Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What a week/weekend! =)

Last Wednesday was another amazing night in CSF! =) We got to see what God had to say concerning the lie that is running rampant all across the world of Christianity today: "Everyone Should Believe and Act Like You Do." I began by looking at and establishing the basics, covering the fact that I wasn't advocating that a sin might be acceptable to one and not another, because sin isn't acceptable for either one! I also explained that I wasn't referring to the secular postmodern position that everything's relative, and that whatever you believe is acceptable and whatever I believe is acceptable. While there ARE in fact somethings that can be relative, there ARE some things that AREN'T!!!


     Relative - Frank listens to both Christian and non-Christian music, while Bob listens to Christian music only

     Non-Relative - Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God

(I'm going to include parts of my manuscript to fill in the rest of what we talked about for you all... it's quicker and easier than typing it all out again.. haha =)...)

Do you see the difference? There are some things that are core to the message of Jesus Christ that CANNOT be changed because they are part of the DNA of a Christian. If it’s changed, then it’s no longer Christian. We talked a little bit about these types of things last spring. Some of these non-negotiable, DNA areas include: Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus died on the cross to redeem humanity, rose again, and is alive today, Jesus is the only way to God and eternal life, if you’re going to be a Christian then you’re going to be baptized (if only for the simple reason that Jesus specifically said that we are to be), our God is a Trinitarian God (3 persons in ONE…not polytheism), etc. I could keep going, but this is good enough for right now. Some negotiable, non-DNA areas include: predestination vs free will, once-saved always saved vs the possibility of losing one’s salvation, contemporary music vs ancient hymns, etc. I think you get the picture here too.

Christ didn't die for His Church to be separated. This lie has been weaving its way into the minds of Christians everywhere for a LONG time. It’s nothing new. The Corinthians wrestled with it, and Paul had to help set them straight. Paul helped the Corinthians begin their church, and the proceeded on to help other cities and people start churches as well. After he left, other evangelists came and continued the work Paul had begun. Sounds great! Christians working together to further the Kingdom of God. However, trouble arose. Divisions began forming within the Corinthian church. Here’s what Paul had to say about that:

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Has Christ been divided into factions?” Was I, Paul crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News – and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.” (1 Corinthians 1.10-17 NLT)

Paul’s asking the Corinthians, “what the heck are you doing?!?! Christ isn’t divided!!! So why are you trying to go and divide Him?” A little later in chapter three, Paul elaborates on the roles that Christ, Apollos, and even himself all play in the development of the church, as they are co-workers with Christ. He explains it in this way: he planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God made it grow.
1. Paul planted the seed through preaching. (Romans 10.17)
2. Apollos watered the planted seed.
3. Christ brings about the growth (Ephesians 2.2)


Each party played a part in a person becoming a Christian and getting saved. Look again at verse 17. Paul makes it clearly known that his primary purpose was to plant the seeds, present the gospel to the Corinthians so that God’s Word could begin moving in them to bring about a decision of placing their faith and lives in Christ. Baptism is a marker event of a person becoming a Christian. It signifies that a person is crucifying their old self, so that they can live in Christ. It's seen as the identifying marker that a person has accepted Jesus (this is a position that is held across denominational lines). A person believes, repents, and is baptized. It's as simple as that. If you read through the book of Acts, every time a person made a decision to give their life to Christ, they were immediately baptized. Look here:

The two are connected. This is why Paul brings baptism into play here in this passage. He wasn't given the specific task of be there when people made the decision to become a Christian, although he was blessed with the privilege of being able to be there and take part in the decisions of Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. Instead he was given the task of preaching the Gospel, which would begin that process within them.
All of this is only possible because of Jesus Christ. He’s the one that was crucified for us. Therefore He’s the one we were baptized into, not Paul and not Apollos. And since Christ is one and in Him there is no division, there should be no division among those of us who are in Him. This doesn't mean that we all have to have the same theological opinions and stances. In fact we are entitled to our own understanding s because we have freedom in Christ. If we had to have every single theological understanding perfectly correct in order to be a Christian and to have salvation in Christ, then every one of us would be in trouble, because none of us have everything 100% perfect! But thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to have everything 100% correct, because love and grace exist!

There are going to be some things in life that will seem acceptable to do to you, but unacceptable to others. There are going to be some things in life that will seem unacceptable to you, but acceptable to others. Unless that thing is a sin, a person has the freedom in Christ to do that something, in respect to his or her conscience. In Romans 14, Paul advises us:

“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.”  (Romans 14.1 NLT)

He then uses the example of meat sacrificed to idols. 

Here’s the history of this really quick. In the Roman Empire, there were pagan cults who were sacrifice animals and their meat to their ‘gods.’ It was a part of their worship that after they offered the meat up, there would be a meal where all of the worshipers would eat of that meat. Afterward, if there was any meat left over, it would be sold in the marketplace. Sounds harmless right? Well this proved troublesome to Christians in Rome. Many of the Roman Christians were converts who at one point in their lives had participated in these pagan worship services. Some of these believers quit participating in it, but others continued. It was troublesome for many of them when they saw other believers still participating in these worship services. Because there was a chance that this meat that was sacrificed to idols would be sold in the market place, many of these Christians quit eating meat altogether because it was impossible for you to determine if the meat you purchase in the marketplace was the same meat used in pagan worship. This is how the big conflict between eating and not eating meat arose within the early church. Paul wrote to the believers of multiple cities where this issue arose. I found a nice summary of his position that he wrote in Romans 14.

“I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.” (Romans 14.14-23 NLT)

It’s imperative that we use this principle in determining the things that we are able and that we ought not do. But whatever you decide, make sure that you don’t become a legalist and condemn or judge another if he/she arrives at the other decision than yours.

So what do we do? Maybe as I went through some of the characteristics of a Christian legalist, some of them hit uncomfortably at home, and you find yourself in the same situation I've found myself in many times of the course of my life. Well if you have, there’s good news, that can change. You want to know how? I’ll tell you. Here’s just a few of the things that will help:
  1. Give other Christians permission to be different from you.
    1. 1 Corinthians 12.6 (God works in different ways within us, but is the same God to all!)
  2. Keep your mouth shut and pray.
    1. Before you spout off to a person about his/her behavior, or talk about someone behind his/her back (which is gossip/slander…and a sin…), pray for him/her!
  3. Remember that God is still working on others, and on you!
    1. Philippians 1.6 – Salvation is a process. No one’s completely saved or sanctified (meaning made perfect) until they get to heaven.
  4. Practice the spiritual discipline of confession!
  5. Know the difference between the gospel according to the New Testament and the gospel according to you
    1. Negotiable vs non-negotiable stuff
Remember, the core of the Christian message is LOVE and GRACE!!!


Emily and I had a chance to travel down to Caswell, NC and help out with a youth retreat this past weekend. It was a blast! We had a lot of fun and it served as a short refreshing mini-vacation for Emily and I as well! =) I probably enjoyed it even more, only because the retreat happened to be at Fort Caswell, which is a former fort that was used beginning the in 1800's and going through WWI and WWII. Being the history nerd that I am, I absolutely LOVED IT! =) Anyway, it's certainly great to be back in Lock Haven and back with the students! Tonight we have another night that's been planned by the leadership team, so I'm looking forward to that! Thanks for reading! Until next time! =)


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Long Overdue Update

I'm convinced to get better at doing this, but I just can't seem to get it down on a regular basis, haha. My apologies. =)

I get to update you all on three weeks worth of CSF's! Today's your lucky day! ;)
Luckily, two weeks ago, the CSF on September 19th was led by the CSF leadership team. They put together a Bible scavenger hunt as a community building activity night. It went really well and each of the members on the two teams that tied received gift cards to Sheetz.

The very next week I was back up to preach, and we tackled the lie, "This wouldn't be happening if you were a better Christian." We began by realizing that things can happen to us because of sin in our lives, but more often than not, things just happen to us because we live in a fallen world and they are no direct result to an action on our part (i.e. a family member gets diagnosed with cancer..etc...). Sometimes things will happen to those of us who are disciples of Jesus because of that very fact. In fact, Jesus left us with some warnings and encouragement:

“Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself He said this to indicate how he was going to die.”  (John 12.31-33 NLT)

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.(John 16.33 NLT)
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”  (John 15.18-19 NLT)

To hammer home the point that the rough times you may be going through is not a result of you being a 'bad Christian,' but instead because you are a Christian. We first looked at Paul. Paul had a huge impact on the New Testament as well as the rest of Christianity as a whole. Yet he went through A LOT of tough times:
"Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11.23-28 NLT)

The second case study we looked at was of the only person who could ever claim to be the perfect Christian, Jesus. Yet Isaiah described His persecution with these words:

"He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave." (Isaiah 53.3-9 NLT)

I would have loved to been a fly on the wall if someone were to tell either Paul or Jesus that none of these things would have happened to them if they had just been better Christians.

I ended by sharing words that God spoke to Israel through the prophet Hosea, to bring encouragement for those who might be suffering from some sort of hardship due to a sin in their life (I even put the sin/bad addressing parts in red, and then put the last part in white to show a visual representation of what the text was saying...yes I'm cheesy, but that stuff gets the point across). =)

"Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for your sins have brought you down. Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises. Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods.’ No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon. My people will again live under my shade. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon." (Hosea 14.1-7 NLT)

Finally we get to last night. Last night we had 49 people show up. It was once again a pretty packed night. We covered the lie, "It's okay not to love certain people." Since God's word is even more explicitly clear on us loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, all I did to make sure we were all on the same page of how we are called to love all other Christians, period, was show a quick collection of verses from 1 John.

“If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness.”        -1 John 2.9 (NLT) “But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”    - 1 John 2.11 (NLT)

“Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.”    - 1 John 3.15 (NLT)

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”           - 1 John 4.20 (NLT)

Since it's pretty obvious we as Christians are expected to love other Christians, period, I spent the rest of the night taking a look at loving non-Christians too. The very first thing that we all have to constantly remember, is that non-Christians do not have the same world view or standards as we do, so we can't keep acting surprised when they act in sinful manners. Another way of saying this, is that we need to expect sick people to act sick. Non-Christians are still enslaved to sin and evil, and so they don't know anything else. They are still horribly sick with the infection of sin, because they haven't received the cure yet. In fact, when we look at it in this way, we're closer to seeing people the way God see's people.

In Romans 5, Paul explains the situation like this:

"When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God." (Romans 5.6-11 NLT)

Paul explains how no one in their right mind would risk their life to help/save a person, even if he/she is good. Now if that person were exceptionally good, helping those in need, showing kindness to everyone, etc, someone might then contemplate risking his/her financial security or even life to help him/her. You want to know the shocking truth? WE DIDN'T EVEN MAKE THE LOWEST RUNG ON THE 'GOOD LADDER'!!! Yet despite this horrifying fact, God still risked His life, in fact gave His life to save us! Every human being is on the same field and at some point in his/her life is classified as evil. Just two chapters earlier, Paul explains this very fact, and as he does this, he quotes two Psalms. One of these Psalms is Psalm 53, and the first three verses of this Psalm are disturbing:

"Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!" (Psalm 53.1-3 NLT)

Paul sums this up in one of the most famous verses from Romans:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3.23 NLT)

We are all sick and enslaved to sin and evil until we encounter Jesus. Until then, the only thing we know how to naturally do, is mess up (sin) and act selfishly, hurting others and ourselves (evil). It's when we take a step back from our selfish perspective and start viewing people as God views them, as lost sheep. And when you get here, realizing that we all fall into the category of sick, lost, people in need of Jesus, that Romans 5 becomes all that more powerful. It's then that you can answer this question: "How in the world can I love someone who insults me, ridicules me, insults my God, and wants to rip me apart?" The simple answer... because God did it first! It doesn't matter if you feel like it's unfair for you to respond to hate with love, because in reality you should be thankful. If God acted in our human view of fairness, repaying hate with hate, Jesus wouldn't have come. Instead, God saw sick people, in desperate need of a cure, just sneezing/coughing/running fevers, and showing other symptoms of the disease (sin). He had compassion, and showed the ultimate expression of love!

I ended with giving three practical ways that we can look at our lives and try to rearrange ourselves so we can see people from God's perspective instead of our own:

1. Read the Bible  

(The ultimate case study to look at and learn from is Jesus Himself... [i.e. Look at Jesus' handling and reaction to a man who was quite visibly showing the symptoms of a person enslaved an infected by sin/evil in Mark 5.1-15])

2. Pray for them
(Jesus Himself advised us to do this in Matthew 5.44-45)

3. Serve them

(This is the HARDEST of all! There's not much motivation to serve someone who doesn't like you, let along love them. But once again, Jesus Himself did it first! [Mark 10.45]...besides, here's some food for thought... if Jesus came to serve/save us, and it's His kindness that leads us to repentance and the cure, wouldn't one of our responsibilities as co-workers with Christ to be to let our service and kindness lead others to the kindness of God that will then lead them to repentance and the cure?)

Welp, that will just about get all of you caught up! =) Thanks for hanging in there and reading through the whole thing! (If you skipped to the bottom... shame on you... ;)... just kidding). This weekend we have a group of students going on a retreat to help out with a camp for mentally and physically disabled campers. I'd appreciate your prayers for their safe travel to and from the camp, as well as an experience that will help them grow closer to God and develop a great love for other people. Thanks! =)