The Imminent Return of Jesus

By Mike Ivaska

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” – James 5:7-9

On Sunday we were blessed to hear a challenging word from Pastor Frank, discipleship pastor here at VICC.  In his sermon, Frank challenged us on the necessity of prayer, especially in these times of upheaval and uncertainty.  During his sermon, he also exposed us to some possibly significant coinciding events that many believe to be a portent of things to come.  Based upon the Jewish calendar and certain astronomical events, Frank indicated that the years 2014-2015 could be signficant days – days of fear and hope.  And because the most significant future event we as Christians look forward to is the return of our Savior, we were reminded about just how close the return of Jesus could truly be.

I for one greatly appreciated Frank’s sermon for several reasons – two in particular.  First of all, I believe God spoke to me through Frank on the need for prayer and the need to tarry in our times of prayer instead of simply rushing through them and moving on to other things.  And second, Frank’s clear presentation of these significant possible signs of future events has made me stop and really take seriously the fact that Jesus could return at any moment and within my lifetime.

Often when we talk about the fact that Jesus could return “at any moment,” the ambiguity seems to push the expectation of his return further into the future (at least for me).  There have been so many attempts to date the return of Christ (did you know Jesus was supposed to come back in 1988?  He was also supposed to show up in AD 1,000!).  Speculation becomes exhausting after awhile. The much publicized Harold Camping brooha of the last year or two has not made end-times speculations any more believable for many folks. And the talk about “blood moons” and “sabbath years” can often leave the same taste in one’s mouth.  I found that I had to just cool down, humble myself, and listen.  And by doing so I found I appreciated what Frank had to say.

In subsequent conversations, I have heard and seen many responses to Frank’s sermon.  For some, it was just more date setting, and date setting never works.  For others, the idea that “the end” could be so soon was terrifying and produced little more than fear about the future.  For others, it was exciting: Jesus is coming back!  And there was a broad range of reponses in between.

I for one appreciated Frank’s sermon and the thoughts he put forward, and as lead pastor of this congregation I wanted to add a few thoughts to stay the course and provide a center for all of us to gather around.

First, I think it should be noted that Frank never said, “Jesus is coming back sometime before September 2015.”  In fact in private conversation he explicitly denied that was what he meant.  The importance of these calandar dates coinciding with astronomical events were simply put forward as things to be aware of and as a reminder that we live in signficant days – days in which it would be wise to be a people of prayer.

Second, the study of end-times prophecy by its very nature can produce both the most heated debates and the widest variety of opinions and speculations.  Everyone who has studied the topic for any length tends to become pretty certain of their opinion (even though there’s no way of knowing if they’re right until it happens!) and sometimes they can get pretty passionate defending their view (The “truth” must prevail! Friendships be damned!).  Because of all this, it’s important to remember that we know about as much today regarding the return of Jesus as the ancient Israelites would have known regarding his first coming.  How many of us, armed only with the book of Isaiah, could have accurately predicted the events of the four Gospels?

Finally, and most importantly, the three things any of us need to take away from any study of the last days are…

1) We ultimately do not know when Jesus is returning.  “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36).

2) Jesus could return at any moment, so we need to be ready.  ”You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)

3) Knowing Christ could return at any moment does not mean we ignore this world, our neighbors, families, or jobs.  Knowing Christ is returning should make us invest even more in the places and people God has put in our lives. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Today, tomorrow, next year, or in a hundred years, Jesus is coming back.  On this the Bible is clear.  Let’s be ready!

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“Lord, Guide Your People” – Annual Week of Prayer Jan 5-11

By Mike Ivaska

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10a

Today is New Year’s Eve 2013, the last day of the year.  As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, I believe that what we need most as a people is the guidance of The Lord and the confidence that he is directing our steps.

Over the years that I have been involved at this church, one thing I have grown to value so deeply is our annual Week of Prayer.  This year the Week of Prayer starts next week, January 5th to the 11th.  Pastor Frank will be kicking the week off with an inspiring sermon on the importance and need of prayer in our day.  We will have nightly prayer Monday through Friday 7-8pm and will bring the Week of Prayer to a close on Saturday night at 6pm with an evening of worship and praise.  These times are so valuable to me because of the joy and freshness I always feel in corporate prayer with God’s people.

This year especially I am passionately looking forward to a time of stopping, setting aside my evenings for a week, gathering with the Body of Christ, and seeking God’s face and blessing for the new year.  Having come to the end of my first calendar year as lead pastor here at VICC, I am excited for the future.  God wants to pour out his love and salvation on this island and he wants to use the churches to do it.  To know what part we must play we need to “be still and know that he is God.”  We need to seek his face, hear his voice, and become his hands, his feet, and his voice here on Vashon. And above all, as the Psalm quoted in part above tells us, we need to know that the battle and the victory belong to God.

Please join us as many evenings as you can to pray and seek The Lord together in prayer.

God bless.

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Beyond Counting

By Mike Ivaska

“You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” Psalm 40:3

“For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.” Psalm 40:12

I was struck this morning by David’s words in Psalm 40.  The psalm is a confident petition for God’s aid.  In the beginning, David recounts God’s prior acts of salvation in his life.  He then applies this faithfulness to any Israelite who will call upon The Lord.  That is, essentially, the first half of the psalm (there’s more to it, of course, but there’s no room to get into those other wonderful details here).  The second half of the psalm switches to petition.  David confidently proclaims his trust in God to deliver him from difficult circumstances – even circumstances apparently brought upon him by his own sin!  God’s deliverance, David is certain, will result in his enemies’ shame and the great rejoicing of all who love The Lord.

The two phrases that caught me this morning are the two verses quoted above: God’s “multiplied” thoughts and deeds towards Israel, and David’s own sins which outnumber the hairs of his head and lead to evil consequences “beyond number.”

Even though David’s troubles are so many he can’t keep track of them, it is his delight to recount each of God’s faithful acts (vv.9-10).  And even though the language David uses might make it sound like the number of present evils is just as high as the number of past blessings, where does David’s focus lay?  What is his cofidence?  That this time sin has had the last word?  That evil wins the day?  No!  David is confident that the God who has “multiplied his deeds” toward his people will do so again.  And once again, Grace will have the last laugh.

Merry (almost) Christmas.  The Light is coming!

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There’s Nothing Un-spiritual About Being Prepared

By Mike Ivaska

“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19

Often it feels like the most spontaneous events are the most inspired.  Too much planning can quench the Spirit’s work and eliminate our need to depend on him.  At least, that is how it often feels.  And sometimes this is true.  Certainly in the text quoted above Jesus warns his disciples not to worry over what kind of defense they will give in the moment of arrest and trial.  The Spirit of God will give them words they never could have come up with on their own.  God will care for his children, even in persecution, and he will assure that his gospel witness is heard.

That being said, is there never any time that we should plan ahead?  Is it truly more spiritual to live in the moment, be spontaneous, and just “wing it”?  Sometimes this might be the case (I didn’t plan on writing this piece this afternoon.  The idea to do so “just came to me.”).  But are spontaneous moments of prayer really more spiritual than a planned and faithful morning devotional time?  Are disordered worship services really more filled with the presence of God than ordered ones?  Is a sustained and faithful witness to an unsaved friend really less Spirit directed than an unexpected opportunity to witness to a stranger?

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul tells us that our salvation in Christ was “predestined” and that it was God’s idea “before the foundation of the world” to glorify his Son in the salvation of the world.  Without getting into the often difficult details of the doctrine of predestination, and without prescribing a particular view on how all that works out, the least we can agree on from this passage is that God plans!  For God to “predestine” anything means that he planned to do it before doing it.  For it to be God’s plan to unite creation to himself in Christ “before” he even created anything means God was thinking ahead.  And if, as Paul tells us in the fifth chapter of the same letter, we are to be “imitators of God” (5:1), perhaps that includes thinking ahead, planning our days, scheduling times of prayer and devotion, organizing our week around Sunday worship, and being led by the Spirit of the living God who both surprises us with his spontaneity and amazes us with his ability to accomplish exactly what he sets out to do.

To God be the glory!

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One of the Most Important Things I Learned in My Disability Class

By Mike Ivaska

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[e] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. – Matthew 20:29-34

16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel. – Leviticus 21:16-24

Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected[b] by men;
a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:1-5

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant[c] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ – Luke 14:15-21

[I hope you read, and did not just skim, the above passages.  If you skimmed them, take a moment to read them through slowly and carefully.  They are as much a part of this post as anything below]

One of the most important things I learned in my class on Disability in Society and the Church was the social dimension of Jesus’ healing miracles.  It is well known that Jesus, and his disciples after him, performed many miracles which relieved people of conditions that our modern society would term “disabilities” – blindness, deafness, paraplegia (the “lame” or crippled), and so on.  What I had never really stopped to consider was the social aspect of these disabilities.

People who are unused to being around persons with physical or intellectual disabilities almost always become very uncomfortable around them.  This can be interpreted as unkindness, but that is not always the case.  Everyone naturally struggles with “difference.”  Children in particular do not always know what to do with people who look or act very differently, and often ask questions which adults consider rude.  In social situations, children (and adults) can become very cruel and exclusionary towards persons with disabilities.  Historically, people with intellectual disabilities (such as Down Syndrome) were often quite literally considered subhuman, perhaps even soulless.  Physical disabilities were at worst considered judgments from God, or at best considered obstacles for the disabled person to “overcome” in some heroic way.  Many ancient, communal cultures had better ways of incorporating people with different abilities and limitations into the fabric of society, but western culture medieval and modern has generally not known what to do with such people.

This situation is compounded by the biblical metaphors of blindness, deafness, and the like to symbolize sin.  Perhaps the most painful text for a person with a disability is the above passage from Leviticus, where any disabled person from the priestly line was forbidden to take part in the priestly duties given to their family.  Such persons were allowed to partake of the meals that followed the sacrifices, but were forbidden from taking part in the rituals themselves.  To do so would have been to defile God’s sanctuary.  One has to stop and put oneself in a disabled person’s shoes for a moment to appreciate how harsh this text seems.

In this setting, we need to realize how the Old Testament law worked.  Its ultimate goal was to guide the nation of Israel in realizing its need for, and inability to earn, God’s grace and help.  When Jesus came, it was those who appeared to be the closest to “measuring up” to the Law of Moses that found themselves the furthest from God’s favor.  It was the outcasts and the untouchables that found themselves eating with Jesus.  In fact, Jesus himself became an outcast by associating with those deemed “unfit” in the eyes of the Law and of society.  This culminated in his death on the cross as a blasphemer and sinner, where he received scars that he will carry on his resurrected body for all eternity.  Jesus gathered those deemed “outsiders” to himself and became the ultimate “outsider” on their behalf by suffering the Father’s rejection on the cross.  In this way, the “insiders” became “outsiders” and the “outsiders” became “insiders.”

It is in this connection that Jesus’ healings take on new meaning.  Though Jesus welcomed outsiders to himself, those with physical disabilities would have been outsiders even to the outsiders.  They would have been considered truly cursed of God, particularly if they were born with their disability (see John 9:1-2).  They also would have been unable to care for themselves and would have been a burden, not an asset, to their parents.  Thus, Jesus’ healings had a radically social dimension.  If the blind were outsiders even to the outsiders, then taking away their blindness takes away their stigma.  They can now be insiders, welcomed members of the messianic community.

As Pentecostal Christians, we believe that God heals.  But we also know that our God is a mysterious God, a wise God, who does not jump when we say “jump!”  Sometimes God does not heal.  Sometimes he has other plans.  When it comes to persons with disabilities, perhaps what God wants to do is not heal them but heal us.  If healing is a sign of the coming kingdom, so is a welcoming and loving community.  It may even surprise many of us without disabilities (yet!) that many people with disabilities do not desire to be cured of their disability.  They like who they are, and see no reason to be someone else.  But if they enter our churches, and all we focus on is their disability and keep trying to “heal” them, we miss out on the most radical dimension of Jesus ministry: love.  Jesus’ love took people who were not a community and made them a community.  He took outsiders and made them insiders.  He took sinners and made them saints.

Perhaps what Jesus wants to do is not heal our neighbors’ disabilities (yet).  Perhaps he wants to heal our sinful hearts that struggle to accept people not like us and welcome them in his name.

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Learning Gratitude

By Pastor Mike Ivaska

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

As many of you know, I have just come through a four week (or so) season of temporary disability.  What began as an apparent case of tendonitis (in both ankles!) turned to what seemed to be bad sprains which turned to what appeared to be an infection which turned to what was finally diagnosed as a case of strep (as in strep throat) in my ankles.  It was one of the most unpleasant and painful things I have ever had to deal with, and was certainly the longest I have ever been laid up for any reason.  The first two weeks or so of the ordeal I tried to do life “as normal.”  It did not work, and I believe only made things much worse for myself.  It was God’s time to teach me to rest and to remember that I am not God!

Well, my legs have cleared up.  The doctors want to do a couple more tests to look into a possible chronic inflammatory condition.  But otherwise, I am back to normal.  Today I was able to take a walk (not quite back in shape enough to run yet), and this morning I was able to go on a morning “coffee date” with Nichole, which I’d not been able to do for a month.  It is amazing how much we appreciate the small things after they’ve been taken away from us for a time!  Even the fatigue I felt after a few push ups and crunches (not done those in a while!) gave me joy.

How easily we all go through life focusing on what we don’t have, on what is not going the way we want.  In times like this it is important to stop, to look for what God is doing in the midst of everything, and to say a prayer of thanks to the One who knows the end from the beginning and who knows the number of hairs on our heads.

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Going to school with Pastor Mike: Disability in Society and the Church

By Mike Ivaska

As many of you may know, I recently began taking graduate courses at Northwest University toward an MA in Theology and Culture.  I am so grateful for the support and prayers of you all as I begin the process of furthering my education.  It is my hope that schooling will not only build me up personally, but that it will further equip me as your pastor to think critically, pray wisely, and know God and his Word more fully.  One way that I hope to bless the church during the schooling process is to blog occasionally (at least once for each class I am taking) on what I am learning, why it matters, and how it can be applicable either to the church as a whole, to me as a pastor, and/or to each of us individually as followers of Jesus.

Last week I attended a four day seminar with Dr. Amos Yong from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Dr. Yong is a Pentecostal theologian who has written on a variety of topics.  One topic that lies close to Dr. Yong’s heart is the topic of disability.  Having grown up with a brother with Down Syndrome, Dr. Yong writes and speaks on disability within society and the church not just theoretically but personally.  Honestly thinking about how we as Christians do, or do not, take people with disabilities into account when we “do church” was not a topic I would have thought much about on my own.  It was an eye-opening class that I pray has a lasting affect on me, and through me to the community at VICC.

It is estimated that 18-20% of people in our society have a disability – physical, intellectual, or emotional.  Of these, about half hide their disability in an effort to be “normal,” even if this means losing out on any available aid.  Disabilities range from things like blindness, immobility, and Down Syndrome to mental illness and learning disability.  Historically, the church has approached people with disabilities as objects of mercy, perhaps including acts of miraculous healing, but has rarely viewed them as capable of being vibrant members of the congregation.  Occasionally a blind or otherwise disabled person with great faith will stand out as a “saint” or an “over-comer,” an inspiration to “normal” people who “don’t have it so bad.”  But otherwise, those with disabilities are usually ignored or pitied.  Many church buildings, including ours here at VICC, are not designed with the disabled and aging in mind at all – and neither are our programs or worship services.

In contrast to this stands the apostle Paul, for one, who seems to have had some kind of lifelong ailment related to his eyes (see Galatians 4:13-15).  Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents would have been able to argue that Paul’s disability should disqualify him from ministry on the basis of Old Testament law (see Leviticus 21:19), and Paul’s physical limitations seems to have played a role in the Corinthian church’s doubts about his legitimacy as an apostle.  But for Paul it is not the “capable” that God chooses but the “incapable.”

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[a] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[b] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him[c] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

And more than this, God has designed the Body of Christ not only to be merciful to the “weaker” Christians among us, but to recognize them as some of the most valuable members of God’s church.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:21-26

For Paul, what was viewed as a “weakness” by those who judged “according to the flesh” was actually God’s means of being glorified in his life (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  The “wise” and the “strong” are the ones God rejects and it is the “weak” and the “foolish” whom God chooses.  And most importantly, perhaps, the “weaker members” of the body also bring gifts to the church.  They are not just objects of mercy.  The “best” among them are not just there to inspire us to overcome our own mediocrity.  Disability disqualifies no one from ministry according to their giftedness.  Disability disqualifies no one from being included in our community.  Disability disqualifies  no one from being discipled according to their capabilities.  Even those with Down Syndrome can repent.  Even those with a speech impediment can pray.  And none of us is without our limitations.

 

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Why is the Way narrow? And how narrow is it?

By Mike Ivaska

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” – John 14:6

This last week’s sermon covered a difficult subject: Why does God not save everyone?  When it came to our Tuesday night Supper and Study group, I did my best to facilitate the discussion and let people be as open and honest as they could be.  Sometimes it can be a scary job facilitating these kinds of topics.  It would be easy to just throw down the “right answer” and move on, ignoring the questions, confusion, and feelings of people who’ve perhaps never really wrestled with questions like this.  It would also be easy, but incredibly unfaithful to the gospel, to not point people towards real answers.  I won’t venture to judge how well I did.  But our discussion at Study last night has inspired me to lay out what I think are some important points to remember…

1. Humanity’s universal predicament

The point of Romans 1:18-32, which both the sermon and the Supper and Study groups this week have touched on, is that God’s wrath is his response to human evil.  And the root of this evil is the refusal to honor God and thank him for our lives (see verse 21 in particular).

The Bible never treats the existence of God as a doubtful issue that needs to be proven.  And in this passage in Romans, the apostle Paul tells us that “what can be known about God is plain [to people], because God has shown it to them” by means of the creation.  Humanity’s folly is to see the good things God has made, and instead of turning to God and thanking him, they live for and worship (and even fear) the things themselves.  And because we become like what we worship, humanity’s universal bent towards idolatry leads to a universal distortion in our humanity.  From what we do with our minds to what we do with our bodies, everything becomes corrupted when we stop worshiping God.

2. God’s perfect solution

The Bible is also clear that God has provided a solution to this universal problem.  When humanity walked away from God and became more and more corrupt, God declared that this would not be the last word in the story.  In the person of Jesus, God came after us.  He taught us about our heavenly Father.  He showed us the true intent of God’s commandments.  He also revealed to us just how godless we had become.  And then he dealt with the mess we have made once and for all at the cross.

The relationship between God and humanity had been destroyed from our side, and none of us were willing or able to fix it.  The covenant had been broken.  But by becoming man in the person of his Son Jesus, God upheld both sides of the covenant.  Where we disobeyed, Jesus obeyed.  Where we worshiped our wallets, our stomachs, or our egos, Jesus worshiped the Father.  But Jesus did not just obey in our place.  He identified himself with us as sinners.  He allowed himself to be baptized, though he had no sins from which he needed cleansing.  As the apostle Paul says elsewhere, Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He obeyed in our place, and he also suffered the wrath of God in our place.  He suffered as man.  But he also suffered as God.  In Jesus Christ, God himself became the solution to mankind’s alienation from God.  If God himself has provided the solution, no other solution is needed.  If God himself provided such a costly solution as the death of his Son, clearly there was no other solution that would work.  Jesus himself is the answer to the problem of human evil.  Jesus is our salvation.

3. Who then will be saved?

The Greek word for “grace” is charis.  The Greek word for “gift” is charisma.  In the New Testament, salvation is by God’s grace – which means that it is a gift.  No one earns salvation.  From the beginning, God’s desire and plan was to be in a covenant relationship with mankind.  It was us who walked away.  And that could have been the last word.  God could have let us just have what was coming to us.  Instead, he came after us.  In Jesus, he re-established the covenant that we had broken and took upon himself the pain and loss which our rebellion deserves.  Now he offers reconciliation freely to all.  But it is a gift we have to receive, and it is a gift we receive through Jesus.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  So the life we receive through Jesus is a life we receive through faith.  When we believe in God’s solution to humanity’s problem, we become partakers of that solution.  We get in on what God is doing.  Our sins get washed away.  We find ourselves reconciled to the God who made us.  But this is where the conversation gets tough…

What about people who have never heard of God’s solution?

Well, we have already seen from Romans 1:18-32 that people who have never heard of God’s solution are still not exempt from humanity’s problem.  They still have the issues of idol worship and sinful behavior that not only keep them from God, but serve as evidence that they too have turned away from God.  And the Bible’s number one answer to their predicament is that people who do know Jesus need to go and tell them about him!  This is the entire missionary enterprise – whether it means going oversees or going next door.

But what about those whom missionaries haven’t reached yet?

In the book of Acts, a gentile named Cornelius receives a vision about the apostle Peter.  An angel comes to Cornelius and tells him that there is a man who can tell him about salvation (see Acts 10).  In this instance, the angel merely sets things up for Cornelius to go find Peter.  It is Peter who ultimately tells Cornelius and his friends about Jesus.  But today, numerous stories arise from time to time about Muslims who are meeting Jesus in dreams and visions.  In the past, stories have been told of Hindus and Sikhs seeing Jesus in visions or being directed by angels to find Christian missionaries.  In American history, I have heard of more than one Native American tribe (I remember one specific instance in Canada) who have come to faith in Christ through the visions of their medicine men.  When these tribes have met Christian missionaries, both missionaries and tribesmen have realized that Jesus Christ is the Savior the Indians already knew.

These stories make the point that salvation is still always by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus.  They don’t eliminate the Bible’s number one answer to the problem of people who don’t know Jesus.  God’s plan is still to use his people to tell others about him.  But it reminds us that God is not limited.

If John 3:16 is true, we first of all need to realize that salvation is not just limited to conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal fundamentalism.  I say this a little tongue in cheek, but it is still worth remembering.  If “whosoever believes” is a real promise, then the breadth of the church throughout the world and throughout history is much broader than many of us suppose.  I am a Bible-believing, evangelical, Pentecostal Christian (perhaps not a “fundamentalist,” depending on what you mean by that) for a reason.  I think evangelical Christianity has a better grasp of the New Testament message than most other Christian streams.  But because I am a Bible believing evangelical, I have to affirm and emphasize the whosoever of “whosoever believes.”  Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Protestant, or of some indigenous church, wherever Jesus Christ is preached and believed in, salvation is there.

Jesus told us that “few” would find the way that leads to life, but the apostle John saw a vision of “a multitude that no one could number” worshiping the triune God (see Revelation 7:9-12).  In Jesus’ day, few indeed accepted the Messiah who had come to them.  In our own day, too, it seems that few have any real interest in Jesus.  Mankind has rebelled and the wrath of God is real.  But God is a God of love, and his desire is that none should perish.  How narrow is the way of salvation?  It is as narrow as Jesus and as broad as the grace of God.

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Free from, Free to, Free for…

By Mike Ivaska

The freedom that God gives us in Christ is an amazing thing, usually not fully appreciated or comprehended by us.  I have been reading some in the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians lately, and Paul’s working understanding of freedom is rich and multifaceted.  In the apostle Paul’s theology of freedom in Christ, we find that we are simultaneously free from, free to, and free for.  Keep reading to see what I mean.

Free From:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

The first dimension of freedom is probably the most obvious and, perhaps, the least controversial.  The freedom that we have, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a freedom from sin.  We are free from its eternal consequences because Christ suffered on our behalf.  We are free from its stains and shame because God has declared  us clean.

We are also free from sin’s power.  This is perhaps harder to believe, but it’s still true.  Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection not only takes away our guilt but also destroys sin’s power and rights over us.  We belong to Christ, and we no longer need to walk in sin (see Romans 6).  Not only that, but when we became believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit of God took up residence within us, regenerating our spirits and making us new.  So we are further freed from sin’s power by the very presence of God and the birth of a new nature inside.  As Paul says, we are washed, we are sanctified, and we are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  Hallelujah!

But also…

22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23)

We are free from being defined or enslaved by anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ.  For Paul, circumcision and uncircumcision were irrelevant.  Being a slave or a free person were of little consequence (though if one could attain freedom, one should do so [v.21]).  Being rich or poor, male or female, and all the prestige or powerlessness inherent therein – none of that was of ultimate importance to Paul.  We are free from slavery to people and society so that we can become slaves of Christ and find true freedom therein.

Free To:

“let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.” (1 Corinthians 7:36b)

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” (1 Corinthians 10:26, Psalm 24:1).

27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:27-30)

As I have been driving around today running errands, I have been listening to my old punk rock CD’s from my high school years.  This is not Christian music.  It is punk rock, and it is youthful, loud, and foolish.  But, in my opinion, it is also great music!  I love putting in a CD of the Clash and listening to their snotty British sneers as they sing songs like “London’s Burning” and “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.”  Like I say, this is not worship music.  It’s youthful foolishness put to music, and at times the entertainment I get is from laughing at the songs and at memories of myself when I was young and thought I was such a rebel.  But, Christian or not, it is music that I am free to enjoy.

We are not very good at this aspect of freedom, to be honest.  There are some reading this article right now who are perhaps coming up with a multitude of reasons why I really should not consider myself “free” to listen to my old punk rock CD’s.  And, to be honest, there are some people who would be wise to find something else to listen to.  There are also definitely people I would not listen to the music around because it might offend them or even cause them to stumble.  But for me it is not a stumbling block and it is an aspect of God’s good creation and common grace that I can find upbeat, fast and raucous music that fits my mood when I’m having a busy day of driving back and forth across the island.  Sometimes Hillsong United just won’t do the trick.

What I am trying to say is that Christians are not just free from sin, we are also free to enjoy life and the world and creation.  We are of course not free to sin – but if we make everything that is not religious or “spiritual” off limits we cut ourselves off from a huge swath of life that God meant for us to enjoy!  Really, no one should be more able to enjoy life than a Christian.  And even if someone were to object that the apostle Paul tells us, without the resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19), allow me to simply respond that the same apostle said that to teach Christians that they must abstain from the good things in life (like food and marriage) is demonic. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (see 1 Timothy 4:3-4).  No one should be able to enjoy the good things that life gives us more than the Christian.

And this leads me to my final point…

Free For:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Corinthians 9:19)

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Having been set free from sin and having been made free to enjoy life, we are now ultimately free for God and others.  The apostle Paul, throughout his letter to the Corinthians, has been trying to get them free.  The Corinthians have already become free in the sense that their sins are forgiven and they have been adopted into God’s family and gifted with the Spirit of God.  But they are still stuck in their old carnal ways of thinking.  They want to divide up into cliques around their favorite preachers.  They want to make everyone in the church abstain from sexual relations within the bonds of marriage – not for Paul’s reasons but because, as good Greeks, they think they can become more “spiritual” by becoming less physical.  Others of them want to allow sexual behavior, not just within the bonds of marriage, but in whatever way feels good in the moment.  Others of them want corporate worship to become a time to flaunt their gifts and function in the Spirit however they want – no matter how it affects the people around them.  But Paul wants them free – free from their sin and their foolish ways of thinking, free to enjoy marriage and meat and wine (as long as they are not causing an impediment to their own or another’s faith and obedience), and ultimately free for each other, free for their lost neighbors who need to hear about Jesus and abandon their idols.  He wants the Corinthians to be free for God – the God who is love and who wants them to walk in the joy and freedom that comes when the Spirit of love is truly in operation.

 

 

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Praying in the Trinity

By Mike Ivaska

This week is the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), the academic society for the world Pentecostal movement.  I had hoped to attend as a non-SPS member but decided not to for various reasons.  However, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some brothers in the Lord who are in town for the conference.  Three of us got together for coffee this morning in Seattle to have a brief time of fellowship between SPS events.  As we closed our time together in prayer, it struck me what a wonderful privilege it is to “pray in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).

First of all, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that praying “in the Spirit” means more than just praying in tongues.  Of course, the apostle Paul uses “pray in the Spirit” as an alternate way of saying “pray in tongues” in his first letter to the Corinthians (see chapter 14).  But when Paul tells us to pray “at all times in the Spirit” in his Ephesians letter (6:18), I think he has something in mind that is more like his exhortation to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).  Paul wants us to consciously live our lives in the Spirit.  And I say consciously, because if we are believers in Jesus, we are already “in the Spirit” so far as our salvation is concerned (Romans 8:9).  What Paul wants us to do is to live our lives and pray our prayers as though this were true.  Indeed, even being “baptized in the Spirit” is simply to let the Spirit of God who already dwells in all who believe be released in our lives.

That brief time of prayer with my Pentecostal brothers opened my eyes afresh to the wonderful privilege of praying to (and in) a God who is Trinity.  Scripture is clear that we pray to the Father (consider the opening words of the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”).  Scripture also is clear that we pray in or through the Son.  That is what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name” – we come to God on the merits of his Son, our Great High Priest and our perfect sacrificial Lamb.  Indeed, as Jesus represents us before God as our Priest, he intercedes for us himself (Romans 8:34), and I have to imagine that our prayers “in Jesus’ name” come to the Father by means of Jesus’ priestly intercession (consider the interesting tension between Jesus’ words in John 14:13-14 and John 16:23-24, 26-27).

So we pray to the Father and through the Son.  We also pray in (the same Greek word could be translated bythe Spirit.  God himself is love.  He is within himself a Trinitarian fellowship – a community.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father.  The love of God that flows from Father to Son is the Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (Romans 5:5), and when God draws us up into himself by the Spirit as we trust in Christ, we are drawn up into the life of love that is the Trinity.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and by the Spirit they make their home together with us (John 14:15-23).  To pray “in the Spirit,” to me, means to lean into that reality.  To realize that because of Christ, the Father hears me and the Spirit lives within me.  To sense the reality of the Spirit, to lean into him, and to enjoy the Life of God at work within us.

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