Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Do Christian’s Sin? 

 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin”

I am often asked about this question. It may not always take on this form but the struggle is the same; an attempt to understand sin and the Christian life. The answer is simple and complex. Yes, Christians do sin; and no they shouldn’t. In order to understand this better we need to travel back to our days in confirmation and review the meaning of two important words: Justification and Sanctification. 
Our Catechism offers these helpful definitions.
Justification: “The gracious act of God by which a sinner, for Christ’s sake, is declared righteous, without guilt, and free from condemnation. He, for Christ’s sake, acquits a repentant and believing sinner of his sin and guilt, and looks upon him in Christ as though he had never sinned.”

Sanctification: “The gracious work of the Holy Spirit whereby He day by day renews the believer more and more after the image of God.”

Consider these scriptures:
  • II Corinthians 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 
  • 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
  • Romans 3:24 Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
  • Hebrews 10:14 (NKJV). For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. 
On the cross, God laid all the sins of humankind (past, present, and future) upon Jesus Christ, whereby he suffered the full extent of God’s wrath and made the complete and final atonement for our sins. Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (trusting in His sacrifice alone to pay and atone for all our sin) we are declared righteous by God. 

God counts Christ's perfect life as if we lived it, and counts our sins as paid for by Him on the cross. From the time of our conversion, we are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). No longer when God looks at us does He see a sinner; He sees a perfect saint. 
However that does not mean we are free from sin. The Christian will still be tempted by the World, by the Devil, and his own nature. He will still daily struggle with sin, and at times succumb to its pull and fall. When this happens, the Christian should turn to the Lord in contrition and repentance, confessing the sin asking the Lord to help him stand strong in the face of temptation (Psalm 32 and 51). 

He must daily abide in Christ (John 15) through times in the Word and Prayer, whereby he (and his desires) is slowly changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is sanctification. It is a process and is never complete until we reach heaven. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6 
Until ones dies, he will struggle with sin, however this struggle is different for the Christian. For he is no longer a slave to sin, but has been set free from it’s control. When he sins, feelings of guilt and remorse fill his soul. He now desires new things - good things - Godly things; and through the power of the Holy Spirit can carry them out.
In Romans 7:15-20 Paul talks about this struggle. In verses fifteen he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” And again in verse eighteen and nineteen, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” 
The struggle of sin real. Although sin will always be a battle and we will never fully rid ourselves of it, the Christian should not accept or excuse sin in his life. Rather, he should strive to lead a sinless God-honoring life in all that he does. When he does fall, repent and move on. Even though we can’t reach perfection this doesn't mean we should not strive for it. Just as the athlete tries knowing he will miss, he strives for perfection. The Good news is, that we are made (and are being made) perfect in Christ even though we struggle with sin. 
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When should I start preparing for marriage? 

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Summer is a popular time for couples to tie the knot. Wedding bells are most often heard during the months of June, July, and August. Which makes this the perfect time to consider a question I received a few months ago. When should someone start preparing for marriage? 
Scripture teaches that the bond and covenant of marriage is much more than a “civil” ceremony. Rather it is a gift of God; a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh - an image of the union between Christ and the Church. This union should be held in the highest regard, faithfully kept pure. But, purity doesn’t began when we meet “Mr. Right,” have a ring on our finger, or say, “I do.” It starts long before most meet their spouse; it starts - now. 
Regardless of your age, relationship status, or desire to marry; preparations start now. In 1 Timothy 5:2 the Apostle Paul tells the young single Pastor Timothy to treat woman with “Absolute Purity.” Paul told the entire congregation Timothy served that there must not even be a “hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” among them for they are God’s People (Ephesians 5:3). 
Moreover, Hebrews 13:4 says “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Notice the words All and Kept Pure. This doesn’t only extend to those considering marriage or currently married; it applies to all people at all stages of life. For those who are married, they are called to keep their current bed pure, and those who are not are told to protect their future one. 
If one defiles himself before marriage, he betrays his future spouse and defiles their bed. Thus in preparing for marriage, one must carefully watch what they do, how they think, what they wear, what look at, and how they treat and act around the opposite gender (for Paul’s instructions on how to  think about and interact with the opposite gender read 1 Timothy 5:1–2). 
Purity is not only a New Testament teaching. Job made a covenant with His eyes “not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1), and the sixth commandment forbids adultery. Question 84 in our Catechism asks  “What does God require of us in the sixth commandment?” It provides this explanation, “We must live a chaste and pure life, whether we are married or not, with husband and wife loving and honoring each other.” 
God’s Word is clear. Marriage is holy, should be kept undefiled, and should be protected by all; young, old, married, and singles. This is accomplished as we lead pure and chaste lives in thought, word, and deed. How you are living today will not only effect how but is preparing you for married life. Besides, if you’re kissing (or worse) someone you’re not married to, you’re kissing someone else's spouse. 
Remember: What you do today cannot be taken back later; but what you abstain from and protect now, will bring you much joy in the future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

As Christians we are called to be “Set Apart.‘ Does that mean we should live like the Amish? How does 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 fit in?

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
“We’re Nelsons and we’re different.” 
This was the “motto” my wife’s family claimed and lived by. They understood that as Christians, we are called to live differently than the rest of the world, and set forth to embrace and apply this truth. 
From Genesis through Revelation God instructs His people to live a life that is unlike the culture around them. God gave the Nation of Israel dietary guidelines, Christ called us salt and light, Paul urges us to live holy lives, and Peter says we are strangers and aliens in this world. But what does this all mean? How are we to live differently and still win people to Christ? 
First, we must remember that it’s not our lifestyle that sets us apart from the world, but rather our relationship with Christ. Hebrews 13:12. “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” We are made holy, sanctified or set apart not by our lifestyle but by the blood of Jesus. Regardless how good one is, their sin is never wiped away by they way they live, this only happens through faith in the shed blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:22-10:11). 
However, since we are made holy, clean, sanctified, and set apart by Christ our lives should now mirror our standing.  We are to conduct our lives in a way that matches our calling: our new positions in Christ. We are washed by the blood of the Lamb, given a new nature and inheritance, and adopted as sons and daughters of the King. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God; thus we should conduct our lives in a way that honors this fact, not questions it. 
Yet that doesn’t mean we live without modern conveniences of life, wear clothing out of a different decade, or gather together as believers and isolate ourselves from the world around us. No. We are called to let the Word of God govern our lives. If we truly let that serve as a guide for life, we will look different and be set apart from the world around us; for what the culture says is acceptable is not what God calls acceptable. Consider the sixth commandment (regarding adultery) for example. Living by this standard of purity will set you apart. 
But what about Paul? Didn’t he say that he became all things to all men? Yes, but he was not talking about moral laws, but rather cultural customs. He never compromised God’s moral standard, but didn’t let cultural customs keep him away from share Christ. Moreover, that is why he lived this way, so that “by all possible means I might save some.”  His purpose was not to find an excuse to live like the world, but rather to win men and women for Christ.
“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What are doctrinal truths based on?

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” 
Doctrine is defined as “teaching or instruction;” and usually refers “to a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” In religion, doctrine sets the boundaries on which the belief system is based. For Christianity all Doctrine must be based on the Word of God. 
II Timothy 3:16-17 and II Peter 1:20-21 clearly teach that the Bible is not a invention of man, but is Divinely inspired - originating from God not men, inerrant - being found without error, and infallible - without mistakes; making it the only source and norm for truth. In other words, all teachings and beliefs are to be rooted in and taken from the Bible alone. No other source should be used, and when a thought, belief, or teaching is held up against the Bible and found to disagree; it must be rejected and disregarded. 
Throughout the New Testament, believers are encouraged to hold on to “Sound Doctrine” or “healthy, uncorrupted truth and teaching.” In II Timothy 1:13-14 we are called to “keep as the pattern of sound teaching” and I Timothy 4:16 “watch your life and doctrine closely.” I Timothy 6:3 warns that anyone who teaches false doctrine (something that doesn’t agree with the Word of God) doesn't agree with Jesus Christ.  
We are to weigh all teachings by God’s Word; carefully watching what is being taught and what we believe is rooted in the Word of God. This will keep us from being swayed away from false teachers and will enable us to oppose those who teach it. All true and sound doctrine is always rooted in and taken from the written Word of God, the Bible. 
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where do the Creeds come from?

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 
I believe in God… for centuries Christians across the globes and denominations have joined our voices together in “confessing our holy Christian Faith;” oftentimes using a creed. defines a creed as: “any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, as of a denomination, an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief.” Simply, a creed is a summary statement of what Christians believe. 
However not all creeds are created equal. In order for a creed to be considered “Christian” it must be based on the Word of God, and only set forth that which God does. There are three creeds which have been accepted by all Christians for centuries: The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Athanasian Creed. 
The most common, oldest, and shortest creed is The Apostles Creed. Although, not written by the Apostles, it bears their name because it clearly sets forth their teachings. In one hundred and ten words this simple statement plainly and correctly explains the essential teachings of God as Creator, Jesus as Redeemer, the Holy Spirit, Church, and the promise of life everlasting. 
The Apostles Creed is a great expression of the crucial truths of the Christian’s faith. It serves as an important reminder of these truths, keeps us in them, and if we are ever asked what we believe - can serve as a great way to share our faith. This simple confession contains everything someone needs to know in order to be saved. 
As the oldest creed, there is some disagreement when it was actually written, and may date back to the first century A.D., was in use by the second century, and by the the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century it was accepted. The Apostles Creed spread to Ireland by the seventh century, England in the eighth, and is still in use today.  
Although not as “popular” as the Apostles Creed, the other two classical creeds (The Nicene and Athanasian) are based on the Word of God and clearly set forth the sound doctrine of the Christian Faith. The Nicene Creed was first written at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Affirming the Apostles Creed, it describes Christ in greater detail and the important role of baptism. It later was modified when references to the Holy Spirit were greater defined. 
The Athanasian Creed is the longest and newest, thought to be written by Athanasius (bishop of Alexandria) who lived from 328-373 A.D. It affirms the teaching of both the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, while developing further the teachings of the Trinity, the duel natures of Christ (the fact that He is True God and Man) and lays out the essentials of salvation (and what happens to those who do not believe). 
These creeds have served as a great testimony to the fundamental truths of the Christian Faith; and continue to be an expression of Biblical Christianity. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are We Living In The End Times?

“All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:8
This question (or ones like it) seem popular in our society, and at times it seems like the entire world is fixated on the end of the World. From movies like 2012 and Knowing, to a rising interest in the predictions of Nostradamus and the unprecedented success of the much beloved Left Behind” series many people have tuned in to the “end of the world.” The July 1st 2002 issue of Time Magazine reported that one-third of Americans are paying more attention to how their lives relate to the end of the world, and fifty precent of people believe the events in Revelation will come to pass. This has left many wondering, and worrying about the end. 
The state of our culture has only fueled this fear. With the increasing unrest in the Middle East to the rise in healthcare in the Midwest, from rise in home invasion to increased frequency of earthquakes, from rising unemployment to falling of morality it seems as if things are only getting worse, and they are! 
With this growing interest, and the state of our world, prophecy has turned into big business for Hollywood and preacher alike. Unfortunately much of what is shared is unreliable, unbiblical, and seeks only to invoke fear. Christ’s desire for us is to face the future with faith, not fear. 
In Matthew 24 Jesus told us what will happen: simply put “life is going to get worse”. In verses four and five he warns about false teachers and those claiming to be Christ. In verses six and seven He tells us that wars, famines, and natural disasters will increase. According to verses nine through fourteen persecution will grow, Christians will abandon truth and faith, many will be lead astray, while others will give their life for Christ. The world as we know it will come to an end. 
Yet Christ encourages two commands and one promise. 
In Matthew 24:4 he says “Watch out that no one deceives you.” He wants us to be on guard, equipped with the truth, knowing what will come. In Verse 6 he tell says “but see to it that you are not alarmed.” We are not to be surprised, worried or gripped in fear by the things that we see or hear on the news. 
Why? Because of the great promise in verse 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Those who remain faithful to God and His Word will be saved. Not from the calamity of This World but from the eternal punishment and death that sin brings. We will be saved!
Are we living in the end times? We can’t be certain; but we can be assured that whatever happens Christ is preparing a place for us to spend all eternity. 
When the earth shakes, or the bombs drop, the World is gripped by fear and filled with questions. As Christians we have The Answer, and are called to give it. In Verse fourteen Christ says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  Let’s not live in fear of what the future holds, but confidently face it with faith in Christ, boldly providing solid answers in times of uncertainty.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is Lent?

Although not a question I have received this year, for many Christians, Lent is a mystery. For some, it is simply a period of going on a diet; for others Lent is a time when their Catholic friends wear ashes on their foreheads and eat fish on Fridays. Although many evangelicals are attracted to Lent, few know much about the Lenten season. 
Although, the word “Lent” is not found in the Bible, nor are we commanded to observe this season, I believe this is an important time in the life of the Christian and the Church.  Let’s answer a few questions about this special time. 
What is Lent?
Lent is the forty-day season of preparation before Easter. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.  
Why 40 days? 
Because, Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. (See Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13). However, just to confuse things, Lent is actually 46 days rather than 40 days. 
What is the purpose of Lent? 
Lent is designed to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent comes from the Germanic word for springtime, and can be viewed as a “spiritual spring cleaning”, or a time for taking a spiritual inventory and cleaning out those things which hinder our relationships with and service to Christ. 
Why do people give things up for Lent? 
Lent is a time for serious, disciplined self-examination, a time spent in prayer and repentance before the cross of Calvary. In Scripture (I Samuel 7:6, I Kings 21, Ezra 8) fasting is often connected with times of repentance and prayer. Fasting means abstaining from all food and drink for a period of time. However it can also mean going on a disciplined diet, or simply giving up anything that you normally consume.  This reminds us Who is in control and also reminds you to spend time in prayer when your belly growls or you see the things you have given up. Sunday, the Lord's Day, should never be a day of fasting, but a day of celebration! So each Sunday we suspend our Lenten disciplines and celebrate. Lent is 40 "fasting" days spread out over a total of 46 days beginning on Ash Wednesday.
Why do people eat fish on Fridays? 
Traditionally Catholics fast on Good Friday, and traditionally eat fish and not meat on Fridays during Lent. This tradition could stem from a couple of reasons. Some say that giving up meat was forgoing a luxury, as it was rare for most people to have. However a better explanation can been seen in the history of the Catholic Church. From the early days of Christianity, they were forbidden to eat meat every Friday (and, depending where they live, still are).
Why Friday? Because this is the day that Christ died, so abstaining from the shedding (and consuming) of blood seemed appropriate to many. It was also on a Friday (otherwise known as the sixth day) where God created animals. As a result it was believed that abstaining from meat is a symbolic "stay of execution" for cows, pigs, and sheep--just as the cross saves us from eternal death. Good Friday is also considered a fast day, where one goes without the usual luxuries as a form of penance, purification and remembrance of God's laws. This idea has morphed into the large fish fries we see today. 
In every case, it is a time for serious, disciplined self-examination, a time spent in intensive prayer and repentance before the cross of Calvary. Let us, during this season, take time to consider our need for Christ, and how fresh our relationship with Him is.

 “Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9–10

Gifts of the Passion” ~ Starting Wednesday, March 9th 7:00 - 8:00PM 
Join us this Lenten season as we survey the Cross of Calvary and discover the priceless gifts given to us by Christ at the Cross. Our study will be based on Max Lucado’s Book “He Chose the Nails.” Cost for the book is about $13.00.  Please let Pastor Eric or the Church office know if you want to order one. Although purchasing a book is not necessary to come to the services, Max’s writing will encourage you greatly, strengthen your soul, and deepen your walk through the Lenten Season.