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It would not be difficult for most followers of Jesus to agree that
both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are symbolic acts
that Jesus commanded His followers to observe
and that both were practiced and taught by the apostles.

 

Mattew 28; Acts 2:38 – Baptism
Matthew 26; 1 Cor 11 – Lord’s Supper

 

One thing that these symbolic acts have in common is that
both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve to affirm to us –
through the church that Jesus is building –
that our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection,
and that because of our faith in Him,
we are now numbered among the people of God in Jesus Christ.

These actions are not something we do alone.
Both require us to be gathered
with at least another believer – in the name of Jesus –
in order to practice them.

 

As a result, both serve to establish us in community
with God’s people.

 

Baptism symbolizes our initial joining to God and His people in Christ.
The Lord’s Supper symbolizes our ongoing participation
in the life of God and His people in Christ.

It is important to say that the affirmation we receive
from our participation in these symbolic acts
comes with the weight of the authority of Jesus Himself.
This affirmation does not come from any kind of human
institutional or denominational authority that may bear His name.

 

All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to the Son by God the Father.

 

His authority on earth
is expressed through the church He is building.
The church is the one, global family of God in Jesus, the Messiah.
Our participation in that church happens
wherever and whenever we gather locally with other believers
in Jesus’ name – at particular times and places –
the risen Lord Jesus Himself being present at each gathering
of His church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

It is vital to understand that
only the Lord Himself
can make the determination that a person is truly His.

 

Through the one-time symbolic act
of baptism,
identifying with His death and resurrection,
I am affirmed by the authority of Jesus
according to the scriptures and
expressed through the person baptizing me,
that my sins are forgiven,
that I have been buried with Christ through baptism into death
and raised to walk in newness of life as He was raised from the dead.

 

Through baptism,
the person baptizing me affirms that
I am now numbered among the people of God in Jesus.

 

Through the repeated act
of sharing the bread and the wine with other followers of Jesus,
in remembrance of Him, and particularly His death,
I am affirmed by the authority of Jesus
according to the scriptures and
expressed through my brothers and sisters gathered around the table with me,
that my sins are forgiven,
because of His death, and through my participation in the meal of remembrance.

 

Through the Lord’s supper,
my brothers and sisters gathered at the table affirm that
I am now numbered among the people of God through my faith in Jesus.

 

To summarize:
through our participation in the symbolic acts
that Jesus commanded His followers to observe –
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper –
we are affirmed by the authority of Jesus –
according to the scriptures and
through the people of God,
that our sins are forgiven and
that our confession of faith in Jesus is genuine –
being accompanied by a genuine, observable repentance from sin
as we live among our brothers and sisters in the light of genuine fellowship.

 

Seeing that our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son, Jesus Christ,
we always seek to maintain
the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
among the people of God.

 

The statement from Paul in 2 Timothy 2
holds these two notions of determination and affirmation together quite clearly,
and helps us to understand how the authority of Jesus
functions among His people:

 

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 
“The Lord knows those who are His,”
and, 
“Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”

 

“The Lord knows those who are His…” 
speaks of a determination.
Specifically, a determination in the light of Jesus’ authority
expressed through His judgment of the living and the dead
on the day of His coming,
and in the light of God’s foreknowledge of all things.

 

“Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness…”
speaks of a present affirmation.
Specifically, an affirmation in the light of Jesus’ authority
expressed through the church He is building.

 

The notion of determination always leaves room for God
to have the final word over anyone,
and leaves room for us to live faithfully
according to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles
regarding our life together as the church He is building –
speaking the truth to one another in love,
teaching and admonishing…encouraging and exhorting one another in love –
yes, affirming one another in the faith.

 

So, in the sense I have described above,
the church Jesus is building –
specifically the believers with whom
we are gathered together in His name –
affirms both that our sins our forgiven
and that we are numbered among the people of God in Jesus.

 

This affirmation is not something I have the authority to convey upon myself;
it comes to me as God’s gift – as I live in fellowship with Him and His people.

 

That affirmation is withheld by the authority of Jesus
according to the scriptures
through the church He is building
whenever our confession of faith in Him
is betrayed by a lack of repentance from sin.

 

The affirmation we presently receive
from Jesus through His church
is an anticipation
of the determination that we will receive from Jesus directly
in the future at His coming.

 

Our Lord Jesus taught us how His authority
would function on earth through His people:

 

“If your brother sins,
go and show him his fault in private;
if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

 

But if he does not listen to you,
take one or two more with you,
so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

 

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
and if he refuses to listen even to the church,
let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 

Truly I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth
shall have been bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth
shall have been loosed in heaven.

 

“Again I say to you,
that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask,
it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.

 

For where two or three have gathered together in My name,
I am there in their midst.”

 

Wherever the church gathers in His name,
Jesus is present to affirm us or discipline us,
always for our good –
and always in the hope of reconciliation
with God and His people.

 

It is in the light of the love God that has for us,
demonstrated through the giving of His Son
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,
together with our response of faith and trust in Jesus –
a faith that is affirmed by Jesus Himself
through our brothers and sisters
when we gather in His name –
that we are receive affirmation from the Lord
that our sins are forgiven and of
our participation in the life of God and His people.
That should be a great comfort to us.

 

Let’s listen to John as he describes to us
the life that we share with God and the people of God in Jesus:

 

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked at and touched with our hands,
concerning the Word of Life—

 

and the life was manifested,
and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life,
which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

 

what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

 

These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

 

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you,
that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, 
we lie and do not practice the truth;
but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, 
we have fellowship with one another, 
and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
 
If we say that we have no sin, 
we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
 
If we confess our sins, 
He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…
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Why I am a Christian

Part 1 – In the beginning

I found myself telling the story of how and why I became a Christian to a couple of friends over a beer last night…and I feel compelled to capture that story in my blog in hopes that someone who reads it will also find the hope, forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and purpose that I have found in Jesus Christ.

I know that’s how I wanted to hear the Christian message  – not through a book about someone who lived centuries ago – but as it comes to me through the life of someone living in this generation.  After all, that is how the message was to be told…from one life to another.

The story of the Christian faith is a present reality – and is not “contained” in an antique book called the bible.  For sure, the Christian faith is built on the writings found in the bible, but the story of our faith is not contained by the bible – any more than an author is “contained” by a book they write.  No, an author is a living person.  The bible points us to the person of Jesus Christ, to God Himself.  Christians don’t merely read stories about how other people encountered God.  A true Christian has encountered Jesus Christ themselves in the concrete reality of their own life.  The Christian faith is contained neither by a book, nor a building, nor any religious organization, pope or priest, prophet or pastor, but in the lives of people across the centuries – from every nation and language of the world – who have encountered the living God in the person of Jesus.  The encounter with Jesus Christ that leads us to place our faith and trust in God is different for every person…and we have something to learn about the way God reveals Himself to us from every person we meet…if we will listen to their story.

So here is mine…

How can a person go from not believing in or caring about the existence of God to being a fully devoted follower of Jesus in just a matter of a couple months?

What would make a young person at the age of 19, at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, while enjoying all of the freedoms and liberties of life without the restraint of parental rules – while enjoying night after night of partying, “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”, choose to become a follower of Jesus Christ?

I was not raised in a Christian tradition.  I lived for 18 years without thinking about God at all.  I had little or no sense of purpose in my life by the time I reached college.  I remember being a bit uneasy about making long-lasting choices that would affect my life…like what career I should pursue. I only knew I would like to have a career doing something I enjoyed, and be able to make enough money to enjoy the lifestyle I knew growing up.  I wanted to have a nice house (preferably organic architecture like the house I grew up in), drive a nice car (preferably a Porsche – like the one I drove in high school), and have the financial freedom to travel and see the world (like skiing in the rocky Mountains, snorkeling in Hawaii or in the emerald waters along the beach in Negril, Jamaica – places our family visited growing up).  I had no waking thoughts of wanting to make any kind of difference in the world with my life…my sights were set solely on the pursuit of my own personal enjoyments.  And if I had those things, I thought I could have a happy life.

Then, at the age of 19, while I was away at college in the spring of 1985, everything changed…

In my second semester of school, while studying to get a degree in audio engineering, I went from not having a waking thought of God to becoming fully convinced that Jesus Christ was alive and real…that the Bible contained God’s revelation of Himself to this world…and that the God revealed through the wonders of nature as Creator, and the God revealed in the Bible as Savior, the One who will bring about perfect healing, justice, and restoration to the world we live in through Jesus Christ…was now my God.

So what happened to produce that kind of drastic change in my life?

I am glad you asked!

I am going to tell that story over the coming days and weeks right here, so come back soon.

I know your deeds

I was reading through the letters that Jesus sent to His churches in various cities as recorded in the book of Revelation.

I found it interesting to note how Jesus begins each letter…

To the church at Ephesus…
I know your deeds…and your toil and perseverance…”

To the church at Smyrna…
I know your tribulation and poverty…”

To the church at Pergamum…
I know where you dwell…”

To the church at Thyatira…
I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance…”

To the church at Sardis…
I know your deeds…”

To the church at Philadelphia…
I know your deeds…”

To the church at Laodicea…
I know your deeds…”

It is interesting to note that Jesus does not say “I know your heart…” or “I know your doctrines…” or “I know your intentions…”

Continue Reading »

on Names and Identity

My name is Sean Stevens.  I didn’t choose my name – it was given to me by my parents – the people that brought me into this world.  My parents didn’t choose their names either – although my mother changed her surname from Crawford to Stevens when she married my dad (in our culture, it is customary for the wife to take the surname of her husband).  Some women choose to retain their maiden name and hyphenate it with their husband’s surname (Crawford-Stevens).

What do you suppose is the reason some women choose to retain their maiden names?

Names speak to our identity

I think it has to do with identity.  Perhaps some women find it humiliating to give up their identity – entirely.  Maybe they think the practice of giving up their birth surname at marriage is part of a male-dominated society, and they don’t want to participate in that custom.  There are many reasons I am sure.

In many cultures, the surname reveals the identity of the father.  Stevenson – son of Steven. I think of Simon bar Jonah in the Bible. Simon son of Jonah.  I had an instructor from Turkey in college whose surname was Kabakcioglu which means son of Kabak.

Our name, although not entirely unique, is a big part of our identity.  We respond and turn our head when our name is called.

As followers of Christ, we are called to identify ourselves with Him.  Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father in heaven.”

Remember the island on the show LOST?

The apostle Paul rebuked the believers in Corinth for identifying themselves after the Lord’s servants rather than after the Lord they serve.   Some said “We are of Paul” – others “we are of Peter” or “we are of Apollos”.   Today we say “I go to this church” as opposed to those others.  Remember the “Others” on the show Lost?   Could it be that any Christian community is LOST when it sees itself as the only true church and OTHERS as less pure, less devoted, less relevant, less this and less that?  Jesus said “I will build My church.”  The church Jesus is building cannot be identified by any organization that man creates.  If you are in any organization that claims to be the only true church, you are in a cult – no matter if they use the Bible or the name of Jesus Christ. (I write this to my Mormon friends as well as to any Christian friends).  Get out as quickly as you can! There is a community of humble followers of Jesus in your area who will readily welcome you into their fellowship.  Pray and God will lead you to them (or them to you).  The Lord will forgive you for the spiritual pride and arrogance you have been living in, and lead you in the way of humility – loving anyone who calls on His name and shares our common faith in Jesus as a brother or sister in Christ.

In Antioch, the believers were first called Christians – probably because they were known simply as disciples or followers of Jesus.

Why, as followers of Jesus, are we so quick to identity ourselves with men, even servants of God, and the religious organizations men create rather than with Christ Himself?

Continue Reading »

God says He has plans for us.

Think about this…
A building always starts off as an idea in the mind of its designer.
It begins as a VISION that only the ARCHITECT sees in his mind.

That vision can be conveyed to others best by a hiring an artist to create a RENDERING or PICTURE of the building.
Now while a PICTURE can help others see what the architect sees, a PICTURE does not convey enough information to actually build the building.

A set of PLANS needs to be created and given to a BUILDER in order for the vision to become reality.

The BUILDER knows how to take the PLANS and create a SCHEDULE of needed MATERIALS and LABOR, that if followed step by step, will create the building successfully.

So all of that to say this…

If God has PLANS for you and me, it must mean that He already has a VISION – a picture in His mind of what He wants our lives to look like when the building process is complete.
PLANS imply to me that there is nothing haphazard about our lives.  All things are working out according to God’s plans.

That is good to know in a world that feels like there is more being destroyed than built sometimes.
From a human vantage point, history is the story of mankind’s inability to build a world the way we know deep down it should be.
A world without suffering, selfishness, sorrow and pain.

But God has a PLAN, and from His vantage point, He is building something glorious in the middle of this troubled world!
His plan shows us that there is going to be an end to suffering and selfishness, to sorrow and pain – yes – even to death itself.
In the end, love and peace, life and joy will be the only things growing in this world of His.
He is going to pluck all the stuff that hinders love out of this world like a gardener pulls weeds out of the garden so the good stuff can grow and thrive.

So, if you want to see a PICTURE of the kind of people God wants to build, just look at JESUS.  He is God’s VISION for HUMANITY.

The Bible paints for us – using WORDS – a picture of who JESUS is in reality.
The Bible also contains the PLANS God has to build our lives together into the people He desires us to be.
This is why it is so important to hear the words of the Bible, so we can see God’s PICTURE and know God’s PLAN.

If we don’t look to God’s PICTURE and build our lives according to God’s PLAN, our lives will end up becoming something other than what God wants.
We will certainly become a weed in the garden rather than a plant.
Remember, God plucks out the weeds – not because He hates weeds necessarily, but because of what the weeds do to damage the other plants in His garden.

God is the ARCHITECT, but he uses other people in our lives as BUILDERS to help us implement His PLAN in our everyday lives step by step until we become like Jesus.
That’s why it is important to be a part of a thriving Christian community because that is where God’s BUILDERS are found.
We can’t build our lives on our own- God made us to need other people.
Someday, if we cooperate with God, we can become BUILDERS used by God in the lives of others!  What a purposeful and fulfilling life that is!

Time to close this blog entry with some words from the Bible :

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” – Psalm 127:1

“For I know the PLANS I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13

“For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose ARCHITECT and BUILDER is God.” – Hebrews 11:10

Think about it.

A New Lens

About a year ago, I embarked on a journey of faith that has me working with my father designing and building homes in Boise, Idaho.  The previous 15 years of my life were spent in computer engineering and software development in Florida and North Carolina.  As a follower of Jesus, I endeavor to serve Him faithfully in every sphere of living – whether it be as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, software developer, builder…you get the idea.  Whatever hat I may be wearing, Christ is my boss.  Christ writes the job description for every role in my life – He is my Employer.

Jesus taught His disciples about the kingdom of God using parables drawn from the stories they lived every day.  To agricultural people, the kingdom was like a farmer planting seeds.  To fishermen, the kingdom was like a net being dragged through the sea catching fish of every kind.  To sheep-herders, the kingdom was like a shepherd who separated the sheep from the goats.

As I have embarked on this new vocation of building homes with my father, I am starting to see the kingdom of God through the eyes of an architect and builder.  As my eyes open, I hope to use this blog to start sharing what I am seeing – hoping that someone who happens upon this blog can derive some benefit or be helped in some way.

Building

Laying a strong foundation

Laying a strong foundation

I started a new blog (click here to see it) which documents the house we (my dad and I) are building here in Boise, Idaho.  This is our first project working together.  It has been amazing to see the process of going from a blank sheet of paper (OK, a blank screen actually!) and seeing lines on the plans become holes in the ground.  This is  a rich time together with my father, and I am convinced we are building more than bricks and mortar together, but memories and a family legacy that will hopefully last for generations to come.