Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Church

On November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. This is a day for those of us in the Church to celebrate the lives of saints living and ones who came before us. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the letter of Hebrews. They are the early church fathers. They are martyrs of the faith. They are the pastors, Sunday school leaders, youth and children's ministry directors, grandparents, and friends who are faithful to Christ.

This celebration was a favorite of John Wesley and one he "peculiarly loved".  It is a time we recognize and give thanks for the body of Christ which is His Church.

Now, we live in a day in which society, even some who call themselves Christians, have a low or negative view of the church. You might have even heard some say you don't need the church to be a Christian. This view is contrary to scripture and apostolic tradition.

So what is so special about the church? I will answer the question from the historic Nicene Creed. This was a statement of faith of the early church that distinguished the apostles teaching's handed down to the body of Christ from heresies. The confession of this creed states, "And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

First, the Church is One. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Jesus Christ has one Bride, not many. He loves her and gave Himself for her. He will never divorce her and is always faithful to her. 

Second, the Church is Holy. Ephesians 5:26-27 says, "26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Christ Jesus is actively sanctifying His Body. She will be perfected in love. Holiness is not an option for the Church. She is forever set apart for God. 

Third, the Church is Catholic. This might unnerve some of you. However, another term that can be used for catholic is universal. The Church consists of people of all languages, races, and geographical locations. Galatians 3:28 says, "28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." At one time, God's people were considered to be of one national race. Since Christ has come, salvation has come to all people of every nation, tribe, and tongue. 

Lastly, the Church is Apostolic. Within the Church can be found the teachings of the apostles. Jude says, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." There is no new revelation concerning Jesus Christ and the message of salvation. Ephesians 2:20 tells us the body of Christ is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. 

What do some of our early church fathers, who we celebrate on All Saints Day, say about the church?
Saint Irenaeus (died A.D. 202):
“[The Church] is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them… We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come… Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons.” (Against Heresies , Book III)
Origen (died A.D. 254):
“Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, that is, outside the Church no one is saved.” (In Iesu Nave homiliae )
Saint Cyprian (died A.D. 258):
“He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.’ Whosoever breaks the peace and harmony of Christ acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ.” (Unity of the Catholic Church )
“He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.” (Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Latina , Father Migne)
“Nay, though they should suffer death for the confession of the Name, the guilt of such men is not removed even by their blood…No martyr can he be who is not in the Church.” (Ancient Christian Writers )

Martin Luther said, "Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation."

Perhaps today we have too low a view of the Church. Instead of criticizing the Bride of Jesus Christ, maybe we should be more reverent of her. Maybe why you no longer sense the Lord's blessing on your life is because you are cursing His very Body? The apostle Paul thought he was terrorizing a sect of people. Instead he found he was persecuting Christ Jesus Himself. He quickly repented. If we are guilty of having a low view of the Church or criticizing her, let's repent quickly like Paul. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thoughts on grace

There are few subjects more misunderstood among people as grace. Most people here in the south have heard the saying "we are saved by grace" about as much as we hear someone say "roll tide" or "war eagle".

Yet what does it mean to be saved by grace? Unfortunately, there are common heretical understandings of what it means . One of the more popular heresies is that grace allows us to do whatever we want, regardless of whether it is contrary to God's law because Jesus' death allows us to do as we please without fear of consequence. As if grace is somewhat of a divine cover up. Those who espouse such ideas might even twist scriptures out of context as proof of their teaching. It's almost as if they picture God telling people He loves them just as they are and to please never change whatsoever.

Friends this is not so. God does love us and has done so from eternity, but so much so that He doesn't allow those who belong to Him to remain in their fallen state. So what idea does the bible give us on grace?

Titus 2:11-14New International Version (NIV)

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

You see the New Testament teaching of the grace of God gives us the truth that grace isn't a system of thought that allows lawlessness. Rather it is an active energy at work in us through the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Study Bible's footnote on Titus 2:11-15 states "grace is the uncreated energy of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, through which He gives His gifts to man in tender mercy and good will. It is a formative power, the rule of life of the age to come, requiring our determined participation." This is the same idea on grace that 1 Peter 1:2-4 gives us. It is grace that allows us to be partakers of the divine nature. 

In the New Testament times, there were teachers who infiltrated the churches known as Gnostics. The people known as Gnostics claimed to know God without becoming godly. Sound familiar? 

I want to be clear.  We are definitely saved by grace through faith. However, the grace given by God teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. God's grace empowers us to live godly, self controlled, and righteous lives in this present age. 

May we all have God's grace multiplied in our hearts and minds. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Take care of the temple

1 Corinthians 6:19-20New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple[a] of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

I will venture to say most Christians desire to grow spiritually. We need to be changed from the inside out into the image of our Creator found in the person of Jesus Christ. With that said, part of growing spiritually is taking care of our bodies. 
The writer of 3 John says, "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul". 

There are things we can do to help our health and overall well being. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle consists of exercising regularly, proper dieting, and rest. Many of the things that physically ail us in modern society can be managed better with proper nutrition and exercise.  Many studies support these statements. According to the Center for Disease Control, exercise had the following benefits:

 And according to the World Health Organization
  • Opting for a balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle.
  • Vitamins and minerals in the diet are vital to boost immunity and healthy development,
  • A healthy diet can protect the human body against certain types of diseases, in particular noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and skeletal conditions.
  • Healthy diets can also contribute to an adequate body weight.
  • Healthy eating is a good opportunity to enrich life by experimenting with different foods from different cultures, origins and with different ways to prepare food.
  • The benefits of eating a wide variety of foods are also emotional, as variety and colour are important ingredients of a balance diet
After having congestive heart failure in 2003, I have tried to be more conscious of making healthy choices. Now don't get me wrong, I still enjoy my fair share of holiday foods and treating myself periodically to ice cream or donuts. Yet overall, I try to make sure to exercise regularly and eat a clean diet.

There are a few tools you can download on your smartphone or tablet to assist you in living a healthy life. My favorite apps are myfitnesspal and jetfit. Myfitnesspal allows you to track the foods you eat, count calories, manage macronutrients(fat, carbohydrates, protein) and micronutrients(vitamins, potassium, fiber,etc.). It is easy to to track and enter foods you eat. Jetfit is a workout tool that allows you to track your exercise. I am currently on a weightlifting program and the app monitors my lifts, rest time between sets, and progress. 

What is keeping you from the gym and eating a balanced diet?