Sunday, 29 April 2012

Has "Ministry" Become Egotistic?

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I’ve been thinking lately. (Never mind the sarcastic, “oh, oh.” -LOL). But seriously, I’ve been thinking about the way we use the word “ministry.” Have we abused the word a bit by using it in some strange ways that really are not found in Scripture?

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how we often use the word “ministry” to speak of something that we personally are doing in the name of Christianity, and which is somehow different than that which our brothers or sisters are doing. We speak of “my ministry,” or “her ministry,” or “their ministry.” We speak of someone as being “called to ministry,” implying that there are those who are not “called to ministry.” In my way of thinking, there really ought not be a distinction made, for are not all “called to ministry?”

It seems to me that we have somehow personalized “ministry” to line up with our perceived individual callings, interests or egos. I get the sense sometimes that there is an awful lot of personal pride in the way many do “ministry” today. Is that what the word “ministry” has evolved into? I wonder.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18)
We speak of music ministries and prison ministries. We speak of youth ministries and children’s ministries. There are inner city ministries, cowboy ministries, and one that I’ve even once belonged to, motorcycle ministries. I have only just touched the edge of the iceberg here. In truth, as many different interests that people have, there could and probably are, “ministries” to meet someone’s perceived need in those interest groups.

So what’s the problem? Maybe nothing. Maybe this is all nothing more than semantics. Maybe this is all nothing more than my own little pet peeve. But as I was thinking about these things, I came away thinking that there really is only ONE ministry, and that is the “ministry of reconciliation.” 
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; ESV, emphasis mine) 
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The only “ministry” that the church has is that of reconciliation. Granted, how that happens does vary from place to place and circumstance to circumstance. But our only end goal or interest ought to be that people be reconciled to God. That is "the" ministry.

Maybe, as I just mentioned, you feel that this is all simply semantics. That’s OK; you are entitled to your view too. My point is not to belabor this or to start some big theological debate. I am simply sharing my heart. Sometimes I just get a little uncomfortable with the way we use the word “ministry” because it almost always sounds like what we’re doing is making it all about us … instead of about Jesus.

That’s the way I see it anyway.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

They'll Know We Are Christians By Our ... What?

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Is there any way for the world to know we are Christians simply by looking at us?  Is it possible for someone to correctly label us as “Christians” simply by way of their observation of us in our day-to-day lives or our online interactions? I’m sorry, but some so-called Christian sites really should come equipped with Pepto-Bismol.

Has the visible distinction between Christians and the world gotten somewhat cloudy lately? If so, what caused it, and how do we return to being separate from the world? Should we even strive for a return to apartness from it? Does “holiness” (being set apart) still apply, and if so, what does that mean?
I confess that I often have more questions than I have answers, so if it is answers you’re looking for, I’m sorry to say that you most likely won’t find them here. All you’ll find here are the musings of an old biker, nicknamed by some, “Preacher.”

As I thought about some of these questions, I began to think also of that old Peter Scholtes hymn we used to sing:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord 
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord 
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored 
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love 
They will know we are Christians by our love
Is that really true? Will they know we are Christians by our love? It all sounds nice and utopian, but is it true?
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Let me share an observation. I believe that the world loves just like Christians love, and sometimes they even do a better job of it. I know many non-Christians who do a much better job in the “love” department than many Christians that I know. At very least, they often do a better job of it than me. So if we are talking about the external observation of “love” as being criteria for someone being a Christian, then we clearly have a problem. Everyone, regardless of faith or lack of faith, is capable of love to one degree or another. Jesus said, “Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32; NIV).
I’ve heard some people say that the proof of the Christian walk is in the “fruits of the Spirit.” What does that mean? The apostle Paul said, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22; ESV). OK, this raises another question, are those traits observable in Christians only? Do we have exclusive rights to those “fruits?” No, I don’t think so. Again, I know many non-Christians to whom I would easily apply several of these terms and, ironically, many professing Christians to whom I would not apply them at all.
So if all of this is true, then we’re back to ground zero. Can someone tell a true Christian from a pseudo-Christian, or non-Christian, simply by observation? And if so, what is the determining factor(s) that differentiate the one from the other?
Anyone can say they are Christian. Many cults call themselves Christian. I've even heard friends within Mormonism describe themselves as Christians. Is the whole question a subjective one? I cannot really accept that; it seems there must be more to it than subjectivity, but what is it?
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Let’s revisit Paul. He spoke of “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). Does the internal Christ in you and me reveal Himself externally in an observable and obvious different manner than what is seen externally in the lives of non-believers? If so, then how? If I walk down the street to my local coffee shop, will the people I pass “know” that I am a Christian? How will they know?
Forget the christianese bumper stickers, tee shirts, and execution jewelry (the cross necklaces, etc.); anyone can have those and they don’t make someone a Christian any more than someone “going” to an institutional church makes them a Christian. They don’t make someone a Christian any more than the person who swears by using the Lord’s name in vain makes him a Christian either. Even those saying, “Jesus is Lord,” as spiritual as that sounds, could actually be liars.
I really am not trying to be a smart a** here. These are questions that have been weighing on me for a while now. The fact is, the devil himself can preach a powerful sermon of deception (John 8:44), and Pharaoh’s magicians did duplicate many of the miracles that God did through Moses (Exodus 7:11). The point is, externals may be deceptive. So where is the answer found? Is there a sure fire way to know? What is it?
Probably one of my all time favorite biographies is “Rees Howells: Intercessor” by Norman Grubb. Let me share a little excerpt:
But if at the beginning the world was affecting him, by the end it was he who was affecting the world, for people sensed the presence of God with him, and said so. Even some with no religious faith would take their hats off when they passed him on the streets. One old man used to tell people, “You mark my words: there goes a modern John the Baptist.” An evidence of the effect he had on the district was seen later when a man who did not know his name simply asked the ticket collector at the station where “the man with the Holy Ghost” lived and was directed to Mr. Howells! (Page 118-119)
I’ve often mused, if a stranger who didn’t know my name showed up at the receptionist’s desk in my workplace and asked where the office of “the man with the Holy Ghost” was, would he automatically be directed to my office? Hmm, I wonder.
They’ll know we are Christians by our … what?
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Something my wife recently said about this resonated with me. She said, “Sometimes you can just see the emptiness in some people’s eyes.” Someone else once said, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Maybe the answers to all these questions lie simply in discernment. Maybe it all comes down to looking into people’s eyes. And the only way to look into the eyes of another is to spend time together in good old-fashioned face-to-face fellowship.
Maybe it’s time for us to spend a little less time online and a little more time face-to-face with people. Maybe that’s where I’ll find the answers to these questions that have been plaguing me of late.

With all due respect to my online friends, I’m logging off now, going to call a friend or two, leave the house, and get together again face-to-face like we used to in those wonderful days before the Internet came and subtly stole that away from many of us. Remember those days?
That’s the way I see it anyway. Peace.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Is Hell A Personal Choice?

"Rodin's Gates of Hell"
Photo Credit: Christian Ortiz
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"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened." (by C.S. Lewis; "The Great Divorce")

There are a lot of people today who seem to stuggle with the concept of Hell. They seem to feel it inconsistent with the nature of a loving God to send anyone to Hell. I confess that I have sometimes even wondered that myself.

However, while it is most certainly true that God is a God of love, and He does desire that none shall perish, it is also true that He gave mankind a free will. If we believe that God gave us the free will to choose, does that choice essentially include a choice for Hell by our rejection of His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ?

Everything God has for you and me He has given us in Jesus. Like all gifts, though offered, they must still be received. I can offer to give you a suitcase full of treasures, but until you actually take it from my hands and receive it, it remains only an offer that you do not yet possess. Salvation is like that. The offer is there in Jesus. But Jesus Himself said, "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The offer is there, and it is free, but it must be personally received to take effect and to be of value to you and me.

If that is true, the question then becomes, what happens to those who reject God's offer through Jesus? Does God, because of His love, finally say, "Oh, that's OK. You rejected my Son, but I will let you into my Heaven anyway?" No. Again, look back to John 14:6. Jesus is the way, the only way. Reject Him, and by default, you essentially choose Hell.

Does God send people to Hell? While He doesn't want to, He has given us the choice. Yes, the Bible says that one day "every knee will bow" (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10), but personally I think it would be a mistake to assume that all who bow the knee will be saved. Even demons bow the knee in obedience to Jesus, but they're not saved either.

Rejecting Jesus is a personal choice just as much as accepting Him is a personal choice. In this case, there is no middle ground. Our vote must be either a "Yea" or a "Nay," either for or against Jesus. Therefore, by default, a "Yea" vote also equals a vote for Heaven, whereas a "Nay" vote equals a vote for Hell.

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Is Hell a personal choice? Yes, I think it is. It's not the choice God would have made, because He is a God of love, but He lets us choose our own path. I know that God hopes that we choose wisely, but in the end, the choice is yours and mine. 

Does God send people to Hell? I suspect that C.S. Lewis is right in this regard, "All that are in Hell, choose it."

Monday, 9 April 2012

What's the Good Word?

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It is both amazing and sad how many people today are anxious about a great many things. Our economy leaves a lot to be desired, unemployment is high, families are struggling, homes are being repossessed, and healthcare concerns abound. Military campaigns on foreign soil and potential new threats of more terrorist attacks at home, all lend to unnerving the masses; they all lend themselves to stress and anxiety. Most of us would probably have a hard time counting on one hand the number of people we know who are not, or appear to be not, stressed out by one thing or another.

When we stop to think about it, it’s little surprise that there are such high incidents of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, divorce and family violence. People are at their whit’s end. Even those who seem to have it all together, are likely running on such a short fuse that they will also explode if much else goes wrong in their world.
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good [kind; NIV] word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25; ESV).
I was thinking about that verse of Scripture this morning. Though people are weighed down by all sorts of things that cause for them truck-loads of anxiety, apparently they can be made glad by something as simple as a “good,” or a “kind,” word.

Now I don’t have any big and profound biblical exposition to share with you about this. I was simply meditating on the way that we treat one another. It’s really quite sad that we have to be reminded all the time to practice kindness, isn’t it? You would think that we Christians, of all people, would know this by now. 
“Love is patient, love is KIND” (1Cor.13:4). “Be KIND and compassionate” (Eph.4:32). “Always try to be KIND to each other” (1Thes.5:15). “Be KIND to everyone” (2Tim.2:24). 
Well, you get the point. Since being KIND still seems to be so rare among many of us, that tells me that we either don’t know what the word really means, or we simply don’t care. We’re good at reciting verses from the Bible, but not always so good at applying them in a practical way. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics for a moment. In case we’ve forgotten, here’s how my dictionary defines this word that so many of us struggle with:
Kind. adj. 1 helpful, considerate, generous, etc., 2 gentle, 3 showing or characterized by helpfulness, gentleness, etc.
Now let’s apply this to the anxiety of others. What’s going to help them, as Proverbs says, to “be glad?” In their anxiety they’re made glad when you and I are helpful, considerate, and generous. A “good word” or a “kind word” includes being helpful, it includes being considerate, and it includes being generous.

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I’m reminded of the woman with the disabling spirit that Jesus healed (Luke 13:10-17). I wonder how anxious she was? Life had thrown her an awful curve ball for 18 long years. Think that wouldn’t stress you out? Think her life wasn’t upside down? Think she wasn’t weighed down with anxiety? I’m sure she was. In an act of kindness, Jesus shared the “good word” of healing with her, despite the objections of the religious. It’s interesting that with the religious all Jesus shared was the word “hypocrites!” Perhaps that was the “good word” for them that they needed to hear.

Ultimately, the good word that we should be sharing is Jesus, for He is the Word (John 1:1). This is not to be mistaken for sharing religion. The last thing people who are anxious need is religion. They don’t need to be invited to your church; they just need you to BE the church. They just need a helpful, considerate and generous friend. They need a kind word. They need a good word. They need the “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).

How much do we really care for each other? Enough to be there with a good and kind word when someone’s world begins to run amuck and anxiety sets in? Do they see Jesus in you and me? Or do they just see a bunch of useless and hypocritical religion? I wonder.

So send I you to labor unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing;
So send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to bind the bruised and broken,
Over wandering souls to work, to weep, to wake,
To bear the burdens of a world a-weary;
So send I you to suffer for My sake.

So send I you to loneliness and longing,
With heart a hungering for the loved and known,
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one;
So send I you to know My love alone.

So send I you to leave your life's ambition,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labor long, and love where men revile you;
So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred,
To eyes made blind because they will not see,
To spend, though it be blood, to spend and spare not;
So send I you to taste of Calvary.

Could it be that the kind word, the good word, that Heavenly Father has for the anxiety in His children’s hearts, that He intends it to be delivered to them by you and me who are called by His name? When Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; ESV), do you think that he had the mission fields of our backyards in mind too? Do you think he is concerned with the “anxiety in a man’s heart” today?

Yes, I believe He is too. Lord, give us willing hearts to do that which we know that you’ve called us to do, even if it is only a kind and a good word for an anxious soul.

Hymn "So Send I You" by E. Margaret Clarkson

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Love's Commendation

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Some of my most treasured books are from some of the giants of yesteryear. Certainly there are many excellent authors today, and I have read many of their works, but I especially love the old classics. If you have read some of my previous posts, or at noticed my blog’s “Topics” list, you will have noticed that one of those classics I’m referring to are the works of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Among those treasured books is a ten-volume collection entitled simply, “Spurgeon’s Sermons.” While many of his works can now be had in an e-format, I tend to be a little more old fashioned and would still rather curl up in my favorite chair with an equally old-fashioned paper version of the book.

What follows here comes from one of those recent times in my favorite chair. It comes from Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 2, Sermon number 26, entitled “Love’s Commendation.” I hope it blesses you as much as it did me.
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that,
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”
 –Romans, v.8 
I shall have nothing new to tell you; it will be as old as the everlasting hills, and so simple that a child may understand it. Love’s commendation. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s commendation of himself and of his love is not in words, but in deeds. When the Almighty God would commend his love to poor man, it is not written, “God commendeth his love toward us in eloquent oration;” it is not written that he commendeth his love by winning professions; but he commendeth his love toward us by an act, by a deed; a surprising deed, the unutterable grace of which eternity itself shall scarce discover. He “commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Let us learn, then, upon the threshold of our text, that if we would commend ourselves, it must be by deeds, and not by words. Men may talk fairly, and think that thus they shall win esteem; they may order their words aright, and think that so they shall command respect; but let them remember, it is not the wordy oratory of the tongue, but the more powerful eloquence of the hand which wins the affection of “the world’s greatest heart.” If thou wouldst commend thyself to thy fellows, go and do – not go and say; if thou wouldst win honor from the excellent, talk not, but act; and if, before God thou wouldst show that thy faith is sincere, and thy love to him real, remember, it is no fawning words, uttered either in prayer or praise, but it is the pious deed, the holy act, which is the justification of thy faith, and the proof that it is the faith of God’s elect. Doing, not saying – acting, not talking – these are the things which commend a man.
“No big words of ready talkers,  
No fine boastings will suffice;  
Broken hearts and humble walkers, 
These are dear in Jesus’ eyes.”
Let us imitate God, then, in this. If we would commend our religion to mankind, we can not do it by mere formalities, but by gracious acts of integrity, charity, and forgiveness, which are the proper discoveries of grace within. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Let your conversation be such as becometh the Gospel of Christ;” and so shall you honor him, and “adorn the doctrine” which you profess. (Charles Spurgeon)

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Such reads the introduction to “Love’s Commendation.” Spurgeon then goes quite deeply into his two main points: one, “That Christ died for us,” and two, “That Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.” I will not copy out the rest of his sermon, mainly due to the length. There are fourteen pages of text that follow the introduction, far too many for our purposes here.

What did I get out of that introduction from Spurgeon’s sermon? I was reminded of the importance of a practical action-based faith. I was reminded of James’ letter where he says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22; ESV). Have we deceived ourselves a little by seemingly downplaying the “doing” part of the faith? I do wonder about that sometimes.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17; ESV).
Someone once said, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” The bottom line is that talk is cheap. Sooner or later, it becomes time to put our faith into action. Eventually we must crawl off that pew and “do” something with all that teaching we’ve received. Just as one would expect that a student would eventually graduate and move on into a career, shouldn’t the Christian also eventually graduate (as it were) and move on into “doing” something with all those years and years of indoctrination and pew sitting?

Please understand, I do not have a problem with sermons and teaching per se, but I do have a problem with them if that is all we are doing and if we never seem to get around to actually “doing” the everyday practical parts of the faith. I’m reminded of a well-known parable:
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him on to his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill – I’ll pay you on my way back.’ “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:30-37; The Message).
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Did you notice that? Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” He didn’t say to sit back and wait for them to come to us, as if they’re even interested in coming to our church institutions. No, Jesus said to GO and DO. It’s much like the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Again, GO and DO something. Our faith, for it to be real and worth anything at all, includes a DOING component. It is being the Samaritan as opposed to simply being the religious priest or Levite. While deep down inside I’m sure that we all know that, as I said before, I cannot help but wonder if we haven’t inadvertently downplayed the “doing” part of our faith a bit too much. The world doesn’t need a bunch of more religious people, but it does need a bunch more Samaritans.
Which one are you? 
Which one am I?
Are there needs around us that we can do something about? Most certainly there are! Obviously we cannot possibly do everything for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that we should then do nothing for anyone. Some will say, “I can’t afford it,” as if we were talking about some great financial expense. However, while there could be a financial expense in some circumstances, DOING doesn’t necessarily involve dollars at all, but it does involve having a heart for our fellow man.

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Aren’t you thankful that the Lord didn’t just sit back on his throne and leave us in our sin to fend for ourselves? Aren’t you thankful that God, in his great love, saw the needs in sinful humanity and DID something about it by providing you and me with a Savior? I sure am.

Have a blessed Easter, my friends. May the condition of our hearts toward others, reflect the love of Jesus in practical acts of DOING for those whose paths cross ours.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

As they led him off, they made Simon, a man from Cyrene who happened to be coming in from the countryside, carry the cross behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on. At one point Jesus turned to the women and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, don't cry for me. Cry for yourselves and your children. The time is coming when they'll say, 'Lucky the women who never conceived! Lucky the wombs that never gave birth! Lucky the breasts that never gave milk!' Then they'll start calling to the mountains, 'Fall down on us!' calling to the hills, 'Cover us up!' If people do these things to a live, green tree, can you imagine what they'll do with deadwood?"

Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.

When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing."

Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, "He saved others. Let's see him save himself! The Messiah of God - ha! The Chosen - ha!"

The soldiers also came and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: "So you're King of the Jews! Save yourself!"

Printed over him was sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: "Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!"

But the other one made him shut up: "Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him - he did nothing to deserve this."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom."
He said, "Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise."

By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours - a total blackout. The temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, "Father, I place my life in your hands!" Then he breathed his last.

(Luke 23:26-46; The Message)

Have a blessed Easter.