The Incarnation and the New Law of Grace

In sacred scripture we read that man was created he had a perfect relationship with God.  Man is the pinnacle of creation, and God gave man everything.  In return the Lord asked man not to each of one tree in the garden.  Man did not listen, rebelled, and had to face the consequences of sin for the first time.  The sin of our first parents also applies to us.  We all have sinned, and the penalty for that sin is death.  Saint Paul had the same opinion in Romans 6:23 which states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NRSV).  However, the second person of the blessed Trinity, Jesus himself became incarnate to atone and redeem us from our sin.

The incarnation was needed because we could not atone for our sin on our own.  Only someone who was perfect, and without sin could do that.  This perfect sacrifice, Jesus, would also show us the new law of grace.  A way of living, or new law of grace, shows us a deeper understanding of the law.  It shows us how it was supposed to be lived from the beginning, and the divine Son of God, showed us how to live it.  The new law is an interior, infused reality consisting in the grace of the Holy Spirit, received through faith in Jesus Christ and operating through charity.  These virtues, which are also taught in 1 Corinthians 13, are faith, hope, and charity.

Since becoming a catholic these three virtues have been instrumental in my life.  Faith is at the forefront, and the will of Christ is sought in everything that I do.  Faith is the starting point for the New Law, and “the starting point for Christian morality” (Pinckaers 85).  As a father of four, a husband, and one income life throws many curve balls.  Things have not been easy, but my wife and I maintain our hope in Christ.  It is this hope, through faith, that help us persevere and see the good even in the roughest circumstance.  No matter how tight things are we see that there are those who are having much larger problems than ourselves.  We strive to be good disciples, by not only having faith in Christ, but by also having charity.  We trust God for our needs but realize that we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves and strive to help whenever possible.  We have found that the practice of the infused virtues has deepened our faith and love for our fellow man.

Image result for incarnation

Works Cited

Pinckaers, Servais.  Morality:  The Catholic View.  St. Augustine’s Press.  South Bend, IN:  2001.  Print.

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Go and Bear Fruit

I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.-John 15:16

Today’s gospel reflection is taken from the antiphon before today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus makes a very direct point and simply says “Go and bear fruit that will last”.  It seems so easy, and yet so complicated at the same time.  To bear fruit you have to start with a seed.  In its journey to become fruit the seed go through various stages.  As a seedling it pushes through the dirt towards the sun, it relies on the rain and the sun to nourish it to maturing, and when the time is right it brings forth fruit to bring nourishment to the recipient.

In the Christian life we look to the Son, Jesus, and he provides nourishment through his scripture and the church.  Scripture says that all of us have a gift that can help with the mission of the church.  Some are given the gift of teaching, administration, leadership, mercy, etc.  Each gift is vital and needed to fulfill the mission of the church.  Are we being faithful in this mission?  Using this gift is fruit that will last.  It lasts because it spreads the Gospel and helps teach the next generation that will pass it on.

Quote

He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows. –St. Gregory of Nissa

 

Episode 7: Does discipleship matter? How do I make time to pray? Does God work even if one has no faith?

Listen to this week’s episode here

In this week’s episode I answer listener questions that came in during the week.  The first question asked if discipleship was really necessary, and isn’t getting to Christ what is most important?  The second question was in regard to prayer.  This listener asked with time so limited is prayer really necessary?  The third question, which will be answered more fully next time (I ran out of time) was if God can work even if someone doesn’t have faith?  Great questions!  Keep them coming in.  You can send your questions to hopewithin18@gmail.com or you can send them through my website theologystillmatters.com.

Episode 1 of the Hope Within Radio Program

Importance of the Small Group

Aubrey Malphurs says “Disciple making does not end with a person’s conversion, however.  It’s an ongoing process that encourages the believer to follow Christ and become more like Him[1].”  With this taken into account we need to ask ourselves a question.  What is the most effective way to make disciples?  Do we get as many people in one room, and immerse them in biblical knowledge and theological thought?  This has its place, but new believers run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle in this environment.  Dr. Dempsey, states “Christianity is more caught than taught, and to make progress in the disciple-making process, we need good examples good example of people who the Apostle Paul’s paradigm[2].”  Coincidently the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ[3].”

To effectively do this in our churches we need to change the way we are doing things.  The Sunday sermon is very important, but it is not the way in which disciples are built.  There are some ministries in our churches that have turned into social clubs instead of ministry. It is time to rethink what we are doing, and align everything to the commandment of making disciples.  According to Dr. Dempsey “The best context for cultivating this kind of environment is a small group within a local church.  With the exception of the first three hundred years of the church, we have not done a good job of creating that structure[4].”

The small group allows for an intimate setting where the scriptures are taught.  The people of the group grow together, encourage each other, and learn from each other.  They hold each other accountable and check up on those members that they have not seen in a while.  It is a different dynamic from the traditional way that the church has operated.  From an evangelization standpoint it is less intimidating for the non-believer who may attend the group.

Dr. Putnam, states “Making disciples is the main reason why the church exists, so everything in a corporate body needs to be funnel people toward a relational small group in which discipleship can best happen[5].”  It has been said many times, and it bears repeating.  A small group is the primary means of making disciples who make disciples.  There are three components to a successful small group and they are the following:  Shepherding, teaching, and authenticity and accountability.

Throughout the scriptures we read of the Lord being a shepherd, and His followers as sheep.  In a small group the leader attempts to create an environment where members are helping each other.  We are people who deal with many stressors in our lives.  In our small groups a member may be overwhelmed with something, or everything, that is going on in their lives.  The leader will offer group prayer for this hurting member, and someone in the group may share an experience to help the member through.  The member of the group is treated like a family member, and listening is key.  In regard to this David Horton states, “Strong groups are led by those who build a strong sense of synergy, community, and solidarity[6].”  Without this sense of community the shepherding process will not be effective.  People will not share their experiences, or what is going on in their lives.  At that point the whole disciple making process halts.

The second aspect of a small group it that of teaching.  This is an environment where real teaching takes place.  People are just not given a sermon and sent home.  Teaching in the small group is also relational.  The members are encouraged to ask questions, and the Bible is central for teaching.  In short it is not just another Bible study.  There is plenty of Bible study happening, but it goes deeper than that.  When people think of a Bible study they think of one person doing most of the talking while everyone else sits back and listens[7].

In a small group the teacher is more of a facilitator.  The leader helps the group participate in biblical discussions, ask questions, and share their own experiences.  This is key for the leader to understand if the text is being understood.  If it is not being understood then the goal of making disciples took a step backward.  Always point back to Bible to show them where the answers are.

Lastly other keys to a small group are authenticity and accountability.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, states “Two are better than one because they have good return on their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls where there is not another to lift him up.[8]”  The KJV Biblical Commentary says about these verses, “A man alone who is about to be overcome by any onslaught may be kept from ruin through the helpful hand of his friend.  Such companionship is of inestimable value and is certainly a profit to all those who possess it[9].”  There are no free agents in Christianity.  We are unable to go through this journey of faith alone.  When we do the enemy sees us as lost sheep, and since we do not have the protection of the group, we will be easy prey for him.  It is important for the leader to espouse empathy to the group, and let the group know that listening is best.  It is human nature to want to fix another’s problems, but it is important to listen and share.

When struggles are brought up there is most likely someone in the group who has had a similar struggle.  Leaders need to foster an environment of authentic sharing where hearts are being transformed.  It is also an environment where accountability is fostered.  How will the group help a member who is struggling with a particular sin?  We cannot create disciples if there is a lingering sin that a person is dealing with.  We need to help our members get over those.

In conclusion the small group is vital to the believer and the church.  It is an environment where relationships are forged, lives are changed, disciples are made, and disciples are sent out.  They are sent out to change the world with the Gospel of Christ.  What else is there?  The world around us is hurting, and morals are in decay.  The small group exists to create disciples to be light to the world.

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

1 Corinthians 11:1 (New American Standard Version).

Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible).

Horton, David. The Portable Seminary. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006.

King James Version Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005.

Malphurs, Aubrey. Strategic Disciple Making. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.

Putnam, Jim, and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman. Discipleshift. Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013.

 

 

[1] Aubrey Malphurs, Strategic Disciple Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), 34.

[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013), 276.

[3] 1 Corinthians 11:1 (New American Standard Bible).

[4] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…How to live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing Group, 2013), 59.

[5] Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman, Discipleshift (Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013), 184.

[6] David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006), 597.

[7] Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman, Discipleshift (Grand Rapids, MICHIGAN: Zondervan, 2013), 190.

[8] Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible).

[9] King James Version Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005), 742.

 

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Stuck on Stage One

Everything we do is done in stages.  As an example we learn to crawl before walking, and walking before running.  The point of a stage is to prepare for something more difficult in the future.  It is the same with discipleship.  In discipleship, there are three stages which are evangelize, disciple, and train.  These three steps, and following them to their fruition, help build on fire disciples that set the church ablaze.

The first step is evangelizing because we are unable to disciple someone if they have not yet accepted Christ.  Dr. Earley states “Having such information does others no good unless, or until, we share it.  We have to proclaim the good news [1]”.  This can be a time consuming step, and we will do well while remaining patient.  Not everyone accepts the Gospel the first time they hear it, in fact it may take several times.  We must remain obedient and plant seeds even though someone may be doing the watering.  Keep that person in prayer and pray for them by name.  This is very powerful and will keep the Holy Spirit moving in their life.  Remember that Satan is always trying to keep them from conversion. 

The second stage is that training disciples.  Jesus states in Luke 9:23 “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus is saying here that we must die to ourselves and pursue him.  Kyle Idleman writes “When Jesus says ‘Come after,’ he is describing a passionate pursuit of someone you love.  So the best way to understand what Jesus is wanting from us as followers is to compare how we pursue him to how we would pursue someone with whom we want to have a romantic relationship [2].”  I have a question for those of us that are married.  Are we pursuing Jesus the same way we pursued our spouses?  We are willing to pay the ultimate prices for our spouses, support them in everything they do, we tell them our inner most secrets, and listen for ways to make our own lives better.  We should do the same in following Jesus, and also do the same as we train disciples.  Making disciples was also the last command that Jesus commanded of us in the Great Commission.

The third and final stage is training disciples to go out into the world to make more disciples.  The Apostle Paul is a great example of what it means to train disciples.  This great man of God evangelized almost everywhere in the known world, established churches, taught new believers the faith, and trained those newly trained disciples to go out into the world and do the same things he did for them.  Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses. These entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach other also.”  The Apostle Paul “serves as a paradigm for the third and final goal of a disciple maker:  to multiply disciples to be disciple makers [3].”  To do this we must know the teachings of Jesus, select our own faithful people from among those being disciples, have a regular time to meet with them and mentor them, show them how to do ministry, let them do ministry on their own after proper instruction, and keep them focused.  My pastor is bold and will call people out during his sermons to tell them what ministry he thinks they will be good in.  I asked him why he does this and he said “The Holy Spirit has been asking them already.  I am just doing his bidding.”  Some respond and some do not, but for those that do he coaches them personally.  He studies with them, meets with them, and goes to the group meetings so the people do not feel that they are in it alone.  When he feels they are ready he releases them to do the same thing.

 

I think a problem with the church as whole is that we are stuck on stage one.

 

 

Works Cited

1.        Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013, 130.  

2.       Idleman, Kyle.  Not a Fan.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 130.

3.       Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013, 157.

Epistle to the Hebrews and What We Can Learn

The situation that the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews found themselves in was dire.  They were starting to question if Christianity was really correct.  They were becoming discouraged in their commitment.  George Guthrie writes, “We see reflected in Hebrews a community of believers who were struggling against spiritual lethargy, which, if not addressed, could lead them to abandoning their Christian confession [1].”  Internal evidence suggests that the letter was sent to Roman Jewish Christians as the Greek used suggests they were “at home in the Hellenistic world [2]”.  The persecution going on in Rome during the late 1st century is well documented.  Christianity was not a state sanctioned religion as Judaism was, and some though it may be easier to go back to Judaism to avoid persecution.  The tone of the letter shows that they did not fully understand, or grasp everything that Christ had done for them [3].  The letter does not address the group directly, but starts with salvation history.  In doing so the writer is laying the foundation as to why they must stand firm and continue to meet together.  The latter assumes a Judeo-Christian worldview in the sense that it is reminding the recipients of everything that God has done for their ancestors.  From creation the prophets, and to Christ everything is laid out to show that God has fulfilled his promises throughout history.

 

People today can draw many of the same lessons from the letter as the recipients did.  In some parts of the world persecution is extreme, and readers of the letter can draw encouragement and hope in that this has been the plight of Christians since the beginning.  For those of us in the United States in tells us to continue to grow in our faith and to not get complacent.  The very real issue of apostasy is discussed and this is an issue that churches today are dealing with.  We can apply the principles in the letter to defend the faith, look at examples of others who have endured, and to remind us of the tragedy of someone falling from the faith.  It is a reminder for the layman and the minister to endure, and make the commitment to become a better disciple.

 

Works Cited

1.  Guthrie, George H.  The NIV Application Commentary.  (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1998), 21.

2.  Cockerill, Gareth L.  The Epistle to the Hebrews.  (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2012), 16.

3.  Ibid, 16.

4.  Guthrie, George H.  The NIV Application Commentary.  (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1998), 21.

Belt of Truth

We are taking a look at our spiritual armor, but specifically we are looking at the belt of truth this week.  We have heard these terms many times before, but it is important for us to understand why Paul is using them.  Remember that Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus  Being in the Roman empire Paul is using imagery that the people encountered on a daily basis.  Everyday the people would see Roman soldiers and the gear they wore.  Keep that in mind.

The piece of armament Paul describes is the belt of truth in Ephesians 6:14. That verse reads, “Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”  To rise victorious over evil, Christians must be fully committed to the Gospel and take advantage of every spiritual resource.  Things such as scripture, sound teaching, and prayer are crucial weapons in spiritual warfare.  These things, great as they are, need to be grounded in truth.  But what is the truth?

If we ask someone they may say that truth is anything you feel it to be.  If what is true for you is good for you, and what is true for me is true for me what good is that?  What if my truth says your truth is a lie?  Is it still true?  Friends…truth is not a concept or an abstract idea.  The truth is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ!

The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the belt of Truth for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost the teaching of Christ (i.e. truth) should be held near and dear to us.  In fact, without Christ we will be unable to overcome any attack that the enemy hits us with.  Without a solid foundation, we will buckle under the first hint of pressure.  John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible states, “And to have the loins girt with it, shows, that it should be near and close to the saints, and never departed from; and that it is a means of keeping them close to God and Christ, and of strengthening them against the assaults and attacks of Satan; and is of great use in the Christians’ spiritual conflict with their enemies.”

Secondly, for the Roman soldier a belt was not a piece of insignificant clothing as it is today.  The belt was normally made of leather and extended down to the thighs, protecting the lower abdomen and genital areas.  The soldier would then tuck his tunic in and be on guard and ready to move very swiftly.  This act of the soldier was a display of valor and courage.   Paul’s point in telling us to gird our loins with truth is that we cannot be ready to fight the enemy, if we are not strong and ready with God’s truth.

In order to put on the belt of truth, we must know what that truth is.  If we are not engaged in regular reading and prayer we may put the wrong belt on.  The results of that have the potential to be disastrous.

God bless you all!

References

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/ephesians-6-14.html

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