An Acceptable Fool

11/24/2017 § Leave a comment

Presented at this year’s Akron Alliance Fellowship Church Ladies Brunch Conference, Saturday, October 7, 2017:

I’ve come to a place in my life where I have determined, beyond any doubt, that I don’t suffer fools very well. I don’t. I’m not proud of this statement. In some ways, it is an admission of guilt; however, I will do everything in my power to make sure that the fool that I run across will never be insulted or belittled. There may be comments in my mind that I will need to take to God for forgiveness later on, but I will speak to that person with kindness and courtesy, and then later on pray for that person to get it right. I am wary of making sure that I watch what I say–or even keep my own mouth shut–lest I be called a fool, as well. Proverbs 17:28 says that “even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips.”

All of us have encountered people who can be considered as fools as referred to in the book of Proverbs. In addition, Scripture refers to some who take foolish actions, or people who lack sense or understanding. We won’t cover all of those verses here, but you get the idea. The psalms and proverbs of Scripture cover a lot of ground in this area, and the general theme that pertains to a fool involves a lack of wisdom or discipline (Proverbs 1:7), performing acts of wickedness (Isaiah 35:8) or having poor judgment (Proverbs 10:21), or even deserving to be chastised or corrected with a baseball bat–I mean, a rod (Proverbs 26:3)!

Well, the truth of the matter is that those psalms, proverbs and other Scriptures are written to describe me–especially when I am being hard-headed and disobedient. When I’m trusting in anything and everything besides Jesus Christ. I wish there were more occasions where I could say that I was a fool for Christ more than just being a plain old fool, but I don’t think I can because I know that I needed some heart surgery to take place.

One of my new favorite singers, Ms. Crystal Jackson, has a song that refers to this heart surgery. It begins as you listen to the words and sounds of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to you about your life. The Spirit is kind and cool, but He also can cut right to the chase. His Word cuts bone and marrow (Hebrews 4:12) like a hot knife through butter, and it convicts you of the life that you are living. Even with all of this cutting, paring and pruning, you can still see the character of Christ at work in your life, who declares in Matthew 11:30 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Sin in your life weighs you down to the point that you don’t want to carry the burden anymore. Thankfully, the burden can be lifted once you decide to turn from your life of sin (because you no longer want to disappoint God) and acknowledge your need for a Savior in Jesus Christ. The heart surgery begins there, and the Spirit joins you in your fight–but now it’s the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7)!

The words “heart surgery” are not unique. The act of heart surgery means that a surgeon is repairing damage to the heart to return it to a place where it is beating and performing as it should in order to sustain life within the patient. I’m thankful that Jesus Christ performs this surgery for me on a regular basis, because I know that I sin and fall short of His glory, and I need His Spirit to make those repairs in me. I know, in spite of my position, that I am a work-in-progress in my goal to be a faithful, loyal servant of Jesus Christ.

I’m getting better at it. I don’t take as many trips down Fools Lane as I used to. I still have a ways to go. I am still receptive to the Holy Spirit continuing this surgery that removes the heart of stone and turns it into a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

I want the stubbornness and impatience to be thrown off for obedience, gentleness and compassion, and I want people to see my life as a testimony–in my obedience, gentleness and compassion–living a life of thankfulness in Christ.

Now, that’s my short story. I don’t need to remind you what it is to be the wrong kind of fool now, do I? There are examples of being this type of fool everywhere you turn. Let me give you a quick quiz as an example. An NFL (National Football League) player, who will remain nameless, has 11 children from 10 different women. If they were running a race (the player and the women–all eleven of them together) for Top Fool, who do you think would win? And they’re off! The player is running hard, but look at the speed of the other women! It would be stride for stride all the way to the finish! And it’s a photo finish! You can’t tell who won this race, because there is no such thing as a winner in this type of race. Everyone loses, and the children involved are also on the losing side because of the lives that they now have. Being a fool has consequences that affect others in a very negative manner, and only God Himself can rescue and heal those who suffer from the fallout. His love, grace and mercy prevails over selfishness, pettiness and evil. Praise the Lord!

We need more people to become fools for Christ. This is an acceptable kind of fool. Why use the term “fools for Christ”? Because Paul spoke about this exact term in Scripture. He was giving counsel and instruction to the Corinthian church about what true leadership in Christ represents. He stated in 1 Corinthians 4:9-10 that he and his disciples were fools in Christ to the world because their message of the gospel has made them stand out in a peculiar way before others, and that they have been subject to ridicule, dishonor and oppression. There were even a couple of references in Acts (17:18 and 26:24) where Paul, in proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, was called crazy or insane. This is not hard to understand, because believers today are often referred to as “weird” or as “Jesus Freaks” (that’s an old term, too), or as “nuts.” More often than not, you are an outsider and treated differently among your friends or people you know because of your faith. It’s nothing that should catch believers off guard. I would rather be on the “weird” side than on the “wrong” side. I would rather be “left out” of a group because of my faith in Christ than be “lost” and without hope.

The passages in 1 Corinthians Chapter 1 are meant to be an encouragement to any of us who have been ridiculed or even mistreated overtly or even covertly:

1 Corinthians 1:18-19
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

1 Corinthians 1:21
For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

And there is a reason why Jesus embraced the children who ran to Him (they saw something in Him that some of the adults, with hardened hearts, never saw). He knew of their innocence, and declared that whoever becomes like a child and humbles himself before Jesus Christ will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-4).

Be encouraged, for God knows what you are going through. When we are down, He will lift us up! When we see signs that we are losing, He will remind us that we already have the victory! Even when we are ridiculed, He reveals to us His grace and compassion. He covets your prayers and your relationship with Him, and He will affirm you as you seek after Him and follow His instruction.

I sincerely pray that you will consider that being a fool for Christ is a much better way to live than being just another, everyday fool.

 

© Melvin Gaines

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Jesus Desires for You to Discover Your PASSION! (Complete Seminar Text)

04/10/2017 § Leave a comment

Text from Spring Break 2017 Seminar for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Akron OH and guests, April 7-8, 2017 at the Hampton Inn by Hilton, Stow OH:

Day 1 – Friday

Thank you for attending this year’s Spring Break 2017 Relationship Conference presented by Akron Alliance Fellowship Church.  We sincerely hope that you have a great time here this weekend, and that you are inspired and encouraged by what God has to say to you!  A special thanks to the staff at the Hampton Inn by Hilton for hosting this event for the sixth consecutive year!

If you were with us in 2015 for our seminar, Your IMAGE and Forgiveness, and last year’s A PACT with Jesus: Making the Right Choices, you would have noted that both of these programs were to help its participants begin and continue the process of developing a closer, healthier and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.  In order for a believer in Christ to grow in faith, he has to do more than just go beyond the basics.  This annual seminar series provides practical methods for a present believer, and even a potential believer, to reach one’s fullest potential as a child of God living in a manner that brings praise to Jesus Christ!

Our discussion this weekend is about developing a passion for service in Jesus Christ.  In order to develop this passion, there has a starting point.  The starting point for this process begins with you.

Why does it start with you?  It is necessary for you to undertake a self-analysis of who you are, what you are and where you are going.  This self-analysis can be simple or detailed, but it should address, in some manner, the following questions (beyond just defining who you are) …

[Handout H-1]

What is your purpose (present)?

What do you want to accomplish in the future (future)?

By putting answers with these questions, it merely establishes a baseline. The most important things that you are to face and reckon with over time is what is happening today, which includes for our discussion within the immediate future (days), and your goals for the future (extended months and years from now).

The answers to these questions are just a baseline for your path moving forward.

Your past formed the path that you have traveled to get to where you are today. Your past has provided defining moments of your life that indicate who you are in this moment; however, it is important to note that who you are today does not have to define who or what you will accomplish in the future, and we know this because of the change that Jesus Christ provides for us each day.

In the same way that Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, created in you a new person, He has the ability to continue to mold and shape you into a person that can do even more things through Christ, who gives you the strength and ability to do them (Philippians 4:13)!

So when we analyze these two questions, what do you see about yourself?

(Discussion)

I trust that, with this weekend’s discussion, you will be able to see your role in the body of Christ more clearly than you do now, and that you will also gain the desire to live your life in Christ to its fullest.  You are able to do this with confidence in the knowledge that you are right where you should be in Christ.  There is no better place to be, and this is how you can live your life with passion in Jesus Christ.

[Dinner Break]

 

Part A – Under Construction

This weekend, we will be discussing a number of construction projects.  These construction projects will start with you.

Your review will require self-examination and self-exploration, and at the same time, a fair amount of planning and preparation as you go.

You are always under construction because of how God shapes and moves you throughout your life.  This is whether you have an intimate relationship with Jesus or even if you do not.  As much as we like to think that we control our direction or even our destiny, we really don’t have that kind of power over our lives.  We don’t have any control over the course of life.  God is the author of all life and what happens in it.  You have often heard the use of the words “God is in control.” Scripture does not use those exact words, but there are verses that support God’s predominant role in your life:

Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

The life of a believer is indeed guided through the help of the Holy Spirit when making decisions.  I also stated that even non-believers, those who do not have a relationship with the Lord, are also under the “God is in control” umbrella even if they do not realize it.  How do I know this?  Take a look at Isaiah 45:1-7:

Isaiah 45:1-7 HCSB

The Lord says this to Cyrus, His anointed,

whose right hand I have grasped

to subdue nations before him,

to disarm kings,

to open the doors before him

and the gates will not be shut:

“I will go before you

and level the uneven places;

I will shatter the bronze doors

and cut the iron bars in two.

I will give you the treasures of darkness

and riches from secret places,

so that you may know that I, Yahweh,

the God of Israel call you by your name.

I call you by your name,

because of Jacob My servant

and Israel My chosen one.

I give a name to you,

though you do not know Me.

I am Yahweh, and there is no other;

there is no God but Me.

I will strengthen you,

though you do not know Me,

so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting

that there is no one but Me.

I am Yahweh, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness,

I make success and create disaster;

I, Yahweh, do all these things.

Recognition of God’s control in your life is an important aspect of effective planning.  If, for example, you take into account how the weather impacts your life, your plans actually take into account the upcoming forecast.  If there is rain in the forecast, it can certainly affect whether or not you will attend a baseball game or plan a picnic.  If there is snow and cold weather and you love to ski, then you would plan to hit the slopes!  If there is a hurricane in the forecast, you can choose to stick it out (at your own peril), or to evacuate to a place of safety.  In all three of these situations, decisions are being made because of events that are beyond one’s control.  In the same way, recognizing that God is in control still requires you to make a plan for your life.  In going further, God would not want a person to live a life of ambiguity.  Planning is essential as it is preparation for the future.

 

Part B – God Has a Plan for Your Life

It is reassuring that God has a plan for each one of you, as well.  But it is important for us to see that, in addition to planning and preparation, one recognizes that God’s plan for your life involves recognition of who He is and what He means to your life plans.

Jeremiah 29:11-12

For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration— “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

In your planning and preparation, you are to:

  • Call on Jesus Christ
  • Search for Him with all your heart
  • Pray to Him (and He will listen)

When you involve the Lord in your plans as you seek Him, He will make His presence known to you, and you will see how He gives you hope for the future!  He keeps His promises and wants to see you succeed in whatever you do!

Construction projects start with a dream.  A thought.  A desire to change something for the better.

Your construction project will not be successful unless you know what you are undertaking.  Your personal construction project must have a goal.  What is it that you want to accomplish in this endeavor?  What needs to be worked on?  What needs the most attention in your life?

Let’s review what your goals are.

[Handout H-2]

What are your short-term goals?

What are your long-term goals?

Use the handout (No. 2) in front of you to capture your short-term goals and your long-term goals.  Write down what your short-term goals are and what goals you would like to accomplish in the future.

In order to start a fire, you need a spark.  You provide the spark, and let the Spirit’s leading and guidance do the rest!

From here, you need to compare what your goals are to what you believe your life purpose is (from Handout No. 1).

[Handout H-3]

What do you presently do each day?

What do you LIKE to do, and if you could, would do every day?

Who do you admire and why?

What do you love to learn about?

What can you talk about all day without getting tired of it?

What excites you? (or) What inspires you? (or both)

[Discussion]

 

Part C – Passion Defined

When one uses the word “passion,” what comes to mind?

Before I delve into dictionary definitions, let’s see if we can come up with one or two word synonyms or descriptive terms that can help us define the word “passion.”

(discussion) (with note taking)

With our mini-definitions, I will provide two different definitions of “passion” from American Heritage and Merriam-Webster:

pas•sion

  1. A powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger.
  2. Ardent love.

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

1

(often capitalized)

a:  the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death

b:  an oratorio based on a gospel narrative of the Passion Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

2

obsolete:  suffering

3

the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces

moldable and not moldable … and many other passions of matter — Francis Bacon

4

a (1):  emotion “his ruling passion is greed” (2) passions plural: “the emotions as distinguished from reason a study of the passions”

b:  intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction

with enough passion to make a great poet — W. B. Yeats

c:  an outbreak of anger a crime of passion

5

a:  ardent affection:  love He had never felt such passion for any woman but her.

b:  a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept a passion for chess a passion for opera

c:  sexual desire a look of passion in her face

d:  an object of desire or deep interest

© 2017 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

 

It should be noted that the word “passion” has a number of meanings that range from the sufferings of Jesus Christ to something that borders on one losing control of himself.  To help with this for our discussion this weekend, we need to highlight that the passion that we will be discussing does not encompass everything you see in these definitions, but it does capture something that may be elusive to many people when it comes to their relationship with Jesus Christ–intensity.  It is this intensity through the power and enabling of the Holy Spirit, that helps a person to recognize what he or she is passionate about, and how a person lives an intentional life of service for God’s glory in Jesus Christ.  It is an amazing parallel to how Jesus Christ lived and died for each one of us.

 

Part D – An Intentional Life of Intensity in Christ

According to John Piper, it was Jesus Christ Himself that lived with intensity His intentional life.  The intensity was His desire to remain obedient to the Father as he intentionally suffered and died on the cross for each of us.  His desire was to ultimately pave the way, by His actions, for every person who acknowledges Him to experience eternal life.  His passion was for us!  His agape love for us, from the beginning of mankind, reflects to us how much He thought all of this through, and you were included in His plan!

When you consider that you were part of God’s plan in being here to live, what do you think about this?

(discussion)

[Dismissal for evening]

Piper, J. (2014). The Intensity of Christ’s Love and the Intentionality of His Death. Desiring God Series. Retrieved March 14, 2017 from http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/the-intensity-of-christ-s-love-and-the-intentionality-of-his-death.html

 

Day 2 – Saturday

Part 1 – Heart Matters

Your ongoing efforts of self-examination and self-evaluation are not much different from our ongoing theme of our church studies, which is learning more about your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In order to know more about who you are in Christ, you need to know more about Jesus Christ.  There are simple reasons why this is so important:

1.) Jesus Christ is your Creator who knows all about you.

2.) Jesus promised a Helper, the Holy Spirit, for you to help you to live your life.

3.) The Holy Spirit is an intimate helper and sanctifier within your daily living.

By knowing more about Jesus Christ, you will grow more and more:

  • You will see things as Jesus sees them
  • He will give you greater insight into your ability to succeed in Christ
  • You will do your best as Jesus wants you to be your best!

Faith Stages Handout

[Handout H-4]

Faith Stages

Powerful, Purposeful, Principled and Approachable

Trusting completely in Jesus Christ helps you to reach your greatest potential through the enabling and enriching presence of the Holy Spirit.

P

A passion-filled believer is:

Powerful.  Your power comes from your affiliation with the Holy Spirit and righteousness.  He is responsive to our needs and gives us energy through His presence.

Psalm 138:3 HCSB

On the day I called, You answered me;

You increased strength within me.

2 Timothy 1:6-7

Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

A passion-filled believer is:

Purposeful.  Your passion is derived from knowing your purpose.  The moment that you know and understand your purpose in Christ, your flame of passion has been kindled, and there is nothing that can put it out!

Ephesians 2:10 ESV

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Philippians 4:13

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

When I finally determined what my life purpose was in my relationship with Jesus Christ, it gave me a new meaning to my faith and what I was striving to accomplish—not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of the body of Christ and for the purpose of winning people to Christ.

A passion-filled believer is:

Principled.  In line with our previous discussions on making a PACT with Jesus Christ for effective decision-making, a believer in Jesus Christ desires righteousness and lives according to His standards of Christlikeness.  He adheres to a lifestyle that honors God and keeps His commands.

Principled believers rely upon the wisdom and words of God for daily living.

James 1:5

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.

_____________

A

A passion-filled believer is:

Approachable.  In the same way that God is approachable because of the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus Christ shed for all of our sins, we are to be approachable to those individuals within our spheres of influence.  We are to be and remain as lights in a dark world.  We are to be attractive in this world not because of our appearance, but because of our Christlike love for others.  Love goes a long way in making you approachable, especially when it is shown to those that the world sees as unlovable or unattractive.

1 John 4:7-19

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given assurance to us from His Spirit.  And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God.  And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world.  There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because He first loved us.

Note that in this passage there is what seems to be a progression of faith in how we are to love one another.  Note that true perfection in love comes where fear no longer matters anymore to you.  Since fear is a tool of the enemy, a passionate believer in Jesus Christ is reaching perfection in love with a strong progression of faith in his or her life.

[Discussion]

[Break]

 

Part 2 – Abundant Life and Spirit-Filled

A passion-filled believer is living the:

Abundant life.  The ultimate goal of every person, believer or not, is to live an abundant life.

John 10:10 ESV

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

What is the abundant life?  It depends on how you look at it.  The non-believer, or even some believers, may associate abundance with wealth or riches.  That is not God’s definition of abundance. (Remember the plight of the rich man who knew what he needed to do to follow Jesus but was very sad because he couldn’t do it:

Mark 10:17-27 NLT

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good.  But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”  This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

And yes, it is possible, through Jesus Christ, for you to live a life of abundance.

Jesus does not just want you to simply exist.

He does not even want you just to have what you might deem to be a carefree life.  That’s not biblical.

He does, however, want you to have the abundant life.  He wants you to have a life that overflows with God’s presence in every aspect of your existence.  He wants you to experience the completeness of life according to His will and purpose for you.  The effect of an abundant life will be the blessings of life that God will show you because of your faithfulness to Him.

Heading before this passage:  Blessings for Obedience…

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

“Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth.  All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city

and blessed in the country.

Your descendants will be blessed,

and your land’s produce,

and the offspring of your livestock,

including the young of your herds

and the newborn of your flocks.

Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed.

You will be blessed when you come in

and blessed when you go out.

“The Lord will cause the enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you. They will march out against you from one direction but flee from you in seven directions.  The Lord will grant you a blessing on your storehouses and on everything you do; He will bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.  The Lord will establish you as His holy people, as He swore to you, if you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in His ways.  Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by Yahweh’s name, and they will stand in awe of you.  The Lord will make you prosper abundantly with children, the offspring of your livestock, and your land’s produce in the land the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.  The Lord will open for you His abundant storehouse, the sky, to give your land rain in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow.  The Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward if you listen to the Lord your God’s commands I am giving you today and are careful to follow them.  Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not go after other gods to worship them.

Not everyone reaches this goal because of the challenges of life and deception from Satan:

Mark 4:1-9

Again He began to teach by the sea, and a very large crowd gathered around Him. So He got into a boat on the sea and sat down, while the whole crowd was on the shore facing the sea.  He taught them many things in parables, and in His teaching He said to them: “Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow.  As he sowed, this occurred: Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it sprang up right away, since it didn’t have deep soil.  When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it didn’t have a root, it withered.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce a crop.  Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop that increased 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.”  Then He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!”

When Jesus explains this parable (to His disciples), you can see why many people fail to live the abundant life.

Mark 4:13-20

Then He said to them: “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any of the parables?  The sower sows the word.  These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them.  And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy.  But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble.  Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But the ones sown on good ground are those who hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop: 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.”

When you get right down to it, the only thing that keep us from living the abundant life is our lack of faith in the power of Jesus Christ over the enemy.  The enemy is Satan, who is described in John 10:10 as the one who seeks to kill and destroy, but God’s power and ability overcomes anything and everything that Satan can do.  The key to living the abundant life is to resist Satan and to seek and remain in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

James 4:7 NIV

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

You know you are progressing towards the abundant life that Jesus wants you to have when you are advancing past the “baby milk” stage of faith and just looking at life for the basics:

Matthew 6:25-33 ESV

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

You are worth so much more in Christ!  In order to experience the abundant life, you will have to throw caution to the wind and life a life of faithfulness in trusting the words of Jesus Christ.  He wants so much more for you!  A passion-filled believer lives with purpose, and experiences the abundant life in Christ!

The sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, in your ongoing fellowship with Christ, will give you the ability to produce the multiples described in Mark Chapter 4 as you live for Christ in abundance!

______________________

S

A passion-filled believer is:

Spirit-filled.  The true abundant life can only be achieved by the believer in Jesus Christ.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the catalyst that enables you to achieve this abundance and live a passion-filled existence!

Ephesians 5:18

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is instantaneous upon accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, but the Spirit does not turn the believer into a mind-numbed robot.  You have to allow the Spirit to be in control in order to offset your own fleshly nature.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV

Do not quench the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Being Spirit-filled means successful living in reverence and service for Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

The Holy Spirit teaches believers how to live a Christlike existence, and His lessons are invaluable as He sanctifies with His presence.

Being Spirit-filled gives you the ability to live a life a passion for Jesus Christ:

Colossians 3:12-17 HCSB

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

[Discussion]

[Break]

 

Part 3 – Sensitive, Servant, Sanctified, Stands Firm, Sharer of Faith

A passion-filled believer is:

Sensitive.  A follower of Christ who is mature in his or her faith and lives a purpose-filled life is sensitive to his or her environment.  Prayers are less about self and more about others.  It extends beyond close friends and family and even reaches those who do not know the Lord and those who need encouragement.  Sensitivity in Christ means love, care and compassion for others.

Look at the words of Christ in Isaiah 61 as to being sensitive to the needs of the people:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,

because the Lord has anointed Me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives

and freedom to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

and the day of our God’s vengeance;

to comfort all who mourn,

to provide for those who mourn in Zion;

to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

festive oil instead of mourning,

and splendid clothes instead of despair.

And they will be called righteous trees,

planted by the Lord

to glorify Him.

Your life of sensitivity, after all is said and done, glorifies God!  The softly spoken words and demeanor of a passion-filled believer represents peace and comfort for those who need simple encouragement all the way to those who are in the midst of a turbulent experience.

Proverbs 16:24 ESV

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

1 Peter 3:8 ESV

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

A passion-filled believer is a:

Servant.  The desire to live in a Christlike manner in sensitivity lends to being a Christlike servant.

John 12:26 ESV

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

1 Peter 2:16 ESV

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Being a servant is exactly what Jesus Christ wants us to do before others.  He set the example before His disciples:

John 13:12-17 HCSB

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

A passion-filled servant understands the importance of devoting his service to Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the enabler through the humility of the servant, and God is the one who receives the glory!

____________________________________

S (#2)

A passion-filled believer is:

Sanctified.  The Holy Spirit’s presence in the believer is a sanctifying presence.  Sanctification is the combination of the believer’s growth in the likeness of Christ. It is the accumulation and application of God’s wisdom and knowledge from none other than Jesus Christ, who A. B. Simpson refers to as “The Sanctifier.”  Jesus Christ proclaimed that the Holy Spirit is the One who will teach and remind believers of the words of Jesus Christ.

John 14:26 ESV

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit works within you from the moment of your conversion in recognition that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.  It is best described as an ongoing cleansing process as you put off the old and grow in your new life in Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Sanctification is what God desires for your life.  You cannot live a life of passion in Christ without sanctification, because it is the essence of an obedient lifestyle.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NIV

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Sanctification does not mean a life of perfection, but it does mean that you desire to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  It means that the believer desires a greater faith walk and a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, and both of these requires a humble, teachable role within the presence of the Spirit.

 

A passion-filled believer:

Stands firm.  In living according to the IMAGE of Jesus Christ, one of the most important aspects of living is under the “E” for endurance.  Every believer has to endure a daily onslaught of temptation and fleshly desires.  A believer has to not only endure a multitude of issues and distractions, but also must stand firm in the face of any opposition, especially any challenges to your faith in Jesus Christ.  For the person who is living with a passionate conviction in Jesus Christ, it can and will be done without any hesitation or uncertainty.

Philippians 1:27-30 HCSB

Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance—and this is from God.  For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.

Standing firm means that there is nothing that can shake you from living a life of passion in Jesus Christ.

 

A passion-filled believer is a:

Sharer of faith.  This is something that becomes more and more comfortable over time as you allow the sanctification process to continue.  Sharing the love of Christ, your faith, is an act of discipleship.  The believer not only shares about Jesus Christ to those who do not have a relationship with Him, but also gives encouragement to other believers as often as necessary.

1 Peter 3:13-17 HCSB

And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.  However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Mark 16:15 ESV

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

Colossians 4:5-6 ESV

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Romans 1:11-12 HCSB

For I want very much to see you, so I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

A passion-filled believer reflects the image of Jesus Christ for all to see, and one who readily shares his or her faith does so with confidence and assurance that the truth is being spoken.

[Discussion]

[Break]

 

Part 4 – Influencer, Iron-Sharpener and Instructor

I

A passion-filled believer is an:

Influencer.  Sharing your faith, in the leading of the Holy Spirit, is influential.  The words spoken are given with conviction and in righteousness to those who hear them.  A passion-filled believer is speaking in accord with the will of God, who desires for every person to enter into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

There is a difference between an influencer and a coercer.  An influencer shows the love of Christ in their speech to others.  One who coerces is not really allowing the Spirit to work in the life of the hearer.  The words spoken are to reflect the love and concern of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:13-16 ESV

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

An influencer provides words of wisdom and knowledge about not just the gospel, but everything that is beneficial.

Proverbs 9:9 ESV

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

 

A passion-filled believer is an:

Iron-sharpener.  The proper influence must originate from the Spirit of truth.  When referring to Scripture, the believer must use these words properly in order that God is glorified:

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

An iron-sharpener is actively speaking about matters of Scripture to provide others with food for thought and encourages feedback from others.

Proverbs 27:17 ESV

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

 

A passion-filled believer is an:

Instructor.  A believer who faithfully and consistently reads and studies the Bible is more than just a Bible student.  He is an influencer, iron-sharpener and also an instructor.  A passion-filled believer gives instruction on Christlike living with both words and actions everywhere he or she goes.  An instructor not only shares godly wisdom and knowledge but also reflects how to behave properly and live with character in all situations and circumstances.

Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Psalm 32:8 ESV

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

[Discussion]

[Break – Checkout]

 

Part 5 – Obedient to God and His Word, Outreacher, Neighbor and New Creation

O

A passion-filled believer is:

Obedient to God and His Word.  Being obedient to God means loving Him with all of your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37), and it includes an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

John 14:15 ESV

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

1 John 5:3 ESV  

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Loving God and obedience to Him are synonymous.  You cannot do one without the other.  A passion-filled believer strives to live in faithfulness and trust in the Word each day.

 

A passion-filled believer is an:

Outreacher.  Believers are not to stay amongst themselves or even within their small group of friends.  Passion-filled believers go outside of themselves.  They go where the Holy Spirit takes them in ministering to others, and allow the Spirit to take the lead in all discussions and opportunities to witness to others.  The outreach efforts truly reflect to others the person’s love for God, reverence to God and faithfulness.  This is a significant difference to those who claim to desire to minister to others.  Outreachers live in this manner each day, and to be prepared to minister to others at any given moment as the Spirit prompts.

Matthew 28:19 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 1:8

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Romans 10:14 ESV

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

2 Timothy 4:2 ESV

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

_________________________

N

A passion-filled believer is a:

Neighbor.  In order to minister as an outreacher for Jesus Christ, you have to be the neighbor as described within the greatest commandments of Jesus Christ:

Matthew 22:36-40 HCSB

“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

In the simplest of terms, you are commanded by Jesus Christ to convey the same love to your neighbor, as a neighbor, as you love God and desire to serve Him in whatever ministry it is that you are participating in.  This is offered as wisdom given that there are often many situations where your interactions with others may be misconstrued, misunderstood or flat out rejected.  A passion-filled believer understands that love in ministry and service often takes time when trying to reach others for Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

So, you being a neighbor to others is the essence of Christlikeness and Spirit-filled living.  Your love for Jesus Christ will shine before everyone and they will see the sincerity of your care and concern for others.

 

A passion-filled believer is a:

New Creation.  Every day is a new day…a new adventure.  Jesus Christ’s sanctifying power through the Holy Spirit transforms you as a new creation each day.  Your actions of reading, studying, meditating on His Word and living out a faithful life in Jesus Christ is a constant life transition that will also show the growth and development as a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 NIV

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This ongoing “newness” in Jesus Christ is an ongoing development.  Our challenge is to remain close to Him, and in our closeness, obedience and service to Him, He will continue to renew us as we strive for holiness.  He continues to provide us with the ability to resist sin and those things that block our ongoing transformation to a place of freedom and righteousness in His name.  We are being made new every day in Jesus Christ!  A passion-filled believer puts nothing above the importance of fellowship with Jesus Christ.

[Handout H-5]

Passion Chart

 

Conclusion

Your passion in Jesus Christ does not require anything complicated.  If anything, it requires a simplistic, God-oriented approach.  Sometimes the most obvious solutions to answers are right in front of you.  My desire for you, after this discussion concludes, is to challenge each of you to really search your own heart and mind as to where you are in your present relationship with Jesus Christ and how you are living for Him.  It is impossible to separate your relationship with Christ and having a good grasp of what your reason and purpose is for being here.

If it means that today is the day you begin to get deeper into the Word of God and learn more about who He is, then that will be good and proper for you.  God will respond to your sincere efforts to get to know Him.

If you believe that you are already doing what the Lord would have you to do, then your place of service will be affirmed by your actions; however, you should also be prayerful that God will move you to a different area at any given moment and begin to expose you to ways where you will learn and prosper under His direction.  It takes being flexible and open to learning new things, but it also means that you are sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Your passion in Jesus Christ is in your control.  Jesus has always been present in your life.  He was there from the beginning (John 1:2), He was present in your past, He is present now and He will be with you in the short term and long term future.  He wants you to seek Him and love Him as One who has your best interests at heart.  He wants to see you succeed in Christ, and He wants you to live up to your greatest potential.  He wants you to live the abundant life!

Evaluate your life today, your love for Christ, and what you can do to improve upon this.  Your passion in Jesus Christ is a flame that will continue to burn brightly as you discover and live out your God-given gifts and talents.  All it takes is the desire to seek Him with greater intimacy and do even more than you ever have before.  God will respond to your loving commitment to Him where everyone will see you, but Christ receives the glory!  Amen!

 

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

Who Needs Theology?

07/30/2015 § Leave a comment

WhoNeedsTheologyWhen I made the decision to return to school two years ago to work on obtaining my Master’s degree, I knew that it was the right thing to do. It was just as important as when I enrolled at the University of Akron part time back in 1997 to work towards my Bachelor’s degree. For anyone who considers furthering his or her education, it is admirable and beneficial to stay the course and complete the task. (It is costly, for sure, but the benefits do transcend the financial burden over a lifetime.)

I will always be an advocate of higher education and pursuing knowledge by going to school or taking online classes. Doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and various professionals are where they are today because of their pursuit of knowledge in the classroom.

Knowledge is also important from a societal picture. There are studies that indicate that graduation from high school, especially for African-American males, can make a difference in lowering crime and incarceration levels. [1]

To obtain knowledge is beneficial. Knowledge is power.

From a believer’s perspective, when we learn more about the Lord Jesus Christ as we live for Him, we obtain valuable knowledge that bolsters our faith in Him.

The more that you learn about God, the more you will recognize God’s power in your life.

Knowledge of God is powerful.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t want that?

In order to learn more about God, you have to be a student of God. A good student of God will search and seek after Him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Scripture encourages you to be a student of God. A student of God practices theology.

What is theology?

According to Roger Olson, “theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.” [2]

With this definition, I can make a broad, and perhaps even bold, declaration that a student of God practices theology; therefore, you, as believers, are all theologians!

Theology is very important for the believer, and it should be important because of what it means. It is the study of who God is, His attributes and His relationship with man and the universe. [3] The English word “theology” comes from two Greek terms: theos, meaning “God” and logos, which refers to “word,” “teaching,” or “study.” [4]

It stands to reason that studying who God is in your life provides you with knowledge and understanding that supports your faith and trust in God. It’s good for growth in your relationship with Him, and you learn about how to apply His Word, grow and endure as you move forward.

There must be a distinction, however, between Christian Theology, and theology from a worldly view. They both exist. Theology from the world’s perspective may indeed involve having questions about life and what that means in relationship to God, but that does not mean that the matter is given serious or prolonged thought–it may only be for a short period of time, or little more than cursory consideration. Some questions about life may be more substantive, such as “Why am I here?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?” or “Is there anything after death?” All of these are legitimate questions, but all of them will eventually lead to no real solution unless God is brought into the picture as the object that provides answers.

Christian theology goes much deeper. Anselm of Canterbury was archbishop of Canterbury and a great 12th Century theologian. He defined theology as “seeking to understand with the intellect what the heart–a person’s central core of character–already believes and to which it is committed.” [5] That’s a good way to describe the heart of a person who seeks understanding to support his faith.

Now that we have established a distinction between worldview theology and Christian theology, we need to consider the different levels of theology that exist within Christian theology, because all are not created equal.

There are real doctors and lawyers with degrees to support it, while there are actors that portray doctors and lawyers on television and in the movies. That doesn’t make them real doctors or lawyers. You wouldn’t let a doctor from Grey’s Anatomy perform surgery on you, would you? You also would not want an orthodontist to perform an appendectomy. You want the best available attorney representation instead of someone like the role actor Joe Pesci plays in the movie, My Cousin Vinny.

In the same sense, everyone is a theologian, but not everyone has the same theology. You may discover this as you speak to other people who attend church as you listen closely to what they really believe.

Many people, you may find, will not see the need for theology because it would hinder the understanding of the simple faith that a person has! It’s like saying the more you know about God from an intellectual perspective, the more that it would hurt your ability to have faith. This may sound strange to some of you, but this is a more popular belief than you may realize. The question “Who needs theology?” reflects a person’s view that one does not need a Master’s degree or a doctorate to help one understand God any more than we already do.

Some of you may remember when I spoke about Socrates, a philosopher, who declared, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” [6] He was absolutely correct. If we are serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ, there should always be an active, ongoing evaluation–a reflective look at one’s life in service to Him. If you are not actively seeking Him through His Word, meditating on it and prayerfully submitting to His will, how can one honestly know if God is speaking? A life in Jesus Christ is an active, reflective life.

With that in mind, we need to see how different theologies can be an indication of how reflective (or not) a person may be. A less reflective theology is referred to as “folk theology,” while the greatest level would be indicative of “academic theology.” In between the two are various levels of theology, defined by more or less reflective thought levels. [7] The levels are defined as folk, lay theology, ministerial theology, professional theology and then academic theology.

What is folk theology? It is a faith in God that is largely blind and based upon a traditional approach to Christianity. It is when a person states belief but cannot articulate it very well. In addition, there is a rejection of critical thinking about the belief and an acceptance of it based upon tradition, clichés and legends. [8]

Folk theology is everywhere. It can be found in virtually any setting. They are not adherents to any specific church affiliation, and they would not even consider themselves theological–yet, they are. Unfortunately, the traditionalism of this practice is contrary to any deep, careful reflection that allows a person to defend one’s faith, which is what the apostles had to do early on just years removed from Christ’s existence. A believer must be able to defend his faith in order to articulate his faith to a person who seeks the truth about Jesus Christ.

Lay theology is a step above folk theology but is, in reality, much more progressive in thought. It describes a Christian who works to understand the faith he or she holds in Jesus Christ. It is the act of putting one’s mind into the faith relationship. The root of this is in one’s seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to gain this understanding.

Ministerial theology is a step above lay theology in that it now involves the teachable faith as practiced by trained ministers and leaders within Christian churches. This is the effort to put into practice formal training such as bible classes or even seminary classes to train people to learn how to read and interpret Scripture and apply it within the body of Christ and the real world.

Professional theology is best described as those persons who are qualified to train lay people and pastors to increase their knowledge. They are the ones who create an active and healthy learning environment that encourages critical thinking and reflection. They teach in seminaries and colleges with church affiliations to provide methods to be more effective in service to all people.

Academic theology is an advanced study that lends more to philosophical thinking shared with other theologians. As a practical matter, there is nothing wrong with academic theology, but its greatest criticism is that it lacks in application to real world Christian living. The challenge for the academic theologian is to reach beyond thought processes and provide ways to apply this thinking that are beneficial to lay, ministerial and professional theologians.

We’ve seen that anyone who seeks to answer the questions of life that point to God is a theologian. Knowing that there are different theologies, which one of these best describes you?

If you are honestly seeking His wisdom, you will grow well beyond those who are stuck in folk theology.

As you can see, the level of theology that is practiced has everything to do with the amount of time and effort that one puts into it. As you put your time into it, you will able to clarify and articulate Christian doctrine in a more effective manner [9] for the purpose of carrying out His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

All of the effort that you put forth in pursuing greater understanding of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is very pleasing to Him! Why? It’s simple. Your pursuit of Him means that you are seeking fellowship with Him through five key elements to enhance your IMAGE [10] in Jesus Christ:

1. Investigating His Word. To really learn about Jesus Christ, you have to do more than just read His Word. You need to dig deep into it and use the available study tools, concordances and commentaries to promote greater understanding of His Word. You can hear God speak to you even more clearly once you pray to Him for guidance as you gain this understanding.

2. Meditate on His Word. Prayer is certainly important in your communication with Him, but meditating on His Word requires an extra special time of quietness and reflection. It means “slowing down” to a place where you recognize God’s comforting presence and fellowship, and allowing His Words to permeate you to see His perspective.

3. Act on His Word. Your theology will not mean very much if you are not living in obedience to God’s Word or conforming to His will. He speaks to you and gives you advice for your benefit and for the benefit of those who you come into contact with.

4. Grow in His Word. Your theological study should bring about true growth in your Christian life. There should be a realization of more successes and fewer failures as you progress in your faith and grow in godly wisdom and understanding.

5. Endure in your faith. A believer in Jesus Christ must be prepared to not only persevere but to remain steadfast in faith. It makes the boldest statements of Jesus Christ’s presence in your life.

Remember, knowledge of God requires seeking after Him. A good student of God will search and seek after Him. It takes godly wisdom and reverence of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to see the importance of continuing to grow in knowledge.

The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it. Proverbs 18:15 (HCSB)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Theology is needed by each and every one of us in order that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, can grow to our greatest potential in service to Him.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. Ephesians 1:17-19 (HCSB)

Who needs theology? You do.

 

 

1 Article – Crime Rates Linked To Educational Attainment, New Alliance Report Finds (2013). © 2015 Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington DC. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://all4ed.org/press/crime-rates-linked-to-educational-attainment-new-alliance-report-finds/

2 Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. © 1996 S. J. Grenz and R. E. Olson. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove IL. pg. 13

3 Grenz, pg. 37

4 Grenz, pg. 14

5 Grenz, pg. 16

6 Grenz, pg. 26

7 Grenz, pg. 26

8 Grenz, pg. 27

9 Grenz, pg. 46

10 Blogpost – Gaines, Melvin (2015). Characteristics of Your IMAGE. Melvin Gaines’ Blogspot. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://melvingaines.blogspot.com/2015/04/characteristics-of-your-image.html

 

© Melvin Gaines

Who We Become in Christ

06/22/2015 § Leave a comment

God’s desire for us is to live an abundant life. It is a life not with promises of perfect health and riches, but a life that understands the relevance of Christ’s presence and a desire to be more faithful and obedient to Him. Our riches are not physical. They are in the abundance of living a life for Jesus Christ. [1] In our living this abundant life, we develop the mind of Christ and perform acts of ministry to others in worship to Him and in praise for Him.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we receive the aid of the Holy Spirit who provides us with the desire to want to serve Him. We want to please Him often before we know how to do so. The enthusiasm of a new life in Christ is present (2 Corinthians 5:17), but the challenge is to build upon the enthusiasm with the actions that we believe are best in line with His will and purpose for our lives.

This is also true for “fifty-somethings” like me who have known Jesus for over twenty years. I have encouraged my church Sunday school class and congregation to always remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit as you submit your life to Him in prayer as to your focus within the body of Christ and in ministry as to your purpose. Everyone is born with at least one talent. The prayer is that God reveals to you all of your talents, abilities AND your spiritual gifts that He gives to you as you became a believer in Christ. You have to seek His wisdom and guidance in this area to reach your fullest potential.

Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life helped its readers to recognize that each person created by God has a purpose. As we read Warren’s first words of the book, “It’s not about you,” [2] it is apparent that our lives are not our own as much as we would like. We are often confronted with the reality that what we are doing in our vocational work or even within our actions in church is inadequate as we reckon with God’s calling for our lives.

The most important things that a person can do to resolve this issue include the ongoing development of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. There must be a closeness with Christ in order to be in tune with His will and desires for you to be fulfilled. Of course, Satan and his agents will put up all sorts of opposition or obstacles that will keep you from developing this closeness. Your busyness will challenge your ability to focus on Jesus Christ, but your efforts to remain steadfast with Him and in Him makes you Satan’s enemy. Thankfully, you have the power of the conquering Holy Spirit who will cling to you and provide protection (Isaiah 54:17).

It begins with communication–His Word speaks to you and you respond in prayer. An in-depth review of His communication with you requires the quietness of meditation. From there, you can live with the confidence that God will provide direction for you as you grow in your relationship.

There may be a change of path in your vocation or even your career of service as you navigate through life, but there is nothing better than receiving the directions from the guiding hands of Jesus Christ as you move forward.

 

1 Article – John 10:10 – The Abundant Life (2000). Grace Communion International. © 2015 Grace Communion International. Retrieved June 18, 2015 from https://www.gci.org/bible/john1010

2 Warren, Richard (2002). The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For? Copyright © 2002, 2011, 2012 by Rick Warren. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., pg. 21

Philosophical Thinking Leads to Greater Maturity in Christ

11/06/2014 § Leave a comment

The study of philosophy has challenged me to see that a person who is giving careful consideration about matters of life, whether the outcome of their thinking is correct or erroneous, is stretching themselves for the purpose of greater understanding. A philosophical thought process requires time, effort and deliberation. It involves acute concentration and exceptional focus. In the end, it develops the mind and lends to providing answers to questions that may otherwise never be addressed or solved. It also, of course, just as easily raises more questions.

I see how philosophy, in my quest for “love of wisdom,” has helped to shape how I approach my faith and preparation in my own personal studies. Socrates got it started, and Blaise Pascal really greased my skids of interest with “Pascal’s Wager,” [1] a tremendous exercise of thinking–making a decision and being deliberate about it! I have been sharing my classroom experiences with my church family as a Sunday school instructor and even when I fill in for my pastor. I will tell anyone willing to listen that it is very important for a person to continually use reason and to evaluate and reevaluate their faith in Jesus Christ, and to continue to seek the godly wisdom and knowledge that the Spirit is ready to share at every opportunity. None of us can afford to stand pat in this area. Standing pat or accepting the status quo can only lead to complacency in our spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. The very nature of Christian Apologetics is the result of deliberate thought, reasoning and declaration that Jesus is indeed Lord and Savior for all.

I have become very passionate about individual Christian preparation and the development of good study habits in advocating a daily two-year bible reading plan. It’s not about just reading the bible, but investigating what is being read. This means that the individual needs to analyze bible passages with cross-references and commentaries, and use prayer and meditation for greater understanding. This process can only promote the maturity of the believer in Jesus Christ and strengthen their ability to live out their faith. On the surface, you might think that people are already doing this stuff. After observing individuals, their overall bible knowledge and even some personal study habits, the reality is that there are many people who are not doing anything even close to a regular daily bible routine. Many people don’t read the bible because they don’t understand what they are reading, or it even comes across as boring. If the bible is hard to understand or uninteresting, that means there is little to no energy being expended in the thought process and expansion of one’s person faith. While many people acknowledge that they should read the bible (and there are thousands of reading plans available), there now needs to be a “training” of sorts over the daily reading approach. There must be a deliberate thought process within the bible reading plan that becomes habitual and, in turn, beneficial to the reader. The bible must be taught in such a way where people need to see that it is far from boring and that any reading time is time well spent. In summary, we all need to improve our personal habits and grow in how we think about Jesus Christ and continue to develop our faith and trust in Him.

God has always said there will be a remnant of His chosen people that will lead the way in the world, and that especially includes today (Romans 9:27, 11:5). The leaders will be the very people who are faithful in seeking Him, His wisdom and knowledge…the real thinkers about Jesus Christ. They will know how to proceed in these troubled times against all opposition and difficulty, for they will know the Spirit’s voice when they hear it to help them to endure and persevere. Many who proclaim the name of Christ at some point will fall away due to pressures and persecution, which is already occurring today (Matthew 24:4-14, 23-24), and we are not yet at the great tribulation. The people who will stand are the thinkers, the philosophers of today who love the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
1 Article – Pascal’s Wager (n.d). From Wikipedia. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal’s_Wager

Topics in Philosophy: “God is” vs. Falsifiability

09/25/2014 § Leave a comment

In the discussion of empiricism (looking at the facts) and rationalism (the use of reasoning) in the means of philosophical analysis, there will be points of agreement, but the use of logic breaks the rationalist free from the constraints of the empiricist.  With that in mind, I believe that there will always be a separation between the nature of God and faith and that of the sciences.  A person of faith will need to readily accept that science is part of God’s intelligent design, while a scientist may or may not accept the concept of God being associated with the natural sciences.  In either situation, there is a philosophical line between faith (what you cannot see) and fact (what is seen).

This line is commonly referred to as The Demarcation Problem.  According to Wikipedia:

“The demarcation problem in the philosophy of science is about how to distinguish between science and nonscience, including between science, pseudoscience, other activities, and beliefs. The debate continues after over a century of dialogue among philosophers of science and scientists in various fields, and despite broad agreement on the basics of scientific method.” [1]

This is an issue that goes back to the Ancient Greeks and Aristotle, but it continues today with discussions on what is real and what can be proven to those matters that cannot be proven. The line was drawn further by the efforts of verificationism, which was proposed by empirical philosophers in the early 20th century to provide a clearer understanding of the natural sciences while limiting the effect of the studies of ethics (morals and morality) and aesthetics (the arts, beauty and taste) as matters of rationalism. [2]

In response to verificationism, Karl Popper proposed the term falsifiability:

“Popper stresses the problem of demarcation—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience.” [3]

With all of this in mind, can one use falsifiability to determine God’s existence?  In other words, is it possible to come up with a test that falsifies the statement, “God is”?  Under its definition, falsifiability lends to the discussion that a belief in God is certainly unscientific, which is true, but I take issue that just because belief in God is unscientific and a pseudoscience [4] does not make it any less valid. Don’t get me wrong–falsifiability is not a bad thing, but it is inconclusive when you categorize something such as creation science and intelligent design as pseudoscience.  These items are based upon faith.  (Here is where the rationalists and innate knowledge come close even though there may be disagreement of thought within the camp on self and reality.) [5]  Faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ comes from innate knowledge provided by the imparted wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Ephesians 1:17 HCSB

Can one prove or disprove God’s existence?  Not really.  I believe He exists but I can’t prove it (and I or no one else needs to).  The evidence of his existence is overwhelming and, in the end, renders detractors from any excuse for not believing in Him (Romans 1:18-21).  God continues to reveal Himself in countless ways that enlightens some yet confounds others because of belief or unbelief in Him.  An atheist uses denial as a reason to not believe in God, but he cannot disprove His existence.  An agnostic doubts that God exists, but He can’t disprove His existence or come up with a better reason for the evidence.  The empirical thinker will only point to physical evidence that implies God’s involvement in creation.  The rational thinker will inject morality and virtue as criterion that infers God’s existence, but in both cases, it comes down to a person looking at the preponderance of evidence AND making a decision to believe, by faith, that God is.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  2 Corinthians 5:7 HCSB

1 Article – Demarcation problem. From Wikipedia. Retrieved September 25, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem

2 Article – Verificationism. From Wikipedia. Retrieved September 25, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verificationism

3 Article – Falsifiability. From Wikipedia. Retrieved September 25, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

4 Article – List of Pseudosciences. From RationalWiki. Retrieved September 25, 2014 from http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/List_of_pseudosciences

5 Article – Yount, David. Empiricism v. Rationalism. Mesa Community College, Mesa AZ © 2013 by David J. Yount from

http://www.mesacc.edu/~davpy35701/text/empm-v-ratm.html

Socrates and Godly Wisdom

09/21/2014 § Leave a comment

A message text presented Sunday, September 21, 2014 at Akron Alliance Fellowship Church:

One of the subjects required in my Master’s track is the study of philosophy. Philosophy is something that I was not looking forward to, but I knew that it would most certainly stretch my thinking about the subject as it relates to matters of faith.

What is philosophy? Well, defining philosophy is not a slam-dunk. Wikipedia took a crack at it by defining it as the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. In other words, philosophy is the study of everything. The word itself comes from the Greek word philosophia, which means, “love of wisdom.”

When I think of the early philosophers, my imagination paints a picture of a bunch of guys hanging out on a street corner and talking all day long about whatever comes to mind. Then my imagination takes me to today’s barber shop, where guys are talking what has to be all day long while maybe two heads of hair have been cut or trimmed over the course of five hours, or sitting at McDonald’s listening to guys get together over coffee and Egg McMuffin talking, or loudly discussing, or even cussing about current events and politics. The conversation mercifully ends when I learn my car is ready to be picked up and I make a fast exit to the door.

To be clear, philosophy is not just a bunch of guys getting together talking smack or playing the dozens. Back in the day, specifically around 500 B.C., there were very serious discussions that took place about life, water, earth, air, atoms, the sun, moon and stars. Of the class of philosophical all-stars, one of the greatest was Socrates. Socrates (470-399 B.C.) lived in Athens, Greece, the hotbed of all activity when it came to progressive thought, for all of his life. If you ever get the opportunity, you will want to read about Socrates. Of all of the historical philosophers, Socrates never recorded his thoughts or findings. He felt that his written words would diminish his spoken words. If it weren’t for Plato, a student of Socrates, we wouldn’t even know who he was. Plato was fascinated with Socrates, and he wrote down everything meaningful about him. He even noted that Socrates was married, and there were many occasions where his wife would send him out for errands only to learn that he was hanging out on the street corner talking with guys for all hours of the day. It got to the point that Socrates was so occupied with these ongoing discussions that his wife would hide his clothes to keep him from going outside. Undeterred, Socrates would run outside naked through the streets to his meeting place with the guys, who got tired of seeing him naked and kept robes handy to hand off to Socrates to cover himself. After learning about this, I then found this quote attributed to Socrates about marriage:

“My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife, you will be happy; if not, you will become a philosopher.” — Socrates

I can’t say that Socrates didn’t ask for trouble with his wife, but I suspect that his home could have been a little happier.

Socrates never claimed that he was a teacher. He was a thinker. That was his specialty. In his thinking, he came up with very wise sayings. He was also quite controversial in his ongoing dialogue with others; so much so that he ticked a lot of people off and was arrested for subversion, incivility and corruption of minors. In his famous defense before a jury of 501 peers, Plato attributed Socrates with a couple of quotes that really stood out to me. First:

“For each time those present think I am wise in these things in which I refute others; but the fact is, men, in reality God is wise, and in this oracle it is saying, ‘Human wisdom is worth little or nothing.”  

This statement was indeed part of his “Defense”, but it is profound beyond what Socrates probably realized or even intended. It was a common belief, according to the pre-Socratic practice of Homeric religion that all men, whether good or evil, would reside in Hades after death in a state of consciousness and not in punishment. [2] Socrates implied that he did not know for sure what to expect after death, but he reasoned “he would ask the shades in Hades if they had any knowledge.” [3] Perhaps without even realizing it, he referred to the only true Source of wisdom that would have answered a number of his questions pertaining to knowledge:

Proverbs 2:6-7 (ESV)

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

James 1:5 (HCSB)

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

Socrates was correct in his assessment that “human wisdom is worth little or nothing.” This conclusion was based upon his statement that God’s wisdom is superior to man’s wisdom.

1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 3:19-20 (HCSB)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, since it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness; and again, The Lord knows that the reasonings of the wise are meaningless.

When you think you know something, you really don’t know anything.

True wisdom comes from God.

As I learn more and more from my own personal studies in business, corporate communications, and especially in pursuit of my Master’s in Christian Studies, I readily see that I didn’t really know as much as I thought when I was asked to bring a Sunday morning message to my church back in 2003. I now know that I have more knowledge about Christ and the things of Christ when compared to that time in my life, but I’m also smart enough to know that I am just beginning to learn more, and that is only because of God’s graciousness in providing greater understanding of His Word and His truth in my life.

Socrates’ other philosophical statement also was profound to me:

“…the greatest good for humanity to make arguments every day about virtue and examine myself and others, the unexamined life not being livable for a person.” [4]

This brought to mind the slogan for the United Negro College Fund advertisements approximately forty years ago: “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” While this was coined by the advertising agency Young and Rubicam for the purpose of promoting UNCF’s scholarship fund [5], that phrase has taken on an iconic status for its boldness and profound truth, and not just for black students, but for all students and all of mankind.

On a personal note, I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and my personal Savior, but even with this knowledge, I cannot, in my own flesh, maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ without self-examination. Self-examination of my life in the flesh and sinful behaviors will always show my need for repentance and forgiveness under the blood of Christ. My act of humbling myself helps me to see my need for Jesus, and it also helps me to see others the way that Jesus sees them, as well. All of this requires self-examination. How would life be for a person that does not see the need to examine oneself? According to Socrates, this is a wasted life…a wasted mind. In order to live a virtuous life, there must be an internal reasoning and recognition of the need for a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and in that realization, you will see how Christ can be projected to others in how you live a meaningful, purpose-filled life.

Socrates was constantly seeking answers to truth and wisdom when he had those answers right in front of him. It’s sad to think that people live their entire lives without making a choice to live a purpose-filled life for Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-7 (HCSB)

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

 

  1. Document – Vernon Caston. The Defense of Socrates by Plato, Week 1 Lectures – Introduction and PreSocratics, Logic; Topics in Philosophy CST5225, Crown College, St. Bonifacius MN., pg. 54
  1. Gordon H. Clark (1957). Thales to Dewey, A History of Philosophy, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 1957 Lois A. Zeller and Elizabeth Clark George.   Copyright © 2000 John W. Robbins, The Trinity Foundation, Unicoi TN, page 30.
  1. Donald Palmer (2014). Does The Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2014 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., New York NY, pg. 33.
  1. Document – Vernon Caston. The Defense of Socrates by Plato, Week 1 Lectures – Introduction and PreSocratics, Logic; Topics in Philosophy CST5225, Crown College, St. Bonifacius MN., pg. 63
  1. Article – Gene Denby (2013). New Ads Still Warn A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste. Code Switch. Retrieved September 11, 2014 from http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/06/14/191796469/a-mind-is-a-terrible-thing-to

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

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