Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Where Are You Walking?

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Psalm 1:1 (ESV)

In my devotion time recently, I spent some time in 1 John 1: 6-7. There the author writes, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (ESV).

Lets begin with a couple definitions taken from the “Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology” by Millard J. Erickson. (1) Darkness, “a scriptural symbol of ignorance, evil, and destruction.” (2) Light, “In Scripture, the term used to refer to God and the good that comes from Him. By contrast, evil is associated with darkness.”

Where do we tend to walk? In the darkness or in the light? I do not really believe that it is possible to walk somewhere in between the two; it has to be one or the other. We cannot be walking half in the darkness or half in the light any more than a pregnant woman can be only half pregnant. She is either pregnant or she is not pregnant. Likewise, we are either walking in the light, or we're not walking in the light. And if we are not walking in the light, then that means we are automatically walking in the darkness. Those are our only two options. It is one or the other. So where are we walking?

If there can be a middle ground, it is a very dangerous ground. Jesus has less patience for the “lukewarm” than He does for the cold. In Revelation 3:15, our risen Lord says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I would spit you out of my mouth” (ESV). Are you still walking that fence between darkness and light? It is time to make a decision one way or the other, but get off that fence! “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

The problem is that we can and do tend to justify ourselves, often to the point of making Scripture say what we want it to say. For example, if I enjoy “walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), then I will also justify my doing so in whatever way necessary. I will say to those who confront my actions, “well, that's 'your' opinion,” or perhaps, “you can't take that passage literally!” We might even call those who confront us in this as being “religious.” Certainly we don't like it at all if we are made to feel that we are wrong. Then again, maybe we don't even see ourselves as walking with the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. However, when did sin become a trivial matter to God?

In “Rees Howells: Intercessor,” biographer Norman Grubb quoted Rees Howells as saying, “The closer a person is to God, the more terrible the least sin is seen to be.” Now here's the question: how terrible do we view the 'least' sins in and around our lives? The answer to that question likely also reveals the path that we are apt to walk; either the path of darkness, or the path of light.

The problem with “walking” amongst the wicked is that sooner or later we stop walking. It is then that something has caught our eye and we “stand” in the way of sinners. Then, once we have stood there long enough, we take root, becoming like them, and find ourselves “sitting” in the seat of scoffers. Taken together, this is the walking in “darkness” that John speaks of in the above passage. Instead of running from the darkness, as Joseph did, we're content to hang around with Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39: 11-12).

The old acronym comes to mind, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). Just because Jesus was able to hang around tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners – doesn't necessarily mean that you and I can do likewise and still remain clean before the Lord. While Jesus remained sinless in those circumstances, you and I unfortunately wouldn't likely fare as well. How did Jesus respond to the devil's temptations? How did Jesus respond to persecutions, slander, and other mistreatments? How do we respond in similar situations? In the “light” as Jesus did? Or in the “darkness” as the rest of the world tends to do?

If we can truthfully say that we respond to the world like Jesus would, only then can we also claim to have real fellowship. Fellowship is impossible if we persist in walking in darkness. One simply cannot have real and meaningful fellowship with God's people when we insist on walking in darkness. If this is true, then our claim to have been cleansed of our sins by the blood of Jesus is also suspect. How is it even possible that someone be cleansed by the blood of Christ if they persist in walking in darkness? Truly, such a person is deluded because they “do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6).

In speaking of the tongue, James says: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?” (James 3: 8-12; ESV). In the same way, how can we say we are believers in the Lord Jesus when we persist in walking in darkness? Isn't that a bit presumptuous? We are only really believers in the Lord Jesus if we strive to always walk in the light.

So what does that say about so-called Christians who have no guilty conscience about their walk in the darkness? Have they misread the Bible? Were they subjected to some false teachers? Has the blood of Jesus 'really' cleansed them from all their sin? (1 John 1:7). Remember Jesus' parable of the narrow and the wide gates (Matthew 7: 13-14). Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction (darkness), and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life (light), and those who find it are few.”

Where are you walking? Where am I walking?The road of darkness that leads to destruction? Or the road of light that leads to life? The Lord is patient with you and me. He doesn't want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). But unless we do repent, we will perish (Luke 13:3). Where are we walking? I wonder.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 28 November 2010

So What if They're Wrong; Love Anyways

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
I was reading this morning in 1 Peter 2: 13-25 and came across the following verse: "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution" (ESV, vs 13). I think that I'm starting to see this in a whole new light. There was a time when I would be quick to argue my point of view with anyone and any institution, especially if I thought they were wrong or if I believed that they somehow wronged me. But now we see Peter saying that we need to be subject to EVERY human institution.

The word EVERY would have to include ALL places where people gather for business, recreational, or religious purposes. This would have to include everything from banks to utility companies, from grocery stores to government departments, from sports arenas to church buildings. EVERY HUMAN INSTITUTION. (Notice that I've included churches in the list. This is because of my belief that they have also long since become HUMAN institutions.  See elsewhere on this blog for more on that).

Why? The same verse gives us the answer; "For the Lord's sake." Now, this begs another question. What if that institution is wrong? First of all, right or wrong is often (but not always) subjective in that it is in the eyes of the beholder.

Someone will say that they will no longer have anything to do with a certain phone company, for example. They would argue that that company has somehow wronged them. Well have they? Maybe and maybe not. Either way, that is not even the point. Another person will say that a certain church is wrong and so they will either begin the endless quest to find a "right" church, or they will quit going all together. So was that church wrong and is the person right in their view? Again, that is not the point. If it were the point, this simply shows that we care more about our rights and our being in the right, rather than what God's Word says about such things.

We have to remember that Jesus Himself took this approach with the human institutions of His day; Jesus was SUBJECT to them. Why? That God might be glorified and His will might be done.
There will always be those who think differently.
That must also be our reason for doing likewise. As much as I want to have my rights met, and as much as I may want to fight and argue for what I believe is a right doctrine, there will always be those who think differently. Think about that statement for a moment; there will always be those who think differently. That means that if I always insist on having my rights met and arguing over right versus (perceived) wrong doctrines, then I will always be in a state or arguing and fighting and I will never totally be in peace.

Having said that, there are some doctrines that are key and non-negotiable when it comes to defining a true Christian faith from a pseudo or false faith. Many years ago the early church tried to list these. There were twelve on that list, that some Christian groups today still regularly recite. This list, or confession, came to be known as "The Apostles Creed." It reads:
(1) I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, (2) and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, (3) who was conceived  by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, (4) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He decended into Hell. (5) The third day He rose again from the dead, (6) He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. (7) From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. (8) I believe in the Holy Ghost. (9) I believe in the holy catholic church; the communion of saints, (10) the forgiveness of sins, (11) the resurrection of the body, (12) and life everlasting. Amen. (As an aside, notice in point 9 that the lower case as opposed to the upper case is used in catholic church. This is because traditionally upper case refers to the Roman Catholic Church, as the name of an institution. Here lower case is used because we are not refering to that institution, but rather to the universal or orthodox church, for which we would only use the lower case script).
These are the non-negotiables of the faith. Does this then make it OK to fight and argue with those who think differently on these points? No. A thousand times, No! Why? Because as 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, "God has called you to peace."  Likewise 1 Timothy 2:2 says, "That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." Then too, Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:7, "Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" (ESV). This begs an interesting question, is a true Christian a pacifist? Still, even pacifism can be a doctrinal view.
Should doctrines even be publicly shared?
I've long since started to view all doctrines as a private matter between myself and Heavenly Father. This is supported by Romans 14:22 which says, "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God." With everyone else, strive to just practice LOVE. If we haven't got love, then it doesn't matter what we believe anyways, because God calls us first to love (see Greatest Commandment, Matthew 22: 34-40). Anything that doesn't first involve love is just noise (1 Corinthians 13:1). Ultimately, all that doctrines do is divide and faction the Body of Christ. Why? Because we ALL have such difficulty with the Greatest Commandment to truly love one another. As long as that is true, doctrines will always divide and faction the church.

Back to our passage in 1 Peter 2. "Honor everyone" (verse 17), regardless if we perceive them to be right or wrong, just of unjust (verse 18). "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
Why? For "the Lord's sake" (1 Peter 2:13). 
One would think that that alone would be a good enough reason. It certainly was a good enough reason for Jesus when He faced all the wrongs of His day. Despite all His innocence and despite all that He suffered, He still subjected Himself to every human institution in obedience to Heavenly Father's will. Can we strive to do likewise, for the Lord's sake? I wonder.

Anyway, that's the way I see it. Peace.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

of Holiday Trees and Ben Stein

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
I received the following e-mail recently. I cannot attest to its authenticity, but it is supposedly attributed to Ben Stein. At any rate, it does make one think.

Merry Christmas, and God bless.

Now here's the e-mail:

Bearing  in mind that for the first time ever - the Christmas tree in the  White House will be called a "Holiday Tree"  this year - makes one want to cry! This is really  worth reading; it gives one food for thought! We can only hope that we  find GOD again before it is too late!
The following was written by Ben Stein and  recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.
My  confession:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my  ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are; Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of  getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are  wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went  to.

In light of  the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's  intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on  the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her
bearing  in mind that for the first time ever - the Christmas tree in the  White House will be called a "Holiday Tree"  this year - makes one want to cry "How could God let something  like this happen?" (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham  gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, "I  believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years  we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our  government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He  is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to  give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us  alone?'

In  light of recent events ... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered,  her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our  schools, and we said OK.  

Then someone said you better not read the  Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not  steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin  Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because  their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their  self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide).  We said an expert  should know what he's talking about.  And we said OK.

Now we're  asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with  'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.  Funny how  we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like  wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene  articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is  suppressed in the school and  workplace.

Are you laughing yet? 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The "Jesus is Lord" Lie

"Divide the spoil of your enemies 
with your brothers"
Joshua 22:8

In his book, "Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World,"  author Lee Camp asks, "Could it be that 'Jesus is Lord' has become one of the most widespread Christian lies? Have Christians claimed the lordship of Jesus yet systematically set aside the call to obedience to this Lord?" I think that the author may be on to something.

Where I've begun to see the reality of this is in the area of our concern (or should I say lack of concern) for our fellow man. This is just as true in the institutional church as it is in the world. Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me" (Matthew 25:45; ESV). Our claim that "Jesus is Lord" is PROVED / DISPROVED by the way we treat one another. John said it this way: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar" (1 John 4:20; ESV). There is no middle ground; if we don't love, then we hate. Likewise, if we don't hate, then we love. It's either one or the other. If we try and walk along the top of a fence, it won't be long before we land in one yard or the other. Another way to look at it is by looking at a pregnant woman; she is either pregnant or she is not pregnant, but she is never partly pregnant.

Love is a verb; love is an action. Love is not simply words. If the words "I love you" are not expressed by action, then they are proved false. Where do we get off simply saying "Jesus is Lord" and not PROVING its truth in our lives with action? We talk the talk, but have we failed to walk the walk?

What are the needs around us today? For the purpose of our discussion, let us simplify this question. For the moment, never mind the rest of the world. What are the needs in the church today? I'm not talking about a building, but rather about the true church, that is, the people.

Are there hungry children in the church? If so, then what are we doing about it? Are there homeless Christians within our communities? If so, then what are we doing about it? Are there Christian brothers or sisters that we know of who are jobless? If so, what are we doing about it? Are there those in the church who are cold, either because they haven't enough warm clothes or because they cannot afford the heating bills? If so, then what are we doing about it?

While I do not want to promote any particular worldly political system, for they all have their faults, but the father of modern communism (Karl Marx) has been quoted to have said, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Again, there is no middle ground. There are only those who have the "ability," and those who have the "need." If we are amongst those who have the "ability" and only talk about the "need" of the less fortunate without doing anything about it, then I would argue that we can never truthfully say that we love God.

Isn't it almost ironic how "Christian" the above marxist quote sounds? Let me rephrase that. It doesn't sound at all like modern Christianity, rather it does sound like the form of Christianity we read about in the early church. The author of Acts 4: 32-35 explains it this way. "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as he had need" (ESV).

Lets notice the three bolded sections and ask ourselves if these points are true or false about us in the church today. Do we hoard things for ourselves or do we share them with those in need? Do we really have everything in common, or is everything counted as being with the "haves" versus the "have nots?" Are there or are there not needy people amongst us? Is everything that is given to the church distributed to the needs of the people, or simply used to support some pastor's wage, mortgage, utilities etc?

True allegiance to God's kingdom must be an all-or-nothing proposition. Again, there can be no middle ground. It is either black or it is white. For Jesus to really be Lord of our lives, we must be concerned with the very things that our Lord is concerned about. What is Jesus concerned about? One thing that He is not concerned about is church buildings and rich pastors that prey on unsuspecting people. What He is concerned about is people, and especially "the least of these." Here is the question: Do we share His concern? If so, then let us prove it. If we don't prove it, then we can also never truthfully say, "Jesus is Lord." In such a case, anyone who does still say it only proves himself/herself to be a liar.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Flabby Body of Christ. Why is church so dull? A psychotherapist diagnoses the Sunday ritual.

When a friend showed me this article recently, I thought I would share it with those of you who also regularly pass through my blog. If you've been here before, you'll see a very familiar theme in "The Flabby Body of Christ."

As this is not mine, I will share only the opening paragraph with you to tickle your interest, and then ask that you continue reading via the link to the original site. In this way I hope to give credit where credit is due. 
CHURCH is boring. I don’t ever recall hopping out of bed on Sunday morning jazzed about the sermon, even when the preacher was good. I’ve never driven to church in anticipation of hearing the choir or the worship band, even when they included remarkable musicians. When I went, it was to see my friends. I wanted to talk. Sunday school and Bible study were okay, but breezeway and parking lot conversations were the most invigorating.  My utmost communion with the Body of Christ didn’t even happen on the church premises. That happened in some loud restaurant that offered free refills of Diet Coke that helped me power on past noon and large portions that would render me unconscious fifteen minutes after I got home.
Does that tickle your interest so far? For the rest of the story, please go to:


Stephen W. Simpson is a psychologist, writer and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.