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Because a member at the church asked today, I have put together some thoughts regarding the event with Jesus, the demons, and the pigs in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39. How does this messy event teach us about the goodness of God?

(1) there are things that God allows in order to show the nature of Himself, the nature of evil, and the nature of humanity.

(2) Job was one such example. God allows Satan to destroy. Anything Satan does, He does not by God allowing.

(3) we cant quite understand why he would allow evil at all. But, it has to do with dignity, will, choice, etc.

(4) We as humans have the choice to rebel as Satan did.

(5) God delays his final judgment so that more may come to know him, love him, obey him, etc.

(6) until that time, people continue to have choice and Satan is allowed to still do his work.

(7) Jesus could have ended them and sent them into the Abyss.

(8) this is why the demons beg him to allow their work to continue. Jesus gives them permission to go to the pigs, he didn’t send them to the pigs.

(9) Jesus values human life above life of pigs, etc. this shows dignity God gives to humanity.

(10) one appropriate conclusion would be that God would rather ALLOW 2,000 pigs to be destroyed than to see a life destroyed.

(11) also, note that it still was not Jesus destroying. He is not guilty of destroying livestock. The demons do this.

(12) also note that sending them to the pigs keeps them from entering any of the other HUMAN lives there.

(13) Jesus is saving 1 human life and protecting many others.

(14) the whole scene puts on display the nature of evil, spiritual battle, deliverance, power of a God, etc.

(15) God saving us is messy. Deliverance comes at a price. Spiritual warfare is costly.

(16) some will still choose to have no part of it, as some here were overcome with fear and asked Jesus to leave.

(17) The Good News goes forward. Jesus instructs the delivered man to go give testimony to his sphere of influence regarding God’s ability to save.

 

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As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.

The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”

Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church. 

Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,

“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus

Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.

Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.

At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.

I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).

When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?

Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”

In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.

Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.

Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.

Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.

(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)

 

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In this age (and most of the others that came before this one), most of us are inclined to speak before we listen. In fact, we are often inclined to speak before we think!

The story of Zechariah in Luke 1 is a timely word for those of us that are incline this way, as Zechariah loses his voice and gets it back again with renewed humility and power!

Here are five things we learn from the story of Zechariah about having a powerful voice in this day and age!

(1) Being of God but missing the Good News. (Luke 1:5-18)

You can be of God and even considered righteous, but still miss the Good News of God. Zechariah was a religious leader, was considered righteous by the Lord, but still questioned the messenger when Gabriel told him of what God was doing. This, sadly, can often be the case for those of us who believe we are tracking with the Lord. We can be so sure of ourselves or what we have already learned that we are not open to the revelation of what God is doing in our lives currently. We miss the Good News of how the Gospel is currently applied to our circumstances, our surroundings, or even our own lives. Sometimes, the people who need the Gospel the most are those who have already heard the Good News. We can learn from Zechariah that even if we are already of God, we can miss how the Good News will affect our current situation, the world around us, and our own lives!

(2) Losing your voice. (Luke 1:19-20)

If our voice has become useless to the Lord, we shouldn’t be surprised if God takes away our voice. Such was the case with Zechariah! He stopped using his voice to proclaim the Word of the Lord and instead used it to question God’s Word. When we have lost our prophetic voice (for any host of reasons), God may see fit to take our voice away completely. This may especially be the case for those who claim to “speak for God.” We must be careful not to use their voice inappropriately or we may find that we have our voice taken away!

(3) Speaking more powerfully when you are silent (Luke 1:21-25; 57-63)

We may also find that we can speak more powerfully without words. Zechariah’s mere silence was enough for those around him to see that he had been given a word from God. Further, Zechariah was able to show an incredible sign of solidarity with his wife Elizabeth when she wanted to name her son, “John.” Without words, Zechariah communicated God’s word to those around him and was able to draw closer to God and his wife in the process. When we see a need for God’s word to enter in to a situation around us, there may be times when our first reaction should not be to speak, but rather to listen and act.

(4) Praising God when the barriers are removed (Luke 1:64-66)

God will often remove the barrier that exists when he knows that we will be ready to praise him for it! As soon as Zechariah was ready to believe the word of God and praise God for it, God removed the barrier to this praise, which was the block on Zechariah’s voice. It is helpful to ask what barriers exist to God being praised in our lives or the circumstances around us. Perhaps God would like to identify these barriers and remove them so that His praise can go forward!

(5) Getting your voice back (Luke 1:67-79)

The most prophetic utterance that Zechariah had came after this process, after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and when he had an audience ready to listen. At that point, Zechariah gave a powerful testimony of the Lord’s authority, his ability to remove barriers, and his heart to save the world! The key to this new voice was Zechariah’s willingness to be moved by the Spirit, believe the Word of the Lord, and proclaim the salvation of the Lord to anyone who would listen.

The story of Zechariah is a good one for our time. In climate where some many voices are clamoring to be heard, let us hear the voice of the Lord, believe it to be true, and proclaim it with our own voice. May we faithfully apply the Good News to our lives in every situation, lest God take our voice away as well!

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It was never “just” a prayer.

I received this question from an attender and wanted to address the important question what it actually means to give your life to Jesus.

I think the heart of your concern rests in the following questions that you asked:

Why did the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior go to hell? If all you have to do is say that Jesus is Lord and repent for your sin once, then why do we need to strive to be more like Jesus? It seems like you should but don’t have to. Why does the Bible tell us to always be aware, to not drift away? Why would it say it if once we say the sinner prayer, we are saved for good?

Let me respond as best I can here by email, understanding that conversation in person will usually be more helpful and thorough. As you have heard me say before, I do not believe that people can lose their salvation.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says

“you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

If you believe in Christ and become a follower of Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit, who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” In other words, the Holy Spirit in you is a sign to you that you have saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved.

In John 10:28, Jesus indicates that none that He has been given can be snatched from his hand.

Romans 8:33-39 says

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This means that we don’t have to be fearful of losing our salvation or of someone taking it from us. If we are chosen by God and have chosen to follow Him, we do not need to live in fear of being taken away from His promise. In this way, I do not believe that anyone who accepts Christ as Savior is sent to hell.

What I would do is say that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. You asked, “If all we have to do” is say a prayer once and repent, then why do we need to become more like Jesus. I believe the Bible teaches our growth and includes warnings about falling away because the Christian life was never just about one prayer. The prayer is an outpouring of the heart of the believer towards God, it is not a one time transactional contract. We have instead a covenant with God that lasts a lifetime. God didn’t intend for the Christian life to be a one time magic set of words that got us out of hell and into heaven. The Christian life is indeed about a relationship with God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (says Paul in Philippians 2). This does not mean that we can earn our salvation or save ourselves, it is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). What it does mean is that it is much more than a one time prior. Giving our life to Jesus means just that; that we give our lives to Jesus. Not just our words. Not just our prayers. We become more than believers in Christ. We become followers of Christ that walk in relationship to and with him.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal to be able to accomplish the work of God in our lives and apply to us the work of Christ on the cross. It is a relationship. Think of the relationships in your life. None of them are just a one time meeting or a one time set of words. They are on going. Gordon Fee says it this way

“For Paul, life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.” – Gordon Fee

Fee is saying that while we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit at conversion, the relationship is one that grows, is renewed, and expands. That is what we look for in our relationship with God, and if we indeed have the Holy Spirit in us, we do not need to worry about salvation being taken from us. In the end, the prize that we get is God himself!!

Denominations have many different takes on these issues and I think it is helpful to learn from the denominations and the truth that they present. There is no one denomination that has the corner market on who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. And so, we learn and discern what the denominations have to say. Much of that is a lifelong process as well. We discern what the traditions say, compare them with the Scripture, discuss them with others, and ask the Spirit to guide us into all truth, as Jesus said he would. I agree with your assessment by the way, that Orthodox churches seem to have a lot of traditions and protestant churches seem to have none. It may be helpful for both sides (and there are many more) to center upon Jesus and submit their rules (or lack thereof) to His Spirit as we work out our salvation together.

I’ll conclude with a story about a man who once came up to the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and said, I would give my whole life to play the violin the way that you do. Perlman grinned and said, “I did give my whole life.” What showed that Perlman was a violinist: saying the words that he was a violinist or spending a lifetime playing? (See James’ talk about faith and deeds!) It’s a fantastic reminder to see that we have an opportunity as followers of Christ to give our whole lives (selves) to him, not just a one time prayer. And the good news is that our being save doesn’t rest on us, but on the Savior who will not lose one that the Father has given (John 6:39). You can’t earn your salvation, but you can give him your life. And that is a lot more than a prayer!

 

You are not wrong to sing, “Jesus is the sweetest name I know,” even though Yahweh is. – John Piper

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Our church, Greenwood Community Church is currently going through a series of “I Am” statements from Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus claims, “I AM the Bread of Life,” “I AM the Gate,” “I AM the Resurrection and the Life,”I AM the Good Shepherd,” as well as others. As we go through the various claims that Jesus made, I can’t help but notice the common theme here. Jesus is not only claiming to be each of these things. Rather, He is claiming to be one with I AM. Those listening to and interacting with Jesus would be struck by the language that Jesus continued to use as he declared, “I AM.”

Many listening would have instantly thought of the Great I AM, YHWH, the God of Israel. In Exodus 3:14-15, we see an interaction between God and Moses, wherein God reveals his eternal name. The passage reads

14God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,  the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

This is my name forever, He says! And, as John Piper points out, “No man gave Him this name.” So, in John 8:58, when Jesus Christ says that before Abraham was, “I AM,” Jesus is claiming to be God and one with the Father. He is claiming to be the one who will carry out the covenantal salvation that was promised to Abraham all those years ago.

May we remember today that there is no other name than Jesus under heaven by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12). And may we take his claim to be “I AM” seriously as we praise the sweet name of YHWH (Hallelujah)!