Monday, July 28, 2014

Encouraged by the Mutual Faith

At the end of my last article about not being ashamed to share your experiences about the power of God working in your life (see also: The Burden of the LORD), I related a conversation that I'd had with another counselor at Camp Woodmen where I did precisely what I've been advocating in these last two articles. I left out an important part of the story, although I alluded to it vaguely with the following comment:
God meant for us to share these stories with each other so that we can encourage each other and mutually strengthen one another's faith.
The purpose of all of this openness and sharing that I'm so adamantly promoting is not that I feel that I have some great story that everyone needs to hear. Rather, the point is that you and I, and every member of God's church, have experiences that can help us to better understand the power of God, to see His transformational work in our own lives, and to encourage each other by seeing that work in action. This is the true power and purpose of what we call "fellowship," and one of the primary reasons for which God appointed a holy convocation, a gathering, every 7th day.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Not Ashamed

My last post about "The Burden of the LORD" was, in my opinion, a fairly abstract and vague expression of the feelings and experiences that I've had since Camp Woodmen. One of the many points made in that article that I didn't take the time to elaborate on was the importance of sharing the work of God in your life with others, as I wrote:
Whenever God gives you something useful to share with someone, you should say it... it may be a story of something that happened in your life that speaks to an issue someone is having... it may be sharing how God supplied your needs or worked in your life; it may be a good work that you have done by faith and the benefit that it brought to your life or someone else's; it may be a time when you stood up for something; it may be a time when you didn't stand up for something when you should have. Whatever the case, I found myself, as a counselor, very naturally doing something that was unnatural for me: I was telling people exactly what was in my heart if I had anything at all in mind that I knew would be profitable for them to hear.
A few days after camp ended, in the midst of this epiphany about the "burden of the LORD," I came across something that Paul wrote which really hit me in a new way:
Romans 1:16-17
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel? This is something that I didn't even know I struggled with - one more heavy burden that I had put on myself that God was finally lifting.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Burden of the LORD

I was, for the first time, a counselor at Camp Woodmen this year, and the experience has fostered some truly incredible changes in my attitude and behavior in the weeks since. One of the many great lessons for me was encouragement - about which I have so much more to say at some point - but encouragement also indirectly led me to what I now write about. After serving as a counselor for 7 days and putting every ounce of energy I could muster into maintaining the best and highest quality experience for each of my campers, I had done a lot of encouraging and had really seen the incredible power of it! But by the end of that time, I had extrapolated an even greater principle, of which encouragement is just a sub-heading.

This year at camp, I had something of an epiphany: I realized that I had many important things to say that God has wanted me to say for a long time. In particular, I had important things to say to the people who mean the most to me. How much I loved them and how much I appreciate the things they've done for me. How one person's example of faith had impacted me. How much I missed someone, and how I have failed them by not telling them this when they needed to hear it, but also how I'm ready to do better. How I've wanted to tell them this all along and even seriously thought about saying it before, but simply let those moments pass by unacknowledged. I came to refer to this need to tell these people these things as "the burden of the LORD," and I've spent a lot of time meditating on the gravity of that phrase.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Firstfruits and Pentecost: Foreshadow of Deliverance

I really did intend to have this article written around Pentecost, especially since this is the message that I gave as a sermonette on Pentecost! But now, as I find so many other articles begging to be written in my mind, it's time that I eat my vegetables first and finish this up. As I pointed out in the first part of this series on firstfruits, the firstfruits were commanded to be brought before God at two different times: once on the Feast of Firstfruits and then again on the Feast of Weeks (i.e., Pentecost). The Feast of Firstfruits occurs during the Days of Unleavened Bread, the primary theme of which is deliverance from sin, just as God historically had delivered Israel from Egypt during those days. Perhaps it should not be surprising then that the offering of firstfruits, which occurred both on the Feast of Firstfruits and on Pentecost, was also a reminder of God's deliverance:
Deuteronomy 26:2-10
You shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground... and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers... So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand... and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’
While the message of deliverance in the firstfruits may be clear for the Feast of Firstfruits (during the Days of Unleavened Bread), how does this deliverance factor into the message of the Day of Pentecost as we understand it in the New Covenant? In this article, I'll examine the link between the Feast of Firstfruits, the Day of Pentecost, and the theme of deliverance that unifies their incredible message!

Friday, May 30, 2014

What Are the Firstfruits of the Spirit?

As mentioned in the introductory article on firstfruits, one of the New Testament uses of the concept of firstfruits is found in Romans 8:23, which says
Romans 8:22-23
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
What are these firstfruits of the Spirit? I am aware of two common explanations (feel free to comment if you have another view!):

  1. That believers in this present age are the first people to receive the Spirit of God, and, in that sense, represent the "firstfruits" of those who will receive the Spirit.
  2. That the measure of the Spirit given to believers in this present age is only a small portion of what God intends - i.e., individuals currently have the "firstfruits of the Spirit" in their lives but will receive the fullness of the Spirit at the resurrection.
If you had asked me a few weeks ago what I thought the "firstfruits of the Spirit" were, I would probably have said something along the lines of view #1. When I came across view #2, it also seemed to make sense. After some analysis, I don't think either of them accurately describe what is being said in Romans 8:23.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Christ: the Firstfruits

As the second part in a series on firstfruits (Part 1), I'd like to focus on a scripture which links Jesus Christ to the concept of firstfruits:
1 Corinthians 15:20-21
But now Christ is risen from the day, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.
In this post, I'll examine the role of Christ as the firstfruits of God's harvest and the connection with the wave-sheaf offering, as well as make some comments about the harvest analogy itself.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What Are Firstfruits? Introduction and Commandments

"Firstfruits" are something that the bible mentions several times, and, especially in the New Testament, it seems like a really important concept to understand:

  1. Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20)
  2. God's church "[has] the firstfruits of the Spirit" (Romans 8:23)
  3. God's church is called to be the "firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:18)
  4. The 144,000 of Revelation 14 are "redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb" (Revelation 14:4)

What exactly are firstfruits? Why were the New Testament writers making comparisons using this idea? What did they mean by these statements? These are questions that I hope to thoroughly answer in a series of articles between now and Pentecost! In this article, we'll start with an introductory analysis of what firstfruits are and what God commanded to be done with them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The River Turned to Blood

In Exodus 7, God begins His deliverance of Israel by bringing plagues on the Egyptians. The first plague was, in my opinion, one of the more impressive feats.
Exodus 7:20-21
So [Aaron] lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
Stop and think about seeing an entire river turn to blood before your eyes. Wouldn't that completely freak you out??

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Holy Spirit, our... Midwife?

 The life of a Christian can be put into a rough correspondence with the events of the Exodus, and this imagery is especially helpful for us during the Passover season. I've written previously about the similarities between Pharaoh and the "old man" written of by Paul (Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:22), and this post is along the same lines. The "old man" is the person that we were before repentance and baptism. As much as we would like to be a 100% new person who doesn't sin anymore after baptism, it just doesn't work that way! We are still physical beings, and we have to struggle against the flesh and bring it into subjection to God. Occasionally, the Old Man gets the upper hand, and our spiritual lives wane - in effect, we go back to bondage in spiritual Egypt.

God allowed Israel, His people, to suffer slavery in Egypt for over 400 years. Even while they were slaves, God watched over them and allowed their population to grow larger and larger, working to fulfill a promise made to Abraham. Eventually, the Pharaoh came to see Israel's increasing numbers as a threat, and so he devised a plan to keep their population under control. 
Exodus 1:9-11
And [Pharaoh] said to his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land." Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bad Logic on the Immortal Soul

Most Christian churches incorrectly teach that human beings are born with an immortal soul which will live forever, either in eternal reward or eternal punishment. The bible clearly shows that those who follow God's way will live forever; however, it does not state that the human soul is inherently immortal and that God cannot (or will not) destroy it. Rather, immortality is a gift that God gives His people after they have believed, repented, and received the Holy Spirit. Even then, one still has to live a life of overcoming and holding on to that commitment!

Recently, I've read several arguments claiming to prove that humans have an immortal soul. Here's a sampling of them, along with explanations of their various fallacies.
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