how faith defines us

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Titus 1:1-4 From Paul, servant of God, and missionary sent by Jesus Christ, representing the faith of God’s chosen ones, and the awareness of the truth which godliness brings; 2 In hope of eternal life, which God (who is free from deceit) promised before the ages began; 3 But he has revealed that promise in our own times through preaching, a task which has been handed over to me by order of God our Saviour; 4 To Titus, a legitimate child representing that shared faith: Grace, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

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I’m starting a new series of messages today based on Paul’s little letter to Titus.

Titus is not mentioned in the book of Acts, but he is mentioned 13 times in Paul’s letters, which leads me to assume that he was a trusted and valuable member of Paul’s missionary team.

Given what Paul says about the inhabitants of Crete in the letter to Titus, he had his hands full. The Cretans had a reputation of being untrustworthy, lazy, and scoundrels who lacked self-control. In fact they actually had a Greek word kretidzo, which was formed from the name. The word meant to lie. So, the Gentile inhabitants of Crete were going to be hard for Titus to deal with.

But there’s more. The Jewish population at Crete was apparently infested with teachers of that false doctrine that had given Paul so much trouble in Galatia and Rome. Paul called them the troublers. So you had former pagans having trouble living like Christians in a non-Christian culture, and you also had people who were teaching them that they had to become more Jewish to be blessed by God, which goes against the gospel of salvation by grace.

On top of all that, there was a scarcity of leaders in a growing church community. Titus had to find appropriate leaders for churches on the island, train them, and appoint them to head those churches, and he had a limited time to do it. Titus had what you might call a high stress/ high pressure mission.

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So, what can we learn from this little letter – one of the last to be written by the apostle Paul? I’m assuming that Crete was a kind of test case. Titus’ mission was to see if the gospel, and faith in Christ – would work there. Can a community with so many problems actually change simply by believing and living the gospel message? Can the Christian faith change us? Those are the questions I want to ask as we examine the message of Titus in this series.

My hypothesis is that faith can change us. No matter who we are, no matter what our background, no matter how many mistakes we have made in the past, no matter how many questions we have today, faith in Christ can transform us individually and as a community.

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From these first few lines of Paul’s letter we get the impression that the Cretans’ faith in the gospel had already begun to change them. I think this community had put their faith in Christ, and that faith had begun to redefine them as a people. That’s where it can begin with our community as well.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY MAKING US AWARE OF THE TRUTH

Paul sometimes says things that are really quite profound, and if we are not careful we will miss them. This is an example. He uses all the words that we would expect, except he puts them in the wrong order. We might expect Paul to say that recognizing the truth leads to faith and faith leads to godliness. But what Paul says in verse 1 is that both faith and the awareness of truth are the result of godliness. Many miss this fact, and never get real faith or confidence that they know the truth.

It all starts not with a confession of faith, but a commitment to godly living. Submitting to the Lordship of Christ leads to obedience to his commands. The results of that obedience are faith and awareness of the truth. So, if you are struggling with your faith in Christ, there is an answer. That answer is obey what he taught. The resulting godliness with empower your faith and solve your truth issues.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US HOPE BEYOND TODAY

Today is a problem for everyone, because none of us totally live up to our own expectations, and we never completely get what we want. But the secret of the Christian life is that there is hope beyond today. That hope rests on the foundation of the faithfulness of God, who promised to make us his everlasting children.

If your faith rests on what is happening in your life today, you are on shaky ground. Because even if you are having a good day, you know it won’t last. You know the other shoe is going to drop, and failure is just around the corner.

But if your faith rests not on your today, but on what God promises for your tomorrow, that faith is based on him, not you. So, even if you are having a bad day, God remains faithful, and you can still end the day encouraged.

You just have to keep telling yourself that God is faithful, and he is not a liar. What he promised is what is going to happen.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US PURPOSE FOR TODAY

I like the way Paul narrows the focus of his life and ministry, making it a very simple matter. Reading about Paul in the book of Acts and his epistles, we realise that he had a very important role in the establishment of the early church. He was a missionary, and planted churches all over the known world of his time. He brought around him a large group of missionaries, and put them to work on that same missions task. Titus was one of the members of his team. He trained many of those people, and he oversaw their ministries, as is made clear by epistles like Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy.

But Paul described himself as a preacher. He did not allow the complicated nature of what he did to confuse him as to his purpose. Paul found his purpose in preaching the Gospel. The details as to how he would do it were going to lead him to do what he did. But his purpose was always in the back of his mind. That kept him going when it became no longer possible for him to do this or that. His faith defined him as a preacher. When he could no longer go and preach, then he would write and preach.

Every one of us has to find our purpose, and for each of us it will be different. Ask yourself, what is it that God wants you to do, no matter what. Then, find a way to do it.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY REWRITING OUR PAST

Notice that Paul describes Titus as a legitimate child. Why would he say that? It could be that Titus was not a physical legitimate child, so Paul described him as a spiritual legitimate child. Titus could not change what he was. But his faith in Christ did change what he had become. If I’m reading that right, it makes sense for Paul to send Titus to Crete. His ministry there would be a demonstration of how God can take a messed-up life and make it special and godly and beautiful.

That’s something that faith can do for us. Each of us has things about our life that we regret. But a life focused on Christ, obeying and preaching his word – can rewrite our past. It can turn our past ugliness into something nice and desirable. It can heal our hurts and use them to heal the hurts of others.

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Each of us has a choice. We do not have a choice about all the challenges and difficulties that we face. They are here, and here to stay until Jesus returns. But we do have a choice as to what we allow to define us. We can be defined by our fears or our faith. In Titus, we are challenged to let our faith in Christ define who we are.

it’s like a box of chocolates

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it’s like a box of chocolates

If you are ever inclined to be philosophical, try an internet search for quotes that begin with the words “life is…”

Some of my favourites are:

  • “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  (John Lennon).
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  (Albert Einstein).
  • “Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”  (John Wayne).
  • “Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”  (Margaret Mitchell).
  • “Life … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  (William Shakespeare, Macbeth).
  • …And then there’s my favourite “life is…” quote of all, attributed to Forrest Gump’s mother: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

It seems that almost everybody has an idea or two about life, but we all do not agree. Even if we were unified, who’s to say that we would be right? What we need is advice from the One who invented life. We can find such advice, but we have to look in the right place – the Bible.

The most prevalent message in the Bible about life is that it is limited. It is a precious thing because it runs out. Life has a beginning and an end, and the end always comes too soon. The Bible says “our days on earth are a shadow.” Our days pass by quickly, disappearing as soon as the light hits them. Job said “Man who is born of a woman …flees like a shadow and continues not.” You cannot look at a shadow, and come back in an hour or two and find it in the same place. Like life, shadows are always coming and going. Shadows do not stay put. You never know what you’re going to get when you open the box of chocolates, but you know it won’t last very long.

Lots of things just seem unfair, particularly the more we realize that the limits of life do not allow for do-overs. Often we realize too late that our days are like an evening shadow, soon to be over – swallowed up in death, and nothing we can do will change that fact. Robert Harris said “The true currency of life is time, not money, and we’ve all got a limited stock of that.” As we conclude our study of the gift of life, I want to leave you with a word of application. Since the Bible teaches that we are mortal, and our lives are limited, don’t waste your life currency. Don’t waste your limited time doing things that will not matter in eternity.

And now a short summary of the 23 lessons in this series:

  • Life is a gift, not a given. Socrates was wrong: only God has immortality. We are dependent on him for life.
  • Having a soul does not make us immortal. Animals have souls.
  • In our sinful state, being immortal would be a curse, not a blessing.
  • Death is not going to a better place. It is not the answer to our problems. Christ is. Death is sleep – an unconscious wait for the resurrection. The dead go to a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death. In that state we know nothing, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD.
  • Hell is a reality, but it does not take place at death. It is the future lake of fire in which God will punish the lost with everlasting destruction.
  • The hope of resurrection is essential to the gospel message, and it should never be replaced by a hope of going to heaven at death.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Thank you for joining me in this series as we have searched the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

a resurrection perspective

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a resurrection perspective

 

Paul David Tripp calls it “eternity amnesia.”  It is people living with no hope for the future. They live for today because they think today is all that we have. In his recent book, Forever, he outlines the symptoms of this problem: 

 

  1. Living with unrealistic expectations,
  2. Focusing too much on self,
  3. Asking too much of people,
  4. Being controlling or fearful,
  5. Questioning the goodness of God,
  6. Living more disappointed than thankful,
  7. Lacking motivation and hope,
  8. Living as if life doesn’t have consequences.

We can understand it when people who do not know Christ live this way. But all too often, those of us who claim to know Jesus live the same way. We are victims when we should be living in victory. The victory was already obtained by Christ. Because of what he did for us, we need never live as if these temporary lives are all that we have. We can see everything that happens now in the light of the glory that awaits us in eternity. We can tolerate pain and failure because we understand them to be temporary setbacks. We can better grasp the significance of success when we see it from the standard of eternity as well. We can look on every soul we encounter as another being who is potentially immortal and glorified, which might help us tolerate their present imperfections. We can have a better attitude about our own present failures to hit the mark.

 

Another Paul, the apostle Paul – said something about eternity amnesia too.  He said “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If you take away the resurrection, Christianity is an empty religion with no real hope, and believers are of all people most to be pitied. The reason is that all human beings are born mortal. We have a death sentence hanging over us because of Adam’s rebellion. We imitate Adam by being creatures who return to the dust. But the hope of the resurrection gives us a forever perspective.

People who live without the forever perspective can only hope to accomplish a limited number of things. No matter how happy or successful or significant their lives, that happiness, success and significance will be buried in the ground when they die. But people who have a resurrection perspective – a gospel perspective, can accomplish an unlimited number of things. We can make an eternal difference in other people’s lives by pointing them to the Saviour. We can get our minds off of the things which enslave others, because our focus is on serving Christ.  He was the first to be resurrected.  We are next.  Knowing our future can free us to truly live in the present.

 

The gospel’s victory is not a happy life today.  The gospel’s victory is an eternal happy life at the resurrection.  Here is how the apostle Paul explains it: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory”” (1 Corinthians 15:52-54.) The resurrection is God’s victory, and ours. The gospel is the good news about that victory. It is the story of the crucial battle won on the cross, and demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection. It is the story of the final victory over sin and pain through the resurrection at Christ’s return. Coming to faith in Christ is entering into that story. We know how the story ends. That is why we can have a resurrection perspective.

 

 

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com.  Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

 

Listen to the audio at Afterlife.

wrong about hell

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wrong about hell

Today I want to respond to some of the criticisms we conditionalists get when we dare to assert that hell will eventually come to an end.

The universalists say we are wrong about hell because they believe hell’s purpose is destroying sins, not sinners. They agree with us that hell is a temporary event. They teach that it will end when the last sinner has paid for his sins, and has been restored.

But we conditionalists don’t see evidence of that restoration in scripture. Scripture says that God makes the wicked perish, blotting out their name forever (Psalm 9:5). Jesus taught that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna hell (Matthew 10:28). But neither the universalists nor the traditionalists think that this is really possible. Both of these groups believe that souls are indestructible. Conditionalists teach that human souls are created by God, and they can be destroyed by God.

Traditionalists say we are wrong about hell because we redefine the word forever. We respond by pointing out that most of the time in the Bible when the Hebrew word ‘olam or the Greek word aionios appears, neither refers to a perpetual process. Most of the time they simply mean permanent, or everlasting, and we certainly have no problems with those translations.

Here are some examples:

  • the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
  • the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • The permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).
  • The permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).
  • the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).
  • entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).

But, yes, we object to the word eternal because that English word conveys the idea of an on-going process. By definition, destruction cannot be a perpetual process. It has to end, or it cannot take place.

Traditionalists also say we are wrong about hell because God’s justice morally demands it. We agree with all other Bible-believing Christians that God’s justice requires a judgment day. We object to those who insist that day must continue forever. If the punishment for sins requires an eternity of suffering, then all of us are lost. Our Lord himself suffered punishment in our place on the cross, but his suffering came to an end when he died. How can we say that his death atoned for our sins? That’s what the Bible says. It says God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). It says the wages of sin is death, not suffering eternally (Romans 6:23). It says that final punishment will be a lake of fire, resulting in the second death. That is what God’s justice demands.

So, no, we are not wrong about hell. We are a voice of reason, asking people to take another look at what the Bible really says about this important topic.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

Listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

WE ARE … watching for his return

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We have been exploring the ideas expressed in our church identity statement. We, as a church identify ourselves as “an open family of believers seeking to follow Jesus Christ and live out His teaching while we watch for his return.”

Identity statements like that are important for churches because they summarise ideas which we can band together behind. They also serve to help us decide the kinds of things we as a church should be doing, and what kinds of things we do not have to do.

I particularly appreciate the last phrase in our identity statement because it shows our expectation of what the scripture calls the blessed hope – the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Here is the day’s text:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind– 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you– 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:3-9).

I had a number of texts to choose from, because the New Testament has a lot to say about the promise of Christ’s return. But I chose this text, because it is one which is probably not used very much, but it definitely relates to the topic.

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When we preach about the second coming, there are about five “usual suspects” that we round up.

The story of the ten bridesmaids is a helpful passage, because it shows that some people who think they are ready are not ready. It is a call to be authentic, and to be really prepared, not just to look prepared. You may recall that in the story all ten bridesmaids expected to be invited to the wedding, but five were not really prepared for the long wait before the bridegroom came.

I also like the warning that Jesus gave us when he described his second coming as a trap. He said “34 But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 NET.

He also described his second coming like a burglar who comes at night. Back in Jesus’ day, people would bring their valuables (including their animals) into their homes at night. They would sleep up in a loft, or on the roof of their houses. Burglars would wait until the wee hours of the morning, burst into the homes and make off with the loot. Jesus used the story to express the same kind of warning as the previous passage: Don’t get caught unprepared for the second coming.

Another favourite passage for preaching about the return is the Olivet Discourse, also called the eschatological discourse, where Jesus answers three questions about his return. One of the questions that his disciples asked was how long it would be until the end of the age. Jesus told his disciples that a number of signs would occur over and over again, like contractions in a birth. His point was that those signs are not proof that his coming was soon, because the signs would keep coming over and over, like contractions during labour.

There was another set of signs that Jesus gave during the same discourse. These signs identified a more immediate group of events, particularly identifying the date of the return. So, while Jesus did say that no one would ever know the day or the hour, we would always be able to identify the season when Jesus could return. It would be just as obvious as when a fig tree spouts all its leaves. Anyone looking at world events today can clearly see that the season is right for Jesus’ return.

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But I want us to focus today on the 1 Corinthians text today because it shows that there are some other reasons why believers should be watching for Christ’s return. Firstly, it talks about our being called into fellowship with Jesus. Now, what exactly does that mean?

In Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, a group of people were called together into a fellowship for the purpose of destroying a powerful ring. In spite of the differences in the people, it was the singular purpose of the fellowship that united them.

But there is something even more significant here. Paul is saying that every born-again believer is called into fellowship with Jesus Christ. We are called to be where Jesus is. But that does not happen yet. We are bound on this planet, and Jesus is with his Father in heaven. That poses a severe problem for fellowship. Some have suggested that when believers die, they go to be with the Lord in heaven. That would be a solution to the problem. But that is not the solution that the apostle Paul gave. He taught that Jesus is going to come back to earth – literally and physically. Then we can be a fellowship again.

His point in today’s text is that we are promised a permanent fellowship with Christ. So, he has to come back to fulfil that promise.

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And there is yet another reason why Jesus has to come back. Paul notes the fact that the Corinthian Christians have been enriched by the grace of God. In other words, God has invested himself in the Corinthian Christians. The same is true for all Christians everywhere. God has begun an investment in us. It only makes sense for him to complete that investment.

Let me put it this way. Suppose (and I’m really going out on a limb here) I had invested a million dollars in a company. Do you think I would just walk away from that company, and let its leaders do whatever they want with the money I invested? Of course not. I would be making a nuisance of myself, always wanting to be involved in the company’s business because I am so heavily invested in the company. The future of the company would be my business.

Now, God has invested the life of his only Son in us. He has also given us the Holy Spirit who reveals his truth to us and empowers us for ministry. He’s not going to drop everything and go off and play in a distant galaxy for eternity. Jesus is coming back, and we know that because of what he has already done for us.

This is how Paul described this reality to the Ephesian Christians: “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will– 6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. 9 He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ–the things in heaven and the things on earth. 11 In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” Ephesians 1:4-11.

God had a purpose in mind when he called us to himself, and that purpose will not be fulfilled until Jesus returns.

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And finally, we can expect that investment by God to continue throughout our entire lives. The strength to persevere through the trials of life and keep proclaiming his word in spite of those trials will stay with us until Jesus returns.

clip_image012Are you watching for Christ’s return every day of your life? I think we often forget about the fact that his coming is coming. It is no wonder that sometimes we feel powerless to keep going. It is that blessed hope, that expectation of the return which can motivate our perseverance like nothing else.

LORD, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, so that no matter how hard the race, we can run well, and finish well.

Listen to the audio at Takanini Community Church.