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What is an Authentic Christian?

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

In our last two devotionals, we discussed the importance of honest and authentic communication in the body of Christ. Along the way, we touched briefly on the question of what it means to be an “authentic Christian.” Today, we’ll dig a little deeper into that subject.

As was noted in our discussion, there are thousands of books and sermons addressing what it means to be an authentic Christian, even though the term never actually appears in the Bible. Most writers and expositors define an authentic Christian in terms of performance (what a person does, or how he/she behaves.)  However looking at the primary definition of “authentic”; of undisputed origin, we concluded that authenticity as a Christian has more to do with nature than performance. As we discussed, just as an authentic apple tree will ultimately bear apples, so also, an authentic Christian will ultimately be inclined to walk in a manner that is consistent with his/her nature.

What then is an “authentic Christian?” Ontology is the study of the nature of being. An ontologist would tell us there is a significant relationship between the nature of a being and the life of a being. So, in order to understand the nature, and hopefully the definition, of an “authentic Christian,” let’s look at a word that does appear in Scripture; “life.”

In the New Testament, three Greek words are translated as the word, life.

  1. Bios (used over 10 times in the New Testament) is the life of the physical body. It is where we get the word biology.
  2. Psuche or Psyche (used over 100 times in the New Testament) is the life of the human soul, that is, the mind, emotion, and will. It is where we get the word psychology.
  3. Zoe (used over 130 times in the New Testament) is the divine life uniquely possessed by God. It is real life in all its fullness. “I have come that they may have life (zoe) and may have (zoe) abundantly.” – John 10:10

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains the significant difference between Bios and Zoe.

“In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which come to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc. is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

In this excerpt, C.S. Lewis deals with the difference between Zoe and Bios. However, the difference between Zoe and Psuche is just as significant. Whether a person is “born again” (John 3:3–7) and has Zoe, or not, the soul is eternal. The difference that Zoe makes has to do with the eternal destiny and quality of the life of the soul.

I came to faith in Christ at the age of 22. Prior to that time, I was involved in Eastern mysticism. I had a very active Psuche (Soul), but I did not have Zoe (His Life). When Jesus flooded my life (Psuche) with His Life (Zoe), I immediately sensed a change. The blinders were lifted from the eyes of my soul. The world seemed brighter and more vivid. Time seemed to move slower. It was as if the whole universe has suddenly come into focus. That was His life in me. That was Zoe!

I’ve talked with many others about their “born again” experience; what theologians call regeneration.  Not everyone has such a dramatic experience, particularly those who came to faith in Christ at an early age. Coming to Christ as a young child doesn’t allow much time for the world to shape a soul. So then, I would not propose that the dramatic change I experienced is the only defining, or even the main, evidence of Zoe in a person.

I would propose that the main evidence of Zoe has to do with our disposition toward God, and toward sin.  And by sin, I not only refer to actions that offend God, I also refer to the power of sin that dwells in the flesh of every person. I have talked with people who struggle with a habit they know is harmful and does not honor God, even to the point of questioning their salvation. Their behavior and struggle may be chronic, but they are not “OK” with it. They never stop wanting to live in a way that pleases God. I believe that it is the Zoe in them that gives them the motivation to get back up and continue seeking God, no matter how many times they fall.

Dear friend, please to do not miss the significance of what I am trying to communicate. Some people would say that the sign of an authentic Christian is how well he/she walks the walk. While there is some truth in that statement, I would strongly insist it is not the main sign. Anyone can fake the Christian walk for short periods of time. In my opinion, it is the person who never stops struggling, who never gives up the fight, who is never “OK” with sin, who gets up when he/she falls and keeps going. It is the Zoe (His Life) in a person that makes this possible.

Simply stated, an authentic Christian is a person who has Zoe.  How’s the Zoe in you today?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. – John 6:35

 


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Let’s Get Real

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

Part 1 on The Importance of Honesty and Authenticity in Team Communication

I have always been amazed at the way a flock of birds or a school of fish can move together in perfect unison. This synchronized movement is called murmuration. And while scientists are getting closer to understanding what kind communication makes this possible, there is still much that is unknown about murmuration.

I believe that this natural phenomenon is a picture of the way the Body of Christ should move in this world. I pray that this is how the team at Mars Hill would move, under the divine orchestration of the Holy Spirit, as we pursue the mission to which our Father has called us.

Honest and authentic communication is key to this kind of Spirit-led, coordinated movement. This is the first of two devotionals on this subject.

29 It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. – Exodus 34:29-30 

34 But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, 35 the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him. – Exodus 34:34-35

12  Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13  and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14  But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted because it is removed in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 3:12-14

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. – 2 Corinthians 3:17

In 1980, Mars Hill released a short film called Face Value. That film was inspired by the example of Moses as recorded in Exodus 34 and 2 Corinthians 3. When Moses personally spent time in the presence of God, his face actually began to shine with the glory of God. Because of this, Moses hid his face behind a veil when he returned to be with the people. He did this for two reasons.

Reading the Old Testament account, we learn that Moses did not want to cause fear in the people when they saw his shining face. Reading the New Testament account we discover the second reason. Moses did not want the people to witness the fading of this glory.

Like a veil, a mask is used to cover one’s face. In the movie, Face Value, the characters wore masks to hide what they were really thinking and feeling; their fears, insecurities, and sense of unworthiness. Such feelings are common to all people, but for fear of rejection, few are able to be honest about them and reveal them to others.

Living our lives behind masks creates distance between us. And in that space, the enemy has room to move, fostering mistrust and indifference. It is certainly not the kind of relationship that creates the unity a team of people needs in order to move in Spirit-led unison to pursue their mission.

The accounts in Exodus 34 and 2 Corinthians 3 illustrate the difference between the temporary glory of the Old Covenant and permanent glory of the New Covenant. Paul likens the veil over Moses’ face to the spiritual veil that covers the hearts of those who are under the Old Covenant of law.  And in verse 14, Paul writes that this veil is removed in Christ.

Moving down to verse 17 we read, “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” That is the key to transparent and honest communication! Because Jesus has purchased our forgiveness with His blood on the cross, we have a basis by which we can be forgiven by God, we can forgive each other, and we can even forgive ourselves. From Romans 8:1 we read, “. . . there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We don’t have to fear rejection. Now you may be thinking, “I believe that to be true, so why don’t I feel that I have that freedom?”

Unpacking verse 17, a little further, consider the phrase, “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is. . .”

Now any astute student of the Bible will tell you that God is omnipresent, He is everywhere. And in Colossians 1:16-20 we read of the pre-imminence of Christ. He is before all and He holds everything together. So, is Paul just being rhetorical when he uses this phrase, “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is. . .”? No, he is not.

God is everywhere, but we must allow Him to have His way in us and among us. He does not bypass our will to receive His forgiveness, nor does He bypass our will in forgiving others, or ourselves. In Paul’s terms, the Spirit of the Lord is where the Spirit of the Lord is welcomed.

What can we do as a team to foster the kind of unison that is modeled for us in the natural world of birds and fish? Trust the Spirit. Drop the masks. Get real. Pursue transparent and honest communication. Create a culture of forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32.

Read Part 2 on The Importance of Honesty and Authenticity in Team Communication.


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You May be Stronger than You Think!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. – 1Corinthians 9:23-27

For as he thinks within himself, so he is. – Proverbs 23:7

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

As a young single man, I met up regularly for about two years with some of my buddies for runs around the Rice University campus. For the majority of our run, we “jogged” at a fairly fast clip.  And then toward the end, someone would pick up the pace and we’d finish in a race. In junior and senior high school my sports were swimming, surfing, and basketball. I was never known as much of a speedster when it came to running.

But one day, near the end of our run around Rice, something happened that I’ve never forgotten. As usual, I was sucking for air and trying hard to keep up with the pack when someone started to pass me. Something inside of me said, “Not this time! Fred, let go and abandon yourself to this!” Suddenly, I felt as though my legs were moving faster than I had ever known them to move. I never knew I could run that fast. It was if I had just discovered a gear I didn’t even know I had. Not only was I keeping up, I was passing guys.

When you shift your car into a higher gear to go faster, the engine does not work harder. The RPMs (revolutions per minute) actually decrease and the engine runs more efficiently (with less effort if you will), and you go faster. That’s the best example I can think of to explain what I experienced that day. It wasn’t about trying harder. It was about letting go of what was holding me back, and discovering a new gear I didn’t know I had.

Finishing the run first, I got a look from the others that seemed to say, “Man, you’re taking this too seriously!” But for me, that wasn’t it at all. It wasn’t about besting someone else, it was about overcoming something inside of me. And the barrier was not physical, it was in my heart and mind. Continue reading


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Are You Really Ready to Glorify God?

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” – John 12:27-28

Most Christians would say they want to glorify God. But what does that really mean, and how do we do it? To glorify God literally means to magnify Him. To magnify Him doesn’t mean that we make Him bigger in an absolute sense. God is already infinite, and you can’t get any bigger than that. We can’t really add to God’s immeasurable glory.

To glorify or magnify God actually means to make Him bigger and greater in the eyes of others. It’s like driving on a road toward a mountain. In the distance, the mountain may look small. But as we draw nearer, the true size of the mountain becomes more evident. The actual size of the mountain has not changed, our view of it has changed as our proximity to it has changed.

I believe there is more to glorifying God than singing praise songs. I believe God is glorified most when others see Him do things that can only be explained in terms of God, things for which no man can take credit. God is glorified when we see compelling visible evidence of His mighty invisible hand moving in us, through us and around us. The only problem with this is that, in order to glorify God in this manner, we must be willing to follow Him into challenging situations that are way beyond our ability to control . . . situations in which only He can do what needs to be done to see us through.

The passage above takes place after Jesus (Whom John the Baptist called the Lamb of God – John 1:29), entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and to meet His own death as foretold by the prophets (i.e. – Isa 53:7).  Speaking of the excruciating death, the cross, that awaited Him, Jesus said, “for this purpose, I came to this hour.” Jesus was willing to follow the Father into a situation that He, the eternal God-man, had never experienced. Continue reading


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The Highest Use of Media in Ministry

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

Televangelism in America is a multibillion-dollar industry. Many claim that televangelism is an effective way to reach the lost. The facts do not support that claim. According to studies cited in the book, “Televangelism and American Culture”, by Quentin J. Schultze, less than .01% of the people in America who attend church do so because of the influence of mass evangelism, including radio and television. According to Schultze, and those he cites, televangelism is primarily a confirmatory medium. In other words, the audience is mostly Christian, viewing content they already agree with.

On the other hand, Schultze also cites research revealing that friends and relatives count for 75%-90% of all the conversions in America. Plain and simple, relationship is key to evangelism! Believing this to be true, I’ve had to ask myself, as the co-founder and president of a media ministry, “How does this affect my view of what I do in creating and using media?”

To answer this question, I must first acknowledge this fundamental truth. Our God is a relational God, and He is all about relationship. The Triune nature of God defines for us, the ultimate and perfect model of relationship. As members of the Body of Christ, we are joined together in such a way that we cannot understand our true identity, or truth itself, apart from our relationship with each other. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 1:11 “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established . . .” Paul wanted to be there in person. What he wanted to give them was more than information, more than objective truth. It was something that could not be sent in a letter. Continue reading


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The Safest Place on Earth, Part 2

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

In 2012, the Mars Hill Board of Directors went to Haiti to observe The Creole HOPE in action. At the time, there were still over 500,000 people living in tents as a result of the 2010 earthquake. The power grid was on only 4-6 hours a day. Unemployment was at 80%. What most North Americans would consider a desperate situation had become the “new norm” for Haitians.

Safest Place Pt 2

According to Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.” As frustration and hopelessness grow, civility decreases, human life is devalued, and lawlessness increases. In Port-au-Prince, we were constantly aware that we were in a dangerous place.

  • The director of the mission compound where we were staying warned us we should not be out at night. But knowing we had come to show The Creole HOPE, she said that if we must be out late, then we should not take the short route back to the compound. “Even the police do not patrol that road at night for fear of armed gangs.” Our driver told us that killing had become a game.
  • In one location where we showed The Creole HOPE, four missionaries had been shot only a few months earlier.
  • Haitian children were referred to as animals. Many parents gave away their children to anyone who could provide them with minimal food and covering, effectively giving them over to slavery.
  • One Port-au-Prince neighborhood, Cité Soleil, is generally regarded as one of the most dangerous places in the world.

And so it was, our last evening and we had just finished showing The Creole HOPE to several hundred young people and it was getting late. Five of us packed into the back of a Land Cruiser, with our two Haitian drivers in the front seat. Little did we know what we were in for.

That evening was the first night of pre-Carnival, which leads up to their version of Mardi Gras. The streets of Port-au-Prince were packed with people on foot, mingling, dancing, and shouting. Ours were the only white faces in a sea of black faces, and we were on display in our glass box, inching through the crowd. Now I know what it feels like to be a minority. Checking their watches frequently, the drivers knew that the later we got on the highway to the compound, the more potential there was for danger.

The drivers decided to take a detour through the neighborhood. They planned to find a street paralleling the congested main street, and then rejoin the main street further down the road after the pedestrian traffic had thinned out. It was not a good plan. We took a right turn into the neighborhood and drove . . . and drove. There was no left turn to a street paralleling the main street.
Continue reading


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The Safest Place on Earth

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a safe place? This is a story about the safest place on earth.

In 1985 Mars Hill was working on a film called Angel of Light. It dealt with the “New Age” movement and spiritual deception. One evening while in production, my wife, Nancy, and children were on the set. I could see that filming was going well past midnight, so I suggested to Nancy that she take the children home. She was driving our van, and on the way home, while stopped at an intersection, several men approached the van and started banging on the doors, trying to turn the handles and open them.

With the men pulling at the doors, Nancy hit the accelerator and sped off. Arriving home, she got out and went to open the side passenger door to let the children out. The van door was a little ajar and slid open easily at her touch. What kept those men from doing the same?

Nancy was still awake when I got home and related the whole story. We prayed together and thanked God for keeping them from harm, then settled down and went to sleep. Later that morning, while it was still dark, something woke me up. I felt as though someone was watching us. I sat up and saw two figures just beyond the sliding glass door from our bedroom to our patio.

One figure was clearly in focus and the other was behind and somewhat translucent. Both were imposing in stature and cast in bright light. I pinched myself to make sure I was really awake. Could it be? Angels! They did not speak, but a great sense of awe and then peace came over me. Like a flash of light on an unexposed piece of film, their image was etched in my mind. And then, they vanished. Continue reading