Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Got Enemies? Imagine ...

Imagine ...

As it often does, my morning meditation today began in Proverbs.

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25: 21-22; Amplified)

Imagine if everyone actually treated their enemy in such a fashion? Imagine if all of us actually treated those difficult people in our lives, those ones we have a hard time appreciating, in such a fashion? I imagine we would soon turn the world on its head to such an extent that even wars would be a thing of the past. Perhaps we could even go so far as at least thinking about dismantling our military forces. After all, why would we need them if we actually treated our enemies as Proverbs 25:21 suggests? Do you imagine I'm taking this too far? Hmm, maybe ...

Jesus said, "But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, To show that you are children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the wicked and the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike]." (Matthew 5: 44-45; Amplified)

Imagine if everyone who calls themselves a Christian proved it (Jesus said "to show") by the way they loved and prayed for their enemies? Imagine if the church actually obeyed Jesus in this? After all, Jesus also said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46; NIV). I imagine that it's probably very difficult, if not outright impossible, to even have an enemy if I actually sincerely and unpretentiously loved and prayed for that person. Imagine if we believed Jesus on this one?

But, alas, man has always chosen to rather do things his own way rather than God's way. Sometimes I imagine we must not think too highly at all of the one we call Lord, based upon the way we so mistreat one another, for whom I might add, Christ also died. Alas, man's inhumanity to man; now there's something worth hating.

Imagine ...

Photo Credit: Dennis Skley, Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Online Communities: Shaking Off the Dust

Do you participate in online communities? If so, I will bet that like most of us, you also have some mixed feelings about them from time to time.  I know that I sure do.

An ironic thing happened to me yesterday in one such community that left me scratching my head in confusion and facetiously thinking about this Bible verse:
And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”   (Luke 9:5; ESV)

Let me back up and set the stage a little

Some time ago I joined a couple of “Christian” G+ communities, one whose community guidelines stated the following:

A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion. 
Community Guidelines: 
1. Keep posts concise and relevant. Use the categories. 
2. Be respectful. 
3. Original posts are preferred. No spam, self-promotion (including promoting your blog or community), cross-posting, or memes. 
4. Include your own thoughts or questions when you post links, videos, or Bible passages. 
5. Posts are allowed by individuals only, not pages.6. No "one translation only" conspiracy theory posts or other ax-grinding.  
All posts are subject to moderation. These guidelines are in place to encourage quality content. Thanks for your help!

That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

“A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” That sounds like it could be a good thing. Lord knows, I’ve enjoyed innumerable hours of Bible study and a plethora of fellowship discussion times centered in the Scriptures.

The only negative in their guidelines was the potential censorship as suggested by the “subject to moderation.” Still in all fairness, I understand the need for a moderator; I too moderate comments on my blogs. The difference, however, is I do so simply to block out spam; not to censor those who may think differently on a certain matter than me, and especially not when they put forward an obviously well thought out rebuttal or counter argument to my post. The irony here is that the G+ Community in question even claims it’s for “everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” Apparently that is not entirely true.

Unfortunately, my experience with online communities and groups hasn’t always been very positive. Quite frankly, there does seem to be a lot of junk, even in groups and communities that claim to be “Christian.” I get it, we’re all imperfect people, saved by grace alone, but who still do a lot of stupid stuff. Who hasn’t scratched their head a time or two at all the seemingly loveless online arguments, even on sites that claim to be “Christian?” Perhaps we've even been guilty of it ourselves a time or two. But sometimes, enough is enough and you have to get away from the junk for a while. Consequently I put myself on a sabbatical, so to speak, and simply stopped participating in too many such groups.

Fast-forward a few years to yesterday

I went to visit one of these G+ communities again, read some posts, made a comment or two, and even received a welcoming comment back from one individual. For the most part, it was all-good.

I then noticed that this particular community has a category heading called: “Bibles, Books, & Study Tools.” Great, I thought! I’ll put in a plug for “Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.” I shared a link to Amazon and wrote a few encouraging promotional words (or so I thought), posted it in the G+ community, and found it promptly deleted by the moderator.

Huh? What just happened?

Perhaps against my better judgment, I promptly wrote another post on the same community and under the same heading and invited the moderator to dialogue with me over this obvious misunderstanding. While some folks weighed in equally shocked, the moderator apparently did not think my question for clarification was worthy of a reply. Ultimately I deleted the post and thought the whole thing not worth it.

So here we are. I am not disgruntled, and I still do wish to leave that community with my customary “Peace & Blessings” that I often sign off with.

Why do I mention any of this?

I do so because I find the whole thing strangely ironic, and maybe even a little amusing (in a sad sort of way). In trying to share with the Christian community a new Christian book on “Unity Within Diversity,” the “unity” was apparently overshadowed by the “diversity,” which in turn led to my post being deleted by the community’s moderator. Oh the irony of it all!

Well there you have it. That’s how I ended up thinking of “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town [G+ Community] shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” The flip side of that, however, is that the even the notion of doing so somehow seems, well, rather "un-Christian" in that it sounds like we're abandoning people. Hmm.

For the record, I haven’t actually left the community yet (and maybe never will), for perhaps I will still have opportunity to clear the air if contacted by the unknown moderator. Besides, there are also some really neat people there that I have enjoyed conversing with in the past.

Discussion questions:

  • Given Jesus’ words concerning shaking off the dust as a testimony against those who do not receive or welcome us, how far do we go to promote “unity” within the “diversity” of our communities, and especially when others do not seem to share our passion for it? Do we just walk away?

  • Is there a greater likelihood for misunderstanding in online discussions as opposed to in person face-to-face discussions? Are people too quick to play the “spam” card, either to mask the topics they do not like, or simply out of ignorance as to what's really being said? If so what, if anything, can be done to try and correct that unfortunate tendency?

  • Obviously face-to-face and in person fellowship discussions are preferable, but they’re limited and not always possible. If it were not for social media, I never would have come to know some of the great people that today I proudly call my friends, but whom I’ve never yet met face-to-face. Having said that, do we modern Christians tend to hide behind our computers a little too much rather than seek good old fashioned times of face-to-face fellowship with other believers around us?

Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

I am humbled and honoured to have been asked to be a part of this exciting new book venture. Twenty-four brothers and sisters in the Lord, all whom I only know from online connections, have come together to share their stories of "Unity Within Diversity." What an exciting time we live in that such a thing is even possible. I'm sure that previous generations never would have imagined such a thing. Praise God!

Here are a few thoughts from our editor, Eric Carpenter, on what this book is all about:

"What is simple church? This is a simple question that does not have a simple answer.

"Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is an attempt to shed light on the above question and provide some answers. The twenty-four contributors all hope this book will help people, both inside and outside the church, better understand what simple church life is all about.

"Far too often discussions about the church descend into arguments that accomplish little. We have no desire to take part in that. Rather, each person who has written a chapter for this book desires that it will lead to increased communication, understanding, and ultimately unity within the body of Christ.

"Twenty-four writers means twenty-four slightly different perspectives. We certainly do not agree on everything. You will see that as you read through the book. What we do agree upon is that simple practices often lead to great opportunities for edification and service - both inside and outside the church. We want to share these ideas with other followers of Christ and explain what it is all about. If you would like to know more about simple church from a positive perspective, then this is the book for you!" (Taken from the back cover of the book).

Well there you have it; simple church. I'm sure all the fine contributors would agree that we've still not got this Christian walk perfectly figured out, but by the grace of God, perhaps we're a little closer today to where He would have us to be than when we've first begun our walks of faith. Again, I am grateful to be counted among such an insightful and fine group of sisters and brothers. If any praise be had, may it all be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As for my own chapter, it is entitled: "Losing the Graffiti" and deals with the important subject of "Mutual Edification" in the Body of Christ.  If you're curious to know more, please do watch your favourite Christian bookstore for "Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity," expected to be on the shelves by Christmas 2014. Oh, and by the way, a special "Thank You" has to go to Wayne Jacobsen for his kind words in the foreword.

May God bless each of you and give you and yours His perfect peace. Amen.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Conniving with Ananias and Sapphira

"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37; NIV)

Todd Agnew has a song he calls “My Jesus.” In the lyrics he asks a couple of disturbing but valid questions: “Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you serve? If Ephesians says to imitate Christ, then why do you look so much like the world?

Since I first heard that song, those probing questions have always resonated with me. Perhaps they have with you too. When I think of those lyrics, I’m often reminded of a certain event recorded for us in Acts and wonder if the lesson the early church received has somehow slipped away into the pages of folklore, as it were, and perhaps needs to be re-taught. I also wonder how we today would receive that lesson if God were to re-teach it to us modern Christians in a similar fashion to the way He taught it to the early church. Certainly it isn't beyond the realm of possibility. God hasn't changed. I'm sure that what mattered to Him then, still matters to Him today.

However, I think the question still gets even more complex than that. If God were to do that, would we even recognize the thing as being of God? Or would we miss the lesson altogether because it would clash with some of our adopted understanding of things, such as "God's love," the "Fear of the Lord," and perhaps a few other doctrinal opinions? Have we really understood them correctly? Perhaps the lesson would even clash with our traditions, denominations, and last Sunday's sermon. Sometimes I wonder about such things.

Divine Execution: The Church’s Lesson?

But a man named Ananias – his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him – sold a piece of land, secretly kept a part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.

Peter said, “Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got you to pull a trick like this? You didn’t lie to men but to God.”

Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, “Tell me, were you given this price for your field?”

“Yes,” she said, “that price.”

Peter responded, “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you’re next.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with. (Acts 5: 1-11; The Message).

That’s the biblical event that I always think of when I hear those lyrics by Todd Agnew. Have you ever been troubled by that story? Do Christians today look a little too much like the world? Have we "trifled" with God? Sometimes I’ve caught myself wondering about the Ananias and Sapphira story, thinking, what was the big deal? Even Peter said that it was his land to do with as he pleased. The more I think about it, however, the more I am beginning to wonder if any problems we have with the story aren’t directly related to a sort of lethargy that has somewhere and somehow crept into the modern church. (A caveat: by “church” I do not mean some institution, but rather the Body of Christ, and specifically, the average Christian). How have we become lethargic? I wonder if, perhaps ironically, we haven’t done so by not truthfully walking in the Light that we profess to be walking in. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the modern church shares the same urgency to truthfulness that the early church did. Too many of us seem to go about our lives with our fingers crossed behind our back, as if to suggest that such an action excuses our untruthfulness.

Light: Walk in It/Him

Ananias and Sapphira’s sin, what ever else it may have been, I believe was primarily a lack of truthfulness in the body of Christ. They were not really walking in the Light as Christians are time and again called to do in the pages of the Bible. I believe that God took their conniving lack of truthfulness seriously enough to make an example of them and teach the early church a lesson. Furthermore, I think that lesson spread far and wide, even beyond the church itself. Consider this verse:

"And none of those who were not of their number dared to join and associate with them, but the people held them in high regard and praised and made much of them." (Acts 5:13; Amplified).

Why did people not dare to join them? Was it because of their honesty and truthfulness? Was it because a few verses back Ananias and his wife Sapphira had dared to join them and they both lost their lives for being dishonest? Word of what had happened traveled fast, even outside the church (v.11). Were they frightened, knowing that they themselves were also prone to less than truthful lives, and thought that maybe God would kill them too if they got too close to those Christians? Let’s take this one step further. Does the world hold the modern church “in high regard” and make “much” of us? Let’s be honest; No, they don’t. And the only “much” that they often seem to make today is “much” of our shortcomings. How sad, and yet, I suspect that in many ways we've brought that upon ourselves.

Again, if we call ourselves Christians, then we are called to walk in the Light. This is not just a mere suggestion; it is a command. There are no loop-holes; it is non-negotiable, and there is no "Plan B." God was serious enough about this that He taught the early church a hard lesson, a lesson called “Ananias and Sapphira.” Consider these verses:

“And this is the message [the message of promise] which we have heard from Him and now are reporting to you: God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him at all [no, not in any way].

“[So] if we say we are partakers together and enjoy fellowship with Him when we live and move and are walking about in darkness, we are [both] speaking falsely and do not live and practice the Truth [which the Gospel presents].

“But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt [keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]” (1 John 1: 5-7; Amplified).

Do we claim that "Jesus is Lord?" Do we claim to "walk in the Light?" That's great, but let's be careful with those professions, because we might just be kidding ourselves. As I've written in a previous post, the profession "Jesus is Lord" might be a lie. Our personal and business relationships, ethics and integrity (or rather lack there of) might betray us.

Truth: The Great Non-Negotiable

Light is associated with truth. John called Jesus the “true light” (John 1:9). We can’t really walk in the Light, that is, walk in Jesus, if we aren’t truthful. I am tempted to even go so far as to suggest that a “lying Christian” is a contradiction in terms, and especially when we add any “conniving” into the mix as Ananias and Sapphira did. How can we secretly pretend something is so, when deep down inside we know that it isn’t so? How can we conspire against the Light by being dishonest? Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3), and not just to man. When we talk of “walking in the Light,” that’s the same thing as “walking in the Truth.” These are not separate concepts; they are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said,

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3: 19-21; NIV. Emphasis mine).

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but if we do “evil,” that is, if we are liars, does that mean we hate Jesus? Ouch! Or are the proverbial “little white lies,” with fingers crossed behind our back, an exception to the rule? How much honesty and truthfulness do we really see in the body of Christ today? How much honesty and truthfulness do we see in each other, in you and me? Are we also guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit? Have some of us become like Ananias and Sapphira, guilty of conniving (Amplified actually uses the word "connivance") our way through our own twisted form of pseudo-Christianity? Does it even matter? Does God still care about such things?

In our abhorrence of being made to feel guilty and judging others, and in our quest for freedom to walk and practice our faith as we choose, have we gone a little overboard and presumed too much? Does holiness, in the sense of being set apart, mean that there should be something noticeably different in you and me from the rest of the non-believing world? Did it ever really mean that?

What if God were to re-kindle that lesson that He taught the early church and make an example of us to the church today by divinely executing us for a "little thing" (in the world's eyes) as our connivance and dishonesty? Hmm, wouldn't that raise an eyebrow or two! Or would today’s church even make the connection?

God help us!

Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ,
then why do you look so much like the world?