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Living a Life that is a Credit to the Gospel

Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. Phil. 1:27-28 MSG

Last night in Bible study, Pastor Martha read the verse of the day from the MSG Bible, and we gained some fresh insight that I would like to share for today. As I said yesterday, I am calling this verse 27 the believer’s MO. Paul said, whether I am with you or away this is how I want your conversation to be, the way to conduct yourself: standing fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith.

First notice the MSG says, “Live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message.” Pastor Martha and I were inspired by hearing how the late Lester Summeral prayed and made it a part of our prayer as well. He prayed, “Lord, I pray that I do not bring a shame or a reproach to your name.” Rest assured, as soon as you name the name of Christ, people will be watching you. I am not talking about an incognito-Christian, for there is no such thing.

Secondly, the MSG brings out another part of the believer’s MO that really separates the true believer from the false ones: “Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance.” Some super-saints will opt to stay home if their favorite preacher is not preaching that day. One pastor told me that he had saints in his church that were so moved to give to the needs of traveling evangelist, but he could not get them to give to other needs in the church. After all charity is to begin at home and then spread abroad. As a Christian, we are even supposed to be obedient to our bosses, not giving “eyeservice” or as a “manpleaser,” “but in singleness of heart fearing God (Col. 3:22).” The classic definition of integrity we learned from VBS many years ago was, doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.

Finally, the rest of the verse is similar to the other version, “Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message.” Contending for people’s trust reminds me of personal witnessing approach that always works: “Share Jesus at all times, and if necessary use words.” But what about our corporate witness? The verse also speaks of us, together standing united and singular in vision. That is when we all speak the same thing and that we have no division among us. We are rather to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment as we learned from our verse in 1 Corinthian 1:10. What does this have to do with our witness as a church? In Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and us before he was crucified, he prayed:

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (Jon 17:21).”

In other words, how is the world going to know that God, the Father, sent his Son, Jesus Christ? When we stand united, singular in vision, striving together (side by side) for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ.

Let us pray, Lord, unite us in our outreach for you.

Striving Together With One Mind

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Phil. 1:27)

Whether present or away, this is the mode that Paul wanted the believers operate in, standing fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith. You could say, that’s the only acceptable modus operandi! The mode sounds good, but for me, it was still a little vague until I rewound the tape a few verses.

First Paul says he wants Christ to be magnified in his body, whether he lives or dies (Phil. 1:20).

Secondly, he states his whole purpose for living and his certainty of what awaits him if he should die, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” Choice number one, then would be to die and go on for his heavenly reward which is better for Paul.

Thirdly, he knows that helping the believers at Philippi was the fruit of his labors of the work he was doing here on earth (Phil. 1:22).

Which leaves him with two options, and he is not sure which one he would choose. Choice number one again, is “far better” for Paul (Phil. 1:23). The second choice was not the best for him, but he says, “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you (Phil 1:24).” For Paul to remain and minister would obviously be the best option for the Philippian believers. So does he think of what’s best for him or best for others?

Notice his announcement on the choice he has made:

“And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith (Phil. 1:25).”

He decided to remain to minister the Word of God to the Philippians for one reason, for the “furtherance and joy of their faith.” Another word for furtherance is progress. So we could say that Paul chose to stick around for one reason and one reason only, so they could further or progress in the faith.

So what does that have to do with standing fast, with one mind, striving together for the faith? I like to say, Paul wants them to be working together with one mind to reap the end time harvest by faith! Or we could say they were all working together with one mind for the advancement or furtherance of the gospel. OK, I have to refer to Nemo here. What happens when each fish does their own thing and swims in 100 different directions? Nothing! So, what happens when the fish all swim down, together? You know the story; the fish broke the net and swam to freedom.

When we all stand fast with one mind, side-by-side, working together for the advancement of the kingdom, the end time harvest will be reaped. That was to remain their focus, but there is another extremely important element. If this anointed teacher, author of over a third of the New Testament, stayed for the sole purpose to help the members to progress in their faith, and some decided not to progress, that would be disunity, discord, and disharmony! That would be tantamount to a group of fish just sitting there while the leader, Nemo, is screaming, “Swim down!” The fish that just sat there like a bump on a log, would be the weakest link and hinder the progress or breakthrough of the whole school. That’s selfish thinking!

Let us pray that we all stand fast today with one mind, working together in love to reap the end time harvest by faith. Let us all move forward and progress in our faith this year, in Jesus’ Name!

Perfectly Joined Together

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1 Cor. 1:10 KJV

Corinth was a port city known for its diverse culture. Along with the constant stream of people that flowed into the city came diverse ideas and beliefs. A lot of the Corinthian church’s problems were because the culture was influencing the church instead of the other way around. I think every church in America can attest to the constant battle with the pervasive culture all around us.

One commentary adds that the key phrase, “perfectly joined together” carries with it the idea of something being torn or rent which needs to be repaired. One reason I think this verse is so powerful is that it shows us where to apply the ointment so that the healing can begin. If it was in fact a tear in fabric of the church, the repair had to start in what the church was thinking. There had to be unity of thought before there could be unity of belief. Once the church believed the same thing and their thinking was in line with God’s Word, then right-actions would follow. Wrong thinking would produce wrong believing, and wrong belief produces wrong actions. So Paul urges the Corinthian church to have unity of thought.

This passage also lets us know that if we as church protect our unity of thought, we will have “no divisions” among us. If there are “no divisions,” then we won’t fall as church. The same applies to each family in the church, unity of family. Jesus put it this way, “every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (Matt. 12:25).” We also know that if we have “no divisions,” then we will be a strong church. I like how Solomon uses the rope analogy to indicate that we have strength when we are bound together: “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:12).”

Let us pray as one, Lord help us to be united in thought and to cast down imaginations, every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of you, and take every thought captive into the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

2019 Fast – United in Worship

Luke 24:52-53 (KJV) 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: 53 And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Acts 2:46-47 (KJV) 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Saying good bye is never easy with people you love. At the end of Luke, Jesus ascends into heaven right before their eyes. Strangely enough, the Bible says nothing about a single tear being shed but only that “they worshiped him … with great joy.” Prior to going back to the Father, Jesus told the disciples it was “expedient that I go away; if go not away the Comforter will not come unto you…” (John 16:7). From Jesus’ ascention, they were ten days away from Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so where did all this joy come from? At one of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, he told the believers gathered to “breath” and receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22).

So to say that they early church received the Holy Spirit at the day of Pentecost would be incorrect, but it is when “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost …” (Acts 2:4). There is a difference. Jesus earlier had told them that drinking water from his well that never ran dry would “be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14).” He also told of another experience, one that would be an outflow, not just a well within. On the last day of the feast, Jesus announced to the masses, “If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me as the scriptures hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).”

I believe at the John 20 appearance, Jesus confirmed the disciples’ salvation, for they confessed him as Lord, and believed without a doubt that God raised him from the dead. One thing for sure, the well was working, springing up inside them with the joy of salvation. Probably their heads were spinning at the departure of the risen Jesus, but their hearts were overflowed with the arrival of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus in John 16 were already proving to be true with this joy that he gave, the world could not take away from them (John 16:20-22). But note how Luke ends his Gospel, “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”

Luke really didn’t end with 24:53 because he continues his account in Acts. (In case you didn’t know, Luke also wrote Acts.) After the day of Pentecost had “fully come,” as the Church was born, Luke almost repeats himself: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple … Praising God and having favor with all the people … (Acts 2:46-47)” Why was it so important for Luke to make that point? First, as we have been saying in week one of our fast, worship is one of the five purposes of the Church. In other words it should remain one of our main focuses or top priorities.

Secondly, the point is so important to show that the Church did not miss a beat when Jesus left. Actually, as we referred to early, Jesus told them that it would be “expedient” or to their advantage that he goes back to the Father, so that he could send the Comforter to them. The very fact that they were not saddened by Jesus’ departure, again, was a sign of the fruit of the Spirit of joy working in their lives. It also shows how Jesus was already confirming another promise to be with the always:

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen (Mat. 28:20).”

Jesus always being with us is reassuring, but I believe this next promise is the key that unlocks the door for us having a life changing worship experiences each time we meet:

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”

As a shepherd, I have struggled much with keeping up with the sheep. Many times on Sunday morning, I would be preoccupied with wondering where they were and why they didn’t make it to the appointed meeting. One day, after tracing these very verses at the end of Luke and beginning of Acts, the Lord said to me, “Stop worrying about who is not here and focus on me being here every time you meet.” I knew then that although having all the saints together for worship was important, it should never be a higher priority than making sure that Jesus is present in each worship service.

The other point that Luke is making here is that the early church was united in worship. In Acts 2:26, this is the third time after just a few verses, he has used his unique phrase again, “with one accord.” This time it is in conjunction with their daily worship in the temple. The early church didn’t just show up, sit on the back row, and run out as soon as church was over; no, they worshiped daily in the temple with one accord. If I am understanding this passage correctly, I would say when church was out, they went from house to house breaking bread. That would be like saying, “Yesterday we all went to brother Ian’s house for lunch, today let’s all go to brother Bill’s house.” I am not sure exactly how it went down, but that word “fellowship” comes to mind again.

Let us pray today, Lord unite us in worship and help us to make having you presence the priority this year.

2019 Fast – Day Three and Four

Day Three – Fellowship

They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services[f] and prayer meetings. Acts 2:42 TLB

They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. GNT

Fellowship (koinonia) means community, communion, joint participation, or the share which one has in anything. One translation lumps the fellowship and breaking of bread part of the scripture, but most of the more common versions break this into four areas that the early church constantly devoted themselves to: the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread together, and prayer. Some translations specify that breaking of bread together included the Lord’s Supper. Today, we want to single out fellowship. From the above definition, I’d say we are safe to say that if you are going to get anything out of something, you have to devote time to it and you have to participate in it.

Fellowship here would first and foremost mean walking in constant fellowship with the Lord Jesus, being actively involved and participating in a local church, and regularly taking communion. Secondly, if you always leave right before your church family shares meals together or other church family activities, you are not allowing for genuine fellowship to happen. Let’s be real; you look for ways to hang out with people that you genuinely love. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t believe fellowship is defined as a church dinner, but dinners, socials, and small group discussions all help to create an environment where fellowship can happen.

John placed so much importance on fellowship that he says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).” That’s heavy! He flat out says if you walk in the light you HAVE fellowship with one another. And it is only in this place of fellowship that the blood of Jesus works for you and me!

There are many jobs that go along with being a pastor, and not all are so spiritual. For instance cutting off the lights and locking the doors after service. Even though, I usually am ready to go home and eat immediately after service, I can’t really complain when the saints linger after an anointed service and have genuine fellowship. It at these times, you know the saints share something in common and really like hanging out with each other. There are times when I think the saints are just socializing; there is a difference.

Let’s continue to pray that we “spend time in learning” and all be in “regular attendance” at the teaching sessions of God’s Word, but also that we genuinely be united in fellowship with one another.

Day Four – Breaking of Bread

So far we have seen that the early church continued to devote their time to prayer, studying God’s Word, and fellowship. The next item of importance to them was breaking of bread together. Now, I know that most good church-folk equate fellowship and breaking of bread together, but the early church did not. Based on 1 Jn. 1:7, we saw that fellowship, since it is a requirement for those of us who walk in the light (or saved), it must be equated to walking in love horizontally with other believers. John even goes so far to say that we are liars if we claim to love an invisible God while not loving the people right in front of your face (1 John 4:20). I have found that many people are quick to claim how in love they are with God, but they will make some real flimsy excuses as to why they can’t come to church and fellowship with the saints.

So then why does the Bible place so much emphasis on breaking bread together? Think of it this way. Church dinners, picnics, or socials, even small groups, don’t equate to fellowship, but they do create an atmosphere where fellowship can occur. If we always run out of the door as soon as, or even before, the church service is over, if we always find an excuse to miss the church fellowship meal, then we can be sure that fellowship with our church family won’t happen. Fellowship with one another is a necessary ingredient for our spiritual growth, and it is a necessary ingredient for a healthy church. Try it! You may even find that you like it.

Let’s pray today, Lord help us to love one another and have genuine fellowship as a church family.

Unified Excuses

And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one [consent] began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. Luke 14:17-20 (KJV)

Earlier, we listed six classic excuses that Jesus identified in the Gospels. In this passage, we find three, the man who had to prove his new oxen (work), the man who had to go check out his new land venture (business), and the man who just got married and could not attend the banquet (family). Let’s take another look at the passage, but this time, I want us to focus on the puzzling phrase: “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”

How did three different people with three different situations become unified in their excuses? I first thought there had to be some collaboration among parties A, B, and C to achieve this kind of unity. There seems to have been some type of back-channel or instant messaging between them. That type of behind the scenes collaboration is easy for us to imagine in today’s world, but the messaging of Bible times would not have been so ‘instant’ to say the least! Or was it? No, they did not hold a meeting or collaborate with each other, but they did all receive their priorities from the master of excuses, the devil. (In case you think that to be a bit too extreme, it is helpful here to recall how Jesus drew the line in the sand when it comes to serving God. He reduced it to only two choices: God or mammon (money) (Matt. 6:24).)

Demon spirits have been described as disembodied spirits with the power of thought suggestion. The devil by no means possesses the same omni-present powers as God, but he has a large number of fallen angels in his army! They can suggest to multiple people simultaneously. That is the reason the Bible tells us that we must cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought, bringing it into the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

The Bible also tells us that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord (Ps. 37:23). If all of us received our marching orders from God, our priorities from the King of kings, instead of the prince of the power of the air, what level of agreement could we achieve today? The reason Satan fights us, the Church, so hard is because he knows that one believer can put a 1000 to flight, and two can put 10,000 to flight. That is why the devil works so hard to keep us divided because he knows that united we would defeat him with no problem. Without a doubt, this is where the gates of hell focuses its resistance! The problem is not with brother or sister-so-and-so with a ton of excuses so much as it is with the gates of hell working in the un-renewed minds of saints who grant him entrance into their thought life.

Once, after I had preached so hard on Sunday, the faces of the congregation seemed to taunt me all day long the following day. I prayed and prayed, but I couldn’t seem to shake the attack. Then the Lord opened my eyes to see that there was a demon of stubbornness responsible for that all too familiar look. Stubbornness is famous for saying, “I will do it, but I will do it my way!” The Spirit of the Lord told me, “Don’t get mad at the people, but get mad at the devil.”

The excuses, given in unison from people who are getting their marching orders from the wrong source, IS THE WORK OF THE GATES OF HELL to stop the Church from moving forward as one. The good news is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” or the Church (Matt. 16:18). We, knowing the ‘wiles of the devil,’ must not allow him to succeed! We must come together in prayer to shut the works of the kingdom of darkness down!

The Lord reminded me once of all the buses, buildings, blessings, etc. that he had waiting for us as a church, but they were held up, just waiting to be released if we would only come together and cry out to him in prayer as he has told us to do repeatedly! What we as believers in the Body often forget is that if you want cooperation you must sow it. We stubbornly refuse God by making excuse for not getting in alignment with his vision for our church. And then we end up in the prayer line wondering why our blessings are being hindered or held up. It should come as no surprise. If you get still enough and quiet enough for long enough, God will remind you of the last thing he told you to do. Let’s make the necessary adjustments. Let’s allow the Spirit of God to give us an alignment and get us back in align with his plans and purpose today!

Assembly Required!

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. Heb. 10:25 

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1 Cor. 1:10

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