Dear White Evangelicals

Dear White Evangelicals – I Need You To Do Better | Maurice Broaddus Before you get lost in reflex-like “terrorist organization” rhetoric, to say “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder. There is an unspoken “too” (as in “Black lives matter, too”) because it’s obvious that to many people they don’t. Black Lives Matter is not […]

To Be with Jesus

Matthew 14 records the events surrounding Peter walking on the water. Peter and the other apostles are on a boat without Jesus in verse 22. The waters become rough; the weather begins to storm; and Jesus appears upon the water. Peter calls out to Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Unfortunately, when Peter see the wind kicking up the water, his faith falters and Jesus must save Him.

What possessed Peter to say to himself, “I want to get out of this boat and walk to Jesus,” in the middle of this storm? We speak of Peter’s rashness, of his impulsivity, of his good intentions. How many of us would have simply stayed in the boat? More important than these factors though may have been his desire to be like Jesus and to be with Jesus.

Remember Jesus washing the apostles’ feet in John 13. At first Peter resists, but, when Jesus says Peter could have no part with Him without this washing, Peter then requests his whole body to be washed. Also, in John 21, when Peter realizes Jesus’ identity, he again leaps into the sea to get to Jesus. Whatever the cost, Peter wants to be like Jesus, and he wants to be with Jesus.

Like Peter, we occasionally act and speak before thinking. More than these, we should be like Peter in our desire to be like and with the Lord. Philippians 2:5 calls on us to be like Christ in humility and obedience. I Peter 2:21 instructs us to follow in His steps. In John 14:3, Jesus promises we can be with Him one day, and Matthew 11:28 extends an invitation to come and be close to Christ, laying our burdens at his feet.

Matthew 16:24-26 tells us how we can have a part with Him, how we can be with Him and like Him. We must put self and self-interest to death, and fix our gaze firmly on Him. We have to get out of that boat if we are going to draw closer to Him.  This involves getting outside our comfort zone and make sacrifices. Yes, when Peter took his eyes off the Lord, however, he began to sink beneath the waves. We need to keep Jesus firmly in our sights, but it begins with that first step.

Like Paul in Philippians 3:13-15, we should be continually pressing forward. Colossians 3:1 calls on us to set our minds on things above. We need to determine that, wherever we are spiritually, it’s time to get out of the boat and approach Jesus, striving always to be like Him and with Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Understanding the Term “Christian”

When you hear the term Christian, it probably elicits a response similar to one created by the terms Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, or Catholic. We have preconceptions and assumptions based on the label. It is a term that has been overused and misused to the point that some followers of Christ wish to dispense with the term altogether. In many ways, it has lost meaning and context because of the free way we use the word.

Literally, the word means, “that which pertains to Christ,” and it is used only three times in the entire New Testament. Each time this word is used, it says something different about our relationship with each other and with our savior. Acts 11 speaks to our relationship with one another. In Acts 26, Paul is speaking of our relationship with God, and Peter, in I Peter 4, speaks of our relationship with the world.

Acts 11

In Acts 11:19, numerous disciples scatter in the face of persecution, following the execution of Stephen. They teach Christ as they travel, and many turn to Christ in baptism. We see Barnabas and Saul in Antioch, and here the followers of Christ are first called by the term Christian. Here, it calls attention to the relationship the disciples had to one another. These are people who had left Judaism, who were persecuted, who were disowned by their communities and their families. All they have is each other, and they rely on each other in their travels.

We are not all-sufficient; we are not islands. John 13:34 records Jesus telling His disciples to love each other, and this love is one demonstrated in service, in reliance, in cohesiveness. Galatians 6:9-10 reminds us to work good toward all, and Paul says this goodwill is especially targeted toward fellow Christians. We are told to prefer one another, to honor one another, to bear each other’s burdens. Our love for one another as Christians serves as a testimony to our relationship with each other in Christ.

Acts 26

In Acts 26, Paul is defending his actions before politician after politician. He stands before these dignitaries and speaks of the gospel to them. He speaks of self-control and righteousness, and he recounts his conversion. Starting in verse 19, Paul begins pressuring Agrippa about his faith and his willingness to respond to the gospel call. Where Festus recoils, Agrippa admits, in verse 28, that Paul almost persuades him to become a Christian.

Paul is speaking of having a right relationship with God. Paul knows Agrippa identifies with the things he testifies about, and he also knows that Agrippa is aware his relationship with God is not right. Agrippa sees Paul’s devotion to the living God, and Paul invites him to have that same relationship, a relationship we should also have when we wear the name of Christian.

I Peter 4

In I Peter 4:12, Peter addresses the trials and persecutions Christ’s followers will face in this world. He calls us “blessed” if we are reproached for the cause of Christ, and he calls on disciples to not suffer as troublemakers or as criminals but as Christians. He reinforces the concept that we are in the world but not of the world. That separation from a lost and dying world will earn friction.

As Christians, we are no longer content to live in darkness. We are no longer willing to compromise our morals based on God’s word. Because of how are light will reflect upon those who disagree with us, we will face hardships because of our faith. Think of Hebrews 11 and the trials faced by those numerous examples cited therein. Some overcame great odds while others were mocked, tortured, neglected, mistreated, or even murdered. God, however, provides something better. Those examples could overcome, and we can too.

Conclusion

The term Christian is used sparingly in the New Testament. It is unique and special. It speaks to the relationship we have with each other, with God, and with the world. If our lives do not reflect those relationships, then we should not wear that precious name so casually. Our salvation is in Christ. Our lives are defined by His words and His example. Our interactions with our brothers and sisters as well as the world are defined by that relationship with our Savior. We are Christ’s. We are Christians. We should be working every day to live up to that name.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Sanctifying God

And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

It was another waterless place in the desert (Numbers 20:1). The refrain had grown to be quite typical.

“Would that we had died! Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us by thirst?”

Numbers 20:3-6 sounds a lot like Exodus 16:3 and Exodus 17:1-2. The people grumble because their memories are quite short. Moses entreats God, and God provides the necessary food or drink.

Yet things are much different in Numbers 20. This time Moses and Aaron bear the brunt of God’s hot displeasure. It is this instance at Meribah that leads to the curse of Moses and Aaron. They will not enter the Promised Land.

But why did this curse come about? Why does God so strongly censure these two men who have experienced such indignity for so long at the hands of God’s people?

God told them quite specifically to speak to the rock, and the rock would bring forth water (Numbers 20:8). But Moses did not speak to the rock. He struck the rock – twice (Numbers 20:11).

Is this the cause of God’s hot displeasure? It’s entirely possible. But it would seem a bit odd. After all, this is the same Moses who killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:12) and was quite recalcitrant about following God’s will (Exodus 3-4). Furthermore, at Rephidim, God told him to strike the rock (Exodus 17:6), so there was a sort of precedent for the action. Aaron, for his part, was complicit in the Golden Calf incident, even lying about the calf’s origin (Exodus 32:1-4, 22-24). These things seem a bit more serious than striking vs. speaking.

But Moses and Aaron did more than just strike the rock. They spoke.

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them, “Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

Notice the way that Moses words this question: “Shall we bring water out of this rock?” We? What powers do Moses or Aaron have to bring water out of the rock?

We cannot know for certain whether Moses’ use of the first person plural pronoun was a thoughtless remark or whether he was intentionally trying to present the idea that he and Aaron were in some way responsible for the water about to come from the rock. But we do know that God took great offense at the idea. The water was not coming from Moses or Aaron at all. It was coming from the hand of God.

The statement, however consciously uttered, demonstrates that Moses is identifying himself quite strongly on the side of the Almighty, and even presuming to have a hand in things that the Almighty is doing. For that he receives most deserved censure. Such a statement betrays a belief in the efforts of Moses, not trust in God. Moses and Aaron did not demonstrate to the people their own dependence on God. They did not sanctify the name of God among the people in this matter. And, lest there be any later confusion, Moses and Aaron would not make it to the Promised Land – there is a distinction between the LORD God and Moses/Aaron.

This is a good example for us (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). It is right and proper for believers in Christ to strive to be holy as God is holy and to seek to conform themselves to the image of the Son (1 Peter 1:16, Romans 8:29). Nevertheless, there is always a difference between God working through us and our working. There is only room for three within the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – and none of us are any of these Three. It is not about us, our promotion of ourselves, or our work. In the end, it is all about God and His glory being proclaimed, and that, in part, through us (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-9, 4:11).

Therefore, we are never saved purely by our own effort – that is impossible (cf. Romans 1-3). We, ourselves, do not convert anyone – we are servants who proclaim the message, and God gives the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8). We are not the ones sustaining or nourishing the church, Christ’s body – we have the pleasure of being part of that body and being sustained by our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33).

The great sin of Moses and Aaron was that they got so caught up on being on the Lord’s side that they confused their own part with the Lord’s part. It is good and right for us to seek to be on the Lord’s side. But let us always remember who we are, and, just as importantly, who we aren’t, and do not presume that God working through us is our work that we can claim for ourselves. Let us always serve God, remembering to sanctify Him and not ourselves!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry