All posts by Dr. Dickson

Grace Inspired Giving

There is a difference between being a Christian in response to law and being the same in response to grace. The difference is often revealed in one’s contributions. Those who have become Christians on a legal basis in response to law-keeping often seek to give according to law. On the other hand, those who respond in their lives to the grace of God always give more.

In writing to Christians in Rome, the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, reminded the Roman Christians, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). If we consider this truth in reference to our contributions, a vast difference is seen between those who respond to legal giving according to law and those who give out of their gratitude for God’s grace.

For example, in order to extract contributions from the hands of those who live by law, preachers have often resorted to law in order to inspire guilt in the hearts of the “lawgivers.” The desired result is that at least a few coins are dropped into the collection plate. At the most, one will confine his or her giving to ten percent (the tithe). When such grudging givers do flip in a couple coins, or give as much as ten percent, they go on their way, having satisfied themselves that they have given according to law. And thus for another week they have the church leaders off their backs until another call for contributions is made again the following Sunday.

This law-obedient religious culture is more common than not. In order to inspire more contributions, therefore, what preachers often do is ignore the gospel of grace in order to bring the people under law. They take the people back under the tithing commandment of the Sinai law that was given exclusively to Israel as part of the Sinai law. In doing so, they have ignored grace for the sake of law, and thus have reversed what the Holy Spirit said to the Roman disciples. Instead of reminding the people that we are under grace and not under law, we often seek to inspire the contributors to give because of the tithing law of the Sinai law. In doing so, we forget motivating people to give in response to the grace of the cross. If we seek to inspire people to give, we must preach the gospel of grace, not law.

We must not forget that grace is far more powerful than law in reference to motivating people to live and give. To illustrate this fact, we would journey back to the Israelites when they were initially born as a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It had been only three months since they were delivered as a culture of people from Egyptian captivity. But it was at Mt. Sinai that God signed a covenant with the people, and thus the nation of Israel was inaugurated into existence. Tithing was a part of the Sinai law that God gave as a condition for keeping the covenant. We must remember, however, that the people at the foot of Mt. Sinai did not initially give in obedience to the tithing law, for it was not yet given.

On the contrary, at the time when the people were truly grateful to God for His grace in delivering them out of Egyptian captivity, they were inspired to give. It was only by His grace that they stood free at Mt Sinai. They could not have delivered themselves. So when it came time to contribute, Moses did not quote a “tithing law” to them. He simply informed the people that there was a need to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle that God had commanded them to build. Grace took it from there.

It was grace that motivated the people to give, not law. The Israelites’ appreciation for their deliverance from captivity because of God’s grace was so powerful in their hearts that the builders of the tabernacle had a problem. They came to Moses and said “The people bring more than enough for the construction work [of the tabernacle] that the Lord commanded us to make” (Ex 36:5).

The Lord had commanded that the tabernacle and its furnishings be built. A specific task was to be completed, and contributions for the materials were subsequently needed. Then the people, because of their gratitude for being delivered from captivity by the grace of God, exceeded what God required. Now notice what the preacher Moses had to say to the people:

“Then Moses gave commandment and they cause it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman make anymore work for the offering of the sanctuary” (Ex 36:6).

Now listen to this: “So the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex 36:6). The people gave in order to fulfill a need, but they gave out of appreciation for God’s grace in delivering them from captivity. Their contribution was so bountiful that they needed to be restrained from giving. This is the power of grace over law in reference to contributions.

This same giving in appreciate for grace was clearly illustrated during Jesus’ ministry. It was revealed in the heart of a poor widow who had not yet experienced the grace of the sacrificial Son of God on the cross. Nevertheless, she spiritually grew past giving in fulfillment of law requirements. On a particular occasion, Jesus witnessed contributions that were being given into the temple treasury. He was standing and watching the people make their contributions. “He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” (Lk 21:2). As a testimony of her heart, He said of the poor widow, “She out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lk 21:4). This contribution was certainly more than ten percent. It was one hundred percent. This is what grace will do to one’s heart in reference to giving. Sometimes we must have so little in order to appreciate how rich we are because of the grace of God.

Law will never move one to the point of giving one’s last two coins. When the traveling salesperson, Lydia, and the government employee, the jailor, responded to the gospel in the city of Philippi, the Holy Spirit gave a testimony as to how far grace will take one’s heart beyond law. Only a few days (At 16:12) after their obedience to the gospel, and when Paul went on to Thessalonica from Philippi, Paul later wrote of their mission giving: They sent “once and gain for my needs” (Ph 4:16).

The power of the grace of God at work in the hearts of the first Christians in Philippi did not stop with supporting only the mission efforts of Paul when he went on to Thessalonica. A few years later when there was a famine in Judea, the Philippians’ appreciation for the grace of God once again stirred them into action. Grace worked so powerfully in their hearts that they gave as those Israelites who responded overwhelmingly to give to the special need of building the tabernacle. Paul wrote the following to some forgetful, if not stingy Christians in Corinth who conveniently forgot to follow through with their promise to give to the saints in Judea: “Moreover, brethren [in Corinth], we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,” the province wherein the city of Philippi was located (2 Co 8:1).

As the poor widow who gave her last two coins, so also the Christians in Macedonia in whose hearts was also the spirit of grace. Paul continued, “In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).

There are some who ungratefully assume that they are too poor to contribute. They should make this excuse to the crucified Son of God who impoverished Himself of heaven in order to deliver us from the captivity of sin. Some in their knowledge of the sacrificial offering of the incarnate Son of God on the cross are still unwilling to give as the poor widow who had no knowledge of the extent to what the Son of God gave up for us.

Paul was not finished with the gratitude of the poor disciples of Macedonia. “For I testify that according to their ability [they gave], yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). We can only imagine what Paul felt when the poor Macedonian saints offered him their contributions to take to the suffering saints in Judea. We are sure he was somewhat reluctant to take their contributions.

The Macedonian Christians seem to have sensed that Paul was reluctant about taking their contributions for the famine victims of Judea. So they did something quite remarkable. Paul wrote of the incident that they were “begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:4).

The saints in all of Macedonia knew that if they were to have fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ, they too had to give to the special need in Judea. And in their case, no one used his or her poverty as an excuse not to give to the general collection. They knew that they were individually poor. Nevertheless, they also knew that if they gave collectively, then the combined contributions of the universal church would be substantial. But everyone had to give individually. If they did not give individually, then they, as members of the body, would have had no fellowship with the universal body of Christ.

If we allow the grace of God to work in our hearts, then He will do through us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power [of the gospel of grace] that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Law will never get one to the limits to which grace will take us in reference to giving. A “tithing law” will get one grudgingly to ten percent. But grace will move one cheerfully to give his or her last two coins.

For those who walk in gratitude for the grace of God, the ten percent tithe is too restrictive. Unfortunately for some, because of the power of grace, they would rather stay under the law of the ten percent (tithe) and forget the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. It is more convenient to live under the restriction of the tithe (ten percent) than to be motivated beyond measure by grace.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, he reminded them of the example of the Son of God: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:5,6). Subsequently, on His gospel journey to bring us into the loving arms of God, the Son of God “made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:7). He was made “in the likeness of men” in order to go to the cross for us in order that we go into the riches of eternal heaven (Ph 2:7,8). If the Son of God could do this for us, then certainly there is no limit to which we can go for Him. If we claim to be disciples of this God in the flesh who was nailed to an old rugged cross, then there is no excuse to withhold our resources from supporting His continued mission.

By the time Paul finished the revelation of Philippians 2 in reference to the awesome sacrifice of Jesus, he was surely overcome with emotion when he inscribed the following words: “But what things were gain to me [before I obey the gospel], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). The Holy Spirit allowed him to inscribe more emphatically: “I count them refuse [Gr. dung] so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).

We have too many among us who were baptized according to law, but did not respond to the gospel in appreciation for the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. Those who are disciples by law will often continue to walk according to law. Subsequently, they will often contribute as least as possible in order to comply only with law.

We believe that many Christians are still living according to law in this manner. They do so because they are reminded every Sunday by the preacher that they must tithe according to the Sinai law. But we must remind ourselves that Christians are no longer under the restrictions of the Sinai law (See Rm 7:1-7; Cl 2:14). Christians are under grace, not law. Therefore, when Christians live according to the gospel of grace, it is an entirely different way of life. Paul explained:

“For all things [in reference to the gospel] are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15).

If a Christian does not understand what Paul just said in this statement, then he or she is still living under law and not under grace. It is only when we live by the grace of God that we will be cheerful givers in giving beyond measure, just as the early Christians.

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The Godly Giver

http://africainternational.org/files/Book%2057.pdf

Incarnation (E,F)

E. A call for incarnational living:

We must confess that it is quite incomprehensible to consider the eternal Word in the spirit “materializing” into a single cell in the womb of a woman in order to become life in the flesh. But what other answer do we have for the Savior being such before He was born into this world? When Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you what was also in Christ Jesus,” the ramifications of such a statement are certainly unsettling to all of us who would seek to reverse the incarnational order of the One after whom we call ourselves disciples (Ph 2:5). But when John the Baptist considered such a thing, he continued to eat grasshoppers and lay down his head at night on a stone pillow (Mt 3:4). He incarnationally lived in order to introduce into the world the incarnational Savior. Paul likewise discarded all his advancements in religion, considering even his own life a minimal sacrifice to pay in gratitude for the incredible sacrifice of the one-cell God who eternally paid the incarnational sacrifice to bring him also into eternity (Ph 3:6; see Rm 9:1-3).

After Paul’s introductory statement in Philippians 2:15 concerning our transformation into the mind and behavior of the incarnate Christ, he carried on in his explanation of the incarnational journey of God the Son. He reminded the Philippians of the gospel sacrifice of the eternal Spirit who impregnated the seed of woman (See Ph 2:5-11). If our Savior could humble Himself to this extreme, then certainly there is absolutely no occasion for those who claim to be His disciples to exalt themselves above one another. We can now better understand the rebuke that the incarnate Word levelled against some of His disciples while they were still comprehending the incarnate God who stood in their midst:

“Whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be the first will be the bondservant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-45).

F. A call for belief:

If our postulations concerning the incarnation of God the Son are anywhere near to being the truth of the matter, then we are brought to some inevitable conclusions. If the incarnation began with a single cell in the womb of a woman, then God is calling for us to have faith in what may seem quite impossible to believe. But then we recall what the Holy Spirit said of such matters: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hb 11:6).

To those who have no desire to believe, then these matters possibly sound like a fictitious fairy tale that was written to entertain the fantasies of men who have imaginary minds. If we desire to believe, however, no matter how difficult it may be to comprehend any aspect of the incarnation, we still conclude that it is more reasonable to believe.

It is more reasonable to believe because it is quite unreasonable to conclude that our existence is the result of “creative” matter in motion. We thus believe that the incarnation was also for the purpose of sifting out of eternal existence those who have no desire to believe, and thus no desire to live by the gospel of the incarnation.

It is not that we must understand all the specifics that occurred in the incarnation. It is only necessary to believe that it happened and that the result thereof was that the saving Son of God was born into the world He created in order to be a prepared sacrificial body that would be offered for the atonement of our sins.

Because we have realized the hopelessness of our predicament in this world of sin, we want to believe. We cry out for deliverance from this wicked and painful world of suffering. Because of His love for us, He responded to our desperate cries. Out of love, therefore, He paid the price for our redemption from this world by making an incarnational journey into this world. He desired to be in the form of our humble flesh by which He could fellowship with us His brethren. The nail-torn flesh of the cross, therefore, measured the extent of His love for us.

We are simply held in awe at such a thing as this. We realize that the magnitude of the incarnation is overwhelming. It is so overwhelming that it could have only been in the mind of a God of love who so loved us. Not even in the wildest imagination of the most devout monk could such a thing have been conceived. For this reason, we can only conclude that the incarnation of God the Son to be only that which the one true and living God could do.

[End of series on the incarnation. Wait for the book announcement on Facebook.]

incarnation (D)

D. The one-cell beginning:

Since there was an incredible sacrifice on the part of the Son of God to become man in the flesh, then we must allow our assumptions concerning the impregnation of Mary to proceed to the beginnings of human life. We must assume something that is quite incredible, if not incomprehensible, but indeed true. When the Son of God gave up being in the form of God in the spirit, He humbled Himself to the minute flesh of a single-celled egg in the womb of Mary.

God the Son who created every living cell became that which He created. In His incarnational journey, He started with a single cell. In order to begin His journey, He joined with the single Spirit-chosen cell of a woman in order to begin the nine-month gestation period of woman. The incarnation began with God the Son connecting with one human cell in the flesh in order to create something wonderful for eternity.

In order to create that which was awesome and eternal, the Son was willing to begin with that which was small, and the most humble of presentations in order to come into the world He created. We see the power of the Son of God in this marvel of the minute. He in the size of only one human cell was far more powerful than billions people who are composed of trillions of collective cells in human bodies throughout the world. He was God in a single cell.

We might suppose that at the moment God the Son was ready for His incarnational journey into this world, the Holy Spirit signalled to the Son in heaven, and said, “The fullness of time has come. Therefore, come on. I have a single cell of flesh selected for You.”

We could then suppose that God the Son would have responded from heaven, “If all I get to begin My incarnational ministry is only one single cell of flesh in the womb of a woman, then that is all I need.”

Since this is our speculative summation of what may have occurred, then we can now understand the announcement nine months later by an angel to some shepherds in the middle of the night:

“Do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11).

It was not simply a body that was born from woman, and then Christ the Lord indwelt the body at the time of birth. On the contrary, He was already “Christ the Lord” at the time of birth. Our assumption, therefore, has moved on to the reality that “Christ the Lord” waited nine months in the womb of woman in order to come forth as the Savior of the world. He was not born to be the Christ. He was already the Christ at the time of His birth.

We now better understand the following words of John: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). And then, “the Word was made flesh” in the womb of Mary (Jn 1:14). The incarnate Word was already in the flesh for nine months, waiting to be born into this world as the Savior of the world.

After Mary and Joseph had made the strenuous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, “the days were completed for her to give birth” (Lk 2:6). The unborn Savior had carried Mary safely for nine months until the time of His entrance into this world. Though she was many months into her pregnancy at the time when her long journey to Bethlehem began, Mary was able to ride a donkey the great distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem without having a premature birth along the way. It was the unborn Savior in her womb who carried her safely to His place of birth. The prophecy of Micah 5:2 had to be fulfilled. The Savior would be born in the chosen city of Bethlehem.

But we would speculate of things before the journey of Mary to Bethlehem. We would go back to the initial incarnation of the Word in the single cell of the Spirit-impregnated Mary. The unborn Son of God would surely not have allowed anything to happen to Mary throughout her nine-month pregnancy. It is for this reason that we must surmise that He carried her all the way from conception “by the Holy Spirit” to the city of Bethlehem and His very birth in a manger.

[Next in series: June 17]

Incarnation (C)

C. Birth into this world:

We must now go to the very beginning of the incarnation, back to the moment that God the Son came into the flesh of man. We are back to what the angel announced to Joseph. The One who was “conceived” “of the Holy Spirit” now resided the seed that was in the womb of Mary.

In the natural conception of a human being in the womb of a woman, the single cell egg (seed) of the woman is sparked into life by the fertilization of the sperm of a man. The process of cell replication then begins which results in the birth of a person.

Before the birth, and in the case of the incarnation of the Savior of the world, the process of the one cell splitting into two cells marked the beginning of His life. Though the spark of life that ignites the beginning of a human being comes from the sperm of a man, in the case of Mary, we must bypass the sperm of man on earth. Joseph had nothing to do with the beginning of the incarnation. The birth of the Savior of the world would come from a virgin, that is, from a woman who had had no sexual intercourse with a man (See Is 7:14; Mt 1:23; Lk 1:27). Therefore, we must search for another answer as to how the seed of Mary began the process of cell replication that eventually resulted in the birth of the Savior as a person into this world.

The statement “of the Holy Spirit” was spoken to Joseph in order to inform and settle his nerves. The angel wanted to spare him from any guilt or questions concerning the fidelity of Mary. It was a statement of reassurance. In this “miraculous conception,” the Holy Spirit had taken the impregnation of Mary into His own hands. Joseph was only a bystander to witness the marvel of the Holy Spirit at work in the womb of Mary in order to prepare the incarnate Savior to the world through birth. From the time of the incarnational impregnation by the Holy Spirit, therefore, Joseph and Mary could only behold and wonder at what was transpiring in her womb.

And now we are left in wonder concerning the impregnating miracle of the Holy Spirit that set in motion the multiplying of the single seed of woman that resided in the womb of Mary. The body of Mary produced the seed when the fullness of time came for the Christ and Savior would come into the world through birth. An angel explained to Mary what would happen to begin the process: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35).

Assuredly, many eggs in the womb of Mary had passed through the natural menstrual periods of Mary’s early life. But there was one Seed that was special and chosen and begotten “by the Holy Spirit.” It would be this chosen Seed who would take all of us into eternity. It would be this chosen Seed who fulfilled the prophesied Seed of woman who would crush the head of Satan (See Gn 3:15).

So our wonder goes deeper into the process of what transpired during the impregnation. We come to the conclusion that that which was “of the Holy Spirit” could only have come from the direct touch of the Spirit on the single-cell seed of woman. It could have been that the Holy Spirit created the sperm that fertilized the seed of woman. This postulation would still remain true to the revelation of the phrase “of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit would have been the creator of the sperm, and thus the fetus that was now in the womb of Mary was fertilized “by the Holy Spirit.” We must also assume that the Holy Spirit simply set in motion the chosen seed that was provided by Mary. He then allowed the natural process of human development to continue from there.

What is important to remember is that there was more in what transpired in the womb of Mary than just the natural fertilization of the seed of a woman. The selection of the chosen male seed of Mary was not a random choice. The DNA genetics of the chosen egg of Mary was specific and intentional. We would conclude, therefore, that the Holy Spirit Himself sparked the process of the natural multiplication of the single egg cell of Mary, whether by a created sperm or directly through His own power to intervene in the natural process of the fertilization. We will never know for sure.

[Next in series: June 15]

Incarnation (B)

B. From spirit to flesh:

If we would allow ourselves to wonder beyond the definition of our words and our understanding of natural childbirth, then we must consider the Gnostics of the third and fourth centuries who found it most difficult to believe that God in the light could touch the material world that they considered to be all evil. In the birth of the Son of God, the Gnostics affirmed that a body was presented to the world by Mary through natural birth, a body in which the spirit of Christ indwelt at the time Jesus began His ministry until His death on the cross. But the Gnostics could not imagine beyond this material world. They simply concluded that Deity infused Himself into the body of Jesus when the man Jesus began His ministry. The Christ then forsook the body at the cross when Jesus “gave up His spirit” to the Father (Jn. 19:30).

The Gnostics’ conclusions end up in a theological quagmire that leads to nonsense that contradicts so many clear statements in Scripture, particularly those statements wherein Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). “He who has see Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

The Son of God and the body of flesh were so connected that Jesus in the preceding statements used the material to represent metaphorically the spirit that was beyond the physical flesh. The Gnostics, as so many today, found it quite difficult to believe in a God who could so embody Himself on earth in a manner that He would remain one with God the Father in heaven. Nevertheless, through the incarnation, the embodiment of God the Son would be so complete that we would conclude that the Son of God had come on an epic journey from heaven. From being in the light with God the Father, God the Son journeyed into the flesh of man in a world of darkness. The Gnostics simply concluded that gods do not do such things.

In the John 10:30 and 14:9 statements above Jesus was not indicating that the Father was also flesh as Jesus at the time He made the statements. If this indeed were what Jesus meant, then He Himself would have denied His own incarnation. His “incarnation” would have simply been a parallel transfer from a heavenly appearance in bodily form to an earthly appearance in the form of a man. But this thought is infinitesimally far beyond the truth of the incarnation. All those who believe that God the Father in heaven has a nose and eyes simply deny the incarnation of God the Son into the flesh of man, which flesh included a nose and eyes.

On the contrary, the Son of God, “being in the form of God [in the spirit], did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:6,7). At the beginning of the incarnation, the Son did transfer out of the realm of the heavenly. However, it was a transfer of spirit into the flesh of man.

The Son of God in eternity was not in eternity in the form of flesh, and then became the flesh of man on earth. Therefore, at the time of incarnation, God the Father did not exist in a fleshly form in heaven. When we see Jesus through the written record of the New Testament Scriptures, we see the character of the Father who is spirit, not the appearance of some god we would create after our own fleshly image. That which the Son of God revealed in the person of Jesus was the personality of the eternal God the Father, in whose presence He was before His incarnation into the flesh of man. God in the spirit simply embodied Himself in the flesh of man.

[Next in series: June 13]

Incarnation (Intro & A)

If we are allowed to take your minds on an adventure into that about which we know little, then bear with the speculations that follow. When we discuss those things concerning the interaction of God with His creation, we feel quite inadequate to explain such with the words of our dictionary. We thus understand the possible frustrations on the part of the Holy Spirit when He was restricted to search through our dictionary in order to reveal to us those functions of God that were and are far beyond our comprehension.

For example, Paul was once “caught up even to the third heaven” (2 Co 12:2). He “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to speak” (1 Co 12:4). The words were not lawful to speak simply because they were heavenly words that had no earthly definitions of the things that were revealed to him. We feel the same in using earthly words to explain the heavenly in reference to the incarnation. Therefore, we must know from here on in our discussions of this subject that we are confined to the definitions of our finite words that the Spirit used to excite our minds to the fact that God in the spirit indeed came in the flesh of man.

A. Conceived of the Holy Spirit:

Our understanding of the incarnation begins with the Holy Spirit recording the following words for us: “His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child by the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). The Holy Spirit wanted us to know that the unborn children in the womb of Mary was “by the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit’s narrative of the subject then continues with the pronouncement of an angel who came in a dream to Joseph, the betrothed husband to Mary: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). The Greek word in both statements is ek, meaning “from.” The miraculous conception was the result of the direct work that came from the Holy Spirit.

Now we must stumble into the realm of speculation concerning the “materialization” of God in the spirit into the flesh of man. We reserve our dogmatism on this matter for other subjects. But at the same time, that which happened in incarnation must in some way be explained in order that we be humbled by the overwhelming sacrifice that was made on the part of the Son of God. It was not just a body that was torn with nails on a cross outside Jerusalem. It was the destiny of a Creator who agonized at the end of a sacrificial journey in order to collect us for Himself for eternity. He was the One who originally created the flesh through which nails could be driven (Cl 1:16). And it was in flesh and blood that He agonizingly suffered on our behalf.

The angel’s words, “of [by] the Holy Spirit,” will take our minds on a journey of marvelous wonder that is most incomprehensible for finite minds. As soon as the angel said, “of the Holy Spirit,” our thinking must disengage from the natural processes of birth in order to focus on the supernatural. Therefore, we begin our quest to understand what was embedded in this utterance by reflecting on the Hebrews 10:5 statement: “A body You have prepared for Me.” How was this body prepared? How can we ever connect the dots between “of the Holy Spirit” and “a body You have prepared for Me”?

[Next in series: June 11]

Search for Jesus

If one feels fulfilled in being the center of attention on his or her Facebook site, Youtube broadcast, or Podcast, then there is no longer any driving force to seek out a personal face-to-face relationship with someone at an assembly of peers.

If you doubt this, then the next time you encounter several young people together, notice how many of them are focusing on what is transpiring on their cellphones. Ask these slaves to their smartphones how often they check the number of “likes” or “views” of something that they have just posted. Even worse, if they come to an assembly, notice how many will not turn off their cellphones just in case some “important” message comes their way. We were even in a prayer group where one attendee refused to turn off his cellphone.

It is difficult to assemble narcissists together in an assembly that does not appeal to the narcissistic obsessions of each individual. It was in times of the past that the “pastor” wanted to be the center of attention when the saints came together. It is now, and will be in the future, that all the attendees, if they show up, will want to be the center of attention of the assembly.

At this time in history, the celebration assembly is often focused on those who have come “to get something out of the assembly.” And if the attendees do not get what they want out of the assembly, they are on their way to the next assembly. They will go from one assembly to another until they get what they want. But in all their search, they have forgotten that they, as a part of any gathering of the saints, must be as Jesus. And Jesus came to give, not to get. It is the nature of any assembly of gospel-obedient slaves of Jesus to give. They give their voices in singing. They give their gratitude in the Supper. They give their ears to the teaching of the word of God. They give their money as their time in thanksgiving for all that God has given to them. If all this is reversed to receiving, then a narcissistic religion has been born.

We continually need a reality check on these matters. If we wake up and find ourselves to have lost our first love, or smell the stench of dead in the air, then it is time to realize that we have lost our way and need to repent. Dead churches that present themselves to be alive send forth no campaigners to mission areas. Dead churches support no mission efforts. Dead churches produce no evangelists who will go forth with the gospel. Therefore, if we are neither sending nor being sent, then we have lost our first love. We are dead to the purpose for which the Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man for our salvation.

Dead churches usually have no idea that they are dead, simply because they present the ruse that they are alive. Death becomes so gradual in our excitement that it is not detected. The church in Sardis did not know that they were dead until Jesus showed up and wrote their name in the obituary of Revelation. The church in Ephesus did not know that they had lost their first love until the One who came to seek and save the lost pronounced that their first love was gone.

Once we realize that our love for the lost is lost, we lose our drive to go into all the world and preach the gospel to those who are lost. If we surround ourselves with those who have likewise lost their purpose, then King Jesus offers only one recourse: REPENT! Resurrection is the only answer for death!

MY FRIEND
My friend, I stand in the judgment now,
And feel that you’re to blame somehow.
On earth, I walked with you day by day,
And never did you point the way.

You knew the Lord in truth and glory,
But never did you tell me the story.
My knowledge then was very dim,
You could have led the way to Him.

Though we lived together on the earth,
You never told me of the second birth,
And now I stand here, condemned,
Because you failed to mention Him.

You taught me many things, that’s true;
I called you “friend” and trusted you,
But now I learn, when it’s too late —
You could have saved me from this fate.

We walked and talked by dawn and night,
And yet, you showed me not His light.
You let me live and love and die,
You knew I’d never live on high.

Yes, I called you “friend” in life,
And trusted you through joy and strife,
And yet on coming to this end —
I cannot now call you “my friend.”

[End of series]

Connective Disconnection

If we learn anything from the disciples in Ephesus and Sardis, it is the fact that dead churches—those who have lost their first love—organize to find purpose through their local programs of involvement that are focused on themselves. Or, as we have witnessed in these modern times, the production of Sunday morning experiences appeal to narcissistic attendees who are made to think that they are alive.

Christianity is not defined by assemblies, but by the gospel working in the hearts of those who seek to preach the grace of God to a lost world. It is not the purpose of the gospel to produce an exciting assembly, but to celebrate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan would have us become concerned about theatrical performances on Sunday morning that appeal to ourselves, and thus distract us from the lost souls of men who are destined to hell. Instead of opportunities to come together for reproving, rebuking and exhortation “with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tm 4:2), we come together to ignore our loss of love for the lost by celebrating ourselves. When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell?

We see a worldwide rise of connective disconnection among those of this generation of the world. The rise of the celebration assembly that focuses exclusively on the narcissistic individual is evidence of this disconnectivity. In fact, the self-centered celebration of the Sunday assembly among churches may be the last effort of many churches to call their members together in assembly. Bringing this generation and the next generations together in assembly is a problem that will face the church of the future.

We live in an Internet world of “connective disconnectivity.” Social online networks as Facebook, Whatsapp and whatever connect people with one another outside any personal encounter in a face-to-face relationship. There is thus little need for a personal face-to-face relationship when our smartphones will satisfy our desire to have “electronic friends.” In these days electronic connections have replaced personal connections. If we discover that one of our “electronic friends” disagrees with us on a particular point, we can simply “unfriend” the friend.

In the area of “Christianity,” add to this the opportunity of individuals online to access video preachers from around the world who preach every sort of feel-good doctrine that is sterile of the gospel. Sermons that make us psychologically feel good in a harsh world have replaced expository lessons of the word of God in an assembly. The most downloaded sermons from the Internet are those that are presented by dynamic speakers who know little or nothing about “preaching the word,” but a great deal in how to tickle ears in order to encourage the listener to download the next message (See 2 Tm 4:1,2).

The ease by which a preached lesson can be accessed through the Internet is quite phenomenal. Therefore, if someone concludes in their personal disconnectivity with others that they can access all the “spiritual” information that they need by streaming some “psychology preacher” on the other side of the world, then why would one take the initiative or trouble themselves with going to some “church assembly”? Why would one take the risk of showing up at an assembly where he or she might hear something that is negative from a preacher of the word of God? Why would an “Internet attendee” listen to a speaker with whom he or she may disagree on a particular point, but is not able to immediately post a negative “comment” on the speaker’s timeline?

Our disconnection with one another has often evolved to the point that if an assembly does not incorporate the participation of as many as possible of those who attend, or offer the most exciting and dynamic speaker that is surrounded by a “worshipful experience,” then it is not worth attending. If the “smartphone generation” would attend, they will simply gravitate to an assembly that offers the most fulfilling experience that they desire from an assembly event. If no such assembly can be found, then the Facebook generation would just as well stay at home and download a positive speech that is sterile of the word of God.

[Next in series: June 9]

Identity Of The Lost Love

The following are very important realities of a dead church that has lost its first love: When a group of disciples no longer generates a mission environment that naturally produces evangelists who go out with the message of the gospel, then the group has lost its first love.

If the local church is no longer supporting missions, then the members have become introverted. In such situations, their local budget is usually reserved for the support of works that are only within driving distance. They focus on programs and buildings for themselves. They have lost the flavor of the gospel, and thus they no longer have a gospel environment among the members that naturally produces those who will go forth with the gospel. When we cease living in gratitude of the gospel, we cease sending the gospel to all the world.

We have found that introverted churches become quite narcissistic, that is, they focus on themselves in order to survive the spirit-stifling effects of their own death. Exciting assemblies of dead churches are like flowers at a funeral. Death is all around, but the beauty of the assembly and the smell of the music drowns out the reality of having died to our first love.

When a church starts focusing on making their assemblies a Hollywood production in order to keep the attendees coming back, then the reality of death has already set in. Death has set in because the attendees are focusing on what they can get out of the assembly, that is, what they can get out of one another. On the other hand, those who attend gospel assemblies cannot wait to get out and go into all the world.

When those of the religious world lose sight of the power of the gospel, they usually turn up the volume on the amplifiers. The attendees at the concert show up for themselves. They confuse mesmerized experientialism with gospel evangelism. The mission of the church, therefore, becomes a series of Sunday performances that are inward focused and experiential. Hollywood assemblies are often the result of a church that has lost its mission. The mission of the Sunday performers is often to inspire the attendees to return next Sunday.

Dead disciples become religious, and thus are not drawn together in assembly because of their gratitude for the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. They are drawn together primarily to get something for themselves or a leading spot in the Sunday morning performance. In the assembly, some churches seek to fill a vacuum in the inner soul of the attendees who have lost their aroma for Christ.

This is particularly revealed in those religious assemblies on Sunday where the attendees feel no need to celebrate the gospel through the Lord’s Supper. There are those churches that have digressed to a legal celebration of the Supper. However, we are certain that the Lord respects even a legal communion with Him on a simple legal basis, rather than ignore the gospel of Jesus until “Easter Sunday.” Those religious groups who have only “Easter Sundays” wherein the Supper is observed have forgotten the purpose for the assembly of the blood-bought saints. Satan has changed their focus for assembly from Jesus to themselves. They calibrate themselves, but have forgotten to celebrate through the Supper the reason why we come together. When Jesus said of the Supper, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19), they have changed the “Me” (Jesus) to “me” (myself and I).

The reader might think that we are somewhat obsessed with the digression of the dead church into an assembly-oriented religion. But consider something that we recently read in reference to church growth studies in America. A survey was completed that focused on the decline of the “conservative” churches in America. The figures that were given were quite startling. Several church-growth studies have been conducted over the last three decades in America. But recent studies were quite revealing.

The particular writer who introduced us to the most current church-growth statistics informed us that the decline of the conservative church of America was the result of two problems. After calculating the diminishing numbers of both attendance and the number of church assemblies, the problem for the decline was focused on the following: (1) Declining churches that traditionally use no instruments in their assemblies are falling in numbers of both attendees and the number of local assemblies. (2) Declining churches are those who do not incorporate women into their Sunday assemblies.

What is surprising about the two reasons for the decline was that nothing was mentioned about the decline in the evangelistic outreach of churches. The decline was focused on assembly performances and participation, not on missions. This is the conclusion of church growth religionists who judge the body of Christ by the rules of what happens in the assembly. But is the church about what happens between an opening and closing prayer on Sunday morning?

[Next in series: June 5]

Walking Dead

The danger that always faces activity-oriented churches is what Jesus said of the church in Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you live, but you are dead” (Rv 3:1). The disciples in Sardis took pride in their notoriety. They certainly had a good reputation in the community of Sardis. But they were dead to the reason for which the church is to function in a lost world. They too, as the Ephesian Christians, had forgotten the purpose of the body of Christ.

Because the Ephesians had lost their purpose, they were called on to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent” (Ep 2:5). Though others spoke well of the disciples in Sardis, in reference to what they were to be as the church of Christ, they were dead. Churches that have lost their purpose to save the lost have simply forgotten the reason for their existence as the church of God in a world of lost sinners. If we lose our love for lost souls, and thus our purpose as the church, then we are dead!

We have found that when there is a group of disciples who have lost their purpose for being evangelistic disciples for Jesus, they will continue to assemble with one another. In fact, they will often obsess with one another in relational activities to the point that they forsake to establish relationships with the lost, or even consider everyone who believes in Jesus to be saved regardless of their obedience to the gospel. In their absentminded evangelistic outreach, the entire group carries on in a survival mode with exciting assemblies in order to convince themselves that they are still disciples of the One who came to seek and to save those who are lost. A few members may smell the stench of death, but they are so outnumber that their voices are no longer heard.

When we lose our love for lost souls, and still seek to be religious, we will fall in love with ourselves. We will focus on ourselves in order to convince ourselves that we are all OK. Our Sunday assemblies will thus become experiential events wherein we seek to remind ourselves that we are still the right church. We will refer to our heritage as the authority for our continuation. We will convince ourselves that if we progress through a legal system of ceremonies every Sunday that are opened and closed with a prayer, then we have assured ourselves that we right. As long as we maintain the heritage of our fathers, then certainly, we assume, we cannot be wrong.

A local church that has been in existence for decades is composed of members who have a strong relationship with one another. The members often become protective of these relationships. They assume that the majority of their group of gray-headed members is not dead because they still show up on Sunday.

The church is indeed about relationships with one another. It is about taking care of one another until each one of us step into a grave. However, our obsession with our relationships sometimes turns the church into a clique that inherently is exclusive. In our exclusiveness we feel uncomfortable about sitting down with a lost soul. We even feel uncomfortable about sharing the gospel with our lost neighbors. And when we do, our mission is to convert the lost to our social religious club of relationships is gone.

We must never forget that obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins has priority over all relationships between ourselves. Top priority is that the sinner must establish a covenant relationship with God. Our relationships with one another are only the serendipity of our common obedience to the gospel. The disciples of Christ are to be known for their love of one another (Jn 13:34,35). But our love for one another is validated as true love when we reach out with love to bring the lost into the sheep fold of God.

[Next in series: June 3]