THE FORM OF GODLINESS – A TRUTH FOR FIRST AND SECOND GENERATION CHRISTIANS

Image result for kid bored at churchWhen describing the character and actions of people in the “perilous times” that will come (and which are here now), Paul made a fascinating observation. He said that these who are proud, lovers of pleasure more than God, covetous, boastful, disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy, among other things, will also be marked by this characteristic:

2 Timothy 3:5  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Outwardly, there will be a semblance of godliness – but inwardly, there will not be any evidence of the transforming power of Christ. In fact, these will “deny” the power of true godliness, which is to know Christ as Saviour.

In this verse we can find a truth that illustrates a major difference between first generation Christians and their children or grandchildren. By a first generation Christian, I mean someone who got saved, got into church, and then raised their children in church. Unfortunately, the faith of the parent does not always become that of the child; too often, we see kids grow up in church and then run off to the world when they reach adulthood. Why does this happen?

Allow me to point out three different scenarios:

  1. The first generation Christian who experiences the true power of godliness on the inside. He got SAVED. This was a radical decision at the time, and it led to radical changes in his life. Because of what took place on the inside, his life began to take on the “form of godliness” on the outside. He began to practice principles of Christian living. He turned from sinful things and embraced godly activities. He began to live by wise and scriptural standards, to protect the fellowship that he had with God and to live righteously in this world. The power and godliness came FIRST – the FORM came after.
  2. The second or third generation Christian who has “grown up in church.” His parents took him every service. Nursery roll, Sunday School, youth group, camps, revivals, etc. Perhaps there was a decision for Christ made at an early age. But there was no real, radical change necessary in his life because it was the only life he knew. BUT, some of these never really got saved – or, if they did, somehow they never really began to have a personal walk with Christ. The “form” was by compulsion – his parents had the standards, and he had to live by them, but there was nothing INSIDE, and no real desire on his part to live the way his parents lived. For a while, this person only has a FORM – they look okay, but inside it’s empty, or all wrong. Then, the form is tossed aside and what is inside becomes what is outside.
  3. I should add that there is another kind of first generation Christian – the kind that gets saved and adopts the form of godliness, and then lets his spiritual walk and growth deteriorate until there is nothing left but the form. This Christian has good outward standards but may have a rotten life. Some may wear modest clothes but maintain a rebellious and critical spirit, or a filthy imagination, or dirty habits, or a lousy attitude, or a prideful disdain of others. This sort of shallow Christian living is too common among those who have been in church for years – but stopped growing on the inside, and stopped cleansing their spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). Such Christians often raise the kind we mentioned in point 2 – but then say about their prodigal children, “Well, we raised them in church. I don’t know where THEY went wrong.” Maybe they were turned away by the carnal – but “separated!” – lives of their parents.

Everyone needs a personal salvation experience. God doesn’t have grandchildren – only children, each of whom was born again by the grace of God, individually. Salvation is not inherited or genetic – it must come from God to the individual sinner.

Every Christian needs a personal fellowship with God – a personal walk with Christ. We need more than a “form” of standards, rules and practices. Such a form is fine when there is real godliness – but without it, we have only a shallow Phariseeism that denies the power of God to transform us from within.

Scriptural standards are necessary things – we are called to live sober, godly, righteous lives in a corrupt world.

But standards alone are not godliness.

As a parent who is a first generation Christian, I have prayed for all of our kids to have a personal knowledge of Christ as Saviour and a personal walk with Him. When they were small, we read the Bible to them. When they got older, we emphasized reading the Bible for themselves. We have had high standards for our family – but no standards without reason, or without scriptural basis. They have been in church unless sick or providentially hindered since before they were born. They go soulwinning, sing in the choir, play instruments, go to all the youth activities – but it is the heart that matters most! Not the form!

Parents should not take it for granted that their children will grow up to love God. They must be pointed in that direction, and led consistently in that direction. Love is a matter of the heart, not a matter of FORM. Love will bring about a form. My wife and I love each other. The love came first. We have a relationship, and standards protect our relationship. But standards alone do not make for a great marriage! There must be love in the marriage.

The important thing is not that our children mimic our form when they are teenagers, but that they LOVE the same God that we love. When they love Him, they will obey Him (Jn. 14:21).

Do you know Christ personally or have you just been wearing the form? Have you experienced the power of the gospel? Do YOU love Jesus – or are you being dragged behind others who love Jesus?

Do you still have godliness within? Or has that withered away until there’s nothing left but the FORM around a carnal and worldly excuse for a Christian on the inside? Do bitterness, jealousy, lust, laziness, filth, or a mean spirit indwell a life full of outward standards?

Good things for us to consider.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

 

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Grow without Changing

planted-by-the-water2Psalms 1:3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

A 63-year study found that our personalities change drastically over our lifetimes. It “revealed that our personality changes so much from youth to old age, on paper, you might look like a completely different person from when you were 14 and 77 years old.” Most of us probably understood this without a study to back it up – we all expect to change as we grow older. Some get better – others get worse. We know this from our own experiences.

The Christian life is all about change. We are changed from sinners to saints, from death to life, from lost to found. We are made new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). We are to become more and more like our Master (2 Cor. 3:18).

Yet not all changes are positive as we grow older. Sometimes, good qualities fade away and are replaced by lukewarmness, compromise, or error. Zeal and courage dissipate. Convictions wane and then are sold at garage sale prices, to be replaced by new beliefs and practices. Fundamentalists become moderates, and moderates become liberals. In the words of one preacher now in heaven, “Some of you haven’t mellowed – you’ve yellowed!”

The blessed man is like a tree PLANTED. A tree grows where it is planted. It changes but does not move from its position. It grows UPWARD and OUTWARD but stays where it is ROOTED.

Yes, opinions can change as we get older and wiser. One preacher, who had a long ministry of over 50 years, was reprimanded by a younger man. “Thirty years ago you said _______!” As though he was a pope who had spoken ex cathedra! The older preacher said, “Well, son, some people grow and some don’t!”

Personalities change and often should. Rough edges are worn away, people skills grow, and the gentler aspects of the Christian life become more developed. An increasing knowledge and experience should help to make us better people.

However, Bible convictions do not change because the Bible does not change. The convictions you once found there are still there. They may not be comfortable today, but they are still there. They may hurt your church growth in a lukewarm age but they are still there. They may make you seem to be an “oddball” but they are still there.

Grow UP and OUT but keep your roots in the Word of God.

The preacher should always seek to grow and improve as God’s messenger and the pastor of God’s flock – there is always room for growth! But if our ministries are radically different from one decade to the next, going from staunchly conservative to liberally contemporary, we must ask – were we planted in Bible truth, or just tumbling along with the winds of an ever changing culture? Were we anchored to truth or just bobbing along in the currents?

Parents have to battle change. Too often, we are strong when our children are small and then begin to waffle and waver when they get older. We hold to strong beliefs when our children are little and easily led, and begin changing everything when they become teenagers. We are scared of our kids! Young people need consistent parents – parents who grow, who are rooted to something solid and eternal, not parents who give in when pushed by their teens.

It is a constant battle to grow without changing – to stay in one place, growing upward and outward while staying firmly rooted to the scriptures. Yet this is the place of blessing, security, and fruitfulness.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

 

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Who Are Your Heroes?

super-heroes-trivia-category-comic-trivia-nightWhen you hear the name Epaphroditus, you may not think of a superhero – but Paul did. He told the Philippian church:

Philippians 2:29-30 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: (30) Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

Epaphroditus had traveled over 800 miles from Philippi to Rome, most of which he probably covered on foot, to deliver a care package to the apostle Paul, who at that time was a prisoner of the Roman Empire. At some point he became sick, languishing almost to the point of death. Paul believed that only a divine intervention spared his life. The apostle then sent Epaphroditus back bearing the inspired Epistle to the Philippians, and gave him three special terms of endearment – “my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier.” 

Paul then told the Philippian church to give Epaphroditus a hero’s welcome – to hold such in reputation, because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life. Here was a selfless man, a consecrated Christian, a godly person who was willing to endure hardness and sacrifice for the cause of Jesus Christ. “Hold such in reputation.”

Who are your heroes? Are they real people or fictional characters? Are they godly or ungodly? Are they spiritual or carnal? Do they live for Christ or live for themselves? Are they consecrated or worldly? Are they flesh and blood humans or cartoon characters? Are they active, dedicated servants of God or active, dedicated servants of selfish pursuits?

Some Christians will wear the jersey of their favorite athlete in public, but are ashamed to wear a t-shirt advertising their church or Saviour. Some Christians will read comic books by the hour, but sleep through a missionary presentation. What does this say about us?

Not-All-Super-Heroes-Wear-Capes-Kids--ShirtsNot all superheroes wear capes. In our churches, there are some who wear inexpensive suits and hand-me down dresses. All heroes aren’t on TV or the radio. But some do teach Sunday School or visit poor kids on bus routes. Some work long hours to provide for their family and still make the time to serve the Lord. Some work through sickness and physical infirmities that will never change this side of heaven. No, they don’t all wear capes – in fact, none of the real ones do!

I am thankful for the Christian heroes who have made an impression on my life. In studying this passage I was reminded of my youth pastor when I was a very young Christian. Our youth pastor worked full time for a freight company, but they would not give him the week off he needed to take us to youth camp. The morning we left for camp, he gathered our group and announced that he had quit his job in order to take us, and that we needed to pray for him to find work when we returned from camp.

I was a teenager and didn’t understand that sacrifice then like I do now. This was a young man in his twenties with a wife and two little daughters, and yet he had quit a good paying job because he believed it was God’s will to do so. It made an impression on me. (And God did provide another job and over the 20+ years since has used him greatly).

Who are your heroes? Why not look around your house? You might be surprised what you find. What about around your church? What about on the mission field? There are still Epaphroditus’ out there, those that we should hold in reputation, people we should look up to and whose examples are worth following.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

 

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Parenting – It Takes More Than Good Intentions

Being a parent is hard work. It’s not easy and doing it right takes more than good intentions. It takes years and years of unrelenting effort to train up a child in the way he should go.

Manoah and Mrs. Manoah wanted a child more than anything in this world – but for many years they were unable to have a baby. When an angel from God told Mrs. Manoah that she would have a son, they were overjoyed. Notice Manoah’s prayer and desire to know how to be a good father: Judges 13:8 Then Manoah intreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.

When the angel returned, they asked: Judges 13:12 And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?

Samson means “sunshine” and it is obvious that he was the sunshine of their lives. They began to train him up, and in his youth God began to work in his life.

Judges 13:24-25 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. (25) And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there. In Judges 14-16, we find a young man with deep character flaws that led him into an unwise marriage with a Philistine woman, into the arms of a harlot and finally into the home of Delilah. Like all the judges, Samson was a deeply flawed individual that God used despite his shortcomings. Unfortunately, the life that began as a beam of sunshine in a little cradle in Manoah’s house ended under a pile of rubble in the land of the enemies of God.

Samson’s parents had good intentions. Most parents do. But raising kids is hard work and too many parents quit when things get hard.

Young parents should be humble. It is easy to be an expert on child rearing when your children are all under the age of seven. It is easy to be judgmental of parents whose kids (all older than yours) haven’t turned out quite right. Many sermons and blog posts have been preached and written with great authority and harsh denunciations by those who still strap their own kids into car seats and dress them for church.

Of course, the Bible is true no matter how old the preacher or teacher is, and so by all means preach what the Bible says about parenting – but be humble, hard as it is when we are young.

One of the great dangers of parenting is to give up when the kids turn 12 or 13. It’s easy to dress our girls up in their frilly church dresses with their shiny little church shoes when they are four years old; it gets harder when they become teenagers and dress themselves. Some give up and change their standards and even change their churches because their teenagers push back against those standards. That’s when the parent has to be the parent and do what is right.

When our kids are little the biggest problems we face are pretty small compared with the big issues to come – the teen years, keeping our kids away from bad influences, dealing with modesty and the opposite sex, dating or courting, going off to college, first jobs, driving, etc, etc, etc. The etc. is all the stuff you never expected.

Parenting is hard work. We need more than a 5 year plan. We need to keep working and praying and parenting all the way through. Good intentions aren’t enough. Big ideas aren’t enough. Determination to be better than those other parents is not enough. We’ve got to see them through the three big conversions of life:

  • Sinner to saint (salvation)
  • Child to adult (maturity)
  • Single to married (family).

And it’s not easy. And it doesn’t get easier. It’s hard work and we’ve got to stay on the job.

Good intentions are the beginning of the journey. Along the way, you’ve got to avoid a lot of wrong turns, go around a lot of curves, endure a lot of problems, fix a few flats, and keep pressing on.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

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“Won’t Work – Don’t Eat!” Paul’s Command Concerning Welfare Christianity

getajob2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. (7) For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; (8) Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: (9) Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. (10) For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. (11) For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. (12) Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

God’s people tend to be a generous, gracious and compassionate people, following in the footsteps of a generous, gracious and compassionate Saviour. I have seen, time and time again, people in church go above and beyond in helping to meet the financial and physical needs of others, both inside and outside the church membership. Christianity makes us generous, and I love giving to help others, especially when done anonymously.

Such a generous and compassionate spirit will of course make the Christian susceptible to con artists and others who find him an “easy touch.” And, sometimes people in the church will take advantage of the church, seeing it as a source of income instead of a place or worship and service to Christ.

Apparently this problem existed in Thessalonica. Paul reminded the church that he had set an example for them, working with his own hands as a tent-maker to provide for his basic necessities. This required him to work “night and day,” probably doing his missionary work during daylight hours and burning midnight oil for his income. He then warned the church to step away from those who walked “disorderly,” not working, but busybodies, busy here and there, going from person to person, begging and imposing themselves on others for their bread.

Paul’s COMMANDMENT was that those who did not work did not eat!

No doubt, some would consider Paul to be hard-hearted in this matter. But Paul was more interested in the glory of God, the name of Jesus Christ, and the good of the brethren, than in his own reputation for “compassion.” He knew that Christians who did not work, who begged and were leeches on society and on the church would not have a good testimony with their hard-working lost relatives and neighbors, would not bring glory to God, and would not be doing the right thing for themselves or their families.

Tough times come and I for one am glad to help. I understand, because almost my entire pastoral ministry has been during a recession. I know many have it rough, and frankly, we’ve had it rough in the Rasbeary family a few times ourselves.

main-pigpenBut I have learned that there are people with problems, and then there are problem people. All of us will have problems. But problems follow some people like the cloud of dust around Pigpen in Peanuts. Sometimes, problems are beyond anyone’s control – they are disasters or tragedies. Often, however, problems are just the product of foolish living, bad decisions, and disobedience to scripture.

Let me share with you some things that cause me to “cool off” when it comes to financially helping people:

  • When someone can work, but won’t.
  • When people do not tithe or honor God with what they have (Mal 3).
  • When someone keeps getting fired or keeps quitting jobs because of poor character.
  • When people are broke but manage to eat out. Eating out is a treat, not a necessity.
  • When people are broke but can still find money for their addictions (cigarettes, liquor, etc).
  • When people are broke but can still find money to gamble or buy lottery tickets.
  • When people are broke but still manage multiple smart phone plans, satellite TV, etc.
  • When people are broke but refuse to work second jobs. Someone has said, “Every time I prayed for money, God gave me work to do.”
  • When people are broke but refuse to sell things to pay off their debts.
  • When people are broke because they squandered all their money foolishly – and have no intention of changing their ways.

Hard hearted? Paul did not think so. He gave commandments to the church about it. Let us be givers but let us not subsidize a welfare mentality that expects something for nothing. It’s wrong on a national scale and it’s wrong on a local scale and it’s wrong in the church.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

 

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What If You Don’t Want To Do What God Called You To Do?

ezkeile1Almost 600 years before Christ, God called a priest named Ezekiel to be His prophet, His watchman on the wall, over the Israelites that were carried into Babylonian Captivity. His calling did not come with the most encouraging words:

Ezekiel 2:3-7 And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. (4) For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD. (5) And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. (6) And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. (7) And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious.

Furthermore, Ezekiel was told:

Ezekiel 3:7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.

Then, we find this interesting verse:

Ezekiel 3:14-15 So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me. (15) Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.

Ezekiel does not appear very enthusiastic about his calling into the ministry. In fact, he was bitter about it – even angry. It wasn’t his plan for his life, and not what he would have chosen for himself. He didn’t particularly want to be a prophet, especially not then and there, knowing that preaching the truth would fill his life with briers, thorns and scorpions, not to mention some “hard looks.”

This passage reminded me of others who did not exactly jump on God’s calling for their lives. Moses tried every excuse he could think of, even basically saying, “Here am I – send Aaron!” Jonah disliked his assignment so much that he ran away. Jeremiah tried to say that he was too young for what God had called him to do.

What did Ezekiel do? He sat among the men of Telabib and didn’t say anything for seven days, until God told him – “You are the watchman on the wall. If you don’t tell them what I say, they’re going to die – but I will hold you accountable. Sit here if you want to. But their blood will be on your hands” (Ezekiel 3:17-21).

ezekielI believe that it is important to understand that God doesn’t just call those who WANT to preach, go to the mission field, or serve in some capacity. Sometimes He calls us to do things that maybe we would NOT choose for ourselves. Sometimes, He calls people who have to die to their plans, wants, wishes and dreams to fulfill His will for their lives. Sometimes, He calls us to do the last thing we would choose.

  • Maybe you’ve been called to a mission field and you’d rather be somewhere else.
  • Maybe you’ve been called to a church but the situation is difficult.
  • Maybe you’re trying to start a church and things are even harder than expected.
  • Maybe you’d really rather not be a preacher’s kid or a missionary kid, and maybe you’d rather not go on another deputation.
  • Maybe being the preacher’s wife comes with more problems than you expected.
  • Maybe you’ve been at one church for a long time and you’re feeling restless.
  • Maybe you’d rather not serve in the nursery anymore.
  • Maybe you’re tired of teaching a difficult class in Sunday School.
  • Maybe you’re not looking forward to another hot summer on a church bus.
  • Maybe you’d rather be in a church that is bigger/smaller/younger/older and which has a bigger/smaller/cooler/less cool youth department.

Maybe you’d rather just be an exiled priest and make the best of it in Babylon, and not have to deal with the problems of being a prophet.

Hold on – you’ve been bought with a price, and you’re not your own. We’ve been called to be good soldiers, and good soldiers go to their assignments and do their jobs. Of course, we know that God does sometimes lead us away from certain things or to new places or works. Just make sure it is God that is leading.

If it’s God’s will, then embrace it – even it if is uncomfortable and difficult and not exactly what you’d always dreamed of doing.

Be sure of this – God will hold you accountable for what you are supposed to do. Blood will be on your hands.

But also know this – the best place for any child of God is in the will of God.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

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The Bus Ministry And This Preacher’s Family

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Becky the Bus Captain and her sub driver.

I suppose that the bus ministry has gone out of style in many places. It’s a hard ministry to operate, with special licenses, insurance, vehicles, costs, etc. It’s hard to find drivers, captains, helpers, and teachers willing to put up with kids who may not always behave so well. There are certainly always reasons NOT to have a bus ministry.

And I’m not writing to criticize at all, but simply to share our own testimony in regards to the Sunday School bus ministry. Perhaps it will encourage someone already in this ministry or someone who is thinking about it.

I love the bus ministry, not just for scriptural reasons, but for personal ones. For almost 25 years, someone from the Rasbeary family has been in a bus or van on almost any given Sunday, and sometimes it was all of us.

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Our oldest daughter, now in Bible college; we were a little short on drivers at the time.

My wife was a teenager when a bus worker invited her to church. She rode an old white bus with holes in the floor to church, and it’s there she got saved. The bus workers came back and brought her to church in their car for the evening services. Her life was absolutely and totally changed for good. Her whole life trajectory was changed because a bus worker came by.

Since then, we’ve served as captains, helpers and drivers on and off in three different churches including LBC. As pastor, I’ve also driven the bus and served as a bus captain when needed; and, as pastor’s wife, my wife started a bus route and built it up before passing it on to our daughter. Maybe not the best way to do things but we did it anyway.

Which brings me to this post, because today I had the privilege of being a substitute driver again, and watched my daughter lead singing and love on the bus kids during the ride home. She had 25 kids despite Spring Break and several of them got saved today. And it got me to thinking about how the bus ministry has benefited our kids:

  1. It has provided an area of real, personal, active service to the Lord. The bus ministry is one of the rare ministries that kids can be actively and constructively a part of on a weekly basis. Helping, running doors, serving as secretary, etc. All ofbus our kids have done it, gladly and willingly. For them, serving the Lord is more than going and sitting in church. It is doing something for God and others.
  2. It has helped them have real compassion on others who are often less fortunate.
  3. It has allowed them to enjoy the excitement of seeing a ministry grow and to see people saved.
  4. It has taught them to tough out the times when attendance has lagged, and to be faithful.
  5. It has illustrated for them what they often hear preached about  – the hidden price tag of sin, seen in people’s lives.
  6. It has taught them that serving God is something we do when it’s hot, cold, or rainy.
  7. It has helped them to actively care about all people, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, or financial standing.

This is just our testimony. We love the bus ministry and trust that God will continue to provide the means to operate it until Jesus comes. If I had a young family all over again, I’d ask for a bus and work it ourselves. I’ve seen it do too much good in our home and church.

Just some thoughts! Thanks for reading. God bless.

 

 

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