Thursday, 26 November 2009

Does the Call to Worship Have Burning Fiery Furnace?

Let me begin with a caveat: I know that I'm going to step on some religious toes with this one, and if some of them are yours, I ask your forgiveness in advance. I mean no harm; these are simply some of my musings and observations. Peace.
"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

of Foot Washing

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." - John 13:14 (NIV)

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

The Transfigured Life (of Faith)

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"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." - 2 Corinthians 5:17

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

The Devil's Advocate

I've been thinking a lot lately about what a friend said during a time of fellowship recently. He was talking about what someone had said on a local Christian TV station. This person said that he was going to play the "Devil's Advocate" on a certain subject matter. Did he really know what he was saying in using that phrase? Unfortunately, like many others, I too have sometimes used that phrase myself. Did I really know what I was saying?

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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