Thursday, 26 November 2009
"You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image ... we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." - Daniel 3: 5,17-18 (ESV)
I was reading this again this morning and was reminded once again of the strange similarity between most institutional churches "Call to Worship" and King Nebuchadnezzar's "Call to Worship." In both cases when the music starts, the people must stop what they're doing and come into an act of worship. It is equally ironic that the consequences for disobedience is also the same in both cases, namely face the "burning fiery furnace."
Now you are probably thinking that in our institutional churches we don't send offenders to a "burning fiery furnace." Well, in a literal sense, No we don't. In a figurative sense, Yes we often do. How do we do that? We do it through the glares of disapproval that we seem to give those who do not join with us as we "fall to worship" as instructed when the music begins to play. Those glares and stares, from institutional leaders and those in the pews, often have the same effect as a burning fiery furnace in that they burn deep within the offender. I have actually seen an individual "strong-armed" as he was escorted out of the worship service (worship ???) for his failure to follow the dictates of the institutional church's king (the order of service and call to worship). He was led out to his (figurative) "burning fiery furnace."
Isn't it strange how we often say that "All are Welcome" when in reality that is only true providing all who come think as we do and follow with us in our "Call to Worship?" Hmm. Yes, we all say that "God loves us." The problem is that our Christian love (love ???) for each other is normally conditional upon our joining the masses in falling down to worship at the appointed time. Our failure to do so gets us the "burning fiery furnace" of contemptuous glares, stares, and excommunication.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also excommunicated, as it were, for their failure to respond to the king's "Call to Worship." As a result, they got the "burning fiery furnace." I'm not going to dare to say that God is not in the institutional churches "Call to Worship," all though sometimes I do wonder (God alone will judge that), but I am saying that God is in the "burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:25).
So what is the lesson for us in all this? Maybe the answer is better stated in question form. How many times have we failed to take a stand for God against blindly worshipping the idolatry of the world's system? In the same way, how many times have we failed to take a stand against (dare I be politically incorrect and say it?) blindly worshipping the idolatry of the institutional church's system? Hmm, I wonder.
Instead, in the name of political correctness, and to preserve and protect our comfortable lifestyles, we justify our idolatrous actions. We gather around us teachers who will give us what our itching ears want to hear, not what we need to hear (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 5:31; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Instead, we "fall down and worship the golden image" (Daniel 3:5).
Just because something calls itself a "church," doesn't mean that it is of God. It may very well be that God isn't in that place at all. That place, though called a church, may in fact be 100% of the world. It may even be an anti-Christ (1 John 2:18). "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4, ESV).
"Today, if you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts as in the rebellion" (Hebrews 3:15, ESV). The point is, what is God saying to us individually and corporately? Have we really heard His voice, or have we simply once again hardened our hearts? There used to be a saying that went something like this: if so-and-so jumped off the bridge, why would you do likewise? Just because so-and-so starts playing music and thereby tells us to "fall down and worship," does that automatically mean that we must do it? I don't think so!
We must learn to "hear his voice" for ourselves. At the cross Jesus made that possible. Why is it that so many believers today still have not grasped that, in that they continue to seem to need (the Old Testament Law system of) a priest (pastor, etc) to tell them what to do instead of seeking God for themselves? (See 1 John 2: 26-27). Maybe the answer is simply that it's easier and safer to simply blindly follow the status quo. At least that way we won't have to face the "burning fiery furnace." Deep down inside we may even know that is wrong, but we can easily justify ourselves in it.
One last question and that is, though it could potentially cost me everything, am I prepared to reject the "Call to Worship" often associated with the world system (and institutional church system) and follow God alone? Hmm, I wonder. Though it may cost us our lives, maybe the best place to find God is in the "burning fiery furnace."
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Saturday, 14 November 2009
What was the real lesson in Jesus' washing of the disciples feet? Was it simply dirty feet that He was concerned with? No, I think it was much more than that. I'm starting to think that it was symbolic of the fact that, as we walk through the world, part of the world rubs off on us and makes us spiritually and emotionally dirty. This is just natural and in and of itself it is not sin. What do we need when that happens? We need to be refreshed by the Lord. How does He do this? He does this through His body - the church. He does this through you and me.
I believe that foot washing means to refresh someone else. It is ministering Jesus to another brother or sister who has perhaps had a difficult day. I do not believe that it is necessarily a literal washing. We can wash each other's feet by a warm embrace, a warm handshake (as opposed to a cold and clammy one), praying with and for someone, crying with someone, and laughing with someone. In other words, basic and genuine fellowship is in this sense foot washing. It is "being there" for each other, whatever the need may be, in good times and in bad.
We are called to not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and to be set apart and holy (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:16). While we may not love the world, we are still very much exposed to it at every turn. Worldly philosophies concerning money, trade, commerce, education, health, etc., bombard us everywhere. We may start the day with the Lord in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and in meditation. However, at the end of the day we often feel like we've been assaulted and we are low in spirit. Essentially, we're drained. Exposure to the world has left us tarnished, and maybe even feeling a little hopeless and dirty.
Jesus did not say that the whole body needed a bath, as it was already clean. But the feet were another story. They symbolized the walking through this dirty, cold and often cruel world. As a result, only the feet needed to be washed. Perhaps that is why Acts 2:46 says that the early church met together "daily."
I believe that the principle behind washing each other's feet is to refresh each other and to be refreshed by each other. How well has the church really done this? Given the vast number of hurting and lonely people in the typical institutional church today, not to mention the non-believers all around us, the answer has to be that we haven't done this very well at all.
I do not wish to rehash what I written elsewhere in this blog concerning the institutional church, but let me simply say that part of the reason for this is that genuine fellowship does not really happen under the structure of the typical institutional church. In the system people are not really given the opportunity to care and minister to one another. The tendency is to always look forward to the leading of the paid clergy to do everything, rather than the ministering of one to another ourselves (the common priesthood of believers - 1 Peter 2:9). The real ministry of foot washing is outside of the typical institutional church system. That is where real "one anothering" happens.
How are we going to change the church from simply being an irrelevant institution into a body of believers that practices washing each other's feet? It has to start somewhere. Maybe it's time to start with you and me. Where are the hurting Christian brothers and sisters? Where are our friends and neighbours who are tired from walking through the junk of this world? Remember, whatever we "do" for others, we "do" for Jesus (Matthew 25:40). In the same way, whatever we fail to "do" for others, we fail to "do" for Jesus (Matthew 25:45). A sobering thought.
Is it time for you and me to really start "being" the church (as opposed to simply "going" to one) and to start washing each other's feet? Is it time for us each to take the responsibility to encourage and uplift each other in real and tangible ways (as opposed to with cheap words and pat answers)? I pray that it is. May God put that burning desire in each of us.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
|Photo Source: Wikipedia|
Perhaps the best devotional book that I've ever read, and continue to regularly read, is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Today's selection once again touched me and fit so beautifully with some other Scriptural reading I had just done ahead of time on the subject of faith. Before I share my reflections on those readings, let me quote the Oswald Chambers selection entitled "The Transfigured Life." He writes:
"What idea have you of the salvation of your soul? The experience of salvation means that in your actual life things are really altered, you no longer look at things as you used to; your desires are new, old things have lost their power. One of the touchstones of experience is - Has God altered the thing that matters? If you still hanker after the old things, it is absurd to talk about being born from above, you are juggling with yourself. If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning, and when the crisis comes you are the most amazed person on earth at the wonderful difference there is in you. There is no possibility of imagining that you did it. It is this complete and amazing alteration that is the evidence that you are a saved soul.
What difference has my salvation and sanctification made? For instance, can I stand in the light of 1 Corinthians 13, or do I have to shuffle? The salvation that is worked out in me by the Holy Ghost emancipates me entirely, and as long as I walk in the light as God is in the light, He sees nothing to censure because His life is working out in every particular, not to my consciousness, but deeper than my consciousness." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, November 12)
How does all this fit with my other readings this morning on the subject of faith? It fits in that I've been wondering how many of the actual things and circumstances of my life have really been altered and how many of them still (unfortunately) still remain pretty much the same as those of the rest of the world. Have the old things of the world really lost their power, or do they still have a grip on me? Has God really altered the things that matter to me, or am I still hankering after them?
What are the things that matter to me? Three quickly came to mind this morning. I'm sure that they are likely the same things that matter to most of us. They are, (1) my employment needs, (2) my home and my ability to pay for it, (3) my health, especially in light of the current global H1N1 pandemic (not to mention all the other health concerns that we all have). In all three, I wondered about my faith (or lack of it). Am I still looking at all these things with worldly eyes, or am I walking through them "as the wind blows" (John 3:8)? Am I trusting only in my efforts and understandings, or am I really walking by faith? I wonder.
Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). It is a completely NEW mindset and a completely NEW way of looking at our circumstances in the world. We must not lean on our own worldly understanding of all these things (Proverbs 3:5). Ultimately we must not trust anyone or anything when it comes to job, home and health - except God alone. If we can do that, then that is having a transformed and a renewed mind. Anything less is still a hankering after these things just like the rest of the world. If we are still hankering after worldly things then, contrary to 2 Corinthians 5:17, then we are NOT a new creature and old things have NOT passed away and all things have NOT become new. In that case, it's fair to say that there is no difference between the way we think and the way the rest of the unbelieving world thinks. Evangelistically speaking, we have nothing that the unbelieving world would even want. We could even potentially go so far as to say that we ourselves then really are not true believers at all either. I know that sounds harsh, but if we are honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that it's true. Having said that, it is not my place to judge anyone but myself. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
So what is the answer then? It is a serious re-examination of our FAITH in light of the providence of God in all things. How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to my employment needs? How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to issues that I may have with my home and housing needs? How does my faith in God's providence play out when it comes to my health concerns? Am I worried sick over these things, or am I walking in complete and total faith, knowing that while we may not know what the future holds, we do know who holds it? Do I really know and in complete faith believe in Him who alone holds the future? I wonder.
All this is not to say that you and I should simply liquidate everything and sit cross-legged on a mountain top waiting for our manna to fall from heaven. God does expect us to be doing something about our circumstances in accordance with our abilities and gifts that He has given us (Matthew 25: 14-30). But having done what we can with what He has given us, are we still freting when things don't go as we would like them to go? Are we still leaning on our own understanding? We must remember that God's ways are not our ways, and our ways are not God's ways (Isaiah 55:8). It's very likely, then, that if our thoughts and ways seem right to us, then they are probably not God's thoughts and ways. This too probably explains why we so often still make a mess of things; because we're still leaning more on our own understanding than on God's divine providence.
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter on faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Do you and I have the assurance that, though we do not see any evidence of the things we hope for with our worldly eyes, that God is FULLY in control of all things? Or have we got ourselves so wrapped up in the things of this world that this world has become our home? If so, what are we going to do when the testing and the fires come? Paul says that ALL natural things will be tested with fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). What will we do when that day comes? I wonder.
I am not saying that we should all get rid of our homes and live in tents somewhere, but how we live in the homes we have does seem to say something about our earthly versus heavenly values. When God called Abraham to a new land, Hebrews 11:9 says that he was "living in tents." The Living Bible paraphrases this further to suggest that he was living in that area as "a mere visitor." In the same way, Acts 28:30 says that Paul spent two years living in a "rented" house. Likewise, Peter speaks about living as strangers in the world (1 Peter 1: 1,17) in "reverent fear." That's not a fear of the world and all that it might do to us and our beloved possessions, rather it is the reverent "fear of the Lord" (a concept I would argue has become all but lost in Christianity today, but that's a topic for another day).
The point I'm trying to make is that if we are really walking by faith, then we will not spend our time worrying and freting too much about (1) job, (2) housing, (3) health. If God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6: 25-34), then what makes us think that He will not also take care of us? Is God not bigger than an unemployment, housing or health crisis? Worry equals unbelief, pure and simple. Let's stop justifying ourselves in our worry! To watch us scamper around, sometimes you have to wonder to what extend we are believers at all. In saying this, I speak to myself as much as to the next person.
To quote Oswald Chambers again,"If you are born again, the Spirit of God makes the alteration manifest in your actual life and reasoning, and when the crisis comes you are the most amazed person on earth at the wonderful difference there is in you."
Are we amazed at the "wonderful" difference there is in us? If no, then why not? If yes, then praise God! Have I got this all figured out already? No, not by a long shot! Sometimes it feels like I'm only 2% there on a good day. I do, however, believe that this is the kind of faith that God desires for us, and thereby it is also the kind of faith that pleases Him. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me" (Philippians 3:12).
May our prayer be like that of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit in Mark 9:24, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Time for a little word definition. What is an "advocate?" According to the Gage Canadian Dictionary, an "advocate" is: "v. speak in favor of; recommend publicly. n. 1. a person who pleads or argues for; 2. a lawyer who pleads in a law court; barrister."
So, if we were to use the word "advocate" properly in accordance with its dictionary definition, then a "Devil's Advocate" is a person who pleads or argues in defence of the Devil. The "Devil's Advocate" is essentially the Devil's defence lawyer.
Does a Christian really want to plead the Devil's case before God or man? Obviously not! If they do, can they rightly then even be called "Christian?" Hmm, there's a interesting question. Some might say that "Devil's Advocate" is just a saying that really means nothing. Perhaps yes, and perhaps no. Perhaps that's exactly what the Devil wants us to think.
Maybe it's time we all thought a little more about what we intend to say before we actually say it. Maybe it's time to "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). Why would we want any association with the Devil, much less be his defence lawyer? How can we do that and then be devoted to Jesus at the same time? If we don't mean that sort of definition with that phrase, then why is it that we still use that phrase, given what it really means to be a "Devil's Advocate?"
One thing is for sure, and that is that I will be much more careful in using certain phrases and expressions in the future. I certainly don't ever want to be a "Devil's Advocate!"
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Thursday, 29 October 2009
|Source: Bizarro Comics|
The whole thing makes me think of the public paranoia that ensued around the Orson Welles broadcast of the "War of the Worlds" and the more recent Y2K scares that freaked so many people out prior to New Years Eve 2000. Isn't this whole end of the world 2012 thing essentially not just another form of Y2K fear mongering?
Having said all that, I do (maybe ironically) believe that the world as we know it will end soon. I do believe in prophecy, both genuine and false prophets. Determining the difference for me is primarily a question of discernment in light of what the Bible teaches. Sure, there have been many coincidental prophecies and predictions from non-biblical sources, such as the present hoopla concerning the Mayan calendar and others. None of that surprises me in the least.
Jesus also had a few things to say concerning the end of the age (or the end of the world as we know it). I'm not going to quote the entirety of what He had to say on the subject, since in my way of thinking, almost anyone can pick up a copy of the New Testament and read it for themselves if they are truly interested in the words of our Lord. However, I will quote one verse that for me puts a big "hogwash" on the December 21, 2012 date. That verse is Matthew 24:36 which says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."
Are we living in the last days? Yes, I think we are. There are numerous signs that seem to point to that fact. Will all this happen in 2012? Maybe and maybe not. But to predict the exact date, sorry, I don't buy it! Jesus speaks of His return (and thus the end of the world as we know it) as being at "an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44). That in and of itself debunks the whole expected date of December 21, 2012 for me. In other words, if we're looking for the end on a specific date, then according to the Bible we look in vain because that's not when the end will be. The end is coming, yes, but as to specifically when, no one knows for sure.
There is a far more important thing for us to be concerned with than December 21, 2012. That is, are you and I in a right relationship with God today? The end of the world is coming soon. That much is correct. As to exactly when, God alone knows. But when that day comes and we all suddenly find ourselves having to give account of ourselves before the throne of God, then what? This is not a question of "If" but rather it is a question of "When." What will you say? What will I say? What can we say? On that day there will be no more second chances to be found in a right relationship with God. We will either know Him or we won't. We will then be either in heaven with Him, or in hell without Him. Ultimately, He gives us the ability to make that crucial choice for ourselves. Don't delay because refusal to make that all important choice is the same as choosing against Him. And if all these 2012 doomsday predictions are even close to being true, then time is quickly running out. What choice have you made?
If you don't remember anything else that I've just said, then remember this: "WE MAY NOT KNOW WHAT TOMORROW HOLDS, BUT WE DO KNOW WHO HOLDS IT."
Monday, 19 October 2009
|Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons|
I was thinking about baptism today. What is the significance of it and how do the biblical examples compare with the norms today? Mark 16:16 says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Acts 2:38 says, "Repent and be baptized ... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Have modern Christians downplayed the importance of water baptism? Have we reversed the order Jesus gave in Mark 16:16? The order Jesus gives is: (1) Faith, (2) Baptism, (3) Salvation. Unfortunately, we often seem to have changed the order to be, (1) Faith, (2) Salvation, (3) Baptism (which we often then treat as an option rather than a command). Why is that?
For some time now I've been of the opinion that the modern institutional church has been teaching a wrong idea of salvation. Somewhere along the line we have fallen into error. No, I am not promoting the idea of baptismal regeneration. I am not saying that the act of baptism will save a person, as though something that you and I "do" could lead to salvation (ie., works). However, I think that what the Scriptures teach is that baptism is inseparably tied to salvation as a sort of other side of the belief coin.
I'm reminded of the deacon in an institutional church, where I served as pastor, coming to me about his son's request to be baptized. He was concerned that his son was not mature enough in the faith to undergo baptism. Some of you might be asking, "So, what is wrong with that father's concern?" What was wrong was that the deacon's concerns showed a false understanding of baptism and salvation. Somewhere along the line he, like many of us, developed a slightly twisted understanding of the doctrine of baptism and its role in salvation.
The way I read it, the order in the New Testament is always, (1) Belief (faith), (2) Baptism, (3) Salvation (and being counted amongst God's people). Baptism ALWAYS fell hard and fast on the heels of the initial belief in Christ; they believed and were IMMEDIATELY baptized.
Someone has said, "Salvation is not so much a question of sins forgiven, or hell avoided, as it is of a system that we come out of." What system is that? The world system. Unfortunately, what we seem to follow too often today, is a "worldy" Christianity. Too often today we seem to be the church that is "still in the world," as opposed to the church that has "come out of the world." Too often someone looking in and comparing the world of the Christian and that of the non-Christian would see no significant difference between the two. Even the non-Christian knows this as characterized by their often discernment of "hypocritical" Christians. The hopes, dreams, and desires of the non-Christian are almost exactly like the hopes, dreams, and desires of the Christian.
The problem is, we seem to have NOT come out of the world. Could it be that salvation, among other things, is the act of coming out of the world? And if so, is that why baptism is also so closely tied to faith. Most of us will acknowledge that baptism is the identification with the Lord Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The Greek for "baptism" is "baptizo," which literally means to "put under." (This in itself is an argument for baptism by immersion, as opposed to other modes, but I'm not going to address that at this time.)
But why do we stop there? Baptism also rightly concerns salvation from a fallen, sin defiled, world system. Someone once said, "Salvation is an exit from a doomed world system." In other words, could it be that "life" is the coming out whereas "death" is the staying in?
The world in Noah's day died through burial in water. Noah and those with him in the ark not only escaped drowning, but more importantly, they were the only ones to come out from a sin-infected and corrupt world system. Through water they received salvation.
We would to well to meditate on 1 John 2:15 which says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is NOT in him" (emphasis mine). This begs the question, if we continue to love the world, have we really been saved? I wonder.
Someone asked Jesus, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But He will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from'" (Luke 13: 23-25).
Who are the ones outside knocking and being denied entry? I believe that it will be those who have never really been saved out of the world's system. It will be those who thought they were saved, but in truth they were only religious. The problem was, they still loved the world, but unfortunately for them, that then meant that they did not and could not truly love God. They claimed they had been saved, but the salvation they talked about was not a biblical salvation that God wants for each of us.
Matthew 7:13-14 says, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
What is the wide gate and the broad road? It is the love and participation in the world system. To borrow a phrase from the world of business, it is the being a "team player" with them in their worldly (and thus, not godly) system. Unfortunately, that wide gate and broad road is not just full of non-believers; it is also full of those who think they are Christians by virtue of their twisted understanding of salvation. Unfortunately, they still love the world and that love will cost them dearly.
Jesus said, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). What was the lesson there that Jesus wanted us to remember? The problem was that she was offered salvation. She may have even thought that she was saved. The problem was that, while she and her family had started to come out of a sinful and doomed world system (salvation), her turning around and looking back proved that she still loved the world and this in turn, proved that the love of God was not in her (1 John 2:15). This in turn meant that she was on the wide road (like most people - including some so-called Christians) that leads to destruction.
Maybe that is why we so often read of Jesus saying to those who thought of themselves as believers, "Be gone, I don't know you." They thought they were saved, but unfortunately they had a twisted understanding of salvation. Salvation comes only after (1) Faith, and (2) Baptism. Once we have truly died to the ways of the world (symbolized by baptism), then only are we truly saved. Only by NOT loving the world have we truly received salvation.
Anyways, that's the way I see it. Peace.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
to number Israel" - 1 Chronicles 21:1
Recently I've felt that God has been calling me away from "religiously" accounting of my finances. For a long time I would religiously record every receipt, expenditure and form of income into an accounting software program. In reading the above verse I began to re-evaluate this practice.
First of all, it was Satan who initiated the problem for David. That Satan started it automatically describes the problem as evil and not of God. So what was the problem with taking an account and numbering (census) Israel? I think that the issue here was that it led to pride and a spirit of self-sufficiency rather than upon a complete dependence upon God.
Why did David need to know exactly how big his military was? Did he not believe that it was God who fought the battles for Israel? Remember Gideon who was about to go to war with 30,000 men and God reduced that number to a mere 300 men before the battle began (Judges 7: 1-8). Who is it who fights for us? Why did David need to know how many people lived in Israel if not that in doing so he could take pride in being the king over so large a nation?
In the same way, why do most church institutions count and number the people who come out each Sunday if not to give pastors bragging rights about the size of "their church" and the effectiveness of "their ministries?"
Likewise, why do we focus so much on personal accounting and record keeping if not because we believe that we are in control of our own financial destinies? We may not say it in so many words, but by our actions this seems to be the implications of what we are saying.
That is essentially the problem. All forms of accounting and numbering, whether it's in the institutional church or in personal finances, is of the world and not of God. They all reveal our dependence upon our own strength and abilities rather than a complete and total dependence and trust on God's daily providence in everything (see Matthew 6: 19-34). "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," said Jesus (Matthew 6:3). Again Jesus taught us, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11), implying that we are to seek "daily" provisions from God rather than focussing on the long term. Remember the Israelites in the wilderness were told to gather only enough manna for one day and anyone who gathered more than they needed for that day found that the surplus had spoiled and become full of magots (Exodus 16: 20).
We may not know what tomorrow holds, but as Christians we certainly ought to know who holds it. If this is truly how we feel and truly what we believe, then why is it that we act like we don't believe it through our efforts to account and number everything ourselves? Is that not the same as calling God a liar? Is that not the same as blatant unbelief?
Is God really our source for everything in life, or does His providence depend upon our own efforts as implied by our habits (passions?) to account and number everything? I wonder.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
In two different conversations recently the topic of Messianic Jews came up again. Something has long since bothered me about Messianic Jews, and another reading in Acts 15 once again brought up this concern.
Acts 15 describes some believers who belonged to the "party of the Pharisees." They were essentially Messianic Jews. They were believers but they also practised Jewish religious rituals. Like the Messianic Jews, they saw no problem in combining faith in Christ with the Jewish religion. But was that OK?
As we read further in that chapter, we see that the problem was taken to the apostles in Jerusalem for them to decide on. Peter said, "Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10) Peter then says further, "Therefore it is my judgement that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled, and from blood (Acts 15: 19-20)."
It seems pretty clear that the idea of mixing religious rituals from other religions with Christianity should not be. Messianic Jews may be Christians, but if so, there seems to be some confusion mixed in with it. Mormons have done the same thing in that they have blended certain Christian truths with the rituals of other religions. The outcome is quite possibly bordering on a whole new and non-Christian religion, even though many of them do call themselves Christian. I like how the Amplified Bible puts it: "All who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction." (Galatians 3:10)
Many an institutional church today has the same problem; they routinely teach this strange blend of Christianity with Jewish religious ritual. For example, tithing and other Jewish laws are still taught from the pulpit. Why? Unlike other nations, there is this bizarre fascination with Israel, that is, the physical Israel. In the process there is also an adoption of many Jewish religious rituals. I have actually heard it suggested by one person that such religious adoptions are a form of witchcraft (ouch). I know that sounds harsh, but could it be true? Is the blending of different religions essentially a form of witchcraft?
Paul writes further, "You observe [particular] days and months and seasons and years! I am alarmed [about you], lest I have labored among and over you to no purpose and in vain" (Galatians 4: 10-11; Amplified).
Please understand, I have nothing against people from any race or nation or creed (including Israel); God helping me, I do strive to love them all equally, just as God loves us all equally. I really do. All I am wondering is, why do we have to add all this other stuff to the Gospel? Why does the Gospel need so much baggage?
We are no longer under the Law (that is, the Jewish religious law). Many who seem to promote the law in their form of Christianity seem to have also quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17-20 in error. They quote Him as saying, "not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law" (vs.18) and in so quoting that Scripture, they find justification for the continued use of the Jewish Law. But they need to read further before coming to that conclusion. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. He said that the Law would not pass away UNTIL all is accomplished. When was all accomplished? On the cross when Jesus said, "it is finished" (John 19:30). After that, it was all accomplished. After that, the age of grace took over. After that, there was no longer any reason to practice Jewish religious rituals, like elements of the Law. As a matter of fact, to still actually practice those Jewish religious rituals as a Christian is actually going against Scripture and against the decision that Peter and the other apostles came to at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
Anyway, that's the way I see it. Peace.
Photo Sources: Unknown
Thursday, 9 July 2009
It is alleged that David Cerullo, the CEO of "Inspiration Network," is building himself a $4-million dollar home in a in a gated lakefront community in South Carolina.
According to an article I read from Associated Press (Charlotte, N.C.), he is doing this while at the same sending others to the unemployment lines by cutting jobs in his new headquarters. In addition to cutting jobs, the article reported that, "the ministry froze wages and stopped making contributions to government retirement accounts." As someone has said, "perceptions are everything," and if that is true, I think I smell a rat.
Now don't get me wrong; if you can afford it, go ahead and build yourself as big a place as you want to. No one is saying that you should not. It's all a part of the "American Dream."
However, in the case of "ministry," where people are often duped into donating vast sums of money that they often cannot afford to give, I cannot help wondering if Cerullo is wise in building such an elaborate mansion. In my opinion, the whole thing seems rather unethical and obscene to me.
I cannot help but think of what Jesus once said and wonder if it isn't somehow relevant to our discussion here too. He said,
"I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full"
Enjoy your new mansion, Mr. Cerullo. Don't let the cries of the poor and hungry rob you of your sleep. I'm sure it's all good. They're probably used to living in their cardboard boxes and shanty-town dilapidated shacks by now anyways. I'm sure that someone will feed them tomorrow ... maybe.
"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." (Proverbs 14:31)
Revisited: February 2013
It appears that the fleecing of the sheep continues. According to the following link, Mr Cerullo has enjoyed a 47% salary increase since 2008 and now earns a whopping $2.5-million per year.
Forgive my sarcasm but, how ever does he manage to make ends meet?
I wonder what the average wage increase has been during that same period for those who follow him? Hmm, I'm sure it's not even close. I'm sure there are many in the pews supporting him who also wouldn't mind a wage increase like that. Hmm.
In a day and age when unemployment soars, when more and more children go to bed hungry at night, when the banks continue to contribute to the homeless crisis through their unscrupulous mortgage attacks on the family home - is this the time for ecclesiastical leaders to further slap the faithful in the face through massive personal salary increases, all the while continuing to encourage the faithful to give still another cup of blood?
Sorry if that sounds harsh, but am I missing something here?
In a day and age when unemployment soars, when more and more children go to bed hungry at night, when the banks continue to contribute to the homeless crisis through their unscrupulous mortgage attacks on the family home - is this the time for ecclesiastical leaders to further slap the faithful in the face through massive personal salary increases, all the while continuing to encourage the faithful to give still another cup of blood?
Sorry if that sounds harsh, but am I missing something here?
Thursday, 26 February 2009
|Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons|
“Give careful thought
to your ways”
to your ways”
I was reading through Haggai the other day. I hadn’t been there for a while. Haggai is not a big book; it’s only two short chapters long. While there, I noticed something interesting. Within those two chapters, the Lord spoke through the prophet by saying, “Give careful thought to your ways.” He didn’t say that just once; He said it five times. Five times in two little chapters God says, “Give careful thought.” One thing repetition does is it gives powerful emphasis. When God repeats something this often, it is probably a good idea for us to sit up and pay attention.
The main theme of Haggai centers around the people who had just returned with Zerubbabel from captivity in Babylon. They had begun to rebuild their lives and were very preoccupied, maybe even selfishly, with nothing but their own affairs. They were busy building their own homes, earning a living for themselves and all sorts of important things like that. If we are honest with ourselves, we too would be no different. After all, earning a living and building our homes are valid ventures.
There was a problem, however. The problem was that the house of the Lord was still in ruins and was obviously neglected. God wasn’t too happy about this, which ultimately led to the prophecy of Haggai that God had actually withheld His blessings as a result. “You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:6). Is there a parallel between the situation that Haggai addressed and that of our day today? I believe that the Lord was telling me that there is. Nothing has changed from that day to today. Someone once said that, “history has a way of repeating itself.”
I believe that what the Lord was saying to me was that the house of the Lord is still in ruins, even as we His people go about our daily business. Today we are still preoccupied with building our homes, planting our crops and earning our livings. We still preoccupy ourselves with things such as food and clothing, all the while the temple of the Lord remains in ruins. What is the temple of the Lord today? Paul says it is our individual bodies. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:19).
Now I’m not pointing fingers, at least not without also pointing them back towards myself, but it seems to me that God is saying that we too have not given His temple any care. It seems to me that God is saying to you and to me that we have become too preoccupied with our physical lives at the expense of neglecting His temple. We too seem to never have enough. We too plant but harvest little. We too eat but still remain hungry. We too drink but it seems like we are always still thirsty. We have clothes, but they never seem good enough, and we also often remain cold. We too earn wages but they too often seem to disappear as if there were holes in our wallets and purses. We think that all these conditions are simply the way things go. However, could it be that just maybe things are so because God has also withheld His blessings from us as He did from the returning exiles in the days of the prophet Haggai? Were their situations so much different than ours? I don’t think so.
We too are concerned with a great many different things; everything it seems, other than these temples of the Holy Spirit that we call our bodies. It is an interesting coincidence (or is it?) that soon after the Lord spoke to me about these things, a cartoon appeared in our local newspaper in which two guys are seated at a bar and the one asks the other,
"Do you believe in the old adage, the body is a temple?" The other replied, "No, I view it more as a frat house. More pork rinds?" The first guy then replies, "You bet!"Do we believe that our bodies are temples? We may give lip service that we do, but in reality, we more often than not live more like they were frat houses. Why are we so much more concerned with the “beer and pork rinds” of life than the blessings of God that come with rebuilding His temple?
With all the junk we pack into our lives, have we left any room for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? Maybe the better question is, with all the crap (forgive me if that sounds harsh) that I put into my body and my lifestyle, does (or can) God’s Spirit reside in the midst of all that too? Some of us drink too much, some of us smoke too much, some of us eat too much, and most of us don’t get anywhere near enough exercise. Yet, isn’t it a little strange that we don’t see the connection between these conditions and the putting of these temples of the Holy Spirit into ruins? Isn’t it a little strange that we continue right along in our gluttony and drunkenness, either figuratively or literally, only to hobble into some church on Sunday morning completely oblivious to our true condition?
God says that when we defile His sanctuary we actually profane His Holy name. I like how the Living Bible paraphrases this, “thus making my Tabernacle unfit for me to live in, and insulting my holy name” (Leviticus 20:3). In context it was about another sin, but ultimately I don’t believe that God classifies some sins as being greater and other lesser. With God, sin is sin. Idolatry, stealing, adultery, murder, neglecting the temple of the Holy Spirit; they are all sin. They all equally require us to come clean before Him through repentance. Thankfully the penalty for sin has already been taken care of by our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. God calls each of us to holiness, because without it, nobody will ever see Him (Hebrews 12:14).
There is an interesting promise that God makes that results from the rebuilding of the temple. He says that if we rebuild the temple, then in that temple we shall have peace (Haggai 2:9). Dear friend, could you use a little more peace in your life right now? Are you longing to experience the blessings of God once again? I know that I sure want to be there. The lesson from Haggai is to tear down these Frat Houses that we’ve turned our lives into and to begin at once to rebuild the temples of the Holy Spirit.
Five times in Haggai God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” Are we going to heed His advice? Or are just going to continue down this same path through these cess pools of our lives, completely oblivious to the fact that God desires so much more for us? I wonder.
Sunday, 15 February 2009
You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6)
Over the years in reading the Book of Revelation, I’ve often pondered the question of just who those Nicolaitans were that Jesus alludes to in Revelation 2:6 and again in verse 15. Were they just a bunch of heretics from the early church? If so, what was it that made them heretics? Is there something we can learn from them? Perhaps more importantly, is it possible that the spirit of the Nicolaitans lives on in many of our Christian churches today?
First of all, what does church history tell us about them? There are many scholars who claim that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas, one of the deacons listed in Acts 6:5. Apparently, according to Irenaeus, one of the key teachings of Nicolas was that “the flesh must be abused,” implying that the body must be kept under control. Supposedly the Nicolaitans misinterpreted, or changed his teaching, to mean that a person could live any way they wanted to and that anything to do with the flesh was really inconsequential and ultimately of no concern at all. This led to the belief by the Nicolaitans that people could live in any fashion they wanted to, regardless of how wicked or immoral a lifestyle that choice was. This seems to be what several of the early church fathers have said, however according to several modern day scholars, there is really not much more information available. Ultimately, any association of Nicolas to the Nicolaitans is mostly filled with speculation.
There is another school of thought on who the Nicolaitans were. To see this, we must first look at the etymology of the word “Nicolaitans.” It comes from two Greek words, “Nike” (or “Nikos”) and “Laios” (or “Laos”). The first word (Nike) means to conquer, subdue, or overcome. The second word (Laios) means a body of people, or the common people. When we put these two words together, we arrive at a definition of Nicolaitans as “conquerors of the common people.”
Then, in Revelation 2:14-15, the Nicolaitans are spoken of in the same breath as the teaching of Balaam. Now I’m less of a Hebrew scholar than a Greek scholar, but as I understand it, the word “Balaam” also comes from two words; “beli” which means “conqueror”, and “haam” which means “the people.” Put together, Balaam seems to be the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Nicolaitan, or “conqueror of the people.”
If we look at it this way, is it possible that the Nicolaitans were people within the body of believers in Ephesus and Pergamum who came to have a major controlling influence among the people? By virtue of their name, were they people who positioned themselves above the common people and who claimed some sort of authority over them? Certainly if we look at the etymology of the word “Nicolaitans” this does seem likely.
While Balaam did not directly curse the people as Balak requested (see Numbers 22-25), somehow he did manage to turn the Israelites away from what God had in mind for them. We see this in Numbers 31:16, “They [the Midianite women] were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.” What happened at Peor? It was there that the Israelites became involved with the Moabites (Num. 25: 1-3; Rev.2: 14), the very thing the God told them not to do, which ultimately lead to the death of 24,000 people (Numbers 25:9). The invasion of Moab that King Balak feared never happened, but the Israelites were still conquered.
It is interesting to note that there is yet another word that comes out of the Greek word “Nicolaitan,” and that is our word “laity.” While the word originally simply meant “people,” as early as the second century it had already come to mean those people that are not ordained to the ministry. Therefore, for those who use the word “laity,” they must believe in a distinction (or hierarchy) in the body of Christ between the professional clergy and the average common people. According to the so-called “Early Church Fathers,” by the second century the clergy system was already established with bishops in various churches. Unfortunately there is no New Testament support for either “laity” or “clergy.” On the other hand, the New Testament does teach of a priesthood of all believers equally (eg. 1 Peter 2: 5,9) and that the only High Priest (clergy) that any of us have is Christ alone (eg. Hebrews 7).
The implication of those who support a clergy system is that the common people cannot possibly hear from God on their own, so they need a professional to do so for them. It is an Old Testament mindset, not unlike the people telling Moses “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:19). The truth, however, for the Christian is found in 1 John 2: 26-27, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
Whose anointing teaches you and me? Does a minister, pastor, or priest’s personal anointing teach us? No, because each of their personal anointing can teach only them individually. So then whose anointing teaches you and me? It is our own personal anointing that each of us receives the very minute that we receive Christ that teaches us, just as it teaches everyone else individually. Anyone who says different we are to count among “those who are trying to lead us astray.”
It would seem very likely that the whole clergy system had its roots in the Nicolaitans. Whether or not it is said in so many words, churches with a clergy system (minister, pastor, priest, etc) advocate the elevation of professional “ministers” over common people. Churches with a clergy system are churches that (like our earlier Nicolaitan definition) conquer and subdue the common people. Clergy influence the common people and claim all sorts of authority over them.
A great example is a fellow named Diotrephes. 3 John 9-10 says, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Diotrephes had a Nicolaitan spirit about him. He elevated himself and oppressed the common people. He set himself up as THE Minister, THE Pastor, THE Priest. In so doing he conquered and subdued the common people. Churches that have clergy systems today are no different; they also have a Nicolaitan spirit about them.
Our risen Lord said to the church in Ephesus, “But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Does this mean that Jesus is saying that He hates the clergy systems that have crept into the churches? Yes, I think He’s saying exactly that. Please notice, He’s not saying that he hates the people that have become clergy; rather He’s saying that He hates the clergy systems. It’s the proverbial “love the sinner, hate the sin” relationship.
To sum up, anything that causes the church to function in a way contrary to what God intended is a Nicolaitan spirit that Christ Jesus hates. The sin of Balaam led to the Israelites disobeying God by mingling with the surrounding nations through idolatry. The Nicolaitans likewise disobeyed God by creating a clergy system in the church through which the few essentially conquered the many. Either way, the problem is the same. The problem is the elevating of the flesh over the walking in the Spirit. The problem is that, instead of the fathers feeding the children (as it’s supposed to be), it is the children who are feeding the fathers. The problem is ultimately failing to obey God and walking instead according to our own carnal desires. Anytime when this happens, we have also become Nicolaitans.
Lord, help us to see the truth in this. Lord, help us to walk in humble obedience. Amen.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9;
Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8
Recently I read “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee. In the last chapter of the book he deals with the alabaster jar. Let me begin by saying that I have this habit of writing in the margins of books while reading. I guess it’s my way of dialoguing with the author as I reflect on just what the author is trying to say. What follows are some of my reflections and margin notes from the reading of that chapter.
The first thing I noticed is what Jesus said about the event. He said, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Jesus said that the two events, the preaching of the gospel and the pouring out of the alabaster jar, would always go hand in hand. We won’t rightly be able to tell the gospel story without also making mention of what the woman did. But exactly what was it that she did?
The accusation by Judas (John 12:5) and the rest of the disciples (Matthew 26:8) was that the woman “wasted” valuable perfume, worth a year’s wages for the average labourer, on Jesus.
Now here’s the question I asked myself: “Is it possible to waste something on Jesus?” We need to first clearly define what we mean by “waste.” Essentially it means that we use too much of something when less would have sufficed. Human reasoning said that pouring that much of the perfume on Jesus’ head was wasteful because just a little would have been enough.
Ultimately, by saying that it was a “waste,” the disciples were devaluating Jesus. They were saying that He wasn’t worth as much as was being spent on Him. They tried to justify their views by saying that the perfume, worth a year’s wages, could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But the concern for the poor was a secondary issue. It was the proverbial “putting of the cart before the horse.” Sure, it all sounds spiritual enough; sell something valuable and give it to the poor. But instead Jesus says that the poor they will always have (Matthew 26:11), and as such, there will always be opportunity to give to them.
Again, what is the first question? The first question is, “is Jesus worth one hundred percent, or would pouring out everything on him be considered “a waste?” How we answer that question begins with another question: “Who is Jesus to me?” Is He the almighty God incarnate, who loved me so much that He actually died in my place on the cross so that I might be set free from the power of the devil by being set free from the sin that has so entangled my life? Did He die but also rise from the dead on the third day, and so doing, give me the opportunity through faith to also live with Him today, and beyond my grave, in all eternity? If that is who Jesus is to me, then maybe giving Him one hundred percent is strangely even too little to give. The truth is, anything less is really not enough.
On the other hand, if Jesus is just another religious figure (or icon), then maybe giving that much is a waste. Is that what the disciples saw Jesus as? I think so. At that point, they themselves still did not see who Jesus really was. At that point, he was simply just another rabbi. Little wonder, then, that pouring out the whole alabaster jar was viewed as wasteful.
The point is that the disciples had not yet left their religiousness behind. The point is that they were still trapped where many of us today who claim to be Christians are also trapped. We’re often still trapped with a religious mindset and in a religious system that says that it’s OK (and maybe even right) to give Jesus less than one hundred percent. For example, many of us are still trapped in that old religious (and non-Christian) trap of “tithing,” of saying that we’re only required to give God ten percent. Therefore, when someone comes along who pours out one hundred percent on God, we’re strangely feeling threatened because we know that we haven’t done the same ourselves. Then we justify our shortcomings by labelling their action of extravagant giving as “wasteful.”
The whole thing is the widow’s mite story all over again (Luke 21:1-4). The religious gave a small portion, and made a big deal in doing so. They proudly gave their ten percent to God. The poor widow comes along and pours out her “alabaster jar” and out comes two little copper coins. What was the difference? The difference was that she poured out her alabaster jar and gave everything of value that she had, one hundred percent. The religious, on the other hand, left their alabaster jars safely at home and only brought Jesus a token sample of it.
Every once in a while we still see someone, or hear of someone, who has also poured out his or her alabaster jar on Jesus. How ironic (if not downright sad), that we in the church usually view such people as nothing more than kooks and radicals. The truth is, such people make us uncomfortable because by their actions they inadvertently expose our shortcomings and failures to go and do the same for our Lord. Maybe what we really need to do first is ask ourselves if Jesus really is our Lord. If He “really” is my Lord, then it stands to reason that I will also pour out my alabaster jar on Him too. If, on the other hand, He is not really my Lord, or if I only just confess those words with my mouth instead of my heart, then I will ultimately also be saying with the religious, “what a waste!”
So here we all sit on the start of a yet another new year. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to continue on pretty much as we always do, content with our religious habit of giving Jesus lip service only? Or are we going to boldly go in faith where most of us have never gone before, myself included, and pour out our alabaster jars on Jesus. Are we going to continue labelling others who pour out their alabaster jars as wasteful kooks and radicals? Or are we going to join them by pouring out our own alabaster jars on Jesus and in so doing, become radicals for Jesus ourselves. That’s where I want to be.
Can it really be a “waste” to pour everything of earthly value on Jesus? I wonder.