A Monk…Seriously?

Greetings In the Name of the Lord:

Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I thought God’s will for my life was to separate myself from people. Now to those of you who know me well that must seem incomprehensible. However, there are those, and I am not one of them, that God calls to a life of physical separation from the world to devote all of their time and energy to prayer and study of the Word. This monastic lifestyle is a special calling and requires a special grace from God. Yet to the overwhelming majority of us, God has not called to a physical separation but a spiritual one. He has not called to change where we live, but rather how we live. Paul often talks about a separation from this evil age. He tells us not “copy the behavior and customs of this world.” He is not saying that we should hide away from the world, but that our lives are to reflect and follow a higher standard – God’s standard. However, Paul is not the only Biblical writer to express this sentiment. The Apostle John talks about the “world” (the Greek word kosmos) from a negative perspective. He tells us, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you” (1Jn. 2:15). Again he tells to separate ourselves not from those in the world but from the sinful ways and desires that they crave. This is a concept also seen in the Old Testament as God told the Israelites not to share in the practices of those around them. It says in Lev. 18:2-3, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the LORD your God. 3 So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.” Paul tells us the way we do this is not by removing ourselves from the situation, but rather by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives by changing the way we think. This happens not with a change of address, but a change of attitude and perspective. Furthermore, we must understand that this is not an instantaneous, once of all, change, but a “slow continuous work of a lifetime as God’s Spirit changes us in the likeness of Christ” (Mohrlang, 191). This happens as we daily yield to the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just another reason our vision is to “transform lives, one at a time.”

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

 

A Living Sacrifice

Greetings In the Name of the Lord:

Romans 12:1 (NLT)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

In German, Paul’s theology is referred to as ethik der dankbarkeit, or in English, ethics of gratitude (Mohrlang, 189). He has spent the first eleven chapters of this letter talking about the Good News of Grace, and how we are saved by faith and not by our works. He has so eloquently expressed how we are saved not by our own goodness but by God’s grace. Now he expresses what our response should be to God because of all that He has done for us. He pleads with, appeals to, and urges us to show God how grateful we are by giving ourselves to Him. When he says, “give your bodies to God,” he isn’t referring only to our skin and bones, but rather to our entire beings. He is referring not to that which people see on the outside but also to what is inside of us. In other words, he is pleading with us to give ourselves totally to God body, soul, and spirit. In Paul’s mind the Christian life is not following a set moral-ethical rules, but rather it is a “joyful response to God’s kindness in saving us, a way of saying thank you for all that God has so mercifully given us in Christ.” So what is Paul suggesting that we do? He says that we are to, “be a living and holy sacrifice” to God. In the Old Testament people would give up the best of their herd to be given to the Priest to sacrifice the animal to God. Therefore, what Paul is suggesting is that we give up, sacrifice, our total selves to God. That means being willing to give up that things that our sinful flesh wants to hang on to. It means to surrender every part of our lives over to the will of God. The word holy means “to be set apart for God’s purpose.” So in becoming a living and holy sacrifice, we give up our entire selves and dedicate ourselves to God. Are you being a living and holy sacrifice?

 

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

If You Don’t Who Will?

Greetings In the Name of the Lord:

Romans 10:14-17 (NLT)
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

Often I remember the time when my wife and I were living in Akron and went downtown for the afternoon. From out of nowhere a man walks towards us doing his very best David Wilkerson imitation. He was wearing a three-piece suit, had his hair all slicked back, and was carrying a briefcase. Not too weird so far, but then he walks up to me and hands me a gospel tract. Again not too weird…but wait, the story’s not over. After seeing what it was he handed me, and already being a Christian, I politely handed it back to him and told him that he should save it for someone who really needed it. Now this is where it gets weird. He gets right in my face, and raising his voice in a southern-drawl, says to me, “Are you saved? Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” Please understand that it is not his sincerity that I question here, and in fact I wish more Christians shared this man’s burden for non-Christians, but his methods needed some help. What people who don’t know Christ need from His followers is sincerity and transparency. In other words, they need us to be ourselves not an imitation of some TV evangelist. They need us to act as if we truly care about their needs and situation in life. Paul says, “faith comes by hearing the Good News about Christ.” However, if we present it in a way that causes people to walk away, not because of the message but because of the messenger, what have we really accomplished? There is no doubt that people need to hear the Good News, but they also need to see the Good News as it is lived out in the lives of God’s people. Should we tell people about Jesus with our words? Absolutely! Should they be able to see the Good News by the way we live so that they want to hear what we have to say? Yes, and even more so. What do people hear when they observe your life?

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

 

Simplicity and Availability

Greetings In the Name of the Lord:

Romans 10:9-13 (NLT)
9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.
11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”
12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him.
13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”

This text expresses two great truths of the Good News: it’s simplicity and its availability. It’s simplicity is seen in the way it is received by the sinner. Paul says that two things are required to receive salvation. First we must confess it, and then we have to believe it. To “confess” it means to verbalize on the outside what God has already done on the inside. This does two important things, it confirms to others what God has done in your life and reminds the Devil that he has lost. One of my favorite verses from Revelation is Rev. 12:11, “And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” It tells not only those around you but also the Devil that I am the property of Jesus! The second thing we must do is believe in our heart. This is more than just an intellect ascent but also a statement of trust and surrender. When Paul talked about the heart he was referring to “the causative source of a person’s psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts – ‘heart, inner self, mind'” (Louw and Nidda, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Symantic Domains). It means to totally give ourselves to the great truth of Gospel. However, the other aspect that we take from this text is its great availability. Paul says, “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.’” No one who willingly accepts and acts upon the truths of the Gospel will be turned away. It doesn’t matter what you social status is or who your parents were. God accepts anyone who will receive Him. As John wrote, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Simplicity and availability are two tremendous gifts of the Good News.

 

In Christ,

Pastor Mark