to Eschatological Prophecy

The three main schools of prophetic interpretation are Amillenialism, Postmillenialism & Premillenialism. These 3 views depend on whether the prophetic parts of Scripture are to be interpreted literally or figuratively (Spiritually). I wont tell you my opinion as to which I think is the correct interpretation, but let you decide that for your self!

  • Amillenial View - Primarily a figurative/spiritual interpretation. This view sees the O.T. promises to Israel are being fulfilled in the church. The Millennium is the reign of Christ in the Church - the new Israel. The Church is already experiencing tribulation.
  • Postmillenial View - Christ will return at the end of the millennium - a golden age of the Church.
  • Premillenial View - Christ will return to set up His kingdom on earth for 1000 years (Revelation 19v1-7). God promises to Israel of restoration, a future king and temple will await fulfilment. God has a separate programme for the Church.

4. Second Coming of Christ

The Premillenial view sees 2 stages in the second coming:

  • His coming in the rapture. This is when Jesus Christ returns to take His people to be with Him (1 Thessalonians 4v16). The dead in Christ are raised and the living are changed (1 Corinthians 15v51-54)
  • His coming to Earth (Revelation - parousia). He will return to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14v4; Acts 1v11). He will come with power and glory (Matthew 24v30) and everyone will see Him.

5. Christ’s return to Earth

  • To judge the antichrist and his followers (Revelation 16v12-16, 19v11-16)
  • To bind Satan (Revelation 20v1-3) during the Millennium. Amillenialists see this as having already been done. However, Satan is still the ruler of this world (John 16v11).
  • To save Israel (Zechariah 14v1-3). Israel will repent, recognizing the One they pierced (Zechariah 12v10-13v1; Romans 11).
  • To judge the nations (Matthew 25v31-46; Joel 3v11-17)

6. Premillenial return of Christ

Christ will come and set up an earthly kingdom for 1000 years (Revelation 20v2-7). Amillenialists see this as speaking figuratively about Christ’s current reign in the Church.

7. History of Premillenialism and Amillenialism

The view of the church for the first 2 centuries was of a literal millennial return of Jesus Christ after the Holy Spirit’s return. Early church fathers such as Papias, Ireneaus and Justin Martyr taught this, and these men were not far removed from the Apostle John. Origen promoted the figurative (spiritual) method of interpretation and Augustine developed an Amillenial view, identifying the Church with the fulfillment of the O.T. promises to Israel and this became official Roman Catholic doctrine. Many scholars returned to the Premillenial (literal) view after the Reformation.

8. Pre-tribulation Return of Christ

Rapture - The tribulation is a time of judgment for unrepentant men (2 Thessalonians 2v9-12). God’s people would be excluded from such judgment (1 Thessalonians 1v9-10; 5v9). The Lord will come suddenly bringing destruction, while people are saying ‘peace and safety’ (1 Thessalonians 5v1-3). These conditions will exist before the Rapture, but not at the end of the tribulation.

Resurrection - The bodily resurrection of the dead, saved and unsaved, is clearly taught in Bible (John 5v28-29; Acts 24v15). Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15v20-22)

Christian Disciples

  • Like Christ’s glorious body (1 Corinthians 15v49; Philippians 3v21; 1 John 3v2)
  • Not flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15v50ff)
  • Not partly spiritual (Luke 24v39; 1 Corinthians 15v42, 53)

Unbelievers

  • They will be resurrected (John 5v28-29) and cast into the lake of fire

Timing of the resurrection

  • 1st Resurrection - when Christ comes in the air to take Christian Disciples (1 Corinthians 15v23; 1 Thessalonians 4v16); some place resurrection of O.T. saints at the end of the tribulation.
  • 2nd Resurrection - Resurrection of the unsaved after the Millennium (Revelation 20v5, 11-13)

Judgment - Certainty of judgment - He will judge the whole world with justice (Acts 17v31). Humanity is destined to die once and after that to face judgment. (Hebrews 9v27)

The Judge - God is the judge of all the earth (Hebrews 12v23). The Father has given all judgment to the Son (John 5v22-27)

Judgment of Christian Disciples

  • Christian Disciples will not be judged for sin - this has been judged already (Isaiah 53v4-6; 1 Peter 2v24)
  • Christian Disciples will be judged for their works. We will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14v10). We will be judged according to our works (2 Corinthians 5v10). The quality of our work will be tested (1 Corinthians 3v11-15). Our motives will be exposed either for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 4v4-5) or for our own glory.
  • We will give account of the opportunities and abilities entrusted to us (Matthew 25v14-30)
  • Rewards may be gained or lost (1 Corinthians 3v14-15)
  • Incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9v25)
  • Crown of glory (1 Peter 5v4)
  • Crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4v8)
  • Crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2v19)
  • Crown of life (James 1v12)

Judgment of unbelievers

  • The Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20v11-15).
  • After the Millennium (Revelation 20v11-15, 21v8).
  • They will be cast into the lake of fire with satan and his angels (Revelation 20v15; Matthew 25v41). This punishment is eternal (Matthew 25v46).

For more to think about please do. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. Read 1 Thessalonians 5v6-11. How am I living out these Scripture in my life as a Christian Disciple?

Q2. Read 2 Corinthians 5v10. If I were to give an account of my work today, what would occur?

Q3. Read Matthew 25v31-46. As a Christian Disciple, how does this affect my urgency to tell others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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Issues - Guidance

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 Partake - Issues

Guidance

 Perhaps this is one of the questions that Christians ask at one time or another: "How does God guide me?"

Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."

Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the Lord asking, "Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?" I said, "Here I am. Send me."

When Jesus Christ called you personally and said: "Follow Me!" and you responded "YES, Lord!" that was the start of a beautiful relationship between the Living God and yourself.   Perhaps the most common question all Christian Disciples ask is "How can I know God's will and His guidance?" 

Now of course, being active in prayer and studying the Bible play major roles, in this and they are assured ways of building the relationship between God and yourself.  We will discover that are other aspects to be considered about being guided, and discerning what is God's will for you and I.  These involve being controlled by the Holy Spirit, through counsel and circumstances and through making wise decisions.

1. Controlled by the Holy Spirit

So firstly, the Christian Disciple is guided by being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Another way to say this is by submitting to the Spirit's leading.  Fundamental to being guided by the Spirit, is for you and I to be filled with the Spirit and to keep on being filled with the Spirit, or controlled by the Spirit.  When the Spirit is quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieved (Ephesians 4:30), then the Spirit no long has control of you and I.  In order to allow the Spirit control of us, we need to resubmit ourselves to God! It is a good daily practice for you and I to do the following on a daily basis.

  • Confess all known sin (1 John 1:9) and accept unreservedly the certain assurance of being forgiven for your sins including the sin of quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. Sin is sin and there are no degrees of sin, big or small, it just is... Any sin creates a barrier whether (in our earthly terminology) it is a big sin like murder or a small sin like lying... Homosexuality and pornography are just as bad as lusting after that girl who just walked by - all are adultery.... That's one of the reasons the Pharisees got it so mixed up and why Jesus Christ was indignant with scorn towards them misleading people.
  • Devote to being a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2)
  • Enable the Holy Spirit to convict you of anything wrong and sinful in your life (Psalm 139:23-24)
  • Seeks the Holy Spirit's divine power in order to serve Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 3:16) and to do all things for glory of Jesus Christ, for this is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit, and sadly, often a neglected part of the Holy Spirit's role in the life of the believer.

Additionally, part of being controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Christian Disciple is to yield to Him.  Romans 6:13 and James 4:7 command this.  In yielding to the Holy Spirit, the body (1 Corinthians 6:20) and mind (Romans 12:1-2) are given to Him sacrificially for the glory of Jesus Christ.  Both the body and the mind are yielded, because the body activates what is conceived in the mind.  It is a total dedication of all thoughts, plans and actions into God's hands and the seeking of His divine wisdom.

Being guided by the Holy Spirit is illustrated in Acts 16:6-10 where Paul and his group of people acted quickly!  "Paul and his companions went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas. That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans."

2. Counsel and Circumstances

Additionally to submitting to the Holy Spirit, other people and circumstances are also great helps in regards to guidance.  Proverbs 24 reminds us that: "The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.  So don't go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.  Wisdom is too lofty for fools. Among leaders at the city gate, they have nothing to say."

We may not be going into physical war, but seeking the advice of others in trying to understand God's guidance, plays an important role in deciding God's will in the life of the Christian Disciple.  When seeking the advice of others, we should bear in mind that the person should be a reliable, godly and faithful servant of God - and know us well. 

As Proverbs 25:19 says "Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot". However, as Christian s we must also be aware that even the godliest of people make mistakes, such as Nathan the prophet when he exhorted David to build the temple in 2 Samuel 7.  In the end, each of us alone, is responsible for our own actions and for discerning God's guidance for themselves. Then we also have circumstances, which are a great learning tool.  Circumstances surround us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

However, as Christians we are to live above all circumstances, while being mindful of them.  Through circumstances, God often disclosed his perfect will.  As Paul writes in Romans 8:28 - "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

Some examples of where God's will was discovered through circumstances include:

  • Abraham being asked to substitute a ram caught in a thicket for his son, Isaac (Genesis 22).
  • God arranging for Pharaoh's daughter to be bathing in the River Nile as the baby Moses floated by (Exodus 2).
  • Paul's nephew over hearing a plot to murder Paul, and then reporting it to the authorities and therefore saving Paul's life (Acts 23).

Now some may sceptically claim that these are purely coincidental, but if they are, and all others like these are, its an awful lot of coincidence!

3.  Wise Decisions: Now, its all very well to say that we are to make wise decisions. That would seem obvious!  But how do we go about it? A great way is by endeavouring to maintain a right attitude, and asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Have I prayed and meditated on God's Word regarding the decision?
  • Have I given every area of my life to Jesus Christ?
  • Am I prepared to be obedient to God? (Proverbs 3:5-7)
  • Am I willing to sacrifice my desires for God's Will?
  • Do I truly love and acting lovingly towards other people?
  • It should not control me habitually (1 Corinthians 6:12)
  • Will it cause another person to sin/stumble? (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)
  • Does it build Christian character? (1 Corinthians 10:23)
  • Does it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • Can I thank God for this activity - could Jesus accompany me?
  • If in doubt, throw it out! (Romans 14:22-23)
  • Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

 

For more to think about please do read Isaiah 6. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. Am I willing to do whatever God commands me to do?
Q2. Am I willing to be humble enough to ask other people's advice?
Q3. Am I willing to sacrifice my desires so that God's Will is achieved and His glory acclaimed? 

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Issues - Individualism

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 Partake - Issues

Individualism

 

The Apostle Paul writing in Philippians 2:3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." And finally, the Apostle Peter writing in 1 Peter 5:5-6 "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

Individualism

Contrast those values to those of the twenty first century society, where morality can be summed up in this kind of attitude: "The more you care for others, the more they will care for you."  So look after the interests of others and you will also be looked after. In other words everyone is on level parity and there is total equality within society.  In some of the more narcissistic and cynical parts of society, there is no other, the order is "me, me and more me and I am far more important and higher than anyone else".  Individualism is where the individual's importance is placed higher than all others and is imbued with self-reliance and personal independence.  Even when help and compassion are offered, so often there are strings attached and hoops to be jumped through. If you do this, we will do this for you. 

And sadly, it is not just within society that this exists, but also within the church and amongst Christians. It is as if we are denying the basic rule of compassion and mercy, which dictates that we are to be serving others, because they are also humans created in the image of God, loved by God and so should be loved unconditionally by those who proclaim to be God's people - the Church. Denying that basic need to others is pure unadulterated selfishness and places others below our own selves. Individualism within the church, lends itself to hypocritical behaviour and attitudes, which are inconsistent with Scripture and behaviour.  Individualism, where you as an individual are placed at the front of the queue, is not loving others and not considering others higher than yourself.  It certainly could not be construed as serving other people to always place your own desires above all others. There is an old acronym JOY - Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Relationship

The basic aspect of love is that it involves relationship, so therefore there must be more than one person involved.  God is love, and is a trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If God were not Trinity then God could not also be love. The church community is meant to be a radical community of service and love, which is a reflection of the Trinitarian God.  Being part of a radical community of service and love would mean the Church going back to basics.  The Church needs individuals to be living radical lifestyles of devotion to Jesus Christ, engaging with the culture, counting the cost of discipleship and reflecting true humanity.  But being an individual in community involves much more than merely being an individual in isolation.  Christians are to be involved within communities, and not as isolationists.  So what does a radical Christian community of individuals look like?

Creative Community

Firstly, the church needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society.  At Pentecost, the church began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4).  This momentous occasion started the Discipleship process of how Christians were to live as God's people.  The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation.  This community was radical. It was where people's lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them.  Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy.  The New Testament church grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others. The very existence of the church today is proof that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, for if He did not, those who were His disciples would have disbanded and gone back to their old lifestyle and the Holy Spirit would not have come.

Creatively Radical

If we want the church of today to grow then we need to be building a strong community of faith.  A community, which involves joining together isolated and solitary individuals and where people are imbued with love, valued and are showing care to each other, in particular the frail, elderly and young, with what the theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls a "creative passion for the impossible." 

An inherent human need is the need to belong, and by fulfilling relational needs, the radical Church community will become relevant to the people within it.  It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in. For example, by using virtual reality, digital space and social networks, the housebound and geographically isolated peoples can also be included and cared for. This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community, which merely repairs the status quo.  In doing this, today's church will be emulating characteristics of the early church (Acts 2v44-45).  As individuals Christians were added to the church, discipline helped ensure that the community was being seen as a holy community.  We see in the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts, that to be excommunicated from the community for gross sin, was a severe punishment. 

However church discipline is not primarily about punishment, but rather a formative and corrective service as part of Discipleship.  Church community discipline is foundational to the making of Christian Disciples, because it concerns the community's spiritual health, and strengthens the bonds with the local community.

Committed Community

The church must be a community of committed individual Christians, willing to radically follow God in lifestyle and behaviour.  Being holy for the Christian means radically exhibiting love for God and others.   It is by being seen as different from the surrounding society, that the church community will grow.  Often when prayers are said, it is within the perception of the individual pray-er of what the answer to that prayer will be!  It is as if the answer is there, we are just waiting for God to confirm our presupposition. 

When, in fact, prayer is to be where God is answering the prayers in His own way and timing - often unexpectedly!  By the church community and Christian individuals thinking and acting creatively, many more people would be seeing God in action.  Instead of independence, one of the prime hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus Christ is the need to be dependent on others as well as being dependable. This is imbued within the story of Jesus Christ washing His disciples feet.

Transformed Community

The Church community is to be actively engaged in radically helping people to be transformed and not merely happy.  Transformation is a powerful witness to the power of God and shows the relevancy of God and His people.  The best way to show this transformation is for the Church leadership to set the example, and show a way forward.  Good leadership has good accountability to each other and to the whole Church community.  If the church leaders are displaying a transparent life of creatively loving God and others, then the individual Christians within those churches will also seek to be transparently loving God and other people.  The media love to report when a Church and/or Church leader has done something inherently wrong Finally, Jesus recommends that those who follow Him be wise like serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10v16b).  This means that we are to be skilful and shrewd in making decisions that are characterised by intelligence, patience and shrewdness. 

Additionally, we are to be gentle and harmless, like doves.  This would make our church leaders and us accountable to live a life of integrity worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1v27). This is a life, which is seen to be as holy and blameless.  In order to do this, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit for strength and caring for others is a vital necessity for you and I.  By relying on the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we are therefore perpetually connected to Jesus Christ, who is after all, the Head of the church community who are His bride. The antidote to individualism is the continual creation of radical communities of transformed individual Christians, willing to be totally devoted to God, and each other and being sustained by the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, comforts, transforms, sustains and guides! 

By being radical communities thinking and acting creatively, we will be reflecting a creative Trinitarian God, and the Church will fulfil her bridal mandate of faithfully serving Jesus Christ, in submission to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus in Matthew 5v43-45 gloriously explains how to do this: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." And then to verse 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."

Now that is the key to radically transformed communities and the antidote to individualism! For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. What in my life could I change, so that the focus is away from myself and onto helping others?

Q2. How can my church and I reflect the Trinitarian God by being creatively loving, transforming and serving?

Q3. How can I help my church be more relevant in the community where it is located?

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