Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Maintaining Our First Love

Thus says the LORD, "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." (Jeremiah 2:2, ESV)

In any task it is good to begin well. But it is at least equally important to finish well. Some of the saddest stories in the Bible have to do with those who began well but left their first love (Rev 2:4), ceased to be devoted to God (Jer 2), and ended in disaster.

I do not think that anyone sets out to be an apostate. Those who fall away do so slowly, more by neglect than by intention. Drift will always take us downstream. No one has ever drifted to the headwaters of a stream. No one ever reaches his maximum potential effortlessly or thoughtlessly. If we desire to remain firm in our faith there are certain things we must maintain.
Acts 2:42 sums up what will be needed in three simple points. The concepts are simple, but the accomplishment will require persistence.

To maintain our first love, we must remain "devoted to the apostles' teaching". Generally, those who drift from the Lord have first drifted away from the habit of daily Bible study. Maybe they think that they know enough already. Maybe they think that the proverb, "Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge" (Prov 19:27), does not apply to them. It applies to all of us. Without constant contact with God's instruction, we will drift into worldly thinking and fall away.

To maintain our first love, we must remain "devoted to the fellowship." Apostasy does not begin when we commit some major sin. It begins when we no longer care to break bread with our fellow believers, when we find the fellowship of the saints something we can take or leave. Those who love the Lord will naturally love his body. Those who drift away from the assembly of the saints (Heb 10:25) are almost certain to drift away from the fundamental truths of the gospel (Heb 2:1).

To maintain our first love, we must remain "devoted to the prayers." The Bible is too powerful of a book to be handled without prayer. Fellowship, even with other believers, needs guidance. We must not depend on ourselves. We must not depend on our fellow Christians. We must depend on the Lord and express that dependence in prayer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Take As Directed

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4, ESV).

If you have been baptized, why were you baptized? If you have not been baptized, why should you be? These are questions to which there might be more than one correct, or at least partly correct, answer.

If we were to say that we were baptized so that our sins would be forgiven, that answer could be defended with Acts 2:38. If we were to say that we were baptized to be saved, that answer could be defended with 1st Peter 3:21. If we were to say that we were baptized into the church, that answer could be defended from 1st Corinthians 12:13. If we were to say that we were baptized to gain entrance into Christ, that could be defended from Galatians 3:27.

But let us consider the answer indicated by the verse cited above. In answer to the question, "Why be baptized?" We could answer according to Romans 6, "That we might walk in newness of life."

If that is not at least a part of our answer, then our view of baptism is not fully biblical. Baptism is supposed to put an end to our old life and lead into a resurrection to a new life.

If you have been baptized, it might be time to ask, "Have I allowed baptism to do what it is supposed to do?" If you are contemplating baptism, it might be time to ask, "Do I intend to die to the old life? Do I intend to live the new life? Or am I just going through a ceremony without any intention of allowing the Lord to transform my life?"

Often, on the label of a prescription, we find the warning, "Use as directed" or "Take as directed." If we do not use the product as directed we have no basis for complaining that it does not work as promised.

Is it not rather obvious that the same is true with regard to solutions offered to us by God? Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Christian worship in general, have been found by many people to be powerful and effective means of receiving God's grace. But others have found these same means ineffective. If you have found them ineffective, I can almost guarantee that failure to use them as directed is the cause.

Baptism must be paired with repentance to be effective (Acts 2:38). Worship must be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We must "discern the body of Christ" as we partake of communion. If we do not, we will not find the Lord's Supper a blessing. Instead we will be "eating and drinking damnation" in partaking (1 Cor 11:29).

The medicine the doctor prescribes will rarely be effective if taken contrary to instructions. The same can be said regarding the remedies for our souls.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The God-Centered Life

Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains." (Acts 26:28-29, ESV)

Are you so satisfied with Christ, so secure in his love, so convinced of his goodness, that you would desire that everyone would know him as you do? Paul was. Peter seems to imply that we all ought to be. If we are to be ready to answer those who ask us about the hope that is in us (1 Pet 3:15), does that not imply that the hope within us must be showing? It will show in different ways in different people, but it should show.

I am not by nature the vibrant, bubbly sort. Loud greetings, slaps on the back, and hugs are not my style. But I have confidence in Christ, and that confidence makes a difference in how I live. My joy is a quiet joy, a sober joy, but it is very real. With John Newton I can say,

"I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, 'By the grace of God I am what I am.'"

We are constantly looking for new forms of evangelism. Sometimes I wonder why. Would we not be better off if we first made more use of the satisfied Christian life? Would we not be better off to live a more satisfied God-centered life, explaining to people why and inviting them to join us?

The best evangelism methods will not often succeed when linked with lukewarm Christian living. Mediocre methods may well succeed when a true, deep satisfaction with Christ is evident in our lives.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Appropriate Response

"When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." (Luke 2:15, ESV)

What would we do if angels appeared to us and proclaimed such wonderful news? Would we, like these shepherds, go and investigate the matter ourselves? Would we, like these shepherds (17), make known the message of the angels? Would we, like these shepherds (18), glorify God for what we had seen and heard? Or would we just go on as normal?

Think before you dismiss this as an irrelevant question.

It is easy for us to say, "There is no point considering this matter. God does not speak through angels like that anymore." Indeed, he does not speak by the same means he used in the past, but only because he has now spoken through his Son, the one through whom he made the world (Heb 1). The revelation we have received is greater, more complete, more stunning than the revelation they received. It has been given by a greater messenger, at a great cost. It demands greater attention than that which they received (Heb 2:1). Are we giving it the attention it deserves?

There are a lot of things in life that I do not understand. Perhaps the most difficult thing for me to understand is how anyone can claim to believe in Jesus and yet fail to investigate further. I cannot picture those shepherds receiving this message and just sitting there. Yet every week I meet people who have been given an even greater message. Many of them are sitting still. They are going nowhere. They are doing nothing to investigate the message, proclaim the tidings or glorify the Lord who brought the message.

Let each of us ask ourselves, "Am I responding appropriately to the message we have received?"