Slaves of Christ

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…” (Romans 1:1).  If one were reading the Bible in the order it was assembled in the biblical canon, the apostle Paul’s first words of introduction to us are, “My name is Paul, and I am a slave.” 

Christians today don’t talk much about being slaves.  That’s likely because of the understandable aversion to what that idea brings most readily to mind – the awful history of cruel human enslavement that has been and continues to be a terrible reality in our fallen world.  But Paul identified himself as a bond-servant of Christ in his epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and to Titus.  In Colossians Paul calls his colleague Epaphras a bond-servant of Christ. And Peter, James, and Jude all identify themselves in their epistles as bond-servants of Christ.  So being a slave was clearly a common understanding of the identity of the early Christian.

What did they mean by that: “a bond-servant of Christ Jesus”?  Simply stated, a bond-servant is one who belongs to another.  It is one whose personal autonomy is entirely subject to a master.  In most cases, a bond-servant, a slave, is one who has been purchased by an owner whose will is the duty of the slave to perform.  As a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, Paul was acknowledging that he had been “bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:20) and was compelled to perform the service to which he was called – that is, to preach the Gospel among the Gentiles (Romans 1:5).

Oswald Chambers said of the term “bond-servant of Christ”: “These words mean the breaking and collapse of my independence brought about by my own hands, and the surrendering of my life to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus…It means breaking the hard outer layer of my individual independence from God, and the liberating of myself and my nature into oneness with Him; not following my own ideas, but choosing absolute loyalty to Jesus.”

When one is a slave to Jesus, that person gives up their right to have a say in the matter.  (Here’s a little secret – we never had a right to have a say in the matter to begin with.)  But we relinquish whatever false claim we had to autonomy in submission to the lordship of Jesus.  To be a slave to Christ is to reach that point of surrender where our independence is actually dead, and it is not we who are living, but Christ living in us (as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20).  We must attain the level of commitment where our will is inconsequential, because it has been swallowed up by God’s will.  It’s not that our will is gone – it’s still there; but it has been enslaved by the will of Jesus. 

Our autonomy, our self-determination, can be hard to relinquish.  By identifying as a bond-servant, a slave, we are saying: I have given my independence over to Christ.  But the good news is: unlike that cruelest commerce – human slavery both ancient and modern – Jesus says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).  So like Paul we can say, I am a slave, and it’s the most liberating thing that ever happened to me.

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

A “Nothing New” Year

From youth I have heard the phrase: “There is nothing new under the sun.” The phrase is adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes where the author complains frequently about the monotony of life. The entire passage reads, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun(Ecclesiastes 1:9, KJV).

Will a ‘nothing new’ year be your lot for 2022? It shouldn’t be. God’s word says,  “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NIV). With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can have a new attitude and we can put on a new self.

The Apostle Paul states, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). We must not fall prey to the same old pattern of resolving to do better in the new year only to abandon these determinations soon after. Paul’s advice: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

Prayer for 2022: Lord, may we respond to your word to us through the Prophet Isaiah; “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19, NIV). We do not want a ‘Nothing New’ Year.

~ Brother Roy

A Spiritual Stimulus

Recent events have brought the concept of a “stimulus package” to the forefront of our news. A basic definition of a stimulus package is a package of economic measures a government invokes to stimulate a floundering economy. The objective of a stimulus package is to reinvigorate the economy and prevent or reverse a recession by boosting employment and spending. It is open to discussion whether or not the current economic stimulus packages accomplish their intended purpose. However, there are situations where some types of stimuli can evoke the intended response.

The Biblical accounts found in Mark 12:41–44 and Luke 21:1–4 serve as an example of a spiritual stimulus.  Jesus called His disciples’ attention to a certain poor widow who had cast two small coins into an offering box in the Temple. These ‘mites’ were the smallest and least valuable coins in circulation in Judea. Although the mites seemed to be of little value, scripture tells us something different. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 14:43-44, NIV).

What a powerful lesson! The example of the widow’s mites has stimulated me and countless others across time to give into the Lord’s treasury out of the resources we have available. Motivated by the possibility that we can “put more in the treasury” than the rich should inspire us to give generously, to give sacrificially. Think of it – in the eyes of the Lord, you can out give Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg at the Lord’s offering box.

The miracle of feeding five thousand men, plus women and children, with five loaves and two fish reveals the Lord’s power to multiply what is placed in His hands. We can trust the One who gave His all, even His very life to rescue us the bondage of sin.

Prayer: Lord, may the truth of Your Word stimulate us to place our resources at Your disposal. Kindle in us desire to commit our lives and all we possess to you.   

~ Brother Roy

Supply Chain Problems

A major issue in the news recently has been the Supply Chain Crisis. Empty shelves, shortages, and dramatic price increases when items can be found have fueled frustration and dissatisfaction. A seemingly endless number of explanations and excuses have been offered, but few solutions advanced.

Exasperated by the supply chain interruptions, we can find consolation in the fact that most physical shortages are more inconveniences than life-threatening necessities. But in the spiritual realm, shortages in faith and hearts empty of God’s love can have eternally devastating consequences.

Unlike the physical supply chain problems that are incredibly complex, shortages in spiritual areas are simpler to diagnose and resolve. Consider these major problems and their solutions.

  • Sin: Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2, NKJV).
    Solution:If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
  • Wrong Motives:When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3, NIV).
    Solution: Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded”  (James 4:8, NKJV).
  • Deceitfulness: “For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech…For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-12, NIV).
    Solution: Tell the truth. Don’t lie or say things that are misleading to give others a false perception. Deception will hinder your prayers. Walk the talk.

When the issues mentioned are addressed, the channels between man and God are opened. Then scripture says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV).

~ Brother Roy

Silent Night

Advertisers have filled the media and the airwaves with urgent messages designed to get people to spend, spend, spend this holiday season. Noise – everywhere there is noise, touting the fact that the Covid Pandemic restricted family gatherings, gift giving, and celebrations last year. Now, the noise is telling us we should throw off all restraint this year and ‘party large’.

We are assured that we ‘deserve’ to indulge our self-centered desires. After all, we had a rough year. The way to make up for lost holiday festivities is to go ‘crazy’ this year. Spend! Give! Splurge! The noise is everywhere encouraging people to shower themselves and loved ones with extravagant gifts. Give expensive presents and all will be well. Some might note that a person may need a little alcohol or valium to help numb the advent of overwhelming credit card bills and drained bank accounts. But, enjoy and have another drink.

By Christmas Eve, let us pray that the noise fades and reason prevails. Across the land, may moms and dads settle down and perhaps quietly sing or hum the favorite hymn of parents with young children – Silent Night. How we need a time when ‘all is calm and all is bright’.  A little peace and quiet is a wonderful thing. Oh, how our old world needs to be able to ‘sleep in heavenly peace’.

Human initiative has tried, to no avail, to bring peace on earth. Man’s ingenuity has floundered in its attempt. As the true Prince of Peace is crowded out of government operations, public schools, and our daily lives, we wonder why we are experiencing such turmoil and dissonance.

Tinsel and glitter clamor for attention. Looming debts raise their strident voices. Piles of discarded wrapping paper crinkle beneath our feet. A cacophony of noise threatens to drown out the true sounds of Christmas. We need to hear the message that the Christ Child quietly slipped to the world in Bethlehem. He came bringing the song of “peace on earth, good will to men”. The timely adage, ‘Know Christ, know peace; no Christ, no peace,’ is true. Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV). Let us receive the true peace He came to offer.

Prayer: May the tranquility of that Silent Night hush the noise in troubled hearts. “He has sent his word to the descendants of Israel and brought them the good news of peace through Jesus the Messiah. This man is the Lord of everyone” (Acts 10:36 ISV).

~ Brother Roy

Preparing the Way

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” The Apostle John was not writing of himself when he made this introduction to John the Baptist in his Gospel (John 1:6).  We know from the Gospel of Luke that John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were cousins (Luke 1:36).  And this earthly relative of Jesus, also born in extraordinary circumstances (Luke 1:5-25, 57-66), was sent by God for a purpose.

The Gospel of John tells us that John the Baptist “came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:7-8).  And John took his responsibility seriously, preparing the groundwork for the coming of Jesus. 

There are some admirable things to consider about John as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the Advent season:

1. John knew his place.  Like a TV preacher, he could have cashed in on his popularity and made himself to be more important than he was.  But he deflected the praise from the people, freely confessing that he was not the One, but merely the one preparing the way for the One.  John made clear that there was One coming after him, whose sandals John was not worthy to untie (John 1:26-27).

2. John understood his purpose.  I’m sure Elizabeth and Zacharias told John from a young age of the miraculous circumstances of his birth.  Before John had even been conceived, the angel Gabriel had revealed to Zacharias that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit,” would “bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord,” would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).  When people demanded that John explain what he was up to, John responded, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23).

3. John recognized the Messiah.  When Jesus finally came on the scene, approaching John on the banks of the River Jordan, John immediately said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  John had a gift for spotting the Savior – when Mary arrived for a visit with her cousin, John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, recognizing even in his pre-born state that the Messiah was on the way (Luke 1:41).

4. John obeyed his Lord.  When Jesus came to John to be baptized (Matthew 3:13-17), John balked: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  John understandably felt unworthy to baptize the Son of God.  But when Jesus insisted that this was important, John obeyed.

5. John had his moment of doubt.  This may seem like a strange thing to list as an admirable trait, but faith that does not pass through doubt has not been very seriously considered.  When John was in the darkest moments of his life, languishing in Herod’s prison, he sent word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).  Instead of rebuking John for doubting, Jesus sent an encouraging update: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:5).  Instead of publicly shaming John for his question, Jesus told the crowd, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  Moments of doubt may arise, even in one full of the Spirit like John, but the Savior is ready to encourage, and we have God’s Word to remind us of who He is and what He has done for us.

Advent is a time that the church has observed through the centuries as a period of preparation for two events: the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. As we move through the Advent season in joyous anticipation, let’s follow the example of John the Baptist by preparing the way for our Savior and pointing others to Him.

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Mid-November settled in. The temperature had dipped below the freezing level on several occasions. As the thermometer dropped into the twenties, the flowers around our house withered, turned brown, and died. While walking between the front bumper of my car and the garage door, I glanced down, and to my astonishment there was a beautiful, white ‘impatient’ flower in full bloom. It was growing in a very narrow crack between the asphalt and the concrete garage floor. To grow there would be an incredible feat under favorable conditions, but it was nothing short of amazing given the freezing temperature as well as the lack of soil and water. Yet, there it was!

The proverbial expression, ‘Bloom where you’re planted,’ came to my mind. A little research indicated that the Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is credited with the quote. Later, artist Mary Engelbreit made the phrase popular, and there are Biblical references that seem to point to various verses in the Bible that carry a similar notion. 

While I can’t speak for all believers who use the expression, to me it means being content where God has placed you in life and making the most of your opportunities. The Apostle Paul said, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11, ESV). Certain objections have been voiced about the concept of being content where you are. What if you could and should change the circumstances you are in? Should you simply be satisfied to make little or no effort to improve your situation? I think not.

A good proverb doesn’t need to say everything in order to be helpful or true. For Christians, sayings like, “Bloom where you are planted,” can be insightful and encouraging. We need to understand them within a biblical framework. That’s the blessing of spiritual discernment all Christians can enjoy, no matter where you’re planted. When you’re unhappy with where you are in life, you may struggle with the situation. However, there are many things you can do to flourish even in circumstances that are not ideal.

  • First, work on developing the right outlook. Try to find and appreciate the good in the present situation. Accept what you cannot change. Learn to be at peace with yourself. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • Second, look for opportunities where you are. Make the effort to utilize the resources available. Work your hardest to reflect a positive attitude and a joyful spirit.
  • Finally, make the most of each day. Try to be optimistic from one day to the next and eventually you will ‘bloom’.

Conclusion: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

~ Brother Roy

A Sound of Thanksgiving

The pastor invited the children to come to the front in morning worship. The sanctuary was beautifully decorated for Thanksgiving. He invited them to gather around the communion table in front of the platform. On the table, a picturesque cornucopia filled with various fruit and vegetables was attractively displayed. The children were invited to look it over. The pastor asked if anyone knew what it was. A bright-eyed little girl said, “It’s a bugle.” I’ve heard the basket called a ‘cornucopia’ and a ‘horn of plenty’, but now from the lips of a child – a ‘bugle’. To her it was a ‘bugle full of blessing’.

There was something about the little girl’s fresh response that sent me rushing back in my mind to my memories of Thanksgiving as a child. Things seemed much simpler then. I thought of family, food, and laughter.  It was a time when all my needs were taken care of by people who loved me. An absence of fear and an abundance of love and trust was the world I lived in.

The Message paraphrase of Matthew 18:3 highlights a child’s simple approach to life: “For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.”

In the complicated and troubled world in which we live, what a blessing it would be if we could rediscover the childlike faith of our youthful years. The apostle Paul expressed a concern for believers facing a sin-filled culture. “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NKJV).

This season a ‘bugle’ sounded by an exuberant little girl called me back to a spirit of thankfulness. I can be in a place where my needs will be taken care of by the Lord who loves me. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NKJV). I can live in an absence of fear and be surrounded by God’s love. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, NKJV).

~ Brother Roy