Tuesday, 30 August 2011

of A Man's Word Is His Pledge

"No one who practices deceit 
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely 
will stand in my presence."
Psalm 101:7

I had to chuckle when I saw this cartoon. Then it got me thinking, which promptly changed the chuckle into a lament. Remember when a man's word was his pledge? No, I don't either; that was before my time. But I've heard that once upon a time, a man's word was as good as any legal document, maybe even better. And if you really wanted to endorse the deal, a handshake was all that was needed. There was no need for signed and witnessed contracts; a gentleman's promise was worth its weight in gold. Oh, yes, those were the days!

Not only are those days long gone from the business world, they seem strangely absent from many Christian circles today too. I am reminded of a time, while still in the institutional church system, where the question of children's and youth ministry workers came up. It used to be that you would simply ask any brother of sister to help in the nursery or children's program. If you got someone interested, you were happy. This time things got a bit more complicated. The church was strongly advised to have all children's and youth workers screened by the local police department first before allowing them to work with our kids. The reasoning was that, in the event something horrible happened, the church could be sued.

Wow! One Christian suing another Christian? When I heard that, I was reminded of Paul's words, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgement instead of before the saints?" (1 Corinthians 6:1). Police checks, legal contracts, and a fear of being sued ... in the church? What next? Ushers with metal detectors? X-Ray screening machines in the foyer? Then again, I suppose that for those who insist on operating the local church like a secular business, maybe that is all quite logical. Perhaps for many so-called "Christians" today, their word is no good. Maybe they do have to "Put it in Writing." How sad.

We see the same sort of thing when it comes to copyrights on Christian materials. What really blows my mind is to see copyrights even on modern Bible translations. That one really has me baffled! We don't want someone to "copy" God's Word? Am I missing something here? The exception is the King James Version (KJV), since there was no such thing as copyrights back then. Then again, human nature being what it is, I'm sure someone out there would like to change that too if they could.

Likewise, how many Christian authors today would dare to publish a book without a copyright attached? Then again, who am I to talk? As an aspiring author, I'd probably do the same. After all, we want to make sure to protect our precious "rights" and make sure we get all the almighty "dollars" we're due for our work, don't we? We've got to make sure that anyone using "our stuff" puts their request to do so in writing first! Heaven forbid that we dare quote each other, as if the other's words were our own! Heaven forbid that someone gets the Gospel message for FREE!!! (oops, did I say that out loud?)

That's ultimately it, isn't it? We're so concerned about our "rights" and our "dollars" that we don't trust anyone anymore, not even in the church. A man's word has long since become invalid as his pledge, that is, unless it also is in writing. Yeah, get it in writing or face the lawsuit from a Christian brother. Am I the only one who has a problem with this? What does that say about where our heart really lies? I wonder.

Paul says, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourself cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers." (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). Shame on us!

  • Have we been "completely defeated already?"
  • Is the Gospel now a commodity for sale?
  • Do we worship money?
  • Is your word your pledge?
  • What would Jesus say about all this?

Monday, 29 August 2011

of A Renewed Call to Penitent Prayer

"If my people, 
who are called by my name, 
will humble themselves and pray 
and seek my face 
and turn from their wicked ways, 
then I will hear from heaven 
and will forgive their sin 
and will heal their land."  
2 Chronicles 7:14

I received an email from a dear friend. Though it had been around before, for some reason this time it made me sit up and take note. It contained what was reportedly an actual prayer by a minister by the name of Joe Wright as he opened a session in the Kansas senate. It all sounded good, but as the expression goes, "Buyer Beware." [According to the Apostle Paul, not everything we read on the Internet is necessary true.....ha, ha, grin, grin]. However, since I liked his prayer and hoped that it was in fact true, I did a little online searching to check it out. According to TruthorFiction.com it actually did happen in the Kansas House (not senate) on January 23, 1996. I also found some videos on YouTube to support this. Here's the prayer:  
Heavenly Father, We come before You today to ask Your Forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ''Woe to those who call evil good,'' but that's exactly what we have done. We have lost our Spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that; we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism; We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism; We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle; We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery; We have neglected the needy and called it self preservation; We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare; We have killed our unborn and called it choice; We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable; We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem; We have abused power and called it political savvy; We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition; We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression; We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of this state and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state of Kansas. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your Will. I ask in in the name of your Son, The Living Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here are my thoughts on this: 
  • With our society and economy so screwed up today, isn't it time to revisit Joe Wright's prayer and make it our own? 
  • Isn't it time that we get over our prideful selves, get on our knees in humble and penitent prayer, not just for our personal sins, but also for our national sins?
  • Could it be that God's promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 still rings true for the world today?
  • Is there still hope for our respective nations, or are we all simply in a societal death watch?
  • Have we simply become lethargic and no longer care?
Hmm, I wonder.

    Saturday, 27 August 2011

    of Job's Buddies, Blind Mice, and God's Sovereignty

    "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent"
    Proverbs 17:28

    I’ve been reading the Book of Job again lately. In earlier readings I often seemed to reflect on Job’s misfortune and the fact that even Satan himself couldn’t do anything to Job without God’s permission (Job 1:12). We know the rest of the story of how suddenly Job’s whole world turned upside down with one calamity after another in quick succession. Satan mercilessly did some horrible stuff to that God-fearing righteous man that we’ve come to know and love as Job. Yes, bad stuff can happen to good people and, Job teaches us sometimes, though Satan may be behind it all, God permits it. I confess that I have struggled with that a bit.

    This time, however, my focus seemed to change in reading Job. Let me set the stage a little. Apparently Job had three friends who came to him when they heard about his misfortunes. We are told that they didn’t even recognize him at first, and nobody said anything for a whole week (Job 2:12-13); they all just sat there together in silence. That silence part I could relate to, as a number of times I’ve visited people who were dying, and there simply were no words; all I could do was sit there and hold their hand in silence. Still, I can’t imagine doing that for a whole week.

    Suddenly after about a week of silence, Job begins to speak. He says his piece, and then his buddy Eliphaz decides that it is time for him to counsel Job. Then Job comes back with his rebuttal, which is followed by the other buddy, Bildad, jumping on the bandwagon with Eliphaz against Job. After yet another rebuttal by Job, Zophar, the third buddy, joins the melee. So it goes, back and forth throughout many chapters until Chapter 38, when the Lord God apparently had enough of the whole bantering back and forth, and steps into the discussion Himself.

    Now I haven’t checked, but I doubt the commentaries would describe the whole scenario quite that way. But inside my spirit, that’s what I was starting to wonder about. I saw a bunch of religious discussion that was, perhaps, not unlike the sort of thing many of us engage in ourselves quite regularly. Some of the social networking sites of today are full of Job’s and their buddies. The discussion on the nature of God and the church and who knows whatever else, sounds almost like it came right out of the pages of Job. I know and confess, that I’ve also been guilty of it myself from time to time.

    The thing is, their arguments often sound valid. Sometimes you would be hard pressed to pick out heresy. At first glance it all sounds religious enough. It wasn’t a simple case of a righteous Job against the consortium of his unrighteous friends. For example, Job himself acknowledged wisdom in parts of Bildad’s response (Job 9:2). No, it all was just a healthy philosophical discussion, wasn’t it? Apparently, no, it wasn’t. God Himself set the record straight when He said to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

    In other words, though Job’s buddies each ‘thought’ they understood what was going on, and though they each ‘thought’ they had all this spiritual insight, the truth of the matter is that they were wrong. Despite all the rant, despite all the “wisdom of their own minds,” God essentially said, “You blew it, guys!”

    The main argument that Job’s buddies seemed to be concerned with was that Job’s situation was due to some sin in Job’s life that he had not yet repented of. Their argument was that God wouldn’t do, or allow, such catastrophes to come upon an innocent person. Since Job was plagued with all that horrible stuff in his life, they reasoned that he must therefore be guilty before God of something. What they didn’t understand is that God did it, or allowed it, simply because He sovereignly chose to do or to allow it. Period. God doesn’t have to explain Himself. He says “Yes” or “No” simply because He is God.

    There is a great scriptural illustration of this in Romans 9. I would strongly recommend reading that chapter again very carefully. Now I am not promoting what has often been called a Calvinistic argument over an Arminian one. In fact, I am not promoting any particular doctrines at all. I am simply taking what I see in the pages of the Bible at face value. If the Bible says something, I am going on the assumption that it means what it says and that it does not mean something different than it says. Obviously there are places that we do not interpret the Bible literally, but I do not believe that Romans 9 is one of those places.

    God does as God wills; He doesn’t do as man wills. Sure, God does answer prayers and often does grant us the desires of our hearts, however ultimately His actions correspond to His sovereign will. Sometimes His answers to us are simply “No.” When that happens, like Job we may like an explanation, but God simply doesn’t have to explain Himself to us at all.

    Getting back to Romans 9, note God’s choosing (election) of Jacob over Esau (vs.10-12). Note also that nothing depends on man’s effort; it’s all a question of God’s mercy to certain specific individuals over other individuals (vs.16-18). In this context, this is not an equal or universal mercy to all. Rather it is specifically given (or not given) to whomever God sovereignly wills.

    The main question here is, does not God (as Creator), have the right to do and act as He wants to do? Forget all those doctrines that, for some of you, are no doubt raising some red flags right now. For a minute think on that question. Does God not have the right to do as He chooses? “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21; NIV).

    God “chose” to allow the problems to come Job’s way simply and for no apparent other reason than because God chose to do so. We, on the other hand, are quick to object with our “but, but, but.” Paul says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:20; NIV). It all had nothing to do with whether Job was innocent or guilty of some sin. In fact God Himself called Job “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8), so we know that it wasn’t a case of him being guilty as Job’s friends argued that he was. God simply chose to do and allow that which He, as Sovereign Creator, chose to do and allow. Job himself said the same thing when he said, “He [God] does whatever He pleases” (Job 23:13). That was, and continues to be, God’s right.

    I’m sorry to say, but this whole discussion between Job and his buddies sounds so much like the church today! Everyone has their own understanding and their own “word from the Lord” that they’re quick to insist on sharing. How many times haven’t we heard (or said it ourselves), “The Lord told me…” this or that. How many times haven’t we heard a brother or sister say, “I see this” or “I see that” in the Scriptures? Any quick cursory glance through the church history textbooks will always bring us face to face with a “Job and his buddies.” There has always been one group of believers discussing doctrines with another group of believers, each accusing the other of some misunderstanding of Scripture. The only thing that is produced is more “dissensions and factions” (Galatians 5:20) in the Body. The only thing that gets promoted through all this is the “acts of the sinful nature” as opposed to the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-26).

    Maybe I’m even doing that right now myself as I type these very words! Aren’t we all sometimes guilty of being “Legends in our own minds” as it were? Aren’t we all sometimes related to Job’s buddies? After all, we’re all Christians, right? Doesn’t that mean that we’ve cornered the market on understanding God? No, we don’t really believe that, but we sure act like we do sometimes.

    I would like to suggest that we do NOT fully understand all the nature and workings of Heavenly Father. If we “see” anything at all, it is only a small part of the big picture. I believe that is ultimately what the problem with Job’s buddies was; they only saw a small part of the big picture, but they thought they understood it all. Paul said, “now we see in a mirror DIMLY, but then face to face. Now I know in PART; then I shall know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12; emphasis mine). Are we OK with that? Are we OK with only seeing a small piece of the bigger picture? Can we leave our “know-it-all” pride alone long enough to realize that, this side of Glory, there will always be some things that we simply will not know about the nature of God and His workings in this world? Isn’t that where faith comes in?

    Job was crying out for help and his friends only wanted to debate the doctrines. Sarcastically Job says to his buddies, “What wonderful helps you all are! And how you have encouraged me in my great need!” (Job 26:2; Living Bible). In trying to help someone who is hurting, it’s often best to simply be there (silently) with him or her in that dark hour. This Job’s buddies did in their first week together; kudos to them for doing that. If only they had kept their mouths shut and their opinions a little more to themselves! It is true that Job was the first one to break the silence, but I really do not believe that in doing so, he was looking for a theological debate from his friends. Is it possible that all Job wanted to do when he broke the silence was to vent off some frustration and pain? The three friends would have been wise if they had allowed for that.

    This takes me back to some seminary counseling courses. In counseling, one of the goals of the counselor is to get the counselee talking. This is often done with a few pointed questions, but certainly not with long and winded monologues as Job’s buddies had done. In most cases the least amount of taking by the counselor is probably the better option. From my limited experience, and I do not profess to be an expert, if done right the counselee will often come to the right conclusions all on his or her own while the counselor simply listens. Apparently Job’s buddies were not in the same classes with me that day.

    Well there you have it, my recent musing and reflection on the counsel of Job’s buddies. For some strange reason, the old nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” just came to mind. Perhaps that describes Job's buddies rather well; the blind leading the blind. Is there a lesson in all this for us today? I think there is. The lesson I’m beginning to see is that everything doesn’t always have to be some big theological debate. When we’re with people, often all they want is for someone to listen to them. It is not a question of them being right or wrong. Unless they specifically ask our opinion, it’s probably safe to say that they don’t want it. So what if they think a little differently that we do. Do you remember the old Beatles song, “Live and Let Die?” Is the church somehow stuck in those old lyrics? In our interest in being alive, do we inadvertently cause the death others in the church? Unlike the Beatles song, maybe we should make our mantra “Live and Let Live.” 

    We often tend to be “Job’s buddies.” We often tend to like to argue a point to death. We often like to think that we’ve got the mind of God so figured out, that we are qualified and mandated to teach and correct each other, and often we do so with both barrels blazing. However, in doing so, too often we seem to forget a very important step.

    Jesus said that all the Law and all the Prophets hang on LOVE (Matthew 22:40). In other words, if we cannot genuinely LOVE each other, then we can stuff our doctrines (Law and Prophets) because without LOVE, they don’t mean squat! Ouch! Maybe that’s why Paul said, “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22).

    Will God rebuke us too for the same thing He rebuked the “Three Blind Mice” called Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar when He said to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7)? Do we also sometimes have the tendency to be “Blind Mice” ourselves the way we lead each other back and forth and around again in our often petty theological debates, claiming “to see” but all the while too blind to avoid the traps? Could it be time for a few less theological debates and a few more brotherly hugs and “holy kisses” (1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). Hmm, sometimes I wonder.

    Tuesday, 23 August 2011

    of Ministry Tools, Community and Dinner Guests

    On my recent blog post What If We Did Church Differently Than We Do Now? an anonymous commentator said, "Our pastor talks about these same things but gives us no tools to take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." 

    I was thinking about that a bit. Are people really not being equipped to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community?" Can that be possible? Then, practically as quickly as I asked myself that question, it occurred to me that we may be looking at this question all wrong. 

    Institutional Christianity has for years taught us that they are "equipping" us for ministry. Unfortunately, the ministry they're equipping their parishioners for is ministry "within" their institution. While that ministry may have elements outside the building, it is inevitably tied to the building and will never receive clergy support apart from its tie to the institutional church. More often than not, ministry outside the church in such cases is normally considered a ministry of that particular church and not independent of it.

    So having said that, my commentator is quite right in suggesting that his/her pastor does not give him or her the necessary tools to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." Forgive me if this sounds critical, but from an institutional perspective, as well as from my own personal experience, giving such tools relinquishes the pastor's control of the believer. Ouch. If the pastor were to give such tools, then perhaps the parishioner might even realize that he or she really no longer needs the attachment to that institutional church but is free to come or go as the Spirit leads, not as the pastor leads. Perhaps, dare I even say, he or she might even become liberated like many others today who have left institutional Christianity for the simple and organic church experience. This really must unnerve many an institutional church leader as they see many leaving their churches, not because they no longer believe, but rather as someone has said, "to preserve their faith." How ironic.

    But I've digressed . The truth of the matter is, I believe, that the ministry tools that we're talking about cannot rightly even be dispensed by the pastor. Before you call me a heretic, let's ask ourselves a question: what are these ministry tools? I would argue that they are rightly called the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" and we all have an important part to play with our particular gift (see: Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 14:26).  Anything else that someone might want to sell us as ministry tools is counterfeit, unnecessary and maybe even of the devil himself. 

    If you and I are born again sons and daughters of God, if we are real Christians (as opposed to what I've often called pseudo-Christians), if we have made the commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, then we already have all the tools that we will ever need to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." There is but one "tool" that any of us need, and that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The one day old born again believer has the same ability to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community" as does the seminary trained biblical scholar. In some ways, perhaps even more so in that the passion and fire of the new believer's faith is still alive and well, as opposed to the unfortunate lethargy that often comes from a long time stale Christian. 

    Jesus had an interesting thing to say to a man by the name of Nicodemus. Jesus said, "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:7-8; NIV). Nicodemus was a religious leader who had trouble understanding this. It is interesting that many religious leaders today seem to have the same difficulty with this teaching of Jesus as Nicodemus had.

    I like to think that genuinely born again Christians will never be tied to a particular place, be that a place of worship or any other place. Just as the wind doesn't stay put in one place, why would a Christian be content to do so? Just as water left standing in a pond or cistern can quickly become stale, so would a Christian left standing in one place also quickly become stale. On the other hand, water running in a river is alive and healthy just like a Christian on the move is also healthy.

    Back to our ministry tools. If the Spirit in you moves you or places a burden on you for someone or something, then that is all the "tool" you will need. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you. We may not know where He comes from or where He will lead us next, but wherever it is, GO with Him. The Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20) calls on us to GO, not simply to COME to some church building.

    If Sunday morning comes along and you sense the Spirit leading you to such and such institutional church, then you had better obey and GO. If the Spirit leads you instead to a nursing home to sit for a while with a dear old lady, then you had better obey and GO. Perhaps the Spirit may lead you instead to some park because He has arranged to have you cross paths with someone else who really needs a blessing from God, and that blessing is you. In that case, you had better obey and GO. "So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

    Are you a genuinely born again Christian, filled with the Spirit of God? If so, you need no special tools or equipping; you're already fully qualified. GO, "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." What are you waiting for? When asked what was the Greatest Commandment, Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22: 37-40; NIV). Do you know how to love? Have you ever loved your child, your spouse, your parents? Have you ever loved a dear friend? If so, you need no special tools or equipping; you're already fully qualified. GO.

    As an aside, there is an interesting thing about that previous verse. Jesus said, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." What are the Law and the Prophets? I believe that it represents everything that has ever been said about God, everything that is being said about God, and everything that ever will be said about God. It represents all of our doctrines and teachings; everything. All that hangs on love; first toward God, and second towards everyone else. 

    Still don't know where to start? Might I make a suggestion? Start with a meal. Invite someone you don't know very well to your table. Preferably, make it someone who really cannot repay you with a return invitation. Bless them with a meal. 

    When you look through the Gospels, where do we often see Jesus? We see Him around a table "communing" with people. This was the real and original Lord's Supper (or Communion or Eucharist) as opposed to that wafer cracker and thimble of juice we've turned it into. Jesus was known for eating with people. The religious folks often criticized Him for doing so, but they didn't understand the Greatest Commandment any more than many religious folks today also don't really understand it.

    What else happens when you share a meal with someone? Real fellowship happens. You get to know people in a way that simply isn't possible in a church building where your "fellowship" is confined to a few moments of chit-chat about the weather. Even when we were still in the institutional church, we almost always put a pot roast in the oven on a timer before church and very regularly invited strangers home after service for a meal. That was awesome! We got to know people; they got to know us. Perhaps most importantly, they went home knowing that someone truly cared about them and that they made new friends that day. I wonder how many new friends Jesus made while eating in someone else's home? Hmm.

    This doesn't require any special ministry tools. It only requires that we try and look at others through the eyes of Jesus. You and I are now His eyes. Do you see the ministry opportunities around you? They're everywhere. GO and "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." Where is the wind of the Spirit leading you next? Learn to listen for His leading and then GO.

    Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40). Special tools? No, just a heart filled by the Holy Spirit with the love of God for others. That is ministry that counts. GO.

    Monday, 22 August 2011

    What If We Did Church Differently Than We Do Now?

    "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." 
    Matthew 28:19

    What if we did church differently than we do now? What would it look like? Maybe it might look a little like portrayed in this video. Maybe it would look a little more like the church that Jesus began. Maybe it would look a little more like the church that Paul and the Apostles gave their lives for.

    What if we did church differently than we do now? What would it look like? Maybe it would be more of a disciple making church. Maybe it would be a church that truly lived the Great Commission, a church that GOES into the communities that we live in rather than expecting those same communities to COME into our buildings.

    What if we did church differently than we do now? What would it look like? Hmm, I wonder.

    Saturday, 20 August 2011

    of Tattoos and Crack Ups?

    Tattoos are not always all they're "cracked" up to be.

    I'm not sure what to think of this tattoo. Great Scripture, but placed right over the "crack" like that, well, that seems almost a little distasteful and maybe even sacrilegious. Or am I missing something here?

    Just saying ... Hmm. Your thoughts?

    Monday, 15 August 2011

    of Doctrines, Horses and Noisy Gongs

    There once was a time when I tended to be somewhat argumentative in my faith, or at least, that's what I was often told. A quick look at a few of my older blog posts might even suggest the same thing. Lately, though, I think God has been working to soften me a bit. I now often cringe at anything that even remotely smacks of an argumentative spirit, be it in others or in myself. I don't like it one bit. This is even true on social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can see it there all the time. There is always someone who seems to have something to prove. It's like the old Eveready commercial of yesteryear; someone is almost always daring another to knock that battery (doctrine) off their shoulder (I remember that commercial like it was yesterday!) May God forgive us for that arrogant pride.

    Now, I tend to read from several Bible translations and paraphrases. While my personal favourite is the English Standard Version (ESV), this morning I found myself in the Living Bible. There I read, "When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don't argue, even though I don't agree" (1 Corinthians 9:20; LB). This really spoke to me. Arguing doctrine is pointless, and usually even loveless. And if it is loveless, then it is also God-less.

    "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless" (Titus 3:9; ESV). Let me ask you, are we busying ourselves with these things? Are we getting caught up in foolish controversies, dissensions and quarrels about the things of God? Who are we kidding? Do we think that such activity makes us more spiritual than the next person? Is it really worth the fight?

    James said, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:26-27; NIV).

    Paul said, "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God" (Romans 14:22; ESV). That's one of my new favourite verses. Lately I am really beginning to see the importance of keeping doctrines as a private matter between God and myself. Doctrines are important, and they're even important enough to "guard" them (2 Timothy 1:14). But doctrines also divide and faction the Body of Christ, and that is not good.

    Love is the fulfillment of all the commandments (doctrines) said Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:8-9. Love is the only thing that we are called to express to each other in the Body of Christ; not our doctrinal views. Jesus said that all the law and all the prophets (all doctrines) hang on the two greatest commandments. What were they again? Oh yes, (1) love God, (2) love each other (Matthew 22:34-40). In other words, if we've failed to focus first on the love part, then we've also failed on all our (perceived) doctrinal wisdom as well. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13: 1-2; ESV).

    Do you remember The Gong Show? It was hilarious and I still can smile when I think about it. But as funny as that show was, the sound that the gong makes is really quite an annoying. At least in my opinion it is. There is a public garden near our home that has a gong in it. Though several blocks from our home, one can still sometimes hear its vociferous racket from my backyard. The gong produces an irksome noise, much like a know-it-all Christian who cannot (or will not) forgo his sermonizing long enough to show some Christ-like love first. I believe that is essentially what Paul was saying at the start of his infamous love chapter (1 Corinthians 13); all your knowledge, and wisdom, and doctrines don't mean squat if there isn't love. He was saying that all your knowledge, and wisdom, and doctrines are as annoying as that gong if they aren't preceded by real and unfeigned love first.

    We have this uncanny habit of often putting the wrong thing first. The cart always seems to end up ahead of the horse. Doctrines may be important, but they certainly are not the most important. They rank second at best. The most important is love. This is important enough that Jesus even commands us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44; NIV). Perhaps we should reorganize our to-do lists. Perhaps if love truly is most important, we should work on that first. Perhaps if love is the horse, and doctrines are the cart, then we should make sure the horse is in front of the cart as opposed to the other way around.

    I am convinced that if Christians would only get off that doctrinal cart long enough to really learn the art of "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19), then the doctrinal cart would soon correct itself and follow the love horse wherever it trots off to next. In that case, doctrines would soon become non-issues. However, the only way that would ever become a reality is if we all made genuine love the priority and not the doctrines.

    Ever wonder why there are so many different denominations in christendom today? I'm convinced that the bottom line isn't their different doctrinal views as much as it is that we really haven't learned to love the brotherhood of believers. Maybe that's the answer to getting rid of those (dare I say it?) "anti-Christ" denominations and factions: LOVE. As for those doctrinal discussions, those too would be a lot easier if we loved each other as Christ loved the church. But then again, if we loved like that, I suspect that even the thought of a doctrinal discussion would only be a distant memory at best. I mean, if you and I really and truly loved each other, then neither of us would care less about doctrines either. In that scenario, the very word "doctrine" would go the same way as other archaic Elizabethan words have already gone.

    Now, what were we arguing about again? I seem to have forgotten.

    Saturday, 6 August 2011

    of Church Email Lists

    "We must be on a mailing list."
    Recently I received an email which had been forwarded on to me by a mutual acquaintance. It originated in a local institutional church. Yes, I know the discussion against calling a Christian meeting house "church," but I'm going to go ahead with it anyways for the purpose of this post.

    It was a nice email that centred on a praise item thanking the Lord for a miraculous cancer healing. It really was a wonderful story that also led me to be able to rejoice with the person healed and say "Praise God!" I'm sure that was the whole intent of the email in the first place; sharing the good news of God's grace in a miraculous healing. If it were me, I would want to announce the good news of my healing to the world as well. I'm sure most of us would. Now, I'm really not looking to air all the garbage of institutional Christianity; I'm really not. In many ways, I would prefer to simply "live and let live." However, I noticed something rather odd on the footer of that email message that, well let's just say, I couldn't resist. It said,
    "The church mailing list and email distribution through the email coordinator is only for church business, fellowship, or other church related information. Requests to use the email list for non-church matters will be ignored by the email distributor. Requests to sell items or to advertise a service will not be permitted. The email list is not to be distributed beyond church members and adherents."
    Huh? Oh, I know why they added that. They don't want to be bombarded by unsolicited email spam any more than the rest of us do. However, the spirit of the sender's email was to publicly praise God for a cancer healing. Unfortunately, the way I read it, he or she was not permitted to do so outside of their little "church" community. The very fact that I got the email forwarded to me, even though I have a distant connection to that institution, is probably a violation of their email "rule."

    The whole thing reads like a footer on a corporate business email message, like the one we might receive from the CEO of the firm we work for. They themselves even called it "church business!" Wow, the "business" of doing church? Am I missing something here? The business I work for has similar warnings attached to all their email messages. In a secular business setting that makes sense; but in a church group? That's like me Twittering a particularly meaningful Scripture verse that blessed me this morning, and then saying as a postscript that my tweeted message is intended only for evangelicals and not charismatics. How stupid would that be?

    I guess this shouldn't really surprise us. After all, it is just another on the growing list of how the institutional church is looking more and more like the world.

    Anyone want to buy a "church" email list that I just acquired? LOL, no, just kidding ;)

    of Apostate Pseudo-Christianity & Partial Truths

    Is Christianity changing into an apostate religion? Sadly, I think it is. This really is nothing new, though. Decline from the teachings of Jesus and the early apostles is almost as old as the faith itself. Throughout christendom there have always been religious gurus who each have taught something just a little different from the teachings of Jesus. That difference was often small and subtle, but when combined with the small and subtle different gospels (Galatians 1:6) of other leaders, it soon left us with a religious system completely foreign to that of the early church. A good example of this is the Book of Acts; it is nothing like we see in the church today. Even a quick cursory reading of Acts 2:42-47 will confirm that. However, is a slight variance in belief still rightly called "Apostate?"

    Maybe we should define the word "apostate" first. It is defined in my dictionary as "a person who completely forsakes his religion, faith, political party or principles." So back to my question: Is a slight variance in belief still rightly called "Apostate?" After all, the dictionary definition says apostasy is a "complete forsaking,"and these people haven't really "completely" given up on their faith, have they?

    Let me ask another question to those who might wonder about such things: Is a partial truth still the truth? Think about that. Personally, I would have to say, No, it isn't. And if it isn't "the whole truth" any longer, then what we are really talking about is "apostasy," aren't we? There can be no middle ground. A woman is either pregnant or she is not pregnant; but she is never partially pregnant. Likewise, a person is either saved or they are not saved; but they are never partially saved. We are either true believers, walking as Jesus walked and taught, or we are "apostates." Those who think they can be somewhere in the middle are in danger of tasting the "spit" of Jesus (Revelation 3:15-16). Ouch!

    This is really, I think, a great video. I'm going to have to keep an eye on the developments in this so-called "Emergent Church." The video is about 10 minutes long, so grab a coffee and check it out. And as you do, think about my two questions above.

    Postscript: Among other things, this video speaks about the "Narrow and the Wide Path"(Matthew 7:13-14) and about the Roman Catholic interest in an "Ecumenical" movement, two topics of interest of mine. I am not going to rehash all that at this time, for I have dealt with those topics before on this blog. But as a very quick synopsis, I have often said that most of what we see today in modern so-called Christianity is firmly planted somewhere along that "Wide Path" that, Jesus said, is leading to destruction. How sadly ironic it is that there are many who think they are "saved" who are really quite lost and headed to destruction (hell?). As for ecumenism, the big problem I've often expressed is that though they preach "unity" in the church, which at first glance sounds good, what they are really after is unity of institution as opposed to unity in the Spirit.

    Here's your opportunity to weigh in. I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Is a slight variance of belief still rightly called "apostate?"
    • Is a partial truth still "the truth?"
    • Is the modern church on the "Wide Path" heading for destruction?
    • Is ecumenism a good thing?
    • Is the video discussion on the "Emergent Church" a concern for you?

    Tuesday, 2 August 2011

    of Dentists and the Call of God.

    Lately I've been wondering if God isn't calling again. He's done that a few times before in my life. He called me from my old life to a new life in His Son. He called me to uproot my family and my job and my security, and to trust Him in moving to a different province, with no job to go to and no income, and to go to Bible School and then on to Seminary. Time and again, He provided each step of the way. Why am I still so surprised if He is calling again?

    I remember the time, just after we arrived in the new city, I had need of emergency dental work. I had no job, no insurance, and no way of paying for it. There simply wasn't two spare nickels to rub together! I opened the Yellow Pages, and called the first dentist I saw that was reasonably close to us. He took me in and repaired the tooth. All the while he was working on the tooth, I wondered how on earth I was supposed to pay for it. I had made up my mind that I was going to simply have to write him a check, and deal with the consequences of it bouncing as an NSF check later. Upon completion of the dental work, I pulled out my checkbook only to hear the dentist say to me these words that I've never forgotten: "No charge! Consider it a gift from heaven." My jaw dropped. Did I hear that right? This dentist didn't know me nor know of my circumstances. No charge? Obviously he was a believer and obviously he was a man who was in tune to the leading of the Holy Spirit!

    What I learned from that experience is that, when God calls, don't sweat the circumstances. If He really did call you, then He will also provide the means. He knows the needs and there is no need for us to announce our needs to others. It is wonderful to simply walk in the faith of obedience to the call and do so in silence. What better way to put out your fleece than to say nothing to anyone and watch and see how God provides. Maybe that is why I have such a hard time with the seemingly constant begging for money from many a pulpit. If God is truly in it, whatever the "it" is, His servants won't have to ask for a nickel. He will lay it on the hearts of others who faithfully serve Him and more than enough will be gathered in to meet the need.

    There's an interesting story told of how the "people were restrained from bringing" more because there was already more than enough to meet the need (Exodus 36:6). Ever hear the treasurer make a recommendation to the pastor to restrain the people from bringing more offerings? No, me neither.  The point is, when God calls to a listening people, there will always be enough. Nobody needs to be encouraged, unless, of course, God really isn't in that "ministry." In that case, they will always have to preach for more money. But I've digressed.

    After Seminary, God led into the pastoral ministry for a season. Then, interestingly enough, He called out of it just as surely as I sensed His original call into ministry. However, I quickly learned that God isn't subject to man's little ideas of what does and doesn't constitute the call of God. He is so much greater than all we've ever imagined.

    Suddenly I found myself fellowshipping in homes, restaurants and parks. Basically wherever and whenever the Spirit lead.  The gathering of the saints wasn't just for a quick hour or two on Sunday morning anymore. Some weeks saw some measure of fellowship every day. It truly was incredible. Today there seems to be a lot more discussion on the pros and cons of the house church. We now even have other fancy names such as "simple church" and "organic church." Sometimes I do tend to wonder if there is much of a difference at all between these new fangled ways of gathering the body in comparison to the institutional systems from which they came. Sometimes they look and act simply like a smaller version of the larger institution, albeit in a private home. Don't get me wrong; I'm not judging it one way or another. I'm simply making a personal observation.

    As I said at the beginning, however, I now am wondering if God isn't still leading me in yet another direction. What direction you may be asking? To be honest, I'm not sure yet. All I know for sure is, He has called before. All I know for sure is, His previous calls have always been accompanied with His provision. What will the test of this call be? What fleece have I put out to confirm the call? It is simply this: "Lord, place exactly the same call on my wife, whatever that call may be. Lead her as you are leading me." That is the test. I do not believe that God calls the husband without also calling the wife. If He designed the two to be one flesh, then in my way of thinking, that requires the same call. He won't send one to China and the other to Brazil.

    The exciting thing for me now is to wait and see the leading of the Lord. To that end, I covet your prayers.