An Ancient Story of Healing with a Powerful Message

The Bible tells us of an ancient army captain named Naaman. He was “a great man with his master, and highly respected,” and “a valiant warrior,” but he also suffered from the painful and debilitating disease of leprosy.

A little girl from Israel, who served as a maid, told Naaman’s wife about a prophet of God in Israel who could help him. So Naaman got permission from the king of his land, Aram, and went to the king of Israel with ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothes, hoping to use this wealth to buy healing for his disease.

Naaman did not even get to meet the prophet of God who could heal him, but the prophet, Elisha, did send word: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.”

This is how he responded: “Naaman was furious and went away and said, ‘Behold, I thought, “He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage.”

Naaman almost missed out on the chance to be healed, but luckily his servants came to him and said “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’”

Naaman almost missed out on God’s blessings because the means by which they were received seemed too commonplace to him to be taken seriously. Surely it was not by simply dipping in water that he would be healed! Surely it would be a big, meaningful, emotionally charged spectacle, instead!

Are we like Naaman today?

Do we take for granted the amazing opportunity to personally pray to God whenever and wherever we want, simply because it is so easy for us to do? Do we forget that for thousands of years, God’s throne could only be approached once a year, and even then, only by a High Priest? Do we forget that the veil in the old Jewish temple has finally been torn in two, so that now we can boldly come into God’s presence because of the blood of His Son?

Do we take for granted the amazing opportunity to open God’s word and read it whenever we want? Do we forget that these words came to Moses in a thick cloud of smoke and fire on top of a mountain, or to David the great king of Israel by the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Do we forget that for thousands of years, the Word of God could only be read by the scribes, while the people stood on their feet for hours at a time, desperate to hear what they could before the sun set and they had to go home? Do we forget that until very recently, scrolls were extremely expensive, and Bibles could not be taken out of the pulpit that they were chained to?

Do we take for granted to power that meets us in the waters of baptism? Do we realize that it is there that we come into contact with Jesus blood, which washes away our sins? That by such a simple and commonplace act as immersion in water, the kingdom of heaven is richly supplied to us?

Naaman failed to recognize the power of healing that was available to him because it came in such seemingly ordinary packaging. May we learn from his story. If the Lord had asked us to climb formidable mountains, practice mysterious rituals, or wear ourselves out in feats of impressive devotion, would we not do it? If therefore He tells us that He will meet us in common prayer, and common Bible study, and immersion in common water, let us go.

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Let the Bible Speak for Itself about Baptism

Recently one of our bulletin articles was titled “Let the Bible Speak.” Sometimes instead of giving our opinions, it is wise to simply read the Bible, without adding or taking away from what it says. With that in mind, consider several Bible passages that mention baptism, without any emphasis added, and in the order they appear in the Bible:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

 “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’” (Acts 2:37-39)

 “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” (Acts 8:12)

  “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:36-38)

 “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.  Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” (Acts 22:12-16)

 “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:25-27)

“…the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

1 John 1:7 May Not Mean What you Think it Does

1 John 1:7 is one of the more well known verses in the Bible. It gives us comfort because it helps to answer the questions, “how can I know if I will go to heaven when I die? Could my sins keep me out of heaven, even though I try to be a good Christian?”

When these questions are raised, we remind each other of John’s words: “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” This verse is thus repeated quite often in the context of questions about the security of the believer, with a focus on the fact that the blood of Jesus cleanses us when we walk in the light.

But in focusing exclusively on this one part of the verse, especially when plucking it from the wider context of 1 John 1, we may have neglected to properly consider another part of the verse. Specifically, we may have misunderstood what John means when he says, “we have fellowship with one another.”

While studying 1 John 1 together this past week, myself and many in the church here discovered that “having fellowship with one another” appears to refer NOT specifically to fellow Christians experiencing unity, but rather to the individual in question having fellowship with GOD HIMSELF. Look at the context even just of verses 5 through 7 and see if you do not agree.

 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

The passage states plainly enough that fellowship with Him (capital H) is impossible in the darkness. Fellowship with Him, therefore, is a benefit of walking in the light because “He Himself” is in the light, and walking in the light is thus walking with Him. Greek scholars tell us that the grammar of the original text supports this reading.

Maybe you have always understood this verse to give this teaching, but many such as myself have come to the verse with preconceived notions for so long that we failed to understand it in this way. This can be a reminder to us of the dangers of “proof-texting” to the exclusion of genuine Bible reading, and the importance of coming to the text with an open mind.

Furthermore, this discovery gives us something new to think about. Fellowship with God Himself! To walk in the light is to walk with God! May we grow in true fellowship with Him.

What Would Jesus Tolerate?

One portrayal of Jesus popular today is that of the socially progressive, tolerant teacher who encourages everyone to follow their own heart, do what makes them happy, and spread love and cheer to everyone.

Studying the Jesus of the book of Revelation might yield surprising results for those who conceive of Jesus only in such a manner. The church here in Mankato has devoted a few weeks to studying the first 2 chapters of that book, and here are some noteworthy observations:

Jesus appears as a brilliantly shining, terrifying being, who among other things, has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth (1:16). John tells us, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man (1:17).”

Jesus commends the church in Ephesus, saying “you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false (2:2).”

Similarly, Jesus reproves the church in Thyatira, saying “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess (2:20).”

It is remarkable in our culture that so much prizes tolerance to see a Jesus who commends people who “cannot tolerate evil men” and reproves those who “tolerate the woman Jezebel.”

In addition, Jesus tells the church in Ephesus: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent (2:5).”

Similarly, He says to the church in Pergamum, “repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth (2:16).”

And as to those in Thyatira who are following Jezebel: “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds (2:22).”

Notice the language: “unless you repent,” “repent; or else,” “unless they repent.” This is not the kind of language that tends to make us feel comfortable.  Jesus is warning of negative outcomes contingent upon repentance from wicked actions.

It is important, however, to note what Jesus says to the church in Laodicea: “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent (3:19).”

Jesus reproves and disciplines without apology, but this does not at all mean that He has ceased to love.

The lesson is this: warnings and reprovals are not necessarily “unloving,” indeed they are often the very evidence of unconditional love.

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100 Facts about the Church of the Bible

100 facts about Christ’s church as demonstrated in the book of Acts.
From a 7 month bible study at the church of Christ in Mankato.

Chapter 1

  • Is a people who is waiting.
  • Is a people who have unity despite their differences.
  • Is devoted to praying together.
  • Trusts in God to guide them.

Chapter 2

  • Teaches the truth about repentance.
  • Teaches the truth about baptism.
  • Is supportive of one another.
  • Spends time together often throughout the week if possible.

Chapter 3

  • Has more to offer than the world would ever imagine.
  • Points out the sins of the world, yet with gentleness.
  • Takes every opportunity to share the gospel.

Chapter 4

  • Sometimes teaches a message that the governing authorities do not endorse.
  • Maintains the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ only.
  • Is full of members who are bold proclaimers of the word of God. 

Chapter 5

  • Has its own scandals, but handles them appropriately.
  • Has favor with outsiders.
  • Is protected and aided by God.

 Chapter 6

  • Takes care of its widows.
  • Has a leadership devoted to the Word and prayer.
  • Appoints men to serve in various capacities.

 Chapter 7

  • Has members who really know the Bible.
  • Is sometimes slandered falsely.
  • Is willing to die for Christ.
  • Is amazingly forgiving.

Chapter 8

  • Is sometimes physically persecuted.
  • Must not be corrupted by money.
  • Conducts one on one Bible studies resulting in baptism.

Chapter 9

  • Should not write someone off, assuming they could never come to Christ.
  • Is called to accept and encourage all who would receive the truth.
  • Sometimes gains its most powerful evangelists in its most drastic conversions.

 Chapter 10

  • Has godly women who continually show kindness.
  • Is no longer under Mosaic dietary restrictions.
  • Is open to all people, Jews and Gentiles.

 Chapter 11

  • Is not “set in its ways” so that it cannot learn new information.
  • Are known as “Christians.”
  • Sends men to preach wherever there is a need.
  • Collects money to send to brethren in need.

 Chapter 12

  • Is affected by the senseless whims of an unstable world.
  • Gathers in each other’s homes to pray.
  • Sometimes cannot believe what God is doing.
  • Is sometimes under a wicked government, yet still grows.

 Chapter 13

  • Combines prayer and fasting.
  • Boldly condemns false teaching.
  • Preaches an interesting message.
  • Shakes the dust from its feet.

 Chapter 14

  • Can become the center of public controversy.
  • May have charismatic leaders, but they are only human.
  • Suffers many tribulations.
  • Has elders in every church.

 Chapter 15

  • Doesn’t automatically know everything.
  • Seeks God’s help in uncovering truth.
  • Sometimes has quitters.

 Chapter 16

  • Connects the old and the young.
  • Has women that convert their families.
  • Emphasizes the urgency of baptism.
  • Uses the status of its members for good.

 Chapter 17

  • Reasons from the scriptures.
  • Searches the scriptures daily to see if teachings are accurate.
  • Speaks to outsiders in a language they can understand.

 Chapter 18

  • Has both “vocational” and full time ministers.
  • Has individuals with incomplete knowledge.
  • Is gentle in correcting the genuinely mistaken.
  • Uses scripture as its authority on all matters.

 Chapter 19

  • Is concerned with the details of baptism.
  • Comes in congregations of all sizes.
  • May find more open hearts among the “pagans” than the religious.
  • Confesses sin and repents.
  • Operates in a crazy world.

 Chapter 20

  • Gathers on the first day of the week to break bread.
  • Is overseen by elders, who shepherd the church.
  • Must be on the alert for troublemakers.
  • Builds emotionally powerful relationships.

Chapter 21

  • Has counted the cost.
  • Is universal, even as individual congregations are autonomous.
  • Must be careful to get the whole story before jumping to conclusions.

Chapter 22

  • Shares its personal stories.
  • Has its sins washed away in baptism.
  • Will encounter individuals who are blinded by emotion.

Chapter 23

  • Does not violate its conscience, but does not think it is infallible either.
  • Respects those in authority.
  • Weathers the storms of outside groups in turmoil.
  • Has important roles for young people.

Chapter 24

  • May be falsely accused.
  • Has much in common even with those outside the faith.
  • Refrains from unjust practices.
  • Can make people uncomfortable.

Chapter 25

  • Will always have enemies.
  • Will always be a minority.
  • May be perceived by the world as boring or unimportant.
  • Must be patient and wait on God’s timing.

Chapter 26

  • Is unashamed of its belief.
  • Repents in deed, not only in word.
  • Makes a clear and personal evangelistic appeal.

Chapter 27

  • Issues a warning that is sometimes ignored.
  • Earns respect as time reveals the truthfulness of its message.
  • Becomes the natural leader in times of turmoil.

Chapter 28

  • Develops positive relationships with its neighbors.
  • Sometimes gets special opportunities to make an appeal to the lost.
  • Convinces some and loses others.
  • Makes the best of circumstances that are less than ideal.church-206650_640

An Outline of the Letter to the Ephesians

Ephesians is written primarily to Gentiles.

This becomes apparent gradually through the use of the pronouns “you” and “we” to refer to Gentiles and Jews respectively:

  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance… to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” (1:11-14)
  • Consider similar instances in 2:11-12 and 3:17-19

The central message of Ephesians is the mystery of Gentile inclusion.

The word “mystery” occurs 6 times, more than any other New Testament book.

  • “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” (1:9)
  • “By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ… to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:3-4,6)
  • Consider also 3:8-9 

The goal of Paul’s writing is to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • This is achieved through illustrations:
    • You were dead; God made you alive. (2:1-10)
    • You were strangers; God made you fellow citizens. (2:11-22)

The goal of Paul’s prayers is likewise to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (1:18-19)
  • Consider also his prayer in 3:14-21

All glory and thanks be to God for His salvation.

  • It was according to His will.
    • He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (1:4)
    • He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (1:5)
    • “According to His kind intention.” (1:9)
    • “Having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (1:11)
  • He acted for His glory.
    • “To the praise of the glory of His grace.” (1:6)
    • “To the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (1:12)
    • “To the praise of His glory.” (1:14)
  • It was His grace, not our goodness.
    “Grace” occurs 12 times, more than any book except Romans.

    • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (1:7)
    • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (2:4-5)
    • “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9)

There is a major shift that pivots on “Therefore” in 4:1.

This is a shift from the theological to the practical, and is emphasized by the word “walk,” which occurs 7 times, more than any other epistle.

  • “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” (4:1)
  • “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” (4:17)
  • “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (5:8)
  • “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” (5:15)

Walk in unity

  • Attitudes to preserve it. (4:1-3)
  • Truths that establish it. (4:4-6)
  • Leaders who seek to preserve it. (4:7-13)
  • Forces that threaten it. (4:14)
  • An illustration of it. (4:15-16)

Walk in purity (5:1-21)

  • Imitate God.
  • Not in darkness, but in light.
  • Not in: immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting, covetousness, drunkenness.
  • Rather: giving thanks, goodness, righteousness, truth, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Walk uprightly in relationships

  • Wives (5:22)
  • Husbands (5:25)
  • Children (6:1)
  • Fathers (6:4)
  • Slaves (6:5)
  • Masters (6:9)

Having given these moral prescriptions, the letter to the Ephesians now gives encouragement and proper tools for the spiritual battle.

  • Armor of God (6:14-17):
    • “Having girded your loins with truth,”
    • “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness,”
    • “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace,”
    • “In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith,”
    • “And take the helmet of salvation,”
    • “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
  • Prayer: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (6:18)

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Christians and Time Management

Americans as a whole devote considerable amounts of time to leisure activities.

  • We will happily devote a couple of hours to watching an interesting movie.
  • We will sit through an entire NFL game on television, which averages 3 hours 12 minutes of airtime, with over 100 commercials and only 11 minutes of actual play.
  • NASCAR races take 3-5 hours.
  • Some prefer to run, walk, jog, bike, kayak, etc. regularly for extended periods of time.

There is nothing inherently wrong with watching a movie, a game, a race, or going for a run. In fact, having times of rest, relaxation, and refreshment is vital for our mental and physical health. But it may be beneficial to consider our use of time on such activities in comparison to our devotion to spiritual disciplines.

  • In Luke 6:12, Jesus spent all night in prayer.
  • In Mark 14:32-42, at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus expressed concern that His closest friends could not devote even one hour to watching and praying for Him without falling asleep.
  • In Luke 6, the apostles sought out willing servants to help with the churches work, so that they could devote more time to the Word and prayer.
  • David often remarked in the Psalms that he meditated on God’s Word day and night. He often lay on his bed during the watches of the night, treasuring God’s commands.

Of course, praying long prayers or devoting countless hours to study is not some formulaic way to earn God’s favor. We should not “babble on” in lengthy prayers in he hope that we will “be heard for our many words” as those who are mentioned in Matthew 6:7.

But it might surprise us how little time we actually devote to the Lord, if we were to time it. Why not give it a try? Perhaps see how it feels to spend half an hour in prayer a few nights this week.

The goal is not to achieve a higher spiritual status by enduring monotonous disciplines. This is simply a reminder for us all that our use of time can be an indicator of our hearts deepest desires.

An Outline of the Book of Romans

Colosseum in Rome
The following is an overview of Romans based on our weekly Sunday Morning Bible Study at Mankato Church of Christ from June-July, 2015.

Introduction.
Paul addresses himself to the Romans and expresses a desire to come see them. (1:1-17)

 No one is justified by works.
The world is a dark place, spiraling downward into sin. (1:18-32)
Even “good, moral people” fall short. (2:1-29)
Being a Jew does have some advantages, but NO ONE has the ability to justify himself to God based on his own merits. (3:1-20)

We are justified by grace through faith in Jesus.
Salvation is made available to us through Jesus Christ. (3:21-5:21)
It is a gracious salvation, it is not deserved. (3:21-5:21)
We access it by faith. (3:21-5:21)
Faith is a trust in God despite discouraging circumstances, and is completed and evidenced by obedience. (4:18-25, James 2:14-26)

We are not only justified, but also sanctified.
This salvation is not merely forgiveness, so that we may continue in sin that grace may abound. It is also comprised of a transformation, as we die to sin and are set free from our slavery to it. (6:1-23)

How and why the Old Law has been done away with.
How can Jews simply lay aside the Old Covenant law code? Because they died to it when they died with Christ, that the law of the Spirit might replace it. (7:1-6)
Are we saying that the law is bad? Not at all, but that sin has used it to ruin us. We are in desperate need of Jesus Christ, not merely the law, to solve this problem. (7:7-25)

Sanctification by the power of the Spirit.
It must remain amply clear that living according to the flesh still leads to death, even under this new covenant. (8:1-13)
Walking not according to the flesh but in righteousness is achieved by following, setting the mind on, and being indwelled by God’s Spirit. It is a matter not merely or rule keeping, but of inward change. (8:1-8:27)

What a glorious plan God has made, that He should justify us to Himself, that Christ Himself would not condemn, that having given us His Son, God would also give us all that we need. (8:26-39)

God is not breaking any promises to Israel.
God always knew that not all Hebrews would be saved, and that the Gentiles would come in, and has spoken accordingly through the prophets. (9:1-33)
The invitation is certainly open to all Jews, since Christ is the fulfillment of Judaism. (10:1-11:6)
Gentiles ought not to be arrogant about this, for though God may use them to make the Jews jealous, He can just as easily remove them from the plan if they display unbelief. (Romans 11:7-36)

Therefore, give your life to God.
In light of this doctrine, your service and your sacrifice to God is to give your life to Him. (12:1-2)

Your relationships with fellow Christians should be mutually edifying. (12:3-13)
You should treat your enemies with kindness rather than revenge. (12:14-21)
You should be in subjection to your government. (13:1-7)
All of your relationships are to be governed by the law: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (13:8-14)

Do not judge your fellow Christians over matters of personal opinion. (14:1-12)
Avoid causing a brother to stumble by your actions, even if those actions are not inherently sinful. (14:13-23) 

Closing thoughts and reminders
Accept and edify each other. (15:1-12)
Paul’s expression of personal joy at the success of the congregation and the salvation of the gentiles (15:13-21) and reaffirmation that Paul wants to visit. (15:22-33)
Warning about those who cause divisions. (16:17-20)

Greetings to many diverse Christian brethren. (16:1-16, 21-24) 

All glory to God through Jesus Christ. (16:25-27)