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A Movement Set Ablaze

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Easter season provides an excellent opportunity to look at events that occurred 2,000 years ago, which ignited a movement that has changed the world. Events such as those that took place during Passion Week, Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection, His appearance to the His disciples, and The Great Commission have deep meaning and rippling effects throughout the ages. Two other events I want to explore are Christ’s ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s ascension and last words to His disciples are recorded in Acts 1. Jesus announces the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains that in contrast to John’s baptism in water for the repentant, the baptism of the Holy Spirit brings purity and power. The disciples are expectant of a political kingdom like that of David. Jesus does not rebuke them nor deny that such a kingdom would come in the future. Rather, He diverted them from futile speculation over something which is entirely in the Father’s authority. The disciples’ responsibility was to prepare for the bestowment of inner power from God for witnessing.
The message that they will give witness to is about Jesus. They and we are to know God and make Him known. They and we are to make disciples. This was the last they were to see Christ, this side of paradise. Jesus ascends, and the disciples are left alone until His Spirit, the great Helper, comes on Pentecost.
As Jesus ascended, two men stood by in white apparel.  The astonished disciples of Christ were told what was in store for the future. This same Jesus will return in like manner. It’s the promise of Christ’s return that sustains the hope of believers to this day.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is recorded for us in Acts 2. The events occurring on the Day of Pentecost were a necessary extension of Jesus’ ministry. On the cross, we have cleansing from sin. Through the resurrection, we have confirmation of Christ’s cleansing work and the prefiguring of our future resurrection. Christ’s ascension marks His departure until His bodily return. The Holy Spirit’s sending initiates the bestowing of what we need, to be who God has designed us to be (sanctification) and for what He has commanded us to do (ministry).
The meaning of Pentecost is God’s fulfilled promise to equip His church with the power of His Spirit so that they can glorify Him by knowing Him and making Him known. E. Stanley Jones noted: “”After the Pentecost, there was a quality and power in their (the disciples) witness that had not been there before. It was a byproduct. The witness they gave was a result of the witness they received the witness was a sense of God in immediate experience.” This is true for every believer since. When we come to Christ for salvation, surrendering ourselves to Him, we are inviting His Spirit to do the work of making us like Christ. As we continue in a life of surrender, the Spirit empowers us to partner in the continuing mission of Christ. We, like the disciples in Acts 2, give evidence to the Lord’s hand on our life in a new and fresh way every day.
The hope for believers in Christ is sealed by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. It continues as they rely on Him to guide them in thought, word, and deed (see: Rom 6:11-14; 12:1-2). This is indeed a remarkable gift from God.
So, have you been set ablaze for Christ? Are you in Christ, walking in the Spirit? Are you part of the movement set ablaze at Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago? God calls all of us to come to Jesus in faith, finding salvation (John 3:16). We are to walk with the Spirit in faith, each and every day (Rom 12:1-2; Gal 2:20). We are to live as everyday missionaries in our everyday mission field, being empowered to share our faith (Acts 1:8). How will you respond? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Followers Awakened

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Jesus came with a purpose. He came to give His life. He died on the cross for our sins. He was resurrected for our salvation. He proclaimed His purpose with these words, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus makes this declaration at Zacchaeus’ house. Zach is a tax collector. Jesus breaks a cultural norm and invites Himself to Zach’s home. At some point, Zach expresses belief in Jesus through a radical personal transformation. Jesus clearly conveys that what He had done for Zacchaeus He came to do for every person.
We discover in the New Testament that this was not only Christ’s mission but also the mission of every one of His followers. Jesus is recorded to have presented His follower’s mission in each of the Gospels and in Acts.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:45-49).
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
When a person says yes to Jesus as Savior and Lord, they are also saying yes to participating with Him in His kingdom mission. Through the Great Commission, Christ-followers are awakened to life with a divine purpose of knowing God and making Him known.
Believers in Jesus have been called Christians since the first century. Interestingly, the name was not given to His followers by Christ Himself or even by themselves. The name was used by Greeks and Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus. It plainly means a follower of Christ or little christs. Believers adopted it because, actually, it was a somewhat accurate description. A believer is not really a little Christ, but we are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20).
We can save no one, but we can point the way to the savior. We can follow His example and, like He did for Zacchaeus, share His love and message in the hope that they will come to know Him as Savior and Lord. We are to live sent lives, being everyday missionaries in our daily lives. The movement Christ ignited will not end until He returns. Jesus came with a purpose, and as we enter into a saving relationship with God through Him, we receive a purpose as well. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

A Savior Rises

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He has risen! He has risen indeed! Much could be written about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, much more than I could possibly share in one Easter writing. Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation (Rom 4:25). I do not believe it overly simplistic to say that the fundamental mission of Christ’s time on earth was the salvation of all who will receive Him as Savior and Lord (Lk 19:10, Jn 1:12).
Christ’s coming, and offering of salvation has changed lives and the world as a whole. Since the time of Christ, His church has influenced practically every sphere of human life and culture, from the establishment of hospitals to universities to caring for the neediest among us. When Christians have lived guided by Christ’s Spirit and His Word, the positive impact is unquestionable.
Jesus taught His followers to pray, “God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). This prayer is not merely an expectant yearning for the coming of Christ in the future but also a desire to see God’s kingdom broaden and become increasingly established throughout the world in the here and now. Christ’s coming ignited a movement that transforms His followers, unleashing them as change agents in our culture.
Jesus was crucified on Friday; Saturday was a Sabbath; He rose on Sunday morning. One account of Christ’s resurrection is found in Mathew’s Gospel. In the twenty-eighth chapter, we read that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, these disciples of His, visit the tomb. There is an earthquake that either occurred simultaneously with the angel’s appearance or the means the angel used to roll away the stone. The guards at the tomb, who are probably battle-hardened soldiers, obviously have never seen anything like this before and are fearful. The angel encourages the ladies not to fear.
The angel made sure that Mary Magdalene and other Mary understood the meaning of the empty tomb. The angel gave them three messages: (1) Jesus has risen. (2) He was going to Galilee. And (3) they would see Him. It’s noteworthy that Jesus Himself gave them those same messages, recorded for us in verse 10.
The women leave the scene celebrating with reverent awe because Christ is risen! Then, Jesus met them personally outside the tomb, near Jerusalem. They worship Christ and “took hold of His feet.” Why did Matthew want us to know they touched Christ’s feet? The fact that they touched Jesus’ feet shows that this is no mere vision or hallucination but a physical resurrection. It’s important to recognize that Jesus accepts their worship. His acceptance of their worship acknowledges His deity, as only God is to be worshiped. This is indeed an extraordinary account.
The resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith and the continuing movement Christ ignited in His followers. Why is the resurrection our foundation? Because Jesus, as He promised, rose from the dead. Therefore, each of us can be confident that He will accomplish all He has promised.
Because Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows that the living Christ is ruler of God’s eternal kingdom, not a false prophet or imposter. The significance of the resurrection is intertwined with the significance of the person who was raised. The resurrection is proof positive that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God, as He declared.
Because we can be certain of our resurrection due to Christ’s resurrection. Death is not the end – there is future life. As Jesus rose, we, too, will be ushered into paradise experience eternal life.
Because the power that brought Jesus back to life is available to us to bring our spiritually dead self back to life. The fact that Jesus is alive today means He is able to save us today. This also means that Christ will help His people by the Spirit, strengthening them, convicting them, guiding them into the life that God desires.
Lastly, because the resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brought a radical change in the life of His followers. From the radical transformation of Christ’s followers, the early church was birthed. The birth of the church came into existence as a result of a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The resurrection is not just a matter of fact, which can be taken lightly. It is literally a matter of eternal life or death. The resurrection is not simply a fact to be believed and rejected. It is a fact to which our response will determine our eternal destiny. The resurrection of our Lord was a kind of watershed event in the history of humanity. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith and the continuing movement Christ ignited in His followers. How will you respond to the finished work of Christ on the cross and life-giving resurrection? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

A Heart Ablaze

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Jesus Christ came purposed to die for our sins and be resurrected for our salvation (Rom 4:25). I do not believe it overly simplistic to say that the fundamental mission of Christ’s time on earth was the salvation of all who will receive Him as Savior and Lord (Luke 19:10, John 1:12). His coming and offering of salvation has not only changed people’s lives for eternity but ushered in a movement that has literally changed the world.
Since the time of Christ, His church has been a significant source of social services like schooling and medical care and inspiration for art, culture and philosophy, politics, and world affairs. Jesus taught His followers to pray, “God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). This prayer is not merely an expectant yearning for Christ’s imminent return but also a desire to see God’s kingdom broaden and become increasingly established throughout the world in the here and now. Christ’s coming ignited a movement that transforms His followers, unleashing them as change agents in our culture.
We recognize the determination of Christ and commitment to His mission as He made the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He knows He will be betrayed. The cross awaits Him. Of course, Jesus also knew Resurrection Sunday would shortly be history, altering all His people’s future. Nevertheless, with betrayal, rejection, torture, and crucifixion close at hand, Luke records, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). These words reference Jesus’ ascension, although His death and resurrection were included in this climax of His earthly ministry. Luke states that “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Knowing what awaited Him, He moved steadily towards His death, His victory, and the igniting of a movement of Christian world changers. There is no doubt of Christ’s desire for all people to enter into salvation through Him. This was His mission and His heart.
From Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday), the events of Passion Week changed everything for all of us. Passion Week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross. Passion Week is described in all four of the Gospels. What ought to be the attitude of believers as we remember this remarkable week in salvation history? We should share our Lord’s passion in our worship of Him and our partnering in His mission as we know Him and make Him known. Christ gave it all for us. He held nothing back. How can we not give our all to Him? How can we not be willing to sacrifice for the cause of following Him and sharing His love and message with others until all have a repeated opportunity to respond to His offer of salvation, transformation, and glory?
I pray that each of us will catch the Lord’s passion for those far from Him yet so close to His heart. As His church, I ask God to use us to continue to be a substantial source of social good and cultural transformation. As we pray, “God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10), let’s do so, expecting God to use us to see His kingdom expand and established throughout the world.
Christ’s coming ignited a movement that continues to transform His followers and the world around them. It begins with our personal transformation as we give ourselves wholly to Christ, inviting the Spirit to make us holy (Rom 12:1-2). Therefore, as God is transforming us, we reach out to others with His love and message. When we walk with the Lord in this way, believers are genuinely unleashed as Christian world changers. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

God is Able, We Can Respond

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Romans is one of my favorite books to study in the Bible. Over the years, the Lord has used Paul’s Spirit-inspired writing to refresh and mold me into the image of Christ. I haven’t arrived. I am a work in progress. God is daily re-molding me from the inside out into the image of Christ, His character, love, purpose, and priorities. Throughout Romans, Paul calls us back to the basics of our faith while encouraging us to be radically transformed (metamorphosed) by surrendering ourselves to God and inviting the Spirit to do this radical work in our lives. Paul is genuinely a transformed Christian World Changer and calls all of us to be the same.
Paul’s closing, like his introduction of the epistle, stresses the power of the gospel. The God who rescues has called all of His followers to be Christian World Changers, sharing the gospel and love of Christ to the nations’ peoples. This call is to all followers of Christ. We impressively discover this from the names Paul list in the closing of his letter to the church in Rome.
It is apparent, in Romans 16:1-16, that women were prominent in the Roman Church, not just as attendees but also as workers and leaders. Both men and women held leadership positions and had some ecclesiastical authority in the first church.  This makes sense in light of what Paul wrote to the Galatians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church is made of all peoples, male and female, all socio-economic classes and the like. The gospel is to be taken into the world by such a church of Christian World Changers.
Since Christ’s church has such a mission, he challenges believers in Romans 16:17-20 to fight for unity in the church. We are encouraged to spot and deal appropriately with divisive people who would seek to destroy unity from within the church. Divisive people do not focus on the Lord but on church politics and scandalous accusations. They try to draw believers off into doctrine that is contrary to the basic message of the gospel. What are we supposed to do with the body of biblical doctrine? Identify those who violate and teach false doctrine and keep away from such people. It is virtually impossible to be a divider if you cultivate your personal walk with God and are determined to build up others. A doctrinal and ethnic litmus test can be found in asking three questions. Does the teaching agree with Scripture? Does the teaching glorify the Lord? Does the teaching promote goodness? The Believer ought to pray that division will be crushed and that grace characterizes the church.
Even Paul’s greetings from his companions, found in Romans 16:21-24, presents us with a wonderful picture of Christian fellowship that consists of vast geographical distances and cultural differences. The church is united in Christ. We are to be unified in Him while retaining our uniqueness in the body of Christ. We are to be unified, not uniform. When the church is one, working together to know God and make Him known, God’s love, power, and truth are witnessed by the world in which we live.
Paul’s benediction, Romans 16:25-27, declares that the gospel Paul received from God was all about Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers to all peoples. Though this message of salvation by faith was present in the prophetic Scriptures, it is now made clear to all nations. It calls people to be obedient to the faith. Paul concludes his epistle powerfully. Paul cries out that to “God be glory forever through Jesus Christ,” and we ought to add our passionate amen.
It is not a coincidence that Paul begins and concludes his epistle referencing God’s power through the gospel. The gospel has the power to justify. The gospel has the power to sanctify. The gospel has the power to lead believers to be glorified. In Christ, we can be made right with God (justified). By the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can become like Jesus in character, love, purpose, and priorities (sanctified). When Christ returns, the work will be completed in us as He escorts us into paradise (glorified). All and all, Romans calls us to come to Christ, walk with Him, and become a Christian World Changer. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Job Review

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Paul in Romans 15:14-33 shares a personal job review of sorts. He shares his past ministry (Rom 15:14-22) and future plans (Rom 15:23-33). He wants the believers in Rome to know what he has accomplished and what He hopes to accomplish. It offers us some insight into what a personal kingdom job review might look like for each of us.
Paul begins in Romans 15:14-22 by describing his specific calling as an apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). He was uniquely called to ministry by Christ Himself. He saw his call to minister to Gentiles as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. His ministry strategy was to establish leaders. He would call and raise up leaders who would serve as church planters. This strategy served as a genesis of a church planting movement.
Paul knew what he was called to do and went about fulfilling it with the Holy Spirit’s help. Two truths become clear to me upon the reading of Paul’s commitment to His calling. First, I am only called to accomplish what God has set me apart to do for Him. Secondly, reaching an area is not just by one person wanting to reach another person, but also through the proper leadership being established to see a movement begun and continued for the Lord’s glory.
All believers share the same purpose, to know God and make Him known. For Crosswinds, we are committed to meeting children, teens, and adults whenever they are in their spiritual journey to encourage them to take their next step in their relationship with God and others to advance His kingdom. We believe God has called us to multiply Christ-followers, disciple-makers, small groups, campuses, and churches so that the people in our region will have a repeated opportunity to hear the gospel and experience the love of Christ. Every church needs to determine their particular niche in kingdom building and every believer their specific role in seeing it fulfilled in context to their local church family. A crucial question all followers of Christ must ask is, “What has God specifically called me to do as part of His church?” And, I would add, “Am I doing it?”
Paul continues in Romans15:23-33 to discuss his future ministry plans. He speaks of these plans by requesting the believers in Rome pray for Him in these endeavors. The first request is that he will be rescued from unbelievers in Jerusalem. God answered this one interestingly. Paul is arrested and kept from being killed in Jerusalem. The second request is that the gift he brings to the church in Jerusalem will be accepted. We’re never told in Scripture how the gift was received, just that it was indeed delivered. The third request is that Paul might reach Rome. This request is answered, but again uniquely. He’s brought to Rome as a prisoner. The importance of Paul’s request is not how they are answered, but that he made the request, showing a dependency on God and appreciation for the prayers of others. When we pray, we need to leave the details to God. Prayer is not about getting what we want but partnering with God’s will. Paul’s account certainly exemplifies the power of prayer and what it looks like to surrender to God’s will.
If we are to joyfully serve God, as he has called us to do, we need the Lord’s power and presence in our life. We also need the fellowship and assistance of fellow Believers. Paul’s sharing of His past kingdom work and future plans demonstrates this well. Paul’s kingdom job review leads us to one of our own. Believers ought to know their personal ministry assignment. Then they ought to ask if they are accomplishing it or not. The good news is that we can always start anew, learning from our past and pressing on in our calling. Paul stated it this way, “ Friends, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). There is no better place to be than where God has called us in our journey of knowing Him and making Him known. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 3

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It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive and then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked down, but when the land forces arrived, and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”
Unfortunately, there are times when churches relate all too well to this story. Instead of experiencing unity and peace, they are skirmishing over petty issues. When God calls on them to do something great for Him, they have nothing left to give, for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints. This leaves the Christian depleted and a church disgraced in plain view of the world around them. God has a better plan for His church.  It is very important that Christians get along with one another.
How do we deal with the different opinions about minor issues that separate Christians and make it difficult for them to serve or even worship together? How should we get along? What are the God-given techniques? What are the biblical examples? Paul offers us answers to these questions in Romans 15:1-13.
Paul challenges the stronger Christian, in verses 1-6, to be understanding of the weaker ones. “Stronger” and “weaker” speaking of stronger in faith and theology and weaker in the same. We are to respond to other believers who differ with us in petty issues (nonessential issues) in love. Our example of this selfless act is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our example of self-denying love, being willing to endure the curse of sin rather than to please Himself. Therefore, Paul continues in Romans 15:7-13 that Christians must accept one another as Christ has accepted Jew and Gentile alike.
Jesus receives us to bring glory to God. We are to accept others to glorify our Lord as well. As we glorify God through the power of oneness in Christ and together through power of the Holy Spirit, we can more effectively serve unreached peoples in the hope they too will come to receive Christ. By trusting in God, we find that the Holy Spirit produces an overflow of hope and joy in our lives. God uses a unified church.
During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren Assemblies, half complied, and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time—those who did not faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups, and there was much tension. Finally, they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents the world with an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. When love does not prevail among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world…well, you know what it presents to the world. The real question is, “What will we Christ’s church present to the world?” Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian and educator of the 17th century, declared, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” We must never compromise the Gospel. But, we must never allow nonessentials to bring disunity. I pray we will follow the practices of Christian freedom laid out in Romans 15:1-13. I pray we will seek to be understanding of others as well as truly accept one another. I pray we will be one in Christ united in peace and unity. Such a church will prevail, impacting the world with the Gospel by attracting others to our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 2

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Paul in Romans 14 provides believers with principles to assist them in their responsibilities to one another. God’s church stands strong when united and will fall when divided. God call’s us to unity.
The May 1987 edition of National Geographic included a feature about the arctic wolf. Author L. David Mech described how a seven-member pack had targeted several musk-oxen calves guarded by eleven adults. As the wolves approached their quarry, the muskoxen bunched in an impenetrable semicircle, their deadly rear hooves facing out, and the calves remained safe during a long standoff with the enemy. But then a single ox broke rank, and the herd scattered into nervous little groups. A skirmish ensued, and the adults finally fled in panic, leaving the calves to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that wolves would come after his departure, not sparing the flock. Wolves continue to attack the church today but cannot penetrate and destroy when unity is maintained. When believers break ranks, however, they provide easy prey.
In Romans 14:1-13, Paul challenges the believer to accommodate weaker ones. He continues his teaching in Romans 14:14-23, describing how Christians are to be watchful of weaker ones. The weaker one is weaker in faith. In other words, they are weaker due to poor theology. However, they are loved by God, and those who are strong in the faith have the responsibility to be careful not to lead the weaker astray.
The strong need to be careful in exercising their liberty. Why should this be? For one, the weak brother or sister might be led into sin. Also, flaunting freedom is not acting in love, especially when it hurts others. The very nature of liberty, which is love, causes us to refrain. Lastly, believers should be willing to refrain from exercising their liberty because they should have a paramount concern for the church’s well-being.
Tolerance, of course, can be taken too far. Some theologians suggest that anybody who claims to be a Christian should have a right to their beliefs no matter what they are. However, the New Testament sets clear boundaries, marking some matters as clear truths of the gospel (i.e., Jesus is the only way to salvation). No Christian can deviate from these or tolerate the beliefs of those who hold different views on them. But toleration on the nonessentials is what Paul calls for in this chapter. Many of the issues that divide Christians today fall into the adiaphora, not explicitly required or prohibited in Scripture, and Paul would mourn over the divisions we have created as a result of some of these petty issues.
There are two questions believers ought to ask themselves. The first, am I acting in faith or in doubt? If an action violates your conscience, don’t do it. An old hunting proverb is fitting here, “If in doubt, back out.” If you do not know if something is permissible or not, don’t do it! Any action that violates my Christian conscience is a sin. The second, does my action strengthen or lesson another believer’s walk with God? If my actions cause another believer to drift further away from God rather than closer to Him, I ought not to flaunt my freedom in front of him/her. I am to enjoy my freedom in Christ, not lash it out to hurt others. If something I am doing would cause another to fall, I will stop doing the particular act (especially in his/her presence). After all, this is the selfless and loving response.
Like the muskoxen, we are stronger, as Christians, when we are united. The world and the flesh and the devil seek to destroy us; let’s not join them in destroying one another. As Christians, we are to be watchful of one another, enjoying our freedom, while being careful not to hurt others with our liberty. The law of love ought to lead us in selfless unity. United, we stand strong, divided, and we fall.
It would be a powerful statement for each of us as individual believers and together as a church family to commit to being watchful of one another, to be united, forming a protective wall of Spirit-empowered unity and peace. Won’t you join me in committing yourself to such a life? Our church, our homes, our community, the world around us will never be the same! Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Christian Responsibility, Part 1

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The call for unity in the church is found throughout the New Testament. We, as Believers, are called by God to belong to one body. The one body we are called to belong to is strong and has integrity in the eyes of the world to the degree that it functions in harmony, with every member playing his/her essential role (see: Rom 12:3-8). Yet, time and again, the church is marked more by division and distrust than by unity and singleness in purpose.
Do not get me wrong. Peace and unity are not the only virtues of the church. Peace and unity are not to be held at all cost. The church is also called to maintain the truth while attempting to keep peace and unity. There does come a time when unity might have to be sacrificed for the sake of truth. However, most disruptions of peace and unity in a church do not take place over serious doctrinal matters (biblical truth) but petty arguments over the style of worship, personality of leadership, carpeting color, and the like.
I find this story of a pastor entirely fitting. The church where he served had just laid new carpet. At an Elder Board meeting, several complaints were aired that “certain people” were dirtying the new carpet by wearing dirty shoes, and the ominous “many” people would like for the church leadership to ask them not to attend. The pastor politely requested to be excused from the meeting. The Elder Board was astonished and intrigued. They followed the pastor, who proceeded to begin pulling up the carpet. The elders asked him to stop. They got the point. Our mission to know God and make Him known trumps clean carpets.
Now, please understand me. I believe we are to take care of the facilities with which the Lord has blessed us. But, we must never put things before people. We must never put minor things before the main thing, the main thing of knowing God and making Him known.
Paul in Romans 14:1-15:13 addresses a Christian’s responsibility towards other believers. He begins in Romans 14:1-13 by stating the principles of Christian freedom, by making a call for unity. His instructions are given in light of Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” as well as Romans 13:8, “Don’t owe anything to anyone except to love each other.” He writes, assuming that those addressed have already sacrificed their bodies (whole selves) to God as living sacrifices and, as a result, are very desirous of expressing love to their fellow Believers.
We discover two principles in Romans 14:1-13 of Christian freedom. The first is that believers need to accommodate one another. Paul assumes a plurality of Christian lifestyles. Paul understands that Christians serving the same God, filled with the same Spirit, will inevitably, due to culture, background, mentorship, and the sort, have differing ideas of what constitutes a proper Christian lifestyle. It is not that teachings such as the importance of modesty and humility are not to be followed by all believers. Still, the practical application of how these teachings are to be present in a given Christ-follower’s life can and will differ. Paul also understands that these issues can cause division in a church.
The second principle of Christian freedom is that believers are not to be a stumbling block to another. At the center of this issue, I believe, is when people fallaciously make an opinion a biblical mandate. This flaw causes many conflicts. The believer is to be careful not to engage in a practice that might cause another Christian to compromise what they believe in their hearts ought not to be done.
Remember, Paul is sharing common principles. It is not always possible to accommodate all believers. It is not always possible to not cause other believers to stumble. But, we need to do everything in our power to fulfill these principles, honoring God and expressing love to others.
How about you? How do you handle your Christian responsibility toward other believers? How do you exercise your Christian freedom? I pray that all of us as believers will strive for unity and peace. I hope that we will not allow pettiness to drive us apart as a whole or as individual believers. I pray we will allow our commitment to biblical truth and love to fill us with unity until it overflows into the streets. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Flag Bearers

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Historians tell us that people have used flags for over 4,000 years. A flag is often used by a person or people as a symbol informing others who they are. Long ago, knights carried flags into battle because it was hard to know who the knights were as they were dressed up and covered in armor, ready for battle. Flags were vital because they helped soldiers tell their friends from their enemies in battle. Today, every country in the world has a flag. One of God’s names, found in the Old Testament, is Jehovah-Nissi, meaning the Lord is our banner. Moses used this name for God after the Lord had granted victory over an enemy.
As believers, when we go into battle, the Lord is our banner when we go into life. In the days of old, a banner from a dominant warrior on the field of battle brought terror in their enemies’ hearts. What does the Christian have to fear? God is our banner.
In a very practical sense, the Christian lives under three flags. As a believer, I live under the flag of God’s kingdom. I am, first and foremost, a citizen of heaven. It is this citizenship that empowers me to fulfill the responsibility of the other two flags. As a believer, I also live under the country’s flag, where I am an earthly citizen. As an American, I live under our flag, and I, even as a Christian, especially as a believer, have responsibilities to that flag. Lastly, as a believer, I live under the flag of the country God calls me to serve. For me, this country and my country of citizenship are the same. For others, it will be in places where they are serving, like Zambia or Nicaragua.
All of this may seem a bit confusing. However, it does not have to be. Paul, in Romans 13, addresses how Christian citizens are to bear these three flags. While God calls us to live His heavenly values amid the world, we must also recognize that God has not abandoned this world. God is active and challenges us to be as well.
There is much to draw from Romans 13 but let me highlight a few. As we read through Romans 13:1-8, we learn that Christians are to submit to the laws of the land, as long as they do not violate the laws of God. In verse 8, we read, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another fulfilled the law.”  This leads to a discussion on biblical principles about indebtedness. As we look at the whole of scripture, we discover that each of us should have as little financial debt as possible, where debt-free living is the goal. This leads to Paul’s teaching, found in Romans 13:8-10, that the Christian is always duty-bound to love everyone. This is reinforced in Romans 1:14, where Paul writes, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” The believer is obligated to share the gospel lovingly in both word and deed. In fact, love is the essence of the Christian ethic. Christian citizens are able to honor the three flags in their lives by living by the law of love. Lastly, in Romans 13:11-14, Paul instructs that Christian citizens will honor the three flags of their lives when they are alert, morally sensitive, and on guard against immorality, knowing that Christ will return.
If Believers try on their own strength and wisdom to live out their citizenship under three flags, they will quickly become overwhelmed. The key to living under the flags of God’s kingdom, our earthly country, and our country of mission is to clothe ourselves in Jesus Christ, live under the law of love, and respect the authorities God has established. Again, God has not abandoned this world. He is active and calls us to be active as well.
As we give our lives to God as a living sacrificed and allow His Spirit to transform (metamorphose) us from the inside out, every thought and deed, we can live as we ought. It is only as a result of God’s transforming work in our life that we can love others in a way that is pleasing to God. This love manifests itself in part through our submission to governing authorities and our expression of love towards others. The response Paul urges us to give is to respond quickly in godliness because time is running out. Christ is coming. In short, live the godly life today as Christlike flag bearers. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!