We give God our best because our best isn’t restricted by a panic-stricken fear. We give God our best readily, often looking for a divine head nod of support. We regularly seek, not the depth of God, but only his thin layer of approval on our lives. However, giving God our ugly side rarely crosses our minds. Ugly hides in our hearts, safely tucked away-untamed and chained, yet deeply part of who we are. For freedom to reign in your life, for intimacy with the divine, ugly must be released upon the altar of God to be tamed by the Spirit of God. In short, you must allow God to love the ugly side of you.
The Nature and Purpose of the New Testament
Reflection Paper 1
Pentecostal Explorations of the New Testament
September 16, 2014
Unity and diversity are near and dear to my heart. As a pastor, both unity and diversity represent a significant role in all I teach, preach and live out. Therefore, with great regard, Dr. Thomas’s lecture was both encouraging and engaging. Unity is important in order to be a focused community of Christ-followers, advancing the redemptive story of scripture. Unity holds us together. Diversity is no less important, and is critically needed to share the beauty of different perspectives. Each of us, matchlessly created in His image, has a distinguished point of view to offer.
In my assessment and reflection, The Canon of the New Testament affirms unity and diversity throughout. The New Testament is a collection of documents as Dr. Thomas notes in his lecture, “…that begins with the story of the Jewish Messiah and ends with the vision of the new heavens and a new earth with Jesus enthroned in the New Jerusalem.” In between the bookends of the beginning story of Jesus and heaven and earth coming together, unity and diversity are reflected by the early church and continues to move the church forward.
A closed canon demonstrates unity. We have the gospel’s, epistles, commentary and even sermons, which magnifies the foundation of our unity as followers of Jesus. We have in the New Testament Canon, a rule or measurement that keeps us in unity because books cannot be removed, and books cannot be added. Since we believe the books to be inspired by God, they become authoritative and thus keep us unified around a complete God-breathed text. To paraphrase Dr. Thomas “They shared convictions that in Jesus all of humankind have shared the fullest revelation of who God is and his offer of salvation.”
Before I reflect some on the diversity found in the New Testament, I would like to mention a few more harmony descriptions that points clearly to unity. In his lecture, Dr. Thomas deals with the origins of Jesus that are found in the entire gospel accounts. For example, “Despite their differences something about Jesus’ origins are found in all four gospels.” Among the list, the following are a few unity features given by Dr. Thomas.
- Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist
- Jesus’ understanding of God
- Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit
- Jesus’ followers
- Jesus’ ministry of word and deed
- Jesus’ passion (betrayal, trial and death)
- Jesus’ resurrection
In the early Christian movement, holistic agreement can be seen in how the new church functioned around the bible as part of the service. Dr. Thomas notes that the reading of the Bible had, “Its place in worship” and cited Col 4:16 and 1 Thes 5:27. The early church also seemed to be in agreement in the attempt to get to the true picture of the historical Jesus.
Variances in early Christian expression can be noted in worship. Paraphrasing Dr. Thomas, in his teaching he notes, “The early church had unity around Jesus as Savior and diversity around the way in which people worshipped.” For example, Dr. Thomas makes the observation, “…in the book of Acts Steven says of the temple, since Jesus has come, the temple is not needed- so you can tear it down. James, on the other hand, continues to go to the temple and is part of the worship there.”
Diversity can also be seen in the New Testament account through the different writers. Just like any good story told by an author, their viewpoint is expressed. We should not be afraid of a particular viewpoint because that is the power of diversity at work. In his book, Four Gospels, One Jesus?: A symbolic reading, Richard Burridge writes, “Four pictures, all different-each with its own story evoking its own atmosphere and provoking its own response in the viewer-yet all are one and the same man.” I love the way this quote from the writings of Burridge connects with the thoughts Dr. Thomas put forth in his lecture. For example, Dr. Thomas notes, “While the Gospels tells the life of Jesus they are not identical replicas of each other. Each Gospel tells the story of Jesus from a different perspective. We should not make the mistake of approaching the Gospels as a book of information about Jesus without understanding of the different perspectives.”
Moving forward with my reflection thoughts, I turn now to the subject of inspiration of the Scripture. In John 16:13 the Bible teaches us that He, The Holy Spirit, will guide the Christ-follower into all truth. This Scripture in particular, but not exclusively, is the foundation for my Pentecostal understanding of the inspiration of the New Testament. However, I must add the addendum that the work of The Spirit, in and through the Word of God did not just start in the New Testament. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches us that Scripture is indeed inspired by God’s will; therefore, the Old Testament is not void of the same conclusion. Dr. Thomas’s well notes, “…the biblical writer states that the Old Testament prophecies were not the result of human imagination but the result of the Holy Spirit’s activity.” Scripture is indeed, divinely inspired.
It would be less involved and a scapegoat to stop at this point with a blanket statement that the Word of God is divinely inspired without wrapping it in human flesh and just leave it at that. However, I am compelled to go much farther, though I must admit I have much to learn about the inspiration of Scripture. I am fascinated with God becoming flesh, and how God The Father used Jesus, “The Word,” to live among us. I wonder; does God use human flesh to reveal himself through us also? Did He use the writers of the New Testament as unique individuals? My conviction is God did use them distinctively and can use us distinctively as well.
I found it exciting when I found an echo of my own conviction that God uniquely used the diversity of each New Testament writer. I concur with Dr. Thomas as he contends, “A proper definition of inspiration must be sensitive to the various ways in which individuals were inspired to write the documents that make up the Bible. Surprisingly enough, God did not choose to inspire everyone in an identical fashion.”
There is much I hope to better grasp as we move through this course concerning the New Testament as it relates to how God uses human flesh to write. I look forward to learning how to retain a high view of the New Testament Scripture, while at the same time learning what it means to see God use human vessels for His glory without reducing or diminishing the sovereign work of The Spirit. I love what Dr. Thomas notes when he writes, “There is a tendency among some of the radical proponents of inspiration to reduce the role of the Holy Spirit to the pages of Scripture itself-in effect, placing God in a box. Pentecostals must continue to insist that the ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot be reduced to His role in the inspiration of Scripture.”
 Burridge, Richard A. “Four Gospels, One Jesus?: A Symbolic Reading” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2 edition (September 21, 2005) Kindle Chapter 1, Location 331
 Thomas, Dr.Chris. “Ministry & Theology: Studies for the Church and its Leader” Pathway Press (May 1996) Page 15
 Thomas, Dr.Chris. “Ministry & Theology: Studies for the Church and its Leader” Pathway Press (May 1996) Page 16
 Thomas, Dr.Chris. “Ministry & Theology: Studies for the Church and its Leader” Pathway Press (May 1996) Page 19
Releasing to God what I think I control is often hard for me. I suspect the same might be true of you from time to time. However, releasing things to God is the only way truly to live. All of us have something in our lives that needs to be changed for the better, but letting go of it and turning it over to God can be a difficult task to obey. Change is rarely easy, but it’s needed to move forward with God. I think for the most part we all have a desire to follow God but many times our lives, our own plans; our un-confessed sins keep us running in a circle.
We love the circle because it’s predictable. Following God is not predictable but you can be certain He knows where He is going. He will see you through any change no matter how big or how small. The creator has built change and transitions into life. The only one that doesn’t change is God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We can’t control the seasons or transitions, but We can control how we respond to the changes.
Change is rarely easy, but it’s needed to move forward with God.
To hear more and go deeper listen to the message, Change Is Rarely Easy.
I struggle not so much with the chaos of the world as I do with how to reshape the world. My life must count beyond this life. I know it matters. I know there is an eternal world just thinly veiled beyond my walk. The veil solicits me to poke holes in it so the healing will leak in.
Matthew 27:51 (NKJV)
Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,
I breathe, yet my soul is still heavy. I laugh although my soul is unrested. I battle, but the fight is never without only within. I thirst for significance discerning it’s not the goal of life. I’m just like you…waiting on the shore hesitant for my ego to die that I might truly live.
Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
Do you have a weight or a sin to set aside? If so, Jesus loves you too much to leave you where you are. The scriptures teach us that we must put off the old, be renewed in our minds and put on the new life that is found in Christ. Paul spoke in terms of dying daily. As Christ-followers, we must continually look ahead to the end goal of standing before Christ faces-to-faces.
Standing before Christ on Judgment day doesn’t have to be a thing of dread. Daily we can judge ourselves as concerning any weight or sin and do something about it right now. We can confess anything to God with a heart of repentance and He will forgive us of all unrighteousness. We are called to lay aside weights and sin!
Growing up my Father owned his own business. Each year, he would take the men and their kids on a fishing trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have incredible memories of those fishing trips. My Father loved making His on sinkers out of lead. He had all kinds of molds for different shapes and sizes. He would take a block of lead and melt it down and pour it into the different molds. I used to love watching him make the sinks and the best part was he taught me how to do it also.
One year he had several of the young kids put the weights on the fishing poles in advance of the trip. His thinking was it would save time by putting the weights and hooks on before we got to the Other Banks. All of us kids had fun tying the weights on the line, but the big mistake was no one checked the knots to make sure all was correct. The first day on the pier was a funny one! We had prepared about seven rods in advance and from all indications, it was going to be a great start to the week.
Each of use took a rod and prepared to cast them for the first time. Carefully checking behind us we each brought our fishing rods back and then propelled them forward to cast. Four of the seven rods gave us a surprise! The lines let go of the weights and all we could do was watch them fly through the air on a path to the deep blue grave of the ocean. As the fishing lines loosely fluttered in the wind, splashes in the ocean told the story of knots being tied wrong. Needless to say, we finally got everything right and had a great week but the point I want you to see, the illustration I want you to hold is the picture of the weight being let go to never been seen again.
If there is a weight of sin in your life today that is keeping you from moving forward with God, then you need to bring your spiritual fishing rod back and propelled that weight or sin into the deeps of his forgiveness to never see it again.
Prayer is the framework that God uses to work His puzzle of purpose through our lives.
I have fond memories of my Grandmother. I loved staying weekends at her home when I was growing up. I would be dropped off at her place on Friday evenings for the weekend. Saturday mornings were always the best. The smell of pancakes would draw me from the bed to kick off the day. I can still smell those pancakes with the nose in the memory of my mind. Another fond memory was working on puzzles with her. She often had a new puzzle waiting on her, and I to work on.
Puzzles are simple in concept but big on journey. A puzzle is an image that has been completed on a sturdy backing and then punched out with a press into random pieces that must be put back together. You open the box and pour out the content pieces and set the picture to the side for reference. You work to put the puzzle back to the original picture.
In John 4, Jesus said that His food was to do the will of Him that sent him and to accomplish that work. In other words, it’s as if Jesus were saying, “My life is His work and His work is my life. Jesus was sent to redeem humanity and the world that was once a picture called, “Good” in the garden but now broken and in need of being put back together. He was sent to bring the future picture of Revelation 21 to completion and we too are a part of that puzzle of purpose.
Jesus prayed. He prayed daily, and that connection with the Father brought power and direction into His life in order to put each piece of the puzzle that He was called to work, back into place. Our lives as Christ-followers are the same. We too must be people of the puzzle. Prayer is the framework God uses to work His puzzle of purpose through our lives.
We don’t untimely pray to gain favor with God. I’m favored in Him when I have plenty and when I have nothing. He is enough all on His own in my life and yours. We pray to reflex God to the world and to bring justice, peace and Righteousness into the broken puzzle of this world. Prayer is meaningful because it brings the message and mission of God into your life and into the world.
It’s been said, ““One way to ensure we keep God in our lives is to keep him in our days.” We do that by prayer. The Lord’s Prayer, or better yet-the disciple’s prayer is a great framework to keep God in our days and thus reflect Him to this world. The first part of the prayer starts with God and rightfully so to keep us from collapsing into self-centeredness. Take a look at the prayer with me.
Matthew 6:9-16 (ESV)
9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
We are called together corporately as a family in the address, “Our Father.” Yes, we pray as individuals but as a family also. We are able to pray because He is, “hallowed” in our lives and prayers. He is set, not to the side but in the center of our lives. Our call to prayer is more of an invitation than a command. We are being asked to step into the heart of Jesus, and when we do, all self-centeredness must not enter.
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We must become the answer to this prayer. Every time we exert the kingdom of heaven in this world God’s will (purpose) is felt by the world and another section of the puzzle is put into place.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
The Lord meets daily provision of our needs. When we pray verse eleven we are developing an awareness of dependence.
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
We owe a debt to God, and the good news is we don’t have to pay. The payment was paid on the cross. We must accept the forgiveness and walk in that forgives toward others. Another section of the puzzle gets placed into the world.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
We are reminded with full awareness of the battle that we fight but when we watch and pray we find that God is greater in us than all that is in the world. N.T. Wright reminds us, “If we follow a crucified Messiah, we shouldn’t expect to be spared the darkness ourselves. But we must, and may, pray to be kept from its worst ravages, and to be delivered from evil, both in the abstract and in its personified form, ‘the evil one’.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Forgiveness is the greatest part of the puzzle. We are people of the future sent to bring forgiveness to a world shattered.
Pray through this prayer today and it will become the framework that God uses to work His puzzle of purpose through your life.
Jesus doesn’t stand separately from life calling humanity unto Him; He emerges in the midst of life offering the lost of the world a way to the Father through simple faith. He left all of glory to dwell among us. In human form, the bible tells us he humbled himself through obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
He lavished His preventive grace upon humanity as the greatest offer of all times. It is by His offer of grace we are saved through faith. Grace is not our own doing. Grace is a free gift received by placing your belief in the finished work of Christ. God’s grace is not a spiritual enhancement; it’s a radical rescue, calling you to walk the kingdom path of good works.
God’s gift of grace calls upon the sinner, inviting a choice. You can choose His offer of grace. You can reject His offer of grace. However, you can’t ignore His offer of grace because it pursues you constantly. The greatest gift to man was, is and will always be Jesus, but I contend that the second greatest gift was the gift of choices.
Choose grace; it is the only path that leads home. Choose grace; it is the only path that leads to heaven and earth coming together where those found in Christ will live for all eternity. Choose grace; the Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes. Choose grace; and you will discover the new way of life walking out the good works God has prepared for you.
Choose grace and you’re on the path to becoming fully human as God has always desired for His creation. Choose Jesus and allow all the old to pass away and embrace the new. Allow me to repeat myself as I end this devotion. Jesus doesn’t stand separately from life calling humanity unto Him; He emerges in the midst of life offering the lost of the world a way to the Father through simple faith.
Guilt can be a good thing if it’s helps you to see you have sinned against God. However, please hear this…guilt will never forgive you or heal you. The goal of course is to break free from the sin that so easily entangles you. After all, our calling is to be conformed to the image of God. God is shaping our character to reflect Him and His kingdom virtues. We are supposed to be salt and light to a world crying out for healing. We can’t be salt and light while living in open lifestyle sin.
When you sin against God and ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit you grieve Him. Since our path is narrow according to scripture, any other path leads away from God. To surrender to temptation is to choose to walk a path not intended. The aftermath of that choice is often guilt. Guilt only becomes bad when it leads you away in self-pity and self-seeking healing. Runaway Guilt is Adam and Eve running and hiding from God. Convicting guilt is from the Holy Spirit and leads to life.
What then is the answer after the fall? The answer is conviction. Conviction is the voice of the Holy Spirit. Conviction is the voice of reconciliation. Conviction draws you toward God to receive forgiveness from any and all sin committed. I’ve often said there is a difference between a man facing the cross and asking God to forgive him, than the one who is facing away from the cross trying to hide it all.
Hiding leads to guilt in the shadows and the weight of sin remains. Guilt that faces the cross leads to life and forgiveness. A great example of facing the cross is Peter. When Peter sinned, he confessed, and God forgave him. Adam on the other hand blamed God while trapped in guilt and tried to hide it. The desire of God is for each of us to bring our guilt to him. On the cross, Jesus died for your sins. He was the innocent for the guilty, so it is only at the foot of the cross that guilt is relieved. Now drop that fig leaf and be healed.
1 John 1:9 (NKJV)
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.